Stress

All posts tagged Stress

On all kinds of muscles.

Published October 31, 2019 by mandileighbean

willpower-is-likemuscle-1

“i keep fixing every habit//that i break.”

I made a promise to myself at the start of the summer of 2019 to stay physically and mentally fit. I developed schedules and regiments to read more and eat better and move more and write better. As I update this blog, I unfortunately have to admit that most of those plans fell through or were modified to basically continue my current, unhealthy lifestyle. I lack willpower; that’s obvious. I give up too easily. It was gross and misty this morning, so I didn’t go for my morning walk. I rolled over and went back to sleep, defeated. I gorged myself on pasta at dinner, making a million and one rationalizations for such piggish behavior. I’m tired and I’m always battling my depression and it’s rainy and work was hard: all those complaints become justifications for my bad behaviors, but I don’t want to live like that anymore. I have the desire, but sadly, that’s not enough. I
N E E D willpower.

What is willpower? The American Psychology Association defines willpower as: “…the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.” That is precisely what I struggle with, so I did some more internet research and luckily, I stumbled upon an awesome article titled “The Science of Willpower: How to Train Your Productivity Muscle” by Oksana Tunikova. In that, she writes, “Simply put, willpower is our ability to delay gratification. It is our self-control that helps us resist distracting impulses and persevere.”

Without getting too science-y, I wanted to understand how scientists know what they know about willpower. The concept has been studied numerous times, but those in the know seem to agree that there are three key studies that tell us everything we should know when it comes to willpower:

  1. Stanford Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel: “Children were asked to choose between getting a sweet reward right away or having a double-portion after waiting for around 15 minutes. Kids who managed to delay gratification were believed to have stronger willpower (an obvious conclusion). The study, however, did not stop there. The young participants of the Marshmallow Test were actually subject to long-term evaluation. Over the course of years, it turned out that those who were able to delay gratification as kids had better life outcomes as adults. Life success was measured in terms of education, performance at work, health, and other metrics” (source).
    But what does this mean? To put the findings of the study in practical terms, to apply them to my own life, I realize that willpower is essential in meeting absolutely all of the goals I’ve set out for myself. If I’m able to make a schedule and stick with it, then I will be able to do anything technically.
  2. “Roy Baumeister is another important figure on the willpower-science scene. In collaboration with other scientists, Dr. Baumeister discovered that our will, just like a muscle, can be fatigued if we spend too much time on activities that require self-control. According to Baumeister, the strength of our willpower depends on the level of energy available in our brain at a given moment. To support his point of view, Baumeister ran an experiment that involved hard-to-resist foods. Participants had to withstand the temptation of eating chocolate and complete a series of mental tasks afterward. Those who managed to resist food temptation appeared to be more fatigued and performed worse in mental tasks” (source).
    But what does this mean? This helps me relax about relaxing. I really have to accept the fact that “all or nothing at all” is not a concept that can apply to my life. When I fall, or when I fail, it cannot be enough to defeat me. I have to remember that it is natural and normal to fall short and in bouncing back is how I will strengthen my own willpower. It seems contradictory, and maybe even ironic, but still, it makes sense because we cannot know darkness without light and we cannot know success without failure. So instead of rolling over and being defeated, I need to begin again.
  3. “Back in 2010, a study conducted by Stanford University researcher Veronika Job and her colleagues suggested that our own beliefs about willpower might play a key role. A series of experiments proved that when we believe that our willpower is limited, it becomes limited. Meanwhile, those who believe that willpower is not fixed and cannot be depleted, demonstrate greater self-control and are not likely to lose will under depleted circumstances” (source).
    But what does this mean? When I was going to therapy regularly, my therapist stressed the importance of loving myself (and so did my priest). I’m beginning to understand that loving myself includes believing in myself. I need to be nice to myself and tell myself that I am lovely, that I am strong, that I am capable of great things, that I will be published again, that I will lose the weight, and that I will be loved,.

So throughout my research, it became obvious to me that willpower is important, if not crucial, in determining success in any endeavor. Based on the three studies discussed above, it is apparent to me that willpower is as important as I believe it to be, and that it can be developed. To develop willpower, it is best to think of it as a muscle. “To strengthen a muscle, you have to exercise” and “When you overwork, muscles get tired and will need time to recover” (source). So, again, having one cheat meal a week is okay, but it is key to not let that cheat meal turn into a cheat day, which turns into a cheat week because I am not disciplined enough. But when I feel tired, I can rest, because indulging in being lazy twice a month is actually an effective way to give my willpower and self-control time to recover and “…restore its energy levels” (source).

But what does this look like in practice, in real life?

  • Exercise daily. “The trick, however, is to start small and build up” (source). Walking every day is fine to start with and I plan on continuing to do so even while I’m on vacation next week in Florida. But I’ve been walking for two months and my weight loss has slowed and while I fear it might be mostly because I’ve been slacking in counting calories, I might also need a physical boost. I remember reading somewhere that a person should change up her exercise routine after a few weeks. Upon returning from Florida, I am going to start running but I’ll walk if I need to.
  • Feed your brain the right food. “Willpower and decision-making are closely related. .. Studies suggest that poor diet makes you inclined to make more emotional choices than if you were well fed. To this end, the same advice to start small goes a long way” (source). This was another validation for me; I’ve been investigating The Mediterranean Diet for some time now and it’s time I got started. I have an entire cookbook and even more recipes printed from the internet. I could just start with breakfast, or a dinner once a week, because the article advises to “Keep changes small so that your brain doesn’t realize a change has been made. In no time, you can build up your willpower skills” (source).
  • Develop your own reward system. “If you break your big goal into a few smaller goals and assign a valuable reward for each small goal achieved, your willpower will be activated” (source). My original weight loss plan did have goals for incremental weight loss. For example, if I lost five pounds, I would treat myself to a movie. And if I lost twenty pounds, I’d get a hair cut. It’s time to find my original list and hang it up on my fridge so losing all the weight I’ve gained will seem more possible and I’ll have something to look forward to along the way.
  • Train your willpower, but don’t overdo it. Hence why cheat meals and lazy days are so important, and that helps me breath easier.
  • Work on your stress levels. “According to studies on the connection between stress and willpower, goal-oriented behavior suffers when our fight-or-flight signaling is on” (source). My stress has always been difficult for me to manage. Before I developed better coping skills and healthier habits, I used to suffer from severe, complex migraines. They seemed like small strokes; I wouldn’t be able to talk or remember things, and one side of my body would be numb. The vision in my right eye would resemble a television screen with static. There’d also be blinding, horrible pain. Exercising helped, but I want to implement a yoga regiment and spend much more time reading and writing. I also need to continue turning my home into a cozy sanctuary, even if it is little by little due to financial constraints. I should put fresh flowers in different rooms. I also need to start seriously planning my garden.
  • Set realistic goals. “Set goals that are big enough to be motivating but still doable. Alternatively, break your goals down into sub-tasks and work on one smaller goal at a time” (source).

When I get down on myself, I need to remind myself of the following things:

  • Willpower gets stronger with regular use. You can train your willpower with small things like making your bed every morning or choosing a fruit over a cookie at least twice a week. Start small and scale it up as your self-control skills grow.
  • Willpower is a muscle you can train. “Hear this: You are not forever bound to your bad habits. Of course, some poor habits might be hard to break, but as long as you keep your goal in mind and work on strengthening your willpower, nothing is impossible. You can become a better version of yourself; the power to make this happen is always within you” (source). I WILL READ THIS EVERY SINGLE DAY.

It is also helpful to remember that: “21 days is the minimum time needed to build a new habit” (source). That’s three weeks; that’s not so bad! I will give myself time. I will love myself. I will be patient with myself.

Next week, I’ll share my three-week plan for kick starting my plan to become a strong, more motivated woman. Will you join me? Do you want to become more motivated? Have you ever thought about how to be the best version of yourself?thesecrettostayingmotivated

On physical impossibilities.

Published July 12, 2017 by mandileighbean

I’m going to save the apology for the lapse in posting and refrain from the typical slew of empty promises and resolutions. You know the drill; sometimes I post, sometimes I don’t, but please believe me when I say I always want to. Writing fulfills me in a way that nothing else really does (except maybe Popeye’s chicken), and it needs to be more of a priority. Also, they’re building a Popeye’s near me, so how’s that for a sign from the universe?

I’m proud of this week’s writing prompt for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s the beginning of a better writing schedule (last empty promise I make, I swear (well, other than that last one)). Second, I use first-person point of view, which is something I never do. Using first-person point of view feels like a confession or admission, like it’s too personal to build a character that isn’t just me with a different name. All my writing might be like that, now that I think about it. Third, it is personal and I think I tackle a very real fear for woman of a certain age without being melodramatic. This voice I use could be fleshed out into a very real and very endearing character were I to pursue and develop this idea further.

Hope you enjoy! Please comment and let me know what you think, and please share.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #3.2017: The day before helping her best friend give birth, a woman of thirty learns that she will never have children of her own.

These days, you can’t fucking smoke anywhere.

I mean, the hospital I get; no one should be smoking there for obvious reasons I don’t have to enumerate to make my case. But walking across the street from the hospital – and then ten more yards for good measure – seems closer to ridiculous than anything else. And doing so in ninety-degree weather isn’t helping my mood. It’s incredibly hard to be rational when I’m sweaty and uncomfortable and in desperate, desperate need of a cigarette. I’m filling up with something awful as I halt at the end of the hospital property, teetering on the curb before the busy highway in cheap flip flops. I look left and then right and then right again, because my mom raised me right, and then dart across.

All things considered, getting mowed down by a truck doesn’t seem like the end of the world. I should have lingered just a few moments more, maybe. But that kind of thinking is irrational and morbid and goddamn, I just don’t want to think anymore. I just want a cigarette.

It’s easy to find the other smokers, huddled shamefully beneath a weak-looking tree at the far end of a parking lot for a quaint plaza. The weak-looking tree is the only source of shade and as I approach, I realize everyone beneath the tree is dressed in scrubs and smiling and laughing; they’re all hospital staff and they’re all friends. I think I’ll stand just a few feet away. I’m in no mood to make new friends or yuck it up, but I don’t want to be a bitch.

Scratch that; I don’t know what I want.

Wait, that’s wrong. I know what I want. I want a cigarette. And in this poor, poor excuse for Shangri La, I will have one.

As I light up, I consider the irony of doctors and nurses who smoke. Why anyone willingly inhales carcinogens, myself included, is beyond me, but it seems especially asinine for people who spend their lives saving lives to engage in a wildly unnecessary and risky behavior such as smoking. But fuck me, right? Here I am, puffing away. I might as well enjoy the irony, like an extra in a film who gets casts as an Oscar winner. That kind of irony is less dangerous and more humorous, kind of like how I always thought I’d never have kids because I’d never find a good man. But after thirty long and lonely years, I found a good man – the best man – and he’ll never be a father because my fallopian tubes are too narrow.

I’ll never be a mother. Thinking it aloud in my head forces me to acknowledge the idea with a fatal finality, and I take a seat on the grass beneath the three. I want to take up as little space as possible, curl all up around myself, and shrink into nonexistence; the ultimate Irish exit.

Taking a long drag, I know I’m bordering on morbidity and irrationality again, but there’s definitely something crushing about finding out you physically cannot have children. It wasn’t a choice I made, part of some chic, progressive lifestyle (I’m not being judgmental; to each his own, man. Live and let live, I say). I knew I was lucky to meet Frank; for a while there I thought I’d die alone, like really and truly alone, where the only people at my funeral are friends who have outlived me and cemetery staff. I wanted love and to be loved so badly I was on the verge of doing something reckless and desperate, like online dating (that’s a joke; I don’t judge). Enter Frank, the knight in shining armor; a decent-looking man with a great sense of humor, steady income, and a tolerance for feminine bullshit that is otherworldly. He’s been so patient and forgiving, and I don’t deserve him; I really don’t.

But he deserves children. He wants them; we’ve talked about it. And I can’t give that to him.

I know there’s adoption and fostering and surrogates and a seemingly endless list of possibilities. I know, somewhere deep down inside that this doesn’t have to be the end of the discussion, but it’s different and anyone who says different is selling something.

So maybe I should amend my earlier assertion: I’ll never be a mother on my own terms.

I suppose that sounds kind of selfish and twisted and grotesque, but hey; that’s me all over. Like right now, I’m smoking this cigarette in the July heat when I’m supposed to be at Kathleen’s side, holding her hand and feeding her ice chips, the whole delivery shebang. I snuck out because I needed a cigarette because those roles will never be reversed. I can’t have kids.

And it’s obviously jacking me up real bad, but I can never ever say anything to Kathleen about this, especially not today, which is ironic because it’s the one day it’s dismantling my psyche. Kathleen’s my best friend – another love I don’t really deserve – and she’d be the most supportive person in the world. Seriously, if I told her right now about all of this, she’d Google solutions on her phone from her hospital bed, shouting search results to me as they move her into the delivery room. But it’s her day and I just need to handle my shit.

If I had a daughter, that’s a lesson I’d teach her, that being a strong woman means that sometimes, you just have to handle it. You can break later but in the moment, step up.

I could teach my son that lesson too, because really, strength transcends gender.

Great; I’m crying. I’m sweaty, smell like smoke, and mascara’s running down my cheeks. I’m a mess, and everyone will know and everyone will ask, and we all know that only makes things worse.

Fuck. Shit. Balls.

I haven’t told Frank yet either. Think he’ll leave? He won’t, like I said he’s a good man, but he’ll think about it. And who could blame him?

I take one last drag and stub the cigarette out on the curb behind me. I have to stretch to the point of almost laying down, so fuck it. I lay down in the grass with my head uncomfortably on the curb to watch the sky through the leaves of the weak tree.

What a world.Generic-smoking

On horrible realizations.

Published September 7, 2014 by mandileighbean

A new academic year has started, but I am mostly unsure as to how this makes me feel.  I’m excited for the return to normalcy and to see coworkers and students on a regular basis.  However, I am sure I will miss lounging and will soon loathe the stress the school year inevitably brings.  However, my friend is reading a book all about mind set, which emphasizes the axiom that life is 10% what happens to an individual, and 90% how the individual reacts to events and circumstances and whatnot.  I’ve been a notoriously awful “over-reactor.”  Perhaps a resolution for the academic year should be to stay positive and patient.

 

courtoom

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #18: “A lawyer discovers that his client is guilty of the horrible crime for which he was just found innocent.”

 

Eliot Edwards (there was always something inherently to be respected about a man with two first names) rose beside his client as the honorable judge had instructed, as both men prepared for the verdict.  Eliot was cool, calm, and collected; his breath did not hitch as it entered and exited the two air sacks called lungs.  His hands did not tremble as he loosely clasped them in front.  He looked poised and professional, just as he always did.  Remarkably, the same could be said of the man beside, the supposed delinquent known as Harvey Miller.  For just about a month, Eliot and Harvey had been seated behind an elongated wooden table, listening to eyewitness testimony, and the coroner’s findings, and statements from detectives that seemed to prove that Harvey had brutally raped and then murdered four-year-old Lindsey Morris.  The state would have a member of the jury believe that Harvey pulled alongside the little girl’s front yard in his work van, casually rolled down the window, and called out her.  Merrily, happily, the beautiful, innocent girl skipped over and politely listened as Harvey explained that he was lost, and that his poor, poor puppy in the back was sick and needed a doctor and special medicine.  In her opening statement, the prosecutor took care to meticulously describe the way the little girl’s face most likely trembled with concern for the puppy and was consumed with an overwhelming – and irresponsible – desire to help.  Willingly, with minimal coercing because Lindsey came from a nice neighborhood with respectable, hard-working families living and loving in modest ranch-style homes, she would have climbed inside.  Most likely, she jabbered somewhat incoherently to Harvey, asking about the puppy and what was wrong and where he was from and what kind of car she was in.  As a result, Lindsey would have been woefully unprepared when she was led into the woods, holding onto a hand for comfort and reassurance and safety, knocked down, stripped and violated.

It was an unspeakable crime, and thinking over the lurid details often turned Eliot’s stomach.  He would look at Harvey, try to bore into the other man’s soul, to evaluate whether or not he was truly guilty.  Eliot didn’t think any human being could be capable of such apathy, of such inhumanity, but these things happened.  Harvey wasn’t overly altruistic, but he wasn’t irrational or unkempt or anything like a madman.  He seemed normal and even-keeled.  Sure, he had some dark moments in his past – an aggressive and physical altercation with his high school principal, and questionable accusations from several ex-girlfriends – but nothing that would precede such monstrosity as the rape and murder of an innocent child.  Eliot would not invite Harvey out for drinks or into his home, but a slightly uneasy feeling did not make someone guilty of murder.

As Harvey and Eliot stood, awaiting Harvey’s fate, Eliot felt fairly confident the jury would agree.  Most of the evidence had been circumstantial and there was no DNA evidence to speak of.  Granted Harvey had not been able to provide an airtight alibi for afternoon and evening in question, but the defense readily admitted Harvey was no saint and liked to tip the bottle back more of than not.  As such, memory lapses were common.  The jury foreman began reading the verdict sheet and Eliot knew his mind should be in the present, willing the juror to say “not guilty,” but he was troubled by a fact which had troubled just about everyone else involved in the case, cop and victim and lawyer alike.  Despite a thorough canvas of the crime scene and sweep of Harvey’s van and essentially ransacking Lindsey’s home, no one had been able to find her beloved turtle pin.  Lindsey had received the pin from her oldest brother, and he had bought it especially for Lindsey from the zoo during a class trip.  Lindsey was never without the pin – even wore it to bed when her mother’s typically watchful eye missed it.  Everyone believed whoever had the pin now must be the murderer, keeping it as a sick memento.  The pin seemed to be the key to the case and –

“…find the defendant not guilty,” the foreman read.  Eliot snapped to attention as Harvey clapped him heartily on the shoulder.  Eliot smiled and turned to shake Harvey’s hand.  Those behind them, and on the other side of the courtroom, dissolved into weeping and wailing.  They were family members of Lindsey, devastated by the outcome because they had all been so sure of Harvey’s guilt.  Eliot felt for them and his eyes ran over their downturned faces, their red-rimmed eyes, and their expressions of misery.  Eliot’s smile diminished.  He released Harvey’s hand so he could turn to hug his mother, the only supporter of Harvey’s, present for every single day of testimony.  She threw her beefy arms around her boy and Harvey was nearly being pulled over the wooden, glossy barricade that separated the audience from the members of the judicial process.  Harvey was pulled onto his tippy toes and with his body elongated, and bent at a rather awkward angle, the pocket of his button-down Oxford shirt hung low so that the tiny metallic object that had been residing within clamored to the tile floor.

Eliot saw it fall out of the corner of his eye.  He did not know what it was, but bent to retrieve it.  As he did so, he noticed it was a pin in the shape of the turtle.

All the wind seemed to be knocked from him.  Eliot dropped to his knees, breathing deeply through his nose to keep from vomiting.  He could feel eyes upon him, knew instinctively the eyes belonged to Harvey, and was suddenly terrified.

Eliot Edwards had sent a depraved lunatic free.

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On changing names.

Published August 5, 2014 by mandileighbean

I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately. I wonder if I’ve been struck with that “Summertime Sadness.” It is now August, and my dreams have included school more and more, so maybe it is simply anxiety stemming from the upcoming school year. I should try and refocus it into excitement, into positive energy.

There are so many things I’ll never tell the object of my affection so this person will never know, like how many chocolate donuts I’ve devoured to compensate for his absence. I think he’s the kind of man who never has to drink alone.

I love how, in movies, you can always tell which couples are going to form based on who watches who walk away, especially after a seemingly irrelevant conversation.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #17: “I love the way she says words that begin with ‘cr,’ like ‘crisp’ and ‘crunchy.’ How bizarre is that?”

supermarketromance

Ally had the shopping list in hand and was intently focused on securing the various items. She was expertly maneuvering her way down the aisles with Michelle in tow. Michelle had only agreed to come because she was sick of sitting at home alone with a severe case of writer’s block. She thought getting out and about among people would be inspirational, and she thought bouncing ideas off of Ally, her best friend, would be beneficial. After the supermarket, they would go back to Ally’s apartment, drink some wine, devour some pasta, watch some bad television, and have themselves a relatively unproductive but enjoyable weekday. They tried to do this every so often to maintain the friendship among differing schedules and ambitions and so far, it had been a success.

Part of the success, or most of the success actually, could be attributed to the level of comfort between the two women. For example, Michelle knew Ally was only half listening as she scoured the shelves for what she needed, and Michelle kept talking anyway. She was eager to work out some tricky dialogue between the romantic leads in her latest literary endeavor. “So,” Michelle began, resting her elbows on the handle of the shopping cart and propelling it forward in the laziest of ways, “I wanted him to say something super specific but still adorable to show how much he likes her. Only he wouldn’t be talking to her, he’d be talking a friend.”

“Uh huh,” Ally said. She wasn’t listening. She was trying to decide between vermicelli and angel hair pasta.

“Like, he’ll say … I don’t know, something like, ‘I love the way she says words that begin with “cr,” like “crisp” and “crunchy.” How bizarre is that?’”

“Very bizarre,” Ally answered.

Michelle sighed. “No, you’re not supposed to answer. That’s the dialogue.”

Ally turned to her friend, a box of pasta in each hand. “But that’s stupid.”

“Well, don’t hold back, Ally. Tell me how you really feel.”

Rolling her eyes, Ally turned back to the many, many boxes of pasta neatly stacked on the shelves before her. “A guy would never say that. A guy would never notice that.” She put one of the boxes back on the shelf, and stooped to examine another. “Unless she just got braces or something. Does she have braces?” She turned to her friend, suspicion and skepticism obvious in her expression. “Are you writing about yourself again?”

Michelle self-consciously placed her hand over her mouth. The braces had ceramic brackets so it was nearly impossible to tell Michelle had braces until the onlooker got really close, like all up in her grill as it were, but she still blushed whenever they were mentioned. “No,” she proclaimed defensively. “I think you’re being close-minded. I, for one, think a guy would totally say that.”

“How often does one even use ‘crisp’ and ‘crunchy’ in regular conversation?” Ally asked. She paused to think for a moment. “Great; now I want potato chips.” She completed an about face and headed toward the aisle with all the snacks; the chips, the crackers, and the cookies. Michelle hurried after her, nearly running over some small, silver-haired ladies mulling over the canned soups.

“That’s the point, though. I want it to be singular and memorable. This will be the romantic quote my female audience will swoon over, you know?”

Ally threw two bags of potato chips into the basket of the shopping cart. “I don’t know if it’s authentic. I think you should ask someone.”

“What?”

“Let’s find a dude, and you can ask him if he would ever say that.”

Michelle paled. She was definitely more of an introvert than an extrovert, and the thought of stopping some stranger and asking him if he could possibly emulate a character seemed absurd. The man who they stopped would probably be a Neanderthal of sorts, nothing like the wonderful invention of a man Michelle had imagined. She would lose undoubtedly. “That’s a dumb idea.”

“You’re just afraid of talking to people.” Ally was abrasive and logical, which was completely unlike her best friend and most likely why they got along so well. She looked up and down the aisle and smiled. There was a handsome employee about their age at the far end, mindlessly stocking twelve packs of soda cans. His muscular arms moved gracefully, and Ally took note of that, as well as his dark hair. “C’mon; we’ll ask tall, dark and handsome over there.”

Michelle tried to discreetly sneak a peek. He was definitely handsome, but he really wasn’t all that tall, and his hair was dark but truth be told, his skin was actually pale. Michelle leaned close to Ally. “No, no way. He doesn’t read. He’s not a good person to ask. Let’s just go.”

“Oh, stop it,” Ally commanded and grabbed Michelle’s hand. She literally pulled her down the aisle while Michelle mumbled a million different protestations. They all fell on deaf ears and Michelle clammed up once they halted behind the employee, their backs against rows of pretzels. “Excuse me,” Ally called politely.

The employee turned and upon seeing it was two young women instead of the usual seniors who argued about coupons and prices with him even though he was not a cashier, he smiled brightly. “Hello; can I help you?”

“Yes,” Ally smiled. “My name is Ally, and this is my friend, Michelle. What’s your name?”

“I’m Justin,” he said. He held out his hand. Michelle and Ally shook his hand in turn, and everyone agreed that it was a pleasure to meet. “What can I help you with?”

“My friend Michelle here is a writer –“

“Really?” Justin interrupted.

“Really, really,” Ally confirmed and was incredibly proud of her friend. Michelle blushed and looked down at her feet. “She had a book published about two years ago and is currently working on her second.”

“Oh, yeah?” Justin leaned back against the shelves he had been working to fill and crossed his muscular arms over his firm chest. He was interested and was settling in to enjoy the conversation. “What’s this book about?”

“Well, here’s the thing – she doesn’t want to give too much away because the project is still in development and whatnot, but she’s trying to work out some dialogue. She ran an idea by me but really, it needs a masculine touch.”

Justin smiled. “Okay; shoot.”

Ally turned to Michelle, who was still not looking up and who was still not talking. She waited for her friend to man up, to say something – anything – but the silence was becoming awkward and Michelle was making an absolute fool of herself, so Ally intervened. “Well, she wants this male character to say something unique and romantic, something totally quotable. She came up with a line about how he likes the way she says words like ‘crisp’ and ‘crunchy.’ Would a guy ever notice that?”

Justin looked off to the side, thinking the question over seriously. Ally watched him with patient eyes, while Michelle only stole furtive glances spasmodically and sporadically. Michelle thought him handsome and despite thinking Ally was full of shit and only liked to torture her, she was still interested in his response. When Justin turned back to the pair, he caught Michelle looking at him. They made eye contact and he grinned. “I think it’s possible, sure, if the guy’s name starts with the same sound, like if it’s a Chris. Is his name Chris?”
Ally turned expectantly to Michelle. She shook her head.

“Oh,” Justin said and he seemed disappointed. “Well, maybe you should change the words, then, to match the guy’s name. I think every guy loves the way his girl says his name, and not just while they’re doing it. Guys like the way their girls laugh, too.”

Ally smiled. “Well, thank you, Justin. You’ve been very helpful.”

“You’re welcome,” Justin said. He turned from Ally to Michelle. He was smiling. Michelle was only staring. The awkwardness was building and fast.

“Well, okay then. We’ve got to get going,” Ally said, leading Michelle back to the shopping cart the same way she had dragged her to Justin. Justin watched them go.

supermarketromance1

On the fact that yearbooks never lie.

Published July 22, 2013 by mandileighbean

“The space between the tears we cry is the laughter that keeps us coming back for more.”
– Dave Matthews Band

Life, for a complete and utter lack of a better adjective, is crazy.  As people, we experience and live through events that make and/or break us in varying degrees of intensity.  We feel triumph in finding a parking spot near our destination in a crowded city.  We feel triumph when we finally land that dream job or finally purchase the dream car.  We can be devastated if we miss out on an incredible deal.  We can be devastated when we get into a car accident or misplace something valuable.  Every human has major and mini crises throughout the day; there is no revelation in such an observation, but I think what strikes me is how often these events occur and how differently each individual reacts to a particular set of circumstances.  Because of problems within my immediate family, I have been doing some soul searching and deep thinking as of later, and as far as rationalization and understanding go, this paragraph is all I could come up with.  The kick in the proverbial pants is that there is no explanation for all of the things that happen.  And what’s more, even if there was, people would reject what was in front of them in search for something better, something more suited to what they want it all to mean.  Is that cynical?  Am I losing faith?

I finished the first chapter of my next novel, which is currently titled Moody Blue.  I feel proud and accomplished, but I am worried that I rushed the ending of the chapter.  I printed a copy for my mother to read; she helped me edit my first novel and it was only after I took her advice that I was published – and on her birthday, no less.  She’s my good luck charm.

I am currently scheduling an author talk and signing at the Manchester Branch of the Ocean County Library for sometime in October or November.  I think this latter half of 2013 is going to prove to be an exciting time for me.  Between you and I, I need it to be better.  I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I went for an ultrasound of my gall bladder last week, and the results came back clean.  My doctor, and my best friend, and my mother, all seem to think it is stress that is tearing my insides apart.  This makes sense to me, especially when I think about how many nights are restless, and how often I toss and turn, unable to escape my own head and the endless list of worries.  I am even beginning to have horrible dreams.  Most recently, I had a dream that featured someone who is dead and has been dead.  In the dream, this person was in a darkened bedroom with only the light from the blaring television and perhaps a bedside lamp.  I do not know if this was inside a house, or an apartment, or what – the surroundings were completely unfamiliar.  As a matter of fact, the person did not even look familiar, but I understood who it was and I knew that this individual was supposed to be dead.  I was in the bedroom, but I had no desire to be there.  It felt horribly wrong and it was bizarre.  The blanket and sheet were pulled down and away so that they pooled near his waist and his bare, pale chest and loose stomach were exposed.  On his chest and stomach was balanced a large glass bowl and two tall glasses.  I made to move them, to pick them up and carry them to a kitchen somewhere.  I was hesitant in approaching because his eyes were only slightly closed.  It was like he was awake and aware, and only pretending to sleep.  I think I called out to him and said his name once or twice.  But I was scared and so I ran, only grabbing the glass bowl which turned out to be full of water (so were the two tall glasses), and the dream ended as quickly as it began.

My father knocks on bedroom doors before entering, even when he know there is no one inside.

Thursday, I traveled to Hartford, Connecticut to listen to Stephen King have a conversation with some pretentious blowhard.  It was 103 degrees, and I walked around Hartford in that ungodly heat in a panic, looking for somewhere to quickly eat before the event began.  I arrived ninety minutes later than I had planned because of horrendous, horrific traffic.  I ate a restaurant called Hook and Ladder, located next to the firehouse.  The décor and atmosphere were great, but I was really disappointed in my grilled cheese sandwich.  I can’t believe I broke my diet for that.  But the event was awesome; King is a brilliant, accessible mind.  He shares my passion for the Boss, believes in God, and believes that love can be and should be and most often is limitless.  Ali from MSU was there, but we didn’t get a chance to speak.  She purchased a copy of his newest book Joyland, pre-signed, for $200.  I used to be that dedicated.  Or maybe I am just more fiscally responsible than I used to be.

There were fireworks that night.  So many cars were pulled over on I-84 to watch them explode.

I hit another 90 minutes of traffic traversing onto the George Washington Bridge.  Such is life.

But I promised in my last entry to accentuate the positive.  So, here goes nothing: I lost seven pounds in my first week of dieting and exercising.  I spent a birthday with two absolutely amazing friends in Brooklyn after surviving the drive in.  I was totally enchanted by Brooklyn and developed a crush on a friend’s neighbor, which is exciting and fun.  I have that story to tell, in my overly romantic way, for next week’s blog.

friends1 friends2

Stay golden. xoxo

On romanticizing roadkill.

Published October 11, 2012 by mandileighbean

Today was not such a good day.  For the majority of it, I felt overwhelmed and underwhelming.  It was an awful, complicated contradiction in emotion where I was frantic for perfection but fell short of the mark every time, so in turn, I became angry and defensive.  During my prep period, I truly had a strong desire to sit by myself and cry – to just let it all out.  I behaved like an adult and held it together, but I am still on the fence as to whether or not I did myself any favors.

When I was running, I saw a possum lying in the road.  Clearly, the creature had been struck by an automobile and that happens time and time again so in all actuality, there was nothing remarkable about the scene.  However, I could not turn my eyes away.  It’s dark, beady eyes were still open, looking out at nothing and offering nothing.  Similarly, its mouth was still open and I could see sharp, tiny, pointed teeth, as if the poor beast had gone down fighting, teeth bared and snarling against the metal contraption hurtling towards it impossibly fast.  Are possums classified as sentient beings?  Would it have been horrified to see the headlights bearing down upon him, or would there have been just a moment of simple curiosity?  It made me sad to think like that, so I tried to alter my train of thought, but that became impossible when I saw the pavement stained red with blood and realized that somehow, by some scientific logic, the entrails of the animal had exited his frame from the back end and lay whole in the road.  It took a moment for my mind to comprehend precisely what it was that my eyes were viewing, but there was no denying the veins, the tissue and the matter that had once been a stomach or a kidney or something important, something that worked to keep the possum alive.  I felt nauseous and finally, I was able to look away.

Running clears my mind.  It helps me to think and it helps me to be creative.  I know I can describe the scene in more detail, and that will most likely be my assignment for the next few days.  I want to be a horror writer.  I want to be able to create lasting and almost tangible images using only words.  The sight of a possum lying dead in the read is not extraordinary or uncommon, but how can it become grotesque so that a reader can perfectly see it to the point of becoming physically uncomfortable?  That is what I long to discover, and I suppose that will come in time with patience and practice.

Maybe the devil really is in the details.

On migraines.

Published July 26, 2012 by mandileighbean

Today, I went to Indian Hills High School in Oakland, New Jersey for an informal orientation.  I met two other new hires to the English department (one was also named Amanda, but luckily, I’m one of the few Amandas that go by Mandi) and was introduced to the curriculum.  I am in love with the curriculum; it has fluidity to it and the chosen novels are awesome.  The building is large, beautiful and technologically progressive.  The anxiety I’ve been feeling as late is now churning and turning into an emotion more akin to excitement.  There’s also a new kind of optimism; I’m not so worried anymore.  I feel ready to take on challenges.

Well, actually, I feel like shit (pardon my French).  I have the WORST migraine in the world (excuse the hyperbole).  I suffer from severe complicated, or complex, migraines.  According to Mayo Clinic, “With a ‘complex migraine’ symptoms can include weakness, loss of vision, or difficulty speaking in addition to a headache – often mimicking a stroke.”  My parents took me to the ER a couple of times because they were scared, as was I, when I couldn’t tell them my name or my birthday.  I went to the neurologist about a year ago, and she said these attacks were brought on by stress.  She emphasized how it was important for me to learn how to relax and how to stop worrying.  I have yet to learn how to do either of those things.  All I do is stress, worry, wonder and overthink.

Writing and listening to music helps me unwind and I promise I’m doing both … but I’m doing both while lounging.  No prompt tonight; a thousand pardons, ladies and gentlemen.

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