Summer Vacation

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On writing reunions and summer reading.

Published July 18, 2019 by mandileighbean

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The beginning of July has been wonderful. I love the intense, dry heat as it is an excuse to be lazy and spend hours floating in a pool with a book in hand. I’ve had a slowly but surely diminishing pile poolside, and I’ve been nearly perfectly happy. It’s been difficult for me to carve out some time for reading during the school year that’s not dictated by my professional obligations. I’m hoping the I’m instilling reading habits in myself over the next two months or so will spill over into the Fall.

Nora Ephron wrote:

There’s something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a sea-diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can’t tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he’s liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can’t adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All this happens to me when I surface from a great book.

It’s been a long time since I’ve joyfully suffered from a literary case of the bends, far too long. I need to rediscover my love of reading and read in the totally immersive way I used to. Like in college. I always try to tell my students that they’ll never have the kind of time they have in college ever again to encourage them to use it wisely and selfishly. I read and read and read. I always had my nose in a book, whether it was for class or for pleasure. And I didn’t care if people thought me lazy. I didn’t feel a pressure to be doing something more constructive. Hell, if I’m being honest, I didn’t feel a pressure to do anything. While it’s true I had less responsibilities and was physically located in an atmosphere very much conducive to my bookworm lifestyle, there was something else at play that’s harder to articulate, a kind of freedom I worry I might never find again.

Anyway, while I was in college, I was reading A LOT of Stephen King. I had gone to see him read once or twice, had forced all my roommates to watch adaptations of his novel, and was head over heels, exclusively reading King. My love affair turned intense during my freshman year. I was living on the sixth floor of an older building on campus with four other young women. Our dorm room was huge; it was two large rooms (one for our beds and one for our desks) and there was a private bathroom through the room with our desks. It was also across from the laundry room and was where all the other Honors students stayed. There were parties and fun, but for the most part, the people I saw on a daily basis had their heads on straight.

I came home after class one day, super excited to continue reading Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. It was engaging and enthralling, and I was hooked. All I wanted to do was lay in bed and read, and I had been looking forward to doing so all day. But when I entered the dorm, I couldn’t find my book. It wasn’t where I had left it, which was where I always left it: on my pillow. When I turned to circle dramatically in despair and disbelief, I found my book in the clutches of my roommate Charlotte. Charlotte was a talented, gorgeous, intelligent, and wonderful young woman, one of the best roommates I had at college. I loved her. But I was pissed she had my book (but not as pissed as I was when she ate my cookie and left a note saying “Sorry, but I needed it,” but I guess that’s a story for another time). When I told her I was in the middle of reading it, she asked to finish the page she was on. I consented, and she placed a bookmark in the book. Charlotte assumed we’d be able to read the same book at the same time. I had my doubts.

But what a wonderful experience. I was ahead of her, so she and I could talk about what we were reading while I did my best not to spoil anything. She used a bookmark and I dog-eared my pages (I’m a monster, I know). When Charlotte had a bad day, I set up a “bool” hunt for her just like the ones that appeared in the book. It was a radical, inclusive way to read to literally share a book with someone, and I cherished every second of it.

Reading, though a solitary activity for the most part, can be an impactful and communal activity (hello, book clubs!) and I feel the same way about writing. Last week, I was able to catch up with elegant, fashionable writers I met a few years ago in St. Augustine, Florida at the Algonkian Writer’s Conference. We talked about our triumphs and tragedies pertaining to writing, and discussed why we keep going despite the disappointments and rejections. It was a much needed afternoon and I cherished every second of it.

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Joanna Elm

Joanna Elm, accomplished author and one of the attendees, chronicled the excursion on her wonderful, absolutely wonderful blog which you can read here.

So, I’ve been reading and I’ve been writing. I’ve sent a finished manuscript to five literary agents and five small presses. I’ve also begun working on entering a few contests.

And I’ve reached out to the University of Limerick and am still gathering all the necessary information to live and study there for a year.

Hope all is well with you, readers. ❤

On nasty surprises.

Published July 12, 2014 by mandileighbean

It has been just about two months since I last posted.  I am ashamed to admit that I let life get in the way.  The school year got the best of me – a clear indication my priorities were shuffled and rearranged about a thousand times.  I thought I fell in love, but thinking about it only makes me feel small, sad, and stupid, so I’ve now come to the realization that it wasn’t love.  I have yet to determine what it was, but it’s over now, and I don’t think I’m a better person because of it.

But I have been writing.  I am three chapters into the new novel.  I have a short story to share with you all as part of my “weekly” writing prompts.  My contract with Martin Sisters Publishing will expire next year, so I have begun the search for a literary agent.

I am hoping to close on a home of my own at the end of this month.

There is good, and there has been bad, and in this exact moment, I find it difficult to describe exactly how I feel, but maybe that’s okay.  We’re all entitled to feel numb and completely apathetic now and again, aren’t we?  I think it’s a coping mechanism or, even worse, a defense mechanism of sorts.  I don’t know why I’m feeling so pensive or cynical.  Maybe I’m simply hormonal?  Maybe it has something to do with the heartache I alluded to?  Maybe it’s the dark direction I steered my short story in?  Maybe I simply spend too much time alone?  Whatever the reason, I apologize.  And I also sincerely hope you enjoy this week’s writing prompt.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #15: “A mother discovers a feminine collection while cleaning her son’s bedroom.”

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            “What an idiot!  How could that not have sent up a red flag?” Kelly McCarthy asked no one in particular.  The question had to be rhetorical since she was sitting alone on the slightly worn – but still perfectly comfortable – couch in the living room of the home she shared with her small, loving family.  She was mindlessly eating some low fat, low calorie, low carb potato chips (but all the health benefits meant nothing when she was likely to eat the whole damn bag in one sitting) while watching her favorite true crime documentary channel.  Currently, the channel was airing some cleverly named show – with an alliterative title, most likely – about handsome boyfriends and husbands who were not who they said they were.  This lady had married this good-looking fella after only a few months and found herself bruised and abandoned and robbed.  Sympathy was hard to come by, however, because if this female had thought clearly and not been blinded by a strong jawline, she would have seen through the obvious fabrications and been alarmed by some universally troubling behavior.  These women were not like the sudden rash of young girls that were missing – some had been found but all who had been found were already dead – in a city farther north than the one she called home.  Those girls were too young to be anything other than naïve and innocent.  How could someone who had not even graduated high school know better, let alone really know anything about anything?  No, these women, these suckers, had no one but themselves to blame.  Kelly was shaking her head, feeling pity but mostly disbelief and borderline disdain, when the dryer’s buzzer sounded loudly throughout the one-story, ranch-style home.

            Reluctantly, Kelly peeled herself from the overstuffed cushions and shuffled her slipper-covered feet through the kitchen and into the cramped laundry room.  She listened to the textured bottom of the slippers scuff against the vinyl tiles that floored the kitchen, and she listened to the buzzing of the dryer now only a step away, but other than the low and constant humming of the television, there were no other sounds.  Kelly found herself home alone, as she usually did in the middle of the day throughout the week.  Her husband, Charlie, battled a sizeable commute to the northern part of the state and her son, Joey, was a sophomore at the high school, and though he was scheduled to come home early in the afternoons, around 2:00 PM, Joey never usually showed up until dinner time.  He was always busy with some kind of extracurricular activity and Kelly couldn’t be any prouder.  He was so popular and studious.  Over dinner, Joey always regaled his parents with stories of the humorous antics of juveniles and how Joey was truly an asset to the school community.  A smile formed on Kelly’s lips of her own accord as she thought of her son, her only child, her pride and joy.

            It was a load of his clothes that had just been dried and were now patiently waiting to be folded and placed back in the drawers, or hung in the closet.  Typically, Kelly did not do her son’s laundry – he was nearly sixteen years old – but she had felt particularly generous this idle, random day and for no reason that she would ever be able to articulate.  Later on, Kelly would wish she hadn’t felt so – she would even raise red-rimmed eyes to heaven and demand of whatever God resided beyond the clouds why He had blindsided her with such terror and tragedy.  But before that moment, everything was normal and just as it should be. 

            She shoveled the random assortment of shirts and pants and socks and underwear into an empty laundry basket and trudged down the long hallway to her son’s bedroom.  It was the last bedroom on the right and its door was marked by a single poster, perfectly centered.  The poster advertised a poetry festival in a metropolis near her husband’s work in the northern part of the state.  Joey was such an intelligent, well-mannered boy.  He wasn’t like all those other boys his age, who were loud and aggressive and obnoxious and obsessed with their penises.  He was quiet and patient and obedient and enjoyed females, but not to the point where it consumed him.  He was balanced and healthy and beautiful and whole.  Again, Kelly caught herself nearly beaming when thinking of her baby boy.  She balanced the laundry basket on her particularly bony hip and turned the doorknob.

            The door was locked.  That was odd.  Joey’s door was never locked.

            Kelly placed the laundry basket on the floor and ran her hand along the molding that ran along the top of the doorway.  She was waiting to feel cool metal beneath her fingertips; the key to her son’s room.  She found it and unlocked the door, and pushed it wide open so she could traverse through the doorway with the laundry basket.  Her slippers shushed against the plush carpet and she gladly tossed the laundry basket on the bed, careful not to upend it of its contents.  It bounced jovially once or twice before rocking itself right.  Kelly walked to the dresser directly opposite the meticulously made bed.  She had developed the tactical plan of putting away the socks and underwear first because that would be easiest – Joey just tossed them in the top drawer of the dresser.  The pants and shirts would be decidedly more difficult as Joey had a system in place that Kelly had yet to decode.  A giggle tumbled from her mouth; how funny for Joey to be so organized.  She wondered where in his lineage she could attribute the trait, as both her and Charlie were both hopelessly sloppy.

            When she pulled open the uppermost drawer, a sound she had not been expecting met her ears.  Kelly distinctly heard something substantial sliding forward with the movement of the drawer.  It wasn’t the soft whisper of fabric, but something heavier.  Kelly pulled the drawer out as far as it could go without making it tumble to floor.  She looked within and she found a rather extensive collection of jewelry.  There were necklaces and bracelets and long, dangling earrings that younger girls would wear – colorful, gaudy, attention-getting.  Icy apprehension flooded Kelly’s stomach like the waters would a sinking ship because Joey did not have a girlfriend – not one that he ever mentioned, anyway.  Besides, there were too many pieces for one girl and there was no consistency in taste or style.  Kelly was under the impression that the jewelry had belonged to many different girls with unique and wonderful personalities, just as varied as the necklaces and bracelets and earrings.  Why would Joey have such things hidden among his undergarments?  And why was his door locked?  And if he had a girlfriend, why didn’t she know anything about it?  Why would Joey be keeping secrets?

            Whoa – Kelly stopped herself.  She stepped back from the drawer and shook her head, but still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, terribly wrong.  Maybe it was all the reality crime television she had been ingesting lately.  That was all – she had simply seen too many shows about serial killers who were meticulous, guarded, and kept mementos of their poor, tortured victims, such as jewelry.  She brought a trembling hand to her mouth and slowly shook her head back and forth again.  Joey wouldn’t do anything wrong.  Joey wouldn’t harm a fly, not Joey, no, no, no.

            Her eyes slipped to the closet.  Snooping would only end in heartbreak and pain, as did it for all mothers who found more than they bargained for in the bedrooms of their children (pornography, cigarettes, marijuana, naked selfies, etc.).  But Kelly now needed to snoop for exoneration.  She needed to clear her son whom she had already condemned.  She moved to the closet door and slide the nearest door open.  It creaked unsteadily along the track, and Kelly’s eyes fell to the floor.  Joey’s shoes – so clean, so clean – were in neat and even rows.  Sneakers, boots, shoes for church; there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.

            So what was the deal with the duffle bag thrown carelessly into the corner and out of sight?  Unless, of course, someone was looking for just such a suspicious detail as Kelly was.  Slowly, shaking, she dropped to her knees and reached into the dark recess of the closet.  She pulled the bag, scratching the vinyl with her nails and sending chills up and down her spine.  Breath moved in and out of its own volition, but it did not seem to be all that willing.  The necessary oxygen came in jerky spurts and Kelly feared she would hyperventilate and pass out.  What if Joey came home and found her like this?  What would he think?  What would she say?  Kelly inhaled, exhaled, and unzipped the bag.

            There were dark colored sweatpants with a dark colored sweatshirt, rope, gloves, and the light reflecting off of something metallic and sharp – a knife.  Kelly screamed and threw the bag from her.  She scrambled back against the bed and slumped into a seated position.  This didn’t make sense, couldn’t add up to what she was assuming.  No, those girls were missing from up north, from where Charlie worked.  Why would Joey ….

            Joey had taken an interest lately, hadn’t he?  Joey traveled up to work with his father whenever he could, whenever Charlie offered.  That wasn’t often enough, though.  Not to commit murder – surely not!  Joey would have to go up after school, take public transportation, and he couldn’t.  Well, Kelly supposed he could, but he wouldn’t.  After all, he had all those obligations which he never gave specific details about and which never culminated into something tangible, even something as simple as a telephone call from a club advisor or certificate of participation with the principal’s rubber stamp.

            What the hell was going on here?

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On absence making the heart grow fonder.

Published May 31, 2012 by mandileighbean

It’s been quite some time since I posted anything; I know, and I’m sorry.

My oldest sister, Missy, and her husband – we call him Wags – moved to Virginia yesterday. Jack, their youngest – just about to be one year old – went with them. Jimmy drove down with my mom today. I am devastated. Jimmy is my whole world. I love him something awful, and I am honored and blessed to call him my godson. He was sleeping when I left for work this morning, and I desperately wanted to wake him up, to make him give me a hug and a kiss and to tell me he loved me, to promise he would miss me and force him to smile. I didn’t do anything like that. I acted responsibly, maturely, and drove off to the high school.

But then I came home and found his little, white tee shirt on my cold, wooden floor. The brightness had dulled considerably because of the wash and wear, and because of the various activities a nearly four-year-old will find for himself to get into. Delicately, I lifted the shirt to my cheek. The fabric was soft but worn and I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I just released a single, guttural sob and that was all.

I am anxious for the school year to end. I am miserable. I worry that the students are not taking away anything of value, that they don’t respect me and view me as a peer rather than an educator. I also worry that the administration sees me in the same light. I’d like to believe I’m doing the best I can, but I don’t think that’s true. I’m going through a rough time – maybe it’s depression – and that makes me lazy, selfish, weak and complacent. I don’t know how to break the cycle.

I went away for Memorial Day. A handsome, young man named Isaac danced with me at a bar. I think he wanted to kiss me, or for me to kiss him, but I panicked and left, seeking out another beer rather than intimate contact. The rest of the time spent in Ocean City, Maryland was absolutely horrible and I’ve relived it so many times that it feels silly and extreme to put it in writing.

I need summer. I need an escape.

One of my students wrote an absolutely stellar short story for Creative Writing. It inspired me to write more and to write better. I cannot wait to talk with her tomorrow and tell her how talented she is, how that talent cannot be wasted and how I’ll do anything to help her. I really do believe she could be published.

I need to lose weight. It’s always been a struggle and the events of the holiday weekend prove I need a change and my weight is the best place to start because I can control my body – as a matter of fact, it’s the only thing in my life I have control over. The helpless feeling that constantly plagues me needs to stop.

 

PROMPT: Eggnog Regret
  After drinking a few too many eggnogs at your annual holiday party, you wake up the next morning realizing you did some things you now regret. Write an e-mail to your boss that will ensure you get a raise next year.

Dear Mr. Jones:

First, let me begin by sincerely hoping that this message finds both you and yours doing well, and enjoying the holiday season.

Second, let me profusely apologize for my behavior at the annual holiday party. I would like it to be known that I was highly intoxicated and while that knowledge does not, in any way, shape or form, excuse my behavior, I hope that it serves as an explanation. Had I not foolishly ingested so much eggnog, I would not have been so forthcoming with private information, so lax about the dress code and appropriate behavior, and I most certainly would not have vomited on anyone, especially not your beautiful, intelligent and doting wife.

Speaking of, Catherine is truly a remarkable woman and I do admire her greatly. It is always a pleasure to see her and speak with her, and that makes what I did all the more appalling. I promise that it was never my attention to publicly humiliate your wife or call your character into question, and I assure you that I honestly and truly believed everyone knew that her breasts were fake. I also assumed you had paid for them because when we were issued our bonuses, you were walking around the office with a wide and goofy smile and somehow, your slacks seemed tighter. Thus when I saw the three of her appear at the party, I believed the augmentation to be common knowledge. With all due respect, her breasts do not look at all real. I’m sure others noticed but unfortunately, I was the only one drunk enough to say so. And by “say,” I mean scream an awkward question across a crowded room filled with mixed company.

I would ask you not to think badly of Matt. He pulled me aside to keep me quiet; he tried, as a valiant gentleman would, to salvage some of my dignity. We retreated to a corner where I could compose myself and leave quietly, but his brown eyes were shining and his lips were slackened with mischievous, adolescent glee and I mistakenly took us as co-conspirators. I was hurriedly whispering to him about something inconsequential and trivial, and he was beginning to laugh. I took this as an indication that I was being charming and casually leaned in closer, casually doubled over. I was sitting in Martha’s computer chair – worth the money, by the way, because it is absurdly comfortable; I have no idea how she gets any work done at all; I’m impressed she just doesn’t fall right asleep – and Matt was kneeling before me so when I doubled over, our mouths were closer than they had been previously and I was drunk and he was handsome. I don’t really know what else to say other than I’m sorry. I know it was wildly inappropriate to have a raucous make-out session in the middle of all the festivities and there is absolutely no professional occasion where my shirt should be removed, but it happened. I think we would all benefit from putting this episode behind us and moving forward.

I particularly think that Keri would be most advantageously served by my aforementioned sentiment. To be honest, I have no idea why it was necessary for her to scream the way she did, attracting all sorts of attention towards Matt and myself. Personally, I think she acted out of spite and jealously. She’s always been a bit of a bitch – sorry, but I can think of no other word – and she’s had it out for me since day one. Remember when she filed that report with HR, claiming I only sharpened my pencils when she happened to be on the phone? I only started doing that after the report and the others in the nearby cubicles think it’s a real riot, so all I’m really doing is fostering community and how could that possibly be a negative thing? Furthermore, Keri’s screaming and pointing and shouting and crying is what made me nauseous – on top of all the eggnog – and had she acted like a professional and not been so “high school” about everything, I wouldn’t have vomited. It was out of sheer embarrassment I left Matt sprawled on the carpeted floor, grasping for my hand, and walked over to your wife. I think I was going to ask her to borrow a shirt but then I saw those two melons – they’re not real breasts anyway, so I can call them what I want – staring at me, almost daring me to make a move.

So I was standing there in my bra, looking down at my own melons, and compared to Catherine’s, they were inadequate. They were smaller than most men would like and could hardly be described as perky. My left one is definitely bigger than my right. I thought about these things, and Keri was still screaming, and Matt was still grinning and I wanted to grin like Matt, but Keri wouldn’t stop. I was becoming angry – incensed with anger – and I wanted to rip my shirt off like the Hulk, but Matt had already discarded it, so I decided to puke right then and there, all over the very melons that had started the whole thing.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I started writing this e-mail, truthfully, in an attempt to keep my job. I realize now my previously stated goal is nearly impossible and I also realize now that I am perfectly okay with that. Did you know Matt called me today? He apologized to me; can you believe it? He wants to get coffee and talk. That’s practically a date, right? I mean, wouldn’t you say so? Then again, you probably wouldn’t know because it’s been years since you’ve been in the dating pool and you had to resort to filling your wife with silicone to keep her interesting. I think that’s kind of sad, and I’m sorry.

I also realize that I don’t want to work in a place where Keri works, or where people like Keri work. She’s mean to me and I’ve never done anything to her, and that’s the worst kind of meanness that there is in this world.

So, I quit.

Tell Catherine I really am sorry.

Hugs and Kisses,

Joan

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