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On seeking salvation from loneliness.

Published June 30, 2015 by mandileighbean

I know I need to update this blog more than once a month. My writing is becoming stale; my literary muscle is in a state of atrophy due to lack of use. I have no excuse.

I wonder how many writers believed themselves to be prophetic. I don’t mean in the pretentious sense, but in a way that can be validated, where predictions are not obvious or bluntly stated, but hidden beneath authentic literary merit. I mean in the way where plot and reality align too much to be mere coincidence. This topic has piqued my interest as of late because the ending of my second novel Moody Blue – which has yet to find either a literary agent or publisher for representation – ends in nearly the exact same way the real life source of inspiration is ending. It knocked me on my ass, to be sure, and I’m sure this post, with its assertion that I’m some kind of prophet, that all of this is a way to make it romantically tragic instead of just melodramatic and sad. Rather than admit I was fooled and manipulated, it’s grander to say I knew someone so well that I saw what was coming and used it in my writing to heal the wounds. I suppose it was more like seeing the approach of headlights and stepping into the middle of the street anyway because a beautiful, brooding man is on the other side, smiling seductively. As I stepped into the road, I knew that I was never, ever going to reach my desired destination, that I’d end up alone and as so much carnage that others will drive over without much notice, but I did it anyway because that smile made me believe things were changing, and that I just might make it. That smile became an all-purpose excuse for all the stupid, selfish, asinine things I did.

“This is my least favorite life, the one where I am out of my mind. The one where you’re just out of reach. The one where I stay and you fly.” 

But I suppose I’ll be okay.  

“I’m never alone. I’m alone all the time.”

I lead a very lonely life. I used to be ashamed to admit it, but I once heard that some are meant to be happy, while others are mean to be great. Thus, my only means of survival, of staying both sane and optimistic, are believing that everything happens for a reason, and that this is my path, for better or for worse. I must entertain the possibility that where I am destined to end up may not be warm and bright with smiling faces. I might have to be cold and alone to be great, to fulfill my potential. Maybe all the tragedy I’ve spent romanticizing for so long is all mine to keep.

Hell, even Gatsby knew he could only climb alone.

Writing Prompt #23: The figure in a famous painting begins communicating with an art museum patron.

The museum was clearing out. The few presumably pretentious patrons were shuffling towards the exits in shiny, expensive shoes that reflected their pinched faces of their respective owners. They all looked so important, raising the collars of impressive and fashionable coats against the cold, sharp February winds raging outside. The ladies adjusted their gloves to better cover and protect their delicate wrists against the bitter cold, while the gentlemen held the doors open, allowing the ladies to pass through with strong and protective hands on the smalls of their backs. Once outside, facing the elements, these fine, cultured gentlemen enveloped their classy, educated ladies in their arms and together, the pairs scurried to remarkably expensive vehicles, a Lexus there, a Mercedes Benz here, and a few BMWs for good measure. It seemed that everyone at the art gallery was impossibly intelligent, filthy rich, and happily in love. They did not rage against the dying of the light as the sun’s last rays burned bright and fierce through the large picture windows that surrounded the art gallery. It seemed that all were perfectly content to go gentle into the good night because they were not alone. They loved and were loved, and that was all that mattered.

Or maybe that’s just how it seemed to Olivia because she was alone – single and bitter – on Valentine’s Day. After all, wasn’t there some saying about everything looking like a nail when one feels like a hammer?

It had been foolish to venture out into public on the absolute worst of manufactured holidays. Olivia knew her day would be one long and agonizing observation of all kinds of public displays of affection, ranging from sweet (the elderly man who did his best to straighten his fingers gnarled with arthritis only to entwine them with his wife’s as they rode the bus to the city) to obnoxious (the sweaty, nervous-looking man who coordinated a lame, disappointing flash mob as means of proposing to a doughy woman too stupid to know any better and readily accepted) to grotesque (the teenage couple mauling each other while waiting in line at the local coffee shop, covering themselves in each other’s DNA in the disgusting way that only adolescents can). Begrudgingly, Olivia would admit it was the masochist within her that encouraged and eventually convinced her to journey to the art gallery. Later, when the pain began to subside and she was safe in her home, in sweatpants with wine and Chinese food that had been delivered some time ago, she could realize that being surrounded by affection was a good thing, nearly tangible evidence of its existence, that it was real and could happen to anyone at any time; she only needed to be patient. But in all honesty, her reason for going to the art gallery was not so romantic or noble, but just desperate and obvious. She only went there because there was a chance – a good chance, a fighting chance – that Scott would be there.

He had taken her there on several occasions, holding doors open and bundling her against the cold.

That had ended some weeks ago, but Olivia was a fool, the worst kind of fool who believes chance encounters could be manufactured, who believes hope comes from an ever-replenished spring and who believes chances are unlimited. She had convinced herself that if Scott saw her again, he’d believe it was fate and he’d give her a few precious moments to make her case as to why they belonged together. Olivia flat-out refused to believe Scott could feel or think any way other than the way she wanted – needed? – him to and on her best days, she could claim a romantic optimism, but more often than not, she knew better. It was pathetic and desperate.

Olivia had arrived at the gallery upon opening. She made herself comfortable, draping her coat over her arms crossed casually over her chest and meandering through the aisles slowly, languidly, always thinking, thinking, thinking. She had purchased lunch in their adjoining cafe, unwilling to leave the premises because she knew with a supernatural certainty that the moment she did, Scott would arrive and her last chance would be blown. Olivia didn’t eat much, but thoroughly enjoyed the complimentary wine and cheese despite the glowering looks from the supervising employee who quickly realized Olivia was only loitering and taking more than her fair share. The employee was able to remain smug because he rightly assumed that Olivia was a fraud, a dopey woman who probably couldn’t name a single artists featured in the gallery’s collection, let alone the title of one of the masterpieces.

And that was all true; Olivia didn’t know anything about art. So there she was, alone in an art gallery five minutes before closing, standing before some oil painting with tears in her eyes. Scott had not appeared, had not wrapped her in his arms, had not made everything okay. “Oh my God,” she said to no one at all. “I am so, so stupid.” Her voice cracked, broke, and the tears began to fall freely. “He doesn’t miss me, does he?” she asked, but there was no one there to answer, especially not Scott.

The painting before Olivia was of a young man in riding clothes, posing in some wild-looking garden. He had dark features and a very serious expression. The painting was generic and unremarkable, and Olivia found it all so fitting. What better place for her to have an emotional breakdown than in front of a random painting? Only truly great women could sob before the Mona Lisa.

Olivia released a shuddering breath. “I loved him. I loved him very much, and I should have made sure he knew that.” She wiped at her nose. “I just tried so hard to be cool, to not cling to him, to finally be the one who wasn’t so obviously at the mercy of the other person in the relationship. I wanted power and control more than I wanted him.” She sobbed. “But that was wrong, and I was wrong. I guess he mistook all that for indifference, thought I didn’t care, and now he’s gone.” She rubbed her eyes, smearing mascara and eyeliner without so much as a passing thought to her appearance. “I just wanted things to work out this time, this one time. I wanted it to be different. But here I am!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands before her and allowing her coat to fall to the marble floor. Her tone was now cold, sarcastic. “I’m alone on Valentine’s Day and I’ll probably die this way.” Ashamed and suddenly overwhelmed by self-pity, Olivia covered her face with her hands. She cried against her palms, unintelligibly begging for some divine intervention, for salvation from loneliness. She cursed Scott and his new girlfriend (which Olivia assumed he must have – what else kept someone busy on Valentine’s Day?) and then cursed herself for cursing Scott, for being petty and stupid. She berated herself into some state of composure, then allowed her hands to fall to her sides. Once more, she faced the painting.

A guttural scream exploded from her lips and reverberated back to her from the empty aisles as a terrifying sound, so Olivia knew she had to make it stop lest she scared anyone else. She clasped her hands over her mouth and stared with wide, petrified eyes at the painting that had changed, that had most certainly changed, that had definitely changed. The young man featured front and center had turned, had somehow shifted to directly face Olivia. His expression had drastically softened, like he was sympathetic to her pathetic whimpering. In his right hand was a dark red rose. Olivia could easily and readily identify which bush it had come from.

Olivia looked about wildly, curious if her outburst had attracted any attention at all. No one appeared to be rushing over. There were no strangers nearby to validate the impossible event she had just witnessed. Should she call someone over? Would she be believed? Would anyone else see what she was seeing? She returned her gaze to the painting.

Olivia thought she was going to vomit and then pass out, simply keel over. The painting had changed again.

The young man was smiling kindly, very kindly, in a way that almost calmed Olivia, who was on the verge of becoming hysterical. His arms were spread wide, as if he were offering her something. Guided by an unfamiliar instinct, Olivia looked at the floor beneath the painting. There lay the dark red rose the young man had been holding.

Slowly, breathing deeply, Olivia bent to retrieve the rose. The stem was covered in thorns, real enough that Olivia pricked her pointer finger and it began to bleed. The petals were soft and the fragrance was strong. It made Olivia smile. In spite of the lunacy, the sheer insanity of it all, Olivia smiled. She looked to the young man in the painting to thank him, but the expression of gratitude died on her lips. The painting was as it was before, as it should be. Olivia gasped. It was so bizarre that she was transfixed, unable to look away. She reached out her free hands, the one not holding the rose, to touch the painting, to ascertain if it was real, or if there might be some technological trickery at work.

A throat cleared itself behind her.

Nearly screaming aloud again, Olivia wheeled around to find the employee who had been so stingy with the wine and cheese standing behind her. “Ma’am, don’t touch the paintings,” he instructed in a bored tone of voice. “Also, we’re closing now. You’re going to have to leave.”

“Oh, oh, okay,” Olivia mumbled, pale and confused. The employee, seemingly oblivious to Olivia’s distress, turned away. He trotted down the hall, and Olivia scooped up her coat, careful not to lay eyes on the painting in case it changed again, in which chase she would have a heart attack and die. She hurried to the exit, but not before she mumbled a hurried and terribly confused, “thank you.”

The young man in the painting smiled but there was no one there to see it.

hc single valentine's day

On a sunrise that never comes.

Published September 9, 2012 by mandileighbean

Okay, so the first week of school got the better of me.  I celebrated completing the very first day with students by indulging in dinner.  Karma intervened, however, and the meal wasn’t even that good.  Usually I do cartwheels for shrimp parmesan with pasta from this local pizzeria and restaurant, but it was only okay this time around.  It serves me right, I guess, for trying to break my diet.  OH!  The Giants lost and I was devastated.  It made me cranky on Thursday, but on Thursday, I stuck to my diet.  I was not able to write or read.  I had school work to do and I had to drive my dad twenty minutes to retrieve his medication for PTSD that a coworker had brought home with him.  My dad’s foot was crushed beneath a 300 pound utility pole at work.  He might need surgery and he’s likely to be out four to six weeks … returning after the union goes on strike.  It was all terribly convenient – ha ha! – until Dad’s foreman called yesterday and announced that the strike, which seemed imminent, was now NOT going to happen.  All’s well that ends well, eh?

Friday, I relaxed after work with some colleagues at a local watering hole.  I meant to go to the freshmen football game and I meant to get some serious grading done, but I did neither.  Exhaustion got the better of me and I just crashed.  I think I was in for the night by something like 9:30PM, which is absurd.  Although, I did get exciting news – my gallery pages were done!  I was able to glimpse what my book will actually look like when its printed, and it is amazing!  My wonderful, beautiful and glorious editor, Melissa Newman, knew exactly what I wanted to say and knew exactly what I was trying to create.  She amplified the writing and made it successful, more complex, and more entertaining.  I am still so excited!  I am so anxious to physically hold my novel in my hands.  I am more than ready and willing and able to hit the streets to get the word out, drive profits up and make a name for myself in the literary scene.  My mom worries I’m letting my imagination run wild, but so what?  I truly believe that this is the beginning of something special.  And like a close friend quoted to me on one of my darker days, “Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.”

Saturday was Mikey’s birthday, and it was a really nice time.  I love him and I am proud of him.  I think it is so cool that I get to see him every day at school and be a part of his life in another integral way.  I doubt he’d say the same, but what does he know?  He just turned fourteen.

In contrast to Friday, I was SUPER productive today.  I finished reviewing my gallery pages late last night and sent them on their way first thing this morning.  I graded.  I made copies.  I sent important e-mails.  I organized.  I was, essentially, SUPER efficient.  I hope I can keep that up for more than just the first week of school though.  If I know myself like I think I do, then I will definitely have to work at it.

Hopefully tomorrow’s blog won’t be all about work.  I don’t want to be one of those people who only ever talks about work.  When I was with my colleagues Friday afternoon, the majority of the conversation was about school and blah, blah, blah.  I understand that is a commonality for us and it is logical to discuss what we all know, but I want to be so much more than that.  I don’t want to just be a teacher.  I want to be a writer.  I want to talk about both.  Does that make me pretentious?  I worry that it does.

PROMPT: A boy and his father awaken early to watch the sunrise from their mountain campsite, but they begin to panic when the sky remains dark long into the afternoon.

PIECE: Big Chris and Little Chris, as father and son were respectively known, were sitting beside one another on a decidedly uncomfortable yet entirely appropriate, considering the situation, log.  It was bumpy – just as Little Chris had expected; he knew logs were bumpy because he had been called a “bump on a log” more times than he could count by more people than he cared to count, Big Chris included.  Thinking of his other nickname made Little Chris cranky, as did the bumpy log, as did the fact that Big Chris had rudely awakened him well before the crack of dawn.  Torn from his warm, cozy sleeping bag, Little Chris was now being forced to sit and stare into darkness.  It was pointless.  It was dumb.  Little Chris would rather be sleeping.  He thought this sucked.

Big Chris, on the other hand, was sitting on the edge of his portion of the log, nearly breathless.  He had been remarkably proud of his idea to watch the sunrise with his one and only son.  Big Chris thought it would be a real moment, the kind of moment he had never shared with his own father, the kind of moment Little Chris would recollect in the twilight of his years fondly.  Their campsite was perfect for it; they’d be able to see the whole process and the view would not be broken by trees or craggy cliffs.  It would be majestic – a word Big Chris had never had the opportunity to employ until now.  His smile was big and cheesy, and his pearly whites were the only thing Little Chris could make out in the near total darkness.

It was 6:30AM – just two more minutes until the sun began to rise.  Unable to control it, Big Chris let loose with a booming laugh and an affectionate pat upon his son’s back.  Little Chris only shivered and crossed his arms over his chest.  He was already over it.

It was 6:40AM – and it was still completely dark.  Big Chris was puzzled and did his best to rationalize the sun’s notable absence.  From beside him, Little Chris asked, “What time is it supposed to start?  I mean, shouldn’t it have started by now?”  Little Chris voiced his questions in a small whisper.  He did not know why he was whispering.

It was 7:00AM.  Both father and son sat silent and motionless, trying to control their breathing and desperately searching their minds for a cause.  If they knew why the sun was refusing to shine, then maybe they could figure out how to make it shine.

It was 9:00AM.  Little Chris had retreated back inside the tent.  He didn’t want to be alone, but he didn’t want his father to see him cry.  He was ten years old, and that was too old to be blubbering, to be holding onto Dad around his waist, and to be wiping a snotty, stupid nose against Dad’s tee-shirt.  Also, the only plan he had for making the sun come up was to sleep.  Maybe if everyone went back to sleep and accepted that it was still nighttime, the sun would be there when they woke up, like it always had been and like it always should be.  Little Chris had known that getting up so early was a bad idea; maybe the sun was angry that him and his dad had tried to outsmart it.  Maybe the sun didn’t like anyone watching it rise over the landscape.  Little Chris knew these ideas were childish, but they gave him some comfort as he lay down and cried inside the tent.

Big Chris was on his cell phone.  He was trying to talk to his wife, to calm her down some because she had risen to find that the sun had not.  Hysterically, she was trying to relay reports and expert hypotheses but she was crying so hard she couldn’t breathe, so she couldn’t really talk, and service was spotty at best.  Soon, the call was lost.  It was unnaturally dark, and father and son were alone.

It was 1:00PM.  Little Chris had woken from his “nap,” only to find that his plan had failed, as he knew it would.  He now was cradled in his father’s lap, still crying and shaking.  Big Chris was doing his best to rock his son back and forth, shushing him and trying to soothe him, trying to convince him of the impossible – that nothing was wrong.  Big Chris wanted to cry, wanted to just sit and cry, but he couldn’t do that.  He had to be strong.  He had to keep his son safe.  He was trying to come up with a plan.  Was it worth it to grab some flashlights and try to get back to the truck?  Should they bring the tent and all the gear?

Big Chris didn’t know.  He just didn’t know.

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