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On obligatory new year resolutions and the value of introspection.

Published January 4, 2018 by mandileighbean

MAN_ON_A_LISBON_BUS

Hypocrisy, in my opinion, is one of the worst human flaws. I understand this sentiment is ironic because just about a year ago, I wrote a post which discussed hitting rock bottom and how I was going to change myself into the woman I have the potential of being, the woman I so desperately want to be. However, the year came and went and nothing changed. If anything, I got worse; the weight has ballooned into an unhealthy, unattractive number; creative writing has all but ceased; I still spend more nights than I care to admit to publically eating bad food and re-watching romantic comedies at home … alone.

But recently, I was forced to think about the last five years of my life. With the clarity hindsight provides, I was able to understand that I had been through several tumultuous periods and had tried to blindly just trudge ahead. The spirit is commendable, but in doing so, I developed many unhealthy coping mechanisms that have since cost me my health and happiness and, to a point, my sanity.

So that is my resolution for 2018: to get back to good, and to take my life back. To do that, I am going to spend more time doing what I love. I’ll read more and I will update this blog once a week (every Wednesday for Writer Wednesday … get it? I’m a sucker for alliteration). Granted they start on a Thursday this week, but I had snowmageddon to contend with. And would it really be me if I did something right the first time around?

I will progress my literary career in 2018.

I will start taking classes for my Masters degree.

I will diet and exercise and the goal is to lose at least 30 pounds by May 16th (when I see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway!). I want to go hiking at least once a month and really spend more time in nature. This, plus starting therapy, will help me regain mental health and stability.

I will begin making improvements to my home to make it cozier and to become more independent.

Putting all this in writing helps me to formulate a plan and in my attempt to avoid hypocrisy at all costs, helps me to stick to these resolutions.

And now for some creative writing; stay golden, readers. And be excellent to each other.

WRITING PROMPT #01.2018: After falling asleep on a twenty-hour bus ride to his mother’s house, a college student wakes up to discover that he’s been on the wrong bus the entire time.

I stood in the bus station, looking out at a deserted Main Street that was slowly but surely filling with snow. The winter wind was whipping itself into a frenzy; I could feel it slipping through the door in front of me, and it was enough to make me shiver in my jeans and tee shirt. I was woefully unprepared for the wintry mix outside because I had fully anticipated waking up as the bus came to a stop in Atlanta, Georgia. Yet here I was in Liberty, Indiana.

I couldn’t understand how it happened. Obviously, I boarded the wrong bus, but how could that have happened? How could I have made such a stupid, stupid mistake? I rubbed my cheek, felt the stubble that needed to be shaved. It was bristly against my palm and helped me come back to myself. Staring out the door would do no good. I needed a plan. I needed to think of some course of action, so I walked back to the uncomfortable bench that was no more than a piece of curved steel. It was cold against my lower back, as the thin cotton of my shirt was powerless against the cold that seemed to pervade everywhere. It helped me to prioritize; I would get myself some boots, a heavy coat, some gloves, a scarf, and a hat. If I was going to be lost, I could at least be comfortable doing it.

Behind the counter was an elderly, grizzled-looking man who just wanted to get home. He watched me approach without interest, with a cold detachment that I took as a bad sign. I had heard that people in the Midwest, although weird, were incredibly friendly. This guy looked like I could have walked up to him on fire, burning alive, and he would have yawned and apathetically watched me turn to ash. I did my best to smile, and as polite as humanly possible, I said, “Good evening, sir.”

He said nothing in reply. He only blinked back at me.

I swallowed hard and pressed on. “Could you tell me where the nearest clothing store is? I didn’t know it’d be- “

“There’s the Liberty Mall right next door. You might have some luck there.”

I nodded, mumbling my thanks as I pulled the straps of my duffle bag higher up on my shoulder. He nodded in return and turned away.

I was on my own.

Outside the bus station, the cold was overwhelming. I imagined my fingers and toes turning blue, then black, then falling off. I’d leave a trail of them the cops could follow to the doors of the Liberty Mall, where they’d find me all frozen and stiff and dead.

I didn’t used to be this dramatic.

I hurried over to the mall, walking close against the sides of the buildings to avoid all snow as best as I could. I wrenched the door open against the wind that was really starting to pick up, and the first thing I saw was a little, sad-looking department store that appeared to have ignore the turn of the last century. My feeling of disorientation was growing; what time was it? Had I traveled not only in the wrong direction for twenty hours, but had I also gone back in time?  The yellow lights that burned overhead burned low, so that everything was washed in a depressing shade of yellow and looked older than it was and sickly. There was a young woman who came from around the counter and walked to the very edge of the store’s boundary. She hadn’t noticed me, and she reached high up over head. I realized she meant to close the metal gate that rolled down, so I sprinted over to her.

“Miss, please! Don’t close that gate!”

She looked at me in alarm, scrambling back a few steps and wrapping her arms around herself. I felt bad but was grateful she’d backed away from the gate. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said, “but we’re closing.” She looked at me from the sides of her eyes, turning her head mostly away from me.

“I can appreciate that, but I don’t have any winter clothes and I’ll freeze to death outside.” I stopped just inside the store. “I’m supposed to be in Atlanta. I got on the wrong bus and I have no winter clothes packed. Can I buy some clothes?”

She slightly turned her head towards me and looked me up and down. “But I’ve already shut down the register.”

“I’ll pay cash. We’ll cut the tags off and you can ring everything up first thing tomorrow.” She didn’t move. “Or you can turn it back on while I look around. Please, miss. Please … what’s your name?”

“Caroline.”

“Please, Caroline. My name’s Dillon and I just rode a bus from Philadelphia for twenty hours. I’m embarrassed, I’m cold, I’m tired, and I’m hungry. Help me fix one of those things, please.”

Caroline’s hands dropped to her sides. Her eyes were big and brown and nice to look at it now that they were no longer narrowed with suspicion. “Be quick,” she said before she turned and went behind the counter. I thanked her again and again, what seemed like a thousand times over, and she only got me to shut up by pointing me in the direction of the outer wear – first right off the main aisle. As I turned, I could see the bulky jackets crudely stuffed against one another, hanging from circular racks. I breathed a little easier and slowed my pace, figuring I could take a second to enjoy the tiny victory. I passed a t-shaped rack filled with coats for infants, the sizes ran from 0-3 months, and I came to a complete stop.

Later, when I called my mom from a bar with a steak and a mound of mashed potatoes both smothered in gravy in front of me, she harassed me, berated me until I could explain how I managed to be so stupid. What kind of jackass gets on the wrong bus? I tried the empty, obvious answers; that the bus station was crowded and overwhelmed with holiday travelers. I lied and said I was half-listening when the man who sold me my ticket talked about transfers, so I fell asleep and forgot. She wasn’t satisfied. She knew I was lying even though she couldn’t see my face in the way that only mothers can. I did the only thing I could do; I broke and told my mother the God’s honest truth about the last 48 hours.

Staring at the infant jackets reminded me of Alicia. I had met her in college, after I had gone to the north and broken my mother’s heart. Alicia was an art major who didn’t give a damn about plans or responsibilities. I was intoxicated by her freedom and her wildness, and she helped me to let my guard down and to get into a little bit of trouble. It wasn’t anything serious; no legal troubles, but a few stories to tell with a big smile. I loved her. And I’d tell her all the time. I told her I loved her constantly. She never said it back, just took me into her arms, into her bedroom, into the nearest place that offered any kind of privacy and she’d let me show her how much I loved her. I never thought much of it; I was happy and it made me stupid, I guess.

I invited Alicia home to meet my mom. She was supposed to be on the bus with me.

But she sat me down in the kitchen of her on-campus apartment and explained that she wasn’t looking for anything serious. She said going home to meet a guy’s family was pretty serious, the way having a baby was serious. Alicia usually talked in long, winding paths that eventually got to some point. And I could usually anticipate the destination of her dialogue and patiently wait for her to get there. But this time, I was confused. “Who said anything about having a baby? No one said anything about a baby.”

Alicia looked at her hands between her knees. “I didn’t want to tell you because I saw this coming. I knew you were getting caught up.”

I stood up. “Tell me what?”

“I was pregnant.”

There was a moment of stunned silence. She told me she was on the pill, so how this could have happened seemed the obvious question to ask next, but her phrasing troubled me more. “What do you mean was?”

“Don’t worry, I took care of it.”

It was hard for me to swallow. My face felt hot, but I knew I was cold all over. “What do you mean you took care of it?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Alicia said. She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean, Dillon. Don’t make me say the obvious.”

“You didn’t tell me?”

“I knew this was going to happen,” Alicia said. “You always take things too seriously. You get too invested. You’re gonna break your heart a million times over doing that.” She went to walk past me, to leave me standing there alone. As she passed, I grabbed her nearest arm and wrenched her back. She stumbled back to stand in front of me. Her face was pale, her eyes were wide, and her breathing had quickened. She was scared but I didn’t give a shit.

“You’re a fucking bitch.”

Alicia brought her hands to her face like I slapped her, like I was bringing my hand back to do it again. I still didn’t give a shit. “I love you! We’ve been sleeping together for two years, and you don’t tell me you’re pregnant? You don’t tell me you’re gonna get rid of it? That’s fucking weird, Alicia.”

Alicia came back to herself. “It’s my body, my decision. And I don’t have to explain myself to you! Just because I don’t buy into some Judeo-Christian definition of woman-“

“Oh, fuck off! This isn’t political! This is personal!”

Alicia pushed me hard. I moved back a step or two. She wasn’t strong, but she surprised me. “Don’t you tell me to fuck off, you petulant man child! I knew you’d be hypersensitive about this. Grow up, Dillon! You’re so pathetic, I-“

I shoved her. Hard. Hard enough so she fell back onto the carpeted floor of the living room, just a few steps away. I was losing control, and an apology rose to my lips, but I kept them shut tight. I had never laid a hand on anybody my entire life. I was a father, then I wasn’t. I was a gentleman, then I wasn’t.

Alicia was this smart, beautiful firecracker I tried to keep held securely in my hand. But firecrackers explode, go off, and the result was injury.

I left her lying on the floor. Confused, depressed, and desperate, I went back to my dorm room and drank until I fell asleep. When I woke, I only had thirty minutes to pack and get to the bus station. I blindly followed the crowds onto the wrong bus, going unnoticed because of the thronging crowds of holiday travelers, and then I slept.

“Dillon? Sir? Are you finding everything okay?”

I blinked and silent tears rolled down my cheeks. Caroline had caught me hundreds of miles away, in a different time and place. She found me vulnerable, crying in an outdated department store in a small town in Indiana.

On fountains.

Published July 7, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

fountains

 

On talking to the dead.

Published April 14, 2015 by mandileighbean

Friday, April 10, 2015 marked 90 years since the publication of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the novel that essentially changed my life by confirming the kind of woman – the kind of human being – I wanted to be.

I couldn’t let such an occasion, such an anniversary; pass without some kind of commemoration.

So I drove three hours and 40 minutes to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville, Maryland.  I drove down I-95, which I have become so accustomed to that traversing that interstate is painfully boring.  I had my iPod blaring, but my mind was essentially blank, other than lingering upon the object of my affection and then Gatsby and then back again.  The object of my affection tried countless times to convince me of similarities between him and Jay Gatsby, of which there are admittedly a few.  We sent each other text messages late into the night while watching the film adaptation of the novel, discussing themes and characterization and life.  I only knew the novel was published on April 10th because of this man.  Gatsby was (is?) our thing.  So now, perhaps unfortunately, the fictional world of Jay Gatsby and my first heartbreak are inextricably linked forever and ever, amen.

Maybe that realization, that my favorite book is forever tainted by the inevitable disappointment of romance, made me somber and weird inside, but I was certainly reserved as I pulled into the church’s parking lot.  I parked in the further possible spot, closer to the adjacent school than the actual cemetery, but did so for no discernible reason.  In hindsight, I supposed I wanted to be ignored and inconspicuous, didn’t want to be a nuisance of any kind.  That notion seems laughable though, especially when I consider how absurd I must have looked, emerging from a piece of shit car – part of my front bumper is missing – in a fancy black dress too elegant and too formal for the impromptu graveside visit, with a fancy black coat that made me sweat but offered respite from the persistent mist.  I was alone, as always, and walking around aimlessly.  I’m sure I looked out of place and had anyone been around, I’m sure they would have chalked me up to some kind of weirdo.  To be fair, I guess that’s exactly what I am.

The entrance to the cemetery is across from a sign that reads, “BEAN BLVD.”  That cannot be coincidence; I don’t care what kind of logic is thrown at me.

I saw a gate, but it was small and unremarkable, so I assumed there must be a main gate somewhere, adorned with ironwork and a plaque or a sign – something.  Looking around furtively, worried I might just be trespassing, I followed the low, wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the cemetery but found no other entrance.  I traced my way back, which maybe took all of two minutes as the cemetery is rather small, to that first gate.  The latch, with its peeling paint, was worn enough to almost be rendered ineffective.  I considered it a particularly cruel kind of irony that this humble, rather shabby cemetery serves as the final resting place of the man who imagined Gatsby and the extravagant, opulent world in which that character existed.  I sighed and opened the gate, gingerly lifting the decrepit latch and gently shutting the gate behind me.

The grave was incredibly easy to find, partly because the cemetery is so small and partly because his marker is so large.  It’s off to the right of the short, winding path that just ends through the tiny, enclosed area.  I followed it, careful not to tread on the hallowed ground of those resting eternally, but had to leave the path eventually.  My heels sank into the soggy ground and I berated myself for my inconvenient melodramatics.  But then I faced Fitzgerald’s grave.

It’s a simple headstone.  It has his name, the years in which he lived and breathed and made the literary world a far better place.  His wife’s name is below, as are her years of existence.  Perpendicular and impressive is a stone slab that bears the last lines of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, the work that is often considered the great American novel.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

I was the only one mourning and paying homage to a brilliant and destructive man, but I hadn’t been the only one.  There was evidence of other grievers.  There was a bloated, yellowed with the age, rain-soaked paperback copy of The Great Gatsby.  I leaned close and found it was open to pages 116 and 117, where Nick warns Jay that the past cannot be repeated, but Jay is deaf and insistent.  “Can’t repeat the past?  Why, of course you can.  Of course you can.”

There was a sodden bouquet of roses, decimated by the rain, soaked and scattered, looking especially tragic and mournful.  Perhaps the passage and gray skies and the cemetery added to that impression.

There were many pens, an obvious but touching nonetheless tribute to an insanely talented author.

There were many pennies, what I mistakenly assumed was an Irish tradition until I took to Google.  Coins are left on graves for many reasons, but there are three reasons that appear to be the most common.  One reason dates back to Greek mythology, and coins are left as payment for the ferryman that transported souls across the river Styx.  The second is related to the military and dictates that leaving certain coins is evidence of a particular relationship.  For example, pennies are left by any living soldier visiting a veteran’s grave while nickels are left only by those who attended boot camp with the deceased.  The third reason is to simply leave evidence that one visited and was there.  How narcissistic is that, having to leave proof of our existence at the proof of another’s existence?

My favorite token was a small bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey with an accompanying shot glass.  Next year when I make the trip, I plan on bringing daisies – though I despise the fictional Daisy Buchanan I completely understand what it is she represents, as despicable as it is – and a bottle of gin or some other antiquated kind of alcohol.  I plan on having some shots and hanging out for a decent amount of time, telling Fitzgerald how much I admire him, how much many admire him, and that I hope heaven allows for him to see how important he has become.

Much like the title character of his greatest literary achievement, Fitzgerald died alone and in obscurity.  Apparently the priest who presided over his funeral services did not even know who Fitzgerald was.  Fitzgerald considered himself a failure, and drank himself to death, falling dead in the apartment of his girlfriend, some tabloid reporter that he may have shacked up with to aid his dwindling screenwriting career in cruel, unforgiving Hollywood.

I devoured Gatsby when I was fourteen years old.  I have read it at least once a year since, and have convinced myself that I am Gatsby.  And as I stood at Fitzgerald’s grave, pondering the possible autobiographical content of his greatest novel, I realized that therein lies the magic of the novel; we are all Gatsby.  We all want too much and at times, we can want to reclaim some version of our former selves, tirelessly and obsessively chasing after some enchanted object that we think will fix everything.  We are continuously disappointed, but we keep right on chasing, reaching in everlasting desperation.

I thought Philip Roth had it right, that the real human tragedy is that we are all woefully unprepared for tragedy.  Now I think Fitzgerald was right, that the real human tragedy is that we are never satisfied.  We want too much.

I said a few prayers, thanked him, and empathized with the dead author.  I explained that I was a writer and that I feared my talent – if I may be so arrogant in insisting that I have some – would go undiscovered.  I told him I was afraid of dying alone, of having absolutely no one to mourn at my graveside, let alone any fans.  I delicately turned the pages of the soaked novel, carefully turning pages made nearly transparent by the rain and other elements.  I turned to the part where Nick pays Gatsby the sole compliment of their friendship, when he tells Gatsby that Daisy and Tom and Jordan are a rotten crowd, and that Gatsby is worth the whole damn bunch put together.  Nick is glad he said that, even though he disapproved of Gatsby from the beginning to the end.  It is a beautiful sort of sentiment, and I wondered if Fitzgerald, like Gatsby, had a friend in the end who got someone for him.  I softly kissed my fingertips and let them trail along the cold stone as I began the brief walk out of the cemetery, back to my piece of shit car, parked suspiciously outside the adjacent Catholic school like some kind of inappropriate joke made in poor taste.

I drove back home, traveling for four hours, stopping to eat at McDonald’s and then almost immediately wanting to die as the food upset my stomach terribly.

Despite the bizarre and spontaneous nature of the trip, the irritating traffic and uncomfortable way the greasy, cheap food sank in my stomach, the trip was inspiring.  I began to develop an idea for a third novel.

And it’s all thanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  So I will return again and again to give thanks and pay homage because he communicated universal truths without restraint.  He was unashamedly who he was, embracing his genius and his insecurities and his worth and his faults all simultaneously.  Fitzgerald was wonderfully and beautifully human and wrote to be inclusive, to help everyone understand that we are all guilty, that we are all beautiful and deserving of love, that we can all be great.  We all reach out, trembling, for the green light.

And it’s okay.

fitzgrave

On art and crime.

Published January 12, 2014 by mandileighbean

It has been a week since the last time I wrote anything substantial, and I am incredibly pleased to say it is because I have been busy, and not just with work and other ordinary, expected responsibilities. As of late, I have been noticing more and more that an important and integral part of being a writer is striking a healthy balance between living and working, especially because the two are inextricably linked. That symbiotic relationship can prove to be a vicious kind of cycle if that healthy balance is not struck. Writing, at its heart, is a terribly lonely profession. When a writer is hunched over a keyboard or a notebook, fervently typing or scribbling, that writer is utterly alone. He has created a world he can only enter until the work is complete and, if he is any good at what he does, becomes accessible to readers. The process varies in time and intensity, but no one can argue that writing is not time consuming. And writers write what they know, meaning that life experiences serve as inspiration and fodder for creation. Time must be spent away from the writing desk among others, being social and being daring. But then time must be spent recording and manipulating these observations and events into art. Both exercises must be constantly, consistently, and congruently adhered to. This past week I’ve been away from my desk and consequently, I firmly believe I’ve learned quite a bit.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #10: “The owner of a puppet theater goes on a crime spree with an inanimate accomplice.”

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Charles sat in the back of the police car with his knees rammed up against the divider. There wasn’t much room and he was terribly uncomfortable. He realized this should have been expected, but then again, he honestly had not believed he’d be caught. Charles had assumed that when the call came over the radio that a man with a dummy had robbed four banks in four hours, the attentive officers would laugh, shake their heads, and tell a joke or two at the rookie dispatcher’s expense. What else could a story like that be other than good-natured, old-fashioned hazing? Charles figured the disbelief and incredulity would buy him time and by the time a squad car reluctantly arrived on scene to assess the comedic situation, he’d be long gone with enough money to live comfortably for quite a while. Unfortunately, poor Charles had been wrong, just as he had been wrong about so many other things in his life. The cool, metallic cuffs suddenly felt tighter against his thin wrists, and they were pointedly digging into his lower back, so he leaned forward for relief. Charles was only afforded a few inches and the new posturing only served to complete the appearance of complete and utter defeat.

The rear door on the opposite side of the car clicked open and a jovial-sounded cop carelessly threw Buster in beside Charles, and then slammed the door shut again. Buster was splayed out and resembled a chalk outline, the accomplice made victim. His left arm stretched out and over his head towards Charles, as if he were asking for assistance in shallow gasps as the air or blood rushed out. His other arm lay uselessly by his side, and his legs were twisted around themselves. What bothered Charles the most about Buster’s inadvertent positioning were the eyes. Painted on, they were soulless and only stared. Currently, they were staring up at Charles and the manufactured grin, meant to be welcoming and disarming and friendly, looked cruel and like it lacked compassion. The dummy lacked all empathy and sympathy, and his cold eyes were locked on Charles.

Charles hadn’t meant for Buster to get wrapped up in any of this. When the bookings stopped – hell, had they ever really started? – and the savings dried up, Charles knew he and Buster were in for a rough patch. But when Myrtle had kicked them to the curb, hollering something about Charles needing a real job and always picking a wooden boy over her, Charles finally grasped just how desperate his situation was. Walking the rain-dampened pavement in the twilight, with Buster cradled carefully in his arms, Charles knew he needed a fresh start. It would be best if he was somewhere else, where his art would be appreciated, where ventriloquists were in high demand and often admired.

Charles needed to get to Las Vegas. Charles also needed money. He had no way of doing that; his mother had cut him off and Myrtle had very recently done the same. He might catch a gig in the next month, but that time frame wouldn’t cut it. He needed dollars fast. Hence the robberies with a fake gun Buster had as a prop for when they did their cowboy and Indian routine, which upon reflection, Charles realized was incredibly dated and most likely not funny. Well, he certainly had all the material he could handle now, didn’t he?

Charles hung his head and cried.

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On Boston.

Published September 30, 2013 by mandileighbean

One of the facets of my personality of which I am most proud is my predilection to travel, to throw caution to the wind and simply drive.  Last weekend, I traveled to Boston with Raina.  Originally, I was attending an author event for Stephen King and then Raina and I were going to meet up with Liz.  Unfortunately, traffic and random construction prevented me from spending the evening with Stephen King, my literary idol.  Fortunately, I was with amazing friends and we had a wonderful time.  I was captivated by our conversation, by the scenery and the understated beauty of Boston.  Our hotel room overlooked the harbor and I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment.  If only I felt so certain more often in life.

WEEKLY PROMPT #2: “A young mother is told that her children have been killed in a drive-by shooting.”

 driveby1COLD

“Alright, you lazy piece of shit, have it your way!” Brenda screamed out into the absolutely frigid night air.  Her breath hung before her as puffy vapor, and she hoped her words hung there just the same, regardless of their vulgarity or of the volume at which they had been shouted.  As a matter of fact, Brenda was damn near ready to pray that her degradations echoed in the still winter air, bouncing back to her nightmare of an ex-boyfriend from any number of surfaces, all coated in snow and ice.  She muttered more slurs and curses as she worked to shut her window against the cold, revolving the crank as fast and as hard as she could to see the glass barely inch along.  Much like her ex-boyfriend, her car was total piece of shit and she focused on the lack of power windows to black out the frustrated and terrified wailings of the children only barely buckled in the backseat.  They were her daughters, ages two and five and both had been fathered by the piece of shit who wanted nothing to do with any of them, and who had just stormed back inside his trailer, evidenced by the screen door in extreme disrepair banging against an already battered frame.  “Fucking asshole,” Brenda screamed to release the fury, but with the window finally rolled up, the space seemed cramped and lethal and the words seemed especially cruel as they settled heavily onto the girls like ash from some great disaster, eruption, or explosion.  If Brenda really stopped to think about it, she would realize her daughters were constantly covered in such debris, but she didn’t want to do that because guilt was an ugly and messy thing.  Thinking was half the problem, anyway; Brenda spent most of her time pondering and contemplating, and what had it gotten her?  Where had it brought her?  Here, to this absolute train wreck of a life?  Well, fuck you very much; Brenda did not want to be here any longer, so she slammed the shifter into reverse and peeled out of the tiny drive, letting the gravel fly.  She was going to speed towards relief, towards her apartment and her couch and a large tumbler filled with vodka.

But what about the girls?  Easy; she’d drop them off at her mom’s place.  She never said no and besides, didn’t Ma owe Brenda a great deal for essentially dismantling her formative years by providing no central male figure, and being a hot mess of a role model?  Brenda thought so, or at least she thought she read something like that somewhere important.  With a plan in mind, Brenda felt calm and steady.  She took a deep breath in and let a deep breath out, not surprised by the accompanying smoke because it was freezing in the vehicle.  The heater only rattled to prove it was on but not necessarily that it was working, offering only superficial and minimal relief from the extreme temperatures.  Brenda shivered, but gave no thought whatsoever to the two darling girls in the back, clad only in thin, stained nightgowns with matching backpacks – soiled and practically empty – strewn across the floor of the vehicle.  The crying had slightly subsided, perhaps because the girls had realized, at even so young an age, that their parents were radically unstable and simply could not care for them.  Maybe they were finally becoming accustomed to shuttling between filthy, cheap apartments littered with bottles, syringes, pipes, and burns in the ugly, itchy carpets.  It was possible the girls quieted their sobs because the preternaturally knew it would all be over soon, either because one of their two sets of grandparents would finally adopt – rescue – them, or they would die.  Having no sort of concept whatsoever about the latter, the girls may have been consoling themselves with thoughts of their grandparents, but it is far more likely and certainly plausible that the girls were too physically exhausted – hungry, malnourished, and in desperate need of a bath – and mentally drained to even cry.

Brenda, on the other hand, was still simply pissed.  Not only did that douche bag not keep the kids like he was fucking supposed to – like he had agreed to – but she was out of cigarettes, too.  There was sincerely no way in hell she could survive the remainder of the ride to her mother’s home, let alone the lecture she’d certainly receive upon arrival, without some menthols.  Brenda also firmly believed that vodka is best served from embarrassingly cheap glassware, that is truly only thick plastic, alongside a nice, long drag of a cigarette.  And therein lay her plan for the evening, sitting her tired and frankly unappreciated ass on the couch, and drinking and smoking until both her vision and hearing were drastically impaired.  She owned the sofa and ignored its repulsive condition; she had plenty of vodka because she always made damn sure she would never run out.  All she needed were the smokes.

For the first time on the drive, Brenda seriously considered her surroundings (it was nothing short of a miracle that there hadn’t been an accident).  They were in an awfully shady and decidedly dangerous part of town.  She had only been this far east once, and that had been because the douche bag extraordinaire had needed a fix.  Brenda figured she now needed a fix herself, but her craving was not illegal nor did it incite theft or murder.  She certainly had her misgivings, but pulled into the essentially deserted parking lot of the Cumberland Farms on the corner.  It was well lit and practically empty, so Brenda assumed the chances of danger were lowered.  Or had her need for self-medication risen to an alarming new level?  Fuck it – she was tired of thinking.  She put the car in park and made to kill the engine and remove the key from the ignition, but she stopped.  She whipped her head back to the girls, who simply sat and stared stupidly back at their wrecked, crumbling mother.  Their eyes were red and swollen, as were their thin, tiny lips and the whole of their faces glistened from tears and spit and sweat.  They had finally gone quiet.  Brenda cleared her throat.  “Mama’s just got to run inside the store, okay?  Mama will leave the car running so you don’t freeze, alright?”

There was no response, not that Brenda thought there would be, and so she hurried from the car.  Her slipper-covered soles fell softly onto the sidewalk and scurried closer to the light and warmth of the interior of the convenience store.  Just to the left of the entrance were two formidable-looking men, hooded and avoiding any unnecessary and undue attention.  They were certainly suspicious and inexplicably made Brenda slow her pace, feeling the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention.  Shrugging it off, Brenda slipped inside and strolled to the counter, doing her best to display a winning smile.  The clerk behind the counter was a male and attractive, so Brenda made a concerted effort to bat her eyelashes and laugh breathlessly for no apparent reason.  “Hey there,” she crooned.  “Do you have Pall Malls?”

There was the sound of screeching tires, but no one seemed to notice; not the two men dressed and ready for danger outside, or the two inside the store.

“Uh,” the clerk turned to face the massive wall of nicotine behind him.  His eyes roamed over the rows and rows of packs, all different colors.  He turned around after a moment.  “Yes, yes we do.”

“Do you have 100s in the orange pack?” Brenda asked, leaning over the counter so that her small breasts squished together to look bigger.  They were nearly falling out of her tank top, but her shame had departed with her pride and her figure some time ago.

Shots rang out; many, many shots, too many shots to count, just one pop after another.  The glass windows shattered and instinctively, Brenda dropped to her knees.  She couldn’t see anything, clapped her palms across her eyes and screamed.  She tried to curl up as small as she could to try and stay safe and alive.  The clerk had done much the same on the other side of the counter, and both stayed hidden until they heard tires peel away and could smell rubber burning against pavement.  They rose to face one another.  An odd, eerie silence followed immediately after the shots, where Brenda and the clerk were both frozen – rooted to the spot – and it had nothing to do with the weather.  Brenda locked eyes with the clerk, as if doing so made everything else go dark and become nonexistent.  She had a feeling, a horrible and inexplicable feeling that something terrible had happened, that the shots had been pointed pebbles carelessly launched at her fragile life and now it was shattering and splintering and cracking.  The clerk was the first to break the eye contact, turning away and leaning low and to the right to use the telephone.  He was calling 911.  Brenda didn’t know how she knew that, only that she did, because her ears were fuzzy, like they had been plugged with cotton.  She felt nauseous and overwhelmed and alone, so very alone.  She turned and thought she might stumble to the door, but to her surprise, she was running.  She burst through the door and found the two men dead at her feet, blood splashed and spattered this way and that.  Her eyes darted between them to her car.  The vehicle could only have been a few feet away, but Brenda believed the distance to be the greatest she had ever crossed in all her life.  She was screaming, trying to scream their names but she knew it was unintelligible and more guttural than anything else.  She collapsed against the rear passenger door and worked for a moment before she wrenched it open.

Both the girls were slumped over, bleeding steadily.

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On catching a break.

Published April 7, 2013 by mandileighbean

March 30th was my last night in Vero Beach, Florida.  I must admit that I was sad; I had such a wonderful vacation.  I lounged in the sand, soaked up the sun, shopped in expensive boutiques, tried a new style with a new haircut and feel completely at peace with myself and those around me.  That vacation had been everything I needed it to be and more.  However, I must also admit that I missed New Jersey and as I left, I was excited to see my family.

As far as the so-called itinerary I had in mind for the trip, I did not finish “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, but I only have a few pages left.  I wrote, but nothing of real value or quality, and nothing as far as truly beginning a second novel.  I talk about writing a lot, but I fear that lately, it has become only talk and nothing more.  I have to make the time to read and write, and truly devote myself to my passion.  I know that statement seems paradoxical and that one could argue that if I was truly passionate, I would not have to force myself to make time for writing.  That being said, I will admit that teaching consumes much more of my time than I had originally anticipated.  The goal for next year is to strike a healthier balance between striving for my dreams and being responsible at work.  Teaching pays the bills and while I love it and am fulfilled by it, writing is what pumps my blood through my veins.  Writing is what I see when I close my eyes, and the first thing I look for when I open them.

While on vacation, I attended the sunrise mass for Easter and went with Kim and Carol to Cracker Barrel for breakfast.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

One of my ceramic brackets for my braces popped off while I was eating sushi … imagine that.  I’ll called my orthodontist and set up an appointment.  Once I got there, they removed the brackets – surprise!  there was two – but did not replace them.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another; but I say that with a smile on my face.

Below is an assortment of photos from my vacation.  Enjoy!  Maybe one will inspire YOU to create a poem or a short story.  If one does, please feel free to share it!

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