The Third Person

So I took a week off again… I doubt anyone noticed besides me, but it was for a good cause this time: to complete some paid work and to leave space for some self-care.

Part of this self-care included watching Julie & Julia. I set aside some of the problematic aspects of the movie and its indulgent push for cooking with butter to enjoy the silliness and feel-good aspects of it. I watched it while eating a delicious batch of vegan mac & cheese (highly recommend this recipe – I hate cheese sauce and this is essentially creamy cheese-less pasta), and it was fitting to watch Amy Adams’ character writing into the void and thinking no one else cared about her blog other than her mother and her husband. A line from the movie particularly stood out: “Are you listening, … whoever you are?”

So, in case anyone other than me noticed my absence, here’s a present: my being open about an experience with a person that means the world to me in a place that means the world to me. A place I miss dearly and feels farther away than usual during these uncertain and unprecedentedTM times.

Yes, it’s London again, and while I won’t give away details of the actual memory because it’s personal and I’d like to keep it to myself, I will tell it from another POV. This could be based on true events, but I’ll never know – the main character at the time was invisible.

Happy reading! I missed writing for you … whoever you are.

Image of a pub bar, with two empty stools in the foreground
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Friday night. Central London. Mid-August.

The weather was relatively cooler than the heatwave at the beginning of the summer, but people were still enjoying the odd drink outside. Their lack of a pub garden exempted The Pub from having Pimm’s and Aperol Spritz ready to go and instead let them serve their usual beers on draught, mixed drinks and gourmet potato chips and pork rinds. This didn’t stop patrons from crowding the sidewalk with their drinks in hand and posing potential road hazards. But it was Friday night, and Friday nights in London belonged to Londoners on foot.

On his way to clock in, the Bartender prayed that they wouldn’t be busy and that people would start their night in one of the many pubs around them with gardens so they could enjoy the gentle heat, smoke without risking their seat and get the perfect selfies at sunset. One step into the place and his prayer had been ignored – it was almost 7 pm and there were few open tables, but at least the bar remained free of loiterers. He clocked in, grabbed his apron and bottle opener and picked the section farthest away from the front door. At about twenty minutes past 7 pm, a man walked in.

The Bartender was confused at the man’s fresh haircut, matching navy blue jacket and trousers, clean white shirt and a bushy beard. It didn’t look like it was part of his ensemble and the hairs were pointing in multiple directions away from his face. Fresh haircut but no fresh shave? Was the man meeting his mother and making a defiant statement?

The bearded man pulled up a stool next to the one he was sitting on and ordered a pint of wheat beer. He pulled out his phone and sent a text before putting it back in his pocket. The bearded man didn’t look older than late twenties, but he didn’t look at his phone while he waited for his companion to arrive. He looked around and watched those around him, taking fidgety sips of his beer and rearranging the glass precisely so it would be on top of the water ring the cool and condensed glass had already created.

The Bartender served some other patrons down the bar and directed a few tourists upstairs where food was being served. He made a mental note to give a coaster to the bearded man and jogged upstairs to get some limes and lemons from the kitchen. When he came back, the bearded man was halfway through his drink and still alone. The Bartender knew better than to ask him if he was ready for another drink. He’d seen too many of the type: men, women and others who arrived early for a date, fidgety, nervous and on their phone just for something to do, only to leave alone after their first drink.

The bearded man checked his phone again and took another drink, but and as the Bartender was about to hand him a coaster, the bearded man put down his glass well away from the careful water ring he’d been making and looked in the direction of the door. He didn’t smile, but the bartender knew the companion had arrived so he stepped away. He snuck a peak as he pretended to rearrange the potato chips and shot glasses. The bearded man was waiting for a woman, but not his mother. He was on a date.

The woman had dark hair that wasn’t too short but not too long either, the style the Bartender had seen that summer on women who couldn’t stand long hair in the heat but apparently didn’t want to make the chop commitment. She wore a denim blazer but pointy black boots that clacked when she walked in. She made an entrance without meaning to, and the bearded man had eyes for no one but her as she sat down on the stool next to him. She moved her hands a lot as she spoke and looked for a server – she was nervous, not really looking at the bearded man.

She asked for a gin and tonic in an American accent and took our her wallet. The bearded man got more confusing to the Bartender – fresh haircut, clean-cut outfit, border-line unkempt beard and he didn’t offer to pay for her drink? The Bartender saw it going one of two ways: they parted ways after two drinks at most or they drank until closing and left together after sloppily making out in a booth.

The Bartender checked on them every so often, and they drank slowly. The bearded man paid for their second round of the same drinks and they drank those a little faster, laughing a lot more than during their first. When one of them went to the restroom, the other took out their phone and sent a text, probably telling their buddies how well the date was going or checking in with a friend to make sure they knew where they were at all times that night. The Bartender was surprised when they got a third round and the bearded man paid again – the woman had her card out ready but he stopped her. Maybe the date was going well after all.

They finished their third round, then he went to the restroom and they headed out. They kept a careful distance from each other as they walked out, the woman looking straight ahead and walking with good posture, while the man ran a hand through his beard as he walked behind her. So maybe the Bartender had been wrong – there was a third way their night would go after all.

**

Wednesday evening. Central London. Early September.

The weather was holding up its heat and the Bartender had heard optimistic office workers talk about an Indian Summer. He wouldn’t hold his breath – he could feel the days getting more humid as the summer drew to a close, and the odd barfly would carry a sweater or a jacket over their arm rather than on their shoulders.

The Pub wasn’t busy and the bartender knew it would stay that way. Only office workers stayed late midweek, and no one stayed later than 9:30. It was too early in the year for university students, but he had to card the occasional international student who showed up with a group.

The sun had just started to set when he saw them come in.

The man didn’t look familiar to him, but seeing the dark-haired woman next to him shed a light immediately.

The couple from the date a few weeks ago.

They were back sooner than the bartender would have expected them, then again they did act in a very unexpected way the last time he’d seen them. They were dressed much more relaxed this time, and the man had shaved his beard. His prominent brow now matched the rest of his face, and he looked comfortable yet ill-at-ease in his tan bomber jacket. The woman wore gray jeans and a plaid shirt with a small knot around her waist. Both of them wore sneakers – had they not been to work that day?

They asked for their same drinks as last time – the Bartender remembered the couple well and only took their order as a formality. There were no stools near them, so they stood and drank. They would chat and laugh occasionally, and they hugged and kissed often. They looked at their drinks sadly after each sip, and after looking at their drinks they looked at each other. Then they would kiss and say something to each other before looking sad again. At one point, the woman stepped closer to the man and put her head on his chest. He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. The Bartender felt like he was intruding just by glancing from afar while pouring another man’s pint.

Had they had a whole relationship over the past three weeks and were now breaking up? In the same spot they met? That seemed dramatic, but the Bartender stepped away to collect empty glasses and bottles, leaving them to themselves. He was glad he was only one of two working tonight so they would have relative privacy.

Close to quarter after 9, the Bartender went back to the couple to offer them another drink. He planned to make a joke of how he’d remembered them from a few weeks back and offer them a round on the house – maybe that would get them to be less sad. But as he was stepping close to make his offer, they drained their glasses at the same time, kissed again in a way that made the Bartender feel like an intruder, and walked off, holding hands. The no-longer-bearded man betrayed no emotion, but his eyes lost the happiness and wonder he’d had weeks prior. Deflated. The woman didn’t have as sad an expression, but she looked straight ahead as she walked out like she had the last time.

The Bartender shook his head as he collected the empty glasses and put them in the dirties tray. He had to add a third way first dates would go in his Central London pub: they have one,  two drinks at most, and go their own ways; they drink until close and sloppily kiss in a booth; they go on to have a relationship that will end right where it started, three weeks apart.

Venus the Cat

My new notebook has “Fables” written on the cover, and it reminded me that I’ve never opened my beautiful clothbound copy of Aesop’s Fables since I bought it years ago. These fables were one of the first memories I have of reading, except it was in an elementary school in Quito and they were Spanish translations. Still, I enjoyed reading the quick vignettes.

I’ve had the fleeting thought before of trying to adapt a fable into a bigger story, so I tried that this week. Inevitably, I wrote about cats again… but I also tried my hand at realism (I think?) for the first time in a while. What started as another attempt at flash fiction came out as a short story and 668 words over a decent first draft of flash, but I had fun imagining it.

I enjoyed writing this one, so I hope you enjoy reading it. I also hope you read some of Aesop’s fables too. You may find that some sayings you use often started with him.

Image of a cat sitting on a stone wall and looking at the camera.
Photo by Γεώργιος Κίτσος on Unsplash. NOT a picture of my own cat, for once.

Every day, Venus sat on the wall in front of her house, tapping her tail and waiting for him to walk up the street. Every day, she’d rush outside in the morning to catch him on his walk to the bus stop, and on the afternoons she’d sit to wait for his attention. Except on days when it rained – she hated the rain, and when it rained he speed-walked head-down past her house. If she played her cards right, he’d pat her head and scratch behind her ears. That was her queue to follow behind him inside his apartment – he let her spend time there until she got hungry and had to back to her house for dinner.

Today, he’d mussed her head in the morning and even pet her all the way to her tail a few times. She’d bumped her head against his leg before he walked away.

“Have a good day, kitty. Catch a bird or something.”

Venus watched after him, thinking of his scent. After she couldn’t smell him anymore, she went inside for her first nap. She dreamed of him in fragments, his face coming up close to hers as he pet her and scratched her chin. She loved his touch because he didn’t tug at her whiskers or pull on her face fur. Cindy, her owner, always wore a thick thumb ring with a thin slit in the middle that was big enough to get at least two or three painful hairs stuck. He never had what she liked to eat, and that was the only reason she came back for mealtimes.

When Venus woke up, Cindy had gone out for work as well and the house was quiet. After a visit to her litter box, she claimed her daily perch on the window and watched the world go by. When the sun was shining through the tree and she was snoozing away with the sunlight on her face, Venus felt something in the house. Her tail puffed up and her back arched, and she turned in the direction of the presence. It felt like a human but there wasn’t a human around.

“Venus,” a voice came from where she felt the human presence. “I can give you what you most desire.”

The voice didn’t sound like that of a human, and it sounded like it should be coming from another cat – Venus’ instincts were prickling up and tingling, ready for attack.

“I will let you be with the person you most want forever.”

Venus wondered why she should receive that and what the gift would actually be.

“You deserve this gift for all the patient waiting you’ve done. I will turn you into a human woman and you will be able to be with the human man you love.”

Venus’ tail came down as she sat on top of the couch. She hadn’t wanted this offering this much until the voice said it. As soon as she thought that, she felt a change in her body, a pulling sensation that started at her core and stretched upward. It went as soon as it came, and when it did, the window looked smaller than it had this morning, and she couldn’t hear the mice under the house or hear the bugs in the walls.

“You will walk outside when you see him come as the sun sets, and your new life will start. Beware of your old instincts, for I could not rid you of those.”

Venus went to the kitchen were her water bowl was and found it so much lower to the ground than she was used to, and when she bent down she lost balance and put her hands out to catch herself. She didn’t have her black fur anymore and was naked instead, with hands like she’d seen on Cindy. Ashamed, she ran to Cindy’s room and grabbed some clothes to wear and some for a bag she’d take with her. She’d seen Cindy do that and often laid inside her suitcase when she packed for a trip.

Back in the living room, she tried perching on the window again but kept falling, so she sat on the couch instead and waited for the sun to come down. When the sun set, as the voice predicted, he turned the corner. Venus walked outside, not having a plan but desperately wanting the man to see her and touch her. She almost knocked into him in her rush, but he steadied her and looked her in the eyes. His scent was still there, and the familiarity comforted her.

The man said his name was Gregg, and when he asked for hers, she didn’t hesitate to reply.

“Venus.”

Her voice was high but from the throat, like a cat’s meow.

“You have the most gorgeous green eyes, Venus.”

He invited her to come into his home, but he invited her to sit down on the couch this time and fed her pizza – it was more appetizing now than in her former life.

From that day on, Gregg and Venus built a life together. When they walked out together once and ran into Cindy, Gregg asked after the cat. Cindy teared up and said she had found the front door open one day and that she must have ran out. She was racked with guilt and hoped that her end had been quick at least and not at the hands of a fox.

Gregg and Venus turned the apartment into a home, with a lot of natural light – Venus liked to lounge on the couch in the sunlight while Gregg stroked her legs. It was perfect and peaceful, but Venus’ instincts never left her. They had become human-cat hybrid habits that Gregg loved but were hard to explain. When she heard a bird outside the window, she went into the other room to avoid the temptation of chattering at it. The first time it happened, Gregg had asked her what she was whispering about while looking out the window.

Venus hated loud, sudden noises, and showering was something she had to get used to after she gave into the pleasant feeling of warm water on her skin. Eating with Gregg was her favorite time, but she didn’t always like what he gave her. They worked out together that she was a big fan of fish, especially canned tuna, so every meal was pizza or steak for him, and plain fish and white rice for her. Here, too, she had to resist the urge to stick her whole face in the plate in favor of utensils, and even when she had mastered the fork, knife and spoon, she had to fight the temptation to lick the plate clean.

Venus was happy with Gregg, but it was the kind of extreme happiness possible only because it’s brief, whether we know it or not. For Venus, happiness went as fast as it had come, one sunny day, after Gregg had gone to work.

She was laying naked on the couch, letting the sun warm her skin and the breeze from the open window dry her hair, when she heard a rustling from the kitchen. It was a familiar sound, so she sprung up and listened. The sound came again, along with squeaking. She went to the kitchen, keeping her footfall light and silent. Instinct.

In the tiny gap between the fridge and the stove was a mouse. It hadn’t heard or seen her, so it kept sniffing around and gobbling up crumbs from the floor. She sprang. The mouse tried to run, but her size was in her favor more than before, and the mouse was dead in her mouth before he knew where the predator was coming from.

She dropped the dead critter on the ground and realized what she’d done, but not before she felt a tugging sensation from a familiar place inside her, a place she was shrinking into. She became compact and was closer to the dead mouse than she had been minutes before. When she went to grab it, instead of hands she had paws again.

She screamed, but it came out as a wailing meow, a sound familiar to her now-keen ears. She swatted at the dead mouse and it flung across the room just under the couch. She ran around the apartment, knocking into chair legs and barely fitting under tables, wailing and screeching as she went.

“I told you to beware your instincts.” The voice was back, and Venus felt its presence by the open window. “I had no choice but to turn you back.”

Venus lunged at the presence and aimed for the voice, but as she would have made contact, the presence disappeared and Venus was outside the window. Not having stood on sills in a while, she fell to the wet grass. She tried jumping up and crawling through the window, but after her fifth or tenth attempt gave up. She tried summoning the voice again, but she had never called for it in the first place and she knew she had lost her chance.

Gregg loved the human Venus, and she wouldn’t be able to tell him that she was right here, that he didn’t need to be sad or miss her or call someone to find her. She knew she couldn’t stand the sadness and his longing for her human self, so she went back to her old home and meowed at the door until it opened.

“Venus!” It was Cindy. She picked Venus up and cuddled her. “Thank you for coming home.”

I am not home.

In the evening, she looked at the clock in the microwave, a skill she would force to stick from her human days. Gregg would be walking up the street any minute. She started to cry, but it came out as a wailing meow again.

So Venus went out to sit on the wall to wait for him, in the same place that she started.

Goodbye to My Old Journal

I took last week off – it felt like a heavy week all around and my teeny tiny blog didn’t really fit in any conversations.

In the week I took off, though, I managed to write some more of my project. I’m just over 16k words, and it feels great! I certainly didn’t expect to be here earlier this year, when I had no words of my new or old projects.

Also this week, I joined a friend and some of her friends in doing The Artist’s Way. I’d never heard of it, and we’re onto week one. So far, I’m enjoying the Morning Pages, and they feel more like therapeutic journaling than unblocking my creativity, but maybe that’s the start. It is a journey after all, and hopefully by the end I’ll know myself a little better so that this new project falls out of me like stories used to years ago.

And it is thanks to The Artist’s Way that I finally finished the pages in my old journal. Six years, at least three countries, at least two moves and a lot of personal turmoil later, I am retiring the journal that was originally a present. I don’t know if it’s a writer thing or a me thing, but I was really nostalgic about running out of pages. I still enjoy the feeling of writing on the first pages of a brand new notebook, or even using a brand new pen on an existing journal, but… this journal saw me through a lot and went with me everywhere for a while, especially when I lived in London.

I reread a few pages as a weird exercise – the closest I’ll get to actually reading through it. Handwritten musings and stories are more intimate than typed-up drafts, like an imposition on the version of me who wrote those pages. Out of respect for the person who wrote them (and, to be honest, to avoid the inevitable cringe), I include here some snippets of where I remember being when I wrote those pages. A journey through time is the only travelling I’ll be doing for a while after all…

Do you enjoy new stationery as much as I do, and get as nostalgic as I do when running out of notebook paper?

My journal. Entry from September 2018.

Two weeks after moving back from London, in September 2018. I now know that what I felt was a tough time adjusting and being out of survival mode. With the benefit of hindsight, I would advise the person who wrote that to wait a little bit longer, that the only way out of the discomfort of adjusting to a new situation, familiar as the setting may be, is through it. I don’t think I wrote anything when I was more settled, but again with hindsight, one wouldn’t notice the exact turning point when a difficult situation becomes manageable again.

My journal. Entry from sometime in 2016.

My now-abandoned first novel. I went through a phase while I was in undergrad and for most of graduate school where I wanted my big projects to be about motherhood. My undergrad thesis was three short stories about mothers, and I convinced myself that my grad school thesis would be my last piece about motherhood, that it was the last part of the phase. I’ve never been a mom and I’ve never been pregnant, and I ask myself every time I remember the project, “What made you think you were qualified to write something like this?” Now, Julia Cameron would tell me here to be kind to myself, that that kind of negative self-talk is detrimental to my creative self. Speaking realistically, however, and even allowing for creative license and “being a writer,” I was very much out of my depth at 21, 23, 24 and 26. Yes, I did my research on what pregnancy would feel like and what to expect, but I’d be dishonest with myself if I didn’t admit that I have complicated feelings about motherhood as it applies to myself, and maybe these pieces were me working through those complicated feelings at those ages. I still have complicated (read: unconventional) feelings about motherhood and whether or not I want to experience that or have that role, and maybe that’s what this project was for: not to be published but to help me realize something about myself.

My old journal vs my new one. I was drawn to the “Fables” image because I read Aesop’s Fables as a kid, and what better to draw inspiration for a creativity journey?

Like running out of pages felt incredibly nostalgic, buying a new notebook felt incredibly important, like I had to pick wisely because what if I also end up with it for another six years? Realistically, though, it will only be for the Morning Pages while I complete The Artist’s Way. Or, hopefully, for Morning Pages even after I finish the course, if anything to finish another journal so I can justify getting another new one.

Onto write on these crisp blank pages!

The Portrait on the Wall

I tried my hand at flash fiction again this week, with the final word count being 1,025. I wasn’t intending for this piece to come out as flash, but it was a good exercise to keep the story concise and avoid unnecessary details, while also telling a story that could stand on its own. Like my previous attempt, this post is also a decent first draft in need of polishing, but I was really inspired by one detail and a real-life story I heard recently, so I ran with the idea.

Read on and let me know what you think – did I nail this flash fiction story? How did it make you feel?

Image of woman sitting on an armchair, with her hands on her lap, with a dog in front of her.
Photo by Camellia on Unsplash (This was not meant to come out this eery, but I had a hard time finding a photo of the ACTUAL detail I focused on for this post).

The portrait of the man in the living room hung on the wall on its own.

Imogen’s chair was in direct view of the portrait, so she spent her days looking at the serious expression on her late husband Ricky’s face.

Imogen was tired. She didn’t do anything with her time to warrant being so tired, but at ninety-seven, even breathing required effort. Things kept getting handed to her while she sat on her rocking chair: an over-ripe banana she didn’t want to eat, a small TV with pictures of people she didn’t know, babies she didn’t recognize.

There were always people in her house, and she wondered how that had happened when she had only had two daughters. Imogen thought Alice and Rosie only had two kids each, Alice a boy and a girl, and Rosie two girls. Imogen had helped raise all of them while living in the house that she and Ricky built after he came back from the war. Even after he died almost 50 years before, she would not leave the house. Imogen would instead help with the grandkids so her two daughters wouldn’t fight over who had more rights to the house.

Ricky also stayed in the house with her after he died. Imogen would see him walking around the kitchen as she fixed the kids’ meals, or standing in the doorway looking at her as she dusted his portrait. Imogen would catch him smiling at her as she fussed over a doily or arranged and rearranged the flowers for the kitchen. On the days she’d catch him with that smile on, she woke up in the middle of the night to his singing voice at her bedside. She was never afraid when she saw him or heard him nearby – Ricky was keeping his wedding day promise of always looking after her.

“Your dad came by today,” she’d say to Alice. “He thinks your little ones are precious and wants the boy to be a soldier, like him.”

“Mom, Daddy died years ago. He never met the kids.”

Imogen would insist that her dad had come by the night before too, to serenade her with a ballad he’d written for her while he was away at war. “The same one he sang to me when he came back.”

“Okay, Mom,” Alice would say, and Imogen would walk away without noticing the concern on her daughter’s face.

Without her permission or awareness, Imogen had started remembering less about life after her kids and more about her life before them. Strolls and fights with her sisters when they were all kids; ice cream and bicycle rides with Ricky when they were fifteen; the day he shipped out when they were nineteen, how he’d kissed her and said he should have married her the week before so he’d die a married man.

“Then you need to come back intact,” she’d said. “Don’t think you can run away from me to some other country.”

The day he came back was as vivid in her memory as the day he died. Imogen’s sisters had pulled their resources and their husbands together to get her that portrait of Ricky. She was glad they’d picked that expression on him, the serious soldier look and not the sweet boy look he had only for her. The same smile on Ricky’s face when he came to see her.

As more days without him passed and as her hair went whiter, she spoke less and only sat on her chair facing the portrait. Alice and Rosie would come up and speak to her, and other kids called her Grandma and Mammy while giving her hugs and kisses. She returned them, not because she felt anything, but because it was nice to feel loved when she was so tired.

She sat eating the banana, looking around to everyone who had gathered in her house. She knew it wasn’t Christmas because the tree wasn’t up, and it wasn’t Easter because Rosie hadn’t pushed her to leave the house for church. She looked for Alice or Rosie, to ask them why everyone was in her house today and why she had been handed a banana. She couldn’t taste the fruit – it was only getting mushed between her gums before making its way down her throat. It tasted no different than the mush she was given at all other mealtimes.

“I think it’s time to go,” Imogen said out loud.

“Go where, Mammy?” A little boy that was next to her said. He didn’t look anything like Alice or Rosie, and Imogen wondered how he’d gotten in there. “Mom, Mammy said she’s going somewhere.”

“It’s alright, honey, she’s probably confused.” The boy’s mom looked a little like Rosie. “We’ll let you rest now, Grandma.”

Later, when Imogen was lying in bed, her eyes opening and closing as she was drifting off, Ricky was at her bedside. He smiled at her, and when he serenaded her, his voice didn’t sound far away anymore. It was the clear and assured voice he’d had for her that dripped with love and devotion, the voice that made her name sound like a sacred melody.

He stretched his hand out, but she didn’t need support to get out of bed. She knew she hadn’t fallen asleep, but her perpetual tiredness wasn’t with her anymore. She could move freely again, and when she looked down at her hand as she gave it to Ricky, all wrinkles were gone. She turned quickly to the mirror and saw herself as she remembered on her best years, no wrinkles and with brown hair falling at her shoulders.

“I feel so alive,” Imogen said. Ricky smiled and pointed to the figure lying on the bed. Imogen looked at the old woman, her face sad and with some tears falling down the corners of her eyes.

“Come on, Immy.” Ricky said, grabbing her hand. “It’s time for you to be with me now.”

She went, because she wasn’t tired anymore. And the portrait in the living room was later taken down because there was no one on the chair to look at it anymore.

Aching Back and Black Tea

It’s high time for a new project. A new Work in Progress, better said. I’m hoping this new idea turns into a novel, and I’ve almost hit the 15k-word mark for it. Working on this one has been so refreshing, and (so far) the self-doubt has been manageable and muted in favor of wanting to find out what happens next. That feeling, of wanting to know what happens next and where the story goes, before realizing you’re the one writing it… I haven’t felt that feeling about one of my pieces in a long time.

I’m sharing a small piece of it, a continuation of a scene (chapter?!) I wrote a few weeks ago. Recently, I also came up with the emotional theme that the story will follow, so I didn’t feel too bad or self-indulgent if I didn’t go back to the story for two weeks to keep writing. I favored self-care while feeling off after hitting month two in quarantine, and I still came up with a major break-through for a new project. Time well spent.

What you’re reading is what I consider a very rough, in-need-of-polishing first draft, so keep that in mind when reading. I would love to hear what you think regardless, so please let me know how reading this short scene makes you feel.

Trigger Warning: References to domestic violence.

Black and white image of mug with steaming liquid inside
Photo by Salome Alexa on Unsplash

Her head still ached, and in her dream she was walking on streets, some in Camden, some in Virginia, and even one in DC. They all blended together, with a seafood restaurant with a Natty Boh sign appearing next to an entrance to Camden Market. Xander kept walking, but she broke into a run as she wound past some streets. As she got to one similar to the bridge underpass she’d walked with Neal the day before, she started running, but she wasn’t moving as fast as she could.

Like all dreamers, she ran and moved fast but she wasn’t going anywhere, and when it came to pushing past some kids waiting at the bus top, she felt herself pushing hard but there was no impact to her shove, and the longer it took for her to make her way past the packed bus stop, the bigger the urge to run. No one was behind her, but it was a presence, almost a mist or a fog, that threatened to consume her if she didn’t keep running. But the people at the stop wouldn’t move, and when she turned to find another way through, she saw Oliver’s face.

The sound of the door closing woke her, forgetting where she was. She tried to sit up straight, but her lower back screamed at the attempt and she couldn’t move. Slowly, Neal’s living room started looking familiar again, and as she unwound herself from the fetal position she’d fallen asleep in, her back stopped hurting a bit. She reached around her head to the arm of the couch for her phone where she’d left it charging and checked the time – 7:30. Neal probably hadn’t gotten in bed until almost 1 and if he left at 7:30, when had he gotten up?

Oliver’s face in the dream was the same as it had been the night before, before Neal clocked him. It was the same anger Oliver had had before he’d hit Xander, the same look she had noticed briefly before the smack came down. She was scrolling down Facebook but not really seeing anything but Oliver’s face in her dream, his face at the bar when he smiled at her in front of everyone at the bar, then his face the morning before, when he wound his arm back before bringing it down on her.

She went to browse Instagram but then jumped back to Facebook again, forgetting she wanted to see what her one friend from high school was doing for the latest pyramid scheme. She browsed again and scrolled for a few minutes before remembering she was working at noon and that she should probably get an hour or two more of sleep before getting ready.

She set an alarm for 8:30 and set her phone down. She turned to her other side, carefully to avoid the shooting pain on her lower back. She settled in and tried to go back to sleep, her eyelids heavy. She thought about Neal, how he’d said he’d be cutting a key for her today, so she probably shouldn’t leave until going to her shift, which meant she couldn’t go out and buy groceries like she’d wanted. She could clean the place, but that would be too presumptuous, not to mention predictable – he gets her out of the biggest pickle she could possibly be in while living in a foreign place, and her gratitude would come in the form of Cinderella?

What would she have for breakfast? He hadn’t said to help herself to anything to the kitchen yet, but isn’t it implied when letting someone stay with you? Or would he be pissed if he knew all she had to eat all day was a cup of black tea before going into work for five hours? She could go get brunch before going into work – that was an idea. Get a snack for her break on the way into the bar and hold off until dinner – but then she wouldn’t be able to cook him dinner like she told him she wanted to. What would they have for dinner tonight? What would they do for dinner?

Xander turned on her back again and put her arm over her eyes. Neal could use some curtains; those blinds were very dusty, but at least they were keeping some of the light out because of it. She could buy him new blinds or curtains, as a thank you and to help her sleep a little better if she was going to keep crashing in the living room. What if he wanted to stay up watching TV one day and she wanted to head to bed? What was the expectation there? She probably would have to stay up with him, yawn politely and be on her phone, or get comfy on the couch until she “accidentally” fell asleep and he let himself out quietly. She couldn’t be there for long – she had to find a cheap room somewhere close. Tracking down her great aunt in the country had never been an option, really.

She could feel herself dozing off, her eyelids getting heavier, her thoughts more disjointed. She thought of what she’d do for dinner again. They could have dinner together, get some take-out that she’d pay for. But that would surely set a precedent, right? Like a curfew, or being home (or back there) at a certain time every day to have dinner together. And who would cook? Not Xander.

What if he had ladies over – he wasn’t married. She’d never thought to ask. While having his beers at the bar, Neal didn’t talk about seeing anyone else at the end of the day other than his mom, and if he were married, a wife would certainly have something to say about those dusty blinds. If he had a wife, would he even have offered Xander the place? If that was the arrangement – but no, that wasn’t it. The way Neal had thrown Oliver to the ground, it had the familiar concern of a father behind it, not a possessive husband. That’s what Oliver’s face had been like. But she pushed that face out of her thoughts, not wanting to dream of him ever again.

She turned to lay on the side she had woken up on, and finally fell asleep. Her alarm went off what felt like minutes afterward, and she couldn’t get comfortable with her achy back, so she went to the kitchen and put some water to boil on the kettle. The plastic appliance had stains on it and was greasy everywhere except the handle and button to turn it on. So that’s where her gratitude would start. She grabbed the mug she’d used the day before and poured some hot water over a bag of black tea, and while she went to look for the painkillers in her travel first aid kit, she hoped Neal was the kind of bachelor that kept clean dishrags and dish soap somewhere.

Flash Fiction: Toss and Turn

This week’s entry was supposed to expand on this alternate reality post of imagining my life had I pursued a different career – in my case, a nurse. With the current situation and the literal heroes that nurses are (they always are, but especially now), it felt out of touch to proceed as planned.

I’m not feeling particularly creative this week, and I didn’t work on my new project over the weekend – I’m trying this new thing where I don’t berate myself for not being productive while in quarantine. It’s lovely once you realize you don’t have to have something to show for it to prove you were productive – self-care can also “yield” the result of feeling better, and that’s important too.

So my remedy for feeling uninspired? Attempting a challenge (and being satisfied with the result if I tried my best, but I’m still working on that) gets my writing muscles moving and stretching, and hopefully by the end of it I’ll feel more inspired and excited to go back to my new project.

This week’s challenge: flash fiction.

I have to thank a good friend and writing colleague for this idea. It’s not quite the “a story in six words” challenge – that’s further down in this year’s plan – but it’s equally a challenge to condense a story with a beginning, middle and end in 1,000 or less (my final word count is 1,014 – a respectable first draft). Less words doesn’t mean less writing; it means more editing.

So here I go – tell me if I nailed this!

Image of a broken paper heart strung on string against a black background.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Breathe.

She’s awake. What time is it? Why is the bed empty? How long has she been asleep?

3 a.m. And he’s not here.

She calls him, asks where he is, if he’s okay, why he isn’t back yet. What happened to being back by 11?

I’m across town. I’ll be home soon.

The phone clicks and she turns to her side, knowing sleep was impossible but deluding herself to try. She had just gotten good at falling asleep when he wasn’t there.

Breathe. Toss and turn. Breathe. Toss and turn.

She checks her phone again. Facebook, Snapchat, texts, then Facebook, Snapchat, texts, then Facebook, Snapchat, texts, then… Anything to tell her that he’s okay and he’s on his way home, that nothing has happened to him on his journey.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

The door goes and she comes to, angry that she’d fallen asleep but relieved at the same time. She can sleep without him there, but it’s more comforting otherwise. She doesn’t know this yet, but she would become quite good at sleeping alone soon.

She turns toward him, asks if he’s okay.

Yes.

She turns his back to him, hoping that by some miracle she’d fall asleep. The morning light was starting to stream through the skylight and she checks her phone. 5 a.m. She has to get up for work in an hour and 20 minutes.

He crawls into bed and she feels his arms around her and for the first time in her life, she squirms away. Says no.

Stop breathing. Start crying.

Their house crumbles, disrespect as big and destructive as a bulldozer. Their foundations are not as solid as she thought, if one late night without calling can do this much damage. Where had he been? Who had he been with? Only bartenders, students and dishonest people stayed out past 3 a.m. on a Sunday – which one is he?

In the dim morning light, he looks alien to her. The smell of alcohol and sweat familiar but unknown on him at 5 a.m. on a Sunday. She tries searching for another smell, any indication of where he had been and with whom, what he’d done with whoever it was. But smelling requires breathing, and she is too busy crying to do that.

Breathe. Slowly.

She turns over and hiccups more sobs. She stares at the wall and more sunlight streams in as he repeats, over and over, that he’s sorry. He repeats it so much, he falls asleep and his even breathing is interrupted when her alarm goes off. She turns it off and shoots awake, headed to the bathroom. He tries to grab her again but she shrugs him off and heads inside the small bathroom. She slams the door.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Swollen eyes. Red nose. Messy hair. Where had he been?

Since when was this a place he didn’t want to come back to? What had she done for him to think that staying out past 3 a.m. without a call was acceptable? People who loved her didn’t make her worry, lose sleep and cry.

Is she a good girlfriend? Is she a good homemaker? Is she someone he doesn’t want to come home to anymore?

Is she a good woman?

Her teeth are brushed, her hair is combed back and full of product and her face is washed of the salty tears but not of the shame. She boils herself some water and squeezes a lemon in it – it was time to work on her face.

She’s not tired or sleepy, but this exhaustion was as alien to her as the man who was supposed to be the man who loved her, lying in bed with his eyes closed but not breathing deeply. She isn’t tired but her body is heavy, her head threating to start pounding at any loud sound. Her eyes hurt and twitch every few seconds. Every movement is loud.

Moisturizer, concealer, powder, foundation, more concealer and more powder. She looks more normal, like someone worth coming home to. She flicks eyeliner across and swishes two coats of mascara before putting on red lipstick. She briefly considers the too-red red not really work appropriate, but settles for a muted rose – no need to call more attention to her face today.

She gets dressed, cup of warm water now lukewarm and acidic. She leaves it on the vanity and heads for the door – it’s the first time in months she’d be early to work. She walks past him – he’s awake.

Breathe. Breathe.

He’s on his phone typing and she’s angry. She ruffles through her bag like she doesn’t know everything that is there.

I’m going to the gym after work.

I think we should talk when you’re back.

Talk about what?

Us. Where we go from here.

She turns around and is wide awake. Her body stops being so heavy in a split second and she lets anger buoy her up. Her old self is on a life raft, floating and maybe surviving this shipwreck.

You get home at 5:30 a.m. and you’re the one who wants to know where we’re headed?

It was 5 a.m.

You’re joking.

I’m not. I checked my phone and it was 5 a.m.

She looks at his face. He’s gone. He never really came back from wherever he was last night (this morning?) and whoever came back wasn’t the same man who left. The man who loves her doesn’t look at her with unkind eyes and arms folded across his lap on top of the covers. This man is a stranger.

He didn’t come home last night, in the end. The man she thought she’d spend forever with. Because she isn’t someone worth coming home to. If she were that kind of person, the same man who kissed her goodbye yesterday afternoon would have been the same man who respected their home and came back by 11 as he’d promised. Not this stranger who isn’t looking at her in the face. The face he once couldn’t get enough of.

Breathe. Through a hollow chest. Breathe.

Breakfast

Over the weekend, I wrote the most words I’ve written yet for my new project. I was thirteen words shy of four thousand. Four. Thousand. That puts me at slightly over thirteen thousand words in total. Thirteen. Thousand. Words. Thinking back to before I started the blog and got back to writing more regularly, writing more than eight hundred words was like drawing blood out of the stone, and any time I wrote anything substantial for my old project, I would end up deleting it the next day.

Upon reflection, I had to admit to myself that my old project isn’t ready for me – or maybe I’m not ready for it. I thought back to the other projects I wrote before that one, all about motherhood in some capacity. What did I know about motherhood at twenty or twenty-one? I’m no closer to knowing anything about it at twenty-seven, so why did I think I knew anything then? I have some complex thoughts about motherhood, and it’s best I work those out before trying to write about it with any authority.

Trying to carry on with the inspiration from the weekend, I will stick to writing about what I do know: writing exercises (that are not about motherhood).

A skill I’ve developed over the past four years is writing marketing copy, and it’s a skill I develop every day. In this week’s writing exercise, I try to combine that skill with storytelling. Will I succeed in causing some sort of feeling for the reader? Read on to find out…

This box of cereal won’t change your life.

Really, what box of cereal changes your life? It’s an understated food mostly associated with kids and morning plot lines in TV shows and movies. Some people don’t have time for breakfast, and their life really can’t be changed by a box of cereal. So really, this cereal won’t change your life.

This box of cereal is made of organic ingredients and there is a version that’s vegan, but it’s hard not to find a vegan option of pantry staples lately. It’s not like it’s hard to make a cereal vegan, really: we just subbed maple syrup for honey. It took away from the bottom line, sure, but that’s why you have to read the label – we’re putting the onus on our customer and made the differentiating feature so small, you have to work to find it, and if you spend money for us along the way, happy days. In that sense as well, this cereal won’t change your life.

This cereal is for those who have grown out of Trix, Froot Loops and Fruity Pebbles on the weekday but still keep a box for the odd weekend when they watch cartoons. This cereal is for those people who want to put minimal effort into starting their day, those who want a small win but a win nonetheless when it comes to getting their life together. For however fleeting a moment, this cereal will help you feel like you have your life together and set you off into your day with a pep in your step, but then by lunchtime you will be calling for an adultier adult when you have a grilled cheese with canned tomato soup. Also in this sense, this cereal won’t change your life.

When creating this cereal, we almost felt bad for those cereals we left behind as kids after we realized that they’re empty calories and only give you the illusion of starting your day the right way. On reflection, sugary balls of corn didn’t even taste that great, but throw in some color and a talking animal, and us kids were all over it. We have no talking animals promoting this cereal, but only because we knew our target audience was too smart for that. For you to believe this cereal will be the best start to your day and will pair perfectly with your morning caffeine, we felt we only needed to add a reminder that you need to take care of your insides now that you get a strain injury from sitting down at a desk all day. Because of this reality, our cereal tastes like all decently priced granola does and can be eaten with milk, yogurt or as a topping for a smoothie bowl. It tastes like any other granola, so in that aspect either, this cereal won’t change your life.

So at this point you’re wondering why bother buying this cereal if it won’t change your life. But do you really go out looking for something that will change your life when you go out looking for cereal? No, you don’t. You only go out looking for something that will keep you full until lunch so you don’t snack in between meals. You go out looking for a cereal that will taste better than something you make yourself (if you haven’t tried to make your own granola before, don’t; it takes hours to make a decent batch). You want a cereal that tastes like something you can’t make because it’s too difficult, a cereal you don’t want to go through the effort of making but is just there when you wake up. You want something that feels life-changing but is really just one more thing in your day.

Look no further than this cereal: It won’t change your life, but it does taste like what an adult eats.

Useless Love Connection

Welcome new followers! Happy to have you here – I hope you find something you think a friend would like to see, too.

Well, it’s been… a week. It’s day 46 of self-isolation/quarantine/social distancing/a new normal, and it’s finally gotten to me. I’ve had a few not-so-good days of not dealing with the waiting game (how long until we can go back to normal? What would that look like? How long until I can travel again?). I saw a post somewhere this week that we may be feeling grief for the way things should have been had the crisis not come along, and that helped put a name to what I was feeling.

Something else that helped me get through these odd feelings was writing. I wrote a good chunk of a new work in progress over the weekend, and it was setting-dominant. Not surprising that writing about a different place that means a lot to me, imagining it and creating a version for storytelling, was a soothing form of escapism. Rather than making me feel even more restless than I already was, imagining and writing about a different place was actually helpful – it’s all about how you spin it.

So for this week’s post, I spin the current situation into a positive reading experience. This post is something of a step away from what I feel comfortable writing, but I liked the challenge. I hope this entertains you, and let me know how you’re keeping sane during whatever day of quarantine it is for you.

Image of tabby cat sleeping on a couch
Picture of my own cat, Chiquita, on my own sofa, which has magically escaped her long, adorable claws for 11 years.

She lost track of what day it was. The sun had come up a number of times and he was still here, with his alarm going off some days and not others.

He turns this morning’s alarm off, moans and stretches. She does the same, stretching as long as she can go and turning to her side. She gets up first and bends down to stretch one more time while he says good morning. She turns to look at him and blinks without saying anything before walking to the kitchen.

Her breakfast isn’t ready yet but she hears him in the bathroom; he’s brushing his teeth. She walks over to the window for something to do instead of sitting where he can see her. They live in an apartment in a really high floor, and she spends hours looking out the window on a normal day, but coming to see what has changed every hour is more of an obsession now.

The streets have been empty for days – weeks, maybe – and her usual people-watching opportunities have been traded for watching the odd car, bus or bike now. People still walk the streets, but they all wear masks or hoods even when it’s a sunny day out. She sees dogs more often now, dogs she saw on walks barely once a week before. There’s a great dane who likes to bark at anyone walking across the street, so he gets walked early in the morning or late in the evening. There’s the pair of beagles that used to get walked together that now wag their tails at each other from across the street – their owners wave and swiftly walk away. Her favorite to watch was the fluffy saint Bernard – he used to get a walker every day when the streets were fuller, but now he gets walked by a tall and slender blond woman who gets yanked forward whenever he sees a pigeon.

The pigeons! She hated them but loved to watch them when they perched on the balcony just outside her window. She liked to make noise inside to get them to go away, and since there are so few people in the streets now, they seem to have taken license to fly about more, and they extended that same courtesy to those weird small birds that live in big cities, the kind who rummage through trash and travel in groups of at least 100.

He finally comes out into the kitchen and starts fixing her food.

“What do you feel like today, sweetheart?” He asks, like he’s not just going to give her the same thing as every morning. “Here you go.”

He sets the plate in her usual spot and she goes to eat. As the familiar flavor fills her mouth, he pats her head. She moves her head away and squints at him – he knows better than to bother her while she’s eating. He chuckles and goes off to turn on the coffeemaker and make his own breakfast. While his bread toasts, he goes to the dining room table to turn on his computer.

Another area lost to her while he’s been at home all day, every day: the dining room table. Not that she ate her meals there anyway, but she liked to sit with him while he had his dinner (the only meal he ate at home before). She liked to stare at him, thinking how much he annoyed her when he laughed at something on his phone, with food showing in his open mouth while he chewed and laughed. She also thought how much she loved him, how he knew exactly at what time to prepare her meals every day with minimal reminders from her – no one else could do it just like him. Now, the dining room table has been full of papers she pushes off, pens that she keeps stealing and he keeps replacing, Reese’s wrappers and sticky notes. There is barely any room for her, so she spends her time on the sofa while he works.

He brings his breakfast to the dining table and starts clicking away at the computer, the now-familiar hum of the machine grating at her ears. He talks to himself as he goes, often with his mouth full. He whispers something about campaigns, engagement, lay-offs… she tunes him out and soon is asleep.

These morning naps were great for her. She never got a full-night’s sleep and woke up several times a night to stretch, for a drink, the bathroom, so the morning naps were essential to her daily functioning. She usually laid down on the couch, dozing off to the familiar sounds of cars honking, people yelling and dogs barking. Since the world went quieter, she dozed off to the music he played while clicking away at the computer. Some days the beat is chaotic and disturbing, heavy with guitars, when he barely talks to her except when he yells at her for making too much noise to scare away the pigeons. Other days, the days when her morning naps last until noon, it’s softer music that he hums along to, and his hums are easy to fall asleep to until he interrupts himself by talking more about campaigns and sales.

There isn’t any music playing today, so she dozes off to the silence but doesn’t completely fall asleep. She dreams about pigeons again, except this time they’re as big as the saint Bernard and they’re walking next to each other and they’re the same size. At one point the pigeon is walking the saint Bernard while the slender, blond woman is running in circles around them before falling with a clang and–

She’s awake and searches for the source of the noise. It’s him, dropping the pan he used to fry his eggs in the sink. She yells at him and shoots daggers from her eyes.

“Sorry, my love.”

Awake and pissed off, she stretches and then walks to the window again. Nothing had really changed since this morning. The streets were still empty and the people walking by were still wearing masks. It’s a cloudy day, and there aren’t a lot of dogs out today either.

“Anything interesting out there, princess?” He walks up next to her and they both look out the window for a minute. He’s drinking his second cup of coffee of the day. “What I wouldn’t give for a cup of coffee outside that I didn’t have to make myself.”

What I wouldn’t give for you to go outside in general.

He pats her head again and she lets him – the mussing feels good and she has an itch behind her ear anyway. She stays at the window for a little bit longer and as she’s pondering whether to go for a bath or another nap, noise starts up from the computer again but it isn’t music – it’s voices.

“Good morning, team,” he says and waves at the screen. The greetings come back from a handful of people. She’d gotten used to these daily occurrences too, but she didn’t like them. Since he’d been home, he not only ignored her most of the day, but he talked on the computer to people multiple times a day. It wasn’t as loud as the music, but she still fell asleep to the sound and tried to distinguish his voice from the hum.

“What’s on the agenda for today?” This sparks another conversation on the other end, and while the people on the line chat on the other end, he mostly nods, hums and sips his coffee. 

The conversation distracts her from her window watching so she goes up to the dining table to see when he’ll be finished. She pokes her head in front of the screen and immediately gets a lot of greetings.

“Oh my gosh, hi, Brandy!”

“Brandy, you’re looking gorgeous!”

She knows she looks gorgeous – she takes care of her skin every day during her baths. She keeps her head in front of the screen until he acknowledges her, and when he finally does, it’s to shoo her away.

“Sorry, guys, she’s having a morning. Where were we?”

She walks away from the dining table and goes back to the sofa, picking at some skin on her side. After a while, he says goodbye and shuts his computer closed. She looks around to him and realizes it’s lunchtime again – he sits with her at lunchtime, so she scoots to the far side of the sofa. On his way to the kitchen, he stops by her side and pats her on the head again. She lets him because she enjoys his touch.

“You’re such a good girl,” he says as he strokes her. “What would I do without you?”

Be incredibly lonely as you continue to never leave the apartment. How much longer will he have to be here? She wants him to leave so she can get excited when he comes through the door again.

“Good kitty,” he says with one final pat before heading to the kitchen for another lunch at home.

My Journey to Book Publishing

Today is World Book Day and Shakespeare Day, so I’m dedicating this week’s post to my journey into book publishing and writing. It’s also day 37 of self-isolation, and I haven’t been feeling very creative these past few days. I took advantage of last week’s inspiration boost to get ahead on my new writing project and to get last week’s personal essay out of me, but this week I feel drained. I know I’m not the only person feeling drained for a variety of reasons, but I also know I’m not the only one in need of a distraction, of something else to focus on however briefly from this chaotic new normal.

It’s also good to reflect, though, and that’s the approach I’m taking here: self-reflection on where I’ve been to figure out where I’m going.

Stay sane and happy reading!

I hope that one day I stop feeling ashamed that my journey with writing started with Twilight. I was endlessly teased for it in high school, but I can promise you I never wore the t-shirts (to school) and only stuck to bracelets, necklaces or keychains. I never had a Twilight-dedicated blog, YouTube channel or fan account, and my Facebook updates at the time were only about how excited I was to go to a midnight showing of the new movies (yes, I did do that but I never, never adopted the Twihard title).

For all the teasing, Twilight the book had an effect on me, because it was the first author I looked into beyond the backflap of the book jacket. I’d spend an hour or two on the family computer researching Stephenie Meyer and her own journey into authorship, and it struck me that she fell into the job. Granted, Twilight came during the YA boom of the late 2000s early 2010s, when heroines with book sagas and movie deals came out every month, and it could be argued that Meyer was lucky enough to send her book proposal to an editor who read it through dollar-sign-colored glasses. She loved books, is what she said in many an interview, and I distinctly remember her saying she studied English literature in college because she could read books and get a grade for it. That sounded perfect, except that simplistic view of majoring in English Literature lasted me only until my second semester of freshman year.

I mostly enjoyed my literature classes, but my creative writing classes didn’t always feel like work, and I always did the reading for those (I was supposed to read Far From the Maddening Crowd once and I couldn’t even bring myself to use Spark Notes). Workshopping my stories didn’t always feel daunting, and editing and providing feedback on my classmates’ work was enjoyable and a one of my strengths. I’d always feel confident on an edit and prided myself on my instincts, and while that made me the ideal candidate for a book editor career, I had a few turns to my story left.

After graduating college and spending a year in an awful job that at least allowed me to save up, I started graduate school. That decision was the main plot point in my story, and it came about accidentally, too. The novel-writing program that accepted me effectively rescinded their offer but offered me a place in their hybrid creative writing and publishing program, which was shorter and (they promised) just as valuable as the two-year course I initially applied for. I figured that if I was going to write a book someday, I might as well learn about the actual process of getting a book published.

Like my undergrad degree, I enjoyed my creative writing classes more, but that’s as far my creative writing career has gotten for me (until the start of this blog). Like the best stories, mine took a turn from the most unexpected place: the publishing part of my degree. 

I interned at a publisher while I was wrapping up my degree, a publisher I still work for today (three job titles up from intern, thankfully). It’s not a fiction publisher and I don’t read all day every day and get paid for it, but I do have an understanding of how books work. More than that, I enjoy it. I’m not an editor, but I never saw that career path for myself anyway and never worked toward it. I don’t blame anyone who thinks that’s all there is to book publishers, though, just authors and editors. It’s more complicated than those two roles, but I think learning the in and outs would ruin the magic for a reader. Lifting the curtain. It’s not always a glamorous industry, and I haven’t met anyone famous yet or have connections that will make publishing my own as-yet-unfinished book easier than it would be otherwise. 

I somehow ended up right in the middle of the industry, working with books every day and seeing the work behind the scenes. I’ve learned heaps, from how I’d like to be as an author, what I’d like to have in a publisher and (reluctantly but realistically) that there isn’t a lot of money in books unless you’re J.K. Rowling, Stephen King or Suzanne Collins, or you put in double the amount of work it took to write the book to promote it and yourself as a brand.

I didn’t know when I signed up for my master’s that this is where I’d end up, and mostly saw myself writing every day, and I very much didn’t see myself here when I started reading Twilight or watching author interviews on a family PC. What hasn’t changed is the fact that I love books, reading, the written word and storytelling, but now I know that’s not enough to “make it” or make a living out of it, but it’s a start.

A London Love Letter

Where are you from?

It’s a question that gets more complicated the older I get. Does it mean where feels like home? Where does it feel like I’m from? Where was I born? Where I grew up? Where I grew into myself?

The older I get, the more those answers vary, and to spare you the memoir-length answer to the first two questions, I will start with the easy ones. I was born in Quito, Ecuador, but I grew up in Silver Spring, just outside Washington, DC. I only just starting saying “I grew up there” because, as of two years ago, I’ve spent more time outside of where I was born than the time I actually lived there.

When I talk to other people who have spent a significant time in another place than where they were born, the common theme is the fact that where they were born no longer feels like home because they’ve been out of it for so long. By those terms, I’m from here, the DC-Maryland area.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral pictured from the top of One New Change. It’s my favorite place in the world.

That logic gets tricky when I’m in the US, to no one’s surprise. When I’ve been outside the country, most have no issue believing me when I say I’m American. After all, I sound American with the non-regional accent I developed while learning English as a second language (and after I shed my Latino accent tell that only surfaces when I’m nervous or tipsy). Although it’s less common to say I’m American when I’m in the US, the few times I’ve said it in front of my family, I’m quickly berated with “You’re Ecuadorian!”

But am I?

I no longer identify with core cultural principles of the country (except an infatuation with potatoes in all forms), I know next to nothing about the current political outlook and I would get lost if dropped off on any street and told to go to the house I grew up. The last time I went back was 2008, and even then I didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore, and now that it’s twelve years later, I often experience the feeling that other “Others” feel when contemplating belonging: I’m too much of THIS to be fully That, and I’m too THAT to be fully This.

That’s a feeling I took with me when I moved to London, but sadly I didn’t spend nearly enough time there to deserve the coveted “I’m from here” badge and had to settle with “I live here.” I grew into myself in London, and for that it will always live in my heart whether it wants to or not.

London is my three-year love affair. My geographical true love. Through disappointment, heartbreak and loss, London never lost its charm. During tough times far away from home, some people are quick to point the finger at the city, its unfriendly people, rodents in the underground transportation system or extortionate rent prices. Not me. London never let me down.

Leaving London was heartbreak in its own right, the kind of heartbreak that comes when you say goodbye to someone you love because being together isn’t that simple. When saying goodbye is the only option because the alternatives are too complicated or downright impossible. So you part on the best of terms, the friendliest and most loving break-up you’ll ever have.

London further complicated my sense of belonging, because my answer to “Where are you from?” had even more layers, not least because there was never a box I could check off in demographic information forms. There, “Other” was my go-to, the characterization I always avoided at home because it felt harsh, because I had boxes available to me at home. 

Yet, that characterization of “Other” provided added opportunity, the air of “mystery” (but never exotic – I’m not a fruit) that allowed certain foibles that I was ridiculed for at home. Like in college, when I was talking about study abroad to incoming freshmen and how my choice was influenced by my priority of wanting to go to a place where I spoke the language. When I said my native language was Spanish, the response was “I thought I could hear an accent in there.”

Or more humiliating yet, when my answer to “Where are you from?” was betrayed by pronouncing words wrong, like fun-gee instead of fun-guy when describing a mushroom in science class, or saying words that are not correct like “dumbly” or “indignated.” An answer further betrayed when phrases from my native language fit a situation perfectly but there’s no translation, or when my brain beats me at translating and comes up with a word that’s not incorrect but it’s wrong. “Babe, we need a balance in the bathroom, to weigh ourselves.” Because “scale” in Spanish is balanza

But for every foible allowed, there was a microaggression, or a remark I chose to take as well-intended because the alternative was too contentious (too contentious for a former almost-mother-in-law, anyway).  Where are you from? A question that some think allows them to see my culture as a party trick, something to relate to me when they introduce me at a party. “This is Vanessa. She’s Spanish.” How to even begin to correct that?

That’s one of the reasons I love London, because it posed me with challenging questions, but challenging in the way someone you love challenges you so you can find the answer yourself and be better for it. London gave me so many questions, situations and decisions I needed to overcome to arrive at who I am today, and for that, I’ll love it forever.