An Update, Six Months On

When I joined the blogging community, I was conscious of the crowded space I was joining and how difficult it would be to stand apart from the rest. Although that was never my main intention, I knew that most of my voice would be lost in the void. It would have been nice to be noticed, but I never started this blog for anyone other than myself.

I’ve been noticeably absent for a while, and I have to admit that I’ve only given this blog a passing thought this week. Two weeks ago, I prioritized paid work again, and thought I would devote some attention this past week. Then I sprained my wrist.

The sprain doesn’t keep me from typing (obviously), but it did make the beginning of the week kind of painful. I have a brace now that slows me down in everything including typing and writing long-hand, so I have been preoccupied with that this week, doing the bare minimum to go about my daily life while being mindful of activities that may make the pain worse and recovery longer.

If we trace back the order of events that led to this long-healing, irritating injury, it’s COVID related, which is obvious. COVID has also affected the life of this blog and the plan I had for it earlier in the year. Like it has affected many a thing around the world.

Long story short, I was doing a boxing workout using my at-home gym. I’m being generous – my at-home gym is a freestanding punching bag in the yard. I’ve been using the without major issue all summer (it’s a great stress relief), last week I threw a punch the wrong way (or the right way, if I’m optimistic that I hit too hard) and I sprained my wrist. During that same workout, I under-rotated a kick and hit the top of my foot against the hard part of the bag, but (miraculously) my foot was spared any damage.

Where does COVID come into all of this? The only reason I got the punching bag was because I didn’t feel comfortable going back to the gym once it was allowed to open after quarantine, so I figured I’d add a fun way to workout to my routine. A sprained wrist and constantly-bruised knuckles later…

Besides my workout routine, COVID has impacted my writing schedule, aims and goals. Because I’m always home now, endless distractions, chores and lack of discipline has affected what I envisioned as a weekly task. I planned on working on the new novel (and that’s still a goal), but one of the new aims for this blog is now exploring my writing style and habits, and that often means deviating from the content plan I created at the beginning of the year. Not to mention that lockdown drove my friend to create The Artist’s Way group. After finishing the workbook, I know that what I learned informs how I write and create in general, which means I’ve had to be flexible with my content plan.

I worry that the more I write about this, the more this will sound like an excuse for why I haven’t bothered to write for two weeks, and why I haven’t touched my novel in even more weeks. However, this is the best I can do with my current circumstances, and maybe tomorrow will be different. After all, now that boxing workouts are out of the question for a while, my afternoons are free (until I find another way of gym-free working out that I enjoy) and I will make a conscious effort to write more, even if it’s just a few paragraphs.

If I don’t, no one else will. Or, what’s worse, someone else may.

Surviving the Cicadas

I hate summer. There, I said it. And that is the hill I will die on.

To be specific, I hate the Washington D.C.-area summer, the swamp-like, cicada-infested, humid hell I am subjected to between May and mid- to late September. July is my least favorite month, and the day I get to put away my shorts, bikinis and tank tops for the year is my favorite day.

There’s also the added pressure of enjoying yourself during the summer, of taking advantage of a hot week and go to the beach, or camping or hiking. With the exception of camping, I would gladly do any “summer” activity during the cooler months – last year, my boyfriend and I went to the beach when the weather was in the 20s and the windchill by the ocean made it feel like the teens. I felt comfort in the empty beach and letting the sun that doesn’t warm you up shine on my mostly covered face.

As summer starts drawing to a close, I am not sad to be staring at the last quarter of the year, and I’m more amazed that I woke up one day and it’s September. For a long time now, I have started thinking of time as Monday through Sunday on repeat, and filling up the time in between. What I am also not sad about as summer ends is cicadas packing their bags and finding a hole to hibernate in.

I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a city rat, someone who is more comfortable around the sounds of sirens, traffic or people walking by the front door while talking on their phone. The sounds of the city comfort me, and I’ve been known to have trouble sleeping when I can hear the rush of ocean waves nearby or the empty sound of silence. So, instead of feeling comforted and wistful at the sound of the cicada song and crickets chirping, I am irritated by it.

I hate the sounds of summer, the cicadas, crickets, fireworks that go off on any day besides the Fourth of July. So one day last week, as I sat in bed contemplating what to write for my Morning Pages as part of The Artist’s Way, I wrote three pages of how much I hate cicadas. We are supposed to write whatever comes to our minds in a stream of consciousness, for three pages, first thing after waking up. When I tell you that all I could hear were cicadas invisible in some tree outside my window… they are cackling as I write this, and the screeching is all I can hear again.

Lest I suffer alone, this week’s post is a transcription of that morning’s ramblings, very much relevant until the pesky insects find their holes to crawl into and stop tormenting me.

Happy reading! Please tell me I’m not alone in hating the summer heat and the feeling of your face melting for months…

Image of a cicada perched on a tree
Photo by Shannon Potter on Unsplash

These damn cicadas are so distracting. It’s not a song or a screech, but an incessant sound, a rain stick that keeps getting turned and turned and turned. It’s the opposite of soothing – it’s intrusive. When it fades into the background and you don’t notice it, you can almost ignore the fact that it’s summer. When the screeching breaks through your consciousness, they are all you can hear, like their cursed song is a siren song that drives you mad with their decibel-planting larvae in your ear.

That’s the sound of summer, and if you’re extra lucky you’ll hear crickets on top. Crickets at least fall quiet when you or another predator get too close. Even though they’re invisible like their cicada siblings, they know their song indicates their presence, that it threatens their safety and location. Cicadas are up on the trees, and by the sound of their army, their song is an invitation, a challenge as well as their raison d’être. They sing to invite you to challenge their position. For every one of them that sings, a brother or a sister is ready with its family to defend their sacred singing ground. For a few months, ours is not to wonder, but to listen in awe.

Ours is to remember that they will be gone in a few months, that they’ll retreat into the ground and ask nothing but for you to wait until next year. When the ground is warm enough to warm their waiting exoskeleton, they rise to sing, to sing their neighbors away, to sing their neighbors to sleep, to sing the summer away.

Cicadas come out of the ground to fulfill their duty. Theirs is to get up and sing. To them, it looks like any other summer. It’s hot, the days last longer and the trees have plenty of leaves to hide in. They don’t see that the heated months last longer now, that a different family lives in a house under a specific tree, that a dog that barked at the sister cicada that got too close one year isn’t around another year. They don’t notice that it’s a summer that their audience grew, with more people at home to wake up with a song or more people to serenade as they sing from their trees in a park of by an artificial pond.

They keep singing, screeching and calling, doing the only thing they’re aware of that needs doing. When their song dies down, when they need a collective break, a section of their orchestra starts building again, building to a crescendo, leaving a brother or sister cicada to sing out a solo for a few notes, letting everyone else rest. When the urgency of the solo builds and calls for a response from the chorus, the song begins again. Until the end of summer.

I Spy During a Road Trip

I don’t feel like writing today. So why am I writing and drawing the blood out of the stone that is this week’s blog post? Because I’ve heard that a third of a writer’s life is procrastinating, a third is writing when you don’t feel like writing and a third actually writing. When last week’s post had me firmly in the third category, today has me smack in the middle of the first two.

What to write when you don’t feel like writing? A listicle! Well, to be more nuanced than that, ten questions I would ask if I were playing a game of I Spy. I’ve never played a game of I Spy in my life as I wasn’t often the kind of child that needed to be kept occupied during, say, a car ride, but that could also have had to do with the fact that I enjoyed looking out the window undisturbed the most.

For the purposes of this exercise, our setting will be the usual road trip where you’re trying to keep occupied at a rest stop until you’ve gathered up enough energy to get back on the road. You can be a kid of any age here, even if you’re a “big” kid. You are sitting on a shaded bench next to your road trip companion, with the sun reaching and baking only your ankles, and the cool drink you got has already made a pool of condensation on the table you’re leaning back on. You’re people watching, but instead start scenery watching when you become aware of how much you’re procrastinating the drive.

If you have made it this far, I commend you. don’t even want to keep going today…

Image of colorful rest stop, with people sitting on an outdoor bar in the background, and empty wooden tables in the foreground.
Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash

I spy, with my little eye…

  1. Would it fit on your hand?
  2. Would an animal eat it willingly?
  3. Could you run to it and back in less than five minutes?
  4. Is it a color that is one of the primary colors?
  5. Would a five-year-old child have a name for it yet?
  6. Would you find it in another country under a different name?
  7. Is it likely to still be on the same spot when we make our way back through this rest stop?
  8. Is it something you could also have in your home?
  9. Is it something that could be damaged by the elements?
  10. Is it something that could still be used in a future dystopian society?

The Baby Incident

It has been almost two weeks since I wrote last.

Well, wrote and published would be more accurate. I’ve been doing plenty of writing, not least for the daily and weekly tasks for The Artist’s Way. I realize now that I haven’t talked about that much on here and now the group I’m doing it with and myself are almost two weeks away from completing it.

The Artist’s Way is about healing, healing one’s creative self and allowing it to flourish and be the guide for our creativity after it’s healed and unblocked. A few weeks ago, one of the tasks was to think of ways to forgive ourselves, to acknowledge whatever the situation was, remember it and let it pass as something we can’t control and to forgive ourselves. Since my biggest self-flagellation weapon of choice is being too hard on myself, I remembered ways I’d been too harsh about my writing, berating myself for not being productive at every instance of downtime I had, feeling guilty for taking out any sort of free time without feeling like I’ve earned it.

This week, as I took two days off work to not exactly go on vacation or disconnect but to be away from my desk (currently writing from the couch), I tried to allow myself the luxury of not planning my time off to the minute and to allow myself to recharge. I realized I hadn’t posted in a while, and when I went back to my content calendar to find planned posts I’d skipped over in the past few weeks, I found another way I like to self-flagellate: ruminating on embarrassing stories.

Those embarrassing stories that nag at you, bouncing around your head and making you wish you could go back and pull yourself away to spare yourself and those around you. Unfortunately, by allowing myself downtime to do nothing, my brain came across this memory from last Christmas, one that still makes me cringe and want to hide under a rock. In a hole somewhere. Close to the center of the Earth. Inside a locked room.

So, enjoy. It’s not fiction today, but storytelling, which I enjoy doing just as much, although I do wish the story itself were fiction and had never taken place outside my own brain…

Image of an adorned Christmas treeing the foreground, with two people blurred out in the background.
Photo by Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash

December 2019. A Christmas party. Not a work Christmas party, but a colleague’s of my mom’s. A direct report of my mom’s. This is important to the rest of the story.

My whole family, including my sister’s boyfriend, was invited, and I was grateful I wouldn’t need to drive everyone home at the end of the night. I started drinking, buzzed on being at the only Christmas party I’d been to that year more than on the free-flowing, self-poured mixed drinks. I didn’t know a great many people, and I was self-conscious that I’d come in as part of a crowd made only ore conspicuous by the fact that my sister was on crutches (she’d broken her foot weeks earlier). The solution to that was, of course, drinking and mingling with those people I did know.

No, this isn’t a story about my making an ass of myself by drinking too much and dancing on a table at a practical stranger’s house party, a practical stranger that would have to see my mom at work come Monday. I knew that going in and I knew to behave myself, to be polite, to introduce myself and be chatty enough. However…

I tried keeping to my crowd, talking to my mom’s manager whom I’d met before. She is talkative by nature and wasn’t drinking as she’d come with her young daughter, so she provided as much conversation fuel as I’d needed. The night went on with party games, raffles and nibbles, and I was even more self-conscious when my crowd kept winning prizes. A stuffed animal here, a reusable water cup there and we were one number away from winning a scanner-printer. I felt people staring and their spiteful thoughts at the back of my head – but I just liked winning free stuff so much…

The first slip happened as some groups started leaving, those with young kids. The living room emptied and there was more room to sit. One of the hosts shouted over my head to those behind me, “Before you head out, let’s do a Sherwood picture.”

Sherwood sounded familiar. It’s the high school up one of the main roads in the city, in the more affluent side of the county. I heard once, forever ago, that while some high schools had yearbook spreads of students with cars, Sherwood had a spread of the best student cars, with Mercedes and BMWs making the cut while Subarus and below didn’t.

This memory played in my head as I said, “Oh cool, you guys went to Sherwood. I went to Wheaton.”

I realized I hadn’t talked to this host much, so in my drunk mind this was my way of making conversation. Sober me would have noticed that he was busy entertaining and organizing his guests for a picture. Sober me would have stayed quiet, especially after his reply came.

“Yes, but forever ago,” he said without meeting my eyes, preoccupied with assembling the crowd.

Drunk me caught the slip, too. Of course. These people were older than me, not by much, but significantly enough that they were obviously adultier than me. By my calculations and by my mom’s intel, they were in their mid- to late-thirties. They had missed my high school years by a lot for me to casually want to spark a conversation about where we went to high school. Even talking about where we went to college would have been too far removed.

If I could have shrank and melted into my seat, with my drink in hand, I would have.

As it often does while you’ve been drinking, time started moving in quick bursts, and my actions were erratic. My crowd and I moved to the garage, where I was told there was a ping pong table and a photobooth. That occupied my time for a while, though I couldn’t say then or now how long it actually was. If I were skilled enough to learn Photoshop, those pictures would be edited to look like they were taken over many occasions, not one monopolized instance. Our crowd was big enough that we monopolized the ping pong table and darts board in the room, but we were conscious of that fact and kept ourselves out of the way, long enough for a young couple and their baby to come and take pictures at the photobooth.

Reader, this is where the story turns.

The baby didn’t look older than one year old, year and a half to guesstimate high. He wore a red onesie that would have looked adorable on anyone else, but it looked particularly striking against his white complexion and blue eyes. His parents held him and took picture after picture, trying to get him to look at the camera. My drunk self tried to be helpful, momentarily forgetting that I did not know these people and that I do not like babies. I was being obnoxious. I tried to get the baby’s attention, suddenly stopping when I realized I was cooing at him like I do at my dog, but luckily by that point the parents decided that they had gotten enough pictures and thanked me, much more gracefully than I deserved.

After they left the room, my dad started ushering the rest of us back to the living room too, trying to herd us like drunk cats. I sat with my parents for what felt like half an hour but could have easily been an hour or two minutes. They were waiting for my sister and her boyfriend to finish taking pictures and join us in the living room so we could grab our coats and go home, as I learned later on.

My parents chatted with the host who had invited us, my mom’s direct report, and it wasn’t necessarily shop talk. The young couple from the photobooth were with us in the living room, too, changing the baby and getting him out of the red onesie.

“We have one more Christmas party to go to, and this outfit has to last that long,” the mom said and chuckled. She handed the baby to the host, who was sitting next to me.

He hugged the baby as he sat on his lap and said, “I really want one.” My mom chuckled at that and the young parents continued to gather their stuff and rearrange the baby bag.

When the host turned slightly away from me to chat to the young parents, I tried my attempt at a joke. I looked at the baby, looked at parents and, very deliberately, scooted away from the child, as if I were repelled by him. I continued to look at him over my shoulder, aware I still had my audience, and scooted away a little more. The mom grabbed the baby away from the momentary sitter at that time, and I turned and giggled at my parents.

“Let me get you guys’ coats,” the host said and stood up, leaving me in plain view of the mom as she tried to put the baby in the car seat. I looked as she strapped him in, wincing a bit as the baby started wailing, not wanting to sit outside someone’s arms.

“I’m just going to leave this right here,” she said to me, pointing to the car seat on the couch next to me. “Is that okay?”

“Oh yeah, totally,” I said, casually and very much oblivious to her tone.

She went to grab her and her husband’s coats from the host’s arms, and they were gone shortly after, wailing baby with them.

Drunk me thought I was being funny. Drunk me was doing a bit about not liking babies and being put off by them. Drunk me did not see how that “joke” could have come off completely different to another audience with higher stakes on the butt of the joke than I had.

Before she left, the mom saw me inch away from her child, who wasn’t doing anything other than sitting and looking around at things he didn’t have names for yet. I was repelled by an innocent child who was doing nothing. To her, I was offensive.

I’d learn this weeks later, well after Christmas, too late to realize my mistake but soon enough to be full of shame. I tried to rationalize my behavior, to excuse it, really. Parents shouldn’t expect their child to be well-liked everywhere, especially not if they come across me. Parents shouldn’t expect people at parties to want to hold their child or want to hear stories about the latest development milestone, especially not me.

But every parent should expect their child to be well-received, not offended like I had done, joke or not.

We’re closer to a new Christmas and I’m still haunted by my behavior at that last Christmas party, with the baby incident only the culmination of embarrassing behavior of the evening. I was the boss’ daughter, acting out and showing off like a spoiled child, earning disapproval for her and for me, for our whole family.

Before COVID and its ramifications, my mom said we’d already been invited to the host’s yearly pool party in the summer. I had been thinking of ways to get out of this invitation since I received it, not wanting to own up to my mom that I was still embarrassed about the baby incident, and wanting even less to run into the young family again. They were close friends of the hosting couple, and they would no doubt be at the pool party, and an apology from me wasn’t enough or needed at this point. Of course, that’s a moot point now.

All I know is that even if we’re invited again, even if it’s two years from now and it’s safe to gather again, I will not be going. They probably forgot about the incident by now or would have done by then, and I would like to keep it that way.

For what it’s worth: Graham, Graham’s mom and dad, I’m very sorry.

Getting Ready to Write: An interior monologue

Took another week off, but you wouldn’t think it for how busy I’ve been. I prioritized some paid work again last week, but I’m back on schedule now and what better way to jump back in than with this week’s topic.

I’ve stalled my progress on the latest writing project for a bit – I actually can’t remember the last time I worked on it. However, one of the many things that occupied my attention last week was plotting this new project, so I’ve made progress but nothing tangible, and having the plotting done actually makes it that much more intimidating to get down to write. So I have to talk myself into it most of the time.

This week’s post is a short clip of what that monologue looks like some of the time, without the specifics of the current project because I’m still waiting for it to look a little more polished before sharing. Enjoy as I let you into some of my thoughts…

Before you go into a snippet of my head, check out this Rewire article I was recently quoted in (it’s wild writing that down…). I’m happy to be able to process an uncomfortable experience this way.

Happy reading!

Image of a journal with 'Write Ideas' on the cover, and a pencil next to it, on a wooden surface.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash. Me talking to myself when I just need to write SOMETHING down.

Right, I just need a drink and to find a comfortable place to sit. I wish I had more natural light. Or a more exciting view out the window. My back aches if I sit like this for too long. Never mind that; need to start writing.

I love and hate a white page. Can’t decide if I like it more than continuing an impressive word count or rearranging whole sections and watching it come together. There won’t be anything to put together if you don’t start writing…

Should I work on a scene I already wrote or start something new altogether? What was that one scene that went through my mind the other day? How is it connected to what I’ve already written? No, that makes sense – start something new altogether.

Asterisks or a few hyphens? Asterisks in the middle or left justified?

Maybe this new scene does fit somewhere that already exists, but where? It could be a continuation of that one scene, I suppose, but then would that tie up that scene and another one? Let’s write it down and see what happens.

I always want to start with dialogue, it would seem, or in the middle of what’s already happening. I guess that could come in handy if I decide to combine this new scene with something else, especially since I end scenes in media res anyway. I wonder if I will ever write multiple scenes in one go, ones that are linked together for once.

I really chase that feeling of getting into a flow and finding that the words just come on the page, like I’m just a conduit and they have already been written somewhere else, at some other point. I wonder if today will be one of those days, where I look up from the page and don’t really see what I’m looking at because my head is occupied with the scene unfolding in the words I’m writing. Not having a particularly exciting view outside the window comes in handy for that.

My back is achy and the page in front of me isn’t less empty… how do some writers get to the point where they hear their characters talking? I can’t even see what mine would be wearing… but I guess that’s okay. That’s not necessarily important to the story and it’s not like readers aren’t smart enough to realize she’s not naked… I wonder what her frame of mind should be on this scene, or what she’s thinking. Maybe she’ll tell me as I write it down.

Maybe she’ll just observe on this scene, and it’ll be one of those filler scenes in between the “really important” parts. If I get through this filler scene, maybe I’ll even write a more important one afterward, one of those that moves the plot along. What if all it takes is one scene to really get the flow going and I end up with a couple of thousand words’ worth? That would be a pleasant surprise, but I first have to write something to make this page look less empty and get the word count moving a bit.

Damn, I never did get myself something to drink… and I might as well find another pillow to prop up my aching back while I’m up.

The Lost Ring: Part II

Back for part two of this prompt: writing about something you misplaced using only the passive voice.

I have to admit that this was a bit of a challenge – I’m not used to using the passive voice and pride myself on never using it. I was taught that the passive voice is weak, as its name suggests, and it makes your writing look weak and uses up too many words.

Like a lot of things we learn from professional writers and teachers, there is no hard and fast rule to the passive voice, and I’ve found that sometimes I’m not too turned off by it when I come across it (case in point, this sentence). There could be an instance where a character is or is narrating a passive scene or are themselves a passive background character, so using the passive voice here wouldn’t be the end of the world. I had just as much of a challenge last week while writing only in the active voice; I had to catch myself and double check whether a sentence was sneaking in the passive voice, and edit accordingly.

Besides being a challenge, I found this as an opportunity to read less like an editor sometimes and just read like a reader. It sometimes takes me more than one reading to step into these roles, but I need to remind myself that just as I’d like for someone to be kind to my work, I need to be kind to someone else’s, and to not be such a hardass about the passive voice. After all, there are some people who are very offended when they read a sentence that starts with “and” or “but,” and I don’t think twice about doing that!

There’s a foot for every shoe. Or, rather, there’s a ring for every finger…

Image of rings in a tray
Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash. In an unsurprising turn of events, I’ve lost all pictures of the ring in question or my wearing it…

I am dropped and now I am bounced across a train that is taken by her on every work day – except when the gym is paid a visit. I am bounced on the train floor and the sound is questioned by passengers not lost in the music or books carried to pass the commuting time. I am rolled under seats, between legs and around bags, until I am stopped behind a seat leg.

She has been seen by me through three graduations, at least five moves and a few boys and, most recently, guys.

I was given to her at 15 as a gift and I was so treasured for having the birthstone of April, the month her father was born. She was teased for my fitting perfectly on her left thumb but on none of her other fingers.

Her emotional milestones were watched from my perch on her finger, and I was removed at security during her many travels. She was accompanied by me on so many travels, so many train rides, so many commutes by car, foot and train.

And now I am dropped. And I will be forgotten and abandoned, because while I will be thought about for a day or two, as with the other rings lost over the years, I will be forgotten and thought about fondly down the line sparingly. Her brain, memories and feelings will be filled up with more important things, just like the same finger that was occupied by me will be occupied by another ring some day.

Rings have been her staple for years. Before I came along, her fingers were populated by cheap jewelry, the kind that her skin was stained green with after a few weeks. Before her finger was habited by me, her wrists were full of bracelets, but bracelets never kept her attention or fondness for a long time.

People she was misunderstood by, people she was disliked by or people she was admired by would marvel at how her fingers were adorned. Wondered how long her morning was extended if her fingers needed to be dressed too. These comments were often seen as an imposition by her, a testament to how little she was known by these people.

When the train is covered in darkness at the end of the day, I am grabbed by a gloved hand and shoved into a pocket. Covered again in darkness and jostled, I am assaulted by fear at where my story will take me. No doubt there is another finger waiting to be adorned and dressed by my shiny and silver offering. As much as she will be missed, it is my purpose to adorn, not to care. There is another job to be had, another person to accompany for as long as I am wanted and needed.

I am carried inside this pocket for a while, before ending up in a clear bag with writing on it. I am left on a shelf for a few weeks before being given as a gift to another woman. And so my story is begun anew.

I know I will be missed. The sadness was evident on her face as I was dropped. So was the indecision: walking away or saving? She was accompanied by me for long enough – she could be released. She is evaded by readiness and preparedness as she is left behind, but her choices are limited. It was time. Time for a new story to be started for her too.

The Lost Ring

Back with the writing prompts this week.

I’ve deviated from my content plan for the past few weeks, and I’m kind of proud of myself for that. I have a hard time being spontaneous on a normal day and I’m quite fond of routine, so when I catch myself veering off course without ruminating on it, it’s like a gift to myself. Spontaneity is so alien to me by now that I don’t even notice when I’m being rigid.

I am evaded by spontaneity

Being evaded by spontaneity isn’t just my attempt at being poetic, but a way to introduce what I’m tackling this week: writing about something you misplaced using only the active voice (see what I did there). 

This is part one of two of this exercise, and during next week’s installment, you’ll find out what happened to what I misplaced and find out that I know exactly where it is. It’s just not with me anymore.

Happy reading! What have you misplaced that you know exactly where it is?

Image of white background with various silver rings in the foreground.
Photo by Natália Jonas on Unsplash

Rush hour. Going home for nothing in particular other than because I finished the work day.

It’s the middle of summer and there’s a heatwave. It’s not a heatwave by my East Coast standards, but it’s a heatwave when very few places here believe in AC.

The train pulls up and it’s full already. My current stop is only the second on the line. I hop on and barely make it down the aisle before other riders block my way. I grab onto the back of the closest seat in front of me and square my feet up. Six more stops.

At the first stop, still underground, no one gets up and those of us standing have to find a space to shove into when more passengers come on. I squeeze a bit further down the aisle and find a new backrest to hold onto. Five more stops.

All available windows are open, but the heat and humidity find a way to make all passengers sweat. I’m wearing black jeans and a sleeveless top, but the ebook on my phone and music in my ears can only keep me distracted so long from the heat I feel everywhere on my body. I should have put my hair up.

At the second stop, more people hop on and off the train and the mass pushes me farther down the aisle, but at least I’m now directly in front of a cracked window. Four more stops and I can at least be out in the breeze.

We are above ground again as the train arrives at the third stop. No one moves out but more people come inside the train. We pull space out of thin air to accommodate ourselves.

The fourth stop rolls around and people start shifting, grabbing their bags and scoping out a way to leave the train with as little scuffle as possible. When the train finally stops, the frenzy begins, and yet I still can’t find an empty seat. It’s fine – just two more stops to go.

With the breeze from being aboveground also comes the warm, overbearing sunlight. Sunlight always feels better when you’re sitting on cool grass on a blanket that never gets damp, with drinks and snacks and nowhere to be until you feel like moving. With two stops away from your destination on the height of a summer heatwave, ten minutes feel eternal.

The fifth stop rolls around and enough people get off the train to allow me to square up my feet again and gain some space. With my stop in mind and so close I can see it, I relax a bit and try to reread the same page I’ve been stuck on since the second stop.

I feel an itch.

It’s an itch I can’t reach in my current predicament, but I have just enough purchase and dexterity to put my phone in my bag, hold steady with that hand and reach inside my pocket with my other hand to scratch the itch over my clothes through the thin fabric.

After I scratch the itch and start pulling my hand back out from my pocket, my ring catches on a belt loop, comes off my finger and bounces on the floor and under a few seats in front of me.

My stop rolls around at that moment and I have to get off the train. The image of getting on my hands and knees and under people’s legs flashes across my mind. The train stops and people shift around me, signaling me to drop or get off the train. I move with them and bid a silent farewell to the ring that has been on that same finger for 10 years.

On the walk home, I hope the ring has a good life, that whoever finds it wears it, sells it or gives it away. But I hope no one throws it in the trash as just a cheap piece of jewelry. As I contemplate that a piece of me is gone, while I’m so far away from home, I don’t feel too bothered by the heat anymore.

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.

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.