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.

Taking Flight

Although today in particular we may be looking for laughs or pranks, anything to distract us from the current world situation, this week’s post will provide a sideways distraction, of sorts. Unreliable narrators aren’t necessarily April Fool’s pranksters, but they are the closest thing in the literary world on a day like today – aside from court jesters or tricksters that belong in a different genre.

Happy reading! I truly hope this provides a distraction from any awful feelings or thoughts you may be having in the current climate.

Image of shallow focus photography of people inside of passenger plane.
Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

“We will now be boarding rows 30 and on, as well as any other boarding groups we’ve already called.”

Finally! Marcy and Cody are right behind me, their carry-ons lugging behind them and their neck support pillows on their shoulders. I bought them those neck pillows at the airport, so we were sure they would fly and not get taken away by flight attendants before boarding. I would have loved one too, but budget for this trip is planned to the T, and today’s incidentals budget went on the pillows.

“Mr. Sonny Johnson?” The flight attendant glances at my boarding pass then at my face before scanning it in. The machine light goes red then green before she waves me through. I stand just behind the woman while Marcy and Cody give their boarding passes, their faces barely containing their excitement. They’re keeping a straight face, but that’s probably so they don’t come across a hokey or touristy.

Once they’re scanned, we walk down the jetway, stand in line again for a bit behind another family, one with a toddler who keeps glancing around and flailing. I check my watch – our departure time is ten minutes away and there are at least fifteen people standing in the jetway. Luckily we’re the last ones to board, and Marcy and Cody are so excited to go on this trip with me, they’ll be seated and strapped as soon as we find our seats.

We finally step onto the plane when another flight attendant puts her hand on my arm. “I’m sorry, sir, we’re going to need to check your carry-on luggage. We don’t have any more space in the overhead bins.”

“We’re not paying for that,” Marcy says.

“It’s complimentary, ma’am,” the flight attendant says. “You can pick up your items at baggage claim at your destination.”

“Fine,” Marcy says and hands over her rolling bag before I give her mine. Cody only has a backpack and his fanny pack. My girl is always looking out for us and my boy is always ready to go. Care and practicality.

“Now we’ll have to pick up all our stuff at once!” I say as we walk our way back to the plane. “It’s probably better that way.”

“My shawl was in my carry-on,” Marcy says. “I’ll be freezing before we even take off.”

“You can have my sweater, honey.”

“Why did you even bring that? We’re going to Florida in April. There’s no need for a sweater there.”

Always thinking ahead.

We get to our seats but there are people already sitting down in our row. “Excuse me,” I say, “But I think you’re in our seats.”

“Sonny, leave it,” Marcy says. She probably doesn’t want to cause a scene or make the flight even later than it already is.

“We’re 32A, B and C,” I say. “Could we see your tickets?”

“Dad, leave it,” Cody says. “I’m on 34A and Mom is on 34E.”

“That’s not right at all,” I say. I checked the purchase almost ten times, and I made sure we all got the same seats.

“Just sit down,” Marcy whispers as she squeezes past me, then Cody does the same and she asks her seatmates for space to get in.

Well, that’s okay. We have two weeks together in Tallahassee, so five hours apart isn’t that big a deal. Beaches, parks and drives. And seeing Tessa too – it’ll be great.

Marcy and Cody were excited for the trip too, and their constant questions about money or time off work were fully about me and my well-being. We’ll figure it out, but as long as we’re together for two weeks. Since Tessa had gone to Florida State University, we hadn’t seen her except for holidays, and anything longer than Thanksgiving break, she’d go see friends or stay with her boyfriend. Liam? Or is it Rodney now?

Now we’re surprising her with a trip just before her spring break. She hasn’t said what she wants to do for the week that she’s off, but I didn’t say anything in case she stresses about trying to fit a family visit and a vacation into one week. We can even drive to Disneyland for a day. My $20 per person per day may just stretch that far.

Every half hour or so, I look back at Marcy and Cody. I can only see the top of her head, so Marcy could be reading. Cody has the aisle seat and he’s watching something on his phone, not using his neck pillow. Maybe he doesn’t feel like taking a nap yet.

**

I avoid Dad’s glances every time he turns around and keep checking on Mom. How they’re both coping without headphones is beyond me. Mom at least has a book, but the people around us are being loud and I haven’t seen her turn a page yet. Dad just stares ahead, watching the shows on the headrest TV. All of them keep glitching and the picture freezes often.

I tried telling Dad that Tessa doesn’t want us to come visit, that she’ll make it up to West Virginia eventually. But he insisted on surprising her and taking her to Disneyland, thinking we can show up and buy a ticket like it’s Six Flags. As soon as we land and find our hotel, I’m finding my way to Florida State, saying hi to Tessa quickly then tour around the campus. It’s a big enough campus for the two of us to never run into each other, but close enough should we ever need anything from each other. But then Dad would have an excuse to come down to see us.

Unless I tell him that I’m going to Florida State College in Jacksonville…

**

I’ve read the same sentence for the past hour, not knowing where I’m even at in the book. I grabbed one off the shelf last night as I packed my bag, fully convinced this trip would be cancelled at the last minute. I think I started reading this around Christmas, when I picked it up at random in Target.

Sonny has not stopped talking about this trip since January that Tessa said she wouldn’t be coming home for spring break, taking it as an opportunity to go see her rather than listening for signs that she did not want to see us. Or Sonny, really – it takes a saint to not be overwhelmed by Sonny a day or two after meeting him. It’s not the slow-burning entrapment of annoying personalities, or the secret Type A that lurks until something flips their switch. With Sonny, you got to a day where his mere breathing bothers you, the feeling of his presence a heavy fog. When he walks into a room, you immediately stop talking for fear that anything you say would send him into a dumb joke spiral he goes down to avoid reading the discomfort in the room.

So I continue to stare at the same page, hoping the drum of the engine and the flight will be numbing enough to let me read more pages, then hopefully finish it and start it again over the two weeks and again on the flight home if necessary. Anything to not talk to Sonny and kill time until we’re back in West Virginia and I can leave. I don’t even want a divorce – I just want to leave. I can’t think far enough down to divorce proceedings, splitting the stuff or fighting over who gets which car. Cody turns 18 at the end of the year then is off to college too, but I cannot wait that long. If I hear one more dumb joke, I will scream.

Rips and Scrapes

It seems I double-booked myself for this week’s post, so I’ll do something I haven’t done yet: taking a previous prompt response and going further. I was surprised how easy “Grape Juice” came, so I tried extrapolating. I’m not too confident about this piece, but it’s a first draft, and I’m surprised, again, at how easy it came along.

This week I also had guest post published with The Wacky Writer on admitting I’m not good at writing description of a place and why that’s not such a bad thing. You’ll notice I didn’t do much describing on this week’s post either and focused on dialogue to move along the story – that’s what I enjoy about writing, moving along the story.

Happy reading, and please do pay The Wacky Writer a visit.

From that first sleepover on a school night, Milo and Kenny ate lunch together every day. When Milo brought a can of La Croix in his lunch box one day and let Kenny try it, Kenny had made a face like when Milo had asparagus.

“It kinda tastes like when I burped grape juice at your house that time.”

Milo had laughed and taken a sip of the drink himself. “You can’t say that! This flavor is my favorite!”

“Want to try mine?” Kenny handed him a green can with golden letters. The can was cool and the bubbles tickled Milo’s nose as he took a sip.

“That’s gingerale! But why does it taste funny?”

“Funny? That’s what gingerale tastes like.”

“That’s not like the one we have at home. You can have some today if I can find it in the garage.”

Kenny smiled and said, “I’m bringing Hungry Hungry Hippos.”

“You don’t want to play Sword Escape? I can’t pass the dungeon level.”

“But you said you’d never played Hungry Hungry Hippos!”

“It just sounds like a game for little kids.”

Every day since that first sleepover, Kenny came over Milo’s house. He didn’t come over on some weekends, except for that one time Mom had gone to pick up Kenny from his house to take them to the zoo. Kenny had brought his address and his mom’s phone number written on his notebook the day before. Mom had called Kenny’s mom to ask if Kenny could come to the zoo.

When they’d gone to pick him up, Milo was looking for houses and yards, but he only saw buildings with lots of doors and windows on them, with stairs in the middle. The very top of the buildings were pointy like Milo’s and his neighbors’ houses, and when Mom was parking, Kenny came out one of the doors, jumped up and down and waved. He looked funny bouncing behind the banister.

“Stay here, honey. I need to talk to Kenny’s mom before we go.”

“Can I go too?”

“No, you stay here.” Mom left then, and the doors of the car clicked. Milo couldn’t see much from the backseat, but the top of Mom’s head showed on top of the railing and a lady’s face outside the open door Kenny had come out from. After a minute, the door closed and Mom turned and walked to the stairs in the middle of the building. That’s how you get up there.

Milo was worried Kenny couldn’t come out after all because he hadn’t seen him behind the railing, so when he came down the stairs next to Mom, Milo smiled and scooted to the next seat so Kenny could climb in.

“Hi!” Kenny said and grabbed onto the door to climb inside the car.

“Hi, Kenny!” When both boys were sitting and had their feet dangling off the seat, Milo said, “Mom, can I come over Kenny’s next week?”

Kenny started bouncing on his seat and clapping his hands. “You can finally see my room!”

“Seatbelts, both of you, please,” Mom said and turned on the car. “Kenny would need to ask his Mom first, and you have really slacked off your piano lately, Milo. You need at least two days next week, and both of you need to do homework. Mrs. Myers has already called me to say your homework is always only half way done for math, and you haven’t spent much time outside.”

“We can be outside when you’re over my house,” Kenny said. “There’s some grass on the back and we can play catch.”

“We’ll see,” Mom said. “Now, seatbelts, or we’re not going anywhere and they’ll be out of popcorn and ice cream at the zoo by the time we get there.”

It took two weeks after the zoo visit for Milo to be allowed to visit Kenny’s house. Mom said they couldn’t have a sleepover that time, but that they could have dinner before he got picked up.

Kenny’s room was smaller than Milo’s, and his bed wasn’t as comfortable. He had posters on the walls, of video games and basketball players, and he had a laundry hamper in the corner of the room. His computer had a bigger screen than Milo’s, but it was black and not gray and Milo’s had a white apple on the back. Kenny’s desk was brown and had chips on the corners, and the chair looked like the ones in Milo’s backyard.

‘So what do you want to do?” Kenny asked.

“I dunno. What do you usually do when you’re here?”

“Change my clothes before going to your house.”

“What other games do you have besides Hungry Hungry Hippos?”

“All the other ones have missing pieces or they’re boring, like Uno,” Kenny said and sat on the floor. “We could play catch?”

“I don’t know. Mom told me not to go outside.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. She said we could play catch at my house next time.”

Kenny didn’t say anything and plucked a thread from the carpet. He pulled and pulled and there was a rip.

“Oops,” he said. “Crap. My mom will kill me.”

“Put the laundry hamper on top of it,” Milo said. “Then just carry the laundry down and don’t let her come into your room.”

“We carry laundry to the car,” Kenny said. “Then we drive to the laundromat.”

“What’s a laundromat?”

“It’s a place with a lot of washers and dryers where we do laundry. We use quarters.”

Milo stayed quiet and watched Kenny pluck out more threads. There was brown floor peeking out and dust coming off every thread. 

“You know how in your house there’s only one of each? In a laundromat, there are rows of them on top of each other. My mom lets me ride around in the carts sometimes.”

“Why are there carts?” Milo asked.

“To get the laundry around,” Kenny said and looked up. He suddenly stopped plucking and he looked at Milo. “There’s a cart from Giant in the back! We could go ride it!”

Milo smiled and was almost off the bed, but he stopped. These were his favorite jeans that Mom let him wear to Kenny’s, and he didn’t want to get them dirty.

“C’mon!,” Kenny said. “It’ll be fun. Then we can have pizza bagels.”

“I’ve never had pizza bagels!” Milo stood up and followed Kenny. They went out the front door and down the stairs Mom had come up the day of the zoo. Then they ran to the back and saw the grocery cart.

“Get in,” Kenny said. “I’ll push you down the hill.”

Milo climbed in and twisted so he was sitting cross-legged in the basket. Kenny was at the handle, pushing, but the cart didn’t move much. Milo was bouncing inside the basket once Kenny got it going, but it was fun. They made it to the small hill facing the parking lot where Mom parked and Kenny let go. Milo rolled down and let out a scream. Kenny couldn’t have heard him, but Milo’s scream was cut off when the cart suddenly stopped and tipped forward. He felt a pain on his knees and hands, and when he tried turning around he couldn’t for the cart on top of him.

Kenny was next to him, trying to lift the cart off him, but he couldn’t, and Milo started crying. He couldn’t hear what Kenny was saying, but then the cart was off him and Milo got up.

“I’m sorry, momma,” Kenny said. “We wanted to take turns down the hill.”

“What if I hadn’t pulled up just then, Kenny?” Kenny’s mom was yelling. “My shift ended early and I come home with dinner and you’re out here with your little friend.”

Both boys looked down and sniffed. Milo wanted to go home.

“Get inside,” Kenny’s mom said. “Wash up and set the table. We’re having fried chicken.”

On the way up the stairs, Kenny asked, “Have you ever had fried chicken?”

Milo shook his head and wiped at his eyes. His t-shirt was dirty and his jeans were dusty. His palms had scrapes, and when he walked up the stairs he saw the rip on his jeans and little tiny rocks on the cut. Milo wiped at it but it really hurt his knee.

“Ow!” He yelled and the tears started coming again. “My mom won’t let me come over again.”

“It’s okay, Milo, don’t cry,” Kenny said when they had walked through the front door. “We’ll wash our hands and I’ll wipe down your jeans. I get dirt off jeans all the time – I always roll down that hill.”

“Okay,” Milo said and wiped his nose and rubbed his hand on his t-shirt. At least fried chicken sounded good. Mom didn’t let him eat anything fried.

On Honesty

I’m back to my usual this week, with another post from a prompt born out of 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

That’s what the prompt is, “on honesty.” It’s one of those prompts that can be intimidating because you don’t know where to start, but it can also be exciting because it’s a writer’s blank canvas.

So here I humbly present my musings on honesty. Let me know what you agree and disagree with in the comments.

Image of broken blue ceramic plate
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Honesty is one of those things that get more difficult as we grow up. Not because it’s harder to be honest as we grow up, or because we find more ways to be dishonest as time passes, but because honesty loses its simplicity over time.

When we are kids, we are told to tell the truth when a vase breaks while we play with a ball inside the house or how our faces got smeared with chocolate when our t-shirts are covered in crumbs. When we begin getting crushes, we can’t be honest with them and tell them how we feel because we don’t know what would happen if we do. We can’t tell that one girl we don’t want to be friends with her anymore because we don’t like how she talks to us in front of other girls because we’ll be the weird person who sits alone at lunch.

When we’re adults, we can’t always be honest with our partners about a choice they make for worry that it’ll make us sound selfish and hurt their feelings or make the choice more difficult. That silence is dangerously close to lying, and a lack of honesty here snowballs into resentment over there.

Honesty, it would seem, grows with us. It gets more complex as we get more complex, as our desires, goals and fears evolve and have layers on top of each other and interconnected branches and roots. Even with this complexity, we’re always expected to know when “honesty is the best policy” and deal with the consequences of our choices either way. What if we don’t know if or when honesty is the way to go, or if we don’t know what the consequences will be either way?

Perhaps the hardest kind of honesty is being honest with ourselves. It’s not impossible to lie to ourselves, to pretend we know better than to stop or start a behavior or thought pattern – until we dig ourselves into a hole and honesty just gets more complicated. There’s less accountability, more bending around the consequences. So how can we ensure that we’re always honest with ourselves?

So maybe honesty doesn’t need to be complicated, but being honest can sometimes be complex.

Down By the Lake

This week’s post was a last-minute change. Same prompt, but completely different product.

Although this piece reads more like the background story of a larger work, it’s a good place to start a new work-in-progress. Like my novel, Xander’s story has also been with me for a few years, and I’ve scribbled parts of it in my iPhone notes, on scraps of paper, journals, etc. I may or may not be starting a new project altogether, and I’m grateful to this blog for giving me the push to come out with it, and because I finally seem to be getting back into the writing mindset – this week’s piece came as naturally as last week’s post. I looked up and had something I was more or less happy with that didn’t feel like pulling teeth.

Happy reading! Stay tuned for more snippets of my works-in-progress, and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Trigger warning: Suicide, gun violence, self-blame.

Image of grey canoe on calm body of water near tall trees at daytime
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Her dad was her secret obsession.

The kind of obsession that comes from realizing you didn’t know someone as well as you thought you did. When everything you thought you knew about someone is flipped on its head and you question even the smallest detail of the most inconsequential memory of the most mundane day. A yes suddenly means no, or maybe or nothing at all.

The obsession then breeds questioning, the endless quest of answerless circles to arrive at the why, or at the very least at the moment where the front was up. The only available answer is that you’re the one to blame, for not picking up on the discrepancies sooner. You’re the one to blame for trusting them in the first place, for being blind to the red flags.

Her dad was her biggest blind spot, or maybe the smallest – maybe that’s how he slipped past her. It was cliché to describe him as the man she’d known and loved the longest in her life, but it was true. They weren’t the same person, but they complimented each other because they weren’t, and yet they could have the nastiest arguments that lasted weeks. Her mom would say that he’d married her only so she could give him the true love of his life.

And he was the love of her life. The man that was so frustrating and impossible to deal with at times, and the one she could still not forgive for naming her Xander and not have it be short for Alexandra. The man was so impossible that, with a name like Henry with a wife called Nancy, he chose to name his only daughter Xander. He was impossible, and yet he was the man she was utterly unprepared to live without. So when he died, her world came down.

Xander hadn’t had any special name for him other than Dad or Father when she was upset at him not giving into her way immediately. She also didn’t call him before making a decision, big or small, college choice or different coffee order. But she did ask him once why boys didn’t seem to take her seriously, why she got stood up by yet another guy.

“Maybe I’m the problem,” she’d said.

“You’re not the problem, Xander,” he’d answered. “You’re the solution.”

So what was his problem? Why had he taken his own life at the lake? The same lake they’d gone to together since she was a child? The same lake where she’d asked him what college she should go to and where she’d talked him out of filing for divorce. Hadn’t she been his solution too?

Xander knew her dad inside out, and she’d prided herself in that even when her mom pulled rank. She could get through to him when her mom or others couldn’t. She knew how he hated when the hem of his dress pants came loose or how he’d indulge in a coke Slurpee from 7/11 when he had a hard day. The easiest way to get him fired up was to give him a wet willy, but the easiest way to put him out was to give him a white chocolate Kit Kat.

Why the lake? Obviously it wasn’t as special to him as it had been to her. It wasn’t just that he polluted their special place with his last thoughts and the squeeze of the trigger, but he’d forced others onto their hallowed spot. After that day, the paramedics, police, firefighters and coroner were privy to the place where they shared their deepest secrets and earnest conversations.

But he obviously hadn’t shared all his secrets. 

Worst of all, her mom had gone to their spot too, and that was the worst betrayal of all. After she had stopped going to their camping and fishing trips, Xander had put it in no unclear terms that she didn’t want her mom there, that it was Xander and Dad’s spot. Even when it stopped being wholesome and started being annoying, her mom knew it wasn’t her moments to share. So why would Dad make a choice that he knew would ruin Xander’s favorite place for the rest of her life?

Obsessed with answerless circles, Xander decided to leave behind her favorite place in the whole world in favor of a chance at some answers. She did have one though: it was her fault for not knowing soon enough to talk him out of it.

Grape Juice

This writing prompt was an unusual one, mainly for what it turned into once I started writing: A kid from your class that you don’t know very well shows up at your door. This post turned into an exercise in voice, and although I ended up writing my first short story in almost five years, I’m not sure I hit the mark. However, in the interest of writing and getting stuff out to use my creative writing muscles again, I’m posting what I consider a good attempt at a first draft.

I would say that writing in a kid’s voice is difficult, but I’m finding any and all voices difficult to write at the moment. I’m taking this draft for what it is – an exercise, and exercises are meant to build up your strength and tone up your muscles.

Happy reading! This prompt also came from the very handy 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Let me know your thoughts on the draft in the comments.

Black and white image of three boys running onto a field
Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

He runs through the wooden door to the balcony. The sun is just starting to set and will provide the perfect cover soon. If he could only make it down to the forest below, he could run and hide under the cover of twilight.

He looks over the edge of the balcony. The fall is too high but he can make it – everything is possible in this land. His legs have but to respond to a command and he will leap over the stone edge and drop down. He takes a few steps back to get a good jump, but the guards have caught up to him. With swords in hand, they prepare to slice him, so he takes out his own knife and takes a few swings to drive them back.

He decides to chance it and takes a running start. Knife still in his hand, he leaps over the edge and begins the drop to the forest below when – 

“Milo! Get out here please!”

The pirate had just made it down to the forest when Mom knocked on the door. He pressed the Save command and exited the game. Milo hopped off the chair and went to open the door.

“Milo, what have I told you about locking this door?”

“It was an accident! I wanted to concentrate, so I closed the door and it must have locked itself. I was close to finishing that map.”

Mom rubbed her forehead and closed her eyes. “Your friend is at the door. Please come down and let him into the living room.”

“What friend?”

“He says his name is Kenny.”

Milo came out of his bedroom and walked down the hallway toward the front door. “He’s not my friend. We’re in the same class, but he’s kind of weird.”

“Well, he came to see you, so you be nice.” Milo groaned but kept walking.

Kenny stood in the doorway, looking in Milo’s direction. Kenny’s jacket was draped over one shoulder, and the t-shirt underneath was red. The porchlight showed just a bit of the dirt on his jeans, right on the knees – Mom wouldn’t like that. Dirt would get on the couch.

“Kenny? What are you doing here? How did you find my house?”

“Hi, Milo!” Kenny looked at his hands and took a small step inside the house. “Do you, uh, wanna play?”

“It’s dark out,” Milo said. “Why are you here?”

“Does your mom know where you are, honey?” Mom asked. “Come in and wait for her here.”

“No, please don’t call my mom!” Kenny said and came inside. His clothes were really dirty, and his shoelaces were untied. Milo was pretty sure he hadn’t worn those same clothes to school that day. Under better lighting, he saw a bit of the picture on Kenny’s t-shirt – the same pirate that had jumped the balcony.

“You play Sword Escape too?”

Kenny smiled and stepped further in. Mom went to close the door. “Yeah! It’s awesome. But my computer broke and I can’t play anymore. Wanna play now?”

“Honey, it’s really late. Do you know your mom’s phone number so she can come get you?”

“Please don’t call my mom!” Kenny yelled. Mom really wouldn’t like that. Kenny broke the no screaming rule.

“Milo, please take your friend to the kitchen while I make a couple of phone calls. Pour yourselves some grape juice – carefully, please.”

“He’s not my friend,” Milo said. Kenny looked down at his hands and pulled at his t-shirt. Milo felt bad, but Mom had said they could have grape juice. It was after dinner and almost bath time – this never happened!

“Come on, Kenny,” Milo waved over and walked to the kitchen. “Do you like grape juice?”

“I’ve never had grape juice.”

“Are you joking me?!” Milo stood on his tiptoes and grabbed two cups that were drying from dinner on the dishrack. He put them on the breakfast bar and walked over to the fridge. He opened the left door, but there was no juice there.

“Dang it, I did it again.” Milo closed the left door and opened the right door.

“Why does your fridge have two doors?” Kenny asked.

“That’s the freezer. We keep meat and ice cream in there, but I always mess up right and left.”

“I don’t think we have a freezer.”

Milo stood on his tiptoes again, reached for the juice and saw half a chocolate cheesecake. Mom said there wasn’t any left! “Where do you store you meat and ice cream then?”

“We eat McDonald’s for dinner and Randy sometimes brings us McFlurries.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever had McDonald’s.”

“Where do you eat chicken nuggets from then?”

Milo put the juice bottle on the breakfast bar and climbed up on a barstool. “Can you push the cups over? My mom makes chicken nuggets in the oven, but we only have them on Friday nights.”

Kenny climbed onto the other barstool and pushed the cups next to the bottle of juice. He leaned on the table and held the cups as Milo poured. A few drops fell on the table between the two cups, but Kenny wiped them with his sleeve.

“Thanks. Cheers!” Milo touched his cup to Kenny’s and took a sip.

“Why did you do that?” Kenny asked and took a sip of juice. He smiled and said, “This is really good!” He gulped the rest of it and wiped his mouth with the same sleeve.

“I don’t know. My dad does that when we have juice. His juice comes from a glass bottle though, and he says it’s adult grape juice.”

“Where is your dad?” Kenny asked, turning the cup over his mouth.

“He’s on a business trip,” Milo said. The juice was nice and cool, and very sweet. “He gets back in two more sleeps.”

“Cool.”

“Here, you can have mine,” Milo said and pushed his cup toward Kenny.

“Thanks!” Kenny grabbed the cup and smiled. He gulped it down as fast as the first. “Can we have more?”

Milo frowned and looked at the big bottle. “I don’t know. I’m not usually allowed to have anything after dinner. Better not chance it.”

“Okay,” Kenny said and started running his finger over the one drop of juice on the table.

“Why are you here?” Milo asked.

Kenny sighed and kept running his finger over the table, tugging a bit when it got sticky. “I ran away.”

“Why?”

“My mom and Randy started arguing again. He was in a bad mood after I came in from the playground with my jeans dirty – I fell off the monkey bars when I tried to jump. I think he said something about getting the couch dirty.”

“Who’s Randy?”

“My mom’s boyfriend.”

“Where’s your dad?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t met him.”

Milo thought about not knowing his dad. He thought about the video game he helped set up and the dance he taught him for the talent show – Milo could never do the robot arms like he could. Milo really missed his dad when he went on business trips, and if he never came back one day? His chest felt funny like when he’d cried the other day.

“That sucks,” Milo said.

“Randy is better than her last boyfriend, though. Clyde used to eat all our good food and buy only that gross bread with seeds in it.”

“I like that bread! My mom lets me have it with jam for breakfast sometimes.”

“I don’t like seeds!” Kenny said and looked up for his sticky finger on the table. “What if a tree grows in my stomach?!”

Milo laughed, and after a quick second Kenny laughed too.

“Do you want to sit on my table at lunch tomorrow?” Milo asked.

Kenny smiled really wide and Milo saw he had a tooth missing. “Sure!”

Mom came into the kitchen with her cellphone in her hand. “Kenny, it’s too late for you to go home and I can’t get a hold of your mom. It’s safer if you stay here tonight and I’ll take you both to school tomorrow.”

A sleepover on a school night? What a treat!

Two Lies and a Truth

For today’s writing doodle, I tried something I haven’t done in a long time: writing with pen and paper. Writing with pen and paper, not worrying about red squiggly lines under misspelled words or editing as I write, allowed for a true flow of thought. Whether it led anywhere or not (or if it even made sense), it really allowed me to let my thoughts flow and create a true writing doodle.

I have to confess, however, that I was a bit loopy on nighttime cold medication when I wrote this… so the flow of thought may be very disjointed, loose and, well, flowy. I did enjoy writing this entry, despite the haze of cold medicine, but I’m slightly worried I didn’t make a point by the end of the doodle, or if it’s even a good one.

But, in the spirit of sticking to my purpose of sharing my writing, I’m choosing to look beyond perfection and just keep writing. Maybe nothing will come off of this doodle, but maybe the next doodle will be better.

This entry is a response to the following prompt, taken from 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco’s Writers’ Grotto“There are often three reasons for something: the reason we tell others, the reason we tell ourselves and the real reason. Write about the war among the three.”

Enjoy! Let me know what you think of these thoughts in the comments.

Writing on white lined pages.
What this entry looks like in my journal. Can you spot the horrendous typo?

The war among the three. The war is really about courage, courage to know the difference between the three reasons, and the implications of each one.

The war among the three is about empathy, how the different reasons, that are really a game of two lies and a truth, would affect others and our relationship with them.

Even for the most mundane of circumstances, every circumstance that requires an explanation, the implications vary. It could be as simple as why you changed your coffee order one day: “I was in the mood for a change” versus “I really wanted to try a different drink today” versus “I feel like my life has lost excitement and is getting out of my control, so this new coffee order will provide a change of pace that will inspire a bigger, more fulfilling and profound change in my life.”

What about the less pedestrian circumstances that require an explanation?

Why don’t you get the same sense of relief and happiness when you see your partner walk through the door of the home you share at the end of the day? “I saw them just this morning before we both went to work” versus “I didn’t miss them today” versus “I’m feeling suffocated and unfulfilled, and I don’t know how long I’ve been feeling like this, but  I don’t know why I don’t miss them when I don’t see them anymore.”

Especially when it comes to change, no matter how seemingly insignificant or infinitesimal, there is never harmony among the three reasons (the two lies and one truth) behind the change. Each reason then requires its own examination into their own two lies and one truth, and once we get to the inevitable center of the spiral, the real reason, the real truth behind a particular change, we can finally arrive at harmony. The truce of the war among the three.

This examination, of course, takes courage. Courage to not only ask the questions in the first place, but courage to answer each one truthfully within ourselves. Is there wisdom in knowing the difference? Is there wisdom in getting to the center of the spiral?

Would it be a cop-out, a cowardly dodge to the courage that it would otherwise take, to have the three reasons, the two lies and one truth, be concentric circles instead? They do, after all, exist within one another, for two have to always be lies for the one to be the truth.

This assumption then begs the question, which reason could be the truth? What degree of courage would it take to recognize we’re lying to ourselves? Which lie would be easier to tell?

So, as long as there’s change, there will always be a war among the three, because one of the three will not be like the others, and only with courage will we be able to, honestly, point to the real reason.

Character Wearing Something Red

I’ve had the workbook 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto for a few years, but I’ve only filled in a few entries. Some of the prompts require more in-depth writing and a bit more muscle, but there are a few interesting ones that I’ll be pulling my writing prompts from. The book doesn’t have page numbers or a table of contents, but that made it exciting to have, that I’d have so much freedom with these prompts that I can pick whatever format, voice, story, characters, etc. and just go with it. But that also made it intimidating – where do I even start?

For my first entry here, I picked “What a character wearing something red is thinking.”

Happy reading! I look forward to your feedback.

Shallow focus photography of red leafed tree
Photo by Daniel Kim on Unsplash

Red lipstick to match the red dress. Or is this too red? Or is my dress too red? Is this even a first-date dress?

I’m already running behind, and the rest of my wardrobe is either athleisure or jeans. Except for that section in the closet full of lingerie that I haven’t touched in two years… What about lingerie, jeans and a blazer? I’m pretty sure I saw an Instagram post with a woman wearing something like that. If I was going to go back into that section of the closet, today would be a good day for it.

The red dress goes. Lucky that I picked out the shoes last night, otherwise I’d be leaving a whole hour late.

My first date with Linda was at a karaoke bar, a desperate attempt to get the beautiful blond woman to give me the time of day. She always said I was the only person who vehemently said she was blonde, and everyone else said she had light brown hair. But her hair was what attracted me to her immediately, the way it was brown when she turned one way, but had a clear blond tinge when she looked at you.

And when she looked at you… it was all over. Her hair looked the way I always wanted mine to look, wavy, messy and full of volume, but not greasy. She wore combat boots a year or two ahead of everyone else because of her obsession with British Vogue and their fashion blog. She would often pair the combat boots with a leather jacket, fitted but loose, and yet she never looked like a biker.

So, when she said that she’d go out with me only if we went to a karaoke bar, I would have crawled there if I could find out more about her. She could have been straight and out to lead me on and break my heart, but I did not care.

That was the last first date I went on, and I would gladly relive the embarrassment of singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” twice, off key and sober, rather than go out for a drink with Kasey.

Kasey with a K. From her name alone, I knew we wouldn’t have that much in common, but I needed to rip the bandaid off, and Kasey is pretty enough. Linda said that she had been given the Spanish word for “beautiful” as a name, so she would remember that every time she didn’t feel like putting in any effort into her appearance.

Linda was “linda” in more than just her appearance. She had a very loud voice and a laugh that startled children, but she was so tender, soft and kind. I never deluded myself into thinking she never had an unkind word to say about anyone (she always had choice words for bad drivers), but she was always kind with those she loved.

We got married two years after the karaoke first date, and she died three years after. Uterine cancer. A woman who didn’t want kids gets the option taken away and dies for good measure. And she took half my life with her.

What must Kasey have to offer? Will she giggle at my terrible dad jokes? Will she eat the olive from my martinis? Will she cry at ASPCA commercials but laugh hysterically at videos of babies getting scared by loud noises?

With my hand on the front doorknob, I think how bad it’d look on me if I told Kasey now I couldn’t make it, provide some generic excuse. Maybe I’m stuck at work. But she knows I’m a freelance writer – how many emergencies would I have?

But I think of Linda as I open the door and take a step out. Red was her favorite color, so she’ll be with me all night, hopefully whispering her rendition of “Livin’ on a Prayer” in my ear.