Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Maybe Next Time: Flash Fiction Offering

This week, between hectic days at work, I wrote a short little flash-fiction. I had  thoughts of sending it off into the wide world someplace and seeing if it would catch thirty dollars in some magazine, and then I realized ain't nobody got time fo' that before Thanksgiving, so instead I'm letting you read it. This was a fun exercise in an unusual (for me) POV. And if you're wondering, though the events are fictionalized, the tone and certain facts are definitely autobiographical. This is, in short, how it feels to walk downtown as Rachel Heffington. Ciao, ciao.


Here’s the problem with being idealistic:
You always hope. Always. And when things don’t turn out your way, it’s almost pitiful how faithfully you smile and shrug. “Maybe next time.”
And your Experience says, “Yeah. Sure.”
And your Idealism says, “Yeah, sure!”
So this is why you find yourself (having locked your keys in your car by accident in a downtown parking garage) instead of cursing, thinking, “Hey, an inconvenience is just an adventure wrongly considered, right?” This is why you smile expectantly at the next car that passes, hoping they will notice your predicament.
They don’t.
Maybe next time.
You’ve got your purse, though, and your outfit is a power-house itself and there is a Place to Be, so let’s not allow imprisoned keys to set the afternoon counter-clockwise. You shove off the side of your car and swing your purse higher up your shoulder, headed toward the North stairs. The strap catches and dumps the contents of your purse’s outer pocket into the center lane of the parking garage. A BMW purrs up the ramp. It’s either dive for your Yves St. Laurent lipstick or let him run it into a woebegone, cinnamon-colored smear on the second-level ramp.
With the skill of a gold-medalling gymnast, you dart into the path of the oncoming Beemer, grab for the lipstick, and tumble to the other side. The driver blares his horn and throws his hands up, voicing everyone’s disbelief:
“What the heck, woman?”
Or some curried variation of the phrase.
 The horn-blast pierces back on itself as you check: all limbs accounted for. You go, girl. High-heels intact and everything. You smile and wave at the car’s taillights and reach the North stairs unaccosted.
Take the two flights down.
Exit on the quiet side of the street.
There’s a light mist in town. It isn’t exactly coming down thick enough to warrant the umbrella you left in the (locked) car, but it’s going to settle in a fine mesh on your hair, pulling it into damp, clinging tendrils. You had wanted to look especially polished. Well, you lost that one.
Two businessmen round the corner as you approach. You notice the vintage make of the taller one’s briefcase, the slim cut of his suit, the way his pocket-square matches his eyes. The broad set of his shoulders hunched against the vaguely-chill damp; his good hair and supremely wonderful beard. But it’s the compact, razor-burnt member of the pair who gives you a preoccupied smile. You return the expression, knowing full well his heart wasn’t in it. Still, a smile from a stranger is valuable, even though you might have been a mildly pleasant stocks-report for all the meaning in it.
Hurry now. Skitter around the corner, past your favorite restaurant, scents of anise, cumin, coriander, Chinese five-spice, and teriyaki wrapping exotic hands around your stomach. You flip the collar of your trench against the mist and hunger, wishing again for a real, live Burberry and a festive meal with friends.
You slowly pass your soul-mate store, tempting you with blank cards and paper for perfectly wrapping a yet-to-be-purchased gift for a yet-to-be-discovered Someone…dinner party invitations; placemats; card-cases; ink; cranberry-colored tassels. What you would do with a tassel doesn’t matter. You want one. You’ll find a use for it.
You wait for a string of fancy sports cars to finish their intricate four-way stop-sign dance and then hazard your chances getting across the intersection. After all, you don’t want to end up a woebegone, cinnamon-colored smear in the pavement. Plenty of people are gathered around the fountains in the Town Square as you flit by. You know you shouldn’t really stare at the couple having their date in the table at that picture- window, but you can’t help a quick peek. Bad news: they look up at you. The man laughs. His date narrows her eyes. Oh well. You cross again at the haberdashery store with its emblem of the Golden Fleece. Yeah, you’d need the corner market on the entire Golden Fleece trade to afford anything in there, but someday. Someday.
Despite that Place to Be, you pause to view the model in the show-window and your hand automatically slides up this side of the glass to touch his cashmere sweater, to fix his tie, to rest your palm on his chest and inhale the scent of his cologne. Some shop-girl with civil eyes and devastating cheekbones steps into the case and fixes the tie for you. So he, also, belongs to someone else.
They all do.
Maybe next time.
You duck against the mist that has somehow become a rain and press on through more businessmen in tailored suits, more women thinner, chicer, more successful in their careers  than you, skirt a few hopefuls dancing hip-hop to a beat straining from a rattled boom-box. A smile for them all. They don’t notice. Not most of them. But that’s okay. Smiles are cheap currency.
At last you’ve arrived. The sign ahead shines bleary-eyed against the rain and you hush into the simple, glass-fronted shop. Here, it is warm and dry. The others inside blink up against the dampness you brought. Laughter swells inside as you wring out your ruined hair and feel your heart pushing eagerly against your breast-bone. Adventure. Adventure. Adventure, it beats.
“You’re late,” the others say in their several, silent ways.
You laugh and whisper to no one, to everyone, “What’s new?”
“Meet any dashing strangers this week?” a girl asks from the far side of her earl grey latte. In the foam is drawn a plumy feather.
“Not a one.”
She sips her drink. Pewter daylight pings off her French manicure. “Pity.”
“Uh, yeah.”
You order a chai tea latte made with whole milk instead of water and wait as the new barista draws the foam. Will he make a string of hearts or a leaf or the latte-cat you’ve waited for your entire coffee-drinking life? He sloshes the cup across the bar and you catch it, scalding-hot against your palms.
“Thanks.” Then you see he didn’t know how to make the art, or didn’t bother to. Your foam is looking spectacularly like, well, foam…with a careless brown blob in the center. No leaf, no feather, no hearts. Definitely no cat.
Your heart settles into its everyday promise:. Maybe next time.
Carefully, so as not the spoil the art-that-wasn’t, you carry your latte to the corner booth. The booth that’s always empty every Thursday afternoon around four; the time you come. In you slide, down you slip, and even though it’ll come off on the cup’s rim, you swipe on some of the rescued lipstick. You never can tell when you’ll meet with an adventure.
Suddenly, the door jangles open and a swath of damp air matches itself against the back of your neck. Confident steps stride to the counter. The little hairs on your arms stand up tall. Something big just came through that door. You lift your coffee and sip, rotating just enough to watch the newcomer without it appearing to be your sole mission. Italian-looking shoes. Slim-fit, navy slacks. A trench-coat, belt knotted behind. A trilby, for lawd’s sake.
Adventure, adventure, adventure.
He orders black coffee, extra hot, takes one hand out of his pocket and pays for it. As he waits for the coffee, he surveys the crowd in the shop, like he’s a regular and they’re the newcomers, drumming the fingers of his right hand on the polished cherry bar. Polished till it gleams almost as dark as his hair.
Bluffing, you think. You’ve never seen him here on a Thursday at four.
As if he heard that thought, his gaze roves to you. The eyes crinkle and a grin –the best kind of grin—quirks at the corners of his mouth and finally cracks wide open, for you. He gives a two-fingered salute and you contemplate the consequence of trying to vanish into your latte.
“Black coffee, extra hot, for Grady?” bawls the barista.
He grins again, murmurs thanks, and sips his coffee. You decide it should be illegal for anyone’s jaw to do what his jaw just did. And just at the point when you’re beginning to wonder whether he’s a doctor or a lawyer (we can probably rule out Indian chief), he slides into the booth across from you, plunks down his coffee cup, and says:
“Mind if I sit here? Everywhere else is taken.”
You peer around the shop. Gosh, it’s true. You’re thankful for the decision to add lipstick and deftly rub off the evidence from the edge of your for-here mug. But before you have a chance to say anything even mildly intelligent, he takes his other hand from his pocket and clasps both around the mug.
“Chilly out there, isn’t it?” he remarks. Tiny drops of silver cling to his lapels, his shoulders, even his finely-etched face.
You nod, your heart a tiny, startled lump of chilliness itself.
“Didn’t expect it to start pouring like that.” He taps the fingers of his left hand against the mug, wedding ring clinking fatefully, as he stares out at the rain.
So he, also, belongs to someone else.
They all do.
And just like that, your heart begins to chug again, pulling itself back on the tracks, steaming along through life to the rail-song, Adventure, adventure, adventure. Somehow you make small-talk and he finishes his coffee and you finish your latte and he leaves and nothing is different than any other time in your young, long life except that maybe you’ll put him in a book someplace.
For a second, you thought it had happened.
You’re a little ashamed of having thought it was happening. Wryly, you notice how you’ve been knotting your hands in your lap, biting your bottom lip. You stop all that. There’s always someday.
Probably someday an adventure will come your way and the dashing stranger won’t be married and maybe you’ll buy a coat and you’ll find a twenty in the outside pocket and perhaps Diane von Furstenburg will start making dresses in a size fourteen and maybe, you know, someone will give you an inheritance or you’ll go on a road-trip and end up by mistake in a town called Accident. It happens, you know.
You grab your purse, slide out of the booth, and return the lipstick-stained mug to the dish-rack. You wave goodbye to the girl with the foamy feather and step back into the rain, smiling again at the people who don’t notice.
Maybe next time.

And at any rate, there’s still the matter of what to do about your keys.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Fifth of November: Celebrating The Fallow Year

"Read. Read constantly. Read the kind of stuff you wish you could write. Read until your brain creaks. Tolkien said that his ideas sprang up from the leaf mold of his mind: your readings are the trees where your fallen leave would come from."

"The first thing is that writers should be voracious readers. We live in a narcissistic age, which means that many want to have the praise that comes from having read, without the antecedent labor of actually reading. Wanting to write without reading is like wanting to grind flour without gathering wheat, like wanting to make boards without logging, and like wanting to have a Mississippi Delta without any tributaries somewhere in Minnesota. Output requires intake, and literary output requires literary intake."

"Read like a reader and not like someone cramming for a test. If you try to wring every book out like it was a washcloth full of information (and nothing but information), all you will do is slow yourself down to a useless pace. Go for total tonnage, and read like someone who will forget most of it...Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading you will not be able to remember. The most formative years of my life were the first five, and if those years were to be evaluated on the basis of my ability to pass a test on them, the conclusion would be that nothing important happened then, which would be false. The fact that you can't remember things doesn't mean that you haven't been shaped by them."

All of these very, very excellent quotes come from a slim little volume by Douglas Wilson titled Wordsmithy. I was given this book in the coffee shop I'm sitting in now. It was a gift from a friend who, I hope, didn't feel like giving it to me because she could sense my drought. I must confess the year 2014 was a year of output. Massive output. I published two novels and a novella, started a new job, and worked my precious little butt off. The understandable assumption was that the year 2015 would be the same. It was not, however. 2015 has been a year of immense personal schedules. The girls I mainly nannied in 2014 I am now schooling, which adds a dimension and a half. I now plan their lessons, teach them, and have had the huge privilege of seeing them go from their alphabet to real books, explaining our ridiculous English language, and showing them the world, such as it is. This year I have also rediscovered my love of reading.I'm sorry to say that I forgot about it for a little while. Not about my love of stories - that never faded. But of how easy and delicious it is to lose oneself in a book. To nose so deeply into the pages and words and characters that one forgets present constraints. Is it summer? Is it autumn? Does it rain outside or are we having dry weather?
I forgot about this love because I consciously kept myself in. I am a book drunkard. I give myself up entirely to the story and if I lose myself early in the day, I am lost until whatsoever time the book has coughed me up ashore like a word-soaked Jonah. Knowing this about myself, I was careful not to get too entangled in a book. I only read if I deemed I had time to read. And, predictably, my word output shriveled. If I had no time to read, I certainly had no time to write and here was the vicious cycle. Friends, however, gave me books for my birthday. I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and bought a couple more. Pretty soon I had a stack of unread books waiting on my shelf. Waiting for that day when I had "time to read." The temptation was, quite simply, too much. Since summer began, I have given into my passion and picked up Wodehouse's Summer Lightning. I don't have hours upon hours to read - I am a busy working woman. Still, I elbowed other things to make time. From Summer Lightning, it was a short step to swallowing Schindler's List piecemeal between bouts of more Wodehouse. Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman grabbed me and shook me by the throat as I soared through it in two or three days, and Wordsmithy dribbled through my fingers as well. Cocktail Time rounded to a close and Blandings Castle was waiting, all uncracked-spine and crisp pages. And do you know what? I found a piece of myself that had gone into hibernation. Ever so slowly, I'm coaxing her back out. I do have time to read. I can choose to put aside my phone, to postpone that drawing commission, or to go to bed a little early and pick up a book before sleep. I can choose to spend my evening reading rather than watching White Collar or The West Wing, as painful as that choice is.

Reading opens massive, massive worlds. How could I ever have let it go? Since picking my books back up, I have found that my mind is brighter. I am not at a loss for things on which to think. Words spring readily to mind. I've almost finished the first draft of my story for the Five Magic Spindles contest with the overflow. But you know what? The paradigm shift was as subtle as it was important: I did not read to turn the words like so much straw into WIP gold. I read for reading's sake; for the sake of losing myself in another world for what might be half an hour, or a full afternoon. I found the joy again of diving so deep that when I emerged, I had to shake myself a bit and look about and remember where and whom I was.

Farmers rotate crops so that a given piece of ground is not stripped of a particular nutrient; different crops suck different things from the soil. And though the farmers, by rotating the variety of crops grown on that piece of ground, can keep the soil fairly healthy and thriving, fallow years are necessary. A year of rest for the soil. A year of building up again the depleted stocks, of fertilizing the ground and waiting. A year where nothing will grow that is lucrative, but wild-flowers and grasses will knit its wounded, harrowed soul back together, leaving that field fresh-faced and ready for the following spring. 2014 was my insanely productive year. 2015 has been my fallow year. But a fallow year is necessary, and I will not apologize for (unofficially) taking it. I will only turn back to my books with a fond smile, write as I can, and thank God for the great, great joy it is to be literate and to know the thrill of traveling lands afar through the wilds of an unread book. I feel myself healing. Oh, rest is a beautiful, needful thing.

It has been a year today since my last release of 2014.  A warm happy birthday to my dear first mystery: Anon, Sir, Anon! If any of you feel like burying yourself deep for a cozy, British afternoon, head thataway to say hello. Supporting independent authors is a wonderful way to explore deeper waters in the joy of reading. Buy a copy for yourself, for a friend, or to show a lonely little mystery that though the promise of a sister-mystery has been delayed, it has not been forgotten.

All My Love,

Sunday, November 1, 2015

NaNoWriMo Therapy: Helpful Things For Your Sanity's Sake

Today is the first of November, which means that every day from now until December 1st, the writing will fall into its peculiar autumnal hush. Except from this corridor because I have never participated in National Novel Writing Month, hitherto referred to as "NaNoWriMo." I don't do well under that sort of pressure and besides, I prefer sleep to word-count, which could be my main issue. But since I know that many if not most of you will be participating in NaNoWriMo, I've filled this post with happy things for you, as my Instagram begged just this morning:

I love all of you and I'll be back with a celebratory post in just a couple days because, get this, Anon Sir, Anon will turn a year old on the Fifth of November, which really calls for celebration! "Remember, remember, the fifth of November." Maybe, to help it feel as grown up as it is, it is time to purchase a copy of your own? But for now, I'm here to nourish your massacred soul which stands upon the brink of a thirty-day howl and begs mercy.

And because I am trying to help ease things along for you, I'm also sharing my recipe for a single-serving clean-eating brownie because you writers need to eat healthily, but you also need chocolate. I love you! 

Edible Therapy:

1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 Tablespoon honey
1 pinch baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon flour (or almond flour)
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
1 Tbs. chocolate chips or chopped chocolate bar (70% cocoa or higher)

Place first two ingredients into a ramekin or oven-safe mug in the oven, preheating to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for one minute till melted together. Mix with other ingredients. Press chcoolate into the top. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until no longer jiggly. Eat warm! 

Best of luck to you all! <3