Monday, August 30, 2010

Writing Prompt: Next to Last

This writing prompt is from Lisa Romeo.  She promised a summer of prompts, so I'm pretty sure I know what this one means. Like everything else in my summer, this is coming to an end. I didn't do as well as I had hoped keeping up with the prompts, but I've saved all her emails and will probably go back and work on some of them, posting them as if I had done them on the day she sent them. Or is that cheating? In any case, thank you, Lisa, for the inspirational summer.

Penultimate — it's one of my favorite words. When I first heard it, I thought it meant that the event or thing in questions was even more ultimate than the ultimate. Penultimate is  such an elegant word, so luxurious in the mouth, that it had to mean something great. It was somewhat of a letdown to discover that it meant "next to last" or not quite ultimate. That really took the shine off of the word for me for a while.

But I've come back to it. At first, it was probably due to the smugness that wordies like me feel when we know the true meaning and usage of a word that many people use incorrectly. I've often heard penultimate used the way I imagined it as a child. Every time I hear or read the misuse, I take out my mental Sharpie pen and correct it. There's such satisfaction in being right. It turns a pet peeve into a gleeful moment of triumph.

But the real attraction of the word is that there is something hopeful about being the penultimate. It means there's still one more chance after this one to get it right; one more opportunity to enjoy something wonderful. Penultimate may not be the "ultimate", but it also isn't the final, the last, the end.

Geez, I'm a geek. Who else takes so much joy in parsing words? If you do, come sit next to me. Leave and comment and we'll discuss. Thanks again, Lisa

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Just Tryin' Out the iPad

I'm at the Apple Store waiting for my new computer, and just could not resist the temptation to play with the iPad. While this little goodie has gotten a pretty bad rap, I have to say that it's pretty seductive -- so sleek and small, lightweight and easy to throw in your bag and go. You can surf the net anywhere there's wifi. Way fun, and not as tiny as typing on an iPhone (but I covet one of those, too).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writing Prompt: The River

This writing prompt is from Lisa Romeo. I have never before posted a picture on the SFD blog, but this prompt led me straight to this photo from our recent trip out west.

This summer, we traveled together for nearly weeks — six of us in an eight-year-old minivan with a Sears car-top carrier. Between Chicago and Seattle, we encountered countless bodies of water, from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean. We learned about dams and hydro electric power, and the how engineers and conservationists are revising and rethinking how damming our rivers impacts our environment. 

We crossed the mighty Mississippi early on, at LaCrosse, WI. It was only then that we felt like the trip had really started. Wide and meandering on that border between Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Mississippi was a sleeping giant, lazing along in the heat of the northern summer. It split and reconnected around fingerlike islands, bent at an elbow and slipped passed the I-90 bridge, oblivious of the oily mess it would meet at its delta.

When you start with the Mississippi, how can other rivers compare? I discovered that rivers don't compete. They're content with their own personalities. Creeks and brooks, rivers and streams, mere trickles and pushy waterfalls — we saw them all — and each was thoroughly engaged, a study in movement, some walking, some skipping, some running, but all inexorably going forward to some unknown destination. 

The power of water is can been seen in even slightest trickle. Flowing water both shapes and is shaped by the land formations and obstacles in path. While we watch, we see only the later, how a protruding rock forces the water up, around and over it, changing the shape, color and sound of the water when they meet. We don't see that the water is simultaneously sculpting the rock, smoothing it, scraping and carrying it's minerals downstream. It will take months or years or decades before the human eye can see the water's impact on the rock, but the water's influence over the rock is more permanent and significant than the rock's power over the water.

Many of the rivers we met were suffering the heat of summer.  Wide banks seemed like big-brother hand-me-downs to creeks that had retreated from their edges during weeks of 100+ degree days. 

The true power of moving water could be seen best in the rivers that weren't — or at least weren't any more. The magnificent coulees carved by long-dead ancient rivers bore the scars and patterns of gushing waters that have escaped the bonds of human memory. This dry river bed, this river of rocks and mountain detritus stood probably 25 or 30 feet wide, a lasting memorial carved like a sculptor's self-portrait; a still, unmoving replica of a once-formidable force.

I think this passage meanders more haphazardly than any of the rivers we saw, but hey, it's just a SFD, right?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Writing Prompt: Sin City

This writing prompt from Lisa Romeo's blog, where you can sign up to receive daily writing prompts in your inbox. I usually give myself 10 minutes for these prompts.

To say he wasn't much of a gambler is an understatement. Joseph was a planner — someone who contributed regularly to his 401K, who made sure his bills were paid on time and that his sole credit card was paid off monthly to avoid interest charges. In fact, the only reason he had a credit card at all was to help develop his excellent credit rating and because his job required a lot of traveling, which in turn required a credit card rent a car and reserve his hotel rooms.

Joseph traveled at least two weeks a month, staying in modest, virtually indistinguishable hotel rooms. They tended to be clean, but boring, ranging in color from beige to taupe to tan — more than neutral, the decor (if you could call it that) was practically invisible. Joseph preferred it that way. No surprises, no need to adjust your sensibilities or compare one hotel room to another. Blandness bred contentment, which was more consistent than happiness.

Last week, Joseph was stunned to attention when he checked into a newly remodeled hotel in the heart of an undistinguished mid-sized city in middle America. His records indicated that he had visited this hotel before, but other than the receipts he kept and the Excel spreadsheet where he listed expenses and tracked his experiences (if you could call them that). 

When he drove up to the hotel, he was not surprised that he did not recognize the facade. He was surprised by that this hotel, one he had presumably stayed in before, did not sport the ubiquitous brick or stucco front with a canopied driveway. Instead, he pulled up curbside and was greeted by a liveried valet, who took his rental vehicle God knows where and left Joseph staring after him with the valet ticket clutched in his hand.

Turning slowly, Joseph took one step toward the doors, which automatically slid open to the left and right. The familiar Formica clad concierge counter had been replaced by a stand-alone semi-circle desk in polished aluminum. The entire lobby was shiny metal and red lacquer, lit by a galaxy to tiny, pinpoint lights. The mirrored elevator doors reflected the lobby as he saw it, with the exception that it also showed a beige man in a rumpled suit, with hair and skin that had greyed before its time. It took Joseph almost a minute to recognize himself.

Joseph was brought back to reality when the shiny concierge flashed a digital camera in his face. Her hair was black and blunt cut, and her flawless white skin was bisected by a cut of red lipstick. She smiled and said it would be just another minute and he couldn't help but notice how young she looked, even though he was not yet 30. Her black suit was perfectly tailored and the collar of her red silk blouse seemed to cradle her delicate face. Suddenly, she walked out from behind the semi-circle, pressed a key-card into his hand on top of the valet ticket and guided him by the elbow into the waiting elevator. 

"Tenth floor, suite B," she smiled, taking his key card and waving it in front of a small screen inside the elevator where the button panel should have been. "Enjoy your stay," she said, and as the doors closed, the last thing he saw were her implausibly high red patent leather pumps.

I'm not quite sure where Joseph came from, but the hotel is much like the one my brother recently stayed in when we met up in Seattle. My family and I were stuck in two tacky rooms at a national chain, paying $185 a night per room; he stayed in an edgy, newly remodeled place just a few blocks away for a mere $60 a night with free parking. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Writing Prompt: The Dance

This writing prompt from Lisa Romeo. I've been away from writing for several weeks while we traveled. I always think I'm going to do a lot of writing on the road, but it never works out that way. My writer friends tell me it's important to take a break and refill the well, so I'm going to pretend that I did that. But now that I'm home, seems a writing prompt is a good way to get back into the swing of things. 10 minutes.

Without question, the longest two hours of my life. Longer than the time I was stuck on the tarmac in Cleveland during a snow storm. Longer even than any two hours of labor. It was the time I chaperoned the middle school dance. 

Just to prove how bad this dance was, the principal decided to cancel all dances from that point forward, so it wasn't just me who that it was bad. It was bad.

I'm no prude and with four kids and two step kids, I've done more than my fair share of chaperoning. How bad could it be? thought I. Two hours in a middle school gym — a little sweaty, a little loud, a little boring, but I could take it. I was a veteran. 

My little sixth grade twins had no idea what the whole dance thing was about. Like all the other sixth graders, the formed a circle around the periphery of the gymnasium, mostly running around and playing tag. 

The seventh graders formed another ring, inside the circle of sixth graders, but not at the center. Here the girls primped, gossiped, giggled and pointed. Totally expected behavior. The boys stood in awkward clumps, hands shoved deep in their pockets, standing on tiptoe to see the real action that was going on in the very center of the room.

The eighth graders closed ranks in tight knots that formed the nucleus of the three-ringed cell. They were the only ones "dancing", if you could call it that. A single girl stood, bent over at the waist, buttocks high in the air. She was surrounded by a group of between six and 10 boys, who took turns bumping and grinding into her from behind, simulating (quite graphically) a variety of sex acts. 

Again, I'm not a prude, but I was seriously shocked. These were 12 and 13 year old kids. I know that jitter bug was considered obscene in its day; my mother wasn't allowed to even listen to Elvis the Pelvis because of his lewd hip movements; and belly dancing, often considered an art, clearly has sexual overtones. But this was overtones, undertones and overt, in-your-face sex. And it was gross. I could understand what the boys liked about it, but I kept wanting to ask the girls "What are you thinking?"

The principal instructed chaperones to physically walk through the circles to break it up. At one point, he turned the lights up to full power to discourage the behavior. I spent two hours as a vice cop before the whistle blew signaling that it was time to go home. I never knew the shrill sound of a whistle could bring such relief. I grabbed my twins and headed home for a much-needed long, hot shower. 

Time: Oy, that was such an awful night. Wonder how I could use this in fiction. That dance was six years ago. Have shows like Dancing with the Stars changed school dance behavior? Would I have been as bothered if it had been a high school dance?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Writing Prompt: Cake or Pie?

This writing prompt, from Lisa Romeo, just begs to become a Two Kinds of People post. For this SFD, I'm just going to list the things I want to touch on in my post and see where it takes me.

There are two kinds of people in the world: cake people and pie people.

Not a big fan of cake. Cake is too dry, except truly decadent cakes like those molten chocolate things. 

Cupcakes are a pain in the ass to make. Tell the story about the little boys eating the tops off of all those cupcakes. Molly's black-bottom pies and how the recipe calls for frosting, which seems redundant. 

Then there was the time when Al Segretti inadvertently made my favorite pie for dessert on my birthday for the progressive dinner.
Cindy Fey's pie from last year. What a treat. Not many people will bake for mere acquaintances.

Making pie with Amy up at Michigan Tech. It was my first effort and a complete disaster. Pie is tricky, even though there are only a few ingredients. The dough is sensitive to ambient conditions and overworking it can make it tough. Also mention baking pies with Grandma. Cindy and I used to get the trimmings to make tarts, but we usually just made a mess. Interesting that some people who like to cook don't like to bake, and vice versa.

Pie song from "Michael".
So, this was interesting. Writing my thoughts down just as they came without molding or shaping them. Oddly, it did not feel freeing to write this way. I think part of the fun for me of writing Two Kinds of People post is shaping all these random, barely-connected ideas into a cohesive whole. Here's a pun for you: I like kneading the randomness into a workable shape. Which is what I'm going to do right now. See the finished product over at Two Kinds of People. I'll leave it cooling on the window sill.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Writing Prompt: Infected

Today's writing prompt, from Lisa Romeo, reminds me of a game we used to play in college that involved the use of creative insults. We were big into Shakespeare back then, and our everyday vernacular began to sound quite flat in comparison. It's one thing to call someone an asshole — anyone can do that, but it doesn't even compare to one of the Bard's famous insults, like this one from King Lear:

"Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood."

So, this is where today's writing prompt is taking me — to insults. Probably not quite what Lisa had intended.

Infected wound
Infected, foul-smelling wound
Infected, foul-smelling wound on a corpse
Infected, foul-smelling wound on a rotting corpse
Infected, foul-smelling wound on the rotting corpse of your soul
Oozing, infected, foul-smelling wound on the rotting corpse of your soul
Oozing, infected, foul-smelling wound on the rotting corpse that had been the soul of mankind.
You are an oozing, infected, foul-smelling wound on the rotting corpse that was once the soul of mankind. You represent the final stages of decomposition, the seething remnants of our former glory, the pathetic ruins of our great potential scuttled by corporate greed and human arrogance.

Flaming red
Infected, flaming red 
Infected, flaming red mound
Infected, flaming red mound of pus
Infected, flaming red mound of pus-filled boils
May you be infected by a flaming red mound of pus-filled boils
May you be infected by a flaming red mound of pus-filled boils that render you hideous to those you wish to impress.

Infested with maggots
Filthy, infested with maggots
Filthy bottom feeder, infested with maggots
Filthy, bottom-feeding parasite, infested with maggots
Useless, filthy bottom-feeding parasite, infested with maggots
Useless, filthy bottom-feeding parasite, infested with disease-spreading maggots
You are nothing but a useless, filthy, bottom-feeding parasite, infested with disease spreading maggots, and I will use every tool, every weapon at my disposal to rid the world of your plague.

So much more fun than simply calling someone an asshole. Cathartic, really. Feel free to give my little stream of consciousness game a try in the comments below.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Writing Prompt: Putting Out Fires

Today's writing prompt is courtesy of Lisa Romeo's Summer Writing Prompt Program. You can get free prompts from Lisa, too. Here we go — 10 minutes on putting out fires.

It seems all I do these days is put out fires. There's no time for planning, thoughtful contemplation, cool assessment of the situation. I just aim the fire extinguisher at that flare up, blast the hose on this flame, and spread the chemical foam on those dangerous crash and burn fires.

The little flare ups are caused by my two youngest boys, who are a combustible combination these days. Prior to adolescence, they were best friends. Now that can't seem to be in the same room together for more than five minutes without igniting a simple bicker into a big blowup. 

The visible flames come from our robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul financial strategy. We haven't intentionally increased our spending, but our income has been cut (like everyone else's), our healthcare expenses keep rising, and every time I turn around, there's a new bill burning to be paid. Just when we get one fire under control, a new hot spot shows bursts into flames. 

The slow, undousable burn stems from my inability to stop time (or at least slow it down a bit). Children are heading off to college, step children are getting married, little boys are turning into big boys, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. This particularly deadly fire is complicated by my tendency to burn the candle at both ends, leaving me vulnerable to the shifting winds of middle-age mood swings that provide endless fuel for this fire.

10 minutes. I know. I know. I took this poor metaphor and squeezed it's guts out. But, that's what shitty first drafts are for.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Writing Prompt: Bolt

Lisa Romeo has once again offered to send daily writing prompts to your (and my) inbox, so I'm picking up the SFD blog again. Ten minutes is all it takes, because that's all I'll allow. Go.

Bolt out the door. Bolt down the block, around the corner, into Cassie's backyard. The hammock is empty, swinging slightly in the breeze. No Cassie.

Bolt down the alley, through the hole in the chain link at the end and climb the fire escape up to the roof of Sully's Garage. There's a pretty good view of the neighborhood from up there. Sully's working on that heap of his in bay #1. I can't see him from up here, but I can hear the clank, clank of his tools and then him swearing as he finds yet another problem. It's like a mechanic's symphony down there:

Clank, clank "Shit"
Clank, clank "Fucking piece of junk"
Clank, clank "Got it"
Clank, clank "Dammitalltohell"

He should dump that car.

Like I should dump Cassie. Every time I turn around there's drama and more drama. Back to business. Vince and Capo are on their boards at the skate park. I look for Cassie and the yapfest she calls a dog. No pink leashes to be seen.

Bolt back down the fire escape, jumping the last 10 feet when the ladder sticks. Bolt down Jackson into Murphy's Drugs. I check the aisles. There she is, holding yappy under her arm and staring at a little box. Like she senses me standing there, she looks up and turns the home pregnancy test toward me.

I bolt.

10 minutes. Don't know why this teenager popped into my head with the prompt, but all I could see was a skittish, wiry kid in black jeans and a white t-shirt looking for his on-again, off-again girlfriend. Strange what pops into your head with a writing prompt.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day #25 — Who Would Like to Go First

Prompt: Who Would Like to Go First

Tapping the edge of the yardstick on the floor between her splayed feet, Mrs. Cumberman looked around the room, slowly sliding her eyes up one row of desks and down the next. Tricia could feel the beady black eyes scorch the part in her hair as Mrs. Cumberman passed by her downturned head.

"Who would like to go first?" the teacher asked, taking a deep breath and holding it while she waited for a volunteer to come forward. "No one? David Anderson? How about you?"

"No, ma'am," David said.

"No, ma'am what?" Mrs. Cumberman tapped hard on the last word.

"No, ma'am, I would not like to go first. I had the flu till yesterday and just go the assignment from my brother last night, so my project is not ready."

"I see. How many days did you miss?"

"Six school days."

"Then you have until Monday to complete your project. You will go first on Monday. Patricia Bailey. I have just volunteered you to go first, since the rest of the class seems to have suddenly contracted stage fright and Mr. Anderson is just back from sick leave."

Tricia stared at her desk. Every hair on her arms was standing on end, like the time when she rubbed it against her birthday balloon. Her feet were itchy inside her shoes and socks, and she couldn't bring herself to look up as she grabbed her poster board and headed to the front of the room.

"Class, Miss Bailey will be your teacher for the next five minutes. What topic will you be enlightening us about today, Miss Bailey?"

"The bmermer," Tricia mumbled.

"Speak up, Miss Bailey. The students in the back of your classroom cannot hear you. In fact, the students in the front rows cannot even hear you. Ricky Balsam, can you hear Miss Bailey?"

Ricky cupped his hand behind his ear. "Eh? Did you say something, teach?" he said, and the class giggled. Tricia glared at him from under her lowered eyelids.

"The BEAVER," she shouted so loudly that the sound ricocheted off the back wall and bounced back so loudly into her own ears that she had to cover them with her hands.

Time: 10 minutes

They say that public speaking ranks in the top three things that people fear the most. I think most people remember feeling terrified at the idea of making a fool of themselves in front of classmates, especially if they had a teacher who they perceived as mean. If I were to spend time rewriting this scene, I would concentrate on how Tricia was feeling.

Day #24 — Required Reading

Here's a poem for you. My initial reaction to this writing prompt ("Required Reading")  was to do a rant about the stupid Accelerated Reading program and why it makes children hate reading. But instead, here is my feeble attempt at a poem, inspired by the continuing news from Haiti.

Prompt: Required Reading

Required reading
Bodies bleeding
People pleading

Required reading
Children needing
Love and feeding

Required reading
Hope receding
Helpful heeding

Required reading
Some still breathing
Not conceding

Required reading
Plans proceeding
Time impeding

Required reading
New news leading

Time: 14 minutes

As I say, I'm not a poet. I'm immature when it comes to using the tools of poetry, but this was an exciting exercise in that it reminded me again how just a few words can tell a story with great impact. It took much longer to write this way than when I follow my usual path. It certainly stretched me more than my typical response pattern would have done.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Day #23.5 — It finally happened

So if you've been paying attention — and not many people have — I broke my streak. After 22 straight days of SFDs, I missed yesterday. But, to quote my son, it's not my fault. Really. I spent the entire day at the hospital figuring things out for my mother in law who was having some issues after surgery. Now, don't you feel bad that you thought less of me? I woulda if I coulda. Really.

So, here's what I've decided. I'm granting myself a Mulligan, a do-over. I'm turning a blind eye and extended my "day" from yesterday to include this 10-minute free-write and I'm going to date it as if I had written it yesterday on 1/29 (aren't the publishing options offered by blogger great?). Then, I will do another 10 minute free write based on a different prompt and date it today, 1/30. Brilliant, right? I'll be all caught up and only you will be the wiser. If only all my problems were this easy to solve. So, here we go with one of the final prompts from Lisa Romeo.

Prompt: Report Card

My mom is going to kill me. She is flat out going to kill me. I'm doomed. A C- in math. Math. I've never gotten less than an A on anything, and now a C- in math. How is it going to look when the son of a professor of Applied Mathematics at MIT is practically failing math. She is going to kill me.

The thing is, I hate math. I always have. Ever since I got that plastic placemat with the times tables on it and my mom started quizzing me at breakfast every morning, I have hated math. I like words. I like books. I like to read, but I really, really hate math.

I guess I could be good at it if I tried. I mean, if genetics plays a part in the equation, then a math professor and an economist should have produced a son who could do math if he tries, right? But what if I can't do it? What if I tried everything, and did all the homework, and studied before the tests and quizzes and then I still flunked. Then my parents wouldn't just kill me. They'd hate me.

Maybe my mom will forget that it's report card day. Maybe I can say I forgot it, or lost it. Maybe I can say that they are mailing report cards home now and that it got lost in the mail. That sounds perfectly reasonable, since half of my bar mitzvah invitations never made it the the right mailboxes. I think I'll go with that one. At least it will buy me some times. If I could put my mom off track for four more days, then it's fall break, so that gives me another week, but then it's parent-teacher conferences that Wednesday. Hmm, four days, plus seven days, plus three more days — that gives me a full two weeks before I really have to worry.

Time:  11 minutes

I wonder why I always find it so much easier to write from the point of view of a boy than a girl when I write for children. That's so curious to me. Perhaps it's because I have three sons and only one daughter, or maybe because I'm so different from my daughter. Still, you would think I would be tapping into my own sensory memories from childhood.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day #22: Money, Money, Money

Today I am writing on my laptop from the discomfort of my mother-in-laws hospital room (she'll be fine). It's been a long day and I'm tired. And hungry. But neither exhaustion nor starvation nor dry contacts shall keep this writer from her appointed writing prompt, once again courtesy of Lisa Romeo.

Prompt: Money, Money, Money

Ka-ching. That is the exact sound I heard when my 8-year-old bumped his face while going UP the playground slide and broke his front tooth exactly in half. You might have expected me to hear a thump or his cry, but all I heard was the sound of how much it's going to cost me to have that tooth fixed. He couldn't have done this last summer when he still had baby-teeth up front. No. He had to break off his brand new shiny white permanent tooth -- the one right in front.

I heard ka-ching again last Friday when his older brother accidentally threw away his retainer. We were eating at one of those disgusting all you can eat buffet places (his birthday choice). Apparently, he wrapped the damn retainer in a napkin and the waitress cleared it with the dishes on one of the 23 or so trips he took to the buffet. That boy can eat! 

We pawed through six bags of disgusting garbage before finally waving the white flag and giving up. Called the orthodontist the next day. Now he needs another impression taken and a new retainer. Do you hear that sound? It's the sound of my tiny little bank account leaking like a sieve.

Ka-ching went back tire of the mini-van as it blew running over our the remnants of the of the set design workshop my daughter and her theater groupies had erected behind the garage. I backed out over nails and whatnot left on the drive and that was that for my tire. It was only six months old and still had a lot of miles left in it.

This is the story of my life. Money bleeding from every pore. Money escaping through every door. I'd call in a specialist to stop the hemorrhaging, but I'm out of money.

Time: 10 minutes

Time to check out. Good night, folks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day #21 — Free

This prompt strikes me as more than just a little ironic, given that I have spent the last couple of hours trying to figure out financial aid information for my daughter who will be heading off to college in the fall. Right this minute, it doesn't feel like there is much in life that is free. We'll see where the prompt (once again from Lisa Romeo) takes me.

Prompt: Free

Ezra escaped today. Ever since he started walking, he has turned into a regular Houdini. Trying to change his diaper is like trying to do a Rubic's cube with your hands tied behind your back. He is just so wiggly! I won't even try to change him on the changing table or bed, for fear he'll land right on his head.

So this morning I spread the changing pad on the floor and managed to wrestle him flat. With my forearm pinning down his chest, I managed to remove his dirty diaper and clean him up reasonably well with one hand until he twisted away, jumped up and ran around the room laughing … at me! My beautiful baby boy was pointing and laughing at me.

I struggled to my feet, then slipped on the changing pad and landed flat on my butt, which set Ezra into a fit of giggles. He started running around in circles saying: "Boom … damn! Boom … damn!" For the first time since he was born, I was furious. Just furious. My tailbone was killing me, I let out a epithet when I fell and now this little traitor was going to rat me out. Unbelievable. I thought we were a team.

At this point, I turned into a crazy woman, chasing him around the room and barking orders like a drill sergeant:  "Ezra Michael Stern, you come here right this minute. I mean it now. Stop running and come here. If you don't come here right now …"

I have absolutely no idea how that threat would have ended, because before I could finish it, my socks slid on our newly buffed hardwood floor and I fell — again — this time doing the splits before rolling out of them in complete agony. 

I pulled myself to a sitting position, trying to determine whether anything was broken, besides my spirit. This little one-year-old alien monster had brought me to my knees in less than 8 minutes after waking from his morning nap. I burst into tears. If I couldn't handle him as a toddler, what on earth was I going to do when he was a teenager and bigger and stronger than me? I rolled back onto my side in the fetal position and wept.

I was in such a state of self pity that it didn't even occur to me that the baby might have gotten into real trouble. Suddenly, if felt his wet, sloppy lips on my forehead and opened my eyes to see his worried face pressed close to mine. "OK Mama? Awbetter Mama?" 

I sat up, wiped my eyes and gave him a wobbly smile. "All better, Ezzy-man."

"Good," he said with a grin. "Get up!" Then he giggled and started running in circles around me, still naked, his arms flapping and his little penis bobbing as he chanted:  "Get up, get up, get up!"

This time my smile was genuine. But I wonder, will I ever feel that free again?

Time: 12 minutes

I don't know a mom in the world who hasn't been brought to her knees by an infant or toddler. It's a completely overwhelming feeling. For me, the first time it dawned on my that my freedom was gone was when my twins were napping and I realized that I couldn't even walk the block and a half to White Hen. It's good to be able to tap into those feelings at such a primal, visceral level. Sort of like method acting. Using this scene in a kind of "method writing", I could help my character feel trapped, stuck, completely not free … a common obstacle to throw in the path of your hero.

Day #20 — Just a Little Something …

Today is my 20th straight day of free writing to a prompt. That's more discipline than I've shown … well, ever. I'll see how long I can keep up the streak. Maybe I should find some lucky socks or something and wear them every day until the streak is broken. Today's prompt is one of the few remaining in Lisa Romeo's month of writing prompts. Your job — see if you can guess which parts are true and which are pure fiction.

Prompt: Just a Little Something to Take the Edge Off

"Are you going to the pool today?" Allie asked me at 6:45 in the morning, in what would be one of at least 10 calls for the day. We don't even bother with salutations anymore.

"Not now," I said. "Remember, it's Wednesday. Swim team day. The pool doesn't open until 1:30."

"Shit, that means I have to entertain the little darlings all morning. Any ideas?"

"Sorry, we're going to the dentist."

"All of you?"

"Yep — he's blocked out the whole morning for us. Then Cassie has gymnastics, so we won't be ready for the pool until at least 1:30 anyway."

"Be there at 1:30. And us bring a little something."

"What do you want?"

"You know, just a little something to take the edge off. I'm going to need it."

Two hours, five cleanings and $700 dollars later, we were done with the dentist. I dropped Cassie off at the gym and told her I would pick her up on the way to the pool. 

"Bring my pink bikini — not the hot pink one, the other one with the butterflies," she ordered.

Generally speaking, I'm not the world's most organized mom, but after 10 years, I've got the whole pool thing down to a science. The mesh boating bag is packed with sunscreen, goggles, a few pool toys and Max's epi pen. Even at the pool somebody might have nuts. I keep the pool passes in a little zipper pocket on the outside of the bag. Woe to the child who fails to return his or her pass to the pocket.

We have a perfect size cooler that is unpacked immediately on returning home from the pool. The ice pack is returned to the freezer, the big zip lock bag is refilled with gold fish or pretzels, and the water bottles are rinsed. There's no glass allowed at the pool, but plastic bottles are fine. Sometimes I pack some grapes or cherries. I'm always astounded at how hungry everyone is after they cool off in the pool.

I was closing up the cooler when I remembered Allie's request. What on earth did she want? Chocolate? No, she's the only woman on earth who doesn't have a chocolate monkey on her back. Oooh, I know. I opened the cupboard with the water bottles and pulled out the only two left — red and blue teddie bears with flip tops. I forced a couple of ice cubes through the small openings and filled the sippy bottles with premade margarita mix. Smiling a guilty little smile, I stuck them into the cooler and headed for the pool.

Allie looked at me like I had lost my mind when I handed her the blue bear-shaped bottle. Then her eyes widened and she took a sip. 

"That's it," she said. "I'm dumping Tom and eloping with you to Vegas."

Time:  13 minutes

So, can you figure it out? I like this scene. It could be exaggerated to be really funny.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day #19 — Late to the Party

Yesterday, IRL, I joined Twitter, which seems to fit in perfectly with today's prompt from Lisa Romeo:

Prompt: Late to the Party

Some days I think I'm pretty up on this whole technology thing. I have several blogs and there are those in my circle who even consider me a little bit of an expert. I strongly believe that that's because my circle is old (sorry, friends) and we are in danger of missing the new tide of technology completely.

Yesterday, I signed up for a Twitter account. I know I'm a little late to the party, but that's nothing new. I only started my blog two years ago and it took me quite a while to figure things out. I still don't really know how to drive traffic to my site, even though I've dabbled in StumbleUpon, (or whatever that is), blog catalog, ping-o-matic and a few others. It's just that there's so much that it's overwhelming.

I'm not a complete Twitter virgin. My husband's pet store has a Twitter handle and I'm the only one who posts to it or his Facebook page (or his blog, for that matter). I seem stuck in this chair in front of my screen. I can't keep up with the blogs I follow, or my Facebook page and now Twitter. Whatever will I do?

Still, it's exhilarating to learn something new. I know it doesn't seem very risky to those under 30, but to those of use a little (ahem!) older, each new step into the Interwebs feels like a giant dare.

A few weeks ago I created and launched my own writing services Website. It was a thrill to see it go live and I'm terrified that they are typos and missing links. On the other hand, the site only gets a couple of hits a day, so I don't know what I'm so worried about. I have plenty of time to make corrections.

Since starting this free-writing project 19 days ago, I've struggled with the idea that it could be just a waste of time (or should I say "another" waste of time, now that I'm Twittering?) I also felt that way after three weeks of improvisation at my regular writer's workshop.

What does all this have to do with my writing? Is it making me better? Will it get me published? I never have writer's block, so I don't need help breaking through it. If anything, I want to write too many things (evidenced by too many blogs).

But wait! Today I had a breakthrough of sorts. I got a Tweet about a writing contest that I probably never would have heard about if not for Twitter. It struck a chord with me, and I remembered something that had come up during the improv session last Thursday. I started free writing and created a draft essay, then went back and molded it to fit the parameters of the contest. Now, it's out to my readers, and I will make revisions based on their comments and submit it. 

Even late to the party, I have things to learn. Even late to the party, I still might strike an important match and light my career on fire. I guess the moral is still better late than never.

Time:  12 minutes

I have no idea what this rambling mess is in terms of following the writing prompt. This is exactly what I don't do on my "real" blog — take a giant brain dump. But this is where the prompt led me today. Maybe it was a chance to see that all these disparate efforts and seeming distractions are what I'm supposed to be doing, to get me moving down the right path. Or, maybe it was just a brain dump. Time for bed.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Day #18 — I Know All About It

Today I joined Twitter, and Kim Moldofsky told me to "say goodbye to productivity." I'm lying to myself committed to using my Twitter account only for writing good, not procrastination evil. To prove it, I will now continue my uninterrupted streak (18 consecutive days) of 10 minutes of free writing per day. This writing prompt comes from Lisa Romeo:

Prompt: I Know All About It

I do not want to hear one more freaking word about Ellie and Nate's wedding. I know all about it. Gawd, it's all my mother can talk about. She tried to talk me into going to the shower. Like that was going to happen. All those happy, sparkly people talking about tulle and shit. I don't even know what tulle is.

I know, I'm Kate the Bitch, capital B, for not going. But I have good reasons — excellent reasons for avoiding that freak show. 
  1. I hate that Ellie and the whole fam-damily still insist on calling me "Katie". I'm Kate, damn it. I've been Kate since the eighth grade. My business card says Kate. Just because Ellie is an "Ellie" and not grown-up enough to be Eleanor, that does not mean they can all revert to the diminutive when addressing me. I'm an adult for God's sake.
  2. I. Can. Not. Stand. Nate. Just hate him. He was a pompous ass when we met at college. He's still a pompous ass. And the way my mother fawns over him. It's embarrassing. "Katie, sweetheart, I only hope you find such a nice boy some day." Ugh, it makes me want to rip out his eyeballs.
  3. Showers are a pointless waste of time. Why can't people buy their own stuff? And don't even get me started on shower games.
  4. It was a couples shower, which means that people brought dates. Can you imagine a worse date than going to someone else's wedding shower? Talk about pressure. Talk about scrutiny. Talk about the shortest relationship in history. I would never submit anyone I was dating to such torture.
  5. My dad was probably there. I don't know that he was there, but since it was for couples, my mother probably forced him. 'Nuf said.
Don't get me wrong. I'm happy for Ellie. Really, I am. I mean, we've been best cousins since she was born 15 months after me. This is what she's always wanted, and I'm happy for her. But if I have to hear one more time: 

"You're next, Katie!" 
"Is there anyone special?" 
"I just know you'll find someone, dear. Maybe you should try losing a little weight. Or online dating. I hear it's the latest thing for single gals like you."

The Aunts are marching one by one — all over me. 

Time: 11 minutes

So, this is the other side of the relationship I first wrote about on day #4. I thought it would be fun to explore the same situation from a different character's point of view. You can see the relationships beginning to flesh out; how no matter who you are or what the situation, it's always all about you. That's a good thing to remember when writing; a good perspective when choosing a point of view.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Day #17 - Food and Whine*

Today is Day #17 of my 2010 free writing challenge for myself. Proud to say I haven't yet skipped a day. Maybe this will get me charged up for NaNoWriMo in November. We'll see. Today's prompt from Lisa Romeo is:

Prompt:  Food and Whine*
*spelling intentional

"Join Me for a Little Food and Whine". That's what the e-mail invitation said. Though it turned out to be the night I met my best friend, I can't begin to tell you how turned off I was by the invitation.

"What do you make of this?" I asked David, forwarding the e-mail to him at work.

"Sounds like a hen party," he zipped back.

"Ugh, no thank you." I had always had guy friends, not girl friends. With six brothers, there were more guys hanging around my childhood home than at a college frat house. The boys used to call it the Mu Omega Mu fraternity — or the House of Mom. I don't know how she fed all those boys all the time. That's half the reason the entire neighborhood loved my mom — she always had great snacks in the house.

Now, with two boys of my own, a kindergartner and a two year old, I found myself being pledged by the sorority of Mommies, a club I had absolutely no interest in joining. This whole mom thing was way more than I had bargained for. Thank God for David, a real co-parent in every sense of the word. He has never once backed away from a dirty diaper or a snotty nose.

I stared at the email for a while.  Food and whine, I thought. Jesus, wasn't having a toddler enough whine for anyone? Why would I want to put on real clothes and shoes to listen to a bunch of women I didn't know whining about … I don't know, whatever women whine about?

I was about to send my regrets when I read the rest of the e-mail. "I'm a single mom new to the community and finding it a little hard to meet people, so I'm reaching out to all the moms in Kyle's kindergarten class. This is totally casual. We'll meet at the Martini Bar, have a little nosh, have a little drink, get to know each other and get away from our kids for while. Sound good? Meet me there at 7:30 on Wednesday. BTW, Dutch treat, OK. I'm a broke single mom."

Just then David IMed me. "You should go. You've been stuck with sick kiddos for days. I'll cancel my meeting and be home no later than 6:30. GO!" Did I mention he's a great guy?

So I went. It took me 45 minutes to find a pair of pants that didn't make my ass look like it needed a wide-load warning sign on it. The whole shoe thing was a nightmare, so I opted for flip flips, even though it was only 40 degrees. I almost chickened out when I tried to put on some makeup, but I settled for a big streak of concealer under each eye in a vain attempt to cover the dark circles and a swipe of "Hot Tamale" red lipstick.
It was pouring down rain by the time I got to the bar and my hair was frizzing. Three other women I knew were already there: Katie's mom, the sycophant; Matthew's mom, who seemed kind of normal, but we just never clicked; and Parrish's mom, an ultraconservative Christian who made me feel like a victim of the inquisition every time I saw her. I know that's not fair, but I get nervous around people who wear their religion on their sleeve. Then, a tall blond woman in great casual/professional clothes and real shoes stood up and shook my hand.

"Hi, I'm Jane," she said. "Thanks for coming. You're Ellen, right? Jake's mom? Kyle thinks Jake is the funniest kid in history."

She had me right then and there.

Time:  11 minutes

This scene is a combination of several real-life events that have happened to me over the past 15 years or so. I really did get this kind of an invitation from a single mom, although she did not become my best friend. I really did become excellent friends with a woman I barely knew over the course of one evening of hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. I really did know a woman with six brothers that called their house the MOM fraternity. I guess this is what they mean when they say that a single fictional character is often an amalgam of different real people, who merge together to make someone completely new. Cool.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Day #17 — Day After Day

I have not been feeling at all well today, but I don't want to break my string of consecutive free writing days. Funny how it was easier to give up my Friday walking date than it is to give up my date with this online journal. Clearly, I've managed to make writing more of a habit than exercise. Big surprise.

I've been watching the telethon for Haiti and my initial reaction to this prompt from Lisa Romeo was to talk about the relentlessness of the current tragedy, but I changed my mind. We'll see where it goes from here.

Prompt: Day After Day 

Day after day, the sun refuses to shine. Like me, it seems barely able to haul its ass out of bed to get done the work that is absolutely necessary before its 12-hour shift is over and it can go back to sleep. 

Laundry — done. Well, done enough. There are clean socks and underwear. I even put Peter's in his drawer so he won't bitch about having to pull them out of the laundry basket when he gets dressed for work tomorrow. Why does underwear need to be folded? Who invented dressers, anyway? What difference does it make as long as they're clean? What does he want from me.

The baby clothes are clean, too, at least most of them, although not put away. I just couldn't do it. Rachel came by for about an hour to stay with the babies so I could get to the grocery store. We had nothing. Now we have next to nothing, but enough to get us through the weekend — as long as Peter doesn't mind spaghetti for dinner again.

Jesus, why am I so tired? I wanted these babies for so long. I would have done anything to get them. I did do everything to get them — injections and hormones and harvesting and invitro and surgeries. God, it was so important to me. Now I look at them and think "Who are you and what are you doing in my house?" They can't possibly be my babies. They don't even look like me. They don't even look like people — just, I don't know, wrinkly red worms or something. 

I'm so pissed at my mom. All those years she bugged me and bugged me about things she didn't understand — what I should wear (like she knew what teenagers were wearing), where I should go to school (she never even went to college), who I should marry (like my dad was such a prize). Now, when I really need her, when she could actually help me because she knew how to take care of babies, where is she? Dead. 

Good and dead and I'm all alone with these people who want stuff from me all day long. They want my boobs, they want formula (because my two boobs aren't good enough for their two hungry mouths, even though I'm now a D-cup). They want to be changed and have their butts wiped and snot cleaned when the cry and it bubbles out of their nostrils. It's not anything like I imagined it would be. They aren't sweet and good smelling and happy to see me when I walk in the room. And every time I fall asleep (which could be any minute), one of them wails. They don't cry little baby cries — they wail loud sirens of misery and discontent. Day after day. Night after night. 

I read all the books. I know "this too shall pass". But when? Will I make it? Will I ever feel like a mother, like I would do anything for them? Where did that feeling go? I can tell you this; I think I would do anything for them if I could just get one night's sleep. Just one.

Time: 13 minutes

This was an odd thing to write because I never felt this way about my babies. I know many women who did, but babyhood never got to me like this. I have felt it since then, many times, but I don't think it's as overwhelming when they are not completely helpless. My mother didn't die, although she almost did on my wedding day and I remember being absolutely furious with her at the idea that she wouldn't be around right when I needed her again.

Today, with this weird virus and the relentlessness of winter and the tragic news on TV, I felt like all I wanted to do was sleep and shut out the world. And I did. I could, because most of my children were at school and the one who was home did not need constant care and attention, and he was not in danger being awake while I was asleep. I did drag myself out of bed this morning and again this afternoon to get the necessities done. That and no more. Tomorrow, the girl needs to be at school at 5:30 a.m., so I will go to sleep again now, and start over again in the morning. And the day after that. And the day after that.