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.

Day #16 — Pie

Today's writing prompt — well, really yesterday's prompt, if you've been following — is pie. Pie! Thanks to Lisa Romeo for her daily prompts.

Prompt: Pie

Birthdays = cake and ice cream. Right? It's tradition. It's the candles and the song and the fanfare and making wishes and blowing hard, with the lights dimmed and everyone clapping. But I don't like cake — or at least I don't like most cake. A good carrot cake with homemade cream cheese icing (or is it frosting) may be an exception. This was our wedding cake, though, so it doesn't have any birthday connotations for me.

I like ice cream just fine. In fact, I like ice cream just a little too much, if you know what I mean. But the sweet I really crave for my annual celebration is a birthday pie. Peach pie, to be specific. This tends to be a little problematic, since my birthday is in late September, several weeks past the end of peach season. So to produce a really good peach pie for my birthday, I need to plan ahead and freeze some of those juicy fruits when they are at their peak.

I don't know when I developed such a taste for pie. I don't remember loving it as a kid and I hate when the crust is overcooked. I do remember baking pies with my grandmother. She wasn't really a very good cook, coming from the school of thought that you started cooking Thanksgiving dinner at 5:30 in the morning and cooked everything all day long until one dish was virtually unrecognizable from the next and, often, barely recognizable as food.

But the woman made a mean pie crust (and great pierogi, but that's another story). I remember watching her put the crust together by hand, cutting the cold butter into the flour and working without a recipe. Pie crust is touchy. Even though there are only a few ingredients (mostly butter and flour, and maybe a little ice water or cold milk and some salt), a good crust is very dependent on ambient conditions, such as temperature and humidity — and good pie crust bakers put their dough together according to feel.

My grandma would line her pie tins, and then cut off the excess crust and give it to my cousin and me to make little tarts. First we would eat half of it, and then would knead and roll it practically to death, so that by the time we got it into the tart pans it was as tough as leather. Still, it was much more fun than Play Dough, because we were really cooking.

I don't remember eating very many of my grandmother's pies. Maybe we only baked together a few times, but those experiences provided powerful memories.

The best pie I ever made was a pear pie with cranberries. It was just beautiful. It took me a long time to get the crust thing down. Finally, I learned to follow the multi-step directions in the Joy of Cooking. If you follow their recipe exactly, your pie will be perfect every time.

Personally, I prefer a good fruit pie. Lemon meringue may look beautiful, but it just isn't as good to eat. Key lime pie is great, but the graham cracker crust puts it into a different category all together. Some like custard pies, like French Silk or banana cream. Fair enough, but give me a peach pie or a sour cherry pie (yum!) or blueberry (third choice), apple or even raspberry pie any day over those cream pies, thank you very much.

Time: 11 minutes

This piece could definitely be worked into a Two Kinds of People post. I'll have to keep it in mind. It might also be part of a memoir-type of essay. I see quite a few possibilities here. The writing seems particularly disjointed to me. Perhaps because there are so many possibilities, I had trouble picking a path and sticking to it. No worries, though. That's what SFDs are for.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day #15 — Has Pie Jump the Shark?

OK, so I could not figure out to what Lisa Romeo's prompt of "Jump the Shark" referred. After thinking about just responding to it with a gut reaction, I opted instead to be distracted by the Internet and look up the definition. Seems it means when something stops getting better and starts getting worse, and it originally applied to television shows (specifically, Happy Days, when the Fonz jumped the shark on water skis; I must have missed that episode). So, now I know. I don't know if that makes it a better prompt, or a worse one.

In the meantime, the prompt that arrived in my inbox today is "pie". As Andie McDowell's character sang in the movie Michael: "Pie, pie, me oh my. I love pie." So again — which prompt do I choose? Being the control freak, methodical me that I am, I will take them in order and work on yesterday's prompt today.

Prompt: Jump the Shark

He knew his marriage had jumped the shark when he realized his fondest moments of the day were the 20 minutes or so he had alone in the apartment between the time she left for the train downtown and he left to sit in traffic on the highway during his commute.

From 7:00 a.m. until 7:20 a.m., six days a week, he felt truly at peace and comfortable in his own skin. He always waited until he heard the garage door close to jump out of the shower. Their master bedroom had been an addition over the garage, and the floor rumbled as the electric door rattled to a close under his feet. 

A sweet quiet would travel through his soles and up into his heart and he would slop out of the shower stall, leaving big wet footprints all through the bedroom and into the office/slash den down the hall. She hated when even a drop of water hit the floors and nagged him constantly that it would ruin the finish. He reveled in his wet footprints, squishing them from side to side to make them as big as possible, like a sneaky 10-year-old boy. Just before he banged out the light switch, he would wink at the shit-eating grin on his face staring back at him from the mirror over her pristine vanity table.

It wasn't that he was a slob, or that he didn't have respect for the quarter-sawn oak floors of their 140-year-old Victorian. He was the architect, for God's sake. But houses were meant for living in, not for housing museums. That's what she called the living room — the museum. She even had clear, plastic slipcovers made for the sofa, like his old Auntie May had when he was a little boy. It crackled and whooshed on the rare occasions he was allowed to sit on it, and last summer, in the heat of August when his best friends Paul and Evelyn visited, he was mortified when Evelyn's bare legs stuck to the sofa and pulled the cushion along with her when she stood.

But, this had been his house first, and he was damned if he would leave it, even if he left her. Every ounce of sweat equity that he had put into the restoration made it his. Let her take the damn plastic-covered furniture and go. All he wanted was the house. It had good bones. It could be redecorated.

Time:  11 minutes

I don't think I have ever tried to write in the first person from the POV of a male. The main character of my children's book manuscript is a nine-year-old boy, but it's written in third person. I've been toying with a rewrite in the first person, to see what that will bring out in my character and if I can get rid of some of the distance my readers (and a couple of agents) have mentioned.

I liked this prompt and the way it took me. So many gender stereotypes and role reversals to play around with (sorry for ending in a preposition; see, I couldn't do it; I had to add the parenthetical thought to avoid it).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day #14 — What to do?

Since I took a little detour yesterday (responding to a prompt from Linda Cassidy Lewis), today I am facing two prompts from Lisa Romeo in my inbox. Such a dilemma! At first, I wasn't sure what to do. Should I respond to two prompts in one day to "catch up"? No, that does not follow the rules or intention of this blog. Should I do them in the order received? Should I peek and pick the most fun prompt? Should I just keep one in reserve?

Well, I peeked. Yesterday prompt was "black and white"; so many possibilities! Today's prompt: "Jumped the Shark." I don't even know what that means. Since my goal is to get more creative in my writing, I should probably do the second one, but my logical brain is responding, trying to figure it out, and my creative brain is off cowering in the corner at such a prompt. So:

Prompt: Black and White

My husband swears he dreams in black and white. I don't see how this is even possible. Why would anyone dream in black and white? Why those two colors? If you need contrast, why not blue and orange, which are across the color wheel from one another and therefore complimentary? And why just two colors – why not three — black, white and red, for example.

The answer probably lies in the fact that he was born in 1950 and is among the first generation of children raised with television. Of course, back then, TV was all black and white. Again, I don't really understand the science behind that, but I'm sure there is some logical, or at least technological reason.

But why would the subconscious be limited to black and white if the conscious brain is capability of perceiving the full color spectrum? What does that say about one's subconscious? I'm no shrink, but my guess would be it has more to do with his need for utter control, even in sleep, than the effect that black and white television had on his life. 

I'm not being critical here (OK, maybe a little — but I like control, too) or judgmental (OK, maybe a little because, frankly, I don't really believe him). He actually says that he hardly ever dreams, but that when he does they are always in black and white. Part of me thinks "No, they're not. You dream every night, just like everybody else, you just don't remember them; AND you dream in color every night, just like everybody else, you just don't remember.

But the other part of me, the generous, empathic part, thinks "how sad". What would I do with out my Technicolor dreams — sometimes dozens, even more in a night? It's true that my dreams are often exhausting — frequently involving my inability to get something done, some small task or enormous endeavor accomplished or resolved. But, I've found that as I've gotten older, I am somehow partly conscious of being in a dream state and can alter the course of my dreams. (How's that for being a control freak?) Sometimes, when I get really frustrated, my semi-conscious self will remind my sleeping self that it's just a dream and that I don't have to stick with it. I can move on to the next dream.

Maybe that's a good lesson for me as a writer: if the story in my head — my awake dreaming, if you will — gets too frustrating, maybe I can move on, at least temporarily to the next story, or an older story that needs revision.

And who knows. Maybe my husband is telling the truth. After all, nothing is ever black and white.

Time:  12 minutes

Damn. I ran long again. I really must get a better timer. Or just learn to be less wordy. Still, the control freak in me would feel really uncomfortable if I didn't bring the prompt to some logical stopping point. Of course, this blog is designed to take me out of my comfort zone, so maybe I should get that timer that will signal me to stop and let go at exactly the 10-minute mark. I read that one writer always purposefully stopped for the day right in the middle of some important part of his or her writing. The idea was to give the subconscious something to keep working on while s/he went about the rest of the day and into sleeping/dreaming. It's something to consider.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day #13 — Off the Beaten Path

I'm taking a detour from Lisa Romeo's month of writing prompts to respond to Linda Cassidy Lewis' experiment on her blog, Out of My Mind. She plans to post the entries on her blog today. My rules will still apply to this effort; it will be a SFD* and limited to (about) 10 minutes of free writing, starting now.

Prompt: Through the Open Window

Oh, my God. What is he doing out there? she thought. "Jason. Jason!" she yelled, rapping her knuckles on the closed window, trying to get his attention. Finally, she pried open the ancient sash, breaking a nail in the process. 

"Shit," she said, under her breath, then bent to the three inches of open window, wincing as a blast of frigid air smacked her in the face. "Jason! Are you crazy? Get down from there. You're going to break your neck."

Oh, God, she thought. I sound like my mother. No. I sound like his mother.

That thought did not please her at all. Ever since Jason lost his job six months ago, their relationship had slowly shifted from one of mutually supportive adults to a mother/son gig that did not sit right with her. She had chosen not to have children because she didn't want to be anybody's mother; she certainly didn't want to be the mother of a 39-year-old man.

She glared at him, squinty eyed, through the open window. Why did he get to turn into a kid again? What was he doing sitting in that fucking apple tree? He looked like an idiot.

The cold wind stung her eyes, which watered and blurred her vision and suddenly, man-Jason transformed into boy-Jason — striped knit hat perched on his head, feet dangling freely under him as he clung easily to that big middle branch. His smile was radiant in the bleak grey of January, a second sun outshining the weak winter one hiding behind a dusty veil of clouds.

For the first time in her life, Jessica felt her uterus stir — jump, really, practically into her throat, and she knew that everything she had known about herself and who she was and what she wanted had changed forever.

Without thinking, she pulled the sash all the way up and climbed through the open window. 

Time:  12 minutes

This ran a little long. I got wrapped up in the story, which I guess is a good thing. Much of it feels trite, but something feels true. May be worth revising to see where it would go. It somehow feels like a short story (not quite this short), but I'm not very familiar with writing short stories.

*SFD = Shitty First Draft, ala Anne Lamott

Day #12 — Better Late Than Never

It's 12:20 a.m. here, but it's still 1/17/10 somewhere, so this last-minute post counts toward my resolution. Hah, I just read Lisa Romeo's prompt for the day. As my son would say, "ironic isn't it".

Prompt: What Took You So Long

There you are. Geez, you have no idea how long I've been waiting for you. You're nothing like I imagined (but in a good way). How could you be? You're you, and I couldn't have possibly imagined anyone or anything as perfect, as unique and as wonderful as you. And to think we've only just met. Imagine how I'll feel once I've gotten to know you.

Now, about your name. I've been poring over baby name books since even before I knew you were coming and, after much rumination, I came up with a short list. But guess what? Your name isn't on it. I took one look at you and I knew right away that you couldn't possibly be a Lucas or a Shepard or a Seneca. Sorry about the Seneca thing, and Shepard was your dad's idea. I never would have let him do that to you, but I had to humor him and put it on the list. He thought Shep sounded cool, but I think it's a dog's name. Maybe we'll get you a dog and name it Shep.

So, what to name you? I just don't know. I mean, you're much handsomer than I imagined, and far more stoic (you've hardly cried at all in the whole two hours since you were born). I think you need an important name, something classic but not boring, you know? 

How about Theodore. It's full of import, and yet you could still be a kid with it because the nicknames aren't terrible: Ted, Teddy, Ed, Eddie, Theo. Do any of those strike your fancy?

I wish I knew you better, buddy. It would help if you could talk, or maybe at least nod your approval when I hit the right name. Plus, if you have any ideas about how to make your name sound like it was your dad's idea, that would be a huge help. Otherwise, we're going to have to call you Shep.

Time: 11 minutes

Shep? Where did that come from? I've had several conversations with writers over the last few weeks about how one of the best parts about writing fiction is you get to name your characters without having to birth them, pay for their braces or send them to college. But Shep? Sheesh.