Rough Draft

I am a rough draft of an unfinished story.

More scribbles and scratch-outs than fully formed pages.

Rearranged and torn in two,

Rewritten and crossed-out and written anew.

I am wrinkled nights and broken mornings,

Blackened fingers and crumpled words.

Half-thoughts and almost-ideas left for tomorrow.

I am a page, bleeding ink,

Splotched with tears and tea-stains.

Spiral bound with bent wires and torn covers.

Loved and hated, fiercely possessed and easily discarded.

I am guarded secrets and hushed truths,

Hidden beneath layers of fiction.

I gather dust on the bottom shelf of an over-stuffed bookcase,

Forgotten indefinitely.

I am a burst of inspiration,

A frenzy of black and white smudged with gray fingerprints.

I am midnight mac-n-cheese and ice cream for breakfast.

I am candle smoke and flickering flame.

I am the cramps in fingers

Squeezed too long around an unforgiving pen.

I am every ache along every vertebra of a bent body.

I am drooping eyelids and lengthening shadows.

I am hope—caffeine-fueled and desperate.

I am defeat—emptiness and melting pillows.

Scalding showers washing sobs and ideas down a drain already clogged with shattered dreams.

I am pride and I am shame.

I am everything that could be and nothing that ever was.

I am a half-formed story, waiting for someday.

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Rambling Review: The Chemical Garden Trilogy

Because of my current lack of work, I’ve had a lot more time to read. I’ve devoted a lot of this time to the Outlander series per a good friend’s insistence, but now that I’ve made it through to the fourth book, I’ve taken a break to return to the world of young adult, which I love so much.

Since the move, I’ve been staring at our beautiful bookshelf full of my beloved YA series.

And so, I thought, why search for a new book or series to get involved in, when I have so many I know are great just waiting to be re-experienced?

I know a lot of people might not re-read books. I am not one of those people. Granted, I like to let enough time pass by that I forget the minute details and get to rediscover the little things that make a story great.

This past week, I read the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. The first in the series is available on Kindle for $4.99, and you can buy the whole series for $20-23, depending on print/digital.

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The trilogy centers around Rhine, a lovely sixteen year old who’s been kidnapped and forced into marriage. Usually, marriage is the best a girl can hope for in her short life — females die at age 20, males at age 25. Rhine, however, just wants to live out her days with her twin brother, and she’s desperate to escape and return to him. The series follows her through escape attempts, adventure, budding romance, and learning all different ways to define the term “love”.

I read DeStefano’s Internment Chronicles series first — also highly recommend — before returning to her debut series. The writing in the first novel is a bit stilted at times, but I can’t say if it’s simply because she was a new author, or if it was because of the character. Sometimes the prose felt a bit distant, but that actually works for the story, since Rhine is clearly trying to distance herself from her current situation. As the story progresses and she falls deeper into the messes she and others have made, the narration is tighter, more internalized, and feels more true to who she may actually be.

As I’m sure I’ve made clear through my previous reviews, I love a good love interest. This series is particularly great at giving little snippet-views of a possible romance, without the love story overtaking the action and adventure of the actual plot. Unlike a lot of YA that has a love triangle, there isn’t an exact shape drawn between two obvious choices. Rather, much like real life, my feelings towards her “options” were fluid, rising and falling with each good and bad experience, inevitability wrapped in “what-if”s and “if only”s.

There are some great twists, and anything that might seem too coincidental I think is explained very well with enough plausibility. The ending is bittersweet, life balanced with death, joy measured through pain, and I think that might be what I like best.

 

Reflections on Virginia, and Life in General

Today my husband and I leave for Missouri (thank goodness for the option to schedule future posts!). As of writing this, I have two full days left in Virginia. Other than the first five or six years of my life, Virginia has always been home. I went to school here. I made lasting friendships with some beautiful, garbage people. I fell in love and found my forever person here. Despite being born in Maryland, Virginia will always be the best part of the D.C. metro area, and Maryland will always suck simply because it isn’t Virginia.

My excitement for the adventure my husband and I are about to embark on has far outweighed any nerves or sadness up until now. Maybe I was tucking all the fear and grief and anxiety into a box as easily as I packed our apartment. Cocooned in bubblewrap and triple-taped so it can’t burst free until I’m ready to unpack it all. Maybe it didn’t feel real, until I found myself surrounded by boxes and drinking water from a solo cup. Regardless, I’ve been able to avoid the harder feelings, but now that the move is here, so are they.

Don’t get me wrong; I am excited. A move like this, to a place that feels random, seems so right. It’s healthy. Adulting. From here, we could go anywhere. And now is the best time, before we are entrenched in careers and surrounded by babies.

But I keep thinking about my college graduation. In a way, this is similar. A huge life change, full of unknowns and fears that friendships will look different when we no longer all live within 5 minutes of each other. At a party just before graduation, one friend — who I met early on freshman year — took my hand and said “we’ve been friends for FOUR YEARS! That’s so long! I’ve known you longer than most of the people here!” It seemed so epic, and at that time in my life, it was. When I said goodbye to that same friend earlier this week, I felt that same teary nostalgia. I’ve known you longer than most of our friends.

It’s hard saying goodbye to that — in some ways, harder even than leaving my family. I know my mom will drop everything to talk to me whenever I call her, because she’s my mom and that’s what moms do. The dynamics of my family relationships won’t change so drastically. Friends have lives that take precedence. They’ll have babies and buy houses and get married, and my part in their immediate lives will diminish. It won’t be as simple as sending out a group text asking who’s around to hang out this weekend. We’ll have to plan time and take off work and buy plane tickets. Still, I know they’ll be there when I need them, just like I’ll be there for them.

I’ll also miss Virginia. I know on the trips I’ve taken to Missouri, I’ve thought it looks fairly similar, but I’ll miss walking along the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria, or watching the planes take off and land from Gravelly Point, or easy “hikes” along Skyline Drive or Great Falls Park. It’s been nice to go back to JMU for Rocktown Beer and Music Festivals or for Homecoming or just to reminisce. Even though we rarely took advantage, having D.C. so close has always been a tantalizing option for food or sports or fun.

So even though I’m truly looking forward to the adventure of discovering a new place — even though I have dozens of things to do already listed — it’s hard leaving this beautiful state that’s been my home in every sense of the word for nearly my entire life.

Writing Soundtrack

I’ve read so many books and articles and blog posts full of writing tips. Tips to focus, tips for time management, tips for character development. So many of them recommend silence while writing. If you must listen to music, it can’t have words, or if there are lyrics, they should be in a language other than one you speak.

I’ve made playlists on Spotify for every work-in-progress, and some for specific characters. If I hear a song that evokes a certain feeling or perfectly describes something a character is going through, I save it to the playlist and use it for inspiration later. Most of the time, I listen to these playlists while I’m driving or sunbathing or cooking or packing. They enhance the story I’m working on and help me see characters and events in a new light, the same way music changes my perspective in my own life.

I prefer to write with one of my playlists going. Usually, I’ll start with whichever song most recently spoke to me to jog my memory of all the pre-writing I’ve done in my head, and the rest of the songs fade into the background as my writing picks up. Then I’ll hit a snag and search for a new song to prompt another scene.

It’s worked for me as long as I can remember. Sure, I catch myself singing along sometimes, but I don’t think the lyrics are as distracting as the pros warn about. I mean, I’m also the type of person who needs to mindlessly rap along with T.I. or Eminem while driving through a snowstorm or torrential downpour or other traffic situation that makes me uncomfortable.

I’ve tried listening to the soundtracks of epic movies and shows and games like Thor and Game of Thrones and Assassin’s Creed. I’ve tried creating my own mix of lyric-less songs pulled from soundtracks and classical composers and string quartet covers of popular hits. I’ve tried the Russian Rap playlist I found through Spotify to give me the sound of human voices without the words I understand (although my four semesters of Russian come rearing up and cause excitement when I do recognize a word or two).

What it comes down to for me is this: I have a lot going on in my mind. Maybe it’s quiet, constant anxiety that makes my brain spin in a thousand directions at once. Maybe everyone’s mind runs things in the background and foreground at once. All I know is I need the lyrics to pull the background focus. If the behind-the-scenes-processing part of my mind is stuck in familiar songs, the rest of my thinking can focus outward. Whether it’s keeping control of a vehicle on an icy road or pouring my heart into a half-formed story, the music — with lyrics I can learn by heart — is imperative to my writing process.

Rambling Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was very hard to read. Not because it was poorly written or boring — that’s not the case at all. The story was intriguing and I was invested in the narrator’s plight. The end felt like such a cliffhanger that I audibly yelled “are you serious!” which scared my husband, but then I realized there was more to the story in a new section with a different perspective (so if you hit a snag near the end, keep reading — it’s not just end of book acknowledgements!).

No, the reason this book was so hard to read was its terrifying plausibility. Most dystopian novels are set in a far off future, after wars and bombs and viruses and apocalypses have utterly changed the face of the earth and how society runs. Some dystopian novels are a chilling commentary on where the world could be headed (think: 1984), but this is so much more immediate. The changes, the leeching of power from the people — or from certain types of people — are so subtle at first, so insignificant that by the time enough people start to question things, it’s far too late.

In a lot of dystopian stories, there is one dictator or a small group of “bad guys” lording it over the masses. The majority of the people don’t agree with their leadership, but are too downtrodden and tired to fight back. In The Handmaid’s Taleplenty of people agree with the new society. There are rumors of underground movements, sure, but most people seem supportive of the new order’s ideals.

The story is both intense and detached, told by a narrator who has nearly given up on everything that mattered to her in the world before. It is both resigned and angry, rebellious and cautious, disgusted and apathetic. It is a desperate warning wrapped up in inevitable possibility.

I had to take a lot of breaks while reading this one. It isn’t something you’ll binge-read for hours or enjoy while lounging on a beach. It’s a tale best told in snippets and whispers, with long silences to digest each piece of new information. It’s heavy with real-life foreboding, but I’m so glad I read it.

Rambling Review: The Virgin Suicides

Virgin Suicides

References to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides kept popping up around me recently, so I decided to check out this modern classic for myself. I can’t deny I’m into darker/heavier stories like the synopsis suggests (5 sisters kill themselves within a single year) and was intrigued right off the bat by a collective narrator (the story is told by the neighborhood boys as a whole).

Because it’s a relatively slim paperback, I brought it along on vacation, intending to read it on the beach or during down-time between activities. This encouraged a lot of horrified feedback from my friends, who always ask what I’m reading. They then spent the week checking in by asking “how many girls have died now?” then following my answer up with a head shake and a “why do you read stuff like that?”  That’s how I discovered pretty much my entire group of friends consists of happy, shiny people like my husband who prefer little depth and pain in their entertainment.

Leaving aside my friends’ responses, this is not a good beach read. In the way of most classics, the story needs your attention for good chunks of time. I found myself re-reading sentences and chapters and getting frustrated because I couldn’t devote more focus to it.

The story is beautifully written. There are some of the lovely descriptions and word-pictures that I love, and the fact that it’s like the neighborhood boys have sat me down to tell me their observations adds a touch of near-innocence to a tragic experience. Rather than being a novel about suicide, it’s more of a love letter to the sisters from the boys who grew up watching them.

It is sad. The parents are misguided and in my opinion arrogant in their negligence. The novel does discuss suicide, the ways the sisters end their lives, in just enough detail to make the reader uncomfortable without turning it into a caricature. Suicide should make a person uncomfortable to read about.

But it’s also a subject that is treated with respect. Eugenides captures the bewilderment and guilt and shock and grief that lingers over those left behind. The narrator shows how suicide affects a neighborhood, the process one goes through to try to understand something no one will explain outright.

It is a heavy book. It’s tragic and inevitable and beautiful. A modern classic, indeed.

A Movie Date With Myself

I love going to the movies. A small contingency of Wildcards would enjoy weekly “$5 Movies” on Wednesday nights at the local theater. We still do on occasion, but now that some of us have moved, and life has gotten busier and more “adult-like”, it’s been harder to make Wednesday night (sometimes any night) work.

As an experiment of sorts, I recently went to the movies by myself. I’ve always liked the idea of being brave enough to go alone while simultaneously thinking it’s weird to go to the movies without someone else. Also, I have social anxiety mixed with a desire for a stronger self-identity, so it seemed like a great idea to stretch my comfort zone and gain a little autonomy.

I chose the movie Gifted with Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer (because I just adore both of them), and decided to see to in the early afternoon on a Sunday, when the theater theoretically would be less crowded.

The theater I went to lets you choose your seat when you buy the ticket. I always try to sit dead-center in the theater, usually in the middle of the group I’m with. My instinct this time was to snag a seat in the back row, so no one could sit behind me and judge how alone I looked. However, the back row was all taken. And since there was no group to keep me feeling like my edges were protected, I defaulted to an end seat for an easy escape from those prying eyes I was sure would be judging my every solitary move.

Now, even though I’d just had lunch, I stopped at the concessions for my usual order of popcorn and bottled water. This is defensive mechanism two (or three if you’re counting my seat-choice-strategy as two moves), performing a familiar habit in an unfamiliar setting. Plus, munching popcorn could give me something to focus on other than wondering what that back row is thinking about the weird loner on the end near the front. Concessions roadblock: there were only two popcorn sizes — regular and large — and I usually get the itty bitty “junior” size at my usual movie spot. Of course, a rational person might have simply asked if they offer a kid’s size, but remember — social anxiety! I ordered my ridiculously large “regular” and strutted as confidently as possible up the stairs in search of my theater.

Even though the lights were up and shining like a freaking spotlight on my lonely little self, and the people in the back were whispering and giggling, I settled into my seat as casually as I could. I allowed myself one text to my husband letting him know I’d survived thus far, then put my phone away (this is something I’m working on in general, to not depend on my phone in “vulnerable” social situations).

The lights went down and I relaxed. For two blissful minutes, I settled deeper into my seat and focused on the previews.

Then an older couple came and sat right next to me. Right. Next. To me. No buffer seat. It didn’t make sense. Literally the entire theater, other than the back row, was open — which they would have seen on the screen when they bought their tickets — but they chose the seats directly beside the one single person. My heartrate kicked up a notch, but I realized I was more annoyed than anything.

It did make me a little more conscious of myself throughout the movie, if I laughed at something they didn’t, when I had to brush tears from my eyes. I’d get brief anxious whispers: what if that was rude to laugh at? What if they’re judging me? However, the movie itself was so good, I kept getting sucked back in, until the next moment I’d giggle or sniffle and remember I wasn’t quite as “alone” as I might have liked.

The high that carried me home was fantastic. I’d done this brave, out of character thing that turned out overall pretty great. I felt fearless and confident.

Now, when I think about trying it again, that familiar anxiety rears its head, but I’m able to remind myself I survived it once. Even better, it didn’t feel like I just “survived”; I felt — for a little while at least — almost invincible. It’s worth the fear to give it another go.