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.

 

Our First Month-iversary

Today marks one month since we arrived in Saint Louis, and in its honor (and because I have nothing clever to say), I will share some of my journal entries from the past four weeks.

Here are the highlights:

7/18 –

Thoughts and memories from the second half of the drive (Columbus, OH to Saint Louis, MO):

  • Way less pretty than the drive to OH
  • I saw a license plate from Alberta!
  • The last 20 minutes of the trip filled me with butterflies. I wanted to be like “no, never mind, let’s just go home, I don’t want to do this.” Then, coming around a bend, I caught my first glimpse of the arch. I audibly gasped and all I felt was excitement.img_4420
  • Passing Busch Stadium, “Country Grammar” came on — which has basically been my theme song for moving to The Lou.

Now we’re watching the first Harry Potter movie on the little TV I brought in my car — OMG I just found out my husband has never seen the end of the series and didn’t know (*SPOILERS*) Harry had to die. WHO DID I MARRY!?

It still doesn’t feel real, but as we get more unpacked and start exploring the neighborhood, I’m sure it will settle in.

7/19 –

My husband just informed me the pill bugs we found yesterday got squished into the bottom of our air mattress and won’t come off — gross, but hilarious!

Some bee-otch was moving out this morning and booked the loading dock from 8-10 but her movers were late and they were supposed to pack her up, too, and they were all “do you mind waiting?” and we had to be like LOL NO. carol

Tonight we had amazing Mexican at El Burro Loco and met the bartender Juan who recommended a strong Chupa Cabra Marg for me and promised I’d like it without even knowing me, but guess what: I did, so good job, Juan. — Love, me & tequila

7/22 –

This morning we got coffee from Soulard Coffee Garden. The back patio was very cute and their sit-down breakfast options looked good. We just got coffee/tea and a muffin — and the coffee guy was pretty douchey.

7/23 –

Since our dishwasher is still messed up, we’ve developed this adorable habit of washing and drying dishes by hand each night and even though there’s a drying mat if I take too long to grab a towel and start drying my husband chides me like, “excuse me, young lady, what do you think you’re doing?”

7/24 –

This morning we tried out Rise coffee shop in Tower Grove. We drove past one boarded building and two with graffiti so my husband was convinced we’d entered the heart of the ghetto. But the Tower Grove strip was nice — super hipster. It reminded me a lot of DC. We also checked out the Galleria so my husband could find some business casual pants — which he ended up ordering online. Typical millennial, destroying the department store industry.

For the fourth night in a row, I’ve asked if he wants to document anything. For the fourth time, he’s simply said “no.” with an angelic smile.

7/25 –

For dinner we went to Dressel’s Pub near us. My husband had the “best burger he’s had in five years” (or so he told his dad) and I had some freaking excellent crawfish mac n cheese.

7/27 –

My husband’s (FIRST) input:
The nice thing about living somewhere else is it forces you to reach out to people you wouldn’t otherwise.

And he likes his friend’s neighborhood in U-City.

8/11 –

My husband shaved his beard for picture day yesterday (frowny face). It won’t be so scratchy when I kiss him, but I really like him with a beard. Fortunately, he does, too, and will likely grow one again once “meet the firms” is over in September.

(Update): On our way to a river boat cruise with his MBA class, he and four of his buddies agreed to grow mustaches this november. NOT what I’d hope for his facial hair…

8/12 –

Last night’s river boat cruise was a lot of fun. It was cool being at the base of the arch, even if the river front is nothing special — very industrial. Still, coming back toward the dock after sunset, with the cool river breeze teasing the hair around my face, the city lights twinkling off the water and the shadowed arch looming overhead, it felt like one of those rare, fleeting moments of 100% perfection. A tiny sliver of pure contentment when you’re just happy to be alive.


After the cruise we went out in Ballpark Village, which was basically like a mall but with bars instead of stores. Expensive, though, so we left and went to Tin Roof. It was so fun, dancing with everyone. A lot of the guys had moves so similar to my wildcards I couldn’t stop laughing.

8/13 –

Tonight, my husband had to remind ME about Game of Thrones! I keep forgetting it’s an hour earlier here and almost missed getting to sing along with the opening.

Earlier in the day, we finally walked through our side of Forest Park. There are some very pretty bridges — one a Victorian footbridge from the 1890s — and decent water features. Still, it’s very shadowed/treed in the direction we walked, so I’ll likely not go that way alone. But it’s nice that we have such pretty walking/jogging paths literally right outside our door.

Hair and Boredom

So it’s been rough trying to come up with things to write about, since my days lately are spent sending out resumes like crazy, desperately searching for a new show to binge-watch, and feverishly devouring the Outlander series books (it’s been about a week and a half of reading and I’m already on book three). It’s harder and harder to get motivated to do anything, partially because I have the luxury of too much time, and partially because in the three weeks we’ve been here and the dozens of jobs I’ve applied for, I’ve had exactly one phone interview so far.

That’s probably not terrible, but I’m impatient. And slightly horrified of how bored I’ve become, and how much I miss interacting with people. Who knew an introvert could get too much alone time? I sure didn’t.

So today I had a plan to get out and do something, even if just read my book in the park or swing by a coffee shop, just to feel like I’m still part of a living world.

Then I got sidetracked by my hair.

I have three go-to hairstyles: down, ponytail, or bun. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll braid a section of my hair going into the ponytail. Or just pull the top part of my hair back. Despite the world of exciting hairstyles, I am not adventurous enough (read: too lazy) to try anything that seems remotely intricate. (No matter how much I drool over the Khaleesi’s hair in Game of Thrones).

It occurred to me that with this wealth of time stretching before me, I might as well teach myself a few new tricks to spice up my hair-life. It was on to YouTube, where I studiously tried several adorable “easy” styles.

The first I tried was a variation on my usual braid-into-ponytail, which was all well and good, but really only added time to a hairstyle I already over-use. The other two are hot-mess versions of what should have been adorable twists to the usual “little bit up” style I’m also used to. I probably should have gotten pictures of the front, because my hair was bulging and sticking up all over the place. Also, it doesn’t show in the pictures, but my super-fine strands kept getting gnarled around the elastics and refusing to sit in a casually poofy way.

The only style that came out fairly okay was the two-rope-braids-into-side-bun (the last of the styles shown in this video). Even this isn’t as carefree as hers, but it gives me hope that one day, I’ll get the knack for fun, casual up-dos down.

Now that my hair is off my neck, at least, it’s off to the park for some reading in the sun!

The Dark Side of Writing

This is about to get really real. Maybe too real. “Over-sharing”. But it’s been inside me for a long time and needs to get out. And maybe someone else needs to hear it. Maybe we aren’t alone, after all.

Sometimes, my dreams of getting published seem hopeless. And not because “so many people are trying, why should I succeed?” or “I’m just not good enough.” Maybe a little of the fear comes from the second, but not for the obvious reason that I think my writing is crap. Semi-objectively, my writing is decent. I’ve written some brilliant things I’m super proud of, and some really awful things that make me cringe just thinking about, but most of my writing falls into the category of “good enough” to be published. I notice weak writing — recognize my own short-comings — in published books all the time, so why not me?

No, I’m hopeless because I hit these blocks that are so much more than “writer’s block” the way I understand it. I don’t know how other writers experience it, so maybe I’m not as alone as it feels. The term “writer’s block” seems so benign. Like “eek, I’m stuck, time to brainstorm” or “wrote myself into a corner” or “let’s take a walk to clear my mind and come back fresh.”

That’s not me.

When I hit a block, words desert me and I tumble face-first into a rock-strewn canyon. It’s dark and frigid and lonely, even walking hand-in-hand with my lover in the sunshine. A revelation smothers me, replacing the marrow in my bones with a certainty that I am nothing and will never amount to much more.

It’s not so much that no one will care what I have to say. That fear is quiet and constant, like a cat sleeping at my feet, occasionally hopping onto the table to flick my nose with its tail.

No, the writing depression is darker, more personal. It assures me that I do have a story worth telling; it encourages me that someone — maybe even just one person — needs what I have inside me, but I’ll never find the words to tell it. I am my own worst enemy and the only thing standing in the way of greatness.

If only I could shed the weaker parts of me. If only my brain could leave my damaged heart and trembling fingers for a stronger body. Or maybe it’s my heart — tender and full — that needs to escape the dictator in my brain, unfeeling and inconsiderate of the words trying to bleed freely. Maybe my skin is trapping the story, pressing it against muscle and bone instead of allowing it to burst into the world. If only I’d been born someone else, I wouldn’t have this problem. My imagination inside a stronger vessel would find its purpose.

In this dark place, I sit on the cold ground, my back pressed to the ravine wall, staring at characters I love more than life. Apologies whisper past my lips: “You should be real,” I tell them, “not me.” It isn’t fair — they have words to share, but a worthless creator who can’t hear them.

The hopeless void stretches in front of me, with no end in sight. I read other people’s words and know I could have said it better, if only my brain worked harder, if only my heart felt more (felt less?), if my hands held the pen with more authority, if my soul didn’t smother my words.

My chest aches, dull and hollow, like an empty mussel on the beach at low tide, picked over and baked. I hunker down to wait it out, desperately clinging to the fragile hope that — someday — words will return, and it will feel as if I could never fail.

I’ll ride that high as long as I can, until, inevitably, I tumble to the ground again. I could walk away from writing, but in the words of Anne Shirley: “I can’t help flying up on the wings of anticipation. It’s as glorious as soaring through a sunset… almost pays for the thud.”

 

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.

Memories of July 4th

When I was a kid, my family would go to the local park on July 4th for chicken shish-kabobs, funnel cakes, sno-cones and games. We’d end up at the church nearby to watch the fireworks. My brother and I would roll down the hill, staining our clothes green and arguing over who was faster.  To this day, July 4th feels weird if I don’t get a chicken kabob.

More recently, my husband and I gather with friends or family to grill, maybe play some cornhole or other yard games, and try to catch some fireworks. Last year, we were on the roof of our building in Arlington, struggling to see the national fireworks across the river through the oppressive cloud cover.

One of my favorite Independence Days in recent years came a few years ago. We met up with a friend in Arlington, where we porch-sat and day-drank American beers before heading across the street to a little park for some wiffle-ball. There was only three of us, so it was mostly one person hitting, one pitching, and one fielding. It still felt very patriotic and youthful. As the day moved toward evening, more people showed up. I’m sure we grilled, and I know we took a walk to get ice cream. The grand finale was watching the fireworks at the Iwo Jima Memorial. It felt beautifully “American”, snuggled on our blanket or crowding along the curb, shoulder to shoulder with strangers of all colors and backgrounds, sitting near one of the most iconic memorials, watching the firework reminders of “bombs bursting in air” that brought us our great nation.

We were sunburnt and sweaty and together, a thousand different stories sharing a single experience for a snapshot in time, celebrating freedom and independence and joy.