Day 4: No One’s Ever Going To Believe This

It’s Saturday– I’m so dedicated that I am up writing my chapter.  Actually, I can’t decide if that makes me dedicated or OCD.  Either way, I gotta get a move on because my children will soon come find me and force me to LEGO with them.

NOTE: Today’s story is pure fiction. It’s not based on any real people you may have seen on TV or at the movies.

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DAY 4: No One’s Ever Going To Believe This

 

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I hobbled to my car wearing only one shoe just as the sun was peeking out over the smoggy horizon.  When I made it to the driver’s seat, I had to dump my purse out and stake stock.  Bra, check.  Make-up bag, check.  Other shoe, check.  My phone? Oh, God, where was my phone?  Frantic, I dug through every side pocket and frisked myself looking for it.  I finally found it inside my rolled up camisole.  Two bars of battery, thank God.  I had to call someone– my agent, my publicists, my ex.  Someone.

Who was ever going to believe me?

Half the world thinks he’s gay; the other half thinks he’s psycho.  He’s all but fallen off the radar.  But he’s still Tad Croth.  No matter how many couches he jumped during daytime TV or how many misogynist comments he made about women and postpartum depression, he’s an A-lister.  Period, full stop.

And I just slept with him.

Eighteen hours ago I’d come out of the audition knowing full well that I’d fucked  it up.  My inflections were off and my movements felt stiff.  After every line I delivered in the wooden monotone of the Bride of Frankenstein, panic surged to my throat.  That only made it harder to “act naturally.”  The show runner cut it short.  “Thanks, Brie.  We’ll be in touch.”  Right.  When Santa Monica gets hit by a blizzard that asshole will call me up and offer me a spot on the show that NBC is banking on to replace Seinfeld.

I was in my Prius crying like a total Hollywood cliché when Tad knocked on the window.  When I rolled it down, he’d said, “Can I borrow your phone?”  He was locked out of his car and his “people” were still inside.  I was stuffing tissues down the side of my seat, pretending I wasn’t crying over my pathetic life.  (I had less than $457.00 left in my bank account and zero work lined up.)  “Of course,” I’d said handing him my phone, while wishing I had a cooler case on it.  Hello Kitty didn’t seem ironic and whimsical in Tad’s hand. It seemed stupid.

“You okay?” He’d asked after he called someone named Berman to bring him keys to his Range Rover.

“Oh sure, I’m fine.  Rough day at the office, you know.”  I laughed as breezily as I could.  He leaned in.  “Do you want to grab some coffee while I wait for my rescue.”

Yes.  Yes, I did.

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Day 3: Top Nails

Day 3.  I ask myself, what the hez-ell have I gotten myself into? Then I tell myself, hey, you can quit anytime.  Flush with that promise of emancipation, I face another day.

I tried my hand at YA.  If you read below, you’ll understand why I do not consider YA my go-to genre to write.

Happy Friday!

 

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Every morning at 8:55 the girls would gather in the backroom to draw a name tag out of a cloudy old fish bowl.  “Heather” was a favorite among the youngest technicians.  The older women preferred “Esther” or “Ruth,” even though they’d never read the Bible and had no idea about the historical significance of their favorite names.  By 8:58, they’d all have their names for the day affixed to their yellow shirts.  When An, the stooped-back owner who’d been doing nails for over three decades, flipped the OPEN sign, the girls were ready to greet the pairs of hands and feet they’d spend the next forty-five minutes scrubbing and polishing.
Qui and Co^ng always picked their names last.  They didn’t care who they were for the day.  Leslie.  Helen.  Amy.  Beth.  What did they care?  Hardly anyone ever asked them their names anyway, and if asked, they just smiled and pointed to whatever was written on the plastic square.  It wasn’t the day-time hours that mattered.
The other girls knew.  They could tell by the way Qui and Co^ng did each other nails during the down time– how they massaged the lotion in soft, circular motions.  How they took extra care to keep the excess polish off each other’s skin. They took their lunch breaks together, preferring to walk down to the circular park at the end of the road with a bag of crisps to share and a single can of Coke.  Everyone at the Top Nail shop pretended the girls were close just because of what happened back home.  Even An who was given to grumpy fits where she was likely to come up behind any of the girls and sneer in their ears just as their hands were in mid-air, polish about to drip on some customer’s fingernail.  It was good that they’d found each other here.  Everyone agreed because everyone thought they understood.
This entry was posted on August 1, 2014. 2 Comments

Thirty Opening Chapters in Thirty Days: Day 2– Inspired By Life

Y’all, Day 2.  Let’s celebrate my tenacity, my stick-to-it-ed-ness.  I made it to the second day.  Only 28 more to go. Let’s hope I don’t burn out.  Say it with me now: One day at a time.

Today’s post is set in contemporary times and features a newcomer to American pop culture: The Blogger.  This one’s male.  On a whim, he creates a fake blog where he impersonates a mother of four who has just been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer.  Lucky for me, I’m only writing the beginning so I don’t need to get him out of his jam.  I just need to get him in.

Mwah!

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DAY 2: INSPIRED BY LIFE

 

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Jim Thorpe didn’t think of himself as a man who had particularly great ideas.  In fact, science had confirmed he did not.  Before he was hired as a world sciences teacher at the Thomas A. Edison middle school, he was given a test designed to measure his creative thinking, his analytical abilities and his problem-solving skills.  On the creative thinking metric, Jim scored in the lowest quartile.  He got the job anyway and trudged his way through his probationary period and the requisite seven years before earning tenure. 

So he can’t be faulted for not realizing it was a great idea (or for the fact he didn’t characterize the idea at all).   To Jim, he was just putzing around on his computer.  The night before his Great Idea he’d disabled his WordPress account because no one read his blog.  Not even his mother, the omni-supportive Clareen Thorpe, could bring herself to read Jim’s posts, all of them turgid, ranty odes to Johnny Lydon (popularly known as “Johnny Rotten”) and the Sex Pistols.  According to Jim’s blog, “not nearly enough has been written about the Golden Age of music, those day when the bands like the Sex Pistols weren’t afraid of original thoughts or guitar riffs.”  Apparently, he was wrong.  Plenty had been written and the theme was thoroughly ground down.

Without his little blog and its meager following to rail against, Jim found himself staring at the empty white screen with the blinking vertical line.  He heard the cursor say, “Write something, Damnit!”

“Fuck it,” he said out loud.  Then, he bent over the keyboard and wrote his first line.  “I’ve got stage IV metastatic cancer and four children under the age of eight.”  Then, his second. “This on-line journal is a love letter to my young children and my husband of fifteen years.”  His third.  “They are the loves of my life, and I want them to know before it’s too late.”

Jim wrote for over an hour.  Shamelessly, he borrowed the tragedy of his colleague, Elizabeth Gatsbell, the beloved art teacher, whose classroom was across the hall from his.  Elizabeth got her diagnosis three weeks ago, and the grim-faced bean-counter of a principal, Dr. Beau Stanton, had gathered all the teachers in the lounge for an emergency announcement.  The librarian, PE teachers, and ESL specialists all burst into tears the moment the word cancer slid from Dr. Stanton’s lips.  Jim had grabbed the box of tissues from the window sill and passed it around.

He didn’t cry at the time.  

During the meeting, he’d worried about Elizabeth’s kids, all of whom he met at the annual end-of-year picnics.  He could picture their four sets of brown eyes, crumpled with fear and grief over their mother’s health.  Such a happy family, why them? Jim wondered aloud.

He’d contributed to the fund started by the criers who hoped to defray some of the out-of-pocket expenses for the Gatsbells.  He wrote a check for a hundred bucks, no small amount for a public school teacher.

Jim respected the way Elizabeth brought her enthusiasm to the students’ yearly self-portrait projects.    Last year, she’d started a unit called “as inspired by.”  The students got to pick their artistic inspiration.  She was undaunted when half the students chose the obvious Picasso and Monet.  Jim knew she was going to tinker with the concept and try again this spring.

Jim bought the new domain, after giving the name a total of three minutes’ thought. Of course, he kept his identity anonymous.  He typed in his credit card number, then it was his.  Inspired By Life.  He leaned back in his chair and squinted at the screen.  He needed a tag line.  He stood up and walked to the kitchen.  “Tag line, tag line,” he muttered to himself.

When he sat back down, he typed it out.  “One mother’s journey to record her love in the face of a stage IV cancer diagnosis.” He’d written “before it’s too late,” but deleted it.  Too morbid.

Really, he was just goofing around.  Putzing.  He never meant for it to go anywhere.

The morning after he published the post, Jim awoke to 400 emails on the gmail account he created (insiredbylife@gmail.com).  Ellen DeGeneres retweeted the link.  It was shared on Facebook over 12,300 times.

Viral.  His first post went viral.

 

 

 

Thirty Opening Chapters in Thirty Days: Day 1– The Dogs Came First

Internet, I’ve been bored.  When I get bored, I do an unpleasant self-pity thing that grates on everyone’s nerves– think your kids’ whining combined with Lee Press-On Nails on an old-timey Little-House-On-The-Prairie chalk board.

I need to shake things up– my creative life is a martini that needs something more than a vigorous stir.  Wait. I’m in recovery; I shouldn’t make martini jokes.  Again: My creative life is like a still snow-globe– BOOOORRRIINNNGGGG.  I’m giving it a shake and watching the flakes fall like my fourth grade teacher’s dandruff.

How?

I gave myself an assignment.  (Actually, my sponsor gave me an assignment and I self-willed it into what follows.)  For thirty days, I am writing a short first scene of a new novel– that is, a new novel every day for thirty days.  Different voices, eras, plots, genres. 600 words max.  Thirty times.  It starts today.

What follows is Day 1.  Today’s opening is for a book set in the rural south, pre-Brown v. The Board of Education.  It’s Jim Crow.  It’s violent and cowardly townspeople v. my plucky protagonist whose family took in Mr. Coleman, a black ex-con looking to start his life anew after a wrongful conviction landed him in prison for three years.

Tomorrow? Something totally different.

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Day 1: Opening Chapter

 I heard the dogs first.  Their deep, incessant barking drew closer, my heartbeat thrumming in time with them.  Must have been a pack.  When they reached the fence around our yard, I dared look out the window, even though Mama made me promise I’d stay in bed.

I dumped my three stuffed animals out of the old gray milk crate in the corner of my room.  The crate made a loud, scraping sound when I dragged it under the window.  As I stood on it, the middle sagged under my weight and the crisscrossed plastic made waffle indentions on the bottom of my bare feet.

In the high moonlight, the dogs’ fur shone black as wet dirt. Their teeth looked as white and sharp as the dinosaur fossils in the Natural History Museum in Birmingham.  The dogs tumbled over one another as they tried to scale the chain fence.  The biggest one, a black male with a bald patch between his ears, seemed to look right at me.  He stood still as a pole and stared straight at the window, then started barking anew with such ferocious intensity that I ducked below the window and fell off the crate.

We knew they would come. Mama and Daddy had said so as soon as we took in Mr. Coleman.  “Not a matter of if, but when,” Daddy’d said as he watched Mama make up the back bedroom with an old quilt from my closet.  “When” had come.  The dogs.  Just behind them, the men with their sticks, their fire, their rifles.

I should have been scared. In retelling the story, I write in the fear as if it was there along.  But that night, it wasn’t fear.  It was relief.  We’d been twitching at every sound in the yard, dreading every smudge on the horizon that we feared was someone from town coming for us.  I’d grown so tired of hearing Mama cry behind the bathroom door and watching Daddy pick at his fried chicken as if it tasted like burned biscuits that I just wanted them to come already.

Had I only known what they were bringing I would have been afraid.  Because I was a child, I had the idea that they would come quick but then leave us to get on with our business. I didn’t know they would turn their lit torches to our roof or cut our fence so the dogs could sink their angry white teeth into our chickens, our rocking chair, our legs.  I didn’t know how deep those teeth could sink.

I didn’t know what it was I would have to survive.

People ask me, in hushed whispers, whether I harbor any ill will towards Mr. Coleman for what happened.  How could I hate Mr. Coleman? He just wanted a roof over his head until he could join his people up in Detroit.  He wasn’t the one who torched my family’s house.  He never even kicked the chickens that flocked around his feet, nipping at his ankles, when he fed them in the morning. I’d kicked those stupid chickens every time I walked across the yard to the milk barn.

With so much hate to go around, I grew tired of finding a target for mine.  I buried it like a time capsule I had no intention of unearthing.  Let some later generation dig it up and go through it.

The doctors in here tell me I have to look at it.  They’re trying to draw it out of me, like leeches taking blood.  I keep telling them it’s in too deep.  If they really wanted to help me with the headaches and the visions, they’d forget about the anger and start with the fear.

Yes, the fear is where this story should start.

Go to Rehab With Your Matching Doll: The Services American Girl Doll Should (But Doesn’t) Offer

There’s a famous doll store near my house. *cough* American Girl Doll Store *cough* Tourists come in droves with their wide-eyed little daughters to this mecca on the Magnificent Mile. I’ve witnessed countless weary (wealthy) parents struggling under the weight of the signature red bags, while trying to hail cabs so they can collapse back at their hotels. The store is supposed to be a place where a little girl can have “real” experiences”—modeled, one supposes, on the “real experiences” she’ll have when she’s older. Tea parties. Hair salons. Ear piercings. You know, big stuff that a girl should practice and be exposed to before adulthood.

 

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What about all the services the American Girl Doll Store is ignoring? The brand should recognize the untapped potential of the experiences they’re ignoring. And it’s too bad. There’s major bank to be made if they would think outside of the jewelry box.

 

How about these:

 

  • Go to rehab with your doll! Right? Think of how many young girls will grow up to struggle with substance abuse. It’s not a joke. Have you read Jennifer Weiner’s newest book All Fall Down? The mom’s a pill popper of the highest order. Let’s prepare our daughters. Let’s get the American Girl people to offer rehab (think group therapy sessions ($150), AA meetings ($100), anger management classes ($130)) for our daughters and their dolls. They can always get their ears pierced afterwards.
  • Botox and Lipo services! Ya’ll, let’s get real. Our cherub-faced little girls are going to grow up and want this no matter how many Dove commercials they see. It would be wrong to not prepare them to celebrate and honor these future milestones by letting them “practice” getting the fat sucked out of them ($500) or having bovine whatever-Botox-is pumped into them ($250).
  • Divorce court proceedings! I probably don’t even have to sell this to you. Half of all marriages end in divorce, right? Think about it: more girls will get divorced than get their ears pierced. Let’s give our girls some real life practice standing before a family court judge to argue that she should have more alimony ($120) or full custody ($120) or that the Judge should ignore her extramarital affairs because her Baby Daddy cheated first ($200). These are real life situations just waiting for our daughters. AmIright?
  • Unemployment office visit! In this economy, it would be wrong not to expose our daughters to this slice of bureaucratic life. She and her doll could fill out paperwork, then languish in a waiting room for over an hour before being informed that she’s not yet eligible because she filled out her paperwork incorrectly ($300). This office could be set up next door to a fake DMV, where a young girl and her matching doll can stand in line for hours only to be told that her proof of insurance is expired so she’ll have to come back tomorrow ($100).

 

 

All I’m saying is that they could make a mint, while giving our daughters some “real life” experiences. Sure blow outs and fake eyelashes make for great memories, but 12-step meetings and family court have their charms as well. Shouldn’t we share those with our precious little ones?

 

10 Truths About My Latest Rejection

The ballet teacher I worshipped gave us no warning. “Line up against the wall, ladies! A photographer is going to come and pick three of you for a wrist-watch advertisement.” We all shuffled in our soft pink shoes to the side of the room. I remember standing tall, shoulders back and neck long, just like we’d been taught. I could play the part of a young ballerina pirouetting around a Rolex watch.

 

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Pick me! Pick me! Pick me! I willed myself to be chosen as the photographer scrutinized us all, peering through his camera at our feet in tendu. After pacing before us like a butcher choosing prime cuts, he picked three petite ballerinas, all with strawberry blonde hair and perky, turned-up noses.

 

It was 1979. My first rejection. You never forget your first.

 

When I wasn’t chosen to be one of the background ballerinas, I cried in the bathroom alone. I had the idea that I wasn’t supposed to be upset in front of anyone else. Rejection is shameful, I thought, so I buried it like the dirty tights at the bottom of my ballet bag.

 

I don’t really do that anymore. Now, I publish my rejection stories on my blog for the whole world to read.

 

So, the latest:

 

Yesterday, I got a form rejection letter from a literary agent whom I queried on Monday. When her email came in, I was at the half-way point on a six-mile run.   Seconds before I checked my email, I was gazing at Lake Michigan’s rolling waves underneath a vast and flawless sunny sky. I literally had this thought: There’s nothing wrong with me that the beauty in this moment can’t heal. How blessed I am to be here right now.

 

PING! I glanced down at my phone in my sweaty palm and saw, “Thank you for your submission, unfortunately …”

 

I laughed. How could I not laugh at the timing? It felt like a test—do I still feel blessed? Do I still find spiritual solace in the beauty all around me?

 

Answer: Hell yes. More than ever.

 

The email passing on my novel said all of these things to me:

 

  1. You’ve gotten your first rejection over with! You never have to have your first again.
  2. You’re on your way—you are doing it, and rejection is part of “doing it”.
  3. Now you get to see how badly you really want this.
  4. You’re putting yourself out there. *applause*
  5. You’ve taken a huge leap forward to arrive at the stage where people can judge (and reject) your work.
  6. Rejection won’t kill you—it may not even hurt that much. (Yet)
  7. You’re brave.
  8. Your query needs more work.
  9. You need to ask others to help you jazz up the query.
  10. You’re on your way.

 

I don’t know how I’ll feel ten or twenty rejections down the road. I’m sure at that point I’ll Google other authors’ rejection tales – J.K. Rowling, Kathryn Stockett, Stephen King, etc.   Then, I’ll immerse myself in the writings of Anne Lamott and Brene Brown and gnash about.  I’ll be insufferable. I’ll eat too much peanut butter. I’ll threaten to stop writing altogether.  Maybe I actually will.

 

But.

 

 

Until then, I’m celebrating the rejection because the other great truth of it is this: I’ve been rejected for lots of things I didn’t really want (see on-line dating fiascos, Vice President of the student body in 1990) that it’s nice to at least be trying for the things I do want.

 

I’m in the game.

 

It feels amazing.

 

 

Grandma Would Have Loved The Hula Hoops

I walked half a mile across the steaming asphalt parking lot because I decided it was time. I had to see for myself what the hell was in those stores. As I reached for the door, I saw foam pool noodles, sun visors, and cheap Tupperware jammed into bins by the door.

 

Heaven on Earth. Why did I wait so long?

 

Once inside, I was unable to keep from touching every.single.thing. The glittery hula hoops were so alluring that I grabbed two and hung them from my neck. “These are going home with me,” I said, as if someone had just challenged my claim to them.

 

Dollar World.  Its treasures beckoned me, shoved as they were on racks with alarming randomness. I picked up a number 5 candle for Sadie’s upcoming birthday celebration. Naturally, it was hanging right next to a colander and a package of disinfectant wipes.

 

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Seriously. This place was actually better than heaven. It’s more like a calorie-free Dunkin Donuts or a Costco with that sells single rolls of toilet paper.

 

Dollar World, I think I love you. Said that out loud too.

 

It was all shits and giggles until I got to what could loosely be described as the “hair care” aisle. I didn’t realize that giant pink foam rollers were still a thing. I hadn’t laid eyes on them since sixth grade. But there they were: two five-foot stuffed racks announcing their continued existence. You can’t convince me it was a “coincidence” that Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survived started at that exact moment.

 

I dropped all the shit I was carrying, dusted off a twelve-roller set of the bigger black ones with the fuzzy, Velcro-like stuff on the outside. Just like my Grandma’s.  I didn’t need them any more than the ceramic hippo vase or the nude panty hose, but I wanted those rollers. An homage to my Grandma.

 

Nobody would love Dollar World more than she would have. She who never met a garage sale she wouldn’t pull over for or a thrift store she wouldn’t stroll into to peruse the dusty piles used men’s dress shoes—even after my Grandpa died. Sure, she’d love my kids—especially Sadie’s habit of breaking into song and the way Simon scrunches up his face when he’s playing ninja. (The Jewish thing might elicit a few vague judgments-disguised-as-questions, but she loved me and I was Catholic, which was almost as bad as being Jewish to her southern Baptist mind.) But she’d really, really love Dollar World.

By the time I dumped my haul on the counter, I felt that jittery I’m-about-to-cry tremor.  Thank god the teenaged clerk distracted me by trying to stuff my hula hoops into a bag better suited for a pack of gum or a hot wheel (both of which I bought).

It was hard to tell if the emotion was coming from that place in me that loves a bargain and plastic bags full of cheap shit, or the part of me that misses my Grandma and wishes we could split a piece of Big Red gum.  Hell, it was both.  Not sure how different those are sometimes.

Back at my car, I scrolled through my iPod to find the perfect music for the ride home. I floored the gas and cruised home with the sun roof open, How Great Thou Art on repeat.

Man, she would have really loved those hula hoops.