The People Who Make Us

Two crows silhouette against a morning sky.

I once had a friend

Who was no friend at all

She came and she went as she pleased

 

Some days she was strength

Some days she was solace

Some days she was nothing to me

 

I once knew a girl

Who would burn down the world

Just to keep from feeling its pain

 

One minute she was smiling

The next she was crying

Like sunshine showing through rain

 

I once had a love

Who pretended to live

She said she and I were the same

 

Her words were all empty

Her heart was a hole

And she said that I was to blame

 

I once was someone

A mind with a voice

Words that flowed wild and free

 

I weathered and shattered

And none of it mattered

Because all of these people were me

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Interim

I’m not here

And I’ll remind you that you’re not here, either.

We’re barely existing on our separate planes

 

I reiterate that you must keep your eyes on your own paper

That this test is a solitary effort.

I don’t think I can help you any more,

not that studying together ever seemed to make a difference.

You still fail each time

 

I start to wonder if I’m a bad teacher,

Or if you’re a bad student.

Then I tell myself a secret:

It doesn’t matter

because you aren’t real

And I’m not either.

 

I give myself an A+

And I let you continue to fail.

 

And it still doesn’t matter.

The Things That I Could Do

I could quarantine my heart

Close it up and seal the air

Keep your breath, your words, your life

From infiltrating my existence

 

And maybe it would shelter me

From pain and grief that alway comes

Like gusts of wind from the West

That batter me from inside out

 

Or maybe it would make life stagnant

stale and musty—hard to breathe

Like humid days beneath the sun

Impossible to carry on

 

I could choose to tune you out

Replace your voice with any sound

Replace your eyes with any eyes

Or so I try to tell myself

 

But in seclusion, would I find

A better way to live my life?

Would the days seem twice as bright?

I imagine only darker

 

I’d miss the words that fill the space

Between the breaths that fill my lungs

That burrow deep within my chest

Beneath the ache of loneliness

 

Lamenting loss of smiling lips

That rise for you like waxing moons

That light the darkness with their glow

I cannot let the phases go

 

And so I leave my heart adrift

Let the cards fall where they may

Accept that I have no control

Of feelings carved from memories

 

Perhaps I’ll splinter—fall apart

Or even burn beneath your gaze

But I would bear the sear of pain

Just to hear you say my name

I Dance and Clap for Everything

I live most of my life in a very animated way. When I talk, my whole face moves; my eyebrows dive up and down, my lips pull into an array of smirks, my hands fly wildly through the air. I’m nearly a cartoon character. To say I am passionate would be an understatement.

Some people have a few things that bring out that level of enthusiasm—a sports team, a band, a television show. But I’m that way about everything I love, from the fresh carved loaf of pumpernickel the waitress sets on the table to the bright red octopus clinging to the side of the tank at the aquarium. I never learned to rein in my excitement for anything in which I’ve ever been invested—be it music, food, or people. That’s part of the reason my mother loves picking out Christmas gifts for me each year; she says I love everything…and I do, from notebooks to patterned pajama pants.

Words are no exception. I am as passionate about them as I am about love (which is really saying something, because I am an utterly hopeless romantic). I take it seriously when I put them on a page, because they are me and I am them. The same applies to our conversations—those words mean just as much.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we convey thoughts and communicate with each other. We don’t talk face to face as often. Most of our interactions are short—clipped; they fit in to small boxes on small screens.

I don’t speak on the phone frequently, but there’s something in those conversations that doesn’t easily translate into a text or email—passion. When I am excited about a topic, the person on the other end of the line can hear it. They notice that my volume rises toward the end of the sentence, that I ramble, causing shortness of breath because I’ve forgotten to pause and expand my lungs. In person, they would see my eyes grow wide, lighting up like sparklers, observe that I’ve moved to the edge of my seat and can no longer sit still.

When we talk in text, I don’t know that all the blood rushes to your face while you speak of injustice. You don’t know that I do happy dances and beam from ear to ear when you tell me good news. I can’t hear your exclamations and you can’t see my reactions. Something about this makes me sad. So much is lost in our exchanges.

In a piece of literature, we can sell our passion. We have hundreds to thousands of words to say, this is important; this is everything. But in a text or DM, or even an email, passion is often lost to efficiency. Say it, and say it quickly. That doesn’t leave much room for embellishment, which goes hand in hand with enthusiasm.

When I write anything, I never want to lose that excitement that possesses me, that takes over everything that I am and says, These are the things that inspire me, move me, wake me up, keep me going. And I absolutely live to read the passion of others—true passion, not that sad excuse of a replica that people push, where the words say one thing, but the emotion is dull and lifeless like the glass eyes of a stuffed animal that hangs on the wall in a den.

So I guess what I’m saying is that—despite the limitations of our chosen methods of communication—be ecstatic about all of the things that breathe life into your lungs, and shove it into your words until each sentence is overflowing with your energy. Feed the world your passion, and we will devour it…because nothing is as intoxicating as spirit.

The Afterimage of Words

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There are times when I see a scene on a screen or read a remarkable line from a chapter, and it’s as if I understand something greater than myself, greater than the world in which I live. Each instance gives me a unique perspective into a different time or place and allows me to be part of an experience that doesn’t exist within these four walls. 

They are moments where my heart swells & flutters, & my breath hitches excitedly in my chest. They are minutes, seconds, milliseconds of perfection where I comprehend that some things are too beautiful to be experienced any other way. Anything less would be a loss.

I repeat the captivating words to myself for hours on end—days, weeks, years—to keep the feeling in motion, circulating through my veins. I never want it to end, only to remain cyclical, cycling indefinitely through my thoughts like a remembered birthday or memorized face that haunts my dreams. For surely, words follow us like ghosts, shadowing our lives with the weight of their meaning, clinging to a significant person or place as they play on loop.

Each preserved passage is cataloged, becoming a pinpoint on my timeline, a detailed description of the moment I fell in love with an idea & kept it for my own. On command, I collect each one from my vault of memories, reliving how bitterly sad, how inspiring, how intriguing they were as they danced across my retinas and settled into my gaze, becoming the apple of my eye. 

And so, over time, and without my realization, I became a historian of beautiful thoughts, gathering words and images into a hope chest that would provide me with the tools I needed to navigate my life. These would be the images and ideas that reminded me of how small I am and how big I could be. 

We’re all collectors, retaining bits and pieces of an alluring existence, absorbing the world around us as we observe life through a limited lens. And someday, if we’re lucky, our words will be reverently tucked away in the hope chests of others.

The Other Me

I’m frustrated all the time. It never ends. There’s this stretching in my chest that feels like something longing to break free, and I don’t know if it’s sadness or anger. I know that scientifically speaking, heartache is in the mind, but a pain has settled in that fist-sized organ in the center of my core just the same.

Sometimes, I long to be rid of emotions altogether, to wake up feeling nothing and fall asleep feeling nothing. I imagine the in-between to be a void where no emotions go in, and no emotions come out. And in this pretend world, I’m never made to feel guilty for being hollow.

You see, the constant struggle for emotional equilibrium takes its toll. I don’t like who I become. When I pass mirrors, I raise my middle finger to my reflection. It’s an acknowledgment that I’ve turned into this pathetic asshole that even I can’t stand. She smirks back at me; it’s that sad smile—the pitying smile of someone who has been in your shoes. Disgusted, I quickly look away.

At night when I try to sleep, my mind runs through every scenario gone wrong, every mistake made. I’m reminded that words are both my savior and my enemy. When I’m whole, they add beauty; when I’m shattered, they become weapons. I conjure the disappointed faces of those I’ve let down—the people I’ve hurt; it serves as my punishment.

Each time I close my eyes, I suffer the irony that I’ve made my own bed, and can’t even sleep in it. I just stare into the dark, waiting for the light to return. My forehead creases, my brow pinched in worry. I place my fingers against the wrinkled skin and try to force the tension to subside, but it resists. My shoulders follow suit, remaining tightly coiled, my spine compressed under the pressure of depression.

As when I’m sick, I try to remember what it felt like before—before my chest ached, before my body tensed, before my mind became a film reel of all my greatest failings. But I can’t catch even the slightest glimpse. I’m blind to before.

In front of prying eyes, I learn to hide my feelings beneath a layer of indifference. And some days, I feel as if I can’t love at all. There’s this part of me that wonders if that’s good or bad. Is it okay to feel nothing? Was this always my natural progression? But this numbness is only ever a temporary reprieve, and soon the sorrow returns, looking to make up for lost time.

I let my paranoia drag me into a downward spiral while I push away the people that call themselves my friends. None of it is real, I tell myself. None of them are real. I pick fights when I fall apart, lashing out in every direction. Even as I shout at undeserving ears, I know what I’m doing is a mistake, but I can’t seem to stop. It’s as if I’m purging my pain, retching every ounce of heartache from my body. Only, when I’m through, my misery has multiplied tenfold.

What’s worse, is who would stay? Who would accept that this is what I am—that from time to time, I lose myself to this sadness that pulls me so far under that I question whether I’ll ever re-emerge? The answer is…only a fool.

I write this from that place, the one where I accept loneliness with open arms. The place where the people I love cannot find the version of me they recognize. I write this with hopeless tears and a dull pain that feels like a black hole sucking everything good straight through my chest into absolute nothingness.

I write this so you’ll remember that it won’t last forever. One day—in the not so distant future—I’ll be me again, and you’ll be you. And on that day, I hope you’ll forgive me for who I became when sadness found me.

What the Water Told Me

A solitary monolith on a beach of jagged stone, I stood still as the towering cliffs, mimicking their stability, imagining myself as capable of withstanding the storms that would lash my form. I was envious of their resolve; they would not fall. Staring blankly at the crashing white caps of a tumultuous sea that mimicked the chaos inside my mind, I questioned my choices—my identity. What was I if not a writer, if not a mother, if not every title that had ever been assigned to my name? Was my value in my accomplishments, or was I more than the sum of my parts—the division of my life’s tasks & achievements? What once seemed so obvious, now felt uncertain.

An unnamed sadness had fallen over my days. I could feel its weight on my shoulders, its influence in every thought. But I could not label it. My melancholy served no purpose; it simply was.

The bitter wind whipped through my hair, pulling loose strands across my face, and I closed my eyes and saw a world where I was everything and nothing all at once—a world where I was free to succeed or fail with no consequence. Like my sadness, I simply was.

It was in this unsuspecting moment of clarity that my world changed. The thunderous clap of violent waves beating against the hard planes of limestone slabs ceased as the ocean calmed and pulled away from land, taking with it my sorrow. For in the the brief  seconds where I existed for the sole purpose of carrying a heartbeat in my chest, I knew my true self beyond a doubt.

My words gave me breath. They were the push and pull that swayed my emotions, that gave my passion purpose and my curiosity a voice. Who was I without them but an empty shell of wasted ideas never formed on a silent tongue?

I was a writer.

Those I loved gave me solid footing on ever-shifting sand. They kept me still when I required  peace and propelled me forward when I needed change, all the while tethering me to their constant and unchanging love. Their existence amplified mine, making me something greater than I could ever have been on my own.

I was a mom. I was a wife. I was a friend.

I was everything

When I opened my eyes, and gazed out at the dark waters that slowly swayed back and forth, gently lulling my worries into a peaceful slumber, I felt my burden of identity lift. All of these things were a part of me, but none of them could define me on their own. With these titles or without these titles, I simply was.

 

A Strange Turn of Events

I’m a novel writer who isn’t writing novels. It’s a weird time for me.

I’ve recently discovered the world of short stories. When my mind said no to novels, it said yes to its shorter, more abrupt cousin. With open arms, it pulled the petit minx into a welcoming embrace and told her to take off her jacket and stay awhile.

It felt like something obtainable, something closer on the horizon than the never-ending journey to catch the elusive 100,000 word epic saga (or contemporary romance). To be honest, most days, when I see my manuscripts’ names written in blue fonts under small folders that unevenly dot my computer screen, I’m not even sure they truly exist. I’m afraid to click on them and find nothing—or worse…30,000 words of meaningless drivel.

But short stories, they’re the good-time girls winking and waving for you to come and play. They say, “Looking for a fun time? We’re not interested in a long-term relationship.” Sure, that makes short fiction sound smutty, but I love that it’s noncommittal. It promises immediate satisfaction, not drawn out courtship that turns into a resentful marriage.

During my brief hiatus from my manuscripts, however, they became jealous after catching me in flagranti with my new boo and began to vie for my attention once more. I remembered how much I loved to fall into their scenes and just stay there for hours—days at a time. How addictive it is to live and breathe my characters, thinking about their every desire and motivation. And just like that, my brain seemed to click into place, and novels were beautiful again.

By no means am I through with short fiction. It has permanently wormed its way into my heart. I used to think that anything less than a novel would be wasting an idea—something that could be further evolved into 300 pages that sat neatly between glossy, hard covers. I  have never been more wrong.

There are so many stories to be told that don’t require page after page of explanation and back story. In fact, they benefit from the reader being dropped unexpectedly into their midst. It’s as if you’re being told a secret and then sent away to ponder its meaning on your own. There are so many small moments that reveal colossal truths, and I want to know them all intimately.

So, while I am returning to my manuscripts, toting my suitcases full of notebooks brimming with messy outlines and in-depth character development, I am not the same writer walking across the threshold into the life I abandoned. Things have changed, and I want it all: short stories, flash fiction, poems, essays.

Novels will just have to make up the guest rooms…because we’re going to have company.

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Afterthought

There are few revelations that are more tragic than discovering that you’ve always been an afterthought. Your name was the last to arrive on someone’s tongue, the first to dissipate. You were a long forgotten memory—the unknown face in an old photograph of friends.

For years, you thought it was something you could change. If you were better, stronger, kinder, braver, smarter, prettier—if your adjectives met the standards of those who were higher on the totem pole, you could imprint in their minds. They would think of you and smile, maybe pick up the phone, maybe stop by. But being an afterthought isn’t something you escape. It’s in your blood; it’s part of who you are and will always be.

And so, you learn to accept your fate. You tell yourself you don’t mind the loneliness that accompanies being forgotten. When night falls and the world becomes quiet, you find your solace in the brightest memories, the ones that linger longest. The time he stayed through the night and held you close. The day your friends made you a cake and watched you blow out the candles. You hold tight to your recollections—the exceptions, the rare moments where you spoke and someone listened, not because they had to, but because they wanted to hear your words and absorb them into their soul.

You hang on for dear life to the thoughts that made you smile, the kindness that reminded you to feel, to let your heart beat. Without them, you become hollow and cold, empty and alone. Your mind warps into a tangled rat’s nest of self doubt and paranoia. You become less.

In the dark, the warm memories act as a lantern, illuminating the path as they lead you away from the worst part of yourself, the part that threatens to consume, to destroy. They are your beacon. But at the same time, fleeting happiness takes its toll. It whispers lies to eager ears, lending false hope that someday things will be different, life will be kinder. And you want nothing more than to believe the lie, because despite your best attempts to show the world that you are worthy of its attention, worthy of its love, it will pass you by.

You were forgotten before you began.

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The Dull Sentence

EA1BE6E3-FC85-4EA5-850F-4C8FBC2DA90A.jpegWhile in the shower—where all good ideas form—I was thinking about how any sentence, even a seemingly tedious one, can be extraordinary if used properly. Sometimes, as a challenge to myself, I try to come up with a precise thought that conveys something meaningful without using an abundance of words. As you may have already noticed from my writing, I tend to say too much. I struggle to cram a headful of thoughts into an allotted space because there’s this desire to fill every empty nook and cranny, which leads to forced culling…lots and lots of culling. So, for the sake of improving, I do this exercise.

If we’re being honest, I’m not very good at it. I like to write overly embellished, pretty prose that drags out for miles across the world’s longest sentence. But do you know what Publishers, agents, and readers don’t want? That’s right…flowery language that slows the plot. I’m rolling my eyes pretty hardcore right now. Just because something is the truth, doesn’t mean I have to like it.

While doing these little throw away sentences, I’ve noticed something. I’ll come up with a thought that is neither exciting nor earth shattering, but then I’ll begin to wonder what would elevate it—make it worthy of attention. The more I did this, the more the exercise began to change.

Today’s sentence was, “I should have.” It’s not a groundbreaking thought on its own, but with a little love, it can become something important.

And so, to make my point, I give you an excerpt from the book that I’m not writing titled Bested.

Through curse words and angry snarls, they fought: the man that threatened to take away everything meaningful, and the man who was my everything. I stood on the sidelines, screaming—begging for them to stop, but they couldn’t hear my pleas over the deafening beat of their hatred for each other. After what felt like an eternity of thrown punches and near misses, it seemed as if the fight was finally slowing, their resolve waning under the pressure of exhaustion. I thanked god and ran to my lover’s side, but as I approached, a hidden knife was produced from his enemy’s boot. In the span of a breath, I had thrown myself between them, absorbing the blade into my gut.

As I sunk to the ground in a muddled heap, held tightly by the man I loved, he whispered the words that would haunt me long after my death. “I’m sorry I never loved you. I should have.”

Okay, this isn’t the best thing I’ve ever written—that’s a given. For all I know they were fighting over the last tater tot, or maybe it was all spurred on by sports; men love to fight about sports. It doesn’t really matter, because that’s not the point. The point is that “I should have” became something special. Yes, “I never loved you” is the kicker, but the last sentence makes the one before stronger and expresses his regret. To me, “I should have” is the only sentence I truly care about in that whole story.

And thus her point was proven and she could finally sleep.

Oh…on a side note. If I had really been writing that story, the woman would have pulled out the knife and stabbed that  douchebag. Then they would have been forced to haunt the same place together for the rest of their afterlives. But I’m not writing that story, so it never happened.