Tuesday, April 28, 2009
(from prompt #28 in The 3 AM Epiphany)
Read my response:
She has a thick bruise on her arm and both my dad and I just ask her what happened to the other guy. The other guy was a middle-aged woman, and Megs laughs when she tells us we don’t want to know. Her soccer team played against some corporate office team, and this older woman started aiming for my sister.
“I wasn’t gonna let her push me around,” and she shrugs. She gets red-carded all the time. Usually for being the aggressor, and usually in defense of a teammate getting picked on. She’s quicker to fight for someone than against someone, but she’s a fighter all the same.
She’s standing in the kitchen, drinking Gatorade like she’s advertising for them. Her hair sits knotted up on her head, stray strands everywhere, and she’s got her usual “I just ran 8 miles for fun” flush. Seven years younger and three inches taller. It’s unsettling to look up to the growing up version of someone I used to carry on my hip. She’s got hips of her own, which she denies out loud (“I’m straight down like a boy”) and without speaking, wearing her soccer shorts and baggy t-shirt and standing straight up like a man. She doesn’t slouch, or bend easily. Even as a baby, she wouldn’t let herself be held. She’ll hold you, she understands people and the idea of comfort, it’s just not anything she needs herself.
She skirts around being the girliest girl, by her habits, but just barely: with blue eyes that inspire comparisons to clear skies, birds of happiness, Frank Sinatra, at first glance she's called angelic. But she uses her eyes to see, rather than be seen, and I don’t that it’s ever occurred to her that it could be the other way around.
Her boyfriend, in his Manchester United jersey, holds up her arm and she flexes. He and my dad nod at each other, mutually acknowledging whatever it is dads and boyfriends mutually acknowledge, and it’s heartbreaking to see how much this kid loves her. She makes a menacing face, flexing her bicep, and she moves from mock punching him to putting her arms around him without relaxing her muscles. She cocks back her head to look at him, and says, “You saw, right? She was being a bully.”
“She didn’t expect you to do anything, that’s for sure.”
Our littlest brother, autistic and a little bit of a drama queen, comes running through, practically knocking her boyfriend down to get to her. “Joshie! Be nice to Charlie!” Joshie is throwing all of his weight into his sobs. He has this amazing way of crying so that it sounds like demons dying, but sort of tenderly; simultaneously frightening and vulnerable. How I imagine Grendel sounds.
Megs bends, puts her hands on his shoulders, soothing and steadying him without saying anything. Sometimes when she talks, she gets nervous and talks too fast. Her words get jumbled together, and sometimes she’ll say something bland as if it were exciting. It frustrates me, hearing a story told so clumsily, and our fights revolve around this difference: my instinct for words, and hers for action. She struggles to understand my slowness, my reluctance for movement, my cautiousness and my laziness. She is quick to shove me when I talk over her, when I interrupt her stutter for a smoother, more mature interpretation of whatever she’s attempting to express. We approach problems from opposite ends. As much as this results in pulling against each other, it allows for mutual support, too. Once what I needed was money, and I didn’t know how to get it: dumb with fear, all I could do was cry, complain, telling my mother and myself that I just didn’t know what to do. Megs overheard but didn’t say anything, just left, and returned suddenly with more than I needed, handed it to me with a hug, and left again. I tried to express some fraction of the complicated emotions this provoked, and she just said, because it was all that mattered, “Well, you’re my sister.”
I keep staring at the blackened fist-shaped mark on her arm, and she notices, and turns a deeper shade of flushed. We have such different arms, the two of us, and hers so far today have defended, fought, flexed, flirted, calmed, soothed and steadied. They’ve barely rested. How can anyone look at her and not expect her to do anything?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
(from prompt #27 in The 3 AM Epiphany)
Read my response:
"Bass guitar" by Jsome1
Bassists are the wide receivers, lead guitar is the quarterback. Why play bass? For love of the music, for love of the band, for love of the guitar. Love of the guitarist. He became successful, buoyed by the girl, by affection. And here I am, with my hands dangling, with my fingers curled, with no one to hear what I don’t have to play.
What I remember most is after. Long before now, before myself as I am now. I remember after us, before me. Let me clarify: I try to forget all the rest.
After the band, I felt free. That’s the time between being trapped, when nothings bound. Between imprisonment by commitment and by brick and mortar restriction. That free space, if I recall, lasted long enough for me to see him off, to go see about a girl. Was I angry? I ask myself. Yes. Didn’t he love the band and didn’t he know how much it meant to me? No. I don’t know how to fill in the blanks. That’s what I remember. I saw him off, wished him the best, said, don’t worry about me.
Here. The moment is the length of a hand before it snaps into a fist. When we were full, tiny pots and pans laying out in the world, collecting everything that leaked from above. Or felt like we did. When life was hard enough to sing about it, easy enough to turn into a song.
He wrote the most, I filled in the blanks where I could. What brought us together was inconsequential, circumstances like any other band. Two play an instrument, eventually it gets to testing who plays best. He did, of course. Which is why where he is is far from me. I played bass, I tried to deserve good graces, but. The struggle in playing is the audience. I always played for him, and he played for himself. I don't know how much he heard. Enough to get away, ha. Just kidding, right, it’s never so bad. I wish him the best. We played well, we both had the same audience to please. Now I try not to remember too much, did I say so? Jail cells, when they are figurative, they're good imagery. There isn’t any real imagery in real jail. I mean literally.
My music after was an ode to him, to us. I played for different bands. I played for different audiences, never for myself. I tried to focus on the music, on what its all about. That’s what I try to remember, that’s what I don’t want to forget.
Eventually, with a hole in your soul, you know the story. Drugs, right, and fights. It's never so bad as you make it sound, it never sounds right when you try to tell a story that only you know. It’s nice to hear him sometimes, on the radio. It is. It’s nicer than anything else, better than sex. Well, maybe I just don’t remember sex, ha. But here I am, there we were. It was a pause between chords, my freedom, and it’s the only thing I want to remember.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I'm very pleased to post Krissy's heartwrenching response to last Tuesday's prompt, "The Closet." She took a very different and exciting approach to this prompt, and I really like how she built suspense. Read more about Krissy at her highly entertaining blog "On the Border."
Read Krissy's response:
"Hide and Seek" by Faithful Chant
He is there. That is why I am here, in this closet. I didn't expect anyone to be home. I can't see him. He must still be in the front of the apartment. My heart is thudding in my chest. Adrenaline? Fear? Excitement? The smell of him permeates my nose and no doubt when I get out of here, if I ever get out of here, my clothes will smell of his detergent. Why did he have to come home?
Wait. Footsteps. More than one pair. The bedroom door squeaks open but the light is left off. There are whispers. He's with someone. The clickity clack of heels indicates he's with a woman. Her breathy giggles float through the closet door and into my ears. I know that laugh. It is the laugh of the woman who I have known since we were in elementary school. The woman who, when we were girls, I shared my favorite clothes with. The woman who rode the bus with me, as teenagers, to summer camp. The woman who I confided my deepest secrets to. And she is here with him. He brought her here. To his apartment.
Questions reel through my mind. When did they start seeing each other? Why didn't I know? How long has this been going on? Why her?
There is a rustle of material. I can see nothing through the slats of the closet except for a very dim shadow cast on the far wall by the sliver of the moon shining in the window. The thudding of my heart quickens. I don't want to witness this. I close my eyes, inhale. Him. That is all I smell.
Wait. No, I smell her too. That familiar perfume. The one we shared. The one I have given her as a gift every year on her birthday since she was seventeen. My throat closes. I open my eyes. I don't want to see, but I must see what can be seen. The creak of the bedframe as weight is set upon it startles me. Can they hear me breathing? How can I make this stop? There is silence, more material rustling, the bedframe creaks again and there is soft whispering. No movement. No more creaking.
From the dim shadow on the wall it looks as though one or both of them are lying on the bed. But what are they doing? I still hear faint whispers but I see no movement. My heart still thuds a steady, almost painful beat in my chest. I close my eyes, brace myself on the wall of the closet. This isn't happening. And then, there is only the sound of deep inhales, staggered by the other's exhales. No other noise accompanies the breathing. They're asleep. Together. Lying on his bed, where we used to lay. Together. And I am stuck here in his closet, accompanied only by his smell. Alone.
Take the full name (including middle name) of someone you love. Write down as many words from this name as you can. You can repeat letters from the name as many times as you wish. Treat the letters of this name as the only letters in a new alphabet. You cannot use any words containing letters that do not exist in this name. Because this is so difficult, you'll probably only be able to come up with about 200 words for this exercise--that's okay. When you have built a sufficient list of words (maybe breaking the list down into nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.) write a fragment of fiction that has to do with a fictionalized situation this person, or someone like this person, would be involved in.
(from prompt #25 in The 3 AM Epiphany)
As an alternative to "Names," use the letters of the first names of four or five ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends as your only alphabet for a very short story. The effect of this change, (from "Names") when I tried just the list of words (not the exercise) myself, was electric. See if you can look back to earlier failed relationships with something like affection--or at least some balance.
(from prompt #26 in The 3 AM Epiphany)
Read my commentary on these prompts:
Look, I did do it, okay? Ask my roommates: I sat around with this list of words, obsessively organized into parts of speech (at the conjunction junction, I was incredibly grateful for my TWO highly functioning words: "if" and "and") and I wrote a silly little story involving barf, and running (although I couldn't use the word "running," just the form "ran"). I used my baby brother's name, which gave me this alphabet:
Please note the lack of any of the letters given to the finalist trying to make a phrase at the bonus end section of "Wheel of Fortune." No 's,' no 't,' no kind little 'm' or 'y.' No, I couldn't even make the word 'no.'
I also started to do the one with ex-boyfriends, which would actually have been way easier. That alphabet, in comparison, is awesome:
Until you remember that in normal life, you get all the letters. Unrestricted! Weird experience, to be sure. I had such gratitude for letters, for the use of words. Weird, but rewarding.
The reward is not necessarily what it produced in writing, however, and that put me in an awkward position. The writing that came out of this felt silly, gimmicky, and I wasn't sure how to post it. Kiteley, in The 3 AM Epiphany, said as much elsewhere in the prompt: "happy for the difficulty and the experience but...failed at a proper piece of fiction." His advice was to let it gestate, unmolested (so, very, very much like a child, I guess) and in a few YEARS look back at it. Great, but I'm posting every week, and I'm itching to start at #27 and #28. I was just gonna skip over them, but it was weird how much it felt like I was breaking my own rules. Coincidentally, this prompt was inspired by the Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians who meet in Paris to create almost impossible restraints; one description is "rats who build the maze from which they plan to escape." And here I am starting to feel like that with my own blog.
So, what you've just read was the solution to my self-created problem. I do recommend trying both prompts. I had to fight my self from dismissing these, as in, aw, this is just a game, not real writing, doesn't count. But, as I'm also choosing to look at each prompt as a lesson, it does count. (Plus slippery slope, if don't do one cause it doesn't appeal to me, how am I gonna stay disciplined to do any of them?) The lesson in this is really the heart of creativity: what do you do with what you have? Anyone can find a way to fill a blank canvas, but can anyone still find a way to create art without paint, or even a canvas? It was looking at the myriad meanings of common words, and at the power of rare ones, using each one carefully. A trite metaphor, but a lot like stringing beads together, looking at each word as a little bead, and evaluating its worth and where it belonged. So, yay for that. Meanwhile, do I post all the words I had (175 words) to use, do I post a story that is sort of adorable in its repetitive nothingness? (Sample sentence: "A barn, deer, fern: an errand in Eden.") Kiteley wrote that the voice used in this exercise is so forced, so unnatural, that it seems useless, but that, with patience, that becomes precisely the use: it teaches you to use something unnatural, a voice besides your own, which a good writer should be able to produce.
If anyone does try this and create something super cool, please please e-mail me at ehbarnard (at) hotmail (dot) com or leave a comment, and I will post that bad boy on up here.
Also, I recommend loving someone named like, Molly Bonnie Moorehousecricketski, or something.
(from prompt #24 in The 3 AM Epiphany)
Read my response:
"Daily Traffic" by Burning Image
Like something in a movie, the only way to describe it. Day started out bad; clouds hanging heavy overhead, traffic stopped dead. The soundtrack to There Will Be Blood has been stuck in my car all week, setting the tone. Tense. Just another Joe driving to work, in my suit, blank face. What kind of films would Hitchcock make today? Something about our faceless society, anonymity thanks to cell phones, the internet, all the rest, I'd bet. There hasn’t been a good cell phone related thriller, has there? Like Birds did with birds, can’t see a flock flying south without looking for where I’d run for cover. So my phone rings, scares the shit out of me, thought it was on silent. I keep it that way, less disruptive. I don’t need a lot of dialogue in my life, I’m okay just watching things happen without a lot of discussion. Cell phones scare me even when they aren’t ringing, maybe its good no one has made “Final Destination VIII: Death Calls Again.” I’d see it and have one more thing to watch out for, one more symbol of terror. God, it keeps ringing. Look at the phone, asshole. My sister.
“Yeah. Hey. It’s early, its way before noon, what are you doing up?”
“Okay sorry I’m back. Scout won’t stop barking this morning, you know how dogs can tell when it’s gonna storm. Joe. It sounds weird but okay, so I just had this dream. Is everything okay?”
“Uh, yes. I could ask you the same thing. What dream?”
“I just, I um. Had a dream that you killed yourself. So I got scared and wanted to make sure. Sorry. I mean, you know how sometimes you just wake up and you feel super weird like something bad is gonna happen?”
“Yeah, yeah. Jesus Christ. I am not suicidal. Everything is completely normal, I’m driving to work. Scare me enough, Jesus.”
“I know, I’m sorry. Okay. Well that was all. So you’re okay?”
“Yes, everything is fine. Go back to sleep.”
We hang up. When we were kids we used to make fun of how in movies no one says bye when they hang up; it stuck.
So that’s my morning, her call repeating in my head like bad omen, no matter how much I’m trying to concentrate on the present scene: just stop and go cars, like a goddamn traffic montage, same old every day of my life. Plus I’ve got this accelerating music in the background making me want to tear my hair out the way nothings happening in my car on the road.
Then it happens. Inching along, finally get to the exit. Red light. Changes to green, I make my right and some fuck cuts me off, perfect. Slamming on the breaks I almost rear end this Lexus piece of shit, I lurch forward and back and my heart rate soars. I take a deep breath and start to relax cause I didn’t hit him. Disaster avoided. I’m under the overpass and the car in front is just beyond. Then the body falls.
I see it hit the Lexus and bounce off, like a dummy. But a dummy with real blood and guts. Its all viscera, on the road, on this jackass’ car. Vivid, red so red its purple. I’ve never seen anything like it, I’m on the edge of my seat and everything is so real, like the whole world got digitally re-mastered. Playing my morning back in my head it, its like there were clues everywhere, but. Damn. It shocks me, it’s so fucking dramatic. Just like that, someone is dead. I don’t know if it made sense, I don’t know what lead him to this. Lexus is freaking out, I can see him through my window; it’s like it was scripted, getting cut off meaning I got spared.
What does one do, call 911? I’ll call 911. Tell them they need to see this…
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
This exercise forces you to blindfold your observer. Every image presented in a piece of prose is like the image this narrator will perceive—imagined, reconstructed, simplified.
(from prompt #23 in The 3 AM Epiphany)
Read my response:
"Hide and Seek" by Faithful Chant
Oh, R.Kelly. How I wish I could fly. Or piss on someone. Anything besides trapped in the closet. It’s the way they talk, so quietly, as if it’s just the two of them and no one else matters. I mean. I’m not here, as far as they are concerned. But shouldn’t they be concerned? They should be. They talk quietly, they don’t want anyone else to hear them with no one else around. She even laughs quietly. She's in the door frame, he's walking towards the desk. He’s telling her…oh. No. Do not put on Dashboard. If there is anything I hate more than finding out my boyfriend, I mean my ex-boyfriend, is sleeping with my best friend, because apparently my life is a clip they make fun of on The Soup, it’s Dashboard Confessional. Please do not have Dashboard sex.
Chris Carrabba, sing. She giggles, and it’s like he’s tickling her to elicit more. Whatever he is saying, it isn’t much, or loudly, as she and Chris Carrabba wailing “Don’t you see, don’t you see that the charade is over?” are the only sounds, and feet barely moving, skimming the carpet, planting themselves standing. (1) Too close. So much fun she must be having. She must not be paying attention to the music, because it isn’t fun or even funny. A little funny.
“And all the best deceptions and the clever clever story awards go to you.” (1)
She stops, starts to say “I never…” and then he kisses her. Or punches her, who knows. He doesn’t punch her. She just stops and there are no sounds but crescendos of a song for feeling touchy-feely.
“So kiss me hard, because this will be the last time that I let you. You will be back someday, and this awkward kiss that screams of other people’s lips…” (1)
He moves, I hear his arms fall—he was holding her in his arms—and the song changes. Thank God for small mercies. He’s by the desk then, where the picture of us—he was holding me in his arms—used to be, the picture I printed and put in a frame from Ikea and gave to him when I had no money for better gifts. What sits there now, it was…well. Probably nothing yet. He probably moves his hand over the empty space where we used to be and doesn’t notice the absence. Or maybe he does, pauses over the laptop half-bent, remembers, rights himself.
“What do you want to hear?” he asks. Her. She moves over to him now, without the music I can hear her walking with bare feet, a skirt rustle. They are in the corner farthest from me, farthest from the closet, and I can just see through the grates that the skirt is pink and her hair is up, but I cannot see him. She leans into him before she bends to look at the songs, and it’s just a second before it starts to play. They move again, I can’t hear them now but if I squint I see them, broken in my view through the shades. I don’t recognize the song; how is it he has a song I’m unfamiliar with? That she knew to select. They are on the bed, just in front, I close my eyes when I see a pink flag fall from three feet in the air.
“And you feel like something is about to begin, but you don't know what, and you don't know when, so you tear at your hair, and you scratch at your skin.” (2)
I hear them breathing, heavy, with gasps syncopated, she breathes in, he breathes out. It reminds me I have to do the same, I take air in and slowly let it out.
“Caught in your room on a concrete shelf, fighting all alone, with yourself, with yourself, and you just wanna feel like a coin that's been tossed in a wishing well, a wishing well, a wishing well, a wishing well. Well, you're tossed in the air and you fell and you fell through the dark blue waters where you cast your spell, like you were just a wish that could turn out well. So you stand on the corner where the angels sit and you think to yourself, ‘This is it, this is it, this is all that I have, all I can stand is this air in my lungs and this coin in my hand that you tossed in the air and I fell, and I fell all the way to the bottom of the well, of the well, like those soft little secrets that you tell, that you tell to yourself when you think no one's listening too well" (2)
"The Alarm Clock Affair" by Christina Snyder
Last night I woke up several times, and several of those several times, I woke up in the deep part of sleep, the part in which no one should wake up—it's akin to how they describe waterboarding...
I kept waking up thinking something was crawling on my bed, something heavy. A very fat cat, or a very slim dog. I felt something like paws on my back, I felt weight materialize on the other side of my bed, the part where no one lay. I tried reaching out, I tried moving to open the door, to let it out (I had the cognizance to think, oh, the neighbor's cat must have wandered over and gotten in, he's probably peed and buried it in my laundry, I gotta let him out) but I couldn't move, my body was pinned by deep sleep. I fought against it, first by trying to scream, to make some kind of noise. I fell in and out of this state, more and more frightened each time I woke up like this because I thought, this already happened, it didn't go away. Finally I did summon up enough will to cry out, and I woke myself with my own voice.
I'd already posted my Alarm Clock Dream story, and it kept popping up in my thoughts while I struggled in between levels of consciousness. I don't know why. I didn't have any "epiphanies" while in this very, very strange and uncomfortable state of mind, except for realizing with terror that the veil between realities is very, very thin. I had no doubt that I was feeling something creep on my back, then settle itself near me on my bed. None at all, it was as real as anything else I could feel. And it wasn't the "thing" that scared me, or, after the lights were on and I could idiotically realize the truth, the lack of a "thing." It was that I couldn't do anything about it, that I couldn't shoo it or move it; it was feeling powerless over something that ultimately didn't exist, at least not in the "real" world.
Aside from that flash of brilliance, I don't have much to say about this prompt: it was a very fun one to write, especially given the task of "mirroring" between dream and waking. I think most people have had experiences like this; in The 3 AM Epiphany, Brian Kiteley explains that upon hearing the alarm, before fully waking, your mind instantaneously creates an entire dream that ends with the alarm ringing—it isn't, as one would think, that you were dreaming something, were interrupted by the alarm clock, and then the noise was seamlessly integrated into your dream: the dream happened after but felt like before.
I dream a lot, and usually very vividly. I believe I am very good at interpreting dreams, as well, which comes in handy for reading and for writing and for remembering dreams. While I had a dream similiar to the one I wrote about, I had forgotten quite a bit of it. I think the story speaks for itself, or rather I hope it did, but as the story indicates, sometimes finding your voice is the hardest part of the struggle, and as I realized last night, sometimes finding your voice is the most important part in breaking free from being paralyzed by yourself.
Read my response:
"grab" by wheat in your hair
Medusa appears suddenly, behind me but I can see her, from the corner of my eye or so it seems. I wonder if she’d been there all along. We are at the church, my church, where everyone believes in me and what I might say, before I say anything. It is true, whatever it is I will say. I am on a mission, the most important mission. I have to talk to these people, tell them the truth, and it is just out of reach, the truth is just past my reach. I am busy, I have things to do, and Medusa comes suddenly to my side. Following me and watching me closely as if I am teaching her a dance. She matches my movements. I am aware of her presence now throughout the church, my honey colored church. I have to prepare my words, I have been interrupted while preparing to speak to the people of my church, and as we move through the hallways Medusa gets closer and closer, assuming control. I fall behind her and watch in awe as she speaks to the man who built my church, the man who gave me control of my words. They move into an office and I have been so caught up with her that I don’t notice the waters rising. The water is waist deep now and brown, ugly, tepid. It is warm water that keeps rising and I haven’t noticed it, and as I shout out the truth I am muted by the loud loud words of the people in my church, some blaming me and some warning me but all of the words are loud and insistent and more important than mine. There is an urgency now. I look for Medusa, she has been at my side this whole time, I had felt her, but amidst the yelling I hear her, standing in the rafters and pointing down at me, saying my name like a curse word, “e! E! eeE!” Someone pushes me, telling me in a sleepy voice that it is 7:40 and I will be late for work, I am almost late. I wake up and try to wade through the water that isn’t there anymore, I try to push myself into the day, but the weight of sleep and of my dream pulls me down and under the covers and close to the warm bare back of my someone. I am wading through images and all I remember clearly is the honey colored planks of wood and the supposed safety of a church. I get up, slowly, and as quickly as I try to move, time is moving faster than me. There is a pile of clothes that I sort through, eyes adjusting in a dim morning, and I pull out pants and a shirt and I try to think analytically. Do these clothes match? Does it matter if my clothes match if I am late? I remember I parked farther away than I care to walk this morning. I brush my teeth in the bathroom, walking on my tiptoes through the quiet house; I go to someone’s bedside and kiss him before I leave and I try not to let the door slam. Suddenly I realize that I have to think of why I am late, if I am. Instead I listen mindlessly, half-aware, to DJs on a morning talk show. I am anxious to get to work, locked in a kind of race that doesn’t matter. Try to think of why I am late, I construct excuses, I plan the execution of my lie of the day. Traffic, not my fault, car troubles, something. Either I lie, or I say nothing, slipping into my place of work with a quiet prayer that I won’t lose my job, my silly job, because it’s all I have. And I do, I appear and it’s as if I’d been there all along.