Friday, March 2, 2018

Writing prompt: "Public Speaking"

He’d always hated speaking in public.

Even since he was a kid. Jesse remembered with startling clarity the time he had to deliver an oral report on 4th grade on the Iroquios Indians. He tried all the tricks his mom had given him… practicing in front of the mirror (this just reminded him of how his hair insisted on sticking up in that one spot on the back of his head), looked at people’s foreheads instead of directly in their eyes (Philip Overmire had a HUGE forehead, like you could go to a drive-in and watch a new release on that thing, which only served to distract him thinking about the new Spider-Man flick) and picture everyone in their underwear (he would really rather not picture Philip in his underwear, or any other boy for that matter. Doing that with girls seemed wrong, somehow, and only made him blush even more than he already was). All he could do was try to ignore the creeping flush on his cheeks and neck, well aware of their heat, and hope that nobody else noticed it from their seats in the classroom. He raced through the report, focusing only on his thudding heart and trying to finish reading his notes as quickly as possible.

As school progressed, he simply made a nervous sort of peace with the fact that public speaking was simultaneously to be dreaded and something to finish as quickly as possible. His resignation to this fact made it almost tolerable in some weird way.

Once he graduated college, guess what? Yep, he never needed to make an oral presentation again. He knew he wouldn’t, but of course attempting to convince his teachers of this along the way never worked. They didn’t care. And once he knew public speaking was a skill that he would never need, he didn’t care, either. It was fine to just forget all about it. He didn’t need to speak publicly.

He wished he could forget about it today. He wished with all of his might that he had some dull desk job and he was off at a forgettable work conference, about to deliver an equally dull presentation to a bunch of guys suited up in the air-conditioned room, outwardly seeming to pay attention but occasionally sneaking glances to the large windows of the conference rooms where just outside palm trees swayed, promising a fun time later that afternoon.

Jesse pictured himself as a college professor. Imagine that? Ha. Speaking publicly every day to a group of college kids who didn’t care WHAT he said, as long as they read the assigned pages and let their phones do the listening for them.

He saw himself as an alcoholic. Tentatively entering the double doors for the first time, about to bare his soul to a bunch of strangers and confess to the dirty deeds for which an excess of booze held him responsible. “Hello, my name is Jesse Grayson. I am an alcoholic.” Getting his job back. Getting his dignity back. Getting his life back.

But his life was over. It had ended last week and it would never come back, ever again.

Game time.

He stood up, hands twisting a tissue into a ball. His palms sweated. He reached for another tissue, about to dab his palms, when suddenly the tissue took a turn north and he pressed the tissue fiercely into his eyes.

“Good morning. My name is Jesse Grayson. My daughter Jessica was killed in last week’s school shooting, and I have something to say.”

Writing prompt: "Alarm Clock"

I haven’t used an alarm clock to get up for work in a little over 13 years now. Back when I went in to an office daily, I was a big snooze-alarmer. I would hit that snooze button 2, 3 times for 9 minutes a pop. I’d heard the warnings about how you shouldn’t use a snooze, if you want to sleep later then you should just set your alarm for later instead of getting such disjointed sleep as is provided by a snooze button. I knew this, and yet, I couldn’t stop doing it.

These days, I use an alarm, but this time it’s to be up in time to make my kids’ lunches, make breakfast and make sure my son gets off to school in a reasonable time frame. It’s not my alarm, actually, it’s Zach’s, but it works for both of us. This time around, though, there is no time to waste hitting a snooze button. I know my time is limited and I have to get up and moving quickly in order to get him out on time, so there is no time to be wasted hitting the snooze. (Not that there is one, anyway. Zach’s alarm is on his phone. Or is there? It’s on his side of the bed so I don’t see it… but I digress.)

Each morning, whether it’s a weekday or a weekend, I open my eyes very slowly and look at the ceiling to see what time it is. Yes, my ceiling, because my alarm clock projects its red numbers at the ceiling. It’s really cool, although being myopic, it may take an extra few seconds to clearly make out the numbers, even though they are fairly large (and sometimes I misread, which on the rare occasion has made me sit up and stare hard at the numbers in panic).

They’re red numbers, which typically I don’t like. In the past I have actually chosen my alarm clock based on number color alone. I had a clock once that was a white cube and had green numbers which I found soothing. I don’t care for the red numbers, but the projection thing was just so cool that I felt I could overlook the numbers’ color.

On the weekend, I try my very hardest not to get out of bed before 9 am. I don’t know why that’s the magic number. I mean, I will get up to go to the bathroom, but even if that happens at say, 8:30 or 8:45, I will get up, go, and then get back into bed for a while, because IT’S THE WEEKEND AND I AM NOT GETTING UP EARLY, DAMMIT. Not having kids involved in sports this usually works out for me.

Today was a snow day, so the alarm was turned off. Well actually, it wasn’t, as Zach still had to work from home, but I could stay in bed anyway. Tomorrow is another snow day due to the blizzard-like conditions, so again, his alarm will go off at some point (I tried to convince him that the normal time is not necessary), but no matter what, I will be staying in bed until 9… or maybe 9:15. Nowhere to go and only bad weather to do it in says that I get to stay in bed until pretty much whenever I want.

During the summer, the alarm gets turned off again and I get to sleep late for weeks on end. It will be a rude awakening in September, literally, when it’s back-to-school time and my son starting junior high means I will be getting up even earlier. That may finally convince me to do what I keep wanting to do but never quite get around to… go back to bed after the kids go to school. I mean, I need my sleep.

Writing prompt: "Hello"

Hello. I am writing to my 17-year-old self, who no doubt is horrified by the 47-year-old woman who sits typing these words. (Not by the computer, though. That is impressive, especially to a teenage girl who lives in the 80s.)

Apparently I can say anything to you, so I’m going to search my mind for a moment and sift through some tried-and-true clichés before I settle on something. Let’s see. “The world you know right now doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.” Boys, school, getting a driver’s license, where to go to college. Ok, so maybe that last one counts for something. But as things turn out, where you want to go to college right now isn’t where you’re going to end up graduating from anyway, so there’s that.

“Exercise! Get back into running! Sure, it will kill your knees later, but being in good shape is good for your self-esteem and you’ll thank me later.” This is all true. I wish I had kept up with the running with my dad. Exercising also falls under the same category as floss your teeth, use sunscreen, and don’t eat so much sugar.

See, by this point, I feel I’ve lost you. No one wants to get lectured, especially not by a middle-aged version of themselves. That’s the quickest way I know to have a deaf ear turned on you. I mean who am I, your mom?!

So what else is there? If I’m not lecturing you on how to live your life, chiding you for how you’re currently living it or minimizing your current problems, what’s left? I simply introduce myself and what… let you ask the questions?

Do you have any questions for me? Probably a whole load of them. No, before you ask, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in the future. Whom will you marry, what kind of job will you have, how many kids? That’s what those little folded paper thingies are for, to tell you all of that stuff. Ok, so those are not scientifically proven to be 100% accurate, but it’s all you’ve got at this point. I can’t tell you the future, and I can’t nag you about what to do/what not to do because you won’t listen anyway. So, here we are, staring at each other, me at your awesome 80s hair and pink, flawless skin and you staring at me… in disbelief? Would horror be too strong a word? (I hope so.)

What I can say is that you should be true to yourself. There’s a 95% chance that that too is a cliché, but it’s important so I’ll just go ahead and say it anyway. Don’t live your life for other people. Don’t lose your values or sense of self for a friend, or for a guy, or even for a family member who may be very important to you. These are the formative years and it’s kind of a make-or-break time. I can say with certainty that you did pretty well during these years, considering all that could have gone wrong, so you should be pleased about that. No unexpected pregnancies, no drug problems, no drinking problems, no major traumatic experiences that shaped the course of your life or who you became as a person. But sometimes when you become too focused on one thing you lose sight of what you’re doing… you can’t see the forest for the trees, or so they say. This borders on “live in the moment, and enjoy every minute,” which is also a horrible cliché, so I’ll try not to get too close to that. Just be who you are and know that that’s enough. The only person you really, truly need to please is you.

So, hello, it’s really nice to see you again, and you’re doing a great job. Just keep it up. Now we must say goodbye… until we meet again.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Five minute Friday: REACH

I recently finished a book called The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Without giving away the whole story, I will say that much of it was about the main character, Alma, and a kind of happiness that seemed to be eternally out of her reach. Despite her best intentions, it simply was never to be.

As my kids have started yet another year in full-day school, I have begun slowly reaching toward my professional self. She has lain dormant for many years and I'm having a hard time finding her. Not feeling completely fulfilled to stay home all day and cook and clean, however, I do know that she exists. Of course she is hesitant to come out after so long and I've been indulging her reticence. However, that desire to reach for new professional heights nudges me along every so often.

I have searched in vain for my features clips these past months, and that has held me back from making any real moves. However, just a couple of weeks ago Zach accidentally stumbled upon my clips when I was a stringer for the Courier-Post so many years ago. I was at first filled with excitement that they had been found, and of course followed up quickly by trepidation. Now is the time. I began scanning articles and am preparing to apply for some freelance positions. It may be extremely slow and almost tedious, but I am reaching. I'm getting there.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Five minute Friday: finish

As a child, most people seem to be impulsive, reckless, indecisive. These traits can often be explained away by youth and often continue into the teenage years and even into the early 20s without anyone really questioning it. It just goes with the territory. Most people grow up, and by "grow up" I mean become responsible, do what you're told, be practical... at least most of the time. Not all of us grow out of it, however. Not so much impulsive or reckless, I am absolutely indecisive and a procrastinator. Not saying that I believe in it, but this seems to be in complete agreement with my zodiac sign (Libra). My indecisiveness has not even gotten better as I've gotten older; in many cases, it seems to have gotten worse. Eventually I have to just push through and make a decision whether I truly believe in it or not.

As a result, it's hard for me to finish things. I start projects all the time and they sit unattended to, all set up and ready and waiting for me, for weeks or even months at a time. Looking like a dog waiting expectantly at his master's knee for a treat or to go play or... whatever. I have the best of intentions, and I have Pinterest to prove that, but once my projects begin I can pretty much guarantee only about a 25% chance that it will actually finish, no matter what time I have set aside.

Currently I'm looking at my family room wall. It's big and blank due to the large painting that I recently removed from it. I want to do it over, and I will. I've recently begun a project featuring an old window which I'm sure is going to look awesome when it's done. I'll let you know when it is. All I have to do is finish it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Five minute Friday: begin

As August draws to a close, there are few topics on my mind with as much frequency as the start of the new school year. I guess it's that way for most parents of young children, but when you're a sensitive person, it's probably worse. On the one hand, I'm excited to see the new school year begin to restore some sense of peace and order to my days. As much fun as you might think it is to go food shopping with two kids in tow, trying to avoid the crowds, while one child (who shall remain nameless) delights in simultaneously careening the cart around sharp corners at dangerous speeds AND tossing into the cart every baked good you pass, well, it's really not.

On the other hand. I worry about my kids, probably more than most, and how they fare in school is one of those worries. Colette is very outgoing and social. She is looking forward to school with great excitement. Alexander, on the other hand, is the one I worry about more. He keeps to himself more, enjoys the company of other kids but has a more difficult time making friends. I spend a fair amount of time when they're in school, much more than I should, wondering how he's doing and worrying.

But no matter how I feel about it, school will begin again, and with it all the nervous butterflies I've become so accustomed to. And once that begins, well, it's hard to stop.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Five minute Friday: Bloom

I love things that bloom. All plants and flowers, the brighter, the better. I love those huge tropical flowers that come in dazzling shades of orange, red and fuchsia. The ones that require round-the-clock sun.

I myself have never been good about getting things to bloom. Try as I might, my thumb has never been very green. I wouldn't go so far as to say black, but definitely a muddy shade of brown, much like the healthy soil these plants need to survive. I have killed bamboo plants and cacti, which I thought were supposed to be indestructible. "Bloom where you are planted." Which would not be at my house. Currently, I have four plants decorating my large bay window. Three of them are dead. I keep watering them anyway, not willing to accept that they're really gone.

So it seemed like nature was doing us a little bit of a favor when we moved into this house. Zach likes to refer to it as being "eternally shrouded in darkness." We don't get much sunlight, and what we do get is dappled and moves during the course of the day. I would love to have a garden and grow vegetables, but our property is just not cut out for that. We do have a hanging tomato plant on the side of the house, which doesn't get as much sun as it should and not nearly enough water. A couple of small tomatoes are on there, and they are red, but they're tiny and suffering. Dying, actually, I think.

My children, however, are flourishing. I can keep them alive just fine, thanks, by giving them food and water, and of course lots of love and encouragement. I can look on my windowsill at my faltering plants with a twinge of sadness, but when I look at my kids and how they're growing tall, strong and beautiful, I can't complain about my dirt-brown thumb too much. Besides, the weeds in the front yard are totally thriving.