Prompt Notebook

I’ve written from prompts very rarely, but this week has given me the chance to do exactly that either two or three times. It’s a different kind of feeling, but a great way to stir up the imagination when in need of some inspiration.

As I thought about it, I wondered how interesting it might be to create a notebook of prompts. Of course, it doesn’t have to be an actual notebook, but a file on the computer or iPad, or even just a list on a single piece of paper. As amusing as some of the prompts I have read online can be, I think it would be been more personally suited to each writer to try to create as many original prompts as possible.

I get a lot of inspiration from music. Perhaps I ought to sit down with my playlist and write as many prompts as I can gather from the songs I love. Then one could move onto books, films, pieces of art, photographs, anything that grabs your imagination! Try it and see what happens!

March

I toss and turn yet again, the sweat trickling down my neck. I have lost command of the words I want to use as I watch the dancing images flit in front of my closed eyes. She doesn’t want to panic me, but I already understand the severity of the situation. It is dark in my room, yet her hand finds me to brush the soaked hair away from my neck. My hair is inky and my skin is even more resembling of the drifts of snow outside, I am shaking. The only sounds in the room are the ticking of the wall clock and my strangled gasps.

I fall into a dream, but it doesn’t last long because by morning I cannot remember any of it but instead lie mercifully wrapped in nothingness. It is only punctuated by brief moments of semi-wakefulness. I cry because I cannot find my red shoes, but the fever has made me more than confused. What I might have seen on a picture or website has now transported itself to my closer in my world of delirium. But she is kind and immediately orders a pair for me to find if and when I awaken. The promised high storage iPad appears in the same way.

Although I am on fire, I dream of ice. People are tumbling through and I must catch them, five into that water to save a life, if I can manage. I want to try out of sheer necessity. Beneath the water, there is no putting my head down just in time for the first loss of consciousness. There is just swimming and rescuing, all that matters. I search for the word for round but end up making a shape with my fingers to express what my brain cannot.

When I am a little more awake after having drifted around in my mind before the darkness takes over, I realize that Saturday has turned into Tuesday. We watch movies, anything to occupy our time. Inching our way through my favorite series, she cries at the sight of another tall brunette writhing in pain and fever. After I have fallen asleep again, she turns it off, mumbling that she feels she is looking at two versions of me. It will be another week or too before I can stay awake for more than thirty minutes. It will be another month before the sudden faints have subsided.

But spring comes, it always manages to reappear.

My Editing Cave

I’ve often heard the term editing cave from writer friends. However, until this week, I never knew how much it could sink one into its depths.

I’m beginning the process of getting my first drafts from my three frenetic days of Camp Nano into shape for their eventual publication as a collection, Marble Halls. I chose my second story first, as I rarely do anything in the conventional way. Upon beginning, I was very mistaken to think that editing a story of less than a thousand words would be any less exhaustive than editing a four hundred page novel.

At first glance, I saw typos and all things glaringly obvious. This I had expected. Then I sent it to a friend. After pressing send, the errors came out to meet my eyes again. With a sigh, I cleaned those up, too. Finally! It was ready to be filed away as done. Or was it? Another reading revealed more subtle edits of tightening the language and looking for repeated words.

It was tedious work, but as I waded through my manuscript, something Rebecca Odum said to me came to mind. She told me that she likes to edit in order to make the writing the very best it can possibly become. As I reviewed my now thrice-edited short story, I felt a surge of pride which would have been impossible with either Version One or Version Two. Yes, the editing cave is deep and long, but it makes things better. And isn’t that what we ought to be about, as writers?

Later on, I’ll be heading back into the editing cave again to give the same treatment to each of my original pieces, as well as those I add to the post nano collection. This time, I’ll understand more closely why I’m doing the task, Herculean though it may appear. Creating, at least for me, is full of gleeful inspiration, but making it the best it can possibly become is why I’m proud to have created it.

Isolated

Curled in my corner, I try to disappear into the music that blares over the stereo. I close my weary eyes and try to think of a better time, a time less cold and unpopulated. I blink to try to clear my focus, but it’s as it has been for at least five years, hazy and blurred and undefined.

I’m still here, I think, not that anyone will notice.

But maybe one day it will be different.

Preview of Story Collection: The Singing Contest

This is a sneak preview of my upcoming short story collection, Marble Halls.

I dedicate this entry to my sister Becca, who helped me regain my confidence in writing, without whom you would not be reading a single word here. Thank you. 

II. The Singing Contest

The contest was a thing of numbers. Out of sheer boredom, I entertained myself by counting the contestants in white dresses adorned with sashes. Then came the pairs of white suede ballet slippers chafing against the wooden floor, followed by the sounds of songs lined up to be accompanied by pieces in the orchestra. Once I was finished, I shook my head vigorously to try to free it of the mandatory oversized white silk ribbon. However, I only succeeded in making my shiny light brown hair a total mess. Even that aspect was monotonous and could be numbered. It was a wig, identical to those worn by every other contestant. We were a sea of conformity, which irritated me more with every passing second. After all, wasn’t music an art of self-expression? I moved a little more to try to dislodge the bow as I pondered the meaning of the contest. My motions in a crowd of stillness upset the handlers nearby to present us all as proper young women.

Not being twenty years old like the other contestants, I didn’t care to be a proper young woman. I just came to sing and be myself. I held a worn jazz book in my hands, paging through it as I waited. I turned my attention to the enormous cathedral style building in which we were sitting. It was pleasing to my eye because I liked contemporary things. It was a modern twist on traditional design with glass walls that rose up to meet a sharply pitched roof. As I craned my head back, once again disregarding the annoying bow, I watched each cloud in the early spring sky float by in their lazy flight. Like swimmers lounging on pool chaises and basking in the sun, they drifted with ease. I longed to do the same instead of wait inside in silent, stifled rows and lines. On its own, the building was a beautiful place full of echoes and capable of joy. However, on this day, it only held silence juxtaposed only by the hushed sounds of a pensive crowd. Where there could have been lively conversation, there was the occasional sigh. Instead of dancing, there was the shuffling of suede bottomed shoes in unquestioned complacency.

I stood up and stretched, raising one of the handler’s eyebrows. Not caring about the woman’s reaction, I casually sat back down, forgetting I still held my jazz book in open view. When the girl sitting next to me saw it, her eyes grew wide in alarm.

“You’re not using,” she shot a surreptitious glare at the book, “something on that order, are you?”

“It’s my favorite,” I declared in a regular volume, rather than a whisper, making echoes bounce off the glass walls. “Why not? It’s a singing competition, right?”

The girl nodded. “Yes,” she conceded with a forced smirk.

I returned her smile. “That’s what I thought.”

The day wore on, morning into afternoon with more forced silence, subtle shifting in seats and disapproving expressions directed at my book. Different contestants in their all-white ensembles averted their gazes, shook their heads or made saccharine criticisms on my choice of music. At some point, they finally garnered the attention of the handlers because one of them approached me with a stern and wary gaze.

“This is your material?” She asked in a voice full of ice.

“Yes, it is.” I held myself totally firm in stance and all else.

“Then we have a problem, young woman. No books are allowed, only single pages that can be contained within a folder.”

Undaunted, I nodded. “It’ll take me only a few minutes to correct that,” I said.

She seemed frustrated as she turned to walk back to the edges of the building, where the other handlers had assembled like a living fortress wall designed to keep away anything unfamiliar.

I reached into my purse for change, remembering the little convenience store I had passed on my way to the glass building. Excusing myself as I bumped into countless pairs of primly posed knees along the bench row to which I was assigned, I made my way to the aisle. Once I was free, I exited through the back door.

As soon as I was outdoors, I rejoiced in the refreshing burst of cool air as it met my face. It was the essence of freedom after being held to their standards and scrutiny all day long. I blinked in the sunlight, trying to orient myself. In a spring day that still held onto the last vestige of winter, the breeze grew colder and harsher upon the little drifts of snow in the emerging grass.

My dress whipped around my legs as I walked toward the store, having at once remembered its direction. It was on the edge of the surreal park-like area that housed the glass building. I made steady progress, despite the wind, opening its door for shelter.

At long last, I heard lively conversation for which I had longed since my arrival. People were milling around, buying things such as soft pretzels or hot dogs, paying for gasoline and sipping sodas at tables lining the windows. As I approached the counter, I noticed the attendant taking in my provincial outfit and snickering softly to himself.

Ever focused upon my purpose, I asked the question regarding the purpose for which I had come. “Can you please tell me if you have a copy machine?”

The attendant nodded wordlessly toward the area in back by the tables and the soda-sipping couples.

“Thank you!” I was off to the back, ignoring the stares of patrons as I quickly copied off my three selections. I tucked them tightly inside my book, in order not to lose them in the wind as I traversed the otherworldly park again. I glanced at the remnants of snow as I made my way back to the building.

Once inside, it was exactly as I found it in the beginning, quiet and inexpressive. At first, I contemplated moving in front of everyone whom I had previously climbed over for a second time. Instead, I took a seat at the end of the furthest bench in the building. The handlers stared at me as if I had done something outrageous.

One of them approached me. “You weren’t supposed to leave, and now you’re… disheveled.” Her facial expression added to the words of her discontent. “I suggest you go directly to the washroom and remedy this,” she added in a tone that was anything but a suggestion.

“Finally!” I couldn’t help myself. The relief I sensed came pouring out in my words. “I’ll happily do it at once.”

I left the room with the stares of all the perplexed handlers in my wake. The washroom was cool and dark, forcing my eyes to wait a few moments in other to adjust in the dim light. I leaned into the mirror, and what I saw made me laugh. My purposely makeup-free face had grown flushed from the enlivening wind. My hair was an utter mess as the white bow hung on by a few strands. I pulled it out with a sense of gratefulness and proceeded to evaluate the rest of my appearance. I could not remain this way for another second. Thankfully, I had a tote bag large enough to easily hold every necessary item for the transformation back into myself.

First I removed the shiny light brown wig and shook out my own hair. It was wild and full of static, but I tamed it back into its normal state. Then I peeled off the dreadful white dress and pulled one of my favorite black miniskirts from my bag, discarding the required ecru hose. I considered what to wear with the skirt, as I had several options. All black would be as stark as the total white, so I decided on the deep hot pink blouse that contrasted the darkness nicely.

Makeup was next. The provincial girls wore none, but I was not one of them. Therefore, I applied my usual eye and lip color, the latter matching the blouse. Then I slipped into my three inch fuchsia heels.

As I confidently strode back into the massive room, I noticed that the orchestra had begun to warm up. I listened closely for any sounds of brass, but disappointingly heard none. I could not really imagine my songs backed to the sounds of only classical instruments.

The gasps of the handlers were amusing to me as I took my place in my original row, not having to persuade the girls to move aside as they stared at me with varied expressions of shock, horror and a few of sheer admiration. I smiled to myself as I sat down. The girl who had mentioned my book sat frozen, agape at the sight of me. She moved her mouth as if trying to say something, but the words simply did not come.

I waited my turn, sitting through aria after aria, thumbing the edges of my pages in their bright silver folder. This time, though, I was set free from the stifling sensations of the wait and merely enjoyed my daydreams. When it was my turn, I gave a copy of my music to each player in the orchestra, without really expecting them to accommodate the arrangement. However, I knew that it couldn’t hurt to try.

The building was hushed as I began my songs. Not a person moved or stopped staring for at least the first thirty seconds. The orchestra was soundness, too. This was fine with me, as I knew the songs well enough to not need accompaniment. However, a moment later, one musician after another raised a brass instrument from some hiding place in the orchestra pit. The first one was a saxophone, then a trumpet followed with a trombone. Then both bass and drums added their voices to mine, completed by the most syncopated piano playing I had ever heard. It was now more than a competition, because no one was bent on rankings or winning versus losing. We were already winning because of the joy we were deriving in the mere act of creation and collaboration, not as individuals, but instead as one.

I had truly forgotten about the audience as we finished, so their tentative applause was a surprise. What truly astonished me, though, was its growth into a massive wave of thunder. Had they understood that we were in it for the joy? I prayed it was so. Everyone here needed to understand that being in the moment was more important than constantly looking over one’s shoulder for someone else’s nod of approval.

In the end, it all came back to numbers. I was fifth out of three thousand. The judges had to penalize my score given all the rules I had broken, but I did not care. I had come there to be myself, and that was exactly what I had accomplished.

She Used To Be A Dancer

That’s what Josie always says when we go anywhere. We amble through the corridors with me leaning on her, hand on shoulder, steps halting and hitching. Then she extols what I could do before my muscles withered away to a nine year old’s frame on a grown woman. How I danced ballet and jazz. She doesn’t mention that I was less than skilled at tap. It doesn’t come into play here.

At the eye doctor’s office, the assistant smiles brightly at us and says that I must have vision issues because of my dependence on another person to get from place to place. Josie has already told me to let her do the talking. For once, I comply. I’m tired of talking about it. She used to be a dancer, and it’s not her vision. It’s true that without correction I qualify as legally blind. But I am not leaning on her because I’d miss the hallway, I’m gripping for sheer balance. I have become used to the way I see and can manage hallways with aplomb. As I stare into the machines that read my eyes, I hear a litany of my past coming from Josie, who is standing behind me. The assistant hums in agreement. Then she adjusts the knobs and gives me further instruction. Lean in. Next station. Then I proceed to the next part of the exam, limping into the more comfortable chair in the doctor’s domain.

On the hot summer days, I wear the same ensemble when I go out; a black skirt that is as lightweight as possible paired with a gray strappy sleeveless top. It is low cut, too much so, requiring me to wear a shrug or a summer cardigan tied around my shoulders. Josie arranges the cardigan until she is satisfied. Being considerably shorter than me, she first puts on her wedge sandals before fussing with my clothing. I stand there against the door like a life size doll to be rearranged. Josie has put my hair up because even with my new cut to the shoulders, my hair is hot and heavy in hundred degree weather. My specialty of getting ready is, of all things, my eye makeup and lipstick. Today I have held the mirror two inches for my face and dusted shimmery emerald over my lids and lined over it with a lighter shade of mint. I carefully coat my lashes in mascara, but the effort is hidden by the oversize vintage sunglasses that make the glare a little more comfortable. Finding my garnet lipstick by the shape of its square tube, I gingerly apply a slash that stands out against my untanned skin.

After we’ve been to our destination, I ditch the shrug and toss it into the backseat. I can already feel the heat permeating my skin and my head throbs slightly with its oppression. As the sweat starts to glide down the back of my neck despite the updo, I ask Josie how I look. For me, a glance in the mirror is futile. I hear the smile in her voice as she tells me I look like a movie star. It must be the fifties sunglasses.

I shuffle my half-numb feet in their shoes. Flats. I used to wear heels nearly all the time. Now I cannot, but I have not let that break my zeal for cute footwear. My two favorite pairs are bright red and stone with studs. Ironically, ballerina flats. But,then again, I used to be a dancer.