book people

I only blog when I’m depressed.

Everything seems inevitable. I feel somewhat like nothing ever surprises me. Things are unexpected, I suppose, but not shocking. I’d love to live like characters in television, always overreacting to things, gasping their way into a commercial break.

I say television so much because television people remind me of ‘normal’ people. Book people are always more relatable, sadder people. Maybe that’s just authors.

I like that book people aren’t pretty, though that’s my imagination more than anything. I don’t see people’s faces often in my mind, just unfocused colors, like I live inside a Monet. Smudges of blonde curls for Amy March, a puffy Miss Muffet dress and blue boots. My mother is also her hair, swathes of black with artificially yellow streaks. My father is his gold-rimmed glasses, those of Gatsby’s billboard. My boyfriend, I think, is clearest, with the shape of his face and smile and kind blue eyes. Look, I’ve conflated the two again, book people and real people.

My book people—those I’m writing about—are based on real people. But, well, only in part. A professor, an aunt, a friend rolled into one Playdough mishmash with the voice of my own. I always see myself in my characters. Unfortunately, I’m not a great actor.

I’ve written three blog posts in ten minutes. I don’t want to stop my fingers. It is so freeing to write in this way, in one big long line without ever looking back.

I’m afraid to wear the kind of clothes these high school girls wear. One just complimented the amount of another’s ‘side-boob.’ Another has her shoulders bare, like those old peasant blouses worn by women stomping wine. Another has skinny white straps over the thicker bands of her bright red bra. My own bra makes my ribs ache. I feel like a ghost. They all ignore me, regarding me warily now and then.

I wish I’d chosen to stay home over these measly seventy dollars. I suppose I can’t complain, sitting here doing nothing while they talk about going to the Bahamas for senior trip. A year from now. How can kids do it, knowing they’ll be in these very seats an entire year from now?

And, if they’re me, four years from now?

“We’re all gonna be adults,” they say, talking about the island’s drinking age but meaning so much more.

Substitute Teaching in my Old High School

It’s the end of the year for the kids in high school. I’m a substitute teacher now, living the high life, nearly exactly where I was when I sat in these very rooms.

My old high school is preparing itself for destruction, its replacement soaring lines of brick and mortar right over the old soccer field. This poor old building must feel like it’s being cheated on, abused by those who once loved it, those who use it without care, those who slam the doors and scratch the walls because, hey, we’re getting a new school after next year.

The kids are and always have been rather free in this school. A public school that trusts its children? Who could imagine.

This teacher has two teal staplers and one roll of transparent tape. Her desktop is otherwise blank, as well as her classroom, besides the elephant in the room in the form of a judge’s bench. It’s the legal systems classroom, where kids come to learn about laws that don’t yet apply to them. They learn about the ramifications of drinking and driving before they are legally able to do either. There’s not a single poster on the cinder blocks, only tears in the paint. An ancient chalkboard, black and empty, hangs beside a whiteboard, streaked in blue, and a Smartboard, the dirty placid feel of printed paper.

The girls’ hair falls in pin-straight strands over their shoulders, or pinned up in a bun on the top of their head, or frizzing out of a ponytail. The lone boy stares at his phone. The door might as well be revolving, but I don’t bother to close it. It is, after all, the last day of classes.

They figure their next year schedule on their cell phones. A friend comes in, smiles at me, and sits on the top of a desk. A girl juggles a slinky, drops it against the legs of her desk with the sound of cymbals.

A stranger’s graduation

Yesterday I went to a graduation that was not my own, nor anyone I cared about. I was writing an article about it.

It was so strange, for many reasons. The first was that it was the first high school graduation I’d been to since graduating. I went to four in high school including my own, since I was in the orchestra and we played Pomp and Circumstance and etc. It seemed magical, because it was something I hadn’t accomplished yet.

Now, at 20, I’m both too old and too young to appreciate high school as something challenging. For me, right now, it’s something that people younger than me do every day. It’s something I already did. So listening to the speeches talk about the struggles and challenges they overcame…felt like exaggerations.

And yet…I remember my own time in high school. There were challenges. I overcame them, with great effort.

Graduating high school IS something to be proud of. It’s something to celebrate, and I realized that as I left.

The other reason it was strange, though, is that I felt like I was intruding. Everyone was so happy. Everyone remembers their graduation, for one reason or another, and I felt like I was intruding on that memory, somehow. I was probably the only person at the place who didn’t live in that town, or at least was related to someone who was. It felt so wrong.

I think it was a way of me realizing how minor everything is. Their graduation meant the world to them and nothing to me. My graduation meant nothing to them and the world to me. No matter what I or anyone else does, there will be people–most people, in fact–who won’t give a damn.

That thought, like graduation itself, is bittersweet.

Friends and heels

Last night I saw a friend I haven’t seen in nearly two years. It’s always strange when that happens…do you act like nothing has changed, or like you’re meeting them again for the first time?

I wouldn’t have been so nervous, I suppose, if he and I weren’t so close before. I know I’ve changed in the past two years…has he? Will we be too different to be friends?

When he came over, all my worries went away. God, he was so him. So normal. I caught myself watching his mannerisms throughout the night, the way he laughed. He had the same glasses. So normal, but so strange to see him again.

Nonetheless, distance was persistent in being the forefront of the evening. While he was talking about the college he goes to, he said, “And my girlfriend–I have a girlfriend named Sarah….”

How do you count friends? I would still count him as my friend, though we hadn’t spoken in so long and were so separate I didn’t know he had a girlfriend, never mind her name. He, who I used to know everything about.

How do you count friends, in a world that’s always changing, in a world that allows you to be virtually inseparable but physically worlds away?

I can only imagine what it will be like when we’re older and even further from our roots. When I see someone I used to be close with decades ago, will it be just as easy and strange? I’m terrible at recognizing faces and remembering names…then again, I can always look people up on Facebook if I forget them.

Social media is weird. Growing up is weird. Friendships are weird.

I wore heels to work today and I feel old.

Notebooks never forgotten

Does anyone else fall in love with their notebooks? I’ve never thrown one away. I flip through them when I reach the final page and reminisce about the doodles in the margins, the swooping titles shaded and shadowed during boring lectures and five minute breaks. I love the feel of well-worn pages, I love the smell of quick-run ink.

I can’t throw it away! Not after hours spend sliding the side of my hand over the blue lines, not after flipping each page one by one—except the one that stuck and got skipped. I couldn’t possibly send this to the curb after it supported me during late nights studying, during impossible essays.

Dark, denting consonants when I was angry. Soft pencil scratches when the teacher turned on the overhead light. Slanted print when I took notes during a film. Perfect cursive at the beginning of class, slowly morphing into illegible loops and bumps, like my pen had monitored an irregular heartbeat.

All the knowledge I had soaked up and forgotten lay fresh on the page, preserved from light and water by thin shiny covers. Coffee stained corners, nail polish smeared on the edge.

The black ink haloes finished classes with rosy nostalgia in the wistful summer. The thing I snatched off my desk in a rush, threw across the room in frustration, attacked with red pens, bought for fifty cents at Walgreens—this is what I swoon over? This is what makes me sigh and shove in a drawer instead of a recycle bin?

Emotions are strange…but perhaps for a writer, who swears every word is her heart bleeding on the page, it makes sense for a notebook to feel like a part of her that can’t carelessly be forgotten.

Magic music

I play cello. I haven’t picked it up in a long time, but I still consider myself a cellist. I didn’t lug that giant thing back and forth on the school bus for nothing, after all.

I played in the school orchestra from fourth grade until graduation—literally, we played the national anthem at graduation. I miss the people more, perhaps. The conductor was with us from our first clumsy notes to our final hurrah, and many of my closest friends are cellists or violinists (we had a string orchestra separate from the band), but I miss playing music, too. I miss being in time with fifty other people, I miss breathing in sync with them under hot lights.

Beyond nostalgia, I miss being a “cello.” That’s what we were called, “the cellos,” and we had our own little culture. Cellos were always the bassline, so we flew under the radar most of the time. Since we were low and had easy parts, we shone in the conductor’s eyes. No one could come close to our low, booming radiance. We led the orchestra from behind, we drove the high-pitched melody of the violins. We made the audience feel the music vibrate in their ribcages. We made the curtains flutter with sound.

Being a cellist had its downsides, too. Since we had easy parts, we didn’t learn as much. We didn’t look as nice, and I already mentioned lugging the giant thing everywhere.

Worst of all, we couldn’t wear skirts or heels. Being a cellist meant having your legs spread and your feet flat on the floor. No skirts, no heels. I was restricted from wearing skirts to school for nine years. I didn’t mind too much, but playing a cello did result in feeling less pretty.

Maybe it was this lack of daintiness that gave us our power. I felt confident when playing the cello. We were the hidden powerhouse. People watched the violins, but heard the cellos, pounding away with strong arms all swaying in sync. I was hidden behind such a gorgeous instrument people forgot I was the one playing—which made me play all the better.

I miss the community, the strength, the power, the camaraderie, the beauty, the sound, the feel of a cello. I miss feeling the strings simmer beneath my fingers, I miss feeling the edge buzz against my knees. I miss the rattle my earrings made when I played too loudly. I miss the ache in my bowing arm, I miss the cramps in my fingers.

I believe music is something inherently human. Though it seems harder to be blind than deaf, music is the one thing that would give me pause if I had to choose one over the other.

Anyway, I bring all this up because I went back and watched my high school orchestra, or what remains of it 2 years after graduation, play their spring concert Thursday, and they were not great. It made me wonder if we sounded so mediocre from the audience when we played. Maybe it doesn’t matter. From our seats in the bright lights, music filling our lungs, we sounded magic. That’s all that matters in the end.

Hog Back Mountain: The summer day we (temporarily) ran away

Two Augusts ago, my boyfriend Colin and I had a nervous hum in the pits of our stomachs about college. Would we stay together through the long distance? Would we even stay friends? What would it be like?

We avoided asking these questions best we could. We watched The Lord of the Rings and Wilfred. We savored every moment without talking about our nerves. We drove in circles around our town, like a bug stuck inside a jar, until one day we escaped.

We woke up early (for two jobless teenagers in the summer): eight A.M. We filled up his car with gas and good CDs. We bought Sour Patch Kids, beef jerky, Pringles, and skittles. We took off.

West.

Spending hours in a car together was nothing new, but usually we stuck to backroads. That day, we hit the highway with a mission to get as far west as possible by 3 p.m., for no other reason than us wanting to.

We ran through two CDs twice before trying the radio and realizing that all of the stations were different. The further west we went, the less people crowded the road, the greener the trees became, the easier we could breathe. We had a vague goal to reach New York, though we weren’t going in the exact right direction.

I had to go home for some reason…my mom called me and reminded me that I had a family dinner or something that night. Well, we decided to keep going for awhile before turning around. We were approaching Vermont, if we turned right, so we turned right. We made it to a Vermont visitor center. We took a picture with a cardboard cow, breathed in the overcast sky, and hopped back in his little car to drive home.

It wasn’t New York, but it was still good, we decided. We joked and laughed and sang to the radio, hiding the irony that we had just driven to Vermont a week before Colin moved there.

We found a small hidden road that followed some power lines. It was gorgeous, the unpaved dirt road curving through the trees. I took a picture, bumpy and fuzzed.

You can see this picture on this site, as the cover photo behind the blog’s title. It’s also the featured image for this post, in which you can see the car’s dashboard.

Driving along that small dirt road over the border of Vermont was a pure, untouchable moment laced with romance and nostalgia of the summer we had just finished living…but then it got better.

I didn’t have my glasses on, and when the street sign came up I tried to read it so we could come back one day.

“Does…” I blinked, squinted. “Does that say ‘Ho Bag Mountain?’”

Colin burst out laughing.

“Hog Back Mountain!” he exclaimed.

We had just stifled our laughter when we passed a gorgeous sign surrounded by decorative stones and pretty flowers, proudly declaring “Hog Back Mountain.” We lost it again.

We were about two hours from home when the rain began, and god, it was torrential. It was so bad that we actually had to pull over because he couldn’t see well enough to drive. The windshield wipers were all but useless. As we sat in the breakdown lane, waiting for it to pass, I got a weather alert on my phone of an extreme storm condition. I left the alert in my notifications for weeks after, and would look at it when I missed summer.

“Extreme storm condit…46 days ago.” The little notification was like a keepsake. It disappeared after ninety days.

We eventually got home, but not in time to my dinner. Of course, I had no excuse as to why I was late. We were driving, from Vermont. Why were we in Vermont? Literally no reason.

I began thinking of this story today and wondered if I’m already too old for these little rebellions. Have I changed so much in just two years that I wouldn’t do this again? Has driving into Boston traffic every day ruined my love for an empty highway and open windows?

The truth is, no. I would definitely do this trip again—in fact, Colin and I likely will do something like this very soon, maybe actually making it to New York this time. I think the difference, besides both of us having far less free time, is that back then we were both fighting hard to make memories with each other, out of fear that college would tear us apart.

We drove to Vermont with excitement tinged with fear, we staged our day-long runaway like a trial run. There were times all summer, but especially on that trip when we wanted to run away for good, to not turn back halfway through the day and go back  to the scripted life of approaching college, but instead to keep driving west until we hit the Pacific and start…something.

But we didn’t.

I don’t know if a repeat day long road trip would be better or worse. I think it would still be a lot of fun, but would it miss something without the underlying desire to keep going? Was our fear of losing each other and our desperate attempts to make memories what made that summer so memorable?

Did my desire to run spring purely from teenage hormones or would it still pull me on, make me misty-eyed when we turn back home?

Or, alternately, would a fearless adventure without the nervous twitches, without the stress of making it memorable or the desire to run away, actually be much better?

A few things haven’t changed, naturally. Of course, Colin and I still close, even closer. And we’re still trying to break free of our hometown’s web, trying to avoid being sucked down a drain of parental dependency and resume gaps. We still drive in circles around the backroads, we still watch epic sagas on his television, we still do projects together, we still reference Breaking Bad when cooking dinner and sing loudly to the two CDs we play on repeat in his same car.

And, we still both harbor a nervous excitement for whatever the future may hold. Perhaps though, since our Ho Bag Mountain days, we have a bit more confidence, a bit more stability.

Then again, perhaps not.

Hi!

Hey guys–this should’ve been up yesterday but I honestly didn’t have any time, so here it is now, the weekly check in:)

I hope you are all enjoying the A to Z challenge. I’m certainly enjoying writing it! I have pages full of notes on how to connect the characters and letters, what themes go where, and how the bagpipes fit into all of this. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m glad you seem to be liking them too:)

The most interesting thing that has happened since we spoke last was a self defense course I took Friday and Saturday. It’s called RAD (more info here) and focused on basic ways to get out of a dangerous situation. It was actually really empowering.

I usually hate that word, empowering, because it’s usually used in a pretentious context. Like feeling “empowered” after walking a 5K, or while wearing heels. It’s almost always used in a feminine context. Empowered, as if you were powerless beforehand. However, when it came to the self defense course, it feels fitting. I am newly empowered with tools I can use in dangerous situations—tools I didn’t have before. I feel more confident.

The best thing about it was that it reversed my thoughts that I wasn’t strong. I don’t work out as much as I should, sometimes I can’t open water bottles or open heavy doors, I must not be strong. But being taught how to use my body to my advantage rather than seeing it as a hindrance, or as a vessel for my mind to live in, allowed me to feel truly strong and powerful. Connecting to one’s body and allowing it to be used like it’s made to be is a wonderful thing.

Plus it’s really fun to punch foam pads.

I recommend it to everyone! Not just to feel safe, but to feel confident and happy with yourself.

What else? Colin comes back Sunday, which is exciting, and I move back home in two weeks, which is also exciting. I have finals soon, which is less exciting.

I saw my old high school’s musical, The Sound of Music, on Saturday. All the kids who were sophomores and freshmen when I graduated are now juniors and seniors, running the show. They were wonderful, and made me miss high school and theatre as well as their friendships. I miss the excitement of being part of a team, the rollercoaster of emotion, the bright lights and smudged make up, snacking on pretzels and Twizzlers since they didn’t mess up lipstick. Mostly, I miss my old friends, and I’m glad to get to see them again in only a few weeks.

I’m also determined to start learning German again—I’ve been so busy that it’s been pushed to the back burner, but I have my mind set on it.

So, yes. Self defense, German, and The Sound of Music. And, of course, huge bouts of creativity brought on by the A to Z Challenge. I’m really glad I followed through with the challenge. It too is giving me confidence, in my creative writing rather than my body. I haven’t completed writing a novel in a long time, and these little bursts of fiction are helping me feel like a valid creator again.

I’ll also soon be separately posting my book review of Maus and Maus II, so look forward to that today, as well as the letter “I” in about 2 hours. That’s about all I have–enjoy your Monday!

 

A to E: Escape

James McClane was unaware he had an accent until the admissions lady guessed his home state over the phone. This new information surprised him, but he was able to regain focus quickly when she started talking about financial aid.

“That’s perfect,” he said, dividing the numbers into months. He would be able to make up the difference somehow. He was proud of himself now too, not just his son. “Michael will be ecstatic. He’ll be the first in the family, you know.”

As his father spoke on the phone Michael McClane was laying on the top of his pickup about a mile down the road, chewing on a twig he plucked off a stalk of barley. He breathed clear air at the sky and imagined smoke pooling from his lips to form the only cloud in the sky.

“Can’t we sneak one?” he asked the sky.

“No,” was the answer, not from the sky but from the young girl hunting around the glove compartment for her sunglasses. “It’s a nasty habit.”

“Since when?”

“Since I got caught,” she replied, slipping on her sunglasses. She had hair the color of charcoal that barely hit the tops of her ears. She hoisted herself up on the hood of the car, using the front tire as a step stool. “And I’m not letting your smoky kisses get me in trouble.”

Michael kissed her once then looked back up at the sky. She tasted like sweat. She watched him from behind her mirrored glasses for awhile, but then looked at the sky too.

“I’m gonna smoke in college,” he told her. He closed his lips, and his eyes.

“As long as you don’t when I visit you, that’s fine. If I can visit you,” she added.

Michael turned to face her. Her glasses reflected his eyes, his amber beard, his lips that twitched but didn’t open.

The sound of a truck. Clunk, hiss, clunk. His dad’s truck, they both recognized it. Michael crushed the end of the barley twig into the car before remembering it didn’t have to be snuffed.

“Wanna get the lunch?” he asked, and she slid off the hood to get their sandwiches safe in paper bags. His father didn’t understand doing things for no reason. Lunch was at least a reason. They were unwrapping the sandwiches when Michael’s father pulled in behind their truck.

“Hey, Michael. Susie Q., how’s your dad doing?” James asked from his window.

“He’s well,” she said, hooking her elbows around her knees. “Been better.”

James pulled his head back into the truck and cut the engine.

“Even asking about my dad, he calls me Susie Q.,” she muttered.

Michael shrugged. He liked the nickname. He only stopped calling her Susie Q. when she shaved her head and demanded Sue Anne. He missed Susie Q.

“Michael,” James said, running to him on the dirt road dusted in barley. “Listen, I called the New York university.”

“What did they say?” Michael asked.

James paused, memorizing the picture of his blue-jeans son sitting on a rusted truck in a field of barley with his rock-a-billy girlfriend, wondering how Michael would look in a suit.

“You can go. We can afford to send you.”

Michael leapt to the ground and embraced his father so neither had to see the other cry. Sue Anne smiled, glad that her sunglasses hid her eyes, and cursed her injured, expensive father.

Michael hugged her next, which was a surprise. It had been awhile since he’d hugged her.

“You got your escape,” she whispered.

Days feel like hours, months feel like years

A teacher once told me that in high school, every class lasts forever, but the years fly by. It’s so true. Same thing happens in college—the weeks last a lifetime, but the semesters fall between your fingers like dropped coins. Coins worth $40,000, perhaps, but coins nonetheless.

And now—when it’s nighttime, it feels like the day flew by, but at work each hour lasts a week. And now—with less than a month left before my boyfriend returns from his semester in Mexico, each week feels like a month, and this last month feels like a year.

I try to tell myself to live in the moment. After all, life is like, 80% waiting. It’s just hard to live in the moment when the moments in the future and in the past seem so much better than the one I’m in now.

It’s sad that each night is joyful because it’s another day I can cross off on a calendar. But it’s also motivation to make the future better than it is now. To make the future’s grass the vibrant green I hope it will be.

Sometimes it feel like I’m passing through life on a subway, looking out the window. Like I’m going through it passively, doing what I’m meant to do, arriving on time, trying to interfere with the clockwork world as little as possible. I wish I tore through my days like a motorcycle slicing through the wind. I wish I devoured every second with insatiable hunger, but life isn’t like that.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how stories function, in preparation for my A-Z Challenge in April. Stories, by definition, have a beginning and an end. They are satisfying. Even stories that are unsatisfying are satisfying in how they leave you wanting more. Life isn’t like a story. Life doesn’t follow the rules of literature.

In life, people die in the middle of their plots. Plots begin and end without pomp and circumstance. Lives do the same. A life never ends with a marriage or a promotion or a vacation or a graduation, it just keeps on going, and going, and going, until a random moment in time when it doesn’t.

Life doesn’t follow a plot structure, and that’s why it’s often uninteresting. Regardless, we must push on, through day-long years and year-long days. In the end, it’s all worth it.