An unwelcome visitor

It’s time for another fiction post. My latest assignment was to write a scene with two characters who are in some kind of conflict with each other. Here you go. Feedback appreciated!

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Janet answered the door wearing pajamas and a grimace, the TV remote in hand. “Hello, Neil,” she muttered through an unconvincing smile. “What can I do for you?”

Neil held Sandy’s leash in one hand and a plastic bag full of her droppings in the other. As usual, he seemed unsure, as though worried that the space he occupied was reserved for someone else. In pressed khakis and a short-sleeve dress shirt, he looked to Janet as though his mother still dressed him. To quell the pang of guilt following this thought, she pushed her smile a bit nearer to her ears.

“Hi, Janet. How are you?”

I’m in my pajamas, tired as hell, grateful that the doorbell didn’t wake the baby, and counting the seconds until you leave. “Fine, thanks. Greg’s out of town, and luckily I got the baby to sleep before midnight for a change, so I was just about to settle into a bowl of ice cream and my couch,” she said. Please take the hint.

“Sounds great. Sandy and I were out for a walk and thought we’d visit.” Big smile.

“It’s a nice night for a walk,” Janet said, rubbing her puffy eyes and shifting her weight from one slippered foot to the other.

“Yeah,” Neil said, still smiling his dopey smile.

He obviously wanted to come in, but entertaining anyone, let alone Neil, was the last thing Janet wanted right now. After the briefest internal battle in history, the magnetic pull of her couch overpowered her sense of social obligation. Committed to getting rid of him, Janet replied to his hopeful smile with silence and another half-hearted smile.

“Ok, well you have a good night then,” Neil said.

Janet smiled wide, a genuine one this time. “Thanks, Neil. You too,” she said, closing the door and locking it.

***

While Janet sank into her couch, Neil continued his search for company. His well-kept shoes cleared the cracks in the sidewalk, even though his mother’s back was well beyond threat of injury.

Before she passed, his mother had made Neil promise to make some friends, and he knew that she was right. Living alone in his mother’s house—his house, now—was a lonely business. Everyone in the neighborhood was polite, but that was as far as things went. As he walked now, he puzzled over what he ought to do differently. He was as friendly as he knew how to be, but no one appeared interested. It seemed a lost cause.

That thought stopped him short on the sidewalk. Ma would have scolded him for brooding. God helps those who help themselves, she’d have said.

Looking up, Neil noticed lights in the living room window at Megan and Bill’s house. Maybe they would welcome a visit. Maybe little Anna would like to pet Sandy. “Come on, girl. Put on your happy face.”

With each step up their front walk, he felt a bit better. Reaching for the doorbell, he was almost certain that this time would be different.

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Posted in Failure fear | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

A little distance goes a long way

I’ve discovered a wonderful way to get my children to do my bidding – I leave them alone. I don’t mean that I abandon them in the shady part of town until they’re willing to do anything to come home (although who among us hasn’t been tempted…). I mean that I tell them what they need to do and then leave.

I’m speaking mostly about getting ready for school and doing homework. These don’t sound like big challenges, but my children can make breakfast seem like one of Vi Hart’s infinite series (without the fun and cool doodles). It. Just. Doesn’t. End.

Like any sane, loving parent, I’d gently remind them (since they would often forget) why they found themselves sitting at a table with food in front of them. “Drink your milk…Drink your milk…No, DRINK your milk…your milk…drink it…drink it now!!!!!” Despite a mountain of evidence against the efficacy of these rants reminders, I’d continue to offer them every minute or so.

By the time we’d get to the bus stop, their faces (and mine) were twitching.

The solution was to take myself out of the equation entirely. Now, as soon as I put breakfast on the table, I sprint out of the room before I can start screaming at them to finish their waffles.

My kids have never moved faster.

Ok, so maybe I should have realized sooner that giving them such a colorful reaction only rewarded their sloth-like behavior. I’ve read parenting books, so I ought to know these things. But they just move so slowly and there is so little time to get ready and why can’t she take more than just a tiny bite at a time and oh my God, move it!!

See. It’s much better with me out of the room.

Our mornings have gotten so much better that I now use the same approach with homework. They know what they need to do and where to find me if they need help. We are all better off with some distance.

This extra-special glimpse into my parenting style probably reveals more about my mental health than I’d like. It may also leave you feeling sorry for my kids. I feel sorry for them, too, sometimes.

That’s why I keep so much ice cream in the house.

So for my fellow nutty parents out there (you know who you are, even if you won’t admit it), I offer this valuable lesson in avoiding facial tics for you and your children. You’re welcome.

Posted in Crazy mom confessions | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

A new way to walk your dog

I just discovered my favorite way to give my dog, Scout, some exercise. I heard him barking at something on the road, possibly a pedestrian, more likely a suspicious leaf. I called his name from an upstairs window. He sprinted toward my voice and ended up at the front door, which is in the general vicinity. But because leaf patrol requires constant vigilance, he tore right back to the road again. I called him again, and he darted to the front door. And so on.

He never quite figured out 1) where I was or 2) that I was messing with him. He was just happy splitting his time between defending the realm and answering the call of his beloved. Exercise and self-worth. You’re welcome, Scout.

And I never had to leave my bedroom.

Posted in Crazy mom confessions | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

I’m ba-aack!

Focusing on my fiction class has kept me away from blogging. Strangely, despite not having posted for more than a week, my stats went crazy a couple of days ago. Ok, they tripled, which, considering my usual stats, isn’t really that crazy. But it makes me wonder if you people are encouraging me NOT to post? Hmmm…Ignoring that for now.

For my grand return to blogging after my longest absence yet, I will share an exercise from my writing class. The point was to establish a vivid setting and introduce a character who interacts with it in some way. Feedback appreciated:

The cabins lay just beyond a battered sign: “Transformation Revival Campground.” Skittish around the trappings of organized religion, Addie paused, but only for a moment. She couldn’t resist the draw of new terrain, so she followed a path between two of the twenty cabins circling a sparsely wooded clearing.

Addie loved hiking these woods. They calmed her, as though her troubles couldn’t follow her among the trees. She hated to see the sun hanging near the peaks of the distant North Georgia mountains, telling her she ought to go home. But if she returned home after dark her father might not let her visit her mother tomorrow. Still, she told herself, I have time.

No congregations had gathered here for years. Several of the cabins’ roofs had sunk inside the spaces they’d once sheltered. A few random walls tipped to one side.

Addie continued into the clearing past an abandoned child’s sneaker and a few gaunt trees. A few spindly branches hovered over the cabins, too high and frail for any child to climb. A white band of paint, four or five feet thick, enclosed the bottom of each trunk, clamping them to the ground, it seemed. She shivered.

After a few moments, Addie reached a kind of pavilion, rows of benches and an altar beneath a sagging wooden roof. That must be where the preacher captivated the faithful. With no witnesses but the derelict cabins, she dropped onto a bench, leaned her head back and allowed herself a few moments of self-pity.

She couldn’t change her mother’s condition. Convincing her father she didn’t need to move in with him and his bitchy young girlfriend, Delia, seemed impossible. Her helplessness felt like a weight pinning her to the bench.

Mindful of the time, Addie dragged herself to her feet and trudged back the way she came. The crunch of dry leaves disintegrating underfoot scratched at her nerves.

Before she reached the path, a strip of darkness in a cabin doorway caught her eye. The door was slightly open.

When a curiosity diverts us from our worries, it can be near impossible to ignore. Addie plowed through the weeds veiling the bottom half of the door and peered into the opening, trying to trace a shape in the darkness. Just when she decided to leave, the darkness shifted. She retreated a step, and then, ashamed of her skittishness, pushed at the door.

Scraping against the cabin floor, the door let her inside, where she nearly lost her balance on canted floorboards. Her hand held the wall but she still felt unsteady, a familiar feeling since her mother’s accident. Without her mother, nothing felt solid or safe.

Feeling the familiar constriction in her chest, she made herself go slack, slipping through its grasp, keeping grief at bay. She brought herself back to this place, her hand on the splintered wood, her eyes searching the darkness.

 

Posted in Failure fear | Tagged , , , | 23 Comments

Personal growth and chocolate

The smile experiment was a success, sort of. I had to remind myself to greet strangers at first but it gradually became habit. Most people smiled right back, which was quite nice. Others kept their eyes downcast even when I said hello. I can’t hold it against them, since I might do the same if I weren’t looking for a blog post.

I don’t think I scared anyone. At least, everyone kept their cool until they were out of sight. It helped that I didn’t chase them.

It’ll come as no surprise that friendliness feels nicer than isolation. But I can’t claim any great revelation and I’m not committing to doing this all the time. I’ll try for a while, of course, but soon enough my own thoughts will draw me inward and I’ll go back to ignoring everyone.

I’ve grown so much.

Yesterday, the joy jolt came from blowing off the first hour of work to watch a very condensed version of the Oscars on my DVR. Sorry scientific/technical awards and makeup artists, I zoomed right past you. Sloth is always fun. So is looking at purdy dresses and momentarily feeling superior to the stunning women wearing ugly ones.

Today, I need to finish my first writing assignment for my fiction class, so that will provide the joy for the day. I’m sure it will also deliver the hair pulling, self-doubt, nail biting, tantrums, vandalism and drinking.

I so wish I could have a productive reaction to stress, like those people who lose weight or clean their houses from top to bottom. For me it’s chocolate and procrastination every time.

Posted in Bring on the joy, Failure fear | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Vodka, de-cluttering and smiling at strangers

My joy has taken a turn for the alcoholic. Friday night we had friends over and the vodka flowed like a pure mountain stream in early spring. It was a fun night.

Yesterday, perhaps in penance, I spent hours cleaning out my children’s closets, toy bins and the three hundred purses they have acquired over the years and stuffed with a mind-boggling array of crap. Here are just a few things a young lady must have in her purse: a price tag for an article of clothing, a rock, a 2-inch piece of red yarn, used gum, a bottle cap, and a pedometer.

The cleaning process was not at all fun. The joyful part was looking at 8 bags of clothing and toys plus one huge box of books that will collect dust somewhere else from now on. I feel like I’ve lost weight!

For today’s joy jolt, I plan to smile at (while meeting the eye of) at least 25 strangers. Too often, I look away out of shyness or the general disconnectedness of  hyper-connectivity I keep reading about on the Interwebs.

No more! At least for today.

Posted in Bring on the joy | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

Billy on the Street

The fabulous Jules at Go Guilty Pleasures has given me yet another reason to blow off my work: FuseTV’s “Funny or Die presents ‘Billy on the Street.’”  I watched every single clip on Funny or Die yesterday and laughed myself silly. “It’s the Presto Deep Fryer Round!!!” This man makes me giddy and panicked at the same time.

Sadly, Dish Network doesn’t carry Fuse TV, so I’ll have to content myself with clips on Funny or Die until the first season is on Netflix. If you have Fuse TV, you should really check it out.

Today I’m having dinner out with a dear friend. I can’t believe February is almost over. One more week of daily joy jolts, and then I think I’m back to brave things.

Speaking of brave, today I start a class in fiction writing, something I’ve wanted to do for a while but haven’t because I was too afraid to share my work. See, I haven’t completely forgotten why I started this blog in the first place.

Posted in Bring on the joy | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments