25 March 2013

#Scintilla13: Letting Go

Going back to a previous prompt for today's Scintilla post.

B: What have been the event horizons of your life–the moments from which there was no turning back?

Letting Go

She stared at the little black box, which held the promise of one particular future life. Marriage, kids, a house and a job most likely within twenty miles of the small town where they'd grown up. In theory, they could make their own path - create any kind of future their hearts desired. But somehow she knew if she said yes to her high school sweetheart right now, just days after they'd each graduated from college, it would be The Life Script all the way. For both of them. It wasn't a bad future. She just wasn't sure it was the one she wanted. There were things she wanted--needed--to experience first. There were things he should experience, too. Maybe they could experience them together. But not if she said yes. Not right now.

She stared at the little black box until he closed it and shoved it in his pocket. She started to apologize, but he cupped her face in his trembling hands and kissed her with more passion than he had in a long time. Between urgent kisses, she whispered that she loved him, and he whispered that he loved her too, but he had a job offer in Seattle and she should go to Europe just like she'd always wanted. He kissed her mouth and her cheeks and her eyelids, and he apologized, and then he thanked her. Thanked her for having the courage that he didn't have--the courage to let go, even though they loved each other.

She stared at the taillights of his car as he drove away. Her heart was heavy and her eyes wet with the sorrow of saying goodbye to the life in that little black box, but also with excitement at the life tomorrow would bring.

22 March 2013

#Scintilla13: Baby Fever

Today's Scintilla prompt:

B: Write about spending time with a baby/child under age 2. If you’re a parent, do NOT write about your own child.

And today's fiction:

As soon as my sister Caroline walked through the front door, I plucked baby Isabel from her arms and whisked her away to the den. It would take Caroline at least ten minutes to unload her massive diaper bag and portable playpen. Having an infant seemed like a huge hassle.

Izzy smiled and babbled as I removed her mittens, hat, and coat. She was pretty hideous right when she was first born, but I suppose most babies are. In the nine months since, she's gotten cuter every day. Those chubby cheeks are so pinchable and kissable, I can hardly contain myself. Something about high levels of cuteness makes me aggressive. I could almost literally gobble her up.

The baby seemed sleepy, so I cradled her against my chest and walked around the room. As her eyelids drooped, my heart swelled. This is how I love them. Docile, tiny, peaceful.

"Thanks so much for babysitting," Caroline said, coming into the room.

"Of course. You know I love to."

She peeked over my shoulder. "Oh thank goodness. I thought she'd never fall asleep. She's been fighting it for a while."

We were silent for a moment, both studying Izzy's little face. The impossibly smooth, porcelain skin. The round nose. The eyelashes I would kill for.

"I can't believe she's nine months already," I said.

"I know. It's gone by so slow and so fast at the same time."

"You ready to start trying for another one yet?"

She laughed. "You could always get one of your own, you know. You and David will be great parents."

"Nah. I'll just borrow yours." Izzy began to feel heavy in my arms.

"When do you think you guys will try?"

"We won't."

Silence. Caroline stared at me.

Awkward silence.

I tried not to imagine what was going through her head. I'd heard it all before. How can you not want kids? You'll change your mind. It's different when they're your own.

Babies are great. Toddlers and teens are not. I loved Isabel almost like she were mine, but I loved being able to give her back. I'd never had any urge to have one of my own, though.

I looked at Caroline, silently daring her to take her best shot.

"Cool. You'll get to spoil Isabel all you want."

Caroline smiled. I smiled. In her sleep, I'm pretty sure Izzy smiled.

21 March 2013

#Scintilla13: Getting There

I know, I've been sporadic with this project. But here's some more Scintilla fiction.

A: Talk about where you were going the day you got lost. Were you alone? Did you ever get to where you meant to go?

One day I looked around and he wasn't there. I woke up to realize the trappings of the life I'd built were unfamiliar and unsatisfying. When did collecting casual acquaintances like trophies become my measure of success? Around the same time he stopped calling, I think, though I couldn't fool myself about which event had led to the other.

One day I looked around and wished he were there. There, at the dinner parties, the clubs, the black tie galas. There, in bed, next to me every morning. There, at the end of the last known telephone number, now disconnected, or on the other side of the last known email, which goes unanswered for weeks. Maybe I'm grasping at straws, trying to reclaim the wholeness of my youth by seeking out the boy who was at my side through most of it. Maybe he wouldn't like the woman I've become. Probably.

One day I looked around and there he was. At my door, my email in hand. And the moment I saw him, I knew, and he knew, he was there for good. In my life and in my bed and in my future. And in finding him I found the comfort and certainty that nothing else in my life had been able to fill. I didn't realize I was looking for the place where I fit until he showed up, and then suddenly I was there.

19 March 2013

#Scintilla13: The Content of my Character

I'm sharing stories (real and fictional) with the Scintilla Project. It's not too late to sign up and join in. Today's post is 100% non-fiction.

A: Describe a time when the content of your character was tested.

I read an article the other day about procrastination having little to do with being lazy. Rather, it's a symptom of something else. That article really resonated with me, and I realized my own procrastination often has to do with avoiding some sort of emotional response. Take this post, for instance. I started this post yesterday, when it was supposed to be completed. I wrote a sentence. Stared at the screen. Checked my phone. Checked Facebook. Stared at the screen. Then I closed the computer because it was late and decided I would write this today instead. Not because I didn't know what I wanted to write about - I knew that the minute I read the prompt in my email early yesterday morning. I was just trying not to "go there" emotionally.

This prompt is timely in a kind of spooky way. Something happened in a nearby town on Sunday that has sparked a strong emotional/psychological response in me, and even though I was not involved in any way, I really feel like right now, my character is being tested. I'm questioning the most fundamental parts of who I am, how I live my life, and what I believe about the world at large.

Trigger warning: rape, misogyny, rape culture, victim blaming, generalized douchebaggery

Depending on where you live or the type of social media and online news you typically consume, you may know about the recent rape of a teen in Steubenville, Ohio. If not, here are the basics: A sixteen-year-old girl became extremely intoxicated at a party. While she was out of it, she was raped by two classmates. This past Sunday, a juvenile court judge found them both guilty. The boys were sentenced to a minimum of one year in juvenile facilities for the rape, with additional time possible.

Immediately, there was backlash. Major news outlets lamented about how devastating the conviction was for the "promising" young men, both football players. People took to social media to express their displeasure with the verdict and blame the victim, not only for her rape, but for "ruining" two young men's lives. One particularly despicable person, who doesn't believe rape exists at all, took the time to outline exactly why the victim was "asking for it." I won't link to any of this stuff in particular. If you really want to see for yourself, I'm sure you can easily find it.

I was livid. Absolutely fuming. Not just because these rape apologists exist and spoke up in this instance - I've known such people are out there for a long time. But the victim-blaming response was so swift, so widespread, and so disgustingly mean, it really caught me off guard.

I wanted to to scream at these people while using especially foul language. I wanted to hunt down every web page, twitter profile, blog, or facebook page where people were saying the victim deserved to be raped, brought it on herself, or were calling her vile names, and I wanted to tell those people that they're pathetic excuses for human beings (among other less eloquently worded things) in a very public expression of "fuck you." I was tempted to leave scathing reviews on an author's books - not just the one where he explains why he doesn't think rape exists - to warn people what an asshole I think he is and to discourage them from purchasing his book. I was raging inside with a capital R.

I don't get angry easily or often. I dislike anger in general because I find it to be a mostly useless emotion. It overwhelms me to the point of tears, and then it shuts me down. So I typically cycle quickly from anger to "over it" pretty quickly. Or in this case, from anger to depression in the same day. I still find myself vacillating between the two.

Last year, I responded to a Scintilla prompt with the post Still, I Have Faith. In it I talked about this seemingly unshakeable faith, optimism, and positivity I have about life. Without that faith in the general goodness of people and the tendency for things to work out satisfactorily, I don't know what the point of anything would be. And yet that faith is paper-thin right now, at best.

How do I reconcile the horrendous truth of so many people's ignorance with my worldview that usually assures me It's okay, it will all work out? How do I keep from going off the deep end of crazy because I don't know what else to do with my anger? How do I not give up completely on the idea that people, for the most part, are decent beings?

When it seems like nothing anyone says or does, ever, could change the minds of these awful people who would blame a girl for her own victimization... what am I supposed to do? Because these attitudes NEED to change. I fear for the future of this country and the world when such backward thinking is entirely too prevalent in this day and age.

Part of me wants to grab everyone I see by the shirt and demand to know what they think of this situation, and heaven forbid they say the wrong thing. Another part of me wants to forget it all, and to go about the rest of my life avoiding all mention of such things, and doing my best to live in blissful ignorance. Ultimately, I know neither of those is possible, but I haven't yet worked out the alternatives. My amazing family and friends have encouraged me to look for the good that's still out there in the world, not to give up, to not let this change me for the worse. That doesn't really sound doable at the moment. I can't even get through writing a post like this without fighting back tears. And I wasn't even involved in this situation. I can't imagine what the young woman who was raped must be feeling.

My heart hurts. That's where I am right now. For the rest, I'll have to wait and see.

17 March 2013

#Scintilla13: Nel cor più non mi sento

Playing a bit of catch up. Here's day three. Reminder: unless I state otherwise, I'm answering Scintilla prompts with original fiction. Written on the fly, unedited. So be gentle. :-)

B: Talk about a time when you were driving and you sang in the car, all alone. Why do you remember this song and that stretch of road?

Nel cor più non mi sento

Jeremy laughed two days ago when he got into my car and found my usual blaring punk rock had been replaced by Italian arias on piano. I was trying to decide on a solo for my voice class final exam. He didn't laugh when I refused to let him change the CD.

When it's your turn to drive, we'll listen to what you want. He begged to drive after half an hour.

I smile at the memory, turn up the volume on Lasciatemi morire!, and hum along. Jeremy has been my best friend for seven years, since eighth grade. He's heard me belt out some power ballads before, during some of our sillier hang-outs, but he'd never really heard me sing. Until this weekend.

These songs are... weird. Like there's something missing.

That's because there is. This is just the accompaniment track. The melody is missing.

Well shit. If you're gonna make me listen to this for much longer, you'd better start singing.

So I did. First it was Alma del core, but I sang it in an exaggerated, bouncy way. Jeremy grinned at my overdone vibrato and occasional hand gesture to punctuate the music, when I wasn't using both hands to maneuver through highway traffic.

Is that how you would really sing it?

No, of course not. My professor would kill me. And then fail me.

Sing the right way. I know shit about opera, but I think I know when someone sings well.

I sang through six or seven songs in a row, concentrating on controlling my breathing and maintaining good pitch, even through the jostling as we hit potholes and bridge joints. Jeremy didn't say a word until I pulled into a rest stop and switched off the music.

That's great, Kat. Why didn't I know you could sing like that? He smiled halfway, not enough for his dimples to show.

Suddenly it felt like I'd been keeping a deep dark secret. I shrugged.  

Most people don't.

It wasn't like I'd lied or intentionally hid it. It just wasn't something that seemed to come up in conversation a lot. Especially not with Jeremy. With Jeremy, I shared football and relationship trouble and surreptitious swigs of rum from his mom's liquor cabinet when we were eighteen. We shared hugs and sometimes tears, conversations about life and whether there's a god, words of encouragement and stupid inside jokes. There was never a time when I felt the need to say Hey, I like singing opera and classical stuff.

Jeremy drove the second half of the trip, and we listened to the different bands we both shared a passion for, especially the one we were driving to see. The concert was as amazing as I knew it would be, and we had a great time. It was nice to hang out in the middle of the school year, something we didn't usually get to do since we went to college in different states. Still, there was something weird. Maybe it was my imagination, but I kept catching him with this... look. I couldn't quite pinpoint what it was.

It couldn't be the singing thing, I told myself. Why would he be mad about that? That was just stupid. But he was pretty quiet. And Jeremy was never quiet.

We checked into a hotel after the concert to get a good night's sleep before driving back the next day. We said good night, climbed into our separate beds, and turned out the light. After an hour, I could tell by the sound of his breathing that he was still awake.

Did you have fun today? I asked.


Okay. You've been quiet.

So have you.

Only because you were, I said. What the fuck was this? Jeremy didn't do quiet, and Jeremy didn't do vague. Not in all the time we'd known each other.

Silence for several more minutes. So I said the most ridiculous thing any woman could say to a guy: What are you thinking right now?

Just remembering you singing in the car.

Shut up. I burst into uncomfortable laughter. You are not.

The light flicked on and Jeremy sat up in bed. I was, too.

Were not.

Was too. You were pretty fucking fantastic. He chucked a pillow at my head.

Whatever. I threw it back.

He pounced. In an instant, he was on my bed, straddling my hips, forehead pressed against mine. He smelled like toothpaste and... like Jeremy. The same cologne he'd worn since junior year in high school. One I helped pick out, now that I thought of it.

When will you ever learn to take a compliment? He closed his eyes and relaxed against me. Just as his lips brushed mine, he whispered, Scoot over.

I made room and he slipped under the covers like it was the most natural thing in the world to do. My stomach knotted itself into a quivering lump.

Turn over. He slid his hand over my hip as I did so, and pulled me tight against his body. Go to sleep.

I didn't know how I was supposed to go to sleep like that, with his legs tucked behind mine, his chest against my back, his breath tickling my shoulder. Jeremy was my best friend, so of course I loved him. But did I...

His breathing deepened in a matter of minutes as he quickly fell asleep. Something inside me ached. I grabbed Jeremy's hand and held it to my chest so his arm was wrapped tight around me, and that something inside me ached more profoundly.

I turn the volume up a little more as I drive, trying to drown that same feeling growing in me now as I remember last night. The closeness. The feeling of being surrounded by my best friend, and how it was so right, and how could I not have seen that before? We woke this morning, showered, and checked out of the hotel like nothing was different. We hadn't done anything, but it felt different to me.

The dainty intro of Nel cor più non mi sento trickles through the speakers. Perfect. A song about the torment of love.

I'm still not sure that's what I'm feeling. I dropped Jeremy off in front of his dorm twenty minutes ago. He hugged me and held on longer than usual. That something continued to ache, even after he grabbed his bag from the trunk and disappeared inside. Could he really be feeling what I'm feeling right now? Could that be why he was acting so weird?

The song ends and I hit the back button to replay it. It's so perfect, this song. I sing along this time, smiling through the lines cagion del mio tormento, amor, sei colpa tu. Translates roughly to something about love being the cause of all my torment.

Amore è un certo che, I sustain the note and add an embellishment before continuing with the last line. Che disperar mi fa. Thou, Love, are surely one that will drive me to despair. But the music is light and airy. Fun, even. I imagine a woman scolding her love for tormenting her, driving her to despair, but with a wink and a knowing look, because she knows that love aches so badly only because it fills your heart near to bursting.

I cut off the driver next to me to make it onto the nearest exit. I have to go back. Not knowing if Jeremy shared my unexpected epiphany yesterday is going to drive me to despair. On a related note, I think I found the song to sing for voice class.

I pull off into a McDonald's parking lot to figure out how to get back on the highway in the opposite direction. Before the map loads, my phone alerts me to a missed call and a voice mail. Jeremy. I must have been in a dead zone when he called. I dial into the voice mail system and listen.

Hey. I'm sorry I'm such a fucking coward. This isn't how I wanted to say this to you, but I guess it's all I have right now.

There's a pause and I place a hand on my chest, where my heart is pounding like mad. Who would've thought falling in love would physically hurt this way? In message, Jeremy clears his throat before continuing.

I'm not even sure when it happened, okay. It just sort of... I just... Fuck. (nervous laughter) I need you, Kat. You keep getting better and more amazing, and I feel like I won't keep getting better if you aren't there with me.

A strange noise startles me, but then I realize the noise is me. I'm crying. Hard. Does he know how much I need him, too? Anyone can give me a compliment, tell me I'm getting better at anything, however small, but it only makes me self-consciously proud when it comes from him. I stifle a sob just in time to hear his last words before hanging up.

I love you, Kat. I love you.

14 March 2013

#Scintilla13: Famous Names

Yesterday I wrote a fictional story for Scintilla. I'm switching over to real life for today's prompt.

B: Tell the story about something interesting (anything!) that happened to you, but tell it in the form of an instruction manual (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3….)

Step 1: Cringe at the fact that your full name is on your name badge when you start your new job.

Step 2: Smile and try not to roll your eyes at the customer in your checkout line who tells you Nicole Kidman is somewhere in the store. It's a stupid thing for them to say, but at least they didn't crack one of the many J.Lo jokes you've heard over and over again throughout the years.

Step 3: Pick your jaw up off the floor when Nicole Kidman really does walk up to your line to pay.

Step 4: Grin like a fool for the rest of the day.

13 March 2013

#Scintilla13: Drinking the Job Away

When I signed up for Scintilla this year, I did so with something a little different in mind. I decided I would try to respond to the prompts with a piece of fiction each day. Unless a prompt really speaks to me and makes me want to share a personal experience, Scintilla will truly be a fortnight of storytelling for me. So here were today's prompt choices:

A: Tell a story about a time you got drunk before you were legally old enough to do so.
B: Tell a story set at your first job.

And so I present you with this story that combines the two.

Drinking the Job Away

Some confluence of luck and fate and all those other cliches of good fortune has bestowed upon me my first job. Okay, not exactly my first, but I can hardly count the summers at Dairy Queen and numerous semesters in the university bookstore as the same kind of jobs as this. My first real, grown-up, pinch-me-am-I-dreaming job. And if I were a coffee drinker, I might not have gotten the opportunity.

Best coffee in the city and you order hot cocoa, he said with half a smile and a half-cocked eyebrow that spoke more of amusement than derision. We talked while the barista made my drink and less than five minutes later I was out the door with my cocoa in one hand, a business card in the other, and a dizzying feeling of euphoria in my head. I sent my resume as soon as I got home, then endured two weeks of emails, interviewing, group conference calls, and painful waiting before I got the news: I was in.

I'm in. And now I'm here, celebrating with him, and with five others who will round out the team of this new start-up venture. I like the idea of being part of something that we'll build from the ground up. The real work starts Monday, but tonight, we toast.

Maybe it's my new blunt-cut bob and chunky red-framed glasses. Or maybe it's the fact that everyone else looks older. I don't know what it is, but I don't get carded. Not with the first beer, or the second. Not when the champagne is poured. Not when I order a martini with more specificity than someone under the age of twenty-one ought to.

In all the conversations, phone calls, emails, there was never any reason to mention that I skipped the seventh grade and completed my freshman year at a local community college while I was still a senior in high school. He had no reason to think I was still eight months shy of legal drinking age. I didn't want to miss out on this inaugural celebration, so I didn't bring it up when the waitress brought my martini. Or when she brought another round of beers. Or when someone suggested shots.

Soon enough, my head feels light on my neck, and not because I'm still so excited for this job. I remember I haven't eaten since lunch, except for the nachos and fries we all split with the first round of drinks. Stupid. Stuipd. Luckily he is much more steady on his feet than I. How many drinks did he have? I can't remember him having anything but water after the first beer and a glass of champagne, over two hours ago.

No worries, no worries, he says when I apologize for what I'm certain he must think is my unprofessional behavior. I didn't intend to get drunk tonight. I can drive you home and take a cab from there. You definitely shouldn't be driving.

I surrender my keys willingly and we bid the others good night. The air outside is cool and calming. I'm glad he has my keys already because the chill in the air wakes me up and gives me a false sense of sobriety. Until I stumble on the curb. He catches my elbow and slips an arm around my waist before I lose my balance and make a complete ass of myself.

Somehow I manage to keep up half a conversation while giving directions to my apartment. With each pause in the conversation I wonder if now would be a good time to mention my age.

A light rain has begun to fall as he walks me to my door, so I invite him in to wait for his cab.

I'd offer you coffee, but since I don't drink it, I don't have any, I say with a smile.

He smiles back. No problem.  He steps closer. Maybe now would be a good time to mention my age?

His stubble scratches my chin as he kisses me, and the kiss wouldn't be so bad except I'm not feeling so well and the force of it has me off balance and - oh yeah, he's supposed to be my boss. I stumble backward, giving him an excuse to grasp my hips with both my hands. Instead of steadying me, it makes me feel trapped.

I turn my face away and his mouth lands on my neck instead, which probably seems like an invitation, but it isn't. His biceps are firm beneath my hands as I try to push him back. Am I really this weak? Or is it the alcohol?

No, don't. We can't. He ignores me, so I try again. Stop. Please stop.

C'mon, it's okay. You don't want to be all work and no play, right? And his voice has that lilt again, and that half-smile is there, and the half-cocked eyebrow, just like the first day and I wonder if he's still amused or if it's something else that I should've seen from the beginning.

I protest, and he holds my hips tighter, and he pushes me back against the kitchen wall. He kisses, I evade, and he holds my hips tighter. Still, I protest. Still, he persists, and he holds my hips tighter and presses his entire body against mine, against the kitchen wall.

My stomach heaves. I don't know if it's the urge to puke or to cry, but I suppress it. Maybe now is a good time to mention my age? In all the conversations, emails, interview sessions, I never saw this coming. If somewhere along the line I said how old I am, would we still be here right now?

I open my mouth to plead with him again to stop, but no words come out. What comes out is my perfect martini, a few beers and glasses of champagne, and two shots. All over his shirt and my shoes.

He jumps back and shouts something, I'm not sure what, but it isn't a happy exclamation. He grabs a hand towel from the kitchen counter and attempts to clean the vomit off his clothes. After a moment he mutters a few barely audible expletives and storms out, taking my towel with him.

Some confluence of karma and bad luck and all those cliches of misfortune has stripped me of the opportunity to have my dream job.

I sink my vomit-covered, unemployed ass to the floor and weep tears of joy.

12 March 2013

Back to Jello Basics

Change. It is a-comin' to this here blog.

If you've been following along with me for any length of time, you probably know that I can be kinda sporadic with the posting schedule. Recently I've found myself thinking I should write something on this. Blog about it, maybe. But then I falter, because the topics don't seem to jive with what I've created here on the blog in the past five and a half years (whaaaat? yeah, it's been that long.)

I'm a writer. So, naturally, when I first decided to start a blog, I thought it would be great to make it about writing, with a dash of "life" thrown in there. But you know what? By and large, my writing life isn't all that exciting. Did I write today/this week/this month, or didn't I? How is the story coming along? What revisions am I making? But you know what... even I find that kinda boring.

I hope to connect with current and potential readers by engaging in social media, whether it's Twitter or blogging, or whatever. That's always been part of my reason for blogging. I'm realizing now that by talking about writing, trying to offer writing advice, chronicling my writing journey, the only people I'm likely to reach are fellow writers who've been there, done that, or are currently experiencing the same things.

But here's the thing... writing is just part of who I am.

In my very first blog post, I gave the world and introduction to my jello philosophy. (If you don't know, "jello" is a nickname of mine that plays off my name/initials as well as a reference to my love of the jiggly dessert.) I closed that inaugural post with a bit of wisdom that I needed to hear again right now:
As long as you live knowing that who you are - not what you look like, what you do, what you eat or don't eat, who you love, or whatever - is what makes you an amazing person, then you have learned the jello lesson.
Hello there, good advice. How did I forget you so easily?

I hope that people will want to read what I have to say about a lot of things, not just my writing journey. My friends like me for all of who I am, and not just for the writing part of me. Instead of pushing all that other awesome me-ness out of the way because it isn't writing-related, I'm going to honor it. Bring it to the forefront, into the spotlight.

Jello World will be shifting focus away from a "writing blog" to a "me blog." I will still talk about books and writing on occasion, as that is a big part of what I do, but I want to share other thoughts as well. Ideas, philosophies, musings, things I find funny or perplexing, and hopefully some more free fiction. It will likely get a bit political at times, which many consider to be a cardinal sin when it comes to the public persona of published authors. I suppose if I get terribly extreme, I could alienate some people. But there will be those who agree with me, and that's enough for me. Chances are, if you dislike what I have to say so much that you'd refuse to read my writing as some sort of moral statement, you probably wouldn't enjoy my writing all that much anyway.

I'm happy to say that this change will be effective immediately, and I am kicking off this new focus by participating in the Scintilla Project. Scintilla starts tomorrow! It would be fantastic if you'd join us and tell your stories.

The Scintilla Project

Jello World will be getting a facelift, too. But not until after Scintilla. I will probably get rid of or greatly trim my blogrolls in the sidebar. Please don't be offended if I remove a link to your site. I hope you will all follow along with me on this new blogging path, and I look forward to letting you in on different sides of myself that many of you may not be familiar with. If you would still like to hear my thoughts on all things writing and publishing, please join me and my cohorts over at From the Write Angle.