Fiction Friday: The Children

Marty and Rosemary loved their children more than life itself. They became parents early in life, and as such, life during parenthood had been a struggle. Rosemary gave birth to Camille at the age of 16, when she was a high school junior and Marty was entering college. Ultimately, they both dropped out of school to care for their daughter. Audrey was born soon after, and Cody was born shortly after her.

Marty and Rosemary were now in their mid-20s, with three children to feed and no way to feed them. The children were not yet at an age where they could not yet help provide for themselves; they were now at an age where they required a great deal of money to maintain. Camille was now ten years old, and had developed an early tendency to bow to peer pressure. Whatever her friends had, that’s what she had to have. Audrey was eight, and while she wasn’t yet as desperate as her sister to fit in, she was a somewhat frail child and required medicines and regular visits to the doctor to keep her asthma, allergies, and frequent illnesses under control. Cody was five, and just entering kindergarten, he was at that age where he was outgrowing clothes faster than his parents could obtain them. Being a boy, he mostly wore his sisters’ old clothes, and was teased mercilessly for it.

One cold night, after a disheartening budgeting session, Marty and Rosemary leaned back in their chairs. They’d looked at everything: bank statements, pay stubs, welfare. They’d gone over their expenses and cut everything they had left to cut. They still didn’t have enough money to live. Marty scrubbed a heavy, dirty hand over his face. Rosemary cried tears of frustration. “I don’t know else to do,” she said, wiping her eyes.

“There’s nothing else we can do.” Marty sighed. “I think we’ve finally come to the point where we can’t afford these kids anymore.”

They both knew it would come someday. After all those years of struggling, of being unable to find work, of borrowing from parents and relatives until they refused, of doing dangerous or illegal things for money, they had finally hit the breaking point. They were going to have to sell their children.

They’d joked about it when Camille was a couple of months old. Marty had fallen from a scaffold painting a house and was too hurt to work for months. All of the money they had went to paying for his medical treatments, and whatever was left was put toward living expenses. There was very little they could spend on the baby; they’d fashioned cloth diapers out of old clothes and spent weeks without electricity to be able to afford the other things she might need. On one of those dark nights, with the windows open and the noise from the street rushing inside, they’d laughed about selling Camille to the Chinese takeout downstairs. Rosemary had been appalled, but laughed when she imagined her infant daughter splayed on the table like a Peking duck.

“I love my kids,” Rosemary said, slouching over her many financial documents. “I wish there was a better way.”

“I’ve spent years trying to come up with one. The fact is, the kids are the biggest drain on our finances. Even if we gave one away, that’s still hundreds – maybe thousands – of dollars we could save. If we could sell one, we’d save that money and make a little extra. If we sold all three, we could be on our feet again. We wouldn’t have to do this soul-sucking budget stuff every week to make sure we can afford to barely feed everyone. We’d never have to worry about not having enough.”

Rosemary shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m even considering this.”

Marty leaned over and kissed her forehead. “I know, I hate this as much as you do. It’s the only answer, though. It’s the only way. Who knows, maybe they can do better than us. Maybe someone who’s well-off will take them and give them a better life, or at least give them a job. At least they won’t be here living the crummy life they have now.”

They talked no more of it that night. They climbed into bed, but didn’t sleep.

The next night, after the children were in bed, they convened again at the table to discuss the issue..

“I can’t sell off all of my children,” she told him. “I’ll give up two of them, but I can’t let go of all three.”

Marty nodded. “I agree. Let’s decide which one we’ll keep, and we’ll sell the rest.”

Rosemary sighed. “I didn’t sleep at all last night. I was trying to decide which one I’d want to keep the most.”

“What did you come up with?”

“Right now, I think Audrey’s the one we’ll have to keep. With as much medicine and attention as she requires, it’ll be impossible to convince someone to take her.”

“She’s also the one who costs the most to keep.”

“I thought about that, too. What about Camille and Cody?”

“That’s a tough choice, too.  The way I see it, we’ll save money if we keep Camille. If we sell her, we give up the money we’ve already invested in her. Then we’ll have to spend that same money on Cody. What do you think?”

“I would choose to keep Cody over Camille. At least with Cody, we’ll have a chance to save for college. There’s no way we’ll be able to send Camille to college, even if we sell the other two while we continue to struggle.”

Marty sighed. “This isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.”

“Why should it be easy? We’re discussing the sickest thing in the world.”

“Cody’s young. He might not understand what’s happening to him, but he probably won’t remember us much. We may not even have to tell him why he’s leaving, just that he is.”

“He’d be so afraid if we sent him off on his own. He doesn’t even like going to school.”

“I’m sure any of them will be afraid. We’ll be afraid for them. We can’t let that affect our decision.”

“I guess Camille would have a harder time being told she’s a burden.”

Marty nodded.

“She might take it better, though. I’m sure she knows about the trouble we’ve been having. We may be able to convince her it’s the best thing for all of us.”

He yawned. “Maybe we should take another night to think about this.”

“No. I don’t want to spend another night lying awake, trying to decide which of my children I want to keep. I want to settle this tonight, so I can spend the rest of my life lying awake and wondering what happened to them.”

Marty sighed. “I can’t decide, so I’ll flip a coin.”

Rosemary laughed. “I can’t believe I’m going along with this. A coin flip to decide which of my children I sell. All right, flip the damn coin. Heads, we sell Cody. Tails, we sell Camille.”

Marty dug around in his pocket. “Is it ironic that we’re flipping a coin to determine who bails us out of poverty?”

Rosemary snorted out a laugh, then covered her mouth and composed herself. Marty pulled a quarter from his wallet, launched it into the air with his thumb, and closed his fingers over it when it landed in his palm. He placed it on the top of his other hand, drew back his fingers, and peeked.

“Tails,” he said.

Rosemary shut her eyes and nodded. “So it’s settled.”

Marty put the coin back in his pocket. “Yeah. It’s settled.”

Rosemary spent the night lying awake, thinking about what the sale of her daughters would bring them. They would save a fortune not having to buy Audrey’s medicine. They wouldn’t have to buy tampons and makeup and whatever girly things they want. Cody was a boy, so he would certainly be less maintenance than the girls. She sighed. She hoped the girls would understand.

Fiction Friday: When Kate Met Sarah

Author’s Note: This is the first chapter of the novel I wrote for National Novel Writing Month 2013. Originally, it was a story about old friends; Sarah is about to get married, and asks Kate, her lifelong friend, to give a toast at her wedding. Kate then recalls all the major events of their friendship, which makes up the story. For right now, I’m just picking the bits I liked best. 

One of my earliest memories is of Sarah; specifically, of her family moving into the house next door to mine. I went with my brother and my parents to greet them. This was the early nineties, maybe even the late eighties. Sarah’s parents hit it off right away, and shooed all the children outside to play so they could carouse without us around to destroy anything.

Sarah has four sisters.  Michelle was twelve, Cassie was ten, Lisa was nine, and Stephanie was eight. By comparison, I was five or six, and Nate, my brother, was eight or nine. The older girls were talkative and lively, telling us about their old school on the other side of town, about their old house that they liked better than the new one, about all the things the west side of town had that the east side didn’t. Nate could converse about these subjects, but I didn’t care at all. Instead, I was more interested in the quiet girl on the porch, completely enthralled in her coloring book.

I still remember what she looked like then. Her dark brown hair was swept back into a messy, loose ponytail. Blunt fringe met large, round glasses, through which her hazel eyes seemed enormous. Those glasses on her thin face and porcelain skin made her seem small, frail, doll-like. She wore a faded tank top and denim cutoff shorts that hung limply on her body, clothes that were probably worn by all her sisters before her. When I think of Sarah, this is how I think of her.

As I approached her, she continued to color. Either she ignored me or was concentrating very hard on coloring. I saw that she had the good Crayola crayons, and not the crappy cheap ones I had that were waxy and just smeared color around. Crayon quality was a status item to pre-kindergarten children. Everyone wanted to be friends with the kid who had the 96 pack. If you had any other crayon, you were judged accordingly. Even having the Crayola 16 or 24 packs would earn you a friend or two. If you had store-brand crayons, you were a pariah until you upgraded. If you had colored pencils or markers, you were a god.

“What are you coloring?”

She looked up at me with those huge eyes, those huge glasses, and stiffened a little. “Miss Piggy”, she said eventually. Her voice was sweet and shy.

I sat down on the porch, leaving maybe a foot of space between us. I could tell she was nervous with all these new people around. I was just barely able to get a look at her work. “It looks good.”

She waited until she was finished coloring the entirety of Piggy’s hair to reply. “Thanks.”

A few silent minutes went by. I watched the older girls and Nate talking, casual and effortless. I looked at Sarah. She was enjoying herself, but I felt awkward. I didn’t know what to say to this girl. All I could think about was how badly I coveted her crayons. After a while, she picked up on it, or had warmed up enough to me to let me in. She scooted over and put the coloring book and crayons between us, turning to a fresh page. “You can color if you want,” she said. She looked at me and gave me this innocent, sincere smile. I returned it, and I fought the urge to hug her. Instead, I channeled my enthusiasm into coloring Gonzo just the right shade of blue-purple. We only spoke when asking for certain colors. Our pre-kindergarten educations had prepared us for this very moment. We were silent, efficient, tireless coloring machines.

It was nearly dark when my parents called for us to go home. I was reluctant to leave. Sarah and I had barely said a word to each other the entire time, and I still knew very little about her, but I felt a certain kinship with her. We shared much more than crayons, we forged a bond. I didn’t feel close enough to her to call her my friend just yet, but I could feel the potential there. Before I left, Sarah put her arms around me for a brief moment, and I heard her mother gasp and say something about how out of character it was for Sarah to be affectionate.

Entrepreneurship and The Year of Awesome

At the end of 2013, there was an epiphany. 2013 had been an awesome year for me, and I didn’t want to lose my momentum in the new year. I’d already had high hopes for 2014, but apparently I wasn’t the only one. As my friends and I convened at the bar, we started talking about our goals and the urgency we all felt about achieving them before we turn 30. We talked about our projects, our dreams, and what it might feel like not being a loser. We drunkenly made a pact to make it happen; The Year of Awesome was here, and we weren’t going to waste it.

For my Year of Awesome, I have two big goals. One, I’m going to write my ass off. I’m going to spend as much time as I can start revising and editing things I’ve written, writing new things, and stop putting it off. Two, I’m going to start a nail polish company.

The writing got off to a bad start, somewhat. After talking with my boyfriend about getting things done, I was motivated to work on a novel I hadn’t so much as looked at in over a year. I made a cup of tea, I sat down at my desk, and I got ready to work. Then I couldn’t find the file. I’d written it in iWork Pages on a Mac; I traded that Mac for a gaming PC after hastily making backup files. I couldn’t find those backup files. So, after I spent that whole night looking for them (they’d gotten shuffled around on a network drive, I did eventually find them), I went back the night after, with another cup of tea and the same excited inspiration, and found the file was still in the Pages format, which can’t be opened by Microsoft Office. Okay, no problem, my boyfriend has a Mac upstairs, I could just go into his office, export the file to a Word document, and then I could get to work. When I opened it in Pages, it told me the file was empty. I checked the file in both Windows Explorer and OSX Finder. They both said the file was zero kilobytes in size. All the work I’d done on that novel in the past year was gone. Not awesome.

Naturally, I’m really frustrated. I should have checked the file after I moved it. I shouldn’t have waited a freaking year between edits. I shouldn’t have written a novel in Pages. Basically, I asked for this. However, not all is lost. I still have the previous draft and all the edit notes I took. I can redo all this work. It’s daunting, but putting it off is not awesome.

As far as my nail polish company goes, I bought all the supplies for my first round of research and development. I spent almost forty dollars on glitter alone. I’ve been smiling all day because I’m so excited. I can’t wait for all this stuff to come in so I can lock myself in my lacquer room, get high on the fumes, and let them carry me to my nail polish creation destination. Actually, that sounds like a bad idea and I don’t plan to do that. I plan to keep the windows open, but not so much that glitter gets blown everywhere. I imagine I’ll spend a few hours each night shaking bottles and scooping glitter. I imagine I’ll make a lot of mistakes because I’m totally winging it.

That’s the other thing that puts me off. I don’t want to make mistakes because I feel like I’m wasting product, which means I’m wasting money. It’s scary having someone hand me money – capital – and saying “Okay, now double it.” I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it, at least not quickly. I also worry that I’ll need more and my investors will say “Didn’t we just give you some?” and I’ll have nothing to show for it. Then I’ll be out of business. Not awesome.

I think it’s important to do things that scare me; success depends on taking risks, making mistakes, getting messy, etc. This is a conversation I’ve had with a friend who’s a musician; if we let the fear of failure and criticism and rejection get to us, we’ll never get anywhere. I’m going to add that to my 2014 manta. Fear nothing. Do the work. Be awesome.

Fiction Friday: The Fey Girl and Death

Author’s note: I created a writing challenge with words chosen from a vocabulary-building calendar I was given for Christmas. I chose a word from each week and challenged myself to use all the words in a short story. The list of obscure words and their definitions can be found here. The story was taken from this writing prompt posted on r/writingprompts. This was originally posted on on January 17, 2013.

There she was. She was still, peaceful, unconscious. Her flaxen hair, spattered with blood, was fanned out over the crisp and sterile pillow. Even after the accident had etiolated her to this frail state, she was beautiful. In life, she had been a dancer, and had the lean terpsichorean body to prove it, though now it was mangled and beaten. In life, she had been a kind and caring person, loved by everyone and held in high regard by her peers. Now, Death was coming to collect, but he could not. Death didn’t want to take her. Death had fallen in love with her.

He’d come to collect her long ago, and saw her lying so helplessly in her bed. Her family stood vigil in her hospital room. Colporteurs came to offer their books and support. Friends and acquaintances and members of the dance company came to visit and check on her status. Upon seeing her, Death too took up at her bedside, watched TV with her parents, caressed her smooth skin with his bony fingers. He listened to the doctors and nurses discuss her condition. “We don’t understand it”, they’d say. “She should never have lived like this for so long.”

The hospital tried its hardest to be warm and inviting, but still felt carceral, cold and impersonal. Death wandered the corridors, studied the flat faces of the doctors and nurses, went about collecting other debts as they sprang up. Work had always been easy for Death; veridical and inflexible, he always came to collect, and never left without the one he came for. He disregarded any begging, any offers to negotiate, any offers for that game of chess or rock-paper-scissors that would afford them another few years on Earth. No one could wangle their way out of collection. Until now, that is. No one affected Death like she did.

He didn’t like eavesdropping on her relatives and friends, but he wanted to, just to hear them talk about her. Most of them were nudniks and fools, but they were genuine, and Death loved to hear each kind thought and hypocorism they spoke. Had Death a face, he might have smiled. They left get well cards and billets-doux, flowers and stuffed animals, small oriflammes that had less to do with her recovery and more to do with the sender’s hope that, somehow, recovery might be possible. There wasn’t a person on Earth who didn’t hate seeing her life and her talent wasted. Even Death, who didn’t care one way or the other, couldn’t bring himself to end her life.

Death was his own boss; there was no one to whom he was sequacious or compliant. There was no one to whom he would have to malinger. There was no greater authority than Death. There was no one who could scold his sudden cathexis or hound him for ignoring his duties for so long. It’s not that he wanted to ignore them. Whenever there was a new debt to collect, he would leave her side, attend to it, and return. He’d found it so easy to take all the others. People’s reactions were unpredictable, but always fell into one category or another; most were fearful of him. Some would grovel and beg for more time. Some would offer him whatever he wanted, as if Death was a venal politician. Some, upon seeing him, would speak to him, knowing the process could not be stopped, recognizing certain truths and regrets about their ending lives. Others greeted him with unabashed billingsgate or an effrontery that turned out to be a pathetic fanfaronade. Death cared not for last minute antics. He did wonder, though, which one this beautiful fey girl would be.

Death wasn’t sure what it was about her that made him love her. Before now, love had been a foreign concept to him. Death’s understanding of love had been gleaned from the lives he collected and the reactions of those who mourned them. As he saw it, love was a thing that made people selfish and irrational. Now, Death had fallen into the same trap. As he was there to collect her life, after taking the lives of so many others, he just wanted to be by her side. He wanted to preserve her this way, to have her to himself, unconscious and inchoate, for as long as possible before sending her to the fiery vorago that would receive her.

Death had stumbled upon another new concept: daydreaming. Sometimes, while he was watching her, combing his thin bones through her aureate hair, he’d wonder what she was like in life. Through observing her visitors and listening to the things they said, he was able to retrodict the events of her life. She’d been a terrific dancer, an arriviste that angered and upset the older, more experienced dancers. She found humor in irony and malapropism. She lived her life on her own terms, never swaying to the masscult. Oh, how he hoped she lived her life to the fullest. Her life was far too short; every life was. He just never noticed, or cared, until now.

A nurse came in and applied a styptic to an open lesion on her arm, then left. He was alone with her now. The TV was on; there was a film about two men hopelessly chasing a MacGuffin while they learned to tolerate each other. He’d recognized it; just last week he’d collected a man famous for his sarcastic ekphrasis of it. He felt like they were bonding. It was unlikely she knew the TV was even on, but it felt, to him, like they were growing closer, that they were normal. Weeks went by this way. Death took care of his errands and spent his downtimes in her hospital room, watching TV, studying her visitors, or just sitting and admiring her. Even in this half-death, even after the maceration of her skin and the toll her accident had taken on her body, she was still the most beautiful creature on Earth. The alterity of that beauty, the gentleness and kindness she exuded, that’s what he cherished most.

A time came when Death realized that keeping her on Earth was wrong. In so many ways, it was horribly wrong. He watched her friends and family visit; in the beginning, when he first came for her, they would smile sad smiles and hold her twisted hands, telling her that it would be all right, that she would recover, that things would be back to normal soon. Those visits and those messages were frequent in the first few weeks. As time went on, her visitors were less encouraged. They were now speaking to her about the need for closure and the hope that it will come soon for all of them. This tore at Death; had Death a heart, these words would have broken it. He was realizing how unfair it was to her, and to everyone who cared about her, to keep her like this. She lived in this repugnant state because he’d wanted her to; she lived for his own selfish reasons. He could no longer snaffle her away from her family or from her fate. She had to die. He repeated those words to himself. She had to die. Her life was over, and it was his job to take it from her.

Normally, he had a procedure for this, led by an automatic ratiocination. He took some notes, amended his records, wrote a corrigendum or two in case he made a mistake. As prepared as he should have been for this, his execution so far had been extemporaneous and sloppy, as if he was new to the job. Just as he was completing the final steps, she opened her eyes. This had been the first time he’d seen her eyes. They were a blue shimmering oasis, a piercing glimmer of hope that stilled him in this pit of despair. When she saw him, she did not move or cry out. Her lips curled weakly into a smile. He didn’t have to say anything; she knew who he was and what he was there to do. Death held his hand out to her. She struggled to lift her fingers to meet his, but she did. As they touched this final time, her eyes closed. In the wee hours of that January day, she had finally died. Death sat in the visitor’s chair beside her bed, where he’d sat with her so many times before. He listened to the machines shriek, and watched the medical staff shut them down and wheel them out of the room. It was over. She, that beautiful fey girl, fated to die, was finally free.

He’d never loved anyone before; there had never been anyone like her to advert him from his duty. After taking so many lives before hers, he’d never mourned anyone before now, and it didn’t make sense to start. Still, he missed her. He felt an emptiness for her. He spent the longueurs and slow work days with her, and she made him look forward to those times when he used to dread them. Like everyone else, he would need time to get over the loss. Imagine that: Death in mourning.

He delved into his work. He had a renewed interest in his job, a banausic focus, a chthonic neutrality he strove to restore. There was no more time for inane woolgathering or sub rosa eavesdropping on hospital visitors. It was time to collect the dead. After all, Death was the deuteragonist of life. No one was safe from him. There was no conurbation developed enough to hide in, nor was there an ecotone so remote that one would not be found. There was no actor so convincing or a mythomaniac so believable that Death would be fooled and forgiving. From now on, Death came after everyone, and waited for no one. Ailurophiles were taken with their cats still in their laps. Stamp collectors died while conducting their philately. He went after government apparatchiks and drug cartel camarillas, the dirty canaille masses, the clerisy bent over their pretentious books. Death was the ultimate factotum: exterminator, janitor, savior, liberator.

Occasionally, he thought of her. He’d encounter a similar cold hospital room or a pretty blonde girl, and he’d remember the time he spent with her. He’d remember the internal tu quoque arguments he’d had with himself, criticizing humanity for being selfish in love while keeping a young woman from her fate. He wouldn’t let himself think of that lean terpsichorean body, which was certainly now a vermicular tangle in the ground, or a forgotten pile of ashes in a tarnished urn. For Death, his work was the world; a world to which she no longer belonged.

2013 Post-Mortem

Note: This was originally published on on December 31, 2013.

My resolutions for this year were pretty easy. In 2013, I just needed to make it through the year unscathed. I resolved not to accidentally kill myself or my pets. I resolved not to accidentally burn my house down. I resolved to write in a journal every night, to keep a record of my crazy year living alone, to prove to myself and others that it really did happen. I resolved that I would be more careful with my money. I resolved to floss my teeth every day. Here’s an update.

Lived Alone. Nobody died.
Living alone was scary as hell at first. I used to freak out when I had to sleep alone in my apartment or house; I’d always stay up until five in the morning or later, when I was absolutely certain I wasn’t going to be murdered in my sleep. Sleeping alone was something I got used to and later learned to enjoy. I was never pushed out of the bed or had my covers stolen. Winter nights were uncomfortable; I skipped the heat most nights to keep costs down, and slept with a mountain of extra blankets instead. I could barely move, but I kept warm. In the summer, I slept with the windows open, and only had one bug scare.

I stopped cooking as often when I lived alone, which had many consequences. In the beginning, when I was the poorest, I would eat two packets of ramen a day. I was afraid to eat any more than that because then I wouldn’t have a meal for the next day. I had to walk three or four blocks to the store to spend my last two dollars on ramen. I lost forty pounds. Things got easier as my boyfriend came to visit and left food and credit card privileges. For a while there, though, I felt really hopeless about the whole thing. Those nights when I was cold, lonely, hungry: those were the nights I worried whether I’d make it through the year.

Kept a journal until November.
I wrote diligently through most of the year. I would write a page or two in a journal right before I went to bed, just about whatever I was thinking about or whatever might have happened to me that day. I filled four volumes of rambling and whining and thinking, and I actually started a fifth around the time my boyfriend moved back in. Since my routine changed, I couldn’t write before bed anymore, and so the habit of writing every night ceased.

Financially Irresponsible
I started out being careful with my money. I knew that I had a tight budget and I could only buy the things I needed. For the first few months, I could do it. I bought what was necessary and very little else. I’d treat myself to a cheap bottle of nail polish, as a reward for getting my ass to the store in the first place, but apart from that, I never splurged. This was something that changed as my boyfriend came home from Atlanta more and more frequently. Since he was buying food and things for me here, more of my own money got squandered on crap. This was exacerbated by the video game design contest I won and got $5,000 for. I blew through a good chunk of it in a couple of weeks, and with nothing much to show for it. I bought a lot of games on Steam, I bought a lot of nail polish, and I bought a pair of Fendi sunglasses. I actually had my boyfriend deposit the rest in his account so that I wouldn’t spend it all. This is how I would spend my money for the rest of the year.

Flossed. For a while.
I also kept this up for many months, until I ran out of floss, couldn’t buy any because I spent too much money on crap, and I fell out of the habit.

Let’s talk 2014 resolutions now.

Read and write more for fun.
I got so busy with schoolwork this year that the most important things to me ended up on the back burner. I had a goal to read 50 books this year; I only read 26, and nearly all of them were for class assignments. I also wrote a lot of papers for school, but worked very little on fiction. I revised my novel in March and wrote something for National Novel Writing Month, but overall, I did absolutely nothing to move my writing career forward. In 2014 I have to change that.

Eat better.
Seeing as I just got a KitchenAid stand mixer for Christmas and I’ve been making pizza dough from scratch five nights out of the week, I want to make an effort to cook and eat more healthful foods. I want to eat less meat, and I want to eat less in general. I want to bake more often, but I want to make a batch of brownies or a cake last an entire week, or longer. I should probably booze less, but I don’t want to unless I have to.

Use this blog as intended.
Believe it or not, I hadn’t meant for to be a nail blog exclusively. I meant to write much more about myself, and even post some of my fiction for plagiarism and merciless critcism. Posting a manicure or two each week was mainly an incentive to keep using it, and somehow, that’s all the blog became. Maybe this is an amendment to the first resolution to write more about things I care about, to do more often the things I care about the most.


Usually, when I’m looking back on a year passed, I find that I have very little to show for it, only that I’m another year older and somewhat unfulfilled. Overall, 2013 was an amazing year for me. I learned so many new things, both book-wise and street-wise. I learned about budgeting and molecular biology, about independence and international law, about lawn maintenance and poetry. I met tons of interesting people and made quite a few dear friends. I visited cities I love, I accidentally became a video game developer, and I learned a bit about myself and what it means to be an adult. I now expect 2014 to be a whirlwind of excitement and adventure. I’m not even going to allow myself the possibility that it might not be.


Note: This was originally published on on September 19, 2013.

I keep a pen-and-paper journal next to my bed. Journaling every single night was one of my New Year’s resolutions, and surprisingly, it’s one I’ve kept since the beginning of January. It’s probably the reason I don’t write more about myself here, because I get it all out every night. That, and I rarely have anything worth writing about, other than my nails. Even my journal entries aren’t much more than “I had to buy cat food today” or “I sure do hate cleaning the house”.

For whatever reason, I went upstairs and started reading the first journal of the year. It’s this adorable fabric-covered booklet with upcycled keyboard keys covering the front. My boyfriend gave it to me nearly two years ago, when I was stuck in the hospital after an unexpectedly complicated gallbladder surgery. I kept it around and didn’t start writing in it until January, because I was afraid of wasting it. I didn’t want to mar the pages with cooked lines, or having to tear them out and start over. I didn’t want it to be thrown away or cast aside out of neglect or disregard. It’s a unique little book, and I wanted to treat it with the respect it deserved. I opened to the first page, the first page of the year, and started reading. By January 1, I had already been living alone (read: without the boyfriend I lived with for seven years) since November, and I was not at all used to it. I was still struggling to find my place in the world and where I belonged. I was buying cheap wine and cat food with change. I did not have an ideal life. I want to say things have changed since then, but not a whole lot. Now I buy cheap wine and cat food in bulk online.

I notice that one thing has not changed at all. Let me show you.

January 8: “I’ve lost sight of what’s important. I don’t work hard enough at writing anymore.”
January 14: “I want to start writing again.”
January 22: “I started reading the book I wrote today!”
January 23: “I really fucking hate winter. Also, I finished reading the book I wrote and I hate it.”
January 25: “I want to write.”
January 30: “I’m too busy to write.”
February 8: “I miss writing.”

It goes on like this. Every other entry is about writing, but not actually that I did any writing, just about how much I miss it and how I feel like I’m terrible at it sometimes, how I never have time for it anymore. I’ve been saying the same crap since the beginning of the year! I haven’t written anything in months because I don’t have time. I haven’t written anything because I don’t think I can write anything good right now. I haven’t written anything because I’ve been preoccupied with life, or what I imagine is life, but is really just a vacation from what I want to be doing the most.

I’m totally right. I really have lost sight of what’s important.

I’ve been thinking about when I was writing full-time. Those were some awesome times. I started writing in the morning, right after I’d taken a shower and made tea. I stopped writing when I went to bed. I wrote when I didn’t especially want to write, or when I didn’t think what I was writing was any good. I wrote when I was cracked out on painkillers after my gallbladder surgery. I wrote until I got a repetitive motion injury from writing and had to take a week off. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing.

That’s not the case anymore. I spend all my time now listening to lectures, working on homework assignments, or reading books for something other than leisure. If I have a spare hour, I end spending it on housework or playing video games with friends. Writing just completely fell off my priority list. I hate it and I want to change it. I can never find the time.

Business Trip

Note: This was originally published on on June 25, 2013.

I’ll be spending the next few days in Boston, where I’m attending the Games for Health Conference. I entered a game development contest, and had my game place among four other finalists. At this conference, I’ll be showing my game in a panel with the other finalists, and hopefully learning how to improve my game. It’s a three day trip. I leave very early Wednesday morning and get back home again very late Friday night. I’ve packed 25 pounds of luggage.

When it comes to packing for a trip, especially one as important as this, I always have two forces inside me battling each other. Actually, this is true for pretty much everything I do. There’s The Survivalist, the pragmatic, rational minimalist who knows what is necessary and what is frivolous, what must come with me and what must stay behind. Then, there’s The Boy Scout. The Boy Scout is nothing if not prepared for any situation, and sees the frivolous, extraneous items as a contingency plan. Did the heel on your shoes break? Good thing you packed two other pairs!

The Survivalist knows I only need three outfits, one for each day of the conference. The Survivalist knows I only need one pair of shoes, minimal accessories, a toothbrush, and underwear. The Boy Scout continually asks “What if?” What if I end up at a nice restaurant? I couldn’t possibly wear the suit pants and jacket I wore at the conference all day, so I pack a dress. What if something happens to a piece of clothing and I can’t wear it? What if I need to walk several blocks, and dress shoes are impractical? I might not need any of this stuff, but I might. The Boy Scout usually wins out. I probably won’t need all the stuff I packed, but it’s better to have it and not need it than end up with too few clothes or toiletries.

I love travelling. I don’t get to travel nearly as often as I would like. I spent a good part of the day today exploring Boston on Foursquare, checking to see if there are any good restaurants and bars and sights to see within walking distance of my hotel. I’m pretty sad I won’t have time to see more of the city, but I’ll still have a chance to do and see and eat and drink things I’d never get to experience otherwise.  This is what I’m looking forward to the most. I’m excited about learning more about the world of healthcare gaming, but I’m more excited about being a tacky tourist.

Love, Romance, and Other Shortcomings

Note: This was originally published on on June 4, 2013.

I won’t even deny it. I read romance novels.

It started with a benign curiosity. I’d see them in supermarkets, libraries, yard sales, grandparents’ houses. I knew all about these books; I’d heard about the overtly manly men, the diminutive but well-endowed women, the over-the-top sexual descriptions and unintentionally hilarious euphemisms. Despite that, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to them. I was attracted to the titles written in soft, sprawling script, the long windblown locks of the heroine, the unbuttoned shirts of the hero (and sometimes also his long windblown locks as well). To me, these books were beautiful, and when I finally had the chance, when I was a teenager in high school, I got one from the library. I got another. I came home with armfuls of them. I bought them online and filled my shelves with them. I hid them from my parents, but not so carefully. When I was found out, my mother only said that she wished I’d start reading “intellectual books” again.

I was enthralled by the first one I ever read. It was full of excitement, adventure, passion, and I shed a few tears at the end. The next one I read wasn’t as satisfying, but I still enjoyed it. Then, the more I read, the more I found wrong with them. I got frustrated by the male characters and their overbearing maleness, the females and their helplessness against it, and the general idea that love somehow solves everything in a matter of days, including abandonment issues, daddy issues, conflicting personalities, stalker tendencies, the list goes on. I got so annoyed by it that I stopped reading them.

I started reading them again a couple of years ago. Even though these books irritated me, I still kept them, even though there were certainly times I’d considered donating them to Goodwill or selling them all on eBay. When I began to take writing a bit more seriously, I gave them another go. After all, the women writing these books were actually getting published and selling, so they must be doing something right, right? Certainly there’s something to be learned here, even if the plots are flimsy, the characters are weak and stereotypical, and the sex scenes are the only decent parts of the book. I decided to mix a few in with my classic literature, poignant memoirs, and teen fiction.

I have learned many things from reading romance novels. The most important thing, probably, is that I’ve learned how not to write, or better yet, I’ve learned more about the kinds of stories I want to write. For instance, I really dislike it when authors spell out the rest of the characters’ lives. I know some people like that kind of closure, but I kind of like deciding for myself what happens to them. When I’m reading an ending about how two people who detested each other upon meeting fall in love after having fantastic earth-shattering sex, I don’t really want to know that right after they got married and bought a house and got a dog, they got pregnant with twins, or how the twins grew up and one went to Harvard and the other only got into the crappy state college, but her parents love her anyway, and they lived happily ever the end. I don’t really care. Not only do I feel like I’ve been fed a ton of useless information, I feel like this ending leaves very little room for realistic events. I guess that in a romantic fantasyland, bad things never happen, unless it’s to help facilitate true love. In real life, bad things happen to good people. Things like illness and poverty constantly affect people who don’t deserve it. Real people cheat on their spouses, even when they love them. Real people have vices and addictions and weaknesses. Real people have real problems that can’t be solved by love alone. I think that’s what my problem is with these books, they’re for people who want to forget that reality is a cruel, unforgiving thing.

Despite that, I have something to confess: these books make me feel inadequate as a woman. If these are books written for women, why don’t I enjoy them? Why do I struggle to finish them? Why do I roll my eyes so much while I’m reading? Do I not want to find true love? Do I not want to be wanted by a man? Do I not want to be cherished, desired, placed upon a pedestal?

Actually, romance novels aren’t the only thing that make me feel inadequate. I’m 27, and all my friends are married, engaged to be married, or desperately searching for a husband. They’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or ogling every baby that goes by. I don’t want any of those things. I don’t want to be a wife or a mother; I don’t want much more than I already have. I want someone I can watch Cops with while we drink beer. I want someone with the same lust for knowledge and culture that I have. I want someone I can stay up all night with, just talking about nothing in particular. It seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Then why do I feel like I’ve failed at being a woman?

I am not an adult.

Note: This was originally published on on March 24, 2013.

I am not an adult.

I fear I may never be.

My boyfriend moved out in November to take a year-long contract job in Atlanta. Since then, I have lived alone. It has been an illuminating experience, one I enjoyed at first: having the bed to myself, playing air drums without having anyone walk in on me, washing fewer dishes. I suddenly had more freedom than I’d ever had before. As time went by, though, I started missing small things about having another person around. The bed is always cold. Cooking for one person is depressing. The cats don’t laugh at my jokes. One of the cats actually went crazy and spent three months avoiding me in the backyard.

Since November, I’ve walked everywhere I go. It’s a fifteen minute walk to Dollar General from my house. There’s a convenience store five minutes away, but I’m certain half of the stuff in there has been there since they opened it. There’s a pack of diapers in there that looks like it’s been on that shelf since I wore diapers. Right, so fifteen minute walk to Dollar General. Since my budget is extremely tight now, I try not to spend more than ten dollars, and if the handbasket gets full, I have to stop, because I’ve probably got more than I can carry home. Typically, I’ve got a bag of cat food, cheap toilet paper, and ramen noodles. If I’m able, I’ll splurge on Milk Duds and a bottle or two of nail polish as a reward for walking my ass to the store. As a result of all this walking and a diet that’s not much more than caffeine and noodles, I’ve lost forty pounds. My favorite yoga pants don’t fit anymore.

I’ve done my best to keep myself busy, but it’s been a dull existence so far. I wake up, have breakfast and tea, put on some music and lay around the living room until two o’clock or so, when I start chores or do schoolwork. If I have time, I read or work on my embroidery project. I have lunch at some point, dinner at some point, then I spend the rest of the night writing. I thought that if I stay busy for the next year, I’ll stay sane.

Over the past few months, I’ve begun to feel like things are slipping out of my control. The sink in the laundry room got clogged somehow; I found this out when it overflowed the last time I tried to do laundry. I can’t unclog it. I’ve never had to unclog a sink in my life. I don’t even know how the plunger works. Because of this, laundry is piling up around my room and I have no way to take care of it. The grass is starting to get tall and I can’t mow the lawn because the shed is locked and I don’t have the key. I have all of these stupid idiot problems that could easily be solved by someone other than me.

Last night, there was this loud droning sound coming from the backyard. When I went to check it out, I notice there are frogs in and around the pool. It was like a scene from The Bible, whatever scene it is where somebody lets their pool go to hell and God sends a plague of frogs to embarrass them and annoy their neighbors. That happened, right? So there I am, it’s midnight, it’s still warm out, the moon is full and casts a pale light onto the water, giving me just enough to be able to see them swimming around. I get the pool net down and start scooping them out, emptying the net over the side of the fence. After two or three nets full of frog and leaves, I realize that I’m dumping them out right under my bedroom window. I don’t know how many I pulled out, or how long I was out there, but I was out there for quite a while. Despite my efforts, though, the noise didn’t stop. It was still coming from the pool, but it was also right under my window. I’d had a headache all day, so I went to bed early, and laid still and alert for half an hour, listening to the croaking before I gave up and slept on the couch in another room, where instead I listened to the neighborhood cats yowl and hiss at each other.

How in the world do I think I’m going to make it through the rest of the year? I clearly lack the skills necessary to keep my life from falling apart, that’s why my boyfriend moved out and I pay for cat food with change. I feel like I’m riding in a car with four flat tires. I could drive on it for a while, but sooner or later, it’s going to give out, and I’m going to be completely screwed.

Note: This was originally posted on on March 24, 2013.


Spring Ahead

Note: This was originally posted on on March 16, 2013.

The first day of spring is this week, and I spent all day today preparing for it. I put away my winter coat and boots, my pinstripe trousers and sweaters, my hats and scarves. I pulled out all my cork platform shoes, my flowing maxi dresses, my plaid bermuda shorts and tube tops. I took all the fine, dainty jewelry I wore this winter out of the jewelry box and replaced it with handmade hemp bracelets and souvenir jewelry from my last vacation. I started daydreaming how I’ll style my hair, if I’ll dye the ends blue like I did last year, how I’ll wear my makeup. Spring is a time of change for everything else in nature; trees return to their lush fullness, flowers blossom and thrive. I, too, want to shed the cold, dark winter and become something beautiful. For me, this is what spring is all about. It’s my favorite time of the year.

It was 80 degrees today. The weather this winter was odd; most of January had these high temperatures, and they disappeared into February and March. I spent those months wrapped in hoodies and yoga pants and crocheted blankets, the warmest and most comfortable clothes I own, shaking my fist at the ceiling from the warmth of my couch. “Why can’t you be like January?” I’d ask. “Why are you warm for two days and cold again for the rest of the week? Why can’t you make up your mind?” I was starting to give up on ever being able to walk around my house in shorts again. Then today, the weather was sunny, warm, perfect. It was the day I waited all year for.

With spring on its way and summer around the corner, I have so much to look forward to: tanning by the pool, reading on the porch, sleeping with the windows open, eating gazpacho and drinking iced tea. I have some goals, as well: I want to write something new in April. I want to have my book completely finished by the end of summer. I want to ignore the world for the sake of my art. I’d like to go to Atlanta at least once, but that depends on whether I can find someone to feed my cats.

I feel like I wasted winter; I started so many projects and completed none of them. March is half over, and I still have nothing to show to people and say “Hey, look at what I did in 2013!” That’s going to change soon. I’m going to focus more on writing and let everything else go for a while. Spring may as well be the beginning of my year, and I plan to start it off right.