on writing, Personal Journey

The Most Dangerous Thing We Do

Once this kid—my passenger—grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it hard over while I was driving. Not just a little tug, mind you, but a full-on we-gonna-die! yank. The kind that elicited a blood-curdling scream and a shouted sermon. A 19-year old preaching car safety to a 15-year-old. This kid was all charm and immortality and sass. The car fetched and yawed but it didn’t crash into a telephone pole. He thought my fear was funny.

At age nineteen I hadn’t become comfortable yelling at people. That’s why the moment sticks. Now I yell at people for a living. Pro bono. Homeschool mom.

It wasn’t a year after the steering wheel incident I found myself looking at a car, at a half-unwrapped McDonald’s egg McMuffin. The driver’s seat was crushed, crenulated like those paper fans we made in elementary school. The sandwich was in the foot well. He must have had it in his hand when he threw the wheel too hard over. Must’ve dropped between his feet as the car began its flip.

An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by another force.

This kid, he lay in a hospital bed on life support, monumentally acted upon. His hands were warm from the machines pumping his blood around. All the damage was on the inside where we couldn’t see. This is true for us, too.

Apparently, his brain was dead. I didn’t buy it. Too warm. Too much like sleep. Were I his mother, you’d have to pare me from that beautiful boy with a hacksaw. I’d cling like apple peel. I still do.

I still hold to him. Still yell at him. See him in my own 17-year-old son who drives like telephone poles don’t exist. He thinks my fear is funny too.

My friend began telling this post as if it really happened before remembering it was an entry for a flash fiction contest. I remember her waving it away and saying “…it didn’t really happen.” But it did. Not exactly as I told it, but it did happen, and it happens every day. For most people, getting in our cars is the most dangerous thing we do.

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Personal Journey

A Tale of Two Writing Gigs

Yesterday I had two writing gigs. TWO! The first one was in a library where the security guards pack heat, and there are two of them patrolling the aisles. It’s a library where you get buzzed into the restroom and there find lurking an odor more corrupt than King Tut’s tomb or my son’s gym bag. It’s a sick marriage of the two. The bathroom air makes you feel dirty.

Somehow after the break, the smell of vomit which was strong in the bathroom followed us into the classroom. Not sure if it was the baby some desperate-to-write mother brought (and I give her kudos for that brand of desperate) or if somebody puked during break and then thought a valiant push-through would be a good idea. Note: Unless you’re a bona fide anorexic, hurling on break and then returning to a roomful of healthy people is not courteous. I felt myself contracting Norovirus as we sat there. Where’s a vat of Purell? It was difficult to concentrate. And it was the first meeting. The one where everyone’s made of ice and has something to prove. There were so many students, intimacy was a challenge. Or maybe it was that the room felt haunted and there was old gum stuck to my seat.

At one point the moderator asked if anyone had written any short memoir pieces. I raised my hand. He asked what it was about. I told him.

Moderator: Wow. That sounds amazing. I’d like to read that.

Me: (shrugs like a gawky teen girl finally asked to dance) I’d like you to read it.

People with social skills don’t say things like that. Might as well have been this.

Moderator: How are you?

Me: Desperate. Want to be my friend? Oh, and I’m creeped out. Why am I in a library that feels stuck in 1925 and smells like a thousand armpits?

No. The answer is good. I’m good. Thank you, Mr. Moderator. And the answer to “I’d like to read that” is to smile. And say nothing.

My second gig was the local library’s workshop. It was like coming home. Cozy, warm, familiar. It is a blessing to have a group of people with whom I can share the journey. The “security guard” in my library only works during the after-school hours, presumably to herd the youth who use it as a way station. This should alarm us. First, because enough youth have no place to go after school and/or can’t get there because we don’t bus them. And second, because as a collective, these half-finished knobs of humanity warrant a security guard. It should alarm us that in some meeting somewhere a disheveled and half-mad librarian, fresh from wrangling obnoxious pre-teens, proposed the idea that managing other people’s kids was above her pay grade. Solution: library security.

With no lingering security guard, no rank odors assaulting my senses, the second meeting was lovely. Both were lovely in their own way. And they were hard in the way socializing is hard for an introvert. I tire quickly. My dear friend Kathleen pointed it out. She’s the kind of person who notices things. Makes her a great writer. But I wasn’t too tired to notice Cyndi sees the virtue in other people’s writing and is able to buoy a floundering, squirming author. Or how contagious Nancy’s excitement was and how useful her clever plot ideas. Larry, new to writing, has inspiring tenacity. Especially for revisions. Scott, two T’s can always be a stand-up comedian in addition to writing. Scot, one T leads us faithfully and his journalism expertise is a gift. I missed Alexia and John. The meeting lacked gore and glamour, and the two of you know why… AND lacked spirituality. Paul! Nobody’s flying when you’re not there. (And I miss your super-discerning critique.)

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Sorry this post degenerated into a personal letter to my buds, but sometimes you just need to give a shout-out. Love to the people who sustain me, both in the physical world and you who read. My blogging friends have been the source of many smiles. To the folks beta reading my novel, thank you! Especially James, who is taking the time to discuss the clunks honestly and thoughtfully. Not only does he not crush my dream, he emboldens me.

Here’s to writing gigs, uncomfortable and comfortable! And to friends who make everything possible.

 

 

 

fiction

Microcosms Flash Fiction. Treasured

It was only appropriate his guestroom held trains. Hundreds of them. In specially built shelves they lined the walls floor to ceiling, a miniature world spread out over the whole breadth of the room. Sitting on the ancient couch put us at eye level with the train table. Craning our heads 90 degrees allowed a view of the TV. It never occurred to me to question the expediency of such a set-up.

Grandpop’s trains were center stage, the best guests.

To my sister and me, the train world was not fragile, not expensive, not the offspring of faithful labor, love, and vision. Despots see their kingdoms the way we kids viewed Grandpop’s guestroom: How can we best exploit this for our pleasure? The three tracks of varying sizes begged to be raced upon. Everyone knows, if you run a train too fast around a bend, it jumps the track. But racing grandchildren don’t care a wit.

“Never, ever push the lever hard over,” Grandpop would wag a stern finger. Hard over was the first thing we’d do when he left our sides.

Grandpop, whose ears were trained to hear the sound of a model train wreck, the clack and crunch of precious engine hitting the miniature buildings, the table, the metal tracks… he’d come trundling in before the train had even finished crashing.

“Gald dern it,” he’d grumble in phlegmy despair. And wedging into the tight space between table and bay window, he’d gingerly, lovingly right the engine, holding it like a woman, fitting it back onto the tracks. I’d gaze in horror at the deep cracks in his thick fingertips, filled in with the blackness of years and labor. I didn’t understand how skin could get carved out like that: like a lake basin in drought.

Now I know.

markboyd02

 

 

*A new flash fiction contest: Microcosms. Every Friday they provide character, setting, and genre, and you have 300 words with which to play. Today’s were: grandson/guest house/memoir. I accidentally used guestroom instead of guest house, so perhaps I’m disqualified. Still, it was fun. If the chosen words don’t inspire, writers are free to spin until the muse strikes. Feels kinda like Vegas. 🙂 This is a mutt of truth and fiction. Mostly truth.