Monday, July 5, 2010

Not Cheating Wasn't A Matter of Principle. I Was Busy.

I thought I would try something today inspired by 1) my dear friend, Mandi Wheat and 2) my own writing deficiencies. Mandi and I had the good fortune of having Mr. Jon Frederick (and Pillow Book contributor, Melissa Ashby, our Senior year) as our high school English teacher. Most days we were surely serious, studiously soaking in the literature, the poetry, the alliteration exercises and grammatical skill-builders thrown our way. But then there were the vocabulary book days. While some wasted time with last minute cheating, others, Mandi and myself included - in fact, we may or may not have been the ringleaders - chose to make much more creative/super productive use of those 15 minutes. We would write a sentence or two on a piece of notebook paper about whatever we thought funny or interesting or nonsensical at the time, pass the paper to neighbors - I have no shame, I'm fairly certain that Kristen, Lindsey, Melissa, Triva, Kristi, Scott, Corey, and Justin all participated - and encouraged respective conspirator to add another sentence or two to the story. I can remember sitting in my desk, finished product in hand, trying to keep my shoulders from shaking, the universal (and invariably subtle) "I'm not supposed to be laughing, but I really want to" move. I'm sure Mr. Frederick had no idea; 17 year olds tend to be really inconspicuous and crafty... So, when Mandi commented on Saturday's Pillow Book entry, these instances of delinquency came to mind.

You know, it's funny, when I started this post I really didn't think Mandi and my writing deficiencies had anything in common. A paragraph in, however, and it is glaringly obvious. It is Mandi's fault that I have never attempted to write fiction and really have read very little. While we were organizing the collected musings of the class of 1998, Mr. Frederick was probably giving a masterfully persuasive oratory on the joys and intricacies of said genre. Thanks a lot, Mandi. ...

Well, in an attempt to make amends - both to Mr. Frederick, who in all sincerity, was one of the best teachers I have had at any level, and to the Pillow Book readers who appreciate fiction, but who have to constantly listen to my memoir-style take on books, music, recipes, and daily life - I have decided to challenge myself a bit today. I am going to start a story (maybe a paragraph instead of a sentence this time) and then ask you, in Mandi and Liza style, to add to it. The last person gets to come up with a title fitting for the completed narrative. Now, this is the way to do fiction.
Come to think of it, perhaps a genuine "thank you" is owed...:)

She used to hate it when her mom would open the screen door and half yell, half shriek any of the three phrases that if one or two words were changed, were exactly the same thing. She hated it because the used-to-be-blue, now kind of speckled gray, door made an annoying sound when it closed. More importantly, though, she hated it because her mom had no creativity. Fussing wasn't bad because she inevitably felt ashamed by what she had done or said. It wasn't a nuisance because her mother's words suddenly sparked some magic state of enlightenment that she would then feel obligated to act upon. It bothered her because it rarely entertained her. Where was the stuttering to make fun of? The wild references thrown in for dramatic effect? The ridiculous hyperbole that yearned for a good eye-rolling? She wanted "If I ever catch you doing [XYZ] again, I'm must going to take that [looks around for something of value] Ford Taurus (I suppose "value" is relative) and set it on fire with my breathe and make you put it out with bubbles and pillows" and all she ever got was one of the same three phrases. Every time.


  1. "It's time for dinner" was the most common and seemingly innocuous of the phrases. Ringing out from door to pasture to hillside it would draw her out of her world of vague interest in unexplored trails into the world of the well explored home. Her father and mother would be waiting over more macaroni and cheese and salmon patties no doubt. It wasn't a bad meal it was just so daringly common. Understandably, it doesn't seem like "fussing" to simply read the words "come in for dinner" but that is not what mother was really saying at all. You had to know her to understand that she was really saying was "you have forfeited the right to explore new territory, to expand upon your already ripe imagination. Come here where the familiar is far too strong to allow for such musings and eat a meal so dull that you could never dream it into caviar and crackers on the French Riviera". Her "punishments" were so very personally tailored and in turn...very effective. She knew me all-too-well.

  2. Other times she would be whisked away in her make-believe world only to be ripped back to reality by the piercing shriek of mother calling, “Auntie’s here for dinner, let’s eat!” She’d hang her head and let out a long sigh. She wished so much that instead of having to sit and listen to the idle gossip Auntie was sure to be telling, some mysterious guest with a name like Sean Luke would be sitting at the dinner table telling stories of romantic cafes in Paris. Instead, she’d sit quietly and eat her pork chops and apple sauce listening to Aunties endless chatter. Thinking to herself that how once again, the punishment was so mind-numbingly boring, that this could be any night of the week in her monotonous life.

  3. What she did not realize at the time was that she would come to a point in her life where she longed to hear that old door bang shut and her mother’s voice saying those same words. If for no other reason than to have the familiar embrace her and know that while the conversation waiting for her at the dinner table may be repetitive, and not as exciting as her explorations, at least she knew it by heart. It was here at this quite farm among her family that she knew the meaning of home. The floors knew her footsteps and the walls kept her secrets. She never knew that one day she would stand on her own porch and have an aching feeling that something wasn’t quite right, missing even. It may take days, years even, to make her realize what was absent from making her house a home. Yet when she does, it makes her laugh t to herself and long for days gone by.

  4. And thus, the final phrase, "Love you Francis Jane Shaw," was probably the most irrevocably frustrating of all. It followed what I, even at 10, knew was condesencion. It capped exasperation. It watered down verbal spankings. Ah, yes, she was a clever minx, a siren that pulled me near even as the increasingly waning creativity warned me to run. My khaki-colored visions of research excursions in Cairo, my secret hope of grabbing a guitar and joining my favorite singer songwriter for an impromptu performance at a hip coffeehouse, my silent yearnings to just be alone, all shattered by that unmistakable voice and that unmistakably pure sentiment. She reminded me. She made me secondguess. She had to go and use my middle name.