Monday, September 22, 2014

I had a one night stand...

Did that suck you in?  Engage you in a way that made you want to read on?  I get it.  I totally do.  Because, Jay, the schizophrenic friend I made at my book signing this weekend, dropped the same line on me, and I was stunned with intrigue.

Jay is a sixty-one year old man, who by all accounts appears normal.  I sat outside of Breakwater Books on the green in downtown Guilford, and Jay rode by on his bike.  The apple cider and blueberry cake caught his eye, and he seemed disappointed when he learned that these items were merely a ruse to lure in passersby.

"Is this for free?" Jay asked.  I thought he was talking about my book, so I responded with a polite, "no, I am signing the books that I sell though."

"Oh, is this your book?" He asked of the paperback bound object on display beside the blueberry cake.

Jay dismounted his bike and introduced himself, shook my hand, and then asked if he could have some apple cider.

"Sure," I said.

"I've had four beers, and that makes me a little jittery," he explained.

"Oh, were you at the fair?"

"No.  I want to go, but I need to save my money," he began.  "I need to be able to get out of here fast if something happens."

At this point I realized that Jay struggled with some sort of mental illness.  I offered a piece of the blueberry cake, but he declined because, "I was going to go get some french fries."

The fries never happened, though.  Not for a couple hours at least.  I know because Jay stayed and chatted with me for nearly and hour before the event coordinator had a chance to come outside and offer me some relief.

I don't mean to imply that I needed relief from Jay because I found our conversation quite fascinating. Jay did have a one night stand--he and a girl went skinny dipping--very naughty, he knows.  That was the last time he really fooled around with a girl.  He rode the Greyhound, and his sister Annie lives in Madison.  His father had cancer, and they cut him open and put a bit bubble inside him.  His parents were really interesting people, and they drank bloody Marys on Sunday mornings.  Jay is not supposed to drink alcohol, but the alcohol helps to quiet the voices and make him less anxious.  He doesn't tell his probation officer that he drinks, but "they" are going to start selling the 25 oz bottles of Budweiser soon.

I peppered Jay with questions, and at one point I asked him if he suffered from schizophrenia.  He willingly confessed yes, and went on to tell me about his medications, his living arrangements, his trips to Argentina and Venezuela, and all about his life.  A couple of times he apologized for monopolizing my time and realized that he was probably preventing other people from stopping.  I could have agreed and found a way to politely ask him to leave, but I felt sorry for him and had a genuine interest in hearing his tales.

When I asked why he was on probation, he admitted that he had inappropriately touched a woman, and I felt a little uncomfortable about that.  I felt uneasy when he began complimenting me and telling me that I looked like an ex-girlfriend, but I didn't want to offend him, so I kept listening, kept talking, kept questioning.  Then Jay confided that he wished that his parents had known what was going on with him when he was younger because "I could probably be doing something better with my life right now."  Moments later he said, "I wish I had done something I could be proud of with my life."

After my talk with Jay, the event coordinator moved my table inside, but Jay remained seated on the bench watching the world go by, and the anxiety of my own mind spun fantastical tales of the potential danger I was in with Jay seated right outside.  He had a bike, and I was on foot.  Was I safe?  Would he try to follow me?  Would anyone notice if he did?

I've often wondered, at what point do the voices in our heads speak loudly enough to label a person mentally ill?  Were my thoughts just "nervous" as opposed to "paranoid"?  I tried to force my memory to record every second of my conversation with Jay because he was so unabashed in what he was willing to share with me.  It was nerve-wracking, fear-inducing, and entertaining all at once. So, while Jay got to recount his one night stand, all I had was one book sold.  To my husband's aunt.

Friday, September 19, 2014

I'm not a typical chic lit girl--Blog Giveaway

So, because I've been a terrible host and have ignored all of my fabulous guests who take the time to read this silly blog, I'm going to do a free giveaway.  In honor of my first ever book signing in Guilford, CT at Breakwater Books this weekend, I am going to give away 3 signed copies of my memoir to the first 3 folks who like and then message me on my facebook page.

If you are wondering where in the world wide abyss I have disappeared to, it's not been anywhere fun and exciting, I can promise you that.  It's the halls of the high school I teach in that have been holding me captive since the new school year began.  (I can hear your boo-hoos coming through the interweb) In addition, I've been working on my WIP--that's "work in progress" in writer lingo.  All of these characters are prancing around in my head, so I've been trying to let them slip out onto the page before they slip away forever.  This novel is my first attempt at writing fiction, and to be frank, I am ALL OVER THE EFFEN PLACE!  I know at some point, I will likely be able to reign all of these folks in and have a sit down to figure out who is who, but I feel like I was just plopped in the middle of someone's family, and I'm just trying to quietly observe while I get to know them.

What's been really helpful is that I am reading lots of fiction these days.  I'm also teaching my creative writing class, so it's great practice for me to talk about craft with the students and then put those tips into practice with my own writing.  I get a lot of reading recommendations from my friend Gina Henning on Twitter.  I blogged about her new release a couple weeks ago.

Gina recommended a fantastically fun chiclit novel, In Need of Therapy by Tracie Banister, and I gobbled it up in a matter of days.  Set in Miami, it is the story of an almost 30 year old, single woman who is highly driven to succeed in her new practice as a therapist.  As she engages in sessions with her clients, we learn about the inner workings of her friends, family, and lovers, and the writing is really fresh, relatable, and entertaining.  As I considered how to teach writing character to my seniors, I realized that I was having strong emotional reactions to Tracie's characters.  I tweeted her about my hatred for Tony who actually had the audacity to ask Pilar what her daily caloric intake is on their first blind date!  Seriously?  Who is this guy?  I wanted Pilar to get up and walk out when I realized that Tracie had evoked some really powerful emotions in me.  So, I went ahead and opened up my book in class and flipped to the pages where she introduced the deliciously sexy Mitch and the obnoxious meat head, Tony.

Sure enough, the kids were able to clearly identify the "character type" of each man and label them with the banal descriptions of "hottie" and "meat head".  "But," I pointed out to them,"the author never once uses those words."

"No one is simply beautiful, handsome, fat, ugly, mean, or any of those non-descript images," I said.  Every person in the room could see Tony, every girl wanted to wrap herself around Mitch, mostly because the words on the page were so full of vivid detail that we telepathically (as Steven King calls it) understood exactly what each character looked like and sounded like.

My point is, chic lit is not my typical go-to genre, but I've entered into a writing world that has accepted me on my merits, and I have to accept others on theirs.  I gave Banister a chance, and she wowed me with her writing, enough to move me to bring her writing into my class as a teaching tool.  Maybe memoir isn't your genre, but perhaps you're willing to give a girl like me a chance?  Why not, it's free!  Message me for a signed copy of your book!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Miranda Sings and Other Things

Sometimes I just miss being a teenager.  Every moment of life is so important, all eyes are on you--even when they are not.  Your voice has great importance in the world--or so you believe.  What you do matters.  It's socially acceptable to be zany and quirky and goofy and even obnoxious.

Today is picture day at school, and the senior girls wanted to make funny faces because these photos really don't matter.  They aren't their "senior pictures".  They are only used for school issued IDs that they don't even have to carry around with them.  This trend of goofing up the pics started a few years back when all the senior boys decided to wear the ugliest Bill Cosby sweaters they could find.  One year kids wore those big, black-framed Erkel glasses.  It's just silly.  Innocent and silly.  But it matters so much to them.  They plan their outfits days in advance.

Today the girls dressed up as the "you tube" sensation, Miranda Sings.  If you haven't heard of her, here's a clip of some of her work.

A group of girls donned their denim buttom-down shirts and bright red lipstick and got all excited to make faces that suggest they are either constipated or trying really hard to pass gas.  They got some push back from administration and the photographer because the state mandates that schools have a legitimate, usable photo identification of all pupils.  These girls were prepared to stand their ground.

I watched as they insisted, "No, this is how I wear my lipstick," or "this is my normal face."  They huddled together afterward in giggles and pride at their success.  Oh, the joys of youth.

My mind has been racing since I got out of the car this morning because I'm fuming mad over the latest iniqiuty of our education system.  NPR told the story of students and teachers at Madison Park (read about it here) who don't have schedules yet because the state has taken over the school in an effort to "improve" it.  Test scores should soar now that the kids aren't even going to classes.  Perhaps just let the teachers and administrators do their jobs?

I'm worried sick about the ISIS faction being the richest terrorist group because they are able to violently steal oil and bride officials to get the "verifications" they need for oil resale.  I worry about bills and debt and what's to make for dinner.  The health of my parents, the safety of my children.  Pretty much everything.

My mind constantly races with worry to the point where I have almost forgotten how to just relax and have fun.  So, as I watched the girls with their bright red lips hysterically laughing at themselves for being teenage goofballs, I felt a pang of envy for their innocence, for their giddy and jovial spirits because of all that doesn't really matter much to them.

Yes, knowledge is power, and if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.  I know.  But it is also true that ignorance is bliss.  


Friday, September 5, 2014

Where has the time gone?

I actually started planning my annual Holiday Kick Off party this week.  That's right.  I'm scheduling out as far as December right now.  And frightening enough, it doesn't seem that far away.

Last night was "back to school night" where the parents come in for a little meet and greet.  I felt like I was doing stand up comedy.  They were a great crowd, and many of them found my sarcasm and self-deprecating jokes to be quite comical.  For each group, I introduced myself as Mrs. Z--a point of major confusion for me because I've been Ms. S for 41 years.  But, for my 4 year anniversary present to my husband, I decided to change my name.  Four years.  I've been married for four years?  How did that happen.

My monologue continued, "For those of you who don't know me, I've been teaching here for 14 years."  Wow.  That's a long time.  It's been a whirlwind of a ride, one that at times I've wished to escape from, but I feel good about this year.  The students are adorably young and enthusiastic, and I am excited about being able to have discussions about books with the ones who actually read them.  *wink, wink*

"I've explained to the students," I said, "that my babies are 3 and 1.  They go to bed at 8:00, and I go to bed at 8:10, so if they email me with a question at 11:15 PM hoping for an immediate response (which has happened already), they will be disappointed."

3 and 1?  I was on maternity leave at this time last year.  Now the little love is walking and pretending that she can talk, shaking her head yes as if she understands when I ask her a question.  Where is my baby?

I keep asking the three year old if I can squish her up and put her back in my belly so that she can be born into a little baby again.  She says--quite defiantly--NO!  "I want to be a big girl."  But I don't want them to grow.  I want to freeze time and hold them in my arms and rock them and sing "Fools Rush In" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to them.  There have been times when either of them has been insatiably upset, and I wished that I could nurse her to serenity, that our bodies melded together the way they did in infancy, and all they needed was the warmth and love of me.

One student, who is now a sophomore, had a few older brothers who were in high school when I started working here.  I so vividly recall her tiny little body gripping to the hand or attached to the hip of her mother when they came to watch basketball games.  She was so tiny, with wild brown curly hair.  Now she's as tall as I am, with gorgeous brown hair that falls midway down her back.

I'm scared of my girls growing older.  Nothing warms my heart more than the tender little child voice of my three year old who asks me every night to carry her up the stairs, rock her, and lie down with her.  Let the dishes sit,  I tell myself.  She won't want this forever.  I want to slow down the clock.  I want to feel the hours, the minutes, the seconds and have the time to etch these moments into my memory, tattoo them on my heart, record them in my journal, so that when they have grown, I can go back and relive this bliss.