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.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What I really want to say is...

There are some great lines from some fantastic films that reverberate with me, and at times I wish I could use them to satisfy certain situations.

Marc Whalberg is filming Ted 2 in Massachusetts right now, and my sister and I got to talking about some of the movies he's been in.  Inevitably, The Departed was first out of our lips.  Boy, there have been many a day when I wished I could've said...

Some other classic favorites of mine include just about every word that comes out of George Clooney's mouth in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, but I really get a kick out of this scene.

Today was one of those days when I felt like Little Nicky when he wanted to kick the devil's ass in the pillow fight.  It's back to school time, and to your surprise and mine, some kids just aren't in learning mode.  *gasps while holding finger tips over lips*  I've asked this little bugger nicely to change his attitude, but he's apparently under the stronghold of Satan.  So, would it be ok if I do this?

I don't want to go all Breakfast Club on his ass.

Really, assigning detentions is more of a pain for me than it is for anyone else involved.  I have things to do.  I don't really want to sit in a room and stare at this obstinate little bugger for 15 minutes, nor do I think it will rectify the situation and prevent any future misconduct.  Maybe if I take a page from Rhett's book in Gone with the Wind, the kids will turn into teary-eyed Scarlets and weep themselves to sleep in hopes of finding some way to get me back.  Probably not, but who doesn't love this scene?
There is so much that I would prefer to say to these sassy little teenagers, but turns out much of it is not only unkind but unprofressional.  Alas, tomorrow is another day.

And speaking of tomorrow--good news! I'm back to working on that fiction book that I'm hoping to some day finish.  Because it's Labor Day weekend, I'm again offering the FREE kindlebook of my memoir this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday!  Click here to download a free copy, and if you like it (or hate it for that matter), PLEASE post a review on Amazon.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Going Pecans --a blog dedicated to Gina Henning's new book release!

I'm not sure you know this, but I'm sort of a big deal on Twitter (@KSZ714).  I have 568 followers.  Calm down.  I'm not going to let the fame go to my head or anything, but I do feel the need to do a solid for my tweeps (that's twitter peeps) when the opportunity presents itself.  One of my favorite gals is the ever-adorable author Gina Henning whose new release Going Pecans is making noise the world over.  I'm sure that you're following her on Twitter and friends with her on FB, and you too have enjoyed emoji cocktails with her.

What?  You don't know Gina?  Well, stop reading right now and Contact her--she's all over the interweb:  Facebook Author Page   Twitter  Website  Goodreads 

Order your copy of the book here on Amazon link: Going Pecans

So Gina has taken on the task of driving this crazy train, and I am thrilled to hop aboard with all of the others who are headed for Pecans, Crazy-town.  I'm like a hobo on this train.  I've been to Pistachios, Macadamias, Walnuts, Chestnuts, Cashews, and Almonds so often you could put me in a can, toss me on a shelf, and market me as mixed nuts.

The truth is, I'm a high school teacher of English.  That's it.  There's my story of Going Pecans.  It started seventeen years ago, and the ride has never ended.  Oh, I'm also a mother of two toddlers.  Two girls--1 and 3.  No need for specifics, right?

Since I happened to write a memoir about a time in my life when I was the conductor of my own little crazy train, I've decided to share an excerpt of my book for this blog hop.  For those who don't know, I drove across the country alone in the summer of 2002 because I felt that my life was falling apart.  I was Going Pecans--seriously.  The weeks on the road allowed me to experience things that I had never encountered in my life, like seeing Old Faithful erupt, the awesomeness of Moab,Utah, the scariness of being alone in Burley, Idaho in a shady little motel, and the garish decor of Graceland.  In this excerpt, I had arrived in Cody, Wyoming to find that the major entertainment for the night was--of all things--a rodeo!  While I realize this might not seem too crazy to a large population of this country, it felt to me like I had entered another world.  I couldn't believe it.  It seemed crazy for a girl from a small town in Massachusetts.  The night was one of the most entertaining escapes into a little slice of pecans that I had while on the road.  It's a little more light-hearted than the rest of the book because there are so many ways to go nuts.

From Finding My Way Home:  A Memoir about Life, Love, and Happiness by C.K. O'Neil

For the first time in my life I watched in awe as live men in Wranglers and cowboy hats saddled upon ferocious beasts fighting to maintain balance upon their wild backs.  Others galloped on horseback with their lariats swinging wildly through the air chasing after the fearful calves racing to safety.  It was the makings for a Marlboro commercial where Stetson men and women competed for the lead role. 
Wrangler and Dodge banners decorated the stadium.  The event blasted off with a parade of horses circling the arena.  Upon each horse sat a man, woman, or child proudly carrying a flag representing a sponsor, an honor to our country, or a symbol of the wild west.  A clown with puffy hair beneath a red cowboy hat wore a white polka-dot shirt with extra large overalls and oversized cowboy boots.  He wheeled around his red cart of tricks to begin the show.  He was silly, but then again, he was a clown.  I giggled at first and then joined in with the roaring laughter of the crowd.  In a few moments, he exitd right and the announcer introduced the first hero of the evening. 
A loud rumbling ring released the metal gates to the left.  To my surprise a man on horseback charged out alongside a running bull.  He finagled himself close enough to grab hold of the bull’s horns then lunged his body somehow straddling both beasts.  Instantly he swung his legs from horse to bull and tried to steady himself on the back of the angered creature who snorted and bucked wildly.  Within moments, the cowboy crashed down and the crowd gasped, then released a slow exhale. 
A series of events from barebacking to steer wrestling, barrel racing, and bull riding continued.  Between each heroic feat the silly clown offered comic relief.  I enjoyed a beer and popcorn as I took in this sampling of life in the West. Another bell, the gates burst again. This time an angry bull with a strapping cowboy on his back bucked wildly about the arena.  The bull was shreiking and mad, yet the man rode him with determination.  He believed he would win.  It was a contest of man and beast, and this wild animal wanted the man off his back.  The bull dueled with impressive strength and jumped with the sole intention of propeling his opponent off of him.  In all of this tossing and jerking about, the cowboy never lost his hat.  It was impressive, but it was also the final performance of the  rodeo.  
That evening I thought about the vitality of the show I had seen, and the danger and risk involved in the daily lives of these cowboys and cowgirls. To the audience, these strapping riders appear invincible.  I watched them all enter the ring, battle the beasts, and exit victorious.  As with most people, it was their strength and fortitude that I saw, but their battered bodies and behind-the-scenes defeats are not showcased in the stadium.  I’ll never know the stories of those who were so severely beaten by the bulls that they were rendered crippled.  For it is only when the body has been beaten that others can see the physical pains we suffer.  We all, at some point, appear to the world to be something other than who we are—stronger, more confident, more stoic, more at ease.  Yet appearances are not always what they seem.  Outside of a rodeo, few have the courage to admit that they are battling an internal beasts.

Going Pecans Blog Hop
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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Watch your step!

Sadly we have returned from our family vacation in the Outer Banks, and I woke up this morning with a stiff neck and a sore back.  Yes, I made sure to keep up with my training every day, but the exercise isn't to blame for my discomfort.  "What happened?" you ask.  Well, I of course wiped out last night.  At a gas station.  In Connecticut.  Trying to walk to the door.  Yup.  I'm a major klutz.

Picture it.  It's 9:00 PM.  Two sleep-eyed kids rub their faces and whine in the car, and the husband is inside taking a bladder break and collecting sweets for the final two hours of our drive.  I realize that the little babe could do with a final cup of milk for the evening, so I grab her cup and rush over to show it to daddy before he makes his purchases.  I'm running the twenty feet from my car to the door so focused on the milk that I don't see the curb, thus I don't step up.  My toes bang into the cement and my body catapults forward into the trash barrel then ricochets back and falls into the stacks of pre-packed firewood piled against the wall.  My head and hand crash against the glass, and I imagine I look something like this.

My arm is scraped up, my toe could be broken, and my alignment is definitely out of whack.  I stand up and look around and there is not a single car or human being who witnessed my major tumble.  Really?  Nobody saw that?  Come on!  It had to be hilarious, and I wonder if the gas station has video surveillance cameras that we can rewind for a playback.  

I fall a lot.  Often when I'm out for a run, the little devil who dwells in the sidewalk will pop out and grab a hold of my ankle.  Sometimes I manage to twist free of his grip with a few long-forward-lunging strides, but there have been times when that little fucker has brought me down.  I've fallen down stairs at the airport.  I've fallen off my bike and broken both arms.  You'd think by now that I would slow down and watch where I'm going, but why would I do that?  

Do you have a fun falling story to share?