Fifty-Two Paragraphs

Sometimes, pretending to be an amateur photographer helps me be creative.

In choosing a photo to submit for this week’s Fifty-Two Frames, I asked my husband about a cheeky idea I had.

“I think you’re a writer, not a photographer.”

In other words, I seem to enjoy playing with the captions more than handling the photographs. Really, I’m photojournaling.

“Start a Fifty-Two Paragraphs. That’s who you are.”

Intriguing, and then I went off to class, where tonight I was one of the writers to be critiqued on a submitted piece. That exercise may have finally knocked me over the head.

I’m not being the writer I am today.

Ten-year-old me is being the writer I am today.

I’m twenty years late to my own party.

When I was a kid, I had a fear of writing things down because I knew they’d never be as perfect as they were in my head. I ended up focusing on poetry and journal writing. It was easy to perfect poetry, and it was easy to let journal writing be imperfect.

Now I’m an adult, and I’m still journal writing. I’m trying to write fiction, to tell the stories I have inside, and all I’m doing is tugging at a grain of whatever it was I had back then.

It’s not working.

At least I’m learning.

So… Fifty-Two Paragraphs?

Something I learned in class last night.

Rapid writing exercise. We couldn’t take the pen off the paper until she told us too. 

The first time I put on shoes opened the fridge hit a ball went to the park by myself wore a watch hung a shirt did my laundry spoke used a computer played a video game used a pen wrote a sentence.

Parakeets were the main topic until about fifth grade, then I moved on to pizza. By high school, my handwriting was bad. By college it was worse. By adulthood it was completely shot. Now it’s a hybrid – doctors’ notes, pigeon scratch, illegible as I am literate.

A badge of modern pride, a sad mourning of the beginning. The notebooks I kept since 13… light, faded grey pencil. Smell of paper… and then…

…computer. Type. Hard. Loud. Crack. My wrists now hurt for a different reason. Little wrsist, long type, big words, big screen. And when it comes back around to using a pen – well, I just can’t do this anymore.

Seriously. Please. Make it stop. My wrist may fall off. My pen might stab me.

I’m a caged writer, trapped in a computer monitor, biting the keyboard that feeds me.

For one day only.

My fourth time at the Writing Gym and we did a collective character exercise again, this time with two characters. I didn’t include every detail (ran out of time) and it’s pretty rough but below is what I came up with from the following: 

  1. Andrew, 55-year-old male currently in Sfat, confused about religious affiliation, single, violinist, self-employed, originally from London
  2. Linda or Leah, single, in her 20s, bartender/cellist, Conservative Jewish American

The sun was too strong. The light bouncing off the pale stones felt like lasers sharpshooting towards the centers of his eyes. Dazed, he wiped his stubbly face on his still-damp shirt, not sure how he got here, on – what is this street, anyway? He must’ve still been in Sfat because he couldn’t recall getting on a bus last night, but then again, how could he trust his own judgment at this point?

Andrew sat on a low stone wall on the side of the road and with his fingers, mentally ticked the facts he was certain of: I’m in Sfat – yes, definitely in Sfat since the stones shown like white ghosts and the northern hills created the panorama that was his point of view. It was a mid-June morning – the sun was strong and it must’ve been fairly early because he could spot the blur of a shepherd dog chasing goats over the side of the road in the yellow brush on the hillside below. And he was not yet sober – the waves violently crashing in his skull could attest to that fact.

Next to the spot where he had woken up, he saw his violin, as if it had been carelessly tossed to the ground. His eyes moved toward the nasty dent in the back panel. He searched his mind to uncover the truth behind that inharmonious circumstance, but his head gave up in angry discord.

He started to remember a woman with a young face – yes, it’s slowly coming back – a woman in her mid- 20s, offering him a drink sometime before things got intense. It must have been dusk, because the stars weren’t yet visible. He had thanked her and asked her name, but she had only smiled. He recalled her questions – honing in on his hometown of London, and why he had been in New York before he had wound up in Sfat. There was a barrage of questions, an outpouring of drinks, a meeting of a few other wandering lost souls, and after that he only remembered playing his violin, moving across vodka-soaked stones for a crowd of young revelers in a dimly-lit Sfat alley.

Coming-to, Andrew wondered exactly who she was. She was young – too young – and she was curious – too curious. What had she really wanted from him? Certainly not a free Saturday night concert in the streets of Sfat.

Andrew rose, steadied himself, and began walking toward the damaged violin. It looked sore, it looked tired, it looked defeated. As he bent to pick it up, a memory hit him. It was when his then-wife was in the hospital after their daughter had been born. He hated to remember it but the scene came flooding back with the sadness of the damaged instrument. He had come to visit her the day after the birth, still unsure of whether he’d stay or go. Sometimes, over the years, when he had (rarely) looked back at this period of his life, he could honestly claim she had known what would come next. Sometimes he justified it by saying she had just wanted a baby all along, so in the end, they both had gotten what they wanted.

His fingers ran over the strings and he lifted the violin to his chest. He looked up and then he saw her. The girl from the night before. She was carrying something big, but his vision was blurry.

“Oh,” he squinted into the sunlight and noticed she was carrying something.

“Hi,” she answered, and looked sadly at the violin. “Shame about that.”

He had so many questions, but he started with the obvious.

“What happened last night?”

She sat down on the low stone wall and looked across the hills.

“It’s possible we both owe each other apologies,” she said.

She paused and then began: “I’ve been looking for you for about 12 years. I didn’t really want to know as a kid, I just wanted to live happily and truthlessly. After all, how could I want someone who so clearly hadn’t wanted me?”

Andrew looked up suddenly. He noticed her green eyes then. He also noticed what she was carrying – a cello case.

“I’ve been living here, watching and waiting… unsure if I really wanted to know. But I was also angry. I wanted my due. How could someone be so carefree? Wander the world and never consider the chance at love they had so easily tossed aside?”

She ran her fingers along the hard case tucked in her arms.

“When I discovered you were a musician, it seemed like my only hope for feeling a connection. I had to hear you play. I had to know I have a future. After last night, well, I guess that’s the one part of this where I don’t feel disappointed. So… thank you. And… sorry about your violin.”

Andrew couldn’t wrap his head around the improbability of the situation. His long-lost daughter had hunted him down, followed him to Israel, sought him out in Sfat, lured him into a seemingly impromptu street party and gotten him disheveled and drunk so she could confront him at this moment.

He felt his ex-wife at his ear, an ominous note playing off her lips.

“Anyway… now I know. I’ll be returning to the States tomorrow. You’re free to find me when you like… if you can come with the words I need to hear.”

She stood, patted the cello case, and headed for the street. Then she turned around.

“By the way… happy Father’s Day.”

Wherein I flip the details.

Enjoyed today’s ‘Writing Gym,’ especially the last exercise we did. As a group, we collaborated on a few details for a character, and then each wrote a scene involving her. The details were: 

  • A woman in her 50s, named Dorothy, single
  • From Omaha, Nebraska, currently in London, UK
  • Some connection to being a born again Christian
  • Yoga teacher
  • The scene: her flat, 5am, autumn
  • By the end, she receives a call from home or has to take a flight the next day

Dorothy took another sip of her vodka, looked past the unpacked boxes and padded toward the small window of her London flat. The street was on life support, barely moving, barely breathing, at 5am. A time of day when nobody is even awake to judge about a jetlagged, 5am vodka. A rare magical moment in Londontown for someone who had traveled all the way here from the cool, calm Nebraska life.

Except her life hadn’t been cool or calm back then. Back when she was Daniel, an accountant, an animal trapped in an anatomical prison for the first 45 years of his life.

No, being transgender woman in Omaha was not an easygoing lifestyle.

But Dorothy smiled as she considered the rare bits of fun she had had in the sex-change process. Daniel to Dorothy; she had wanted the most iconic, middle-American name possible. Sweet, innocent Dorothy, the girl who had lost her house, her hometown, her way.

The yellow brick road had led this Dorothy to London just days ago. She wanted to be in the most international city outside the U.S. She wanted her anonymity to be guaranteed, like the stamp in her fresh passport. After training as a yoga teacher in New York City for a couple years while undergoing treatments and preparing for the surgeries, she was ready to start completely new, where she’d have an accent, anonymity, a new chance. A chance to stop pretending she was a satisfied Born Again accountant for an IT company in Omaha. A chance to put on make up during daylight, to let herself be as feminine as she felt, to be the person she was born to be. Genitalia mix-up aside.

Dorothy walked back to the kitchenette and reviewed her schedule for later that day – two interviews at nearby gyms and one at a community center. She had made the arrangements from New York, and she couldn’t help but assume that her 212 location and Middle America accent had helped secure the interviews from the curious employers.

She noticed her mobile phone in the corner and the blinking light that indicated a new voicemail message.

Dorothy obliged the voice and pressed 1 for new messages, and felt her eyebrows raise as the source of the message was from an American number.

Hello, Dorothy Evans, this is Dr. Richard Corey from Metropolitan Medical Center. This is quite out of the blue, but due to an administrative error, we have just recovered your file from earlier this year and must speak with you immediately… I’m sure you recall the last-minute prostate biopsy we ordered after your series of operations. Unfortunately, the results had actually been switched and we must discuss the implications of what was actually found. Please return my call after 8am.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated with Jerusalem.

Today’s Writing Gym was Jerusalem-themed for Yom Yerushalyim… Here’s my take on meeting up with an Old Flame…

Oh, hi… long time no see!

Yeah, I’m, uh, I’m doing ok. Actually, not living too far from here, just over the hills, 15 kilometers out… Oh, it’s lovely, yes. The weather is comparable, totally. I couldn’t live on the coast, you know that.

How have you been? Oh, sure, I’ve heard about the demographics, riding a tidal wave towards seas of black. I take it you’re still being undermined by the rest of the country? Uh huh. Right. Well, hey, you never know, the mayor may actually accomplish some kind of renaissance in the time he has left.

You look great, though. Oh? A lot of surgery, I see… Yes, I was kind of wondering what all the bandages were about.

Oh, no, I’m not judging. You do what you gotta do to look young. Sure. As long as it’s not affecting you internally, spiritually… Oh, I’m sure it’s complicated… Well… maybe there’s someone to see about that.

Am I happy? Yeah, I really am.

Look… I’m sorry I never call. I know I said I’d keep in touch but you know how it is… Marriage, work, kids… Lots going on.

I… I think about you sometimes though. I… I miss you at times. Your cool touch, your inner beauty, even the hardness of the walls you put up. I always saw through you. And I bet others do, too. You must have had so many lovers over the years. And we all know the truth about you… You’re never what you seem…

Well, it was good to catch up. Don’t let them do too much to your face, ya hear? Or I won’t recognize you next time I’m in town…

Oh, we’re nowhere near the end.

Not kidding about the handwriting. In honor of this ‘writing exercise’ turning 8-years-old this week, I’m posting a quickie writing workout (rapid-write) I did today at my newest adventure, a 6-session Writing Gym.

So I’ve been writing since I could write. Since writing was drawing. Since the drawings began accompanying the words. Since the words dropped the drawings and filled their own pages.

That’s mainly been manifested in ongoing journaling that hasn’t stopped to take a breath since I was thirteen.

Over the years I’ve written “on the side” – poetry, lots of poetry, what I learned later was called ‘prose,’ stories, chapters of non-existent novels, academic theses, newspaper articles, marketing materials, social media content.

It was only recently I finally came to terms with the idea that I don’t have to be a novelist to be a successful writer. To be successful. To be published. I realized somewhere in year seven or eight of my blogging habit that I’m – a writer. Successful. Published.

And it doesn’t much matter, anyway; something I subsequently learned. I just have to keep going, keep exercising, and maybe it’ll never stop. Maybe something amazing will happen. Maybe being a writer is never feeling 100% sure of yourself. Maybe it’s never being satisfied. Maybe it’s believing I will someday be satisfied, but that day will actually never come.

Maybe it’s about being able to express myself to you better this way than I ever would dare in spoken word.

So the pages and pages I’ve filled – in notebooks or blog posts – they’re doing something… I hope. For me as a writer. Proving me a writer. Being me, a writer.

Something else I’ve learned: my handwriting is a secret language you can only understand if you’re me at the time of writing.

The Hunger Games: Feeding my fears, my pain, my need for read.

Over the week of Passover, I managed to read consume devour The Hunger Games trilogy. It was a gift to myself since it’s been 5285467245 years since I had time to read and I figured it would take a month or two of here-and-there breastfeeding time to finish the series.

Holy crap, I was wrong.

I literally consumed those books, I think some of the pages are still stuck between my teeth.

Needless to say, it blows Twilight out of the fantasy universe. I can’t believe I even felt the need to add that here. You had me at Twilight blows.

But this – this actually kinda kicks taps Harry Potter’s ass. Ok, I love my HP like the next inner-child, and JK Rowling did an excellent job in the details.

But the overall philosophy, issues of morality, ethics, pain, future, life and death – there is so much to be said for what Suzanne Collins created. It’s complete with all the complexity, pain and suffering that Harry Potter lacks, going way deeper and darker than Rowling ever did.

This isn’t really an official review. I don’t have the energy after such painfully delightfully painful reading to go into all of it. What it did to me. My inner-child. The fact that I have children. My obsessive morbidity.

I just had to shout this much from the mountaintops. High on Panem.

I can’t wait to read them again.

Family outing, Memorial Day, contributing, Israel.

Proud that we managed to dress, pack up, and transport the kids to the Yom HaZicaron tekes in Tzur Hadassah tonight. And that my two-year-old stayed silent and un-startled throughout the siren. And that we managed to stay for the first 15 minutes.

Watching all those kids socialize up until they suddenly stopped for the siren… made me realize the enormity of what I’m contributing here. And what here is contributing to me.

It scares the shit out of me. But there’s no where else to be.

Note for next year: Teach my son that after the siren is over, it’s not a cause for shouting “Yay! Yay!”