Monday, July 7, 2014

My Short Story "Choice" Was Published Today!

My short story "Choice" was published today on S/tick magazine's blog. I'd love to hear your comments! S/tick is a feminist magazine based in Canada. My story fits with their mission because the subject of the story is a contemporary feminist topic. I feel like I should mention that my story is not based in experience, as it is a sort of controversial topic. I hope you enjoy it, if you venture over to read it.

Thank you!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dancing in the In-Between, Part 1 of 4 (A Summer of Flash Fiction #6)

We, the ballet dancers Frieda L. Johnson Academy of Dance, reached together, across the warm air of the auditorium, sweat sliding gently down our temples, and as I followed the line beyond my fingertips that unfurled over the audience, I allowed myself one secretive peek at the front row, their mouths agape, forming plunderous smiles of joy. There was always one in that first row whose gaze penetrated the guise of the performance, who saw the truth of the ballet. This time it was a young man, not much older than twenty, with skin that looked as soft as a ballerina’s lace. He appeared to be in a trance, mesmerized by our movements, our thin, muscular legs and arms, our identical pastel lavender costumes and taut, pulled back hair, the lightness of our steps on the creaking black plastic-covered wood of the stage. His wide eyes sparkled with awe, and I found myself drawn to him.

Yet, my gay-dar shot through the roof. There was something about him, his atmosphere, his aura, which let off an effeminate vibe, an out-of-sync-ness I could smell from a mile away—and of which I was severely acquainted.

I leapt forward across the stage with the next lift of the music, as it had been choreographed, sending my energy through the fibers of my outstretched legs and out my pointed toes. I heard the audience’s blissful intake of breath while I hesitated in the air, and then the exhale of their pleasant sigh as I landed gracefully with a delicate, extended arm on the last note of the piano’s melody. Though my gaze was centered beyond the tips of my fingers, I could discern from the direction of the sound that it was that epicene young man in the front row who began the round of applause, his hands meeting each other first, before any other member of the audience had lifted theirs. I could not cede control of the enlivened smile I found emerging from my lips.

An audience of enthusiastic ballet-lovers like him elevated the act of performing to new heights: we weren't doing it for ourselves, for our choreographers, for the pianist, for our parents—we were doing it for those who observed and absorbed themselves into our art, who saw beauty and meaning in our expressive movements. The only meaning our distant yet proud parents could derive from a perfect dance was a sense of achievement, that the being to whom they gave life could give life to others.

Far across the reaches of New York, in a small, quiet, green community, my parents sat on their wooden kitchen table chairs, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee and dreaming of a mystical land beyond the hills, where their one and only child glided and whirled across a stage. They remained there, attending their office jobs and going to dinner parties for friends, only vaguely aware of the greatness their sixteen-year-old ballet dancer was achieving.

Flitting behind the curtain, I found my greatness, my skill. I hid myself behind its velvety gloss and escaped into the blackness. Darkness swept over the stage as the lights edged on over the clapping audience, exposing to them the truth of their voyeurism. The dancers navigated the dimly lit backstage, their exalted whispers and the brushing of their soft soles kissing the floorboards supplanting the fading clatter of applause. They zipped through the thin corridor, anxious for light and the privilege of the dressing room, where, secluded from the audience, they could bolster their chatter and talk excitedly about the successful performance. But I embraced the darkness; in it, after the dance, I could see myself for who I truly was.

As soon as the dancers entered the dressing room, even before the heavy door was closed, they began stripping down to the essentials, preparing for the arrival of the family and friends who had come to see them. Bones were exposed through transparent skin, muscles’ sinews ebbing just beneath the smooth, pure layer that separated their flesh from the world.

The diet of infinite salads and the constant intake of lean proteins prevented us from accumulating excess body fat, from losing muscle mass. The hours of rigorous practice did things to the female body that any common woman would be repulsed by. Menstruation was scanty, though most dancers were relieved by this: no blood to seep through the thin layer of the leotard, no cramps to cripple them during rehearsal. Calves and quadriceps and biceps became bulky, masculine. Breasts shrank, hardened, disappeared. Most girls were regretful of this latter effect. They could deal with pain in the toes and hunger for birthday cake or chips, but when the thing that revealed them to be a woman withered, they no longer felt attractive to the opposite sex. They had to embrace the different sort of appeal in ballet.

I, however, was never comfortable with those things on my chest anyway. When they first began to grow, I danced them away. They didn't feel like they were a part of me. They didn't belong on me. Ballet was my outlet, my conduit to beauty, the thing that made me feminine. I didn't need breasts to reveal my femininity to the world.

But I did need the tape.

And the tape, I could feel, was slowly coming loose. After thirteen years of practice, I had perfected the process of taping, but this performance, that final leap, had exerted just enough force on my groin, had stretched my legs just enough, that the tape came undone, and the thing slipped out from my leotard, just as I rolled the fabric over my hips. It flopped out like a fish from a pond. I felt the warm flesh brush against my upper thigh.

A sharp gasp pierced my left ear, followed by my fellow dancer and dorm roommate, Miranda’s definitive voice spurt, “Nicola! What?” Her hushed query flushed my cheeks red. I turned to her, witnessing her terror, no doubt akin to my own. Curling over to hide it from any of the other dancers, I yanked the leotard back over my hip bones to remove the thing from view. I puddled to the floor, reaching into my bag to locate my shorts, avoiding Miranda’s eye.

“Nicola,” she whispered, leaning in close. “What are you?” Still sifting through my bag, my hands shaking, I swallowed my fear, only to find all my saliva had dried up. I averted my gaze, but Miranda’s quick arm squeezed my shoulder, urging my face toward hers. “Are you a boy?” Her eyes were wide, darting over me in horror, though pulsing with a secretive curiosity I could recognize in her quiet voice.

“No,” I said harshly. “I’m a girl.”

Through her teeth: “But you have a … a penis.”

“I just have both.” My fingers found the soft cloth of my shorts, which I ripped from the bag and placed in my lap. “Please don’t tell.”

She hesitated, then nodded, and I felt a tear roll down my cheek as I pushed my legs into the shorts and stood. As I looked down at her to judge her reaction and her promise, I did not see an expression of understanding but rather a look of sly, internal inquisition, as though she were sharing a secret joy with an invisible best friend whose identity I would never know.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

IWSG - Just Doubt

For the first time, my insecurity I’m writing about in my insecure writers’ post does not stem from me not having the time, energy, or will to write. For that I am immensely grateful. Instead, my insecurity is coming from me having nothing stopping me aside from myself.

I have graduated from college, so, even though I’m now working full time, I have more time to write now than I ever have before. I’ve been slowly finishing up and removing other responsibilities in my life in order to make more room for writing and reading, essentially simplifying my life to keep myself focused. This means I have to use my time wisely, obviously.

The thing I’ve noticed about myself in this regard is that I’m a major procrastinator. I’ll look at the empty page for a minute and feel dread at writing, then go check Twitter. But, if I set my mind to it, as soon as I start writing and get a sentence or two on the page for the day, the words just spill out. It’s the starting that’s hard. The rest comes easily.

Now, though, it’s my skill that will hold me back. It’s only the “my writing’s not good enough” that’s holding me back. I have time, I have will, I have energy. It’s only my own doubt that’s preventing myself from writing, and from practicing in order to get better. I’m realizing that I was only using time and energy as excuses before. So now, I must write, and not be afraid. Maybe it will get me somewhere some day?

Peace, Aimee

Monday, June 30, 2014

Books I Read This Month - June 2014

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murkami

More Haruki Murakami, of course, because he is easily one of my favorite authors. This book is one of his earlier works, and it's less supernatural and surreal than his later books. It's more straightforward and clear in its writing style, but it still has Murakami's quirky sense of humor and introspectiveness. In this book, a young man who's a bit dull (again, classic Murakami) takes on a task that's a bit more than he can handle: literally a wild sheep chase. A man contacts him in search of a sheep with a star on its back that, according to legend, enters people's souls to make them immortal (but leaves them and makes them mortal again if it deems them unworthy). There's a creepy man who dresses up as a sheep, there's another creepy guy who hates his son for no reason but who claims that the sheep was once inside of him, and there's a girl with beautiful ears. Weird and wacky and unexpectedly insightful (or not unexpectedly, if you know Murakami's works at all). This book certainly has not hanged my overwhelmingly positive opinion of Haruki Murakami.

Bad Teeth by Dustin Long

If you like literary allusions (and I do), you'll definitely like this. It's very layer-y, more than a cake or an onion or other cliches, and follows a college-age man who's looking for a mysterious Thai author. He goes from Brooklyn to Berkeley to Bloomington to another town that starts with a B that has slipped my mind in search of any information he can find on this man. Several characters he meets are also tormented writers, and the relationships he makes with them reveal a lot about modern literary culture. I'd recommend this book for people like me (well, I mean, I did read this and enjoy it) who are well-read, and mostly young writers. It's a fun read, if you just read it along the surface like any other novel, but if you follow closely to the metaphorical language and what the characters are saying about their states of being, you'll discover some interesting analyses of the self and what "self-consciousness" means.

Drood by Dan Simmons

Told in the style of Charles Dickens, this epicly long and winding novel details (in a fictionalized manner) the last five or so years of Dickens's life, after the Staplehurst accident that killed several people and left Dickens mentally scarred. The book is told in a Watson-like fashion from the first-person perspective of Dickens's author friend Wilkie Collins. The layers of the narrative are extremely satisfying to read and uncover, especially with the voice of the story, which is immensely Victorian. It's Gothic, creepy, and very suspenseful; even at over 700 plus pages, I found myself whipping through it, wanting to know what happens in the next chapter (although, obviously, Dickens is dead by the end of the book). The book asks some fascinating questions not only of Dickens's life and motivations but also of the afterlife, the supernatural, and the divide between good and evil (as so many excellent books tend to do). The character of Dickens is, well, very like Dickens. Author Dan Simmons did a fantastic job making him act and sound like the image of Dickens we have today, only as a more full person revealed through the narrative. I will definitely be reading more by this author, and soon.

For the Time Being by Annie Dillard

I'm not entirely sure I've read anything by Annie Dillard before, but I have to say that this book is one of the most thought-provoking and deep books I have ever read. It covers a range of seemingly unconnected topics (China, Israel, clouds, birth defects, sand, and more), but she is somehow able to connect them through an analysis of how they reflect what God is like, while constantly asking of the universe if there is a God, what our world says about the nature of God, and how miraculous and uniquely awesome our world is, with or without God. It can sometimes be boring to read about a random topic and strange facts in some of the sections, but overall, this book is extremely fascinating and made me think deeply more than any other book has. If you venture into this one, be prepared to skip over some dull, boring parts but to find yourself thinking about the universe in a new way at the end of it.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Beach (A Summer of Flash Fiction #5)

I went to beach today. Though I'd seen in the paper that it was going to rain later in the afternoon, it was hot out mid-day. I put on my swimsuit, grabbed a beach towel, and packed a book in my bag, a novel. All my friends were busy, so I went alone, figuring it would be a good time to catch up on some reading. I'd not had much time available for it recently, though I usually carved out a few hours a week for it, generally.

I walked to the beach. I live only a block away, across a highway. It was a five minute walk, a nice way to start a day at the beach. 

When I arrived, there were several dozen people and groups scattered across the sand, and some in the water, which had still been freezing cold a few weeks before, the ice from our malicious winter only melting a month or so ago. The people in the water were shivering, hugging their arms with their hands, though most of the children were shrieking and playing, splashing each other as if their skin was numb to the cold. The sand, in contrast, burned my feet. It had been roasting all morning in the torch-hot sun.

I laid my towel on the sand, the wind blowing it into a twist once or twice before I got it settled. I removed my shirt and shorts, so I was wearing only my swimsuit, and laid on the towel on my stomach. I'm not normally concerned about my appearance, especially something so arbitrary as the color of my skin, but I hadn't had a boyfriend in a while, so I supposed it couldn't hurt to get a slight tan and to look nice for the summer. 

I opened my book and read a few pages, listening to the chatter of the other beach-goers' conversation humming in the background. The story was serene and assuming, though a bit dull. In it, a boring, nihilistic young man was admiring his girlfriend's ears. 

The breeze continued to increase its power, foreshadowing the rain. A few grains of sand blew across my towel and the pages of my book, and then the body of a small, dead spider bounced by. I watched it, noticing how it tumbled and how its legs were folded up like a lotus, or like the fingers of a relaxed hand resting on a table. I imagined what it would be like to be that dead spider, drifting across the beach, or what it would be like if human corpses were light enough to be tossed by a wind and to traverse this land of which were are so sorrowfully a part. But no; human bodies are heavy with blood and bone and fat and earth, too weighted down to blow with a breeze like that. Instead, we bury ourselves six feet under the ground and call that home.

I felt a drop of water on my back and at first assumed it was a child running by and splashing me with her wet hair or swimsuit. But then I heard a man tell a young boy, presumably his son, that it had begun to rain and that they should pack up. Several children began to squeal with either delight or fear, running from the water, or to it, and announcing the rain. Parents and twenty-somethings rolled up their towels and put them in their bags, shuffling into their flip-flops and heading up the beach to their cars. I thought it was funny that everyone was becoming hysterical at the few drops of rain that had fallen. But I, too, stood and put on my shorts and shirt. I didn't much care about getting wet, but I didn't want to ruin my book. I picked up my towel and left the beach. I was starting to get hungry, anyway.