IWSG - The End of NaNoWriMo

Ah. NaNoWriMo is over. I got to 30,000 words, which I’m okay with. And I plan on finishing the novel I started. It’s just going take a while. I’ve never written as much in a month as I did for NaNo, and I’m not certain I can do it again. One of the things that I find extremely stressful about the writing process is that it takes so long! How do you other writers deal with this?

I have been blogging about my NaNoWriMo experience on the Foreword Reviews website, here, here, here, and here, if anyone is interesting in reading about my NaNo experience. Thanks in advance if you take a gander!

Peace, Aimee

IWSG - NaNoWriMo 2014

This year, I am participating in National Novel Writing Month. I have tried before but never really made it past the first week. In truth, I don’t think I’ve ever written more than 15,000 words in a month before. Luckily for me, though, this year I have plenty of pressure from friends, family, and especially work. I will be blogging about my progress (as well as giving tips and advice) on Foreword Reviews’s website (where I work as Deputy Editor) and tweeting about it (probably too much) as well.

Good luck to everyone participating this year!

Peace, Aimee

IWSG - Opportunities to Achieve Goals and Reach Fulfillment

It’s that time again, and though I said in my last IWSG that I was determined to finish my first draft by the end of the year, I have not accomplished much in it. I am not on track to finish, at the rate I had intended, so I will really have to up my game to get it done on time.

The thing is, I didn’t honestly expect myself to be on track one month into my venture. I’m truly lacking some perseverance quality or something. Because of this, my biggest writing fear is that I will never finish a novel worth publishing, that I will not be able to accomplish the thing I knew when I first picked up a book as a toddler that I needed to do with my life. After watching John Green’s latest VlogBrothers video yesterday, in which he claimed to not know what to do with his life, I have been unable to decide if I am relieved or unnerved. If someone who has accomplished great things and achieved much of his life goals is still afraid that they aren’t doing enough, then what is it I need to do?

I must say, I am actually more relieved than unnerved by John Green’s words. I’m certain that, even if I achieve something even remotely close to his books’ popularity, I too would still feel like I haven’t achieved yet my life goal. It’s just the way humans work. It’s the way the world works. We don’t finish our big project and then be happy the rest of our life. Goals come ago, happiness comes and goes, and achieving something doesn’t mean you’re finished.

Let’s hope this knowledge helps me complete this draft by the end of the year. I know I will feel replete for a while when I’m done, but that feeling will fade, and soon I’ll have others opportunities to write and bring happiness to others—and myself.

Peace, Aimee

IWSG - What I'm Doing for the Rest of 2014

Over the summer, I attempted to write a piece of flash fiction each week, but I didn’t entirely succeed. I cheated a bit, and when I did not have something new, I posted an old flash fiction piece on that day. I do feel slightly guilty about that…

However, I am vowing to write regularly for the rest of the year, with the goal of finishing the first draft of a book by the end of December 2014. The projected word count is 120,000 words, which is obviously too long for a novel, but it’s a draft, so that’s okay. I’m sure the story will change a bit as I write and see how things work out concretized rather than in its current outline form. I already have about 30,000 words written, so I will have to write approximately 90,000 words (projected, according to my outline, of course) in the next four months. This will be the most I’ve ever written within a set time period before in my life, so I am bit frightened… But I will keep you updated in my Insecure Writer Support Group posts!

Thanks for reading and wishing me luck!

Books I Read This Month - August 2014

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

A mentally challenged man undergoes surgery to improve his intelligence in this novel, but it does not quite turn out exactly how he or the scientists expected. This is one of those classic books that had been sitting on my shelf for a while and that I knew I would have to read eventually, but when I finally got to it, I didn’t realize that it was going to be so well written and moving. The author perfectly captures the main character’s voice and emotions as he goes through this experience, using the medium of a journal to describe the events over the course of several months and what he thinks about his mental development, relationships, and work life. His family history also plays an important part in his emotional development over the course of the novel. The book discusses some important themes of where intelligence comes from and what makes us happy in life, though I wouldn’t say I was satisfied with the ending. Overall, it was an engaging read that I would recommend for people who enjoy science and thoughtful books.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

In this book, a young girl named Harriet aims to solve the cold case of her older brother’s murder, which took place when she was only six months old. Harriet is very smart for her age but has trouble making friends and getting along with her family members because of her snarky, sarcastic, and smart-alecky personality. She constantly is asking why, which makes her annoying to the people around her but makes her a compelling protagonist, especially in the literary mystery genre. There is a pervasive To Kill a Mockingbird vibe here, which makes this a relatable read, as it follows the coming of age of a girl learning about the adult world a bit before she is ready for it. The first quarter or so of the book seems to consist of a lot more telling than showing, but it’s done in such a way that it come across as skilled storytelling. Tartt knows how to tell a great story with well developed characters. The writing style is clear and concise, not involving a lot of elegant, literary turns of phrase, which is sort of what I was expecting based on what I heard about the author and the fact that she has won big literary prizes. It's mostly the storytelling that makes this book a good read.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

This is Haruki Murakami’s latest book, which just came out this month. Of course, it was amazing, as to be expected from Murakami. Also, you should expect me to say it was amazing because he is one of my favorite writers. As a character, Tsukuru Tazaki is similar to many of Murakami’s protagonists in that he is a youngish loner who is in love with an independent woman but who is going through some sort of existential crisis. The plot of this book is easier to follow than some of Murakami’s other books, and it seems to have a bit fewer surrealist elements, even as it involves dreams and an exploration of the past. While I wouldn’t say it’s unique amongst Murakami’s books, it is certainly worth the read and has only reinforced my enjoyment of his work on the whole. Murakami has been and continues to be an important influence on my own writing.

Dune by Frank Herbert

I am not one to read soft science fiction or fantasy like this, but I felt the need to read this since it is considered a classic in the genre. I loved it, surprisingly, as the plot developed gradually and understandably, and the main characters were all well developed and empathetic. I can see why it’s such a popular and distinguished book. It takes place on a strange desert planet where a royal boy named Paul goes with his parents to learn the ways of a rare supernatural group of people to which his mother belongs (a bit like the Jedi). However, there is an evil man who wants to kill Paul's father, called the Duke---I'll be honest, I wasn't entirely clear on his intentions. Despite this latter fact, though, I found all the characters to be well rounded and entertaining to read about. I will continue reading the series, though probably not right away.

Proximity, Part 3 of 3 (A Summer of Flash Fiction #13)

“I said go,” Krane repeated. The muscles in her arms were beginning to loosen, to relax in uncertainty.

“I want to ask. I’d like to know,” Amma said, averting her gaze. She shifted her feet, as if she too wanted to leave, but something was stopping her. “Are you lost? Or are you sneaking around like me? You let me do what I came here to do, so I want to help you. Do you need to get back to the barracks?”

“No. Please leave before I change my mind and decide to report you.”

A smirk snuck across the girl’s face. “That doesn’t seem like something you are going to do. I bet you know as well as I do that even wardens aren’t allowed back here on their own.”

“I know the rules. Why won’t you just go?”

“Why won’t you loosen up? We’re both here without permission. You’re not in charge of me, you know. We can help each other.” She lifted her chin and raised her eyebrows. With her spine straight, she was taller than Krane, her long, thin limbs lifting her high above Krane’s five and a half feet.

“I don’t need your help,” Krane said.

“I don’t believe you. Now tell me your name. I told you mine.”

“Mariángel,” Krane spat out, submitting to Amma’s unrelenting pressure. It was her grandmother’s name, the first that came to her mind. “Now will you go, please?”

Amma’s eyes lit up, her smile shining briefly and smugly. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

With a slight, ambivalent shrug, Krane shook her head. “Are you going to leave now?” She said, sounding even to herself a broken record.

“If you really want me to.”

Krane paused, then let out a sigh. She lowered her head, looking down at her black boots, new and shining. In a few days, they would be covered in mud from training outside—if she could find her way out of here.

“You know, Marie,” Amma said with a smile, and Krane cringed at the name, spoken in such an Americanized, almost teasing way. “We’re both being secretive, which means that neither of us has to be, to each other, at least. Since we know we’re not going to tell anybody we were here.”

The girl’s optimism, her innocence, was starting to irritate Krane. When Amma took a few more steps closer, Krane stiffened and backed up against the wall. She could feel her cheeks going hot with frustration and fear.

“You’ve got me curious now,” said Amma, but before she could continue pestering Krane, the light above the door leading to the locks switched from red to amber, and the sound of air rushing in to destroy the vacuum boomed.

“Hide,” Krane yelped, lurching forward and pushing Amma into the storage cell opposite her. Krane ducked into room twenty-one, watching Amma across the hallway as her eyes grew wide with terror and she crouched behind the boxes. Only the top of her blonde head was visible over the crates of lost toys and trinkets.

The door hissed open. From her hiding place, Krane could see Clark enter the room but hold the door open with his bulky, muscular arm. His hard expression, his lips tight and his forehead creased, was betrayed by the shaking fingers of his free hand, his wrists shivering violently with fear.

Krane stepped out from behind the crates.

“Clark,” she said in a muted voice, using his name instead of his title, as was expected from a trainee. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. You left me there.”

“Jesus, Decleric,” he blurted. The lines in his face fell into momentary relief. “We need to get out of here.”

He grabbed her arm and yanked her through the door, giving her only a brief moment to shoot her gaze toward Amma’s location. She was invisible, still hidden.

The door closed behind them, and they were safe in the locks.

“You breathe one breath in there,” Clark said, gripping Krane tightly by both shoulders, “and everyone in this fortress could be dead within days. Do you really want to have that on your conscience?” Clark’s eyes darted back and forth between Krane’s, and she could feel his own breath, heaving and Immune, warming her collar bones.

“No sir,” she said.“Then we need to get out of here.” He released his grip on her shoulders and began marching, which quickly morphed into a quiet run, down the dark hall. Shaking, Krane followed.

Lord Soul by S. M. Kois

In her second novel, S. M. Kois ups the ante in terms of philosophical discussion and spiritual questioning. This book, Lord Soul, introduces a young boy named Charlie who has an extremely high IQ. When his baby brother is diagnosed with an incredibly horrible disease and is given a life expectancy of only a few years, seven-year-old Charlie is determined to find a cure. He studies books well beyond his education level, and his ideas are soon funded by a research lab that takes over the project for him. However, Charlie begins to see a man called Lord Soul, whom his parents believe is a hallucination, and he is diagnosed with schizophrenia. What follows is a philosophical journey consisting of dialogue between Charlie and Lord Soul, as well as an emotional journey as Charlie deals with adult issues at his young age.

The philosophy is definitely the most important part of the book, to S. M. Kois, as more than half of the book is devoted to these compelling discussions, which provoke thought very effectively. Even though the plot often takes the passenger seat to the theme, the dialogue and descriptions drive the story forward at a fast pace. The content of the discussions paired with Charlie’s age and circumstance makes the story fascinating.

It does seem a bit unrealistic that Charlie is so young and yet so intelligent, but there are certainly a few children out there with IQs as high as his, and his questionable mental stability makes this more realistic. He is naive, like a seven-year-old, and his relationship with his brother is empathetic and emotive. That relationship and the scientific discoveries work well together to bolster the theme of the book.

This novel is perfect for people who prefer philosophical books and value theme over plot. The characters are well developed, so there is no shortage of literary merit there. With straight-forward prose and in-depth discussions of empathy, animal rights (though this second one often feels out of place and a step away from the plot and theme on the whole), and the nature of reality, this book is an interesting contribution to philosophy, while containing a decently compelling story, as well.

Proximity, Part 2 of 3 (A Summer of Flash Fiction #12)

The girl spun around, her eyes wide. Krane lurched backward, falling deeper into the small room. She pressed her back against the cool concrete wall and tried to make herself as flat as possible. Her throat burned as she pushed the rejected saliva up as silently as she could muster.

“Hello?” said a fragile, shaking voice. “Who’s there?”

Now, Krane had to make a choice. For a short moment, she allowed her heart to beat wildly, her eyes to dart around the room in search of a weapon for self defense, her chattering mind to desire flight instead of fight. But then she chose. She straightened her back and pulled back her shoulders, lifting her chin and pursing her lips, building up the false face her two years of military training had taught her. And then the girl appeared in the entrance of room twenty-one.

“Hello?” she repeated. She was tall, thin, blonde, and beautiful—she looked just as Krane had imagined a Susceptible would look. But her blue eyes were wide, moist with fearful tears, and her hands were clenched together near her chest, as if protecting her heart from a painful emotional blow.

“Hello,” Krane said hoarsely then cleared her throat, attempting to keep her expression rigid while clearing out the remnants of saliva and phlegm that had been her downfall. “Go about your business.”

Wringing her delicate, white hands, the girl stammered. “I was just looking for my brother’s teddy bear. I was going to get an escort, but he was crying, so I didn’t want to have to wait.”

The girl’s voice cracked as she spoke, the words flowing out one after the other in a stream of worry. Krane stood firmly, like a soldier, like the fortress guard she’d always wanted to be. Though as she stood, unable to speak any other words, as she couldn’t discern what she was possibly supposed to say, she watched as recognition slowly melted over the girl’s milky-white face. Her expression eased into a different kind of crumpled, the confused kind. Krane stiffened her posture further, but she felt her position of authority in front of the girl weaken.

Her hands halting their twisting motion, the girl tilted her head ever so slight. “Are you a warden? You’re not, are you?” Her brow furrowed. In all her life, in all her childhood and her military training, Krane had never been caught doing something wrong. She’d never done something wrong. So she was unprepared for this experience and didn’t know what to do with the hesitant moments between the girl’s question and her as-of-yet unknown response. Rationally, it would be best to lie, to claim to be one of the wardens of which this girl spoke, except that she was unsure how the Susceptible, upon entering an area they were apparently not permitted to be, were punished. She didn’t know her way around the chambers, let alone the inside of the fortress, but if she revealed herself to be Immune, to be someone from the outside, she would likely be immediately killed. As she held her breath, out of fear of the consequences of her actions—albeit considering their accidental nature—she recognized the irony of her adrenaline-filled lack of reflexes. If she opened her mouth again, who knew what the result would be. This girl could fall ill, and the plague could erupt again within moments. This was the very thing the government was trying to prevent. This was the reason for the walls.

Krane cleared her throat again, with one beat, to be sure her voice would be assertive. “You’re not supposed to be here,” she said as confidently as she could muster, though she could feel her clammy fists, tight at her sides, beginning to shake.

“I don’t think you are either.”

There was no tremble in the girl’s vocal cords. As the girl’s blonde brows furrowed, Krane observed her inch forward one of her feet, garbed in a white slip-on shoe. She took another step, but Krane remained stolid in her repose. Her lips were hard and clenched, like her mother’s when she commanded the child Krane to go to bed or to finish eating her vegetables. She could hardly imagine what her mother, so proud of having a guard-in-training for a daughter, would think of her now.

The girl stopped, standing with a ballet dancer’s grace, four feet in front of her. “Are you lost?” she asked. “Were you looking for the wardens’ barracks? If you’re new, I understand. Everyone gets lost if they’re not used to being in this area of the compound.”

“I know perfectly well where I am. Get back to your business. Find whatever it is you’re looking for. Your brother’s toy. Then get out. I’ll let you go this time, but only this time.”

“Thank you.” By the confused glint in the girl’s blue eyes, Krane discerned that she was not saying the right things. But now that she’d said it, there was no going back. Inconsistencies would be more likely to give her away. “But, can I ask? Are you a new warden?”

“That’s none of your business. Now go.” She rose the volume of her voice ever so slightly, ting to make it sound more firm, more authoritative. She stiffened her arms at her sides even more. She could feel her veins pulsating in her fingertips and her palms.

The girl took a few steps back, slowly. Her brows were furrowed, her cheeks glowing pink. “Thank you,” she repeated, sounding not quite convinced, but getting there. Walking backwards, the girl kept her gaze pointed at Krane, though her lips were slightly pursed and her forehead was wrinkled. When she rounded the corner and slipped back into room eighteen, Krane heaved a silent sigh and allowed her shoulders to relax. She listened to the sound of the girl moving objects around in the crates and boxes, plastic bouncing against plastic, metal, and wood. The search seemed to go on for several minutes, but as Krane counted her breaths, forcing their steady slowing, she knew it could have only been thirty seconds before the girl’s gentle footsteps began again. She appeared in the entrance of section twenty-one, where Krane still stood. Once again, Krane stiffened her military stance.

“Thanks again,” the girl said, a tattered teddy bear in her hand. It had one button eye, the place where the second eye should be a hollow divot. A blue ribbon was tied around its neck, much shinier and smoother than the rough brown fur of the bear. “Can I ask your name?”

Krane hesitated. If she said her name, the girl could report her for not doing her duties, if that was what was going on. But the nervous tick of the girl rubbing the ribbon around the bear’s neck between her thumb and forefinger alerted her that there was no need to fear anyone ever knowing she was there. The girl was obviously not supposed to be here in what Krane discerned was the storage areas, some sort of lost and found.

“My name is Amma,” said the girl. “I just want to thank you again for letting me look for the bear.” She lifted it awkwardly. “I found it.”

“Good. Now go.”The girl didn’t move. The long pause in their words made both of them shift their feet, though Krane’s posture remained frozen. The desire for Amma to leave, the fear of sparking a new plague into being, had her legs nearly shaking with the need to run.

Proximity, Part 1 of 3 (A Summer of Flash Fiction #11)

Krane Decleric was somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be. Her junior commander and trainer—the bug-eyed, golden-haired, always-on-the-edge-of-smirking Clark—had ditched her, maybe as some sort of trainee initiation prank, and left her in one of the chambers near the entrance to the locks. She had warily gone through a door, which led her into a hallway, which took her to another door. Forgetting she was supposed to be scared, she opened it, knowing she probably shouldn’t but feeling as though she had no other choice. She was lost and it had seemed like it could be a way out. Instead, it had been a way in.

Krane found herself in a concrete room with areas sectioned off by concrete walls. These doorless rooms, whose exposed entryways allowed her to see inside, contained boxes. Cardboard boxes, clear plastic boxes, crates—they filled these small rooms, each area labeled above its entrance with numbers growing chronologically up the left side of the room toward Krane—to number twenty—and back down the right side—ending with number forty—toward another door, huge and wooden, on the opposing wall.

A dull, heavy noise resounded behind her, and a slurping, like the sealing of a vacuum, was the coda to the sound. Krane lurched and spun to face the door through which she had just entered, only to see the light, in the shape of a thin rectangle tracing the top border of the door, flip from amber to deep red. She gulped down the beating of her heart in her throat and flicked her eyes to her right, then to her left, but there was no guard or code panel in sight.

With all the effort the government had put into protecting the Susceptible, Krane found it awfully disconcerting that there was only one coded door—never mind the labyrinth of the chambers and the locks—separating them from the Immune. Of course, only the fortress guards were privy to the codes, which meant no one could get in or out without one letting them through the door. But a code and one guard, even with his sturdy body and stern expression, his bulletproof vest and hefty firearm, seemed less of a barrier to this sensitive world than all the propaganda claimed they needed. Yes, there was the gargantuan electrical fence surrounding the fortress on the outside, barricading civilians from entering, but it seemed that the military could come and go as they pleased, as long as they surpassed the guards and the code. Krane had always assumed that inside the chambers were men with stronger artillery, and on either side of the locks were ID scanners, disinfectant rooms, and cameras taping from every angle. Maybe the guard on the inside of the locks was off duty at the moment, or maybe he was taking a bathroom break and had no one else to step in—but, more likely, the Susceptible, craving their near royal treatment, were not subjected to staring at a beefy, rifle-bearing monster standing at their doorstep every moment of the day like the Immune were. Krane entertained the thought for moment, then froze in place. No guards meant possible surveillance. Cameras could be anywhere. Alarms could go off any minute. And Krane would more than likely be shot dead with no chance to explain herself.

Even in the chambers, where her only fear had been failure to impress Clark, who would report about her to his senior commander, she had not been much concerned with the possibility of surveillance. Hell, even on the streets of the city, where she knew there were cameras aimed at every storefront, every window, every corner, she’d known she didn’t have anything to be afraid of—as long as she followed orders. But now, the threat of arrest was real.

Arrest, while not uncommon in New York, was something reserved for people who disobeyed. Misbehaving men, women, and children, regardless of their age, were snatched away shrieking by police doing their rounds, often returning starving and bruised a few days later, or weeks, depending on their crime. Krane had witnessed from her own bedroom window rebellious teenagers dragged away shouting into the night several times over the course of her childhood. Their dirt-smeared trousers and wild eyes told her that these deviants needed to be kept in line. So Krane had always followed the rules: she’d never stayed out past the ten o’clock curfew; she’d attended every day of her eight years of classes, unless she was ill; she’d joined the military academy upon her graduation at sixteen; and she’d even had her first kiss from a boy, Bobby Durkheimer, when she was twelve, even though his lips were pink and sticky from the raspberries they’d been picking in the fields and she could smell the dull stench of old sweat emanating from his armpits, barely covered by his government-provided t-shirt.

She’d done what the law, her parents, and her peers had told her to do, and now she was stuck somewhere she wasn’t meant to be, unsure of how she’d managed to get there, and likely to be killed the moment she was found. As a trainee guard, she had only been allowed to look at the map of the chambers briefly before this first tour, and it had not shown the inside of the fortress. There were the chambers, like a cell wall, lining the miles-wide holding area, and there were the locks, four small hallway-like structures on the center of each of the square-shaped fortress’ sides. But beyond the areas she was permitted to enter, there was a big blank space. Not even senior commander’s had the privilege of seeing the maps of the inside of the fortress.

Having studied the limited map for only a few minutes before being escorted by Clark through the North guard-and-code-locked entrance, Krane could not discern whether she had gone through the locks or not. Was she still in the chambers? Or had she passed into the fortress? There was nothing to indicate either possibility. The smooth concrete walls had an industrial presence, but the dozens of boxes in the unenclosed rooms appeared fairly domestic. In some of them, Krane could make out items peeking up over the tops: tennis rackets, tattered books, dishes, stuffed animals. She squinted as she surveyed them from her place in front of the door, contemplating, analyzing, rationalizing why they were there. Then she realized, even though her confusion and mild worry about the surveillance clouded her minded, there was a soft rushing noise serving as background music to the room. She followed her ears to search for the source of the sound. Still standing in place in front of the door, unsure yet if she should move, she saw a vent in the upper corner of the room to her right. Quietly humming, the vent seemed to be sucking in air, and when he turned to her left, she saw an identical vent giving off a similar sound. This was further evidence, she thought, that she was inside. These vents had to be cycling and purifying the air, making it safe for the Susceptible to breathe. She thought harder, pondering each step she had taken to get to this room, in case there was a chance she could manage to open the sealed door behind her and to get out. Obviously there had to be a way. Under no circumstances could she possibly be trapped inside the fortress. She couldn’t let that happen to herself. She couldn’t imagine the guards—or Clark—letting that happen to her.

Then, beyond the barely audible hum of the vents, Krane heard another sound, like footsteps, echoing toward the room from the other side of the huge wooden door fifty feet in front of her. They were quiet, so quiet that she could hardly discern that they were in fact footsteps. She could tell by their volume and the fact that they resonated marginally that the door was thin, that the dim light she could see around the edges of it was shining through from whatever was on the other side. It wasn’t Clark, that was for sure. His gait was crooked, even after his five years of military training. His boots were heavy, not gentle, like these steps. Whoever it was, though—despite their delicacy—would likely not be happy to see her.

As the wooden door shifted, scraping against the concrete floor, Krane slid into the room closest to her on her right, number twenty-one. The wall hid her from the view of the person entering the room—just one, thankfully. But that also meant that Krane could not see the person either, and therefore, she couldn’t know if they were armed. The footsteps edged closer, and Krane’s abdomen tensed. But then the person halted, probably too close for Krane to be able to make even one peep. There was shuffling, the sound of plastic items knocking against each other, as if the person was searching for something.

She moved her head slowly and peered around the edge of wall. What she saw, in the section labeled eighteen, not ten feet away across the hallway from her, was a long, white-blonde head of hair, hanging loosely and bouncily and nearly grazing a pair of narrow, feminine hips. This wasn’t a guard, that was for sure. This wasn’t even someone from the military. This was the final clue that Krane needed to tell her that she had indeed passed through the locks and into the fortress. She gulped. It was the kind of gulp she dreaded, the kind that happened after drinking an abnormally large swallow of water, the kind that made her choke on her own saliva like a child just learning how the throat works. She felt it go down her windpipe, felt her chest attempt to push it back up, and tried with all her might to force it to stay, to let her drown for only a minute, until the girl had found what she was looking for in room eighteen and left. But then she coughed. She coughed and knew there was no chance now she wouldn’t be caught.

IWSG - To Write or to Nap, That Is the Question

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. But sometimes there’s not always a will. Sometimes I’d rather just take a nap. What do you do when you’re too braindead to write? Do you write your way through it? Do you take the nap and pick back up the next day?

I have been facing this dilemma in the past month or so, putting off starting back up again by convincing myself that next week my brain will be revived, but when next week rolls around, I’m still in the rut. Once I get the butt in the chair and start writing, though, I know it will pick back up again. It’s the first five minutes of dread that always seem to get me. Next week, though, I’ll be able to get past it, right? :)

Peace, Aimee

Untangled (A Summer of Flash Fiction #10)

Abby’s boyfriend had just accepted a new job when Abby decided to grow dreads. She told herself that his new, fancy, telecommuting job had nothing to do with her decision, despite the fact that his old job was where they met and where Abby still worked. If he was leaving his job, she thought, who knew what else he would leave? She did not tell Brian that this did not influence her decision, because he did not ask. Instead, he’d simply told her that she was already a hippie, so it was nice she was making her external identity match her internal.

Though Brian lingered in the office, wrapping up the big projects he had begun himself and which necessitated his final approval, Abby remained at the front desk, warily answering phones and emails while their menopausal coworkers tornadoed from office to office in a flurry of papers and numbers and remembered night sweats. The company would surely fall apart without Brian, but no one seemed to know this as intimately as Abby, who, as the quiet, nervous receptionist, feared this little place, where she’d been able to put her foot in the door of the otherwise locked-up tight advertising industry, would soon be drowning in paperclips.

One week after Abby had stopped brushing her hair found her examining the miniscule tangles already forming in her naturally ratty mop while secretly worrying that her boss would deny her, in the absence of organized Brian’s words of wisdom, the right to display herself as she pleased. Even as the boss’s dog, who roamed the office, galumphing from door to door in search of dropped snacks, emitted an airy fart from his patient perch next to Abby’s desk, Abby still maintained that inkling of a notion that the boss could in fact successfully accommodate a new, unfamiliar Brian and would ridicule Abby into brushing her hair after Abby’s Brian left.

The accompanying waft of the dog’s sharp stench brought the boss to Abby’s office, dog treat in hand. “Come here, Ricky. Let’s go outside,” the boss proclaimed, snapping her fingers and flashing Abby an apologetic smile. Brian, too, appeared then in Abby’s doorway, clenching his nostrils and holding out a newly printed paper for her.

The boss chuckled, pointing to Brian’s feet. “Nice socks,” she chided, more mocking than an actual compliment, then led lazy Ricky away. Abby peered over the desk, the hot pink glare of Brian’s new socks gleaming up at her. With a roll of her eyes, she tsked him and returned to her work. But the boss, who’d always appeared so strict in Abby’s eyes, had not told Brian to change. She’d enjoyed the quirkiness of his unconventional footwear and exhibited no recognition of the week-old dreads. Abby was in the clear—so far.

* * * * *

Abby’s boyfriend had tied up all the loose ends at the advertising company when Abby decided to take her college search seriously. These events were likely flip-flopped in time, Brian seeking out a telecommuting job in preparation for Abby leaving the city, but this only crossed Abby’s mind once or twice. His new job allowed him to work at home rather than holed up in an office all day, and Abby found herself attempting to massage out the curious knot in her gut that begged her to ask if this truly meant he’d move with her if she enrolled somewhere far away.

A degree in graphic design or a degree in art theory awaited her on the other side of the college admissions barrier, but even in all her tormenting and self-interrogation, Abby could still not decide. Practicality and application or creativity and passion—these felt to her like the two factors yanking her back and forth, a fraying tug-of-war rope.

The dreads, too, now celebrating their one month birthday, were more a tangled sea of knots than the slim ropes for which she’d hoped. Crispy leaves falling from the undressing trees would grip velcro hairs and not let go. The incoming chill charmed Abby’s favorite wool scarf out of her cluttered closet, only to prove more a challenge than a comfort as the bird’s nest that was her hair attempted to weave the loosening fibers into its gathers. Every time a would-be dread got stuck on something—or something got stuck on it—Abby considered the possibility of going to a hairdresser and getting them done professionally. But no: that would be cheating; that would be succumbing to the system of materialism, of caring what you look like, of skipping to the end result without enduring and enjoying the process; that would be unnatural.

In the process of researching colleges online, Abby found herself in a similar dilemma: Some programs boasted a high post-grad hire rate, some a proclivity of their grads to win classy, artistic awards. Some required tons of business and marketing courses, ideas which interested her, and others an abundance of painting classes for which Abby yearned. All appealed to her, but none were unobjectionable. Maybe she should just not bother with school at all and attempt to find her artistic niche on her own. Or maybe she should let someone else decide for her.

Just as her fingers were about to go gangrenous and detach, her cellphone buzzed with the cajole of her spunky cousin. Picturing the image of young Ivy’s layers of tattoos and piercings, Abby lurched toward her phone with excitement.

“Ivy, just the person I wanted to talk to,” she lied, hoping only for reassurance rather than conversation. “How’s it going?”

“It’s alright. Just making sure you’re still coming over for Thanksgiving. Don’t want you chickening out because of the storm.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m still coming. I can handle a little snow,” Abby replied, though she wasn’t so sure. “But, what do you think everyone would think if I showed up with dreadlocks? I kind of stopped brushing my hair, so I’ll be looking scraggly in front of grandma.”

Abby heard Ivy’s snort derisively over the line. “Who cares what they think. People who care about what they look like are stupid. Good for you, I say,” Ivy growled. Her treatment of frivolity surpassed in sternness Abby’s dislike of all things inorganic. Plants poisoned for commercial gain, animals tortured to make sure shampoos were safe for humans, enormous vehicles chugging gas like an alcoholic chugs whisky: Abby and her cousin shared a distaste for things such as these, but Ivy’s hatred was extended to shaving, deodorant, shoes, religion, and even fluorescent lights. Ivy hated unnatural things. Ivy didn’t care if other people disliked her. Ivy didn’t want to go to college and didn’t have an office job, where things like dreadlocks mattered. Even going into an artistic career, and even being related to someone like Ivy, who had been accepted in the family though she bore a dozen tattoos, Abby felt that maybe she was different, that maybe she was less. That maybe dreads just weren’t for her.

* * * * *

Abby’s boyfriend had invited her to a see movie with some friends when Abby decided once and for all that she’d stick with the dreads. It’s what she’d said the last time, too, “once and for all,” but this time she knew she’d feel confident enough to answer with distinct affirmation when someone like her boss said, “I see you’ve started to let yourself go.”

Three months had passed since she’d brushed her hair, and a few yarn-like locks were becoming quite evident. Abby found herself putting her hair up more often than not, as she guessed the mess was just as unappealing to the public as it was to herself. In a few more weeks, she’d be reaching the point of no return—weeks filled with watching clumps of hair slowly morph into ropes, anxious heart-fluttering, dodging glances and pretending strangers weren’t judging her. The scraggles would even out—if she stuck to the plan and remained patient.

She couldn’t keep up with the patience side of things, though, in the horrid movie Brian had taken her to see. As a bland scenery unfolded and poor camera angles marred the story, Abby found her graphic design-oriented brain squirming with disgust. Even she could do better than that, and she hadn’t even studied film.

But as she was about to turn to Brian and express her hushed disdain in his ear, a gorgeous actress with whom Abby could never compete burst across the screen, her sweeping, angelic hair flowing out behind her and imbuing Abby with envy. The stream of light filtered through her mane was obviously meant to illustrate the love at first sight the main character felt upon her entrance, but to Abby, it was only a reminder of the people littered throughout her past who’d told her that her hair was beautiful and that they were jealous.

Sitting in that the scratchy cinema seat, the twinkling of a blissful piano tune filling the dark theater, Abby found herself missing her frizzy mop. Running and swimming would be floppy instead of flowy with dreads, and flying insects and stray bits of fuzz would always get trapped in her web. She’d carried a wasp into her apartment on her hair a few weeks before, and though it seemed hilarious at the time, now, admiring the actress’s lavishing blond hair, Abby was conscious of her disheveled, filthy, pathetic attempt at nonconformity.

When at last the credits began to ascend the movie screen, Abby was renewed with a cognizant understanding of her self. She, Brian, and their friends filed out of their row, inching between the too-small seats in the dim theater. As they burst through the doors, basking in the light of their post-film wonder, a light touch at the back of her head, as if someone were warily petting her like a new kitten, drew her attention.

“It sort of looks like you have dreads,” her friend Bree, who moved beside her, said.

“I sort of do, but I’m brushing them out this weekend. I thought it was a good idea, but I just can’t fully embrace them. They’re not really me.”

Bree’s accepting nod, Brian’s taking of her hand, and their swift goodbyes were affirming yet anticlimactic, leaving Abby perplexed at the affable accord. Shoving open the hefty theater doors and into the bitter February evening, she and Brian turned in the direction of Brian’s car with hardly half a twinkle of new insight between the two of them.

In a flash of gentle curiosity, Abby paused at the edge of the sidewalk, squeezing Brian’s hand. “You keep saying you don’t care,” she pried. “What do you really think of the dreads?”

“No matter how you wear your hair, I still think you’re beautiful,” Brain said.

Abby smiled unintentionally but avoided holding her gaze for too long, thinking him an undeserved gift. A tentative moment passed before she replied, “Thanks. I really needed to hear that,” though he certainly hadn’t helped in her decision-making process regarding her hair.

But as they shuffled together across the snow-dusted parking lot, Abby contemplated the consequences of her options. Dreads matched her political disposition, for sure, but admitting that she couldn’t fully embrace them left the residue of the notion that a malleable style was more suited to her personality. Couldn’t she be a hippie without dreadlocks? She’d untangle them that evening, Abby told herself, in spite of the sharp yanks of the hairbrush and the globs of old hair that would aggregate in the bathroom trash can, but the beauty of extinguishing three months of hard work was that she had the option of starting over again—when she was ready to commit to such a journey.

Books I Read This Month - July 2014

Room by Emma Donoghue

Whoa. This is a hugely powerful novel about a woman who was kidnapped at nineteen and held in a room for several years, repeatedly raped by her captor. It is told from the perspective of her five-year-old son, Jack, who was born in the room and has never been outside and never met anyone other than his mother and the kidnapper (from whom his mother fiercely protects him, never allowing the captor to speak to him or touch him). The writing perfectly captures what you’d expect to be going on in his mind, since this is all he’s ever known, and it’s evident that the author did a lot of research about developmental psychology. The first half of the book is creepy, since the reader gets hints of what's going on based on narrator Jack's observations, and the second half is heart-wrenching. Through Jack's eyes, we are shown some of the things in our world, often socially, that are strange and constructed rather than psychologically innate. It’s fast-paced and emotionally moving. Very much recommended.

The Abominable by Dan Simmons

Three men are sent on a mission to climb Mount Everest to uncover the body of a man who went missing on a climb the year before. But when they get there, they realize their mission is not quite what they thought. The book is very long and split into three sections. The first part details their preparation and is interesting, though it made me impatient wondering when they would start the trip; the second part details their climb, which is also interesting but doesn't yet include the suspenseful elements that the description of the book claims; and the third part details a scary chase up and down the mountain by creatures which the climbers must identify and attempt to escape from before they are killed. The legend of yetis is used here in a terrifying way, and the historical details in all three parts (especially the first and third) add a lot of depth and meaning to the plot. I found this to be an adventurous (albeit long) book, and I'd recommended for people who like big travel stories.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

I’d been meaning to read this for a while, since Upton Sinclair was in his twenties when he wrote this (and I am also in my twenties), and it contributed to economic and environmental social movements. I can definitely see why it is considered a classic, as it follows an immigrant’s journey from his arrival in the US through his adulthood, which consists of many up and downs through poverty, success, tragedy, happiness, and more. His life is a roller coaster, which at times seems unrealistic, but the plot works perfectly for conveying Sinclair’s political and social messages. The narrative is also largely "told" rather than "shown" in its writing style, making it extremely plot-driven and lacking in emotional depth (except when discussing the main character's family, who goes through some heart-breaking experiences). Otherwise, it is a fascinating look at poverty, immigration, and labor unions in the US.

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

The front cover of this book and the description make this sound like a steampunk novel, with a lot of sci-fi elements, but it’s really not. It’s an extraordinary and fun adventure in the vein of Jules Verne or Charles Dickens. Set in Victorian England and following three main characters who each deal with time travel and romance in some way, this book is seriously fun. It’s split into three parts that each can stand alone as individual stories, but when straight through, they create a tapestry of a story where all the parts fit together. The characters and their dilemmas are unique, often hilarious, and sometimes over-the-top romantic. Anyone who loves a good time travel story will adore this.

Dancing in the In-Between, Part 4 of 4 (A Summer of Flash Fiction #9)

The days ticked slowly by. I hid in the embrace of my blankets and left my room only for necessities, the food I prodded with a fork and destroyed with its prongs, the bathroom which used to give me a prickle of bitterness but which now left me angry and empty each time I walked in. No attempts were made by my parents to help me reconcile my sorrow—even they knew it was futile. What they did discuss with each other and try to discuss with me was the choice I would have to make now. They presented me with options: returning to public school and attending the dance studio I went to before; other all girls academies which weren't as prestigious and where I would have to continue to hide; a place called the Havenwood Dance Academy, the only coed teen institute in New York, extremely prestigious, like Frieda, but offering no scholarships or lead roles for first-year students.

Nothing was as good as Frieda, and no one would want someone like me. This indelible stuckness encroached on my each and every day, each minute dripping with a truth I knew I would soon have to face: I could never enter a dance studio again. Returning to the public high school would be my fate, the boring, dreadful, mind-numbing fate I, the bumbling, masculine monster, deserved. Though even going back to school, facing my old friends and teachers, would be a humiliation in itself. I had been set up, since the day of my birth, to fail.

During the following three weeks, I was out of school, luckily—only in the sense that I wasn't missing many lessons—as they coincided with the week off for autumn break, my relatives meeting up for a Thanksgiving feast, me laying low through the whirlwind of cousins and aunts and uncles spinning through the house. The children played tag throughout the labyrinthine living room and kitchen. They moved so swiftly it seemed, it was a wonder they ever caught each other at all—or perhaps it was me who was moving in slow motion. The adults helped cook and drank wine, inviting me to join, but I opted to stand around, sit around, watch movies, trying not to think of ballet.

When the holiday was over and my cousins all returned home, the cleanup seemed to emulate a metaphysical process of recovery. I swept up the kitchen floor, its renewed sheen catching a ray like the last glint of a metal ballet bar before the evening sun drops beneath the window ledge. We removed and threw away any evidence that the messy family had ever been there, just as I attempted to destroy any final thoughts of Frieda and Miranda and that young man in the front row who could have, in another life, been my artful soul mate.

The cleanup was done, and I went to bed, imagining what my life would be like in these next few years without my daily dance practice. But without the tinkling of piano keys and tapping of wooden-toed shoes against the plastic-covered floor, I realized that night, my life would be devoid of meaning.

The next morning, huddled in my blankets, I heard the sweet lullaby of the chickadees and finches. Those peaceful chirping birds outside my window as I woke to the pleasant sun created the same atmosphere I felt when witnessing a gracefully extended limb penetrating an audience’s awed breath. As I imbibed through my skin the warmth of the sun, streaming in through the translucent lavender silk of my curtains, I knew I could never feel this early morning bliss if I did not have a day of dance ahead of me.

I didn't need to know my identity as a woman or a man, as a dancer, as a friend, lover, daughter, or son; I knew my identity as a human person. I realized it was unnecessary to feel the need to get the lead in the ballet, to be the center of everyone’s attention. I was satisfied to be a background dancer, as long as I had a chance to take part. Each dancer is necessary to complete the flow of the final artful dance. Each tiny metal gear plays a significant role in turning the hands of Big Ben. There was no need for desire, for ambition; if I could be at peace with myself and my situation, then my goals would already be achieved. All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare once said; but with the pale pink lace string up tight around my ankles, the black leotard hugging my ribs, the pins stretching the hairs from my scalp into the perfect bun, the stage was the only stage in the world.

I swung my feet over the side of my bed, like I’d done so many times before, but it was an act I now performed with a reaffirmed sense of grace. As I approached the kitchen, seeking out the welcome greeting of a cool glass of orange juice, I heard some dishes softly clatter in the sink. A heavy footstep echoed through the dining room, followed by the soft clink of a wedding-ringed hand landing on a doorknob.

Today was the day, it seemed, that my father had decided to approach the local public high school for registration paperwork, the day that he would laconically give up on me—unless I changed my mind: the Havenwood Dance Academy application lay bare on the kitchen table. My father’s hand was on the porch door doorknob, but he waited—when I cleared my throat, and he saw me in the archway between the foyer and the kitchen—as if he knew I still had something to say. His back to me, he took in a breath, and I watched his torso expand as the air filled his lungs, so much warmer than the deliberate, almost robotic breaths of a dancer.

“Wait,” I said, turning to my right and leaning slightly to open the smallest top drawer embedded in the kitchen counter. “There’s a thing I need to do.” Once I had the small item in my hand, I slid the drawer closed. He turned to face me once again.

I took a deep breath and smiled. “Will you help me?”

He hesitated, searching my gaze for a decision, and when he saw that it was really what I wanted, he let go of the doorknob and took the pen from my hand.

After I moved to the Havenwood Dance Academy dorms, I did not keep in touch with Miranda, nor with any of the other girls. I knew, though, that she would continue to dance with every beat of her heart, with every rise and set of the sun; she would dance in order to hold onto that feeling elicited from the audience’s first quick intake of breath as the dancers leap into the air. She would hold onto that freeing moment, and rightly so.

If you were to see me now, upon the Havenwood stage, you would never know that I am different. Male and female dancers both shave their legs and underarms and are both thin and wear tights and make-up just the same. We both move with the same grace, we practice with the same vigor, and we jump with the same desire to reach the sky.

Dancing in the In-Between, Part 3 of 4 (A Summer of Flash Fiction #8)

I woke in the morning to the sound of my alarm clock buzzing a hearty, generic squawk. Groaning, I rolled over to see the numbers flashing quarter after eight. The blankets exploded off my body, and my legs scrambled over the side of the bed without me even acknowledging the intention to do so until I had smashed the clock’s button and found myself in the tiny bathroom I shared with Miranda, yanking out a foot of sturdy tape and scouring the toiletry cabinet for hairpins. I slicked back my hair—now greasy from not having showered after the show last night—into a bun the best I could while shoving my legs into my pale pink tights and rinsing away the leftover makeup that had smeared across my face in my sleep, like a camera capturing a moving person gliding mysteriously across a backdrop.

I snatched my ballet shoes from my bag, which still sat in a lump on the floor next to the door, and I ran outside, leaping from the dorms to the practice studio the building over in time for our daily eight thirty class. The familiar scent of chalked-up dance shoes blending with the rubbery floor pervaded my senses, slowing my speed as I reached the studio entryway and slid inside, in time to meet the other dancers while they laced the faded pink silk around their ankles, winding it around their steel-hard calves. I landed on the floor with a quiet plop, banging my pelvis sharply against the wood that masqueraded as an inviting black plastic floor.

Shoving my toes inside my shoes, I glanced warily around the room, searching for Miranda. She hadn’t woken me, as she had gotten used to doing in these past few weeks as my teenage—“normal, but annoying,” as my mother called it—sleep cycle had shifted. I saw her, already standing at the bar, next to our fellow dancer Katherine, whispering something under her breath, an ugly smirk encroaching on her naturally succulent lips. I could not discern from the shape of her mouth what she was saying, but gaging by Katherine’s stark reaction—eyes wide, hand delicately placed in front of open mouth, eyes darting and seeking me out—it was nothing I would have liked to hear.

Katherine’s expression of horror, Miranda’s of sly exploitation, burned into my mind, but, as it turned out, the image did not require my memory, as it repeated itself infinitely over the following handful of days. These were the expressions that riddled my routine for the next week, stifled gasps, likely spread by the flaky command of “don’t tell it you know” and the rebellious urge to expose the truth to any of the other girls. The whispers infiltrated my every day, but no one confronted me. I returned to the dorm room to find Miranda either gone or already sound asleep. I knew the girls were talking about me, but not an unambiguous word was spoken. They dodged my gaze, they snickered, and, the most humiliating of all, they looked afraid.

But only one week after the incident with Miranda, after one week of hardly seeing her, not speaking to her at all, I was sent for by the president of the academy, the secretary finding me in my room after dinner and asking me to come to his office. She led me to the office building, across the campus and down a long hall, and when she opened the door and ushered me in, he sat there in his big chair with his bald head shining and his hands folded nervously on his desk over a thin manila-enveloped file. The secretary closed the door, leaving me there alone with the president, her comforting demeanor outside that dark and heavy office door, though, transmuted by her curiosity, and she was undoubtedly pressing an ear up against the wood of the door.

A nod announced that I was meant to sit down, and the president heaved something I could only imagine was a regretful, anxious sigh.

“I’m afraid,” he began, “that some recent evidence has brought to our attention an incongruence with the academy’s policies.” Already understanding what was about to happen, my eyes began prematurely to fill with haphazard yet perhaps long-anticipated tears. He continued, “We can, unfortunately, no longer offer you placement at the Frieda L. Johnson Academy of Dance. We have no choice but to withdraw your scholarship and ask you peacefully to vacate your position here.”

“What?” I choked, it seemed, on the constriction of my throat. The tears began pouring out, burning my eyes as if someone were holding a match to them. They boiled over and spilled onto my cheeks, my vision going blurry. “I don’t understand,” I sputtered. “Why are you doing this now?” I’d had one of the biggest parts in the last performance, and I had the promise of the lead role in the next. To leave now would be career suicide.

He cleared his throat, looking at the file on his desk, then toward the office’s window to his left, covered by a heavy, maroon curtain that blocked out all distracting sunlight, then back to the file, with which he fiddled, his pudgy fingers ever so slightly shaking; he looked anywhere but at me. “The Frieda L. Johnson Academy of Dance is a female-only institution, and I am afraid you do not qualify.”

“But I’m a girl,” I insisted, though I knew it was futile.

He shuffled the papers on his desk and lifted one from the pile. “The records sent by your physician,” he said, pretending to read the page, “indicated that you were in fact female. But we received some complaints from several students, which provoked us to reach out to your parents. They permitted us to look at your birth certificate. It tells us that you are not female.”

He couldn't look at me, even as he said it. He couldn't reveal to me the disgust that he felt at my presence. His awkward shuffling of papers, his scratchy clearing of his throat, his compulsive, intermittent rubbing of the underside of his nose—all of these behaviors attested to me his belief that I was less than human. And if he, the president of the institution which I had entrusted to designate my future, believed it, then who was to say otherwise?

By the time my disheartened parents arrived that evening to collect me, I had resigned myself to a life of rejection, humiliation, and disappointment. No ballet elite would ever accept me in my physical condition. No normal girls would ever attempt to befriend me without some form of curiosity attached. No boy would ever find me attractive unless intrigued by my body as a novelty act. It would be best if I hid in my bedroom and sulked, perhaps beginning an odd collection of hoarded stamps, or taking in a hundred stray cats, or tending to a jungle of plants. I could easily have settled on becoming the crazy witch who lived in the Gothic mansion at the end of the street.

My parents helped me pack up my dorm room, placing my dancewear and regular clothes in a big box, tossing my school papers into another, tucking knickknacks and jewelry into the crevices of those boxes. Though I hadn’t expected her to, I had at least hoped that Miranda would see me off, would at least come help me pack up my things; but I realized as I taped up the box of my dance performance costumes that there were no goodbyes to be had.

To the car, my mother carried the packages of my street clothes and miscellaneous items, my father carried my bedside table, the drawers filled with trinkets and makeup and textbooks, and I carried the box of costumes—filled with frilly pinks and purples, sexy reds and blacks, and sweet, lacy sky blues and pale yellows; these costumes I had worn with pride, letting their airy fabrics glance against my skin, but today, I realized, all donned together in one big box, they all felt so, so heavy.

We walked as a sad, sulking trio toward the car, my father futilely fuming, though only on my behalf. “We should sue,” he said. “Or petition to get you back in.”

I shook my head. “I don’t want to go back. They wanted to get rid of me. I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted.”

“We should sue,” he repeated. The words sounded like an empty threat as they echoed through the parking lot. The prospect of taking the institute to court was thrilling, but we were not likely to succeed. And I just wanted to get away, to forget about the Frieda L. Johnson Academy of Dance altogether.

The car ride home was difficult, as I slumped in the back with headphones blaring macabre symphonies into my ears, though I was faced with a familiar sort of compassion in my parents. My father was gentle, his shoulders stiffly supporting the weight my incident had heaved onto him, his hands revealing a particular strength as he steered us toward our home. My mother cried silently in the passenger seat, shedding delicate tears for the loss of her child’s ability to pursue a long-held dream. But they both stared forward, blank-faced, out at the road weaving ahead, as if they were resigned, having known that something like this was bound to have happened eventually.

Arriving home a few minutes after midnight, we drowsily slinked into the house, my parents retreating to the lamp-lit den to whisper about what to do with me now, me retreating to my big, empty bedroom upstairs, in which I had not set foot in the four months that I had been living at the academy.

There wasn't much to say, as I knew what they had both thought of me since the day I was born—having waited for the discovery of whether I was a boy or a girl, only to be surprised to find I was both … or neither: I baffled them. That was the truth of it.

Dancing in the In-Between, Part 2 of 4 (A Summer of Flash Fiction #7)

The excited shouts of praise continued even as we filed out of the dressing room—likely leaving behind a forgotten ribbon or a smattering of hairpins—and into the wide hallway to greet various members of the audience and wave hello to those we recognized. With Miranda’s fierce and fearful eyes painted in my vision, the chaos of the lobby sounded muffled, as if I had cotton in my ears. A bright smile I pasted to my face, swearing to myself that the tears, if anyone asked, were of joy. Some gorgeously-garbed people hung around, conversing with dancers and fellow voyeurs, and after a middle-aged woman patted me on the shoulder and congratulated me, I saw across the crowded room the glorious face of that young man from the front row. My hand lifted, unconsciously, but I couldn’t go through with approaching him to ask what he thought of my performance, not after the episode with Miranda in the back room.

Before I could change my mind, he was out the door, and I watched the soft skin of the back of his creamy neck wrinkle as he turned his head to the left, hearing another handsome young man say, “There you are, Harry,” and grasp his hand.

Spinning around toward the north exit to avoid torturing myself further with their affection, I brought my attention back to the other dancers. Most had begun to lose that post-performance glow, and a few of them eyed the north exit that led back to the dormitories. Miranda was nowhere to be seen, likely having already left. Hesitant, though I knew I had nowhere else to sleep except in the room I shared with her, I inched my way to the door. I pushed it open, my heavy dance bag slung over my shoulder, and met the cool breeze of New York’s autumn night. The sun had only just set, leaving behind a residue of majestic pinks and oranges splayed across the horizon. I yearned to make the lonesome walk back to the dorms as long as I could. Not certain what Miranda would say or do when I returned, I went over some vague possibilities in my head: she could ignore me (not probable, due to her outgoing nature), she could express distaste, perhaps anger (possible—she was a feisty girl), or she could inquire and chat, inciting the intimate confidence of a good friend (what I hoped for, but of which I was also terribly afraid; I had never been so close to anyone in my mere sixteen years).

As I walked along the winding concrete path, under the sidewalk’s lamplight, I recalled my elementary school years, when my male friends and their parents referred to me as “just one of the boys” when I joked with them crudely, still searching for the side of the binary to which I belonged. The boys were my experiment, and, at the time, ballet was too, though it soon morphed into my passion. Puberty exacerbated my physical tragedies but planted me firmly on the female side of the line. None of my friends were ever aware of my circumstance. But perhaps Miranda would understand.

The lights bordering the path led me to the dorm building, where I regrettably found myself at the doorstep of my and Miranda’s room, having traversed there on autopilot, those few minutes of my journey slipping out of my memory. Taking a deep breath, I turned the doorknob and entered the place I called home but which tonight did not feel like one.

To my surprise, Miranda sat on her bed, her legs dangling over the sides, leaning back and using her hands to support herself. Her bare feet swayed slightly, grazing the blue and purple polka dotted duvet and generating ripples that rolled through the fabric. When the door clicked closed, she turned her head to look at me, and a friendly yet wary smile snuck over her lips. Her hair was already free from its binding hairpins, laying out across her shoulders, black and sleek, the creases from her bun still evident—these were constant nuisances for dancers, these pleats that remained for days after washing one’s hair, like the indents left pressed into soft chairs even after standing and walking away.

“Nicola,” she said. “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but can we talk?”

I lowered my dance bag to the light brown tile floor—made to look like wood—but did not yet approach her. With an expression of forced ambivalence she urged me toward her. I shocked myself when I found my feet moving, slipping off the flip-flops I’d worn for travel between the buildings. My dark purple quilt was shoved hastily to the end of my bed, evidence of my having struggled to wake up at the second slamming of the snooze that morning, something that had become a habit for me in the past few months. I settled on my bed, facing her, my now bare feet also brushing against the blankets that dangled over the edge.

“Can I ask?” Miranda said. “I know we haven’t known each other very long, but can I ask you about … about you?”

I’d been anxious about the arrival of this day, when someone besides family would discover my deformity and inquire. I’d imagined explosions of disgust, hideous laughter, cruel exclusion, but friendly curiosity was not something I’d believed could have happened; hoped, surely, but not anticipated.

“I guess so,” I said, staring at my feet. Blisters orbed on the sides of my big toes, but I did not feel them any more.

“First, the obvious.” She let out an awkward chortle, belittling the legitimacy of her own question. “You are a girl, right?”


“Are you sure?”

No amount of preparation, no hours of practicing a speech on biology, of probing my own emotions and instincts, could have unearthed the best response to this. “There’s a difference between my brain and my body, I think,” I said. “I was born with both parts, and my parents were afraid to choose a surgery for me, in case they got it wrong. Most people like me turn out to be girls, but they didn’t want to risk it. My brain tells me I’m a girl, but my body is stuck like this for now. I’m not able to have the surgery now until I’m eighteen.”

“So it is what I thought it was?” Astonished, her eyes grew wide. “What’s it like?”

“I don’t know,” I said with a blush. “I’ve been like this my whole life. I don’t really have anything to compare it to.”

Her lip curled into a frown but then bounced back like elastic to a warm smirk. “No, I guess you wouldn’t.”

“I’m meant to be a girl,” I continued. “One hundred percent a girl. I think girl thoughts and like girly stuff. I wish I didn’t have this thing.”

“Thing,” Miranda chuckled. “Do you really think of it as just some extra thing? I’m sure it has some advantages.”

Her comment was greeted with my loud, unexpected laugh. “No way.”

“I mean, what does it do?”

“Do?” I gulped, about to reveal something I never told anyone before. Might as well—I’d never discussed the matter with anyone before at all, besides the brief, annual interview from a doctor to check everything was working properly. “The normal stuff any boy’s can do, I guess,” I said with a shrug.

The thick of fog of misunderstanding cleaved between us; a moment of clarity arrived. As Miranda searched the air to capture a handful of words, I traced with my eyes the shape of her smooth shoulder. Her collarbone swooped from her shoulder into the fibers of her neck, the concavity of her skin around the bones begging for a gentle fingertip. This was a real girl’s shoulder, so soft and sensual. I burned with something akin to envy.

“Have you ever?” She paused. “You know.”

“What?” Heat rose in my gut. By her lowered chin and lifted gaze, inviting and penetrating, I knew the direction her investigation was headed. “No,” I answered before she could finish.

A playful roll of the eyes, a gentle hand on my knee, a light sigh at my naivety—her gestures indicated that the culminating objective of the conversation was imminent. “To be a true ballerina,” she said, “you have to have confidence in who you are as a person. You have to be comfortable in your own body. You don’t seem sure of yourself, Nick. You seem like you don’t feel like you know exactly who you are.” She leaned forward slightly, parting her moist lips. “But I know what you need.”

My first kiss, my first kiss, were the only words to crash through my thoughts, flashing like fire alarms, warning me. When she released, after only a second, I opened my eyes to see her looking at me with a bewitching, querying gaze. She nodded, ever so slightly, a question. In the absence of answer, I lifted my chin an inch, leaned in again, nothing at the forefront to impede me. If it wasn’t for the self-conscious flood of confusion resulting from the fear derived from the scene in the dressing room not one hour ago, the soft pressing of her lips against mine would have been pure bliss.

And then, across the darkness of my closed eyelids flashed the marvelous face of that handsome young man in the front row of the auditorium that evening, jovial and sultry, perhaps about to wink. I felt Miranda’s hand against my leg, sliding gently toward the thing. A warmth rushed into my lap.

“Stop,” I said abruptly, louder than intended. It came out as a gargle; I swallowed the lump that had grown large in my throat. “Stop, please,” I repeated, gentler this time. “This isn’t what I want.”

Miranda looked up at me, her eyebrows knitted together, her brown eyes narrowed and boring into mine. “It’s not?” she snapped.

“No. I- I like men.”

She sat up abruptly, pushing the blanket away to expose her body and mine, half clothed—our leotards and tiny shorts seemed now, more than ever, like whorish, condescending garbs intended only to attract the attention of hungry, women-seeking, masculine men. The vindication in Miranda’s eyes seemed to dissipate, revealing a sensitivity I didn’t know she was capable of possessing. But her face quickly hardened again.

“Do you?” she said, more of a statement then a question. “I thought I knew you, but I guess I was wrong. Maybe you are just an awkward, stiff loser of a girl then.” She snorted in attempt to sound derisive and mocking, but there was a definite slurp of wet in the noise, her rejected emotions betraying her. “No, you’re not a girl. You’re a freak.”

With that she turned away from me, returning to her own bed, laying on her side, and pulling the blanket up to her chin. She reached back to switch off the lamp, not bothering to put on her pajamas. In the dark, I listened to her breath slow, passing from lively to sleeping in only a few minutes. I rolled onto my side to look out the window to watch the stars, realizing that at this time of night it was impossible to determine the line between sky and sea.

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!

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.

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

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.

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.