Sunday, April 3, 2016

Tales from Midwest Memories: The Soap Opera Scandal of '88

*All names have been changed to protect the guilty and innocent, but mostly, the guilty.

As I sat in Mr. Johnson’s office and waited on my mom to arrive, I chewed on my cuticles and wondered how this got so out of control. The situation began innocently enough – a joke made among friends during study hall.
Monday study hall dragged on with no end in sight. Gina, Rene, Chrissy, and I had been friends since elementary school. Our freshmen year, we found ourselves outcasts in a school containing less than two hundred students, so we adopted the motto: “us against the world.” We sat together at the table nearest the window and shared the weekend’s gossip in whispers and giggles, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes at the deceit and debauchery engaged in by our classmates.
“Ya know, this place is like a soap opera,” Gina muttered.
I laughed at the idea, pulled out a piece of paper, jotted down the words “As Valley High Turns,” and sketched out a crudely rendered picture of the earth at the bottom of the page.
“Just think, what a soap opera we could write. These stories would be just as good as anything on tv,” I whispered, showing the girls the page.
The girls nodded in agreement, and in that moment, we conceived a monumental idea. By the time the bell rang, we had drawn up our cast of “characters.” We included students, faculty, staff, and administrators because how realistic would it be to write a show set in a school with no adults? We discussed plot lines, love triangles, and all matters of degenerate behavior based on our classmates’ actual lives. I gathered up all the notes, and we headed our separate ways. I hurried to Mrs. Deeley’s history class to work on the script.
On Tuesday, I shared my work with the girls during study hall. They “oohed” and “aahed” at all the proper places, then grabbed their pencils and began making notes on the script, snickering as they worked. After class, I took the piece and began making the changes and additions suggested along with some of my own invention as well.
The rest of the week flew by in the same manner. The girls read during study hall and made their notes. I took their input and revised, reworked, and added as necessary. By Friday, the script had grown from a teasing suggestion to a substantial piece of writing that filled a two-pocket folder. The girls made their notes for the day, and I took it home with me.
Over the weekend, I neatly rewrote the entire script. I created an official looking cover from two pieces of cardboard and assembled it using brass-headed brads. The final copy of our “story” occupied the front and back of fifty college-ruled loose-leaf pages, detailing every piece of information the four of us knew or observed at Valley High School filled in with constructions of logical interactions and reactions dreamt up in our teenage minds.
I carried the manuscript to school on Monday morning and passed it to the girls. Chrissy took it first, then Rene, and finally Gina. We discussed the story at lunch. Each of us identified our favorite parts, and we declared the project a success.
After lunch, Gina ran to my locker. Out of breath with wide eyes, she panted, “It’s gone!”
“Whadda ya mean ‘it’s gone’?” I asked.
“The story. Someone took it outta my locker. IT is gone!”
Gina shook her head, “No idea.”
While I considered the possibility that there would be some turmoil over the story, I did not bother deliberating over it for long. I went on with my day as if nothing happened. Miss Bonnie came to get me at the beginning of eighth hour, and as soon as I saw her pursed lips and narrowed eyes, I realized the manuscript was going to cause more trouble than I thought.
Mr. Johnson frowned at me from behind his large wooden desk with his arms crossed over his chest. A photocopy of the manuscript sat in the center of his desk, taunting me. I guess he did not appreciate his bumbling, but charmingly clueless, portrayal.
“Are you responsible for this?” he asked, pointing at the stack of paper.
I frowned and nodded.
“Your mother has been called. She is on her way,” he stated, and then he stood and left the room, tripping over the edge of the bookshelf on his way out the door.
I could not help but smile.
Miss Bonnie glared at me from her perch by the front counter, involuntarily pulling at her tight purple sweater and running her lavender lacquered nails through her perfectly coiffed hair. I guess she did not appreciate her role as the aging prom queen making desperate advances on senior boys while trying to cling to her youth.
Through the front office window, I spied “Princess” Jennifer storm by with “Prince” Jonathon just a few steps behind her. She paused long enough to stare daggers at me through the glass. Her mascara ran down her cheeks. When John caught up to her and reached out to touch her shoulder, she jerked away from him and continued down the hall. He followed with his arms out and palms up, his mouth running a mile a minute trying to make it right. I am certain neither of them appreciated the exposure of the first-hand accounts of “Prince” John’s late night exploits.
Mom finally arrived. She sat straight and tall in the seat beside me with her hands folded in her lap and nodded at all the appropriate times, while Mr. Johnson explained my offenses and my punishment. She signed my referral sheet, folded her copy in half, and slipped it into her purse. She cleared her throat at the office door, and I jumped up from my seat and followed her out of the building.
The consequences surrounding the uproar were substantial. The senior and junior girls threatened to “give me an ass-whoopin’” for the next month. My mom grounded me for two weeks for “being disrespectful to my elders.” Mr. Johnson sentenced me to a week in the broom closet that also served as the school’s in-school-suspension room for writing “lewd and lascivious materials, better-suited for adults than proper young ladies.”

At the tender age of fourteen, I learned an important lesson about the power of words, and it was all worth it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

What's in a Name?

Do our names really influence who we will become?

I mean, we don't get to choose them, that honor is left up to our well-meaning, but occasionally clueless, parents. And for the most part, we live with whatever moniker has been foisted upon us by emotionally-compromised fathers or mothers who may or may not have had a little too much pain medication prior to completing our birth certificate. It is not a typical matter for deep philosophical reflection. Unless you were the victim of an extremely malicious parent like that unfortunate boy named Sue, then you probably suffered no lasting trauma associated with your name.

Not long ago, I was asked, "Do you love your name? Or hate it?" The question itself implies that people fall in one of two very distinct camps. But after a great deal of reflection, I decided there are too many gray areas involved to give a definitive answer. Over the course of my life, there have been many times I didn't particularly care for my name, but for better or worse, it is mine. So, here is my answer to that well-meaning, but poorly phrased, question.

It Could Have Been Worse

Before I came to live in this world, my mom and dad engaged in a typical debate held between couples readying themselves for the arrival of a new family member. They could not agree on a name. Although they each produced solid arguments for their choices and tenaciously defended their positions, my mom emerged the winner. Victorious, she named me Carey – but it could have been worse.

People have always struggled with the proper spelling of my name. In an attempt to make a common name less ordinary, Mom decided a change in spelling was necessary.  Businesses, employers, friends, and even family have frequently misspelled my name over the course of my life. My own grandpa never learned to spell my name accurately, which led to the receipt of yearly handwritten birthday greetings addressed to C-a-r-r-y, C-a-r-r-i-e, C-a-r-y, and even K-e-r-r-y. Of course, it could have been worse. Even though the name is misspelled, I still know they are talking to me. They could have gotten the name completely wrong. Can you imagine being referred to as Terry or Sherry or even as Mary. Misspelling doesn’t seem quite so bad when compared to misidentification.

Elementary school was no picnic either. Do you know how many words rhyme with Carey? A lot, that’s how many. Fairy Carey, Merry Carey, Scary Carey, Hairy Carey. Small children love to speak in verse, and when you have a name custom-made for rhyming, that is exactly what you get. However, it could have been worse. These monikers could have followed me into adolescence. Can you imagine being saddled with ‘Hairy Carey’ throughout puberty? That could have been truly devastating.

In high school, I discovered another problem with my given name. It was boring. While my friends possessed beautiful, interesting names – Yvonne, Gwendolyn, Katrina – I held on to plain, old Carey. I was the third Ingall’s sister, the one that never had any exciting adventures or whirlwind love affairs. The clumsy sister that fell down trying to run through the field during the opening credits – yep, that was me. During these years, I sampled new names. I became Talia for several months, and then adopted Meike for nearly a year. Ultimately, I returned to Carey because it could have been worse. My mom could have chosen an old family name like Gladys, Agnes, Gertrude, or Mildred. Can you imagine trying to live with one of those unusual names around other teenagers? Talk about character building! No thank you, I will just stick with simple, traditional, awkward Carey.

In the end, I decided to embrace the name my mom fought to bestow upon me. It is my identifier, and I cannot imagine having any other appellation. I am Carey. Carey is me. Besides, it could have been worse. My dad could have won. Then, I would have been Cadence. Can you imagine being named after a military march song? Yeah, me neither.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lessons Learned: Tales from Midwest Memories

A current collection-in-progress - Lessons Learned: Tales from Midwest Memories is a collection of personal essays tracing the long, often humorous, occasionally angry, and sometimes emotional journey of my life growing up in the rural Midwest.

Today's offering is a decidedly emotional essay from this collection. 

How I Learned Moments Matter

Humanity measures the progress of life through a series of signposts. Graduations, marriages, births, moves, jobs, and deaths pave the pathways we each travel during our time on this plane of existence. These milestones, although important, are not what truly shape us into the people we will become. That honor is reserved for less consequential incidents. Seemingly insignificant experiences profoundly influence our interaction with the world around us, but only after time and reflection reveal their fundamental importance.

Tuesday, July 13, 1999 began with an argument. My grandpa was in the hospital for a minor cardiac event – the most recent health issue in a long line of difficulties that stretched back nearly six years. This episode only landed him on his back for three days, which was no more than a hiccup compared to some of his previous illnesses. Although he was due to be released the next day, my husband kept insisting we go visit him. I was twenty-five years old, four and a half months pregnant with my second child, and in no mood to be told what to do. I argued vehemently against making the forty-five minute trip to the hospital.

My protests stemmed from a combination of practicality, experience, and all-day morning sickness. I spent the entirety of my twenties traveling back and forth to my grandparent’s home to help care for them during my grandpa’s many infirmities. I kept house, ran errands, set meds, and prodded Grandpa through his various therapies. It became a quietly running routine. I knew what to expect and what was expected from me. “They’re releasing him tomorrow, and I’m going out on Friday to spend the weekend. Make sure he’s all settled in and that he and Grandma have everything they need. I feel like crap today. I was just there yesterday and spoke to his doctor. He doesn’t even have any physical therapy orders this time. Of course, I’ll stay longer if they need me.” Today, I was wasting my breath.

My husband ignored both my objections and explanations. He would not take “no” for an answer. He headed to the car, declaring that we were going, and I followed reluctantly. I pouted the entire trip and continued to mutter my arguments while staring out the passenger side window.

When we arrived at the hospital, Grandpa was in good spirits. He smiled broadly at me, reached out, and grabbed my hand tightly, “They’re springin’ me first thing in the morning, Sis.”

We sat, holding hands, and visited for nearly two hours. We talked about my son, the light of his life, and the pending arrival of his great-granddaughter. When I told him about the never-ending ‘morning’ sickness, he laughed and commented, “Yep, that’s a girl for ya.” We reminisced about my childhood, discussed his current medical condition, commiserated over the inedibility of hospital food, and negotiated my upcoming visit. At 2:30, we said our good-byes. I leaned over, kissed his cheek, and received my kiss in return. I told him I loved him and would see him Friday. He was smiling as I waved from the door.

The doctor released him from the hospital the next morning as planned. He and Grandma headed off to bed about 10:30 p.m., as usual. Sometime between midnight and 3 a.m. on July 15th, Grandpa went to the kitchen to get a drink of water. An aneurism burst in his brain. Grandma rushed to him when she heard him fall, but it was too late. He was already gone. He died on the kitchen floor in the home he built for his family with his own two hands with his wife of fifty-one years by his side. After all the heart attacks and strokes, this hidden weakness took him from us. None of us saw it coming.

On July 13, 1999, I spoke to my grandpa for the last time. Of course, at the time I did not know it would be our final visit, and it almost did not happen at all. If not for my husband, I would have missed the opportunity to sit and talk with him. I would have lost the chance to hold his hand and kiss him good-bye one last time. I would have regretted the decision not to go see him for the rest of my life. Instead, I learned a valuable lesson that has influenced how I live and love the people in my life. I discovered every single moment we have with our loved ones matters because life guarantees nothing more than the present.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Toughen Up, Buttercup: A Guide to Surviving Constructive Criticism

At some point in your writing journey, if you are lucky, you will be exposed to that wonderful, terrifying, terrible process known as critique. It may come from a teacher or professor. It may arrive in the guise of an in-person or online writing group. It may even turn up as feedback from an editor or a beta reader. But mark my words, if you write long enough and are serious about sharing your work with other readers, eventually it will occur, leaving you alone to decide how to best respond.

What you do next is crucial. Your response to criticism (that you asked for, by the way) will determine:

1. How much or how little you will learn about the craft of writing

2. To what extent your writing may improve

3. Whether or not people will willingly continue working with you

As a writer, the first thing you need to do ask yourself some very important questions. (BE TRUTHFUL, you will only be lying to yourself.)

1. Do I want other people to read what I have written?

2. Do I feel confident that I am presenting the best work I am capable of producing?

3. Am I ready to hear people talk about my writing in ways that may not be flattering?

4. Can my ego take criticism without me becoming: a) angry, b) violent, c) depressed, or d) suicidal?

Did you answer “no” to one or more of these questions? Stop right here! You are not ready for constructive criticism. You are looking for someone to ride in on a unicorn and blow glittery rainbows up your ass. I suggest giving your work to your mom or best friend or someone else who believes everything you do is brilliant and perfect. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT share your work with strangers. You are not prepared.

Did you answer “yes” to all these questions? Fantastic! You are ready for constructive criticism.

Now that you are seriously primed to share your work with others, the most significant information I can share with you is this – 99% of the people who will offer you advice are truly trying to help you be a better writer. The other 1%? Well, the other 1% are trolls and bullies who only feel better about their own shortcomings as writers, and possibly as human beings, when they are tearing someone else down. Don’t sweat that one percent, you will quickly learn who they are and you can ignore them completely.

I mean, technically, you are free to ignore anyone and everyone. You are the creator of your work, and as such, it is your choice whether or not to listen to what other people have to say. However, I would recommend at least entertaining the ideas and suggestions that come your way. They are only trying to help after all.

Now, I obviously can’t speak for everyone out there. I can only speak from my personal experience in both giving and receiving critiques, but I can tell you that I am certainly not going to be easier on a stranger than I am on the 13-19-year-olds I work with on a regular basis. In fact, I know quite a few adult writers who could take a lesson from these young writers. They crave critique. They beg for it. They want to learn. They want to improve. Most of all, they want to write and share their writing with others.

So, in the spirit of these fearless future novelists, playwrights, poets, journalists, and artists, here is my advice for learning to survive constructive criticism.

Your writing is not you.

Don’t get butt-hurt over what people say to you about your writing. People are not attacking you. These stories are your babies. Believe me, I get it, but have you forgotten question #4 already? Oh, yes, I was totally serious when I asked it. If you are going to survive, you had better develop a thick skin – the sooner, the better.

People are not going to sugarcoat things for you.

Don’t expect people to couch their criticism in kindness.
Again, I’m not your mom or your best friend or even your biggest fan. I’m not here to feed your fragile ego. I will NEVER be unnecessarily rude, but I have shit to do. When I am working with a piece, it has my absolute and undivided attention. However, I have other manuscripts and stories to read, reviews to write, and projects of my own to work on. Keeping feedback concise (which can sometimes seem curt) can simply be a necessity.

When the going gets tough, buckle down and work harder.

Don’t quit just because a piece was received poorly by someone or even by a whole bunch of someones. Writers don’t quit. They just don’t. Are you a writer? Then, you can’t be a quitter. Instead, realize that not everything you write will be a hit with everyone who reads it. Do you believe in the story you are trying to tell? Then, keep working on it. If not, then scrap it and write something else. Nothing you have written is time wasted. It all becomes part of the learning process. KEEP WRITING!

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The first draft of your first story is probably not going to be very good. It is quite possible that it will suck. Writing improves over time. In fact, time and experience is the only way it improves. Revision is your friend. Embrace it. Even the most talented writers rewrite and revise. And then you know what they do? They revise and rewrite some more. Hemingway rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before he was satisfied. 39 times! Do you think you are more brilliant and talented than Hemingway? Perhaps you should think again.

Edit your work before you give it to someone to read.

GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION MATTER! They matter to the entire literate world. I cannot stress this enough! See Question #2 above for further clarification. I am not your editor – not that I won’t point out a misspelling or tense shift from time to time, but that is not my primary goal. If I have to struggle to read what you have written, I will not be reading it. If I wanted to be an editor, I would make a job of it. Nobody has time to try to translate your writing and critique it. Don’t be that person.

Remember that no one is perfect.

We are all biased by our personal preferences. This is as true for readers as it is for writers. I do my best to reveal my own personal biases when I critique, but not everyone does. Just be aware that sometimes a suggestion may come your way based purely on a person’s preference for or aversion to a particular genre, style, or form.

Listen to what people have to say.

When someone has taken the time and trouble to read and comment on what you have written, the least you can do is listen to what they have to say. I approach each and every critique first as a reader, then as a writer. Many of the critiques I offer deal with aspects I would like to see as a reader – better character development, clarification of story points through addition or revision, reduction of extraneous information, and developing better dialogue are the most common. Critique partners and beta readers take their roles seriously. They want your end product to be the absolute best it can be, so pay attention to their opinions and advice.

BUT, take everything with a grain of salt.

Always remember, you have the final say in your work. There is no question you will be given advice that will be invaluable to your growth as a writer. However, there will also be suggestions that just seem to miss the mark. If there is something you love, keep it and move on.

If you choose to follow these suggestions (as always it is ultimately your choice), then you will be well on your way to becoming a better writer. But, regardless of your choice, good luck and happy writing to you all!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

An Homage to My Daughter

While the novel is still in process, I have also been working on some short stories and flash pieces. I have also dabbled in a bit of prosetry. Today, I offer up this loving tribute to one of the most important people in my life - my daughter.

Evolution of an Independent Woman

My daughter no longer believes in damsels in distress rescued from the dragon by knights on white steeds carrying magical swords.
This is to be expected, I understand children cannot believe in fairy tales forever.
While watching Shrek, she informs me she would pick up a big rock and hit that “ole dragon” in the head, knocking him out cold, and then she would rescue herself. She says, “I don’t need no man, I can save me.”
My daughter is three.

My daughter no longer believes that through compromise and change any relationship is possible.
This is to be expected, I know it is important for children to build a strong sense of identity so they may also develop positive self-esteem.
While watching Grease, she has many questions. “Why did Sandy and Danny have to change their clothes? And why was Sandy the only one who stayed changed? Why did Danny put his black jacket back on? Why is it always the girl that changes? She was just fine the way she was.”
Then she adds, “I ain’t changin’ for no man. If he don’t like me the way I am, he can kick bricks.”
My daughter – is six.

My daughter no longer believes that love can cross any barrier – including death.
This is to be expected, I realize children need to be grounded in reality rather than fantasy at some point in their lives.
While watching Ghost, she doesn’t even stay in the room to finish the film. Throwing her hands up in disgust, she heads to her room. “This is the most ridiculous movie I’ve ever seen! He came back and just hangs out because he loves her soooo much – puh-lease. Like he’s got no place better to be,” she opines.
My daughter is – nine.

My daughter no longer believes in a love so deeply profound that one person would sacrifice anything for the other.
This is to be expected, I recognize children must learn to rely on themselves above anyone else.
While riding in the car, “Grenade” comes on the radio and I can see her out of the corner of my eye, grimacing and rolling her eyes. When I question why, she tells me, “Do you really think he would catch a grenade for her? Really? Jump in front of a train for her? Take a bullet in the brain for her? Gimme a break! How stupid do these people think we are?” She flips the station and the rant is shelved.
My daughter is – twelve.

At this point, I am beginning to fear my daughter has become a cynic – a skeptic – a misandrist – and I find it all just a bit disheartening, then it happens – her first boyfriend. Followed shortly by her first heartbreak.
This is to be expected, of course, I am well aware of the potential pitfalls involved in sharing your heart with another person.
She storms through the house, ripping the necklace from around her neck and slamming the front door behind her on her way to the dumpster. After locking herself in seclusion for about four hours, she emerges determined and focused.  
“You okay?” I inquire. The deluge of words pours out, “He is a pussy, and I told him so. I mean, who does that? Breaks up with someone through a text message. I also told him if he can’t see my worth, that’s his problem, not mine. I am not a game to be played. I deserve better. I am a queen.”

My daughter is fifteen – and she is going to be just fine.

I'm Back!

I have had a series of long, tumultuous months, but I am back. I am healing and will soon be better than ever. We truly never know where the doors in life will take us, but the important thing is that we never stop opening them. Never stop searching out the things in life that bring us joy, make us smile, and cause us to laugh out loud. These are the things that make life worth living.

Find your passion and never let it go. We all only get one trip through the universe in our current state. Make the most of it!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Day 21 - Reflection and Progress

There has been a great deal going on in my personal life over the past few days that have made it difficult to concentrate and nearly impossible to write.

My husband's mother is approaching her last days here with us. It is heartbreaking to watch her slip away, but more so to watch the pain of the family. Soon her suffering will come to an end, while that of her husband, children, grandchildren, and everyone else in this large closely-knit family will grow.

I often preach about the importance of making and taking time to write. About how crucial it is to set daily goals and stick to them no matter how badly you may feel.

The truth of the matter is there will be times in everyone's life so tumultuous that everything else (including writing) will take a back seat to just dealing with surviving and helping loved ones survive.

Does this mean I still won't encourage others to make time to write? Or to set and keep daily goals? Does it mean that I will no longer hold myself accountable for these things as well? Absolutely not.

As with all things, "this too shall pass." And when the regular chaos of life returns, I will pick up my pen and make myself write. Until then, I will write when I feel like it. There are times I even find it soothing to escape into my work and live in that other world for awhile.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this. Writing is personal. It is probably one of the most individualized activities in which a person can engage. What works for one person, may or may not work for another. I like to share activities and resources that have worked for me, but it does not mean they will work for everyone.

Just keep that in mind when you are reading the umpteenth article you've found about how to write more or write better or whatever. Never be hesitant to try something new, and if you find something that works for you, use the hell out of it. If it doesn't work, don't dwell on it - just move on. And remember there will be times that life is completely out of control, and day when you don't write anything. And that's okay too.

Until next time. . .

Good Day and Good Writing to you all!

Novel Stats - pages: 83; word count: 22079
For the past month - beginning word count: 5683; word count for the month: 16396
Currently, Welcome to anytown is approximately 1/4 completed