joni abilene

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Month: February, 2014

A story of a story

Spent most of yesterday sending out subs to short story markets. It’s exciting, but I’m prone to mistakes and have to triple check everything, so it’s nerve wracking as well. One of the stories I sent out has had quite a long journey. I started it several springtimes ago, liked the idea and voice, but quickly became intimidated and put it aside. I’m not ready for this, I kept telling myself. It’s a fluke. You can’t really write like that. It won’t happen again. I read tons that following summer. Pacified myself against the duty of something I felt to be far too grande and out of reach. But I wanted to write it. Isn’t that strange? I wanted to, but couldn’t. That one story kept me from writing anything else the rest of the summer. In the fall, I did start up another project and then another and kept writing. Maybe that was the trick. It helped release me from the anxiety of ‘the story’ and taught me that not one story was more important, or more difficult, they’re all of equal importance and if I wrote one, I could write the other.

So it was this fall that I sat down and opened the document again. I thought, write a few paragraphs then you can stop. They don’t have to be good, and you don’t have to like them. So I did. At first it felt like I was screaming dry words in a tunnel. But then the voice, the words, came back and the story released itself from wherever I’d hidden it. Such a relief.

Now does that mean it will get published? Eventually, yes. It will. That’s the tough part of this business, the waiting. What other job takes three months or more for a reaction? A writer must be the most patient out of any tradesperson in the world. And then if you get an acceptance, you still have to wait to be published. I think every writer needs a Yoda to keep them from freaking out, a little guru of some sort. Isn’t that why so many of us drink? Patience. Time moves slowly.

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Snow Day, Dial Day

Last night the school pre-empted both time and weather by canceling classes before a single flake had hit the dry Kansas earth. The kids are happy, and I’m happy because I don’t have to get them dressed while dodging spoonfuls of sticky marshmallow cereal. I don’t have to pack lunches or tell anyone to: Hurry up. Go brush your teeth! Where are your shoes? Although, I do find myself pondering the ethics of handing out charitable decisions without any merit. Life was never this easy in my days of the chrysalis.

The first thing upon waking was to break the crust off both eyes, then leap from the bed to the window. In my case, this meant stirring up our female chihuahua, Buffy, who was notoriously known for sprinkling the room with her various hiney gifts. It also meant other floor hazards in the form of piled clothing that hadn’t yet made it to the bathroom hamper, school books—including one overstuffed TrapperKeeper with cracked vinyl and guilt-laden undone homework assignments—stick pin land mines from a sewing project gone bad, and an undercoat of BBs from my brother’s mishandled arsenal.

Outside, beyond a layer of frosted glass, the world was a scene from Dr. Zhivago. Look at that! Snow everywhere. Dangerous, blinding snow. Looks like a blizzard. Yep. If they don’t cancel school, somebodies gonna get stuck in a drift. Three days later the cops’ll find a frozen body—eyes still open and half scream upon their lips. Is it really worth it? Is snow worth keeping school open just so you can torture us kids with ‘Do these look the same?’ printouts, and that last drip of time before three o’clock, all in an effort to cure us of our soft, pollyanna happiness of youth?

In the kitchen downstairs, Mom sat drinking Folgers. Only fifteen minutes until our usual departure—she to her job at the library, and us to school. She said nothing. I dialed the phone.

Now, when I say dial, I refer to the true act of dialing, which is to stick a finger in a hole and yank it to a desired number on the telephone’s numerical rotary plate. A set of clicks would come through the receiver, their length depending on the number, and following that, a ring or a busy signal. On a day like this, the line was clogged with eager classmates such as myself. Dammit! Visions of amateur dialers hearing the automated message and not hanging up filled me with acid. It was protocol to hang up as soon as possible so the next shmuck could get through and start their wonderful day of magical joy-filled snow existence and reruns of Gilligan’s Island. I dialed furiously, hung up, and dialed again until the automated voice told me those beautiful words: No School.

It was customary to go back upstairs and announce to your siblings this life-altering news, as if you’d been admonished the information by the very school superintendent himself. Then it was a mad rush back down to the kitchen before someone got to the cereal prize first. There was a slight blip in motivation upon finding out that mother had replaced the empty milk with powdered milk, all bluish and tasting like it came from a dead cow’s teats. It was a snow day! No time to wallow in the negatives.

What came next was a blur, a crystalized blur of white, as all time spent in happiness seems to be, of Tom and Jerry episodes, sledding down the street, walks through the forest and over frozen crackling creek beds, book reading, popcorn and divinity making, hot cocoa, and fingers held under the sink with that ‘tingling like needles’ feeling inside your appendages as the blood comes rushing back . . .

Then as the day ended, the world became illuminated by the coral breath of dusk. That fear would start. Would there be school tomorrow? I’d been foolish in not finishing my assignments when I’d had the extra twenty four hours. Oh, please God, please let it be another snow day. Sometimes a second wave would sweep into the town—a  miracle. There was a God. Or, you’d get up and find that life had returned to its former misery, and you were forced to join all others in the ranks of steelish, cold—the kind that went deep and singed hearts—reality. And as such, wear socks.

But at least you’d had that one day. Like pastel dinner mints, it would melt inside of you, slowly, until the next one came.