Fine Pancakes

pancakes
pancakes (Photo credit: Shoot into the Sun)

The Old Man insisted on calling her Marcy. Marissa wasn’t in a position to argue with him.

“I’m just reminding you, again sir, that in order to arrive at the signing on time, we need to leave in,” She glanced at the cell phone in her hand, “three minutes.”

He just kept on smiling and forked another pancake onto his plate.

“Marcy, relax. Have a pancake.  They’re delicious.” He winked at the cook who blushed.

The Old Man sat at the kitchen table in the tiny B&B he’d spontaneously chosen – instead of the fancy hotel the publishing house paid for. The cook/owner bent over backwards for the famous author, but Marissa had never seen her boss so angry.

You can’t just give in to the Old Man’s every whim! You’re his handler, Handle him!

“We don’t have time, sir.”

“Marcy, sit!” The old man barked, “You’re hovering like a mother hen.”

The commanding tone took her by surprise and she sat without thinking. He took her empty plate, put a pancake on it, and put it in front of her.

“Eat!” he said.

“I don’t eat carbs,” she said, cringing at the whine she heard in her own voice. The Old Man made her feel like a teenager despite her twenty years of experience in the book selling industry.

The Old Man snorted. “Marcy, you are an idiot.”

She’d been called an idiot and worse before. But for some reason, this client got to her.

No, I’m not, sir,” she snapped. “You are a rich old man used to getting your own way and you don’t care that your actions, or rather lack of action, will make me suffer.”

“How will my enjoyment of these fine pancakes make you suffer, exactly?” He said, still smiling.

She glanced at her phone where the messages from her boss were already piling up. “If we are late, again, I will get into trouble, again, with my boss, with the signing planners, and with your fans.”

He laughed and said, “I will tell them it was my fault.” He waved his fork in the air, a benevolent wizard with a magic wand.

Marissa shook her head. “I will still be blamed. Because you cannot be blamed.”

The old man sighed around his smile and looked down at his plate, “I am sorry for your suffering.” He punctured another piece of pancake, “But I am going to enjoy these pancakes.”

He looked back up at her, a hard glint in his watery blue eyes. “I am very old. These might be the last pancakes I ever have. We will leave when I feel it is time to leave. They will wait. The world will not end if I am late.  In fact, I might, if I feel like it, take a stroll through that lovely garden down there,” he gestured through the window behind Marissa, “and skip the signing altogether.”

He put the forkful of pancake in his mouth.

Marissa turned to look out the window. She hadn’t noticed the garden. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Like a picture from a fairy tale, with flowers, miniature trees, and a winding path of white gravel. She felt relaxation seeping into her bones just by looking down at it.

It would be nice to take a stroll, to skip the signing. He was right, the world wouldn’t end. She could picture herself sitting there, enjoying the sun. But she knew what came after that. Boredom. She didn’t like to vacation on the beach. She didn’t like to wander.

The stress of work made her feel alive, needed, and useful. She lived alone, her job was her life, and she liked her life.

She stood and left the kitchen. While she waited, she called her boss and let the other woman vent her frustration with the Old Man on a patient ear.

Eventually the Old Man appeared, hat in hand, ready to go. Marissa took his arm and helped him to the waiting limo, but before closing the door on his smile, she said, “We are real. We do exist. We think and feel and breathe in and out.”

He looked at her, his smile questioning now.

“Just in case you forgot.”

The smile faltered.

“I enjoy schedules and plans,” she said.  “I like planning things out ahead of time.  I get tremendous satisfaction out of checking items off a list.  This does not mean that I am living my life wrong.”

The words came out quickly – she knew the driver was anxious to depart, and she respected his anxiety.

“There is no wrong or right way to live a life.”

She started to close the door, then stopped and said, “And at your age, you really ought to know better.”

*

Daily Prompt: Comfort Zone – What are you more comfortable with — routine and planning, or laissez-faire spontaneity?

The Sick Story

There is a children’s book called The Sick Story, by Linda Hirsch with illustrations by John Wallner. I don’t remember if I liked the book. The story is about a pushy only-child whose parents give in to her every whim. I think, even as a kid, I could see how bratty and nasty she was.  But what stuck in my head after all these years wasn’t the story at all. The part I remember most is the illustrations. Lively, detailed little drawings of a sort-of sick, curly-haired girl.  Simple pen and ink, but full of detail.  Just watching the way her bedroom progresses from neat and tidy to a wasteland of dirty tissues, tossed aside magazines, comic books and tea cups is entertaining all by itself.

This morning I woke up with a stuffed up head, wheezy and achy.  After two cups of coffee, with my brain barely functioning, I thought of a picture from that book that summed up how I felt.  Luckily, for all of you, I still have the book so you can see it too…

TheSickStory
The face is perfect, with her ‘I’m wallowing in self-pity’ tongue sticking out. (illustration by John Wallner)

When I was a little kid, the word ‘home’ meant my bed.  The cozy comfort, the feeling of safety. I think of my mom rubbing my back all those nights I couldn’t sleep, wheezy and feeling sorry for myself and never imagining how little sleep the mother of five kids could have had back then.

As an adult, the word ‘home’ means this desk, this computer, my kitchen and my coffee maker. Those are the things I miss when I am away.

But right now, when I am feeling achy and miserable, these things don’t bring me comfort.

I want a tray with chicken broth in a teacup and a grilled cheese sandwich and a ginger ale.

I want my childhood bed and my mom rubbing my back.

Sometimes,  the word home isn’t a place; it is a time.

And right now, I want to go home.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/daily-prompt-home/

Not Funny

I wake early on a Saturday morning and the house feels wrong. Dad is home and the phone keeps ringing and the neighbors are here and no one is talking when I enter the kitchen. Before I get a chance to explore the cereal cabinet my father takes me by the arm and leads me into the basement. Anxiety radiates though his hand. Frothy bubbles start growing in my stomach.

He tells me someone close to us has died. The bubbles expand and surge up into my throat. I try to hold them down as my father, only in his mid-forties and still relatively inexperienced with death, tries to explain tragedy to his teen-aged daughter. My jaw tightens. I can’t hold it in, my mouth forms a smile and the bubbles escape as giggles.  My father, enraged at my inappropriate response, steps away from me. Giggles become laughter. He is not a hitter, but I can see the twitch in his right shoulder. It doesn’t upset me; I want to slap myself.  But I can’t stop laughing.

—-

My boyfriend walks into my office, laughing so hard he can hardly breathe.  He collapses into a chair and recovers long enough to tell me the hysterical thing he has just seen.  A video of someone in the middle of a speech, falling over backwards into a buffet table.

I don’t laugh. I don’t even smile.  He is disappointed. I am thinking of the effort that went into making all the food, and about how embarrassed the man must feel. My boyfriend points out that the man is laughing along with everyone else.  I still don’t find it funny.

My sister and I are on the floor with her kids, playing with legos.  I put a headless mini-figure onto a horse and have it ride up to the front door of the inn we’ve built.

“Knock, Knock”  I call out.
“Yes, who is it?” my sister responds.
“The headless horseman. Can you direct me to your handicap parking?”

My sister and I spend the next twenty minutes laughing uncontrollably, rolling on the floor, clutching our stomachs.  Her kids look on, bemused smiles on their faces, not at all getting the joke.  For days and weeks and even years later, if either of us mention “Headless Horseman” the other will say, “Where’s your handicap parking?” And the laughter will begin again.

I’m laughing now as I type this.

Smiling makes the difference
(Photo credit: Zanthia)

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/daily-prompt-clever/

To My Six Year Old Nephew As He Starts First Grade

English: France in 2000 year (XXI century). Fu...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know right now it is all the excitement of a new backpack and a new pencil-case and new notebooks and maybe a bit of apprehension about who your new teacher will be, and if your best friend is going to be in your classroom.  You are already, academically speaking, way ahead of your fellow students, and I think you know that, so that isn’t going to be an issue.  But I foresee a day, maybe not soon, maybe not even this year, but someday you are going to ask some nearby adult, “Why do I have to go to school?”

I asked that question over and over again during those 12 years, and I never got a good answer.  I don’t think teachers and parents have an answer to that question.  “You have to do it because we had to do it,” is the closest they’ll get. Because, really, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  If the point really was to learn ‘reading, writing and arithmetic,’ then the last place they’d send you is to a room full of distractions. (i.e. other kids)

No, the answer to the question, “Why do I have to go to school?” is not to learn how to spell ‘Mississippi’ or the square root of 144, or the date of the Battle of Hastings.

The answer is, you go to school to learn how to be a functional member of society. You go to school to learn how to make friends.  You go to school to learn how to get what you need (attention, assistance, resources) in the midst of competitive forces.

This is the secret to a successful academic career: learn how to get along with people.  This world isn’t made up of facts and figures, it is made up of people.  Especially nowadays with all the information you need literally in the palm of your hand, always accessible.

Oh, sure, if the apocalypse comes and our cell phones stop working, you’ll need some facts, like how to make fire, and which wild berries are safe to eat.  But you won’t learn that in school anyway.  No, the people who would survive the apocalypse are the same people who succeeded at school, the same people who learned how to just get along with everyone.

This is what I wish I had learned in school.  I wish the adults around me had stopped harping on my bad grades and had harped instead on my lack of friends.  I wish they had taught me the skills I needed to stop being so afraid of people’s emotions. Instead, I learned to hide from the other kids.  I learned to bury myself in fiction. I learned how to dress and walk and talk so anonymously that people who sat next to me in home room for four years of high school do not remember me being there at all. (this is not an exaggeration – this really happened.)

Anyway, back to you, my favoritist nephew. All you really have to do for the next 12 years of your life is learn how to make friends, and keep them.  Learn how to be nice and caring and empathetic. Learn to work with people who think differently than you do.  Learn how to enjoy the company of others.  Because that is why you have to go to school.

It won’t be easy, but it is worth the effort.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/daily-prompt-learning-2/

Stop staring at me

The reflection is blurry, softer, cleaner.  The lighting is dim, inside that other bathroom, the walls don’t need new paint and the cracked tile floor is invisible. Perhaps it isn’t cracked at all in there. Perhaps you just float, no need for feet or floors.

You are always there, inside the glass, staring out into the world. What do you do when you are alone? When no one is there to reflect? Do you wait, hidden just out of view, or do you live some other life?

English: Looking through a cracked picture frame

The life inside the looking-glass is not filled with fantastical creatures and talking cards. It is the same as life on this side, just reversed. Left instead of right, east instead of west. Everyday is Opposite Day.

On that side, you are rich and brave and you never say the wrong thing at the wrong moment.  You never hurt the people you love with critical words and unrealistic expectations. You are never lazy or bored.

Maybe over there you finish the projects you start.  Maybe you live with people who have no other purpose in life other than to encourage you to succeed at yours. Maybe you know exactly what the word success means to you, and you are steadfast in your pursuit of that tangible, well-defined goal.

You are sick though. And too tall, and you have children and pets.  You have no time to yourself, and you don’t get to read a lot.  You are not curious and you are not into self-improvement. What good is all your wealth if you have no time to spend it?

Upon reflection, the reflection is balanced. Your life is better and worse in equal measures.

Stop staring at yourself, you’ll go cross-eyed.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/daily-prompt-reflections/

What doesn’t bore me?

I read something, somewhere, about the correlation between Boredom and Depression.  I can’t be bothered to go find the article. Too much effort. I bet the article doesn’t read the way I remember it.  I bet it will contradict what I know is true.

Boredom IS Depression.  The words are synonymous.  There is nothing to do because I don’t feel like doing anything.  I don’t feel like doing anything because there is nothing to do.  This is true.

Boredom sinks into my skin, my hair, my nails.  I am wilted, flat, dry and cracked.  Someone offers to water me and I refuse, afraid of drowning, of floating away, or worse: growing and blooming into someone who is not me.

Everything becomes boring, eventually.  A favorite book, a beautiful walk, a charming man.  Familiarity breeds boredom.

I am bored with you
I am bored with you (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got bored with my own name once.  Told everyone to call me by a different one.  But I never responded to the new name; I forgot it was me.

I got bored with the sound of my laugh.  Sounded overused.  I changed it to match the laugh of someone I admired.  Now when I laugh I feel as if that person is laughing with me.

I got bored by your stories.  Started finishing them for you.

You stopped talking.

The cure for Boredom is Challenge.  Challenge me to a mental duel. Challenge me to read or write or watch something that will boggle/strain/change my mind.  Challenge me to learn something faster than you. (But please stay and watch, without a witness it doesn’t count.  Without an audience or a competitor, the challenge becomes meaningless.  If it is only for me, then it is not worth doing. )

The cure for Boredom is Need. It is having other people around who need me to do things for them.  Important, meaningful, relevant things. (If I think it is stupid or illogical I wont do it.  I will roll my pedantic eyes at you and sneer at your request.)

The cure for Boredom is …. huh? What was I talking about…  I stopped paying attention three paragraphs ago.  Bored by my own words… again.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/daily-prompt-dull/

Creepy Writers

Orson Scott Card gives me the creeps.  But Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books.  What to do?!?

Back in my immature, naïvely intolerant youth, when an aspect of an author’s personal life offended me, I stopped reading that author.  Thankfully I’ve grown up and can see that the pleasure I get from reading a book is entirely my own and has nothing to do with the author.

Recently, DC hired Card to write some new Superman stories for an online comic book.  Card’s backwards-minded politics angered members of the LGBT community who requested DC remove him from the project.  DC responded: “As content creators we steadfastly support freedom of expression, however the personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that — personal views — and not those of the company itself.” (Source: USAToday)

I applaud DC’s decision to keep him on the project.  Orson Scott Card is an idiot with his personal politics, but he is still an imaginative, creative and prolific writer. (Of course – the project is on hold at the moment because DC can’t find an artist willing to work with Card – which makes me laugh.)

I firmly believe that once a creator has created something, and released it to the world, his association with it is over. Done. Complete.  And yes, I will spend money on it.  I am paying for the pleasure I receive from the book, and as compensation to the author and the editor and the publishing company for their efforts.

On the other hand….   In my recent attempts to re-read Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, I ran into a problem.  The creepy relationships between old men and young women and the constant discussions of sex and free love make the book completely unreadable by modern audiences.  The author’s personality and politics are so tightly weaved through the narrative, it is impossible to separate creator from creation.

Card may go down in history as a man with bad politics but he will still be thought of as a great writer.  Heinlein will only be remembered as a creepy sex addict.

Something to keep in the back of my mind as I write…  I must make sure my creation has its own voice, a life of its own, separate from me.  To do otherwise is to risk a creation that will only appeal to people who think exactly the way I do. And that would make for a very small audience.

*

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/daily-prompt-art-appreciation/

Cover of "Ender's Game (Ender Quartet)"
Good Book, Creepy Author
Stranger in a Strange Land cover
Creepy Book, Creepy Author

Wake Me When It’s Over

Spring for You is not Spring for Me

You Revel in the scents of Flowers, while I Sneeze

You raise your naked Face to the lengthened Light of the Sun, while I Hide beneath a coating of SPF 100

You point out the Beauty and Rebirth of every new Leaf and Bud, while I wallow in the Pain of a thousand pollen Needles embedded in my Sinuses

Spring for you is Not spring for me

I clutch my Wheezing chest and squeeze tight my Watering eyes

Wake me when Winter is come

*

Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) - geograph.org....
Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) – geograph.org.uk – 1439272 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

National Poetry Writing Month is nearly at at end. To celebrate it, try your hand at some verse.

Thoughts on Reversal

spinning
spinning (Photo credit: jmettraux)

I spin to face the other way, to see the greener view. To move, to change, to reinvent myself. I spin and you are there. I slow to see you more clearly, and you grab my hands to hold me still. For your sake, I stop.

I stare into your steadfast gaze and adopt your view of the world. I admire your worthy goals. I feel protected and safe in your stable grasp. I respect your thoughts and ideas. I want to make them my own. I want to see life through your eyes.

I fail. Too soon, my eyes wander, my head turns, my shoulders stiffen, and my arms tug at my hands. Despite my best intentions, I grow bored with the unchanging view. It does not suit anymore. I am not steady or stable. I thrive on change.

Ants in your pants, my mother always said. The mental reaction to inactivity feels the same, like an itching in my brain. The boredom swarms in like bugs, eating away at my mind. The only relief is change.

I don’t like my job anymore – I get a new one.

I don’t like where I live – I move.

I don’t want to be married anymore – I leave.

Flighty, my father always said. No stick-to-itiveness.

But when it’s time to change you’ve got to rearrange, as the Brady Bunch once told me.

To my parents and other loved ones, the reversal is sudden. Like a call at midnight that you know will only be bad, the news of my decision comes as a shock. But to me, it is after years of struggle, of fighting against the need to move, to spin away. I work hard to relax into the life I am leading, to find happiness in my current reality. I do want security and stability, as much as anyone. But as I change and grow and learn, my idea of what that stability should look like changes too. What made me happy yesterday will not necessarily make me happy today.

You cling to my hands, trying so hard to keep my attention. I do not change out of spite or cruelty. I do not want to hurt you. This is who I am. I change. To stop, to settle, and to stay still is to die.

Eventually I wrench my hands from your grasp and I spin away.

*

Daily Prompt: 180 Degrees – Tell us about a time you did a 180 — changed your views on something, reversed a decision, or acted in a way you ordinarily don’t.

This Time

“It’s different this time,” she says to me, out of nowhere.  We’ve been talking about movies we’ve missed over the summer.

“What’s different,” I ask, although I know what she’s going to say.

“I don’t think I’ll make it out this time.”

A dozen glib comments come to mind, but I don’t say them, because I think she’s right.  Even though I’ve seen her this way before.  The long slide into nothingness, into a sleep that she never quite wakes from.  She has a hard time hearing, a deafness caused by the pressure of unreleased thoughts. The slide is longer this time.  Deeper.  Usually by now there are tears, rages against the unfairness of living because other people say to do otherwise is selfish.

There’s none of the anger this time, just the sadness, growing.  Her eyes are empty.  It’s even in the way she talks, flat, with an economy of breath, like she knows she’s running out of air.

She’s leaving.  She’ll save her breath for the good-bye.

I lean away from her.  I have to leave now.  I can’t let her drag me down into that abyss with her.  I can’t go there again.  I have too much to do.  I have a house to maintain. I have a man to love.  I have a job.  My life is good now, dammit.  It is good.  There is nothing to be depressed about.  Not anymore.  I’ve made all the changes.  I have the mantras.  I know the signs to look for.   Deep breaths and exercise and plenty of sun.

They’ll keep her here for a while. But not forever.  Eventually she will go home, and this time she’ll do it for real, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop her.

She’s already gone.

Not me.  Not me.  I pick up my purse from the tiled floor.  I stand up, my thighs peel away from the plastic chair.  She stands too and misinterprets my pulling away from the chair as a lean towards her.  She puts out her arms for a hug, limply, a habit of motion only.

I don’t want to touch her, but I also respond to the habit of the hug.  My arms go around her and suddenly we are both hugging tight, too tight.  We are each others lifelines but we are both drowning.

I can’t save you, I scream at her, at myself.

At home, he asks me how it went.  I shrug.  I won’t say my thoughts aloud.  It might make them come true.

He kisses the top of my head and tells me he loves me.  “I know, I say.  Our little joke.  Because sometimes I can’t say those words.

“I’m proud of you,” he says.

I feel sick to my stomach.  “Why?”

“I know how hard it is for you to go there.”

“I’m not going back.”

“I know,” he says.

Our little joke.  Because that is what I said yesterday.

image source: http://www.downwardspiralintothevortex.com

Daily Prompt: Proud – When was the last time someone told you they were proud of you?