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Disconnect

I am afraid
Of people behind counters
And of talking on the phone.
Ring
Ring
Ring
“Here; you answer it.
I don’t know who it is.”
My husband shakes his head,
Takes the phone, and says,
“Hello”
Like it’s not the hardest word.
He smiles,
Calls me ridiculous,
Kisses me on the cheek.
I laugh even though
I’m not funny;
I am not a joke.

I am afraid
Of neighbors across the street
And of visiting our friends.
“Our friends”
Because I don’t have any of my own.
Ring
Ring
Ring
My husband says hello again.
“Dinner next week?”
He raises eyebrows at me
And I nod my head,
like I know he hopes I will.
The next seven days are
Composed of dread and low expectations.
During dinner my mind
snaps a picture of every awkward silence
and confused stare.

But after is the worst,
When I take the photographs from their box
and read the writing on their backs.
Look.
They hate you.
You always say the wrong thing.
Why do you—
Why?
Why.
Now I am especially aware
That they are our friends.
“Our friends,” not mine.
Because he is the one
Who answers the phone
And I am the one who is afraid.

I am afraid
Of congregants in their pews
And of talking to the pastor.
Ring
Ring
Ring
My husband isn’t here to answer.
He’s across the room,
A link in a circle of strangers,
Talking to our friends.
So I sit next to the pastor’s wife,
Our bibles on the pew between us.
She tells me it’s the devil
Saying those things I hear;
It’s the devil
Making me afraid of the telephone,
Of being a link in the circle,
Of singing the wrong note during worship,
Of talking too much, too little,
Too fast, too loud,
Too soft, too slow.
“It’s the devil,” she says
When I bring up brain chemistry
And therapy and medicine.
“It’s the devil,” she says.
“Let me pray with you.”

So we pray.
And I try to concentrate,
But I’m too busy being afraid
That I will say the wrong thing,
Pray the wrong thing;
That she will notice
My stutters–
My halting phrases–
That I am holding her hands too hard,
Or that my fingers are too cold,
That I am too open, too closed,
Too little, too much.
But most of all I am afraid
Because we are calling God
And he might notice too.

Ring
Ring
Ring
I hang up before He answers,
Smiling at the pastor’s wife,
Letting her hug me after “Amen.”
She laughs at the devil,
Her way of giving glory.
I laugh too, even though
This devil is me
And I’m not funny;
I am not a joke.
“Just pray,” she quips, looking away,
Punching a number
into her cell phone,
Like it’s something she
does every day.
“Call on Him and He will answer.”

But that’s what I’m afraid of.

Counting Bridges

You’re counting “No Thank Yous”
like pennies that I owe you.
Counting birthdays, anniversaries,
dinner parties I’ve skipped.
But me?
I’m counting bridges.
One,
two,
three of them
that I have to cross
to get to your house
on the other side of town.
Counting the minutes it would take me
to get my children, all
one
two
three of them,
out of their belts and into
the life jackets I’ve stowed
under the back seat
just in case one of the bridges breaks.
I’m counting the feet of rope I should bring
to tie their tiny arms to mine
so no one floats away from me.
And if there were no water,
and no bridges between us,
I’d be counting
stovetops left on
doors left unlocked
broken blinds
for the monsters to peek through.
I’d count electric poles
that might snap in half;
trucks weighed down with logs
that want to come loose
and roll into the street like hand grenades.
I’d count everything–
everything I didn’t want to.

You think I drive you away,
But I never drive if I can help it.

Shadow & Shape

I’ve been walking like a shadow these last three days:
like me, but
silent, dark
and dimensionless,
with parts just misshapen enough
to not really be parts of me at all.
Legs stretched out
like cables between telephone poles–
fingers scraping the floor,
as if trying to seep straight through
warped wood and concrete
and wormy, black earth.
As if they could snatch you up and bring you back.
But my stomach is not round enough,
my head too small and pointed at the top,
ankles melted together like a fish tail
stinking in the garbage.
If I could bring you back
You probably wouldn’t recognize me at all.
I’m different now,
At least for now.
I am the shadow,
And grief is the shape.

Space

You have hands that never formed–
fingers that didn’t get the chance
to curl into hungry fists
or wrap into the ribbons of your sister’s hair.
How then, did you
grab ahold of me so tightly?
I loved you
When you were nothing more
than a shade of pink
and I loved you still
When you turned red.

There is a future–
I think there is–
when others will come.
Pink, then flesh, and nude, and brown.
And I will love them just as well.
But there will always be
A space in me
That was meant for you to fill.

Shed

If I am a new creation,
why do I sometimes feel so old,
bones brittle with the memories
of who I was the last time
I walked the earth,
In the same feet
I’m wearing now?
I’m expected to shed that life–
my old life–
like a dried-out skin.
But it’s not that easy,
Is it?
Because lives are more
than flaking cells,
turning to dust and
settling on the mantelpiece
to be wiped away when
you get sick
of looking at the mess.
Lives
have people in them
and smiles
that crinkle the corners of eyes,
laughing without laughing.
Lives are stocked
with everyday wonders
and what-ifs
and missteps
and regret.

Regret is the skin
I can’t bear to shed.

Claws

I saw you
across the Atlantic,
coated in claws,
And I miss you
so much that it feels like
claws hooked in my chest,
Because to you I am nothing,
but you are still something
to me.
And
–God–
I resent you like hell
because you didn’t keep fighting
when I gave up–
when I was so tired of having my claws out.
Because you didn’t see how confused I was;
You only saw how much I was changing–
not how much I didn’t want to.
I resent you like hell
because you thought
my illness was who I was.
So did I.
But I needed you to tell me different.
To see me different.
So I’d know I was different
than the thoughts inside my head.
But what were you supposed to do?
I can’t resent you at all.

I’m afraid to talk to people.
Did you know that?
I’ve wished you seven silent happy birthdays
and none of my new friends are closer than
“How’s work?”
“Good! How about you?”
“Good!”
“Well! See you next Sunday.”
because I still love you
like I love my childhood home,
like the bannister I curled my fingers around
when I first tried out my feet.
And I’m afraid I’ll hurt everyone
the way that I hurt you;
lose everyone
the way that I left you.
And that they will all think
my illness is who I am
because no one will be sane enough
to tell them any different.

Seven silent happy birthdays,
and my sickness still stalks me like a lost prize.
Maybe one day it will catch me
and mount me upon the wall,
forever with my claws out.
Maybe you’ll see me suspended there,
shake your head and say,
“Yep. There she goes again. Some things never change.”

Pride and Poverty

An urban slum in Hanoi, Viet Nam. According to the World Bank, over 13 percent of Viet Nam’s population, and a quarter of the world population – nearly 2 billion people – live on $1.25 or less a day.  Photo Credit:  Kibae Park/UN Photo
An urban slum in Hanoi, Viet Nam.
According to the World Bank, over 13 percent of Viet Nam’s population, and a quarter of the world population – nearly 2 billion people – live on $1.25 or less a day.
Photo Credit: Kibae Park/UN Photo

I’ve been awed lately by how richly blessed our family is. We always have food, clothing, a roof over our head, water, electricity and–praise God because we live in Louisiana–air conditioning. We are financially independent and consistently have money left over to save, to go on dates, to have family days. We’ve had access to tools that have taught us how to budget, and as long as we stick to that, we have very few financial worries. We are richly blessed, indeed.

It can be easy to forget sometimes that not everyone has been granted the same opportunities that we have. At just a stone’s throw above the US poverty line, our household is actually richer than 99% of the world’s population. While we have running water and air conditioning in our home, there are people walking miles through the heat every day for just the hope of clean water to drink. While we have money left over to save or to have fun with, there are people who don’t know how they’re going to feed their families for the week. And while we’ve learned how to budget every paycheck so we have exactly the right amount going to the right place, there are families living off a daily amount less than the forgotten change in the bottom of my purse. And usually, I’m not even aware of the disparity.

Even more than awed by how fortunate we are, I’m humbled. My perspective is awful sometimes. Pride and selfishness go hand in hand, each concerned with the self above all. At times, I have definitely been concerned with myself above anything else. That goes for finances too. Money often seems like too much when we’re giving it and not enough when we’re receiving it, as though somehow the context of a dollar can change its value. But it’s always a gift. It’s a gift to receive, and it’s a gift to have the ability to help others, even if that means parting with what you have.

Every so often I have revelations like this. But they fade. I get comfortable again and forget about these things until something else brings them up again (thanks, humanity). I forget to be grateful; forget to be humble; forget to think about the needs of others. This time, I don’t want to forget. I hope that no matter what happens with our finances, I could remain cognizant of the situation of those less fortunate, be grateful for the abundance we have, and out of that gratefulness, give. And I know that as I’m sanctified, I will become more like Christ: less prideful, more humble; less selfish, more giving; more and more loving of those around me. He is the source of everything good in me. May he increase as I decrease, until only Christ remains.

Monthly Book Review: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy

Before getting into the review, here’s today’s quote. What do you think? True or False?

Apparently reading begets more reading, because rather than read the one new book I promised this month, I’ve read three: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing, all part of the same trilogy by Libba Bray. Before I get to what I thought about the books, here are a few things I’ve realized since beginning this challenge of mine:

  1. I can definitely make time to read one book a month.
  2. Not only can I make time to read one book a month, but if I set my mind to it I can make time to read three books in a week.
  3. I can also make time during that week for writing, as I wrote more in the days after I read these books than I have in a long while. Reading does in fact inspire writing! Who knew? ;)

Now back to the books themselves. Here’s the synopsis of A Great and Terrible Beauty from www.libbabray.com:

It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

First of all, I actually did not realize these were young adult books before I read them. A Great and Terrible Beauty was recommended to me, and I simply procured a copy from the library before doing any research on the content. That being said, though I intended to try to read books geared towards my age range, the genre doesn’t bother me. I may be a 25 year old woman with two kids, but I’ve always enjoyed the YA genre, and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. Call me young at heart.

Like any work, this trilogy has its likable side and its unlikable side (at least in my opinion). We’ll start with the latter, just so we can end on a positive note.

The Unlikable:

  • Poor Reliability of Characters. I understand that people don’t work in black and white. Nobody is all good or all bad, but some mixture of the two. I have no problem with this being displayed in writing because it reflects reality. However, I do take issue when the characters are so back and forth that you have no idea who to trust. There was an air of mystery throughout this series, particularly in the second and third books. The identity of certain villains in these two remain unknown until the very end–another element that I didn’t mind. But as I read, I found myself wishing that there was one person–just ONE–that I knew for certain was on the main character’s (MC’s) side. Perhaps this was intentional on the author’s part, but to me, that got old pretty quickly. When reading a book, we should be able to learn which characters to trust, rather than just being told who to trust. Imagine if, in the Harry Potter series, every character had been as difficult to figure out as Severus Snape (to a milder degree if course, because there can be only one Severus Snape). That’s what this trilogy was like.
  • Stagnancy of Supporting Characters. The MC is the most affected by internal change throughout the books. However, while the reader does see changes occur in the other characters, these changes all seem lumped together in the last few chapters of the trilogy. Apart from this, the friends and family of the MC stay largely the same. I would have preferred to have seen a gradual growth process throughout the whole of the trilogy.
  • Unnecessary Sexualization. Get ready; I’m about to reveal what a “prude” I am. These books aren’t even close to being erotica. There are probably 6-8 scenes in the entire trilogy that include sexual ideas and language: mostly little fantasies or visions taking place in the MC’s head. I’ll be 100% honest and say that any type of sex in books usually makes me uncomfortable, so my perspective may be skewed. But the problem that I had here wasn’t that sexual content existed, but rather that it was unnecessary. Typically I see authors use sex as a way to show characters growing closer romantically instead of showing that growth through nonsexual interaction (which is a whole ‘nother issue), but in this case there wasn’t even a lack of closeness apart from sex. The characters’ attraction to one another and their increasing closeness was apparent without any help from the sexual fantasy department. In my opinion, the books themselves benefited very little from the inclusion of these scenes, and the scenes added virtually nothing to the plot, the characters or the reader’s understanding of those characters. If you want to include sexually charged scenes in your books, then feel free to do it. But like any other element, make it have purpose. Make it mean something or affect something. Otherwise, it’s unnecessary.

The Likable:

  • Well-written. In spite of the fact that there were aspects of these books that I didn’t like, they were all well-written. Libba Bray has a unique style that captures the reader’s attention and holds interest. Also, so much of her figurative language was on point. She made comparisons I never would have thought of, but were accurate and beautiful all at once. I give her props for that!
  • Themes of Women’s Rights and Disadvantages. Taking place from the viewpoint of a young woman in the late 1800’s, this trilogy includes several allusions towards suffragettes and issues facing women in that time period, including (low) cultural expectations, lack of basic freedoms, and oppression by a patriarchal system. Many of these issues still resonate in the modern world, making these allusions even more thought-provoking. Libba Bray executed this seamlessly and artfully, driving home the point without seeming like she was trying to preach. She tackled a heavy issue without once standing on a soapbox or turning her writings into political drivel, which I appreciate and applaud.
  • Believable Characters: Yes, as I said earlier, I did not like that the characters seemed unreliable and untrustworthy. That being said, however, I do feel the characters were realistic, even if I wasn’t sure what to make of them. No character was one-note. From the heroine to the villains, every person had good and bad notes, which reflects reality.
  • Unique. I’ve read a lot of books, but I’ve never read one quite like this one. I don’t want to give too much away to people who haven’t read it and may want to. All I’ll say is that I appreciated Bray’s unique take on magic, friendship, and the time period.

The Final Verdict:

All of the above are just my opinions of course, which is why I’ve labeled the sections “The Unlikable” and “The Likable” rather than “Bad” and “Good.” For my conclusion, I look to Oscar Wilde. His assertion in today’s quote is that only a book you’d read over and over again is worth reading at all. Would I read this trilogy again? In all honesty, probably not. But does that mean I felt reading it was a waste of time? No! I enjoyed the books and I’m glad I read them. They spurred me to write and offered inspiration, plus they made me think. Though I wouldn’t say I loved them, I did like them and I appreciated them for what they were. If you enjoy YA and fantasy, I would certainly recommend the Gemma Doyle Trilogy to you. And keep reading! Read books even if you might never read them again. You can almost always learn something. Sorry, Mister Wilde, but I think you’re a bit off on this one.

Today’s Prompt: Write a short story based on a book you’ve read over and over again. Use the same characters and setting, but create your own adventure.

Happy Writing!

A Sprinkling of Adverbs: 5 Appropriate Uses

Kharis Courtney

Adverbs. People hate them. Stephen King hates them. Writing bloggers all across the Internet hate them. Some of my writing professors even hated them. Adverbs are the cockroach of language, apparently.

But what’s the big deal? Why do adverbs have such a bad rap when they have a purpose and place just like any other part of language? Of course, like any other type of word, you don’t want to rely to heavily on adverbs. No “Susie cautiously walked lightly to the poorly lit, haphazardly perched treehouse” type sentences, please. Four adverbs in one sentence is just a bit much. But a story won’t suffer from a sprinkling of adverbs here and there. I’d venture to say a well-used adverb enhances writing rather than takes away. And what makes an adverb well-used?

  1. It clarifies rather than confuses. Some types of adverbs are particularly guilty of contributing to vague language. Examples:…

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