I have a favor to ask
This is admittedly self-serving but I wanted to reach out to my fellow Prosers and humbly request brutally honest feedback on my work. How you choose to do this is up to you- private message, commenting on this post, commenting on other posts you come across, whatever. All constructive criticism, suggestions, or pieces of advice are welcome. Don't spare my feelings. I'll get over it.
I know that many publications will offer to give you feedback on your submissions, but that usually comes at an increased or additional cost to the amount you're already paying to submit your piece. Unfortunately, I can't do that for every contest or magazine I enter even though I'd like to.
This is the closest thing I have to a creative writing community and there are many writers on here that I deeply respect and admire who clearly have a grasp on how to create a cohesive and impactful piece of work. This is a pretty respectful group of down to earth and talented people and I recognize and appreciate that.
Children of Divorce
so deep, visceral
familiar, too familiar
but foreign still
Two Christmases, two birthdays
both the best and worst case scenario
One Christmas, one birthday
also the best and worst case scenario
George and Judy were cyclical
How did Sean and Rebekah
make it work?
I'm trying my best
Sad children playing pretend
only demolishes the plastic playhouse
weakened by storms, discolored
by the pressure of an unyielding sun
Wasps lurk low and lazy
within the overgrowth
eager to strike and suffocate
A simple start, a tragic end
Tears splash and stagnate
on the sunscreen slicked floor
of an overdressed beach house
Her ceramic sandals and plastic palms
mock me with no apology
I fill my lungs with coastal air
thick with salt and aerosol
and through my fits I wonder-
for the saddened and unresolved,
is familiar love true love
and should true love be familiar?
What a fucking birthday
Silent epiphanies, just for me
Some would call me blasphemous. I think of it as inclusive.
To keep a very long story short(ish), I was raised Christian but always had an interest in the supernatural. My papa was kind of a spooky guy. Deep southerner with close Native lineage and a strong belief in the word of the Bible. He was dedicated to his belief but was fluid in the ways that he practiced it. There were many strange happenings in the house on Birchwood, but he acknowledged them and shrugged it off, often referring to the odd occurrences with a twinkle in his eye. There was no fear or concern of the possibility of the unknown or barely seen. It was something we happened to live alongside. Papa was an intelligent, but simple man and was just fine with this conclusion. Though it scared me at times, that way of thinking came to me naturally, and I began a relationship of my own with my sense of “the other side”.
As I got older, I informally studied traditional religions, most of what falls under the new age umbrella (which are mostly traditional beliefs that have been rehashed and commercialized) and I pursed my natural draw to the realms of mysticism. I didn’t commit myself to any of these things, I just took a little of each along the way. There are many who would say there is no true connection to divinity for those who pick and choose. I respectfully disagree but encourage others to do whatever it is they feel brings them closer to the world around, inside, and above.
I build altars though they’re more to ideas than they are to specific religious figures (health, love, prosperity, etc) and weave a blend of different symbols and practices into their set-up. I use herbs and oils in ways that are based on their known, proven purpose in addition to the symbolic purpose assigned to them by cultures of past and present. I have a knack for tarot cards and other forms of interpretative divination. I believe in magic and manifestation, though I define those differently than some. I’ve experienced things that have stumped my analytical mind to such a degree that it just shrugs and adds the experience to the mental X-Files drawer I revisit on other unusual days.
I don’t try to push others into what I believe. Most beliefs are objectively illogical but make perfect sense for the people who believe in them. I don’t expect anyone not to scoff when I say that I grew up in a haunted house or that I saw my Papa’s aura while we were standing in the backyard one afternoon. Divination and astrology are arguably just a projection of oneself onto a pattern of seemingly mystical arrangement. The same could be said for religious practice as a whole. I would also like to note that I don’t think that belief in a god or religion is necessary to form a connection with yourself, the world around you, or things that are much bigger than all of us such as the unyielding passage of time or the chemically driven ebbs and flows of the ever-expanding universe.
There are great writers, philosophers, and scientists who’ve uttered profound and simple blips of poetry, a black and white record of what occurred when a glimmer of the universe sparked within the chemistry of their brain and they suddenly understood so much at once. The point of a spiritual practice is to connect with these things, no? Can deep, core shaking, powerful wisdom not come from the secular world as well? I’ve met atheists, agnostics, and even satanists who had a clear vision of their place in the world and walked in paths of understanding, love, and connection. I take these things into consideration as I feel it keeps me grounded. I am not afraid to question my logical side, but my logical side is not afraid to question me either.
I seek spiritual freedom, but I know I must be willing to understand and work with the world around, no matter how enlightened or self-actualized I feel. Spiritual people often fool themselves into believing their egos are much smaller than they actually are. The ego may be smaller than it once was, but now it feels itself whittling away and is desperate. What’s left is so deeply rooted and will not come out without a fight. There is always work to be done. Sometimes it’s through prayer and meditation. Other times, it’s through education and experience. Usually, it’s both.
I believe it’s no coincidence that I’m feeling this way at this time in my life nor is it coincidence that you have come to this post at this time. Perhaps it’s to share a belief that will force me to consider my own. Maybe it’s because your story needs a reason to be told, and this is a natural segue to that storytelling. Perhaps it is coincidence. That’s okay. Coincidence is fine. As long as we’re both having a good time. Are you having a good time? I am. These flickers of creation I have are mine and mine alone, though I am always happy to share them with others should they want to see them.
Wisdom Teeth and the Vernal Equinox
I got three out of four wisdom teeth removed today. I hadn’t been to the dentist since I was about eleven, and in my exam, we found gingivitis, two cavities, four impacted wisdom teeth, and a strong need for orthodontic work. The doctor sent me to the surgeon immediately as the teeth were on the verge of wreaking havoc in my mouth. My feeling on this were mixed. I was glad to know that there was an issue and have a strategy for treatment but was disappointed that things had gone as far as they did. This wasn’t surprising. That’s about how the last two years have gone.
This appointment fell around this past full moon, which happened to be an especially beautiful moon. It sat low and large for three nights and was usually still in the sky when I was starting my day. I slept restlessly and had lucid dreams that centered around the feeling of stagnancy. Different aspects of life were coming together. Important changes with my job, my relationships, and my mental and physical health were now coming to their natural, mostly positive conclusions and I felt “tuned in”, as if I were riding a wave with confidence and vigor as opposed to fear and uncertainty. All this within the first few days of spring. I’m one those new age types if you can’t tell- I stuffed three crystals in my sports bra before I left and wore a pair of 90’s style streetwear sweatpants with Chinese dragons on them because I find dragons to be spiritually significant. It was a black and white outfit because I live in duality (yeah, I know how it sounds), and I paired it with a pair of paint-stained shoes I got during a different important time in my life. You get the picture. I got into the new age stuff when I was in my late teens/early twenties. I’ve been interested in “other side” thinking since I was a child but now here I was, an eternally sad woman looking for deeper meaning and I finding it, for better or worse. I like divination, meditation, herbs, oils. My spiritual practices are an amalgamation of different beliefs. You name it, I’ve probably read about it and found something I liked enough to add to my collection.
What I’m getting at here- this appointment was a big deal for me. There are a million signs that the dental work saga is the final installment of a very long journey. I am a weary traveler coming upon an opulent skyline, trekking in awe of the unfamiliar terrain.
I asked the surgeon if I could keep my teeth. He said no. Remnants that can’t come with me. Fair enough. He reminded me that we’re not removing the one on the bottom right because it’s too close to a nerve. He believes taking it out it would cause more problems than it would solve. Wisdom that stays with me. Right on. One of the teeth has already emerged and is causing problems for the oral structures around it. That was the one that let me know something was wrong to begin with. The other teeth were a surprise. The surgeon puts me under. I wake up, remembering nothing of the procedure, and mutter a comment about feeling like I’m on LSD. The staff walks me to my car, and my husband is waiting inside. He’d put on a CD that I haven’t listened in a long time, one that I bought in the early years of the very stage that I feel is ending. He asks how I’m feeling. I respond, “I’m tripping balls.” The music takes me back. I begin to dance. Apparently I danced the whole car ride home.
I type this with one hand, holding an ice pack on the side of my face with the other. The swelling around the former problem child is taking the longest to go down. Figures. I’m guessing the surgeon had to do that thing where they crack the tooth and remove the pieces bit by bit. Parts of it were chipped off and worn down so I’ll bet he had to really dig to get it out. I know how that goes.
Dental work isn’t the only thing that fell for me at the cracks for me. Around that same age a big move, failing grades (excluding English), truancy, and a host of behavioral issues accompanied my slipping physical and mental health. Fifteen years later, I am tying up the loose ends. I will always be a work in progress, but it's nice to finally level up.
Not sure why I was so pulled to share. Did I mention my meds were strong? Related: IV sedation is a sweet, sweet mistress.
I'm not your typical southerner. At least not your stereotypical one. My accent comes and goes. I'm not very outdoorsy. The only camo I own is a RealTree Star Wars t-shirt that I got in the boy's section of a K-Mart, but that happened by accident. I'm a little too rough around the edges to be considered a Southern belle. Still, I feel a deep tie to Southern culture. Part of that is through music (delta blues, Appalachian folk, bluegrass, and twangy old country), part is through community (my Papa had a thick drawl that I learned to translate, so I'm basically bilingual) and that final part is through cuisine.
I'm from upstate South Carolina, but I spent a good portion of my life living down by the coast. Like most coastal areas, the low country (as it's known here) has a culture all its own. There's a dish I had down that way that I've haven't been able to find since moving back home to the foothills. Most people don't even know what I'm talking about when I bring it up.
Chicken bog is pretty simple to make, and its simplicity is what makes it work. It's chicken, sausage, rice, onions, and spices. You cook the sausage, onions, and seasonings with the chicken until it's tender. Then you pick the chicken (it ain't authentic if you don't find a bone), add the rice and let the whole thing cook until the rice has taken on all the liquid- and the flavor. Some say this is where it gets the name, though that's a hot debate in the Pee Dee region. This is the kind of food that you cook in batches, a meal that feeds the whole family, the church, and your neighbors, too. The first time I had this, it was for a fundraiser. A coworker of mine, a young man from Loris, was trying to raise money to bail his friend out of jail. He was astounded that I'd never had chicken bog, and told me his friend's grandma made it. It was blown away. I wasn't even upset about the rather large bone I found hiding in the rice.
I grew up on soul food and southern style delicacies. Grits, biscuits, cornbread, fried catfish, sweet tea. Those cozy warm dishes associated with Momma, Grandmomma, and Granny. What your daddy grew up on and what his daddy ate, too. Your auntie's cousin's grandmother's banana cream pie recipe. When I decided to make the choice to lose weight, a lot of this had to go. I found other recipes that I liked, but not much of what I ate gave me that same familiar feeling like southern cuisine did.
One day, a lightbulb went off. I'd been craving soul food, but wasn't sure how to make it work with the lifestyle I'd adopted. Like some wild conspiracy, dots began to connect in my head. I grabbed a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store (an admitted shortcut), calculated my portions, and got to work. This was my first time making chicken bog, and I was in my element. After all was said and done, I grabbed some hot sauce, and splashed it on top to complete the dish.
Was it different? Sort of, but I knew it would be. Was I happy? Very.
It’s a bummer, but not all bad
One could think of it as a practice in dealing with rejection. No need to take it personally. Some things explode, and some things don't. Doesn't mean that the idea was bad. It could have been posted at a weird time, drowned in the trending page, or maybe it was just such a novel idea that no one was really sure how to approach it. I find all sorts of unanswered challenges hiding out on the Recent (New?) tab, even though the Trending tab is the first one to appear when you click on the Challenges link.
It's a bummer. I know it sucks to not get even a single response, so sometimes I try to comb through the challenges and enter ones that are kind of quiet. I often find that the quiet ones force me to think outside of my comfort zone, and being pushed as a writer is nothing but a good thing.
I gotta hand it to the owners, the concept was smart. They set up shop in tourist traps, usually outside of restaurants and family friendly areas. We kept the doors open so the smell of cooking chocolate wafted out into the walkways. A cashier stands at the door yelling "FREE SAMPLES" at every parent, child, spring breaker, or bachelorette party walking by. And to top it all off? The employees had to sing.
And not just for tips. All. The. Time. Mostly parodies of Motown and R&B classics.
"I've got hot fudge on a cloudy day...when it's cold outside, hot fudge is what we make..."
"You don't have to be good, you just have to be willing." They weren't kidding. I had a manager who ran people out of the door with her shrill vocals and off-beat snapping. For the most part though, the job attracted natural entertainers who could put on quite a show, and I liked the peers I worked with. Once a batch was ready to pour, an employee would go outside, ring a bell installed just outside the door and yell "FUDGE SHOW, FUDGE SHOW, EVERYBODY COME ON IN FOR THE FUDGE SHOW!" Tourists would pile in to watch a call and response musical comedy show courtesy of the candy-makers and the sales associates.
I was two months from eighteen and lived in Myrtle Beach at the time. The summers were hectic. Not long in, I ended up becoming a shift leader and keyholder, and was quickly clued into the expectations for the store. Sell, sell, sell. We were encouraged to be happy, charming, and to push profit any way that we could. Little old lady with a sweet tooth? Buy three slices, the fourth one is free. College kid willing to buy a milkshake just to flirt? Bat your eyelashes and make the sale. It'll get us seven dollars closer to beating the other locations. No one in the store? Go to the door.
"Oh you MUST just LOVE working here! It seems so fun!"
Sure, lady. You've sampled every flavor in the case, we're ten minutes from closing, I've been yelled at by three customers today, my manager just implied that we can't close until we hit our sales goal and we're probably going to have to clean the store off the clock. Again. By the way. You buy two of any flavor, and you get a slice of Creamy Vanilla for free. You don't like vanilla? Okay, well I'll give you the Chocolate Caramel Nut if it'll get you out the door. In fact, I've got a whole fridge of fudge at home that I'll never eat because I'm sick of it. HAVE IT. FOR FREE. Don't mind the scoop marks- they only let us take the sample pieces home.
Almost a year in, I called corporate. For most of the summer, we'd worked off the clock. The woman asked if I could give her specific dates. I said "Check the cameras anywhere from March to September." As it turns out, the Fudgery is a family affair. The head of HR is the owner's daughter. The CEO is his son. This call was followed by an awkward store meeting and ultimately nothing was done. I was finishing my last semester at tech, so I put in my two weeks and moved on with my life.
Last year, I went to the Outer Banks with my husband's family. We were in a tourist trap, and passed by The Fudgery. My husband's cousin mentioned wanting to go inside. Unthinking, I blurted out a puddle of word vomit about how horrible the company is. I saw rapid movement come from my left, and looked over to see a small family eating ice cream out of cups from the store. Their wide-eyes stares made me realize how intense I was being and I tried to backpedal so that I didn't ruin their vacation.
I wouldn't take the experience back, even though it turned out to be a crappy job. I met some interesting people, and the quick promotion I received led to other opportunities for me down the road. Not to mention, working customer service jobs has a way of forcing you to empathize with the people who are serving you when you're on the other side of the counter. But if you're ever in the Myrtle Beach area and craving fudge...go to River Street Sweets.
When I was a teenager, I had a notebook filled with quotes. My bedroom closet had sliding mirrored doors and I took colored sharpies and wrote quotes all over the glass, and invited those who came over to do the same. They were quotes from authors, actors, politicians, philosophers. Funny thing is, I don't remember most of them. One day I cleaned the mirror and never put anything back on it. My dogs destroyed the notebook.
The quotes that stuck with me over the years weren't the kind of things found in history books or classic movies. It was simple profundity, those passing statements from people with more experience and perspective than I had at the time. Don't get me wrong, I've been deeply moved by the art of words (I have a quote from Frasier tattooed on my feet) but it pales in comparison.
"Oh, come on. If you're alive and breathin', you got issues."
--> Andy, a classmate of mine in the massage therapy program. He was about twenty years my senior and unbothered by pretty much everything. This was his response to my insistence that I am a deeply flawed individual. I didn't realize it at the time, but the man was Zen personified.
"You can go deeper. I'm not made of sugar."
-->A client I had at a spa in Atlanta. She was an elderly (and surprisingly athletic) German lady who chuckled and said this when I asked how the pressure was. She said she grew up working and was tougher than she looked.
"Hey, you're alive and on two feet, so I'd say you're doing alright!"
--> A man I met in a hospital elevator while visiting my grandfather. He asked how I was doing, and I said "Okay, all things considered." This was what he had to say back to me.
I think the reason these three stand out so much to me is because they were all spoken to me at pivotal times in my life- they were exactly what I needed to hear to keep me grounded. Andy was uninterested in entertaining my self-pity. The German client implication that she was not some frilly, frail thing that would just dissolve away reminded me that I too, am made with grit. The man in the elevator reminded me that in despite of the despair that surrounded me, there is still something to be grateful for.
I haven't seen any of these people in many years and likely never will again. There's a part of me that hopes that the wisdom they've so casually passed on to me is wisdom that was once casually passed on to them somewhere along their journey. It seems like the natural order of things.
My daughter is learning how to use her words. She's almost two, so her speech is still pretty fragmented. As of late, she's been grabbing her stuffed octopus and shoving it in my face while yelling "PISS!" at the top of her little toddler lungs.
Life Lessons from Professor McGraw
I'm not much of a country fan, but there's a line that comes from the song How Bad Do You Want It by Tim McGraw that comes to mind here.
How bad do you want it?
How bad do you need it?
Are you eatin', sleepin', dreamin'
With that one thing on your mind?
How bad do you want it? Does the thought of the unopened pistachio consume you? Does the notion of a bag consumed incompletely stir within the depths of your being? Do you wake up in cold sweats and stumble zombie-like into your pantry, wildly ripping open the bag and throwing all desperate and inviting nuts aside for the opportunity to unearth the secrets of the unopened pistachio?
Then by all means, exhaust your resources. Stomp on it. Drive over it. Throw it under a wild stampede of buffalos and fight one to the death should it try to take your sweet, sly, secretive pistachio. Do anything but use a nutcracker. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MAN, DON'T USE THE NUTCRACKER. Be wary, emperors and god-kings alike have lost themselves in the pursuit for the secrets of the uncrackable pistachio. Empires have fallen. Forget what the history books have told you. The real reason for the Fall of Rome? The emperor found three unopened pistachios in a bowl of mixed nuts and slowly descended into madness.
But if not? Throw it outside. Let nature take its course. Birds are better built for that sort of thing anyway. Unless you happen to have a very sharp bone structure. Then you too, may be built to crack open shells with your beak.
Oh. You are a bird? This seems like a non-issue. Hey, you got a name? Mind if I call you Tim McCaw?