Unexpected encounter, part IV

Many, many thanks to my friend Chayil for encouraging me to write this week in the middle of summer insanity.  I’m not sure how everyone else manages family, home, kids, church, AND work, but Stu and I don’t do a very good job.  While we’re working, school is all-consuming.  As a result, other things don’t get done.  I’m currently buried by endless laundry in a house that I would be embarrassed to host visitors in… even a month after school got out for the summer.  I could use work as an excuse, but the fact is that when we come home, we want to do just about ANYTHING but clean our house.  So we put it off and put it off until summer comes and we can’t stand being at home.  Plus we’ve been traveling for work (me to Jacksonville for an AP Summer Institute and Stu to Sarasota for yearbook camp) and doing other projects… so that’s summer insanity.  I could have been doing a million other things… writing curriculum, scouring websites for AP resources, sorting laundry, folding socks, or sleeping (it is 1 am after all), but I’m writing.  And I’m thrilled about it.

So here’s a continuation of Zara’s story.  Catch up on it here, here, and here.  And thanks for visiting!

Once everyone had plates piled with pasta, salad, and bread, the three dinner companions fell silent to enjoy the meal.  For Zara, she took the few moments of quiet to think about her realization about Jack.  What did it mean that he was jealous of Steve?  This wasn’t her first date; in college she had dated regularly, but not for any extended period of time.  Only after college had she dated seriously; she had been with Matt for three years before a transfer took him to San Francisco and ended their relationship.  Jack had been a good friend to Matt and they often spent evenings together.  Occasionally Matt and Zara would serve as dating buffers for him; Jack would prearrange to bring his newest lady friend along with him to dinner with Matt and Zara, and they would help Jack make decisions about whether or not he should see them again.  In fact, Jack had initiated a relationship with Mary, the girl Zara was sure he would marry, at a meal with Matt and Zara.  Mary was beautiful, successful, and so calm in dealing with Jack.  Zara’s only complaint was that Mary never seemed eager to form a relationship with her; in the years that Jack and Mary dated, Zara was only, at best, an acquaintance to her.  But that relationship had ended almost a year ago, without drama or any swell of emotion from Jack as far as Zara could tell, and Jack had picked up where he left off, dating women, introducing them to Zara for her approval, but never taking anyone very seriously.

“So, Steve, how was your day?” Zara asked, suddenly aware of the direction of her thoughts.  She would not allow Jack to dominate this meal, whether he meant to or not.

Steve beamed at this opening.  “Well, I spent most of the morning managing a large claim from an important client.  Evidently, a fire caused significant damage to one of this company’s major manufacturing operations.  But I was able to provide significant comfort in a difficult time.  Normally, I don’t work with clients,” Steve smiled to himself a little, but Zara could tell he was holding back.  “But I’ve had some encouragement from the department manager to get my feet wet in customer relations.”

Steve fixed a bright, expectant look at Zara then.  “Oh, that’s really great, Steve,” Zara smiled, but wasn’t quite sure what this meant.

“I think what Steve is trying to tell you is that a manager is looking to diversify his role within the company, perhaps move him to account management, which would require significant customer contact,” Jack interjected.  Zara frowned.  “Is that about right, Steve?”

“Oh yes,” Steve responded, a slight frown wrinkling his forehead.  “I didn’t realize there was confusion.”

“It’s just that I didn’t know you were interested in working more closely with customers.  You told me you were proudly just a numbers man,” Zara persisted.  For some reason, this news rankled her.

“Well, I am,” Steve frowned more deeply now, “but as I work with customers, my own standing with the company will improve.  This really is good news, Zara,” Steve smiled at her then looked to Jack, as if asking for his help.

“Of course.  If you’re happy, I’m happy for you.  But I don’t know how you could fit more into your already very busy work schedule.”  Zara smiled as she uttered the last, but was really concerned.  Steve was already consumed by work; she could guess what this development would mean.  Jack seemed to sense her frustration.

“Steve, does your work give you much time for relaxation?  For leisure?” Jack asked, jumping at the opening.  “You must work 80 hours a week as it is!”  Steve beamed at the compliment.

“Well, no actually.  I’m very lucky that the office provides a gym space for employees or I fear I wouldn’t get any exercise.  And if I continue to eat like this,” he smiled at Zara, “I would weigh 500 pounds!”

Zara’s nostrils suddenly flared as the cause of her discontent dawned on her: this man, who Zara had invested three weeks of her time, was casually congratulating himself on a work development that would make it nearly impossible to foster a relationship with her.

“I guess I’m lucky that you could spare time tonight,” Zara smiled, a saccharin smile that Steve didn’t recognize as such.

“A man’s got to eat,” Steve grinned, leaning toward Jack with an uncharacteristic eyebrow wiggle.  “But I’ve got a few hours of processing to be done tonight after dinner.”  Jack just smiled; Zara fumed.

“What about you, Jack? How did the law treat you today?” Steve couldn’t keep the goofy giddiness from his voice.

“I’m sure Zara has told you, but I work at a firm that specializes in business law.  However, I’m lucky enough that my practice encourages associates to participate in community service.  So I spent my day today offering pro bono legal advice through a program sponsored by my firm,” Jack never took his eyes off Steve.  “That’s why my day ran so late.  I never like to leave before everyone has been helped.  It makes for quite an interesting day, I’ll tell you.”

Zara knew how Jack spent his day.  He participated monthly, and more often when he was able.  He was always exhausted after these days, but to a certain extent, more joyful and full of life.  But for the second time tonight, she was forced to see Steve in light of Jack, and she wasn’t happy with what she saw.


Unexpected encounter, part III

Here for the first time?  Read part I and part II before getting started here… and thanks for reading!

Steve was still rattling off statistics about Yale and its merits as Zara’s world shifted on its axis.  Jack?  She was suddenly intensely aware: of his presence, of the subtly angry cast of his face as he gathered a bottle of wine from her tiny collection on the counter, of the faint smell of his cologne, the same cologne he had been wearing since he graduated from high school.  It was a gift from her.

Oh dear, she thought to herself.  Jack wasn’t attending this little meal as a casual friend, a pest intent on disrupting her evening for fun.  He was jealous, and she was suddenly incensed.

For the first three years of their acquaintance, Jack had been a spectacularly platonic friend to Zara: they spent hours sitting on the concrete steps to her front door, perfecting the basketball spin between games of HORSE, they hiked through the woods behind their neighborhood, talking for hours and picking through muddy ditches.  But Jack spent the summer before his senior year lifeguarding at the beach near his grandmother’s house, and Zara took a job at the local Twistee Treat.  She was surrounded by gossiping girls, who quickly discovered that Zara’s best friend was the very tall, very handsome Jack Cooper, and Zara was suddenly forced to reckon with the fact that her best friend Jack was more than the goof ball who stole more than his share of popcorn at the movies or exploited his height advantage in basketball.  It made her nervous, unnervingly so, to even speak to him on the phone.  She steadily built a crush on Jack while he was 100 miles from home, convincing herself that he would come home in August and fall desperately in love with her.  Unfortunately, the reality was less pleasant; in the small town where he spent the summer, Jack became a hot commodity, and he came home with a serious tan, muscles honed from the outdoor work, and a girlfriend named Amelia.

Their reunion was one of Zara’s most uncomfortable memories.  He called to tell her he was back in town and asked if he could come by Twistee Treat that evening for an ice cream.  Zara, who didn’t know anything of Amelia, complied instantly with his plan, and spent the two hours before her shift primping in front of the mirror, blowing her hair until it fell smooth into soft waves down her back, applying unfamiliar black eye liner and mascara, and obsessing about what to say to her best friend.  She even rehearsed a few flirtatious lines she heard her coworkers use on the hopeless boys who made the shop their summer hangout.  Zara even practiced laughing demurely at the mirror.  The rest of this story is pretty obvious: Zara worked nervously until nine when she caught a glimpse of Jack through the tiny glass window, her smile huge until she followed his hand, which was pulling Amelia behind him.  The only consolation to her heartbreak was that Zara never revealed her crush on Jack to any of the gossiping girls at the Twistee Treat.

“Hey Z,” he had said when he sidled up to the window, “Since when do you wear eye liner?”

And in that moment, Zara schooled her expression as he introduced Amelia, a tall, very buxom blonde with a beautiful tan.  They had met lifeguarding.

From that summer night, Zara decided that it would be best for her if she protected her heart from Jack.  So his sudden and inconvenient jealousy was wholly unfair to her and Steve and whatever they had started at the coffee shop three weeks before.

Zara stiffened and bristled as Jack moved away from her, snatching potholders carelessly to drain the pasta, and burning her finger in the process.  When she snatched her hands away from the offending implement, Jack relieved her of her potholders and carefully took over the task.

“I’m sure Steve doesn’t want to waste this evening at the emergency room, Z.  Be more careful,” Jack said, smiling at Steve where he still stood at the edge of the counter.

“Uh, yes.  Zara, please be more careful.  Kitchen incidents are responsible for a significant number of insurance claims, after all,” Steve said solemnly.  Zara couldn’t help but roll her eyes.

Finally, dinner was ready.  Zara poured the drained pasta into a massive serving bowl, and then poured her famous sauce over the whole, arranging meatballs artfully on top.  Jack arranged Zara’s garlic bread into a basket.  Steve, who finally seemed spurred to action by both Zara and Jack finding their way to Zara’s living room laden with some dinner necessity, found Zara’s impressive cheese grinder and followed.  Zara placed the massive bowl of pasta into the center of her square coffee table with a flourish, sat cross-legged on the floor across from the couch, and made quick work of serving herself some spaghetti.  Jack toed off his loafers and slid to the floor as well, loosening his tie before serving himself some salad.  Neither paid Steve any attention as he seemed to battle internally with proper etiquette for the situation: both his host and her other guest had made themselves comfortable on the floor, but that was not where he would be most comfortable.  Ultimately, he decided to follow Jack’s lead, and after removing his shoes, he sat on the floor beside Zara.

“Can I serve you some spaghetti, Steve?” Zara asked amiably, suddenly certain that the only course to take was to ignore Jack and his jealously as much as possible.

“Please,” answered Steve, who still seemed quite unsure of how to handle this strange meal.

Unexpected encounter, part II

Wow, I’m having fun thinking about Zara, Jack, and Steve.  But this story is already bigger than I intended.  Read ahead for Part II…  and if you have any ideas for a better title than “Unexpected Encounter,” please let me know in the comments!

Read the beginning of Zara’s story here.

Zara had met Steve Kaufman, predictably, at her favorite bookstore, where she was grading papers one Friday evening.  She had ordered a black coffee from the friendly barista, but managed to pick up his latte instead.  His sputtering upon taking a hearty gulp of her coffee when he expected the much more mild latte and the ensuing confusion had all the makings of a meet-cute, but his restraint prevented anything more than a few shared words over the mishap.  Steve was cute in an absentminded professor sort of way, and Zara offered a few attempts at conversation, but he went about scolding the barista for her mistake and requesting another latte.  At his apparent disinterest, Zara shrugged her shoulders and waited patiently for another cup of coffee before returning to her papers.  A solid 10 minutes later, Steve seemed to remember himself, finally approaching her and striking up a conversation.  He even apologized to her and the barista for being so short, and Zara was persuaded to give him her phone number as he arranged to take her to lunch that Sunday.  That had been three weeks ago.

Before she could open the door herself, Jack stepped quickly to the entryway and opened the door for her guest.  Just as Steve hadn’t really seemed to notice anything of Zara’s appearance in their earlier meetings, Zara didn’t really notice how Steve looked until she saw him in contrast to Jack.  Steve, too, had just come from work, but his long day didn’t really seem to agree with him.  He wore a pair of subtly shiny taupe slacks, which she supposed would be pretty luxurious if they weren’t paired with a brown crew neck sweater.  He wore his brown, curly hair long on top, which, paired with his dark framed glasses, gave him an impossibly youthful look.  Steve looked completely perplexed to find Jack at the door, and looked down at the index card he held in his hand as if to confirm that Jack was in the wrong place.

“You must be Steve,” Jack began, solicitously.  “I’m Zara’s best friend, Jack.  I hope you’ll forgive me crashing your dinner.”  Jack moved to the side, allowing Steve to pass, but didn’t offer any explanation for his presence.

“Of course,” Steve began, his deep voice confused but untroubled, “Zara has told me a lot about you.”  This information caused Jack to grin blindingly, giving Zara a meaningful look from across the alcove.

“Hello, Steve,” Zara began, and leaned in to give Steve a peck on the cheek.  Jack’s grin faded instantly.  “Yes, Jack conveniently ignored the fact that I had a dinner guest tonight and showed up unannounced.  I can kick him out if you like,” she said, and frowned lightly when he shook his head.

“No, no.  That won’t be necessary,” he said as he looked around her apartment.  There was only interest in his eyes, and she was glad for it.  Her tiny one bedroom apartment wasn’t much, but it was home.  In a way, this was a test.  If Steve was going to be a snob about her place, she would rethink spending time with him.  Jack closed the door and found his way back to his usual spot at the bar and an uncomfortable realization struck.  She didn’t have any place for three people to share a meal; she didn’t have a dining room table.  With a resigned shrug of the shoulders, she realized they would be huddling around her coffee table to eat their spaghetti and salad.

“So Steve, tell me about yourself.  What do you do for a living?” Jack began amiably.

Steve blinked a little at the direct question, but looked Jack in the face.  “I work as an accountant for an insurance firm here in the city,” he answered steadily, almost flatly, without elaborating further.  He stood, looking vaguely uncomfortable, at the edge of the counter with his hands pushed into his pockets.

“I’ll just start the pasta,” Zara interjected, suddenly uncomfortable.  “I’m afraid we’ll have to eat in the living room, gentlemen.”  At her words, Jack started gathering plates and silverware to take into the living room, but Steve stood fast.

“I hope you’ve had a chance to read the article I emailed earlier this week, Zara,” Steve began, as if he was aware that he needed to make some conversation.

“Yes,” Zara’s response came, clipped.  “Why else do you think I invited you over to dinner tonight?”

“What article?” Jack asked, amused by Zara’s tone.

“In my field, I am regularly reminded of how very important it is to be wise about our spending.  I shared with Zara an article from the New York Times about how twenty somethings are notoriously reckless about their spending habits,” Steve responded with more vigor than he’d managed since he got there.  Jack barked out a laugh.

“Yes, it is very important that we are wise about our spending, isn’t it Zara?  Some of us don’t have lucrative careers, do we?” Jack’s pointed stare made Zara’s blood boil.

“As it happens, I agree with the points made.  I am a teacher, after all, and I shouldn’t be frivolous,” Zara’s concession, even though it was made to silence Jack, still set her teeth on edge.

“It isn’t only about income, Zara,” Steve cautioned.  “I am so lucky as to have secured a comfortable living, but I am constantly reminded that I should be more frugal.”  Jack smiled to himself, but sensing Zara’s discomfort, he changed the subject.

“Where did you go to school?  You must have a very impressive education if you’ve been so lucky to secure such a great job,” Jack asked.

“I graduated from Yale, and you’ll never know a finer institution,” Steve declared boldly, but suddenly remembering himself, he added, “Of course, the University of Virginia is a very respectable regional institution.”  At that, Jack’s smile faltered somewhat, but he gritted his teeth.

“When is that pasta going to be done, Z?” Zara, for her part, had been quiet for this brief exchange, and she smiled at Jack’s discomfort.  Jack was a proud Wahoo and would take any insult to his alma mater very personally.  But he had insisted upon these games by coming to her apartment tonight and provoking Steve, so she fought a smile.

“In just a few minutes.  Steve, why don’t you tell Jack about Yale’s admissions numbers?  Jack, Steve is a generous benefactor of the university.” With that encouragement, as Steve started rattling off statistics about the most recent class of students admitted into Yale, their high school GPAs, their SAT scores, their remarkable achievements, Zara turned away and barely concealed her laugh.  He deserved it, she thought.  But she stopped short when Jack pressed against her with the pretense of reaching over her head for another glass and whispered low into her ear.

“You’ll pay for that,” he warned.

Unexpected encounter

This is a departure from the writing I’ve done here so far.  I’ve done a whole lot of writing ABOUT myself, but today I hope you’ll indulge me as I do a little writing FOR myself.  I love fiction, and in my reading over the past few months, I’ve been struck with the desire to write more of that… making up stories and helping characters to come to life.

So here is the beginning of a short story about a woman who begins an evening expecting to entertain one date, but who finds herself caught between two.  When I took part in the Tampa Bay Area Writer’s Project a few years back, my instructors told me to stop prefacing my work, so without further ado…

“Just a minute, I’ll be right there!” shouted Zara over her shoulder toward the front door of her apartment.  “He’s thirty minutes early,” she grumbled to herself as she pulled the comb through her still wet hair.

Zara gave herself a brief glance into the mirror before leaving her bedroom.  Her wavy brown hair dangled limply around her shoulders, her face was washed clean of makeup that she hadn’t had time to reapply.  But her skin was smooth and porcelain, her blue eyes bright and darkly lashed.  Briefly she was tempted to apply a little lip-gloss, but shook her head to herself.  Steve wasn’t picky.  In their three dates he hadn’t once made a comment about her appearance.  Perhaps a low maintenance guy was exactly what she needed.  Her favorite, well-loved jeans and a classic gray t-shirt would have to do.

A sharp knock sounded again.  It wasn’t like Steve to be so impatient.  She rolled her eyes to herself as she made her way to the door.

“Hey gorgeous,” the completely unexpected visitor drawled when she opened the door.  He swept into the room, pulling her into his arms and lowering his nose deliberately to the top of her still damp head, taking a deep breath.  “Z, I love your shampoo.”

“Jack, what on earth are you doing here?” Zara couldn’t keep the irritation out of her voice.  When they had spoken earlier in the day, she made it clear that she wasn’t available that night, that she was making Steve her famous cooks-all-day spaghetti and meatballs.  But her best friend was often hard headed, and hard of hearing.  Or that’s what he would like to pretend, especially when she told him what he didn’t want to hear.

“I’ve come to visit my favorite girl in the world, of course,” Jack beamed, and Zara relented; she couldn’t resist his charm.  Grinning, she looped her arm around his waist and led him into the kitchen where he promptly claimed his usual spot at her counter.  He was still wearing his work clothes, dark gray, perfectly tailored slacks, a crisp white Oxford, and a slim argyle tie.  For someone who had just wrapped a nearly 12-hour day, Jack looked impossibly fresh.

“Well, my friend, you have about 30 minutes before you’re going to have to make yourself scarce.  I’m making Steve dinner tonight.”  She pulled her enormous pasta pot from under the counter, and turning away from him, Zara started filling it with water.  At that mention of spaghetti, Jack took a deep breath.

“That must be why I couldn’t resist coming over.  I’m a sucker for your sauce,” he grinned, leaning over the counter for the wooden spoon she’d left there, snatching the top off of her slow cooker, and stirring the sauce before sneaking a taste.

“Stop that!” Zara scolded as she turned around to catch Jack with a mouth filled with her wooden spoon.  He at least had the grace to appear repentant, but Zara had to reach over the counter to wipe away a spot of sauce that was caught at the corner of his mouth.  It was unexpectedly intimate; Jack coughed a little and the moment was broken.

“I thought I’d stick around for dinner, meet this Steve,” Jack said dismissively.  When Zara opened her mouth to object, he smoothly continued.  “You’re not going to wear that, are you?  What about your makeup?  This is a date, after all.”  His distraction technique worked.

“I think it’s refreshing that I don’t need to worry about what Steve thinks about how I look,” Zara said, but even to her own ears the excuse seemed thin.  “Besides, I just got home from work and I haven’t had a chance to do anything more than shower.”

“Well then, it’s good I’m here.  I can finish up the salad and bread while you finish getting ready,” Jack said, stepping off his perch at the counter and gently leading her toward her room.

“Oh fine,” Zara said, almost to herself as she walked into her room, suddenly grateful for a few more minutes to herself before Steve’s arrival.  She would have to deal with Jack’s inconvenient visit before Steve arrived, but she was too grateful to have a little help that she was willing to overlook it, for the moment.

This is pretty typical Jack behavior, and to be honest, Zara should have known to avoid mentioning her spaghetti to him.  But they had been best friends for years, since meeting for the first time when she was a brand new student at their high school.  She walked into her first period class, hopelessly tentative, a recent transplant from Suffolk, England, and froze, completely shaken by the dozens of pairs of eyes that landed on her instantly.  Jack walked in behind her, towering over her even then, as a sophomore in high school, and warmly greeted her.  “You must be new here.  My name is Jack.  Come over here and sit by me.”  And that was it.  They were fast friends, and as it turned out, lasting friends.  When Jack graduated from high school and left for the University of Virginia, Zara followed a year later.  When Jack was admitted to law school at Georgetown University, Zara followed a year later, accepting a teaching position in suburban northern Virginia.  He teased his shadow endlessly, but Zara didn’t complain.  She loved being close to him, even when it meant her date nights would be interrupted.

At her vanity, Zara suddenly wasn’t terribly interested in fixing herself up, but dutifully she applied blush, a swipe of eyeliner, and the subtlest lipstick she could find.  Then she went to her closet to replace her gray t-shirt with a royal blue sweater that revealed more of her shape.  After scrunching her waves artfully, Zara rejoined Jack in the kitchen, where he was layering vegetables in a serving bowl.  His eyes fell on her, and she stopped, turning briefly as if to get his approval.  All of his earlier levity was gone; his gaze was more serious than any he’d had all evening.

“That’s better,” he said gruffly.  “And dinner is nearly ready.  You just need to drop the pasta when this Steve gets here.”  Jack wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“Well, thanks so much for your help, Jack,” Zara attempted.  She bustled into the kitchen to take over washing the cutting board in the sink, but Jack wasn’t having it.

“Oh no, you’re not getting rid of me, friend.  I said I wanted to meet this Steve, so I’m going to meet Steve.  Plus, you have to feed me.”

Just as Zara opened her mouth to protest in earnest, a gentle buzz began at the door.  Steve was right on time.

I’ll write more about Zara and Jack (and Steve) next week!


Falling in love, in fifty words

If you’ve been reading here this month, you should know that I don’t have any trouble with word count.  I’m pretty verbose.  My dad often complains that I take forever to come to the point of any story I tell, and any application that requires 100 words MAX causes me to have a fit.  And I almost NEVER write only 100 words; the readers of those applications don’t actually count, do they?

Well, I’m writing this post as a response to this Weekly Writing Challenge, the Fifty.  The challenge is really poignant for me, especially since I can’t manage to be concise.  The object: write a story in exactly fifty words, with the purpose of using every word, every sentence, every thought purposefully.  So here goes.  (and if you’re interested in irony, the preface to this post is 126 words.  Good grief)

She crouched to pick up her dropped papers, stunned by his intense glare that revealed only pity at her clumsiness. Kneeling, he reached to hand her a sheet that escaped her, grazing his hand over hers. Embarrassed and intrigued, she stammered a thank you. His answering lunch invitation stupefied her.

Can you tell I’m a romance writer?  This felt a lot like writing a haiku, but now even I’m excited about the story that can come from this little nugget.

As always, thanks for reading!

Thinking about inspiration

Last night I stayed up until 4 AM to finish a book I started at bedtime.  I should know myself better than to start a book at bedtime; I lack to self-control to put a book down just because I have to get up in 8, 6, 4 hours, or in the case of last night, 2 hours.  Those late hours were reminiscent of late nights reading under the covers with a flashlight, but now, instead of a flashlight, I can read without disturbing my husband <much> with the low glow from the iPad.  Oh, and I don’t have to worry about getting caught by a mad Dad.

I didn’t have high expectations of the book, it was a $0.99 find that popped up on my Facebook feed called Definitely, Maybe In Love by Ophelia London, but upon reading her dedication–“To Jane Austen: Without you paving the way, this chick writer would not be here–something warmed in me and I was a little more eager to read.  I am in love with Jane Austen.  I read Pride and Prejudice once a year or so just for fun.  She is on my list of historical figures I would invite to dinner.  But London’s love of my dear friend Jane wasn’t isolated to her dedication: I wasn’t 30 pages into the book before I realized that London was retelling my treasured Pride and Prejudice, and I loved it.  I actually laughed aloud at the realization, startling my sleeping husband a bit.  To recognize such a well-loved story in a contemporary novel, well, it can be alarming.  Writers have butchered this story, and I am a pretty harsh critic, impatient with those that are poorly done.

I should confess here that my novel is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, too, and I’m not separate enough to tell you if my retelling is particularly well done.  But this retelling was fun, loyal to Austen’s intentions, and romantic enough to have me swooning for the male lead.

It’s funny to me how serendipitous life is if I’m paying attention.  I’ve been thinking about this lovely little novel all day (well, that and taking a nap) and how satisfying a retelling can be.  I’m not at all tired of the story of Pride and Prejudice, clearly, as I reread the text once a year, have watched every adaptation on film, have read half a dozen books that attempt to do the same thing.  Then I logged in to YouTube for the Vlogbrothers, and saw this:

If you’re not familiar, this is John Green, the intellectual badass and author of the very original and lovely The Fault in Our Stars.  He suggests that despite the notion that creative endeavor is solitary, lonely, and independent, those who create are  influenced, inspired, even ignited by a “network of influences so vast it stretches back further than human memory,” even without knowing it, and that “individuals don’t really create stuff so much as they process their influences and try to build upon them in the hopes that they can make stuff that will be helpful to others.”

This is a lovely notion to me, that there is space in this world for my contribution, even though it is so heavily influenced by much of what I’ve read and studied in 30 years of consumption.  There is a terrific book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor that AP English teachers love to teach to show students that, however much they want to believe that the blue curtains are JUST BLUE, authors draw on and manipulate the reader’s network of influences for their own purposes.

What happens if the writer is good is usually not that the work seems derivative or trivial but just the opposite: the work actually acquires depth and resonance from the echoes and chimes it sets up with prior texts, weight from the accumulated use of certain basic patterns and tendencies. Moreover, works are actually more comforting because we can recognize elements of them from our prior reading. I suspect that a wholly original work, one that owed nothing to previous writing, would so lack familiarity as to be quite unnerving to readers.

–Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines

So Ophelia London used Pride and Prejudice to create a new story that resonated as familiar and fun, romantic and perennial, and I never complained about a lack of creativity on her part.  Instead, her creative endeavor made it impossible for me to shut off my brain before I had read every word, and regret when it was over.

When was the last time you stayed up all night to read a book?  What was the last book you couldn’t put down?  Can you bear to reread books that are especially poignant, funny, or romantic?

If I leave

Being brand new to blogging, I don’t know much about the community or the support available.  Honestly, I picked WordPress because my dad uses the platform (check out his blog here) and I liked the themes I could pick from–you should know I’m a visual nerd/snob–but I had no idea what else I was getting with this site.  I’ve been nothing but pleasantly surprised.  WordPress offers so much to bloggers to help us come up with ideas and learn about this process.  Today I stumbled on the Daily Prompt, and I’m thrilled to respond.

Life is a series of beginnings and endings. We leave one job to start another; we quit cities, countries, or continents for a fresh start; we leave lovers and begin new relationships. What was the last thing you contemplated leaving? What were the pros and cons? Have you made up your mind? What will you choose?

I’ve often thought about moving back to Virginia.  In fact, it would be impossible to NOT think about moving back to Virginia for as often as my husband mentions it.  After every vacation, Stu and Cari are crying for miles as we leave my mother-in-law’s house.  We get texts from my sisters-in-law, letting us know that there are jobs available in neighboring counties.  We get Facebook messages from friends telling us there will be two teaching jobs at the high school where I was hired right out of college.  We long for Virginia’s more temperate summers, colorful falls, and snowy winters and snow days.  Cari misses her precious cousins.

But leaving Florida is scary for me.  I don’t want to leave my parents, not because I don’t think I can survive without being close to them, but because I don’t want to.  I moved to Florida to be close to my mommy.  No lie.  I don’t want to leave our school, not because I don’t think we could be successful elsewhere or because I feel like the place would crumble without us, but because the school where we work is special to me.  I feel like I make a difference there, and have made a difference there.  I feel like I matter.  I don’t want to leave my church because I feel like we fit there.  I feel like I have a role and I’m good at it and I have fun.

But Florida is not the greatest state for education.  While I love my school, I’m not thrilled for Cari to go through middle school here.  Our local middle schools are just too scary to subject her to.  Plus, there is a reason why Seth Meyers runs a segment on Late Night called “Fake or Florida.”

“By the way, you should know, the blindfold looks like a bra for your eyes.”

Florida is comical in its ridiculousness.  In the ten miles of US-19 that run north to south closest to our house, there are so many strip clubs, pain clinics, and pawn shops that it’s hard to believe they do any business at all with all the competition.  Going to Walmart at night is almost hazardous; Cari and I have witnessed theft and police activity, on separate occasions.  I never knew what meth addicts looked like before I moved here.

I must acknowledge that there are great things about Florida, too.  I love, love, love that in January, when the rest of the country is bundled under heating blankets and staring, miserable, through windows into gray skies, that we can expect weekends of unexpectedly warm weather.  Like flip flops and short sleeves weather.  I love that one of the most beautiful beaches in the world is only an hour from door to sand.  I love that we can visit Disney regularly.  And I love that we’ve made relationships with extraordinary people in the ten years that we’ve lived here.

I know that no place is perfect, and I feel like we might be romanticizing Virginia a little bit.  But I know that it isn’t time for us to move back to Virginia yet.  The doors haven’t been opened for us to even consider going with any real intent.  But the option has almost held me back from moving forward here.

So the idea of “if I leave” is a powerful one for me and my family.  I’m trusting that God will reveal to me when, and if, it is time to go.

Compulsive creativity

Creativity takes courage.

–Henri Matisse

When I was in elementary school, I wrote a very long short story called “Tina Tuna.” My parents will tell you about this story with pride.  They will tell you how witty and imaginative I was, even in fourth grade.  My most distinct memories of “Tina Tuna”… I remember the fun I had building my story, the pride of knowing, without a doubt, that I had created something good, and most prominently, the pressure of a deadline.  From that moment, I’ve been seeking to create.  I’m not saying that I’ve done any remarkable work.  My creativity isn’t consistent… I’ve crafted for my classroom, I’ve sang with a chorus and with a worship team, I’ve written a book, I’ve taken photography and pottery classes.  The products of my creativity hang on the walls of my parents’ home and sit on bookshelves.  The drawing of my name, a bold ALLISON in block lettering featuring a “S” that I fashioned into a slide, has been hanging for so long the construction paper backing is faded almost unrecognizably from navy to gray.  My proud (and tiny) attempt at the pottery wheel currently holds change dumped from my husband’s pockets.  No one is trying to pay me for my work.  But even though I’m not particularly remarkable in my creativity, it is remarkable perhaps that I am creative at all.

What does it mean to create?  It means producing something.  Somehow, even following a recipe from Pinterest isn’t necessarily as creative as imitative.  But sometimes imitation leads one to create.  I felt that way when I wrote a book for NaNoWriMo.  I had an idea for a romance novel rattling around in my head for a few months, after feeling disappointed in many of the fluffy romances I had been reading.  So I started building a character I would love to see in print, started imagining a situation to place her in, started envisioning scenarios and plot points.  But imagining, while important, isn’t creating.  Creating is the hard, dirty, sometimes (literally and figuratively) painful work of putting imagination into production.  I wish creating was easier, or it wouldn’t have taken me so long to write a book.  Creating means staying up nights because you can’t sleep until a thought is perfectly articulated on paper; it means walking around with a claw hand from the typing-induced wrist cramps.  It means crushing disappointment when you realize that while you LOVE your work, others might not feel the same way.

To create is an important counterpoint to consumption.  I certainly excel at consumption: my current entertainment obsession?  Watching YouTube videos from people, real people, who love make up or organization or being snarky and are compelled to create content about stuff that they love.  It would be so tempting to simply consume.  Easier certainly.  But I see the effects of consumption in my classroom: my students are so accustomed to consumption that they HATE to produce with any kind of creativity.  They would much rather watch Vines and scroll an Instagram feed than create something MORE.  I get it.  It is humbling to put more than 10 seconds worth of effort into something to then allow other to judge and critique.  But when we only consume, we fail to be everything that we can be.  We miss opportunities to figure ourselves out.  Or to realize that it isn’t possible to figure ourselves out after all.

So even though I’m not a Pinterest-worthy crafter or best selling author, I’m going to create anyway.  Right now, my outlet is this blog.  In July (or November), I hope it will be another novel.  I’ve even thought about glass blowing.

How are you creating this week?  This month?  Are you consistently creative?