Elegant, haunting, beautiful prose in short, short stories to savor and share. Imagine a world where shadows of enchantment instantly render ordinary experiences eerie, terrifying or sublime, and where the unexpected becomes the norm. The twenty-one micro stories in Laura McHale Holland’s Just in Case comprise such a place: a universe where a wife betrayed relishes her revenge; a couple chugging toward retirement takes a surprising U-turn; a much maligned character finally has his say; a cozy family scene chills the blood; a curious relative cannot leave a half-human baby alone. The short stories in this collection contain layers of meaning hidden in metaphor, revealed in raw emotion and arresting in their sudden intimacy. Magical, yet grounded this is flash fiction at its best by an author who know how to pack a gratifying punch and leave the reader hankering for more.
"I'll Have To Tell Him" is a quick read, but it's one of the longest stories in JUST IN CASE. It's also a story I tell sometimes instead of reading it. Liberating a tale from the page and letting it change a little bit in the telling while interacting with the audience is a dynamic way to bring a story to life. And I love embodying this character, who has a lot to say about her life with her husband, Bernie, in a little town called North Bend. She might come knocking again some morning while I'm writing, telling me she has more to say. Does she pique your imagination? Would you like to hear more from her?
Quite a while after I wrote this little story I learned that in some writing circles, using fairytales and folk tales as springboards for short fiction is frowned upon. That notion surprised me. The rationale, according to the article I read, is that re-writing traditional stories or using fairytale characters in new contexts is overdone. In any event, I expect that won't stop me from writing stories like Cold Case in the future, and I hope it doesn't interfere with your enjoyment of them either.
Working Title: Just in Case
This Book Is In Development
Imagine a world where shadows of enchantment instantly render ordinary experiences eerie, terrifying or sublime, and where the unexpected becomes the norm. The twelve short-short stories in Laura McHale Holland’s Just in Case comprise a universe where a wife betrayed relishes a savage revenge; a much maligned character finally has his say; a cozy family scene chills the blood; a couple chugging toward retirement takes a bold U-turn; a curious relative cannot leave a half-human, half-Big Foot baby alone; and more. The dark, often revealing themes in this collection marry exquisitely with the precise flash fiction form, offering a full reading experience in few words. If you enjoy engaging, short reads with deliciously poetic prose, plenty of imagery, and context left to the imagination, you’ll love the concise gems found in Just in Case.
At only forty-five words, "Before" is one of the shortest stories I've written. All of this story is included in this "book bubble"—except for the last four words. And when it comes to flash fiction, four words can completely alter the story's impact. It could be funny, poignant, thrilling or terrifying. You'll be able to see how I chose to end this story when it's published in August. And you'll be able to grab a free ebook version by signing up for my newsletter at http://lauramchaleholland.com. In the meantime, if you had to end this story by adding four words, what would they be?
This is one of the new stories included in "Just In Case," a collection of flash fiction. The book manuscript is now complete, and I'm planning to give the ebook to people who sign up for my newsletter at http://lauramchaleholland.com. A paperback will also be available for sale. I formatted the ebook myself using Vellum software, and a designer is creating the print version layout this week. When I know how many pages the print version of this little (4" x 6") book will be, I'll let the designer who created the front cover know, and she'll design the spine and back cover. It's exciting to have this book almost ready to release. If you have the opportunity to read it, I hope you'll get in touch to let me know what you think.
Poetic devices can help stories convey emotions, relationships and scenes in few words. I plan to include "Drifting," a story from "The Ice Cream Vendor's Song," in this collection because I think it's a good example of this. A poet once brought it to a class of young poets she was instructing. She said it would inspire them to explore. I was honored and gave the OK. One of the great things about publishing today is that authors get to make so many decisions. I just heard from the editor I picked for this new collection. She's finished reviewing the manuscript, we'll meet soon. The book is one step closer to being done.
I think parents or guardians who harm or neglect their children instead of nurturing them tend to be isolated. There are exceptions, of course, but these inept people often don't have family, friends or neighbors to turn to when things get tough, don't have groups they gather with to socialize or worship, don't know of mental health professionals or hot lines that could help when they feel they can't go on. They withdraw from resources instead of engage, pretend all is well when it isn't, lash out at vulnerable children instead of helping them grow into productive, happy adults. This flash fiction story depicts one such family.
I stumbled upon this story, which I wrote a few years ago and sent in a newsletter to members of my readers group. I'd forgotten all about it. I am now considering it for inclusion in "Just in Case." Picking stories for a collection reminds me a little of choosing songs for a performance set. I wrote songs for a time in my youth and would perform occasionally (when I could get over my stage fright). I would spend quite a while considering which songs to include and what order they should be in. I'd envision as best I could the emotional journey the songs were likely to take the audience on. It involved a lot of guesswork. I think the same is true of organizing a collection of stories.
Most of us live in communities with resources we can turn to when we're in need of help. Sometimes, though, it's almost impossible to reach out for help because of lack of information or fears of possible repercussions. The two sisters in this story, titled "Nephew," are in a true crisis. One of them is about to make a decision, knowing their lives will be forever altered. What is the most difficult decision you've ever had to make?
This is an offbeat story from "The Ice Cream Vendor's Song," a collection of 46 short, short tales I published several years ago. I'm including four stories from that collection in "Just In Case." Originally, I thought the new book would hold just 12 stories, but it's been growing. Right now, I've got 21 stories in the manuscript, most of which are brand new. I have more polishing to do before getting this little book to an editor. After receiving feedback, I'll probably remove the weakest two or three. When presenting my work to a group, I love telling this story rather than reading it because I get to take on the narrator's persona. I hope you enjoy this story, as well as thoughts I've shared on bringing a new story collection to life.
This story is so new I haven't even taken it to my weekly critique group yet. I enjoy and am committed to crafting the very best work I can before I publish. Part of that is working with other writers, sharing writing with one another regularly, then working with an editor, or sometimes editors, who can see new things to consider when creating and polishing a manuscript. I don't know how much this story will change before I publish this collection. It depends on the feedback I receive and what I glean from it. Do you enjoy giving feedback on stories? I will welcome yours.
I just wrote this story today and took it to my critique group. I received some excellent feedback, refined a few things and am sharing it here. All in one day. Things don't usually happen that quickly or easily. I feel lucky and think "Rose Petals" will be a good addition to this book. Do you agree? I considered titling the story "Red," but settled on "Rose Petals" instead. Do you think it suits the story? ... Initially I thought the book would contain a dozen stories, but now I'm thinking of including more, maybe fifteen or so.
This is the first half of "I'll Have to Tell Him," one of my favorite stories in the collection titled "The Ice Cream Vendor's Song," which I published several years ago. I'll probably include it in this little book, too. Sometimes a character's voice will come through to me with such clarity, it feels like I'm just listening and recording what the character is saying. Occasionally, I tell this story live. This means I liberate it from the page, memorizing key parts of it and the overall shape of the story, but letting some things change in the moment to create an entirely new experience for teller and listener. After reading this excerpt, are you curious about why good-natured Bernie is down in the dumps?
This little book, Just in Case, is going to be a collection of short short stories, some of which have been published previously, some of which are brand new. I published this story, Still There, in my flash fiction collection titled The Ice Cream Vendor's Song. It also appeared in the anthology No Contest, published by Redwood Writers. I'm uncertain whether I should include it in this collection or write something new that's just as good. There's always a little fear running in the back of my mind that I won't be able to create anything new that's worthwhile. Does that happen to you, too? I think I'll write a few more stories and leave decisions about what to include till a bit later down the road.
I love reading and writing very short stories. Do you? They're easy to dip into when you don't have time for or aren't in the mood for a long read. Their effects, however, can linger long after the stories are read. People call this form flash fiction, micro fiction and short-short fiction. When this tiny collection is finished, the ebook version will become the new gift I give to folks who join my readers group via my website, http://lauramchaleholland.com. I'll also make it available for sale in electronic and print formats—and maybe even audio too. Since it will be a small book, doing an audio version might not be as daunting.
Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood reveals the core of female hearts, divulges secrets, and captures poignant, compelling, complex relationships. This vibrant collection of work from across the globe isn’t only about blood sisters or women who like each other. Sisters can bond over movie nights. Stuff snails down each other’s throats. Steal each other’s clothes—and lovers. Scrounge for food together, tell stories together, work magic together—even kill together. Seventy-six gifted writers explore all of this and more is in the memoirs, short stories, essays and poems that form Sisters Born, Sisters Found.
I think this poem, "Behind the Eyes," by Wilda Morris is an eloquent reminder of how often we make assumptions without even realizing it, and how eye-opening it is when we realize someone's experience is or was different than we'd thought it was. Do you have siblings? Did you make assumptions about them that you later found out weren't at all accurate? I have two sisters and made many assumptions about them that weren't correct. It was a delightful surprise to find out they were actually thinking kinder thoughts about me than I ever imagined.
The Ceremony, Skye Blaine's contribution to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology, recounts a time when a friend so close that she became like a sister supported her during a difficult experience. Together, they shared a moment of transition. While our life experiences all differ, I think we've all had such moments, whether with a sister (or brother) born into the same family or one found along the way who became family. I can't imagine life without these wonderful people who bring joy during ordinary times and grace when our chips are down.
The moment I read Loons by C.R. Resetarits, I knew I would include the story in the Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology, which holds not only a diversity of voices on sisterhood, but also a diversity of styles and genres. There's a unique kind of intrigue to C.R.'s work. She is rooted in the here and now, but she also brings in below-the-surface dimensions that entice you to immerse yourself in the story's world, a quality that enhances the power of short fiction. I feel I can almost reach out and touch the characters C.R. has brought to us in Loons.
Do you know anyone who grew up with siblings who didn't get into fights with them—some so intense, parents became involved, for good or ill? This hilarious excerpt from Sara Catalina Dorame Bard's contribution to "Sisters Born, Sisters Found" is likely to bring back memories for some of you along these lines, and, I hope, amuse those of you who didn't have a sibling who tricked you and humiliated you on occasion. And to digress a bit, based on what is going on in the United States at the time I'm writing this, it seems our leaders in Washington are acting more like the girls in this memoir than the leaders they were elected to be. And there's no parent to run to.
No matter what we may have lost or missed in the past, this short memoir by Paige Adams Strickland is a great reminder of how important this very moment is. She found a birth family that includes siblings she never shared holidays with in her youth. She could have been stuck in resentment about that, but she moved forward and has an expanded family to celebrate with now. I hope your days are joyous this holiday season while you do those extra things that make the holidays fun. I'm signing off now to bake muffins to give to our neighbors and then wrap presents.
This book bubble shares an excerpt from Sister Act, a short memoir of Christmas that Vicki Batman contributed to Sisters Born, Sisters Found. It's the kind of writing that takes you back to childhood with her and tickles your funny bone while also touching your emotions in a tender way. I don't have room to include the memoir in its entirety, but I hope there's enough here to warm your heart and bring to mind some of your own fond memories. I realize we don't all have happy memories. The anthology as a whole presents a range of perspectives and emotions in memoir, poetry, short fiction and narrative nonfiction.
Paradise, California is on fire; 175 miles away, we shudder at the memory of fires that ripped through our community last year, a devastation many are still struggling to recover from. South of here, 430 miles or so, people in Thousand Oaks are grieving after the gunning down of a dozen young people who were enjoying a night out at a country bar. And through my tears, I am reminded of how resilient we human are. People rebuild after fires; striken families work together to prevent further violence. Mary J. Kohut's memoir excerpted here reminds me of that resilience. She had such a sad start in life, yet grew up to have a happy life and marriage, and raised five beautiful children. She maintained a purity of heart that shone through all her days. Her son submitted the memoir on her behalf long after she'd passed away. It was done on a typewriter and tucked away for years.
When the world seems tense, confusing, trying, topsy turvy, and downright mean, a poem can help us pause, breathe deeply and be reminded of the world's beauty, the wonder of relationships and the many other blessings in our lives, small and large. Re-reading "Pink Moment" by Dianalee Velee uplifted me today. I hope it brings you pleasure, as well.
This excerpt from Dipika Kohli's essay "The Truth of It" recounts in eloquent detail the subtle and not-so-subtle feelings she wrestled with when faced with a gut-wrenching decision during her first pregnancy. It was a time she had anticipated would be joyous and affirming, but it turned out to be the opposite. She made a choice. Some of us would have reached the same decision had we been in her shoes; others would not have. Can we learn to live side by side with those with whom we disagree?
This excerpt from Karen Levy's exquisite memoir "Unlikely Sisters" speaks to the human bond that transcends differences that often feel too great to overcome. In this time of divisiveness in the United States, I sometimes return to this memoir and other contributions to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology because they remind me of our common humanity, our strength of spirit, our ability to overcome and continue on our paths in life in a spirit of acceptance and even joy. – Karen Levy is an Israeli-American writer who spent her childhood traveling between her native land and the United States.
I have two sisters, and while I know it's next to impossible that we'll all die at the same time, I do not want to contemplate what life would be like without them. They are two of the biggest blessings in my life. That isn't the case for all sisters, though. This excerpt from "Outside the Circle" by Ana Manwaring reveals a sisterhood experience that is the opposite of mine, one both harmful and bitter. If I'd experienced something like this, I don't know how forgiving I'd be able to be. How about you?
I love the way this memoir excerpt by Maria de Lourdes Victoria pulls the reader in with the first sentence: "Nobody knows how to make lentil soup like my sister." The statement expresses feelings of pride similar to those many of us feel about people we hold dear, yet it is also specific to Maria's life experience and relationship with her sister. Then, the story unfolds in a lyrical way, as Maria takes readers back to her childhood, revealing beauty of heart and soul that makes me want to read more and more. I hope you feel the same. Maria is an international, award-winning, bilingual author. She writes novels, short stories and bilingual children’s books. Her second novel, Beyond Justice (Más Allá de la Justicia), took third place for the prestigious Planeta Book Award, 2010.
When I read Marie Millard's short memoir "Flotation Device," I knew right away I wanted to include it in this anthology. Marie, who is also an accomplished musician, has many skills as a writer, one of which is the ability to tickle our funny bones in delightful ways. In this piece, she also captures something universal about being a teenage girl. When I visualize the scenes she's created, I feel like I'm floating right down the river with lovable, ill-prepared Marie and her sister.
This excerpt from Sisters Born, Sisters Found is a short memoir by Jean Wong, an award-winning author whose plays, poems and other short works have been produced locally in San Francisco's North Bay region many times. In her work, she deftly draws readers in with a combination of humor, an eye for telling details and the ability to convey deeper emotions that illuminate issues without getting preachy about them. I was delighted to accept this piece for inclusion in this anthology.
Working with 76 writers from around the world to curate, edit and publish the anthology Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood was one of the most rewarding projects I've ever taken on. The memoirs, short stories, essays and poems about sisters born into the same family, as well as dear friends who formed sister bonds, create a fascinating whole. Our notions of who and what sisters are, are rooted in our own experiences. Bringing this book to life opened my eyes to the many nuances and rich diversity of perspectives that exist on sisterhood. This excerpt is a memoir by Olivia Boler titled "Greyhound Station." Olivia is a novelist living in San Francisco.
On the verge of losing his children after his wife ends her life, a desperate father remarries in haste to reunite his family. It's the 1950s. He is Catholic. Suicide is a sin. He tells his three little girls his new wife is their mother. Laura, a toddler, finds the woman strange and surprisingly bitter, but she trusts her father. Mommy must have changed, she thinks, like dough baking turns into bread. The truth, kept secret, festers. Years later, Laura's father is dying. His wife promises to love his girls as her own. Instead, she grows increasingly sadistic and vile. No one can stop her from doing harm. Nevertheless, Laura and her sisters are not defeated. Their father's wish that they stay together comes true, although not in the way he'd imagined. Reversible Skirt, a memoir, is the tender telling of a little girl's odyssey through an abusive childhood. If you like honest voices, characters that crackle with life, exquisite language, and true stories of strength in the face of adversity, you'll love Laura McHale Holland's heart-wrenching testament to the power of forgiveness and love.
A wonderfully positive person in my life has been Unc, my uncle John, who recently passed away at age 98. I miss him so very much but will always appreciate having had him in my life so long. This excerpt gives an example of how he looked out fo rmy sisters and me after our father passed away, and we were young, abused by our stepmother and confused.
Sadly, Uncle John, "Unc," passed away two weeks ago. He has been important to my sisters and me all of our lives, and we will miss him greatly, but we also appreciate that he lived 98-1/2 good years. He was the most generous person I've ever met. This excerpt shows one of the ways he looked out for us after our father died and we were left in the care of our stepmother, who was rapidly spiraling downward and not up to the task of caring for three orphaned girls. I will always be grateful for Unc's love.
I grew up in the Chicago area and during this week when temperatures have plunged far below zero across the Midwest, I can't help but think of children who might be unnecessarily harmed during this extreme weather. Most parents want to keep their children safe and warm, but there are some whose hearts seem to have frozen more solid than the ground outside. My stepmother was one such parent. She seemed to take pleasure in our misery, forcing us to the edge of physcal torture. I am grateful such lost souls are in the minority and I hope someday no child will ever suffer at the hands of someone who cannot refrain from doing harm.
I stopped in to pick up a few things at Oliver's Market, a community-minded grocery store nearby. Just inside the door were two barrels: one for warm coats, the other for non-perishable food. It reminded me I need to contribute to those drives, as well as to a few other local charities that make a huge difference in the lives of those who are suffering. I am fortunate that the holiday season is filled with laugher and love for me, and it's been that way for a long time. In childhood, however, I felt hopeless. My stepmother was incapable of caring for my sisters and me, and we were desperate. This excerpt is from Christmas morning when I was thirteen, two years after my father's death. If you donate food, you might ease a mother's stress and enable her to hug instead of harm her children if only for a day; if you donate a toy, you might bring a child you'll never meet many hours of delight.
Powerful voices make all the difference to me when I settle in to read a book. That's also what makes the difference to me as an author. After I made the commitment to write my first memoir, Reversible Skirt, it wasn't long before a littlel girl's voice came through; it was my young child self (as close as imagination could recreate her) demanding my attention. The best decision I made was to listen to that voice. I often feel like that girl wrote the book, because she has a mission in the world that is connected to but separate from me, the adult, who has plenty of present-time concerns demanding her attention.
I published a blog post today about finding an old snapshot that fell from a nook when my husband and son-in-law were setting up a new TV. The photo is of my sisters and me when we were ages three, four and five. For most of our childhood, we shared a room that wasn't much bigger than a 9 x 10 rug. We were a unit, a tiny triumvirate. It was not a happy childhood for us, but like so many children experiencing trauma, we made the best of our difficult lives. This excerpt from Reversible Skirt recounts visits to a relative who had 27 acres where we could wander, fantasize and play, free from worries for the afternoon.
It's back to school time across the United States, which is a big adjustment for children who've had several weeks to participate in other activities—summer camp, sports and outdoor games, family vacations, lazing around. It's time to adjust to new teachers, new routines, and for some, whole new homes, communities and schools. Moving to a new community brings another layer of challenges, and for children who have already been through major disruptions and loss, even a move to a peaceful town with plenty of open space and good schools can cause distress. Did your family move when you were young? Mine did before I entered first grade, and I wasn't happy about it.
The CDC issued a report in June 2018 stating that suicide rates increased in all but one U.S. state between 1999 and 2016. In Nevada, suicides declined by 1 percent; in North Dakota, they increased by 57 percent. There were 45,000 suicides in the United States in 2016 alone. Most of those people had family, friends and acquaintances who were affected. Each situation is different, but learning the specifics of one family can provide insight into the experience as a whole. My mother's suicide did direct harm to my sisters and me; our father; my mother's four siblings, their spouses and children; both of her parents; and her mother in law—all of whom loved her dearly. Others affected were her many friends from grammar school through college, her church community, her neighbors and her co-workers. Among other things, this excerpt from Reversible Skirt shows how my mother's suicide distanced my sisters, father and me from our mother's side of the family after he remarried, causing a chasm that could eventually be bridged but never closed.
After my mother committed suicide, I was separated from my father and sisters for a time. I was just two years old and thoroughly disoriented. I stopped even attempting to use the tiny vocabulary I had. This experience left a lasting and painful mark. We were reunited when my father remarried. Unfortunately, his new wife, whom we called "Mommy," was abusive. She and my father both favored physical punishment. She also was prone to tirades and blamed my sisters and me for every ill imaginable. My heart goes out to the wee ones crying out for their mothers in detention centers at the U.S. border and beyond today. I hope they are reunited soon.
My stepmother probably didn't know what a terrible parent she would be when she married my father. I think that's true of most people who becme parents and end up harming their children. I don't think they see it coming. They do not know they are capable of becoming monsters. And the times children share with abusive parents usually aren't all bad. This makes things ever so complicated. Love is woven into the relationship along with fear, grief, shame and other negative emotions. This excerpt shows a positive aspect of my stepmother, something that captivated me and left me awestruck.
The statement 'I love Chicago,' which begins this excerpt was true when I was a child, and it remains true today. I haven't lived there for more than 30 years, but no place will ever bump that city out of my heart. One of the books I keep by my bed is Brian Doyle's novel titled (no surprise) 'Chicago.' It captures the spirit of the people living there, the way they love their friends and neighbors so deeply, so naturally. This excerpt from my childhood memoir, 'Reversible Skirt,' takes place just before our family moved from the city I adored to a suburb where I found it difficult to fit in.
People have asked me how I was able to remember so many of the details included in my childhood memoir. A scientist who studies this kind of thing would likely have an informed, articulate answer. I can only say that I think part of it is a mystery. One of my sisters and I recall quite a bit from our earliest years; the other doesn't recall much that happened in her life till she was about five years old. I found, however, that it is possible to recall more than you think you can with a bit of effort. When writing Reversible Skirt, I would sit down, relax with pen in hand and visit one memory at a time. By this I mean I pictured the scene in my imagination, viewed it from my eyes as a child and observed without trying to force anything. Vivid details like the smell of Lemon Pledge or the feeling of too much cake in my tummy or the piercing look in my stepmother's brown eyes would strike me as the actions unfolded, and I jotted down what I saw and felt. Each time I visited a memory this way, I recalled a little more.
I don't remember most of my dreams. Do you remember yours? By the time I drift into consciousness, knowledge of where I've gone in the night eludes me like the last whisps of morning fog high above. When I was small, however, I had a recurring dream. Well, it was actually a nightmare, and I've described it in this excerpt. Several years passed before I had a clue what was behind the dream. I believe this was one result of trauma my sisters and I experienced that the adults caring for us failed to help us with. In some ways, this books is a blueprint of what not to do when children you love experience trauma. What about you? Have you had recurring dreams or nightmares? Do you know what caused them?
Directly after my mother's suicide, my sisters, father and I were separated. Then we were reunited at my grandmother's home, where our uncle also lived. It had only two bedrooms. I slept with our grandmother, Kathy and Mary Ruth slept on chairs put together and piled with pillows in the dining room, our uncle slept in his bedroom, and our father slept on the living room couch. I didn't notice how crowded we were. I only cared that for a time we were well loved.
My father was strict and imposing. It was never okay to cross him, which was fairly common in families during the Fifties and Sixties when I was young. He never told me he loved me, but I think this was because he had difficulty expressing his feelings. My sisters and I were also a constant reminder of our mother, whose suicide, I believe, he never came to terms with. Jokes were his preferred form of exchange when he was in a good mood. If he was in a bad mood, his belt said it all. But somehow I knew he cared deeply about my future. He wanted the best for me, and I always adored him.
What if your mother committed suicide when you were small, and your father was so wounded he pretended she'd never existed? What if tragedy struck again, and you were left in the care of an abusive stepmother? I yearned to tell this child's story. My story. But I would begin and stop—over and over. Then, one day, the little girl I used to be came to me much like Alice Walker described characters in her novels coming to visit her for a while, and that little girl spoke the only words she knew to be true, "Gramma loves me." I followed her voice and finally wrote my childhood memoir, Reversible Skirt, because she had a lot to say.
A teenage girl breaking free. A cunning classmate on the prowl. Can she recover after they collide? Orphaned as a child, fourteen-year-old Laura finally rebels against her abusive guardian. Living on dreams, rock ’n’ roll, and kisses in moonlight. She believes whatever comes next can’t be worse than what she’s already endured. She has no idea how far she will fall before she can build a better life. Resilient Ruin: A memoir of hopes dashed and reclaimed is a poignant personal story that recounts a rocky, ultimately inspiring journey. If you like brave, unaffected heroines; striking scenes and characters; and reversals that keep you turning page after page, you’ll relish this masterful memoir of survival and learning to forgive.
Sometimes a person's heart, mind, body and soul are completely out of sync. That was the case for me when I was in my teens and early twenties. It was like all the different parts of me were at war with one another, and the confusion roaring through me made it difficult to be present with people even during the simplest interactions. I was desperately unhappy in a relationship, but in so much inner turmoil, I couldn't act—until finally, a threat drove me to make a crucial phone call. Liberation was not easy, but it was about to begin. Have you ever known you should do something to change your situation but been unable to act?
Growing up in the Chicago area, where long winters could freeze you to the bone, and the school year seemed to drag on and on and on, I relished the summers. They meant freedom: bare feet, bathing suits, bike rides, hikes through the forest preserve, dancing and hanging out with friends hour after hour. Every year just before the Fourth of July, a carnival came to town. For children, the rides were the biggest draw; for teens, the beacon pulling them in was a big tent with local bands playing the Top 40 hits. And relationships were complicated.
I began writing poems and songs as a teenager in a Catholic girls' boarding school where, for the first time in many years, I felt safe. I didn't think at the time I could ever be a poet, songwriter or any kind of writer, but the spark was there, and I pursued writing in time. I am happy that youths today have more role models of people pursuing marvelously creative endeavors than when I was young. This excerpt is from when I arrived at the school and received an unexpectedly loving welcome, one that made a lasting impression.
Watching Christine Blasey Ford's testimony yesterday brought up painful experiences from my past, as it did for many other women. I was targeted in an extremely harmful way when I was in high school. I was already vulnerable because of an unstable home life, and I had no clue what was coming. After an incident, cruelly premeditated on the boys' part, that some would call date rape in these times, my life took a downward spiral. My grades fell, I gained weight, I acted out in myriad ways. At one point, I ran away from home. This excerpt from Resilient Ruin is from when I was on the road, certain only that I wanted to escape from my life as it was.
What do you do when you have power over someone? We've all made choices in countless small moments when nobody was watching except the person or people we were interacting with. If a mom is home alone with a child, no one knows, for example, whether she says something snide and punishes a child who trips and falls while carrying a stack of dishes, or whether she checks to see if the child is okay and helps pick up the mess. In those moments, when I was a child, my stepmother habitually chose cruelty. This came to mind recently when I heard reports of government employees whose job it was to separate families at the border telling parents and children they would not see each other again, that the children would be adopted by U.S. families and the parents deported. No matter what we believe about the merits or lack thereof of government policies, there is no cause to add cruelty to the mix. In those moments when we have power, I hope one day we will all choose kindess, especially when no one is watching.
I've been binge-watching "13 Reasons Why," and I'm struck by how brilliantly the Netflix series shows the impact bullying and sexual assault have not only on the immediate victims, but also on an entire community. Have you watched the series? Did it stir up old memories for you? My coming-of-age memoir, "Resilient Ruin" encompasses a time in my youth when I spiraled downward and then, finally, was able to begin climbing out of the dark pit that had enveloped me. I grappled with many of the same issues the youths in 13 Reasons Why do, but I was fortunate technology had not advanced to where children could blast hurtful images and words to hundreds of classmates in an instant. This excerpt is from just before my downward spiral began, when a friend who had dumped me for no reason wanted to reconcile. I had to decide whether to be her friend again. Have you ever been in a similar position?
Did you ever have a crush on someone you weren't allowed to date? What did you do? Did you see your sweetheart in secret or did you try to move on? Since my first crush, Pete, was two years ahead of me in high school, I wasn't allowed to date him. He and I were so smitten with each other, though, that we often met after school in a church bell tower, and since we were alone, flirting and making out were basically all we did. It would have been more fun and healthier if we could have gone to movies and dances with friends like other youths did, a number of whom were couples with two-year's difference in their ages. How long do you think Pete's and my relationship lasted?
What was your first kiss like? Were you tense, blissful, excited, apprehensive? Do you recall the taste of your flame's lips, the intoxicating smell of his or her skin? Were you in love? Were you a willing participant or were you pushed into it? Did you think it was wonderful—or weird? This excerpt from my coming-of-age memoir, Resilient Ruin, shows the afternoon when I met Pete, my first big crush. I thought Todd would be the first boy I'd kiss, but life is always surprising us, and like many teens, my feelings about someone could change in an instant. I remember goosebumps and giggles the afternoon Pete and I finally kissed. That moment, which I look back on fondly, comes shortly after this excerpt from the book.
When you're a teenager and your home life is chaotic, and your guardian is abusive, it's absolutely wonderful to have friends who welcome you to their homes, no questions asked. You can let go of your own troubles for a while, and even if your friend's family is flawed (and whose family isn't) being there is just the sweetest thing. This excerpt shares one of those friendships.
I felt off when I awoke this morning, but nowhere near as low as I used to go in my youth. Back then, despair was ever present. I did many impulsive things in an attempt to rid myself of anguish, including run away when I was sixteen. I soon found it's easy to leave, but difficult to figure out what to do next.
Children who are abused often grow accustomed to ill treatment and view it as normal because it is all they've known. They do their best to navigate around it while longing for love that isn't there. The abuse is so much a part of them, the scathing words they've heard and ongoing pain echo with every beat of their hearts. Occasionally, something snaps, and a young person rises up and says, "Enough!" This excerpt is from one of those moments in my life. It was before I left for school on a winter's morning when I was fourteen years old.
Resilient Ruin begins when I was with hundreds of classmates looking forward to letting loose at our eighth grade graduation dance. I had typical concerns about popularity and weight but had always been an excellent student. School was one place I could focus no matter what was going on at home. I couldn't have anticipated the heartbreak ahead.
I expect many of us felt awkward at our first dance. Did you? My first twirl on the dance floor was on eighth grade graduation day, a time when my friends and I were looking forward to a long summer break before the high school adventure began. This scene is written in first person, present tense. So is the rest of the book, which made it easier for me to revisit memories and make them come alive.
This excerpt makes me think of how mixed so many of our life experiences are. My father’s death was a loss of incalculable magnitude. I expect he thought returning to the church would help us carry on after he was gone. I doubt he envisioned we would join a Protestant congregation where he would likely have felt even more out of place than I did. But then, through this new church, I met a wonderful girl who helped me enjoy normal things my stepmother (whom I had to call Mommy at the time) had forbidden me from doing.
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