A Writer’s Book of Days (09/05) – Write about dispelling loneliness
British actress Anna Neagle once said, “Solitude is pleasant. Loneliness is not.”
And for me, embracing solitude has been the best panacea for loneliness. Whether it’s losing myself in a good book, walking along through nature, or just watching clouds roll by, I find peace and inspiration in being alone. It’s also one of the best environments for fostering creativity.
Between work and home life, it’s not something I find often these days. Is it possible to feel lonely for solitude?
A Writer’s Book of Days (09/04) – We go out after dark
It doesn’t matter if we’re inside or outside. It’s August 14, 2003, and there are no lights anywhere, except for the occasional headlight or flashlight. Power is out in the entire Northeast, and we sit on the front steps to try and get some air. The fans in the house are no longer working to keep us cool.
Most of the neighbors have ventured outside by this point. People are sitting on their porches chatting away and telling jokes and stories. Laughter can be heard up and down the block as people tried to make the best of the blackout.
A group of us decide to take a walk down to Main Street. A huge crowd is gathering around one of the stores. My friend Kenny spots me and yells for me to come get some ice cream. Scoops is emptying out its freezers for a quarter an ice cream bar, but I have no money on me. He has some extra change on him and buys me a Cremesicle.
We ran into neighbors we haven’t seen in months as we stroll the dark streets with our ice cream. We hear familiar voices and ask, “Hey, is that [insert name here]?” as we train our flashlights upon the shadowy figures walking by.
Everybody is so busy these days that face-to-face interaction seems to be a rarity, except for the occasional wave as someone was pulling out of their driveway or mowing the front lawn. The blackout, while annoying, gave us all a rare chance to reconnect. The fleeting moment was gone by 11pm as the lights flickered back on and we all retreat back home. But it’s a night I’ll never forget.
A Writer’s Book of Days (09/03) – Write what was broken
My grandmother placed the steaming, hot plate of fettuccine alfredo on the kitchen table. Our stomachs grumbled in anticipation.
My sister was the first to take a bite.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Wait… fettuccine alfredo isn’t supposed to be crunchy.
“There’s glass in the pasta,” she cried, spitting out what remained in her mouth. A chunky shard sat on the side of her plate.
We then remembered the crash we heard earlier in the day. Grandma confessed that the bottle of Ragu alfredo sauce fell off the counter, and she decided to salvage as much as the sauce as she could—picking up some of the broken glass along with it. The fettuccine went in the garbage that night. We probably wound up ordering a pizza.
It’s a classic story we love to retell of my grandmother’s Depression-era tendencies to save as much as she could. I remember walking in the kitchen one day and finding her dutifully squeezing out all the single packets of ketchup we’d get at fast food joints into the Heinz bottle (that is, after emptying all the extra packets of soy sauce into the Kikkoman bottle). When she’d go to hotels, she’d not only take home the complimentary toiletries, but the extra rolls of toilet paper (“I paid for it, didn’t I?”). If she went to her favorite casino’s buffet, Ziploc bags were stored in her purse for a snack later. We nicknamed her “Iron Stomach” for all of the old leftovers she’d save and turn into omelettes or pasta toppings days later.
As I look at the giant stack of soy sauce and ketchup packets taking up space in my pantry, I must admit that I’m tempted. But the hotel Charmin stays.
A Writer’s Book of Days (09/02) – He asked you to dance
And I politely said no. I was 13 and suspected every boy had an ulterior motive. Mostly to tease me—I was overweight, shy, and somewhat awkward. On top of it, I had two left feet. Why would a boy ask me to dance?
I watched as my fellow junior high classmates slow danced to the beginning of Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” It was a predictable close to the evening—our school dances always ended after the two same songs. Around 8:45 or so, Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For,” would begin to play, and all of the girls would huddle into big circles and sway back and forth to the mawkish lyrics. Afterwards, the cool kids would break off into couples for “Last Dance,” while the rest of us stood on the sidelines until the disco tempo kicked in. At 9:00, sweaty from the crowded church hall, we’d pile into our parents’ cars and take over 90% of the tables at Friendly’s, the unofficial post-event gathering spot.
Over a Reese’s Pieces sundae, my friend asked me why I hadn’t accepted his invitation.
“Eh, he’s kind of weird,” I replied. (Never mind I was wearing a pair of my brother’s baggy jeans, a Pink Floyd The Division Bell t-shirt, peace sign earrings from Claire’s, and purple glitter eye shadow.)
She shrugged. “Maybe he likes you.”
“No way,” I said.
It was just the beginning of teenage years and a young adulthood oblivious to boys who liked me. Unless they came out straight and said so, it went right over my head. I couldn’t tell flirting from teasing and genuine interest from, “Oh, he’s just being friendly.”
Luckily, my now-husband was a bit more straightforward when we first met. (He even asked permission to flirt with me—ooh, a boy likes me!)
I do wonder, though, what life would have been like had I just accepted my classmate’s dance invitation, or in my later years, a post-dinner drink.
To all the men out there I may have inadvertently rejected or made feel awkward, my apologies.
But trust me, you still don’t want to dance with me. I’ll step on your toes all night.
A Writer’s Book of Days (09/01) – “Even the lightning spoke well of them” (after W.S. Merwin)
I’ve reread the writing prompt six times now, and each time I’m more baffled than the one before. I finally looked up the poem, “The Broken,” and I can’t decide if it’s about spiders or about clouds. Perhaps it’s about both.
Reading intensely into others’ writing was never my forte. Metaphors and deeper meanings often go straight over my head, a weakness that impacted my overall performance in the critical reading class I was required to take in college. My professor was a poet and novelist, and my papers were mostly returned covered in red ink, implying I didn’t fully understand what Maya Angelou or Salman Rushdie was trying to say. “You take things too literally,” she told me. I was trying my hardest, yet the steady stream of Bs and Cs deflated me.
The next poem we read was about New York City. I don’t remember what it was about, but I decided to spout some nonsense about it in the related paper. It took me all of five minutes, unlike my carefully crafted papers preceding it. The words that flowed from my pen were utter fluff. One bit I wrote went something like this: “The subway is Manhattan’s lifeblood, pumping through the veins of the dark tunnels, and the commuters are the cells. New York City would die without them.” I groaned. My head hurt. I wanted to gag myself with my Papermate. I didn’t believe a word of what I was writing.
The next day, she placed the paper in front of me on my desk. The bright, red ink across the paper screamed, “YES! YES! YES! I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT. ”
I finally received an A+.
I hated what I wrote, and I was rewarded for it.