Lost

Hey! I’m writing again when I said I wouldn’t because I was kind of dared to do it. And because this story has been in my head for months. It’s a fiction piece for the YeahWrite Speakeasy. Enjoy!

The magic was all in the finishing touches. It wasn’t enough to circle a word or two here and there, place a checkmark in the margin. No, to make it look legitimate, the essay had to look like it had taken a long time to grade. The pages had to be creased repeatedly at the staple. It needed food stains.

Tonight she was even more rushed with the essays. It was time to write something worth selling. Her main problem had been the old adage, “Write what you know.” How could she make a novel out of her job of glorified babysitting? Ms. Cooke needed more excitement.

She chugged her second beer and turned on the computer. She headed to the personals section of Craig’s List. She had spent the last three weeks trying to find a story idea in the desperate messages there. She wanted something exciting that she herself didn’t have. But all she found were beginnings of maybes and more writing for her to edit and correct, evidence of other terrible English teachers. She decided the only way to get a story out of it was to answer an ad.

However, she only found ads that made her sad, not inclined to answer. Tonight was her last go at it. She read the first five new posts for the day and saw the usual dejected pleas. But then she opened the sixth one.

“My wife has hidden my car somewhere, and I need it for work tomorrow.”

Her nervous energy turned to adrenaline-fueled confidence. She couldn’t reply to the ad fast enough.

“How can I help?”

She hit send and tried to think of what might happen next. But either the beer or the Twilight novels had dulled her imagination. Why was this man thinking Craig’s List was his best option? Was his wife dangerous? Couldn’t he take the bus? How would she help?

In less than five minutes, the ad’s author sent her a reply. Her hand hovered over the mouse; she suddenly wasn’t sure if she should go further. Maybe she could just use that one line to get started.

“Oh, Thank God. Can you meet me in 20 mins?”

Now she was on full alert. The man would abduct her and steal her car, though probably not to go to work. Being a teacher was fine. Eventually her students would be more interesting, and she’d have literary gold.

“Are you insane? I don’t know you. I’m not meeting you anywhere.”

She stepped away from the computer and paced her living room. What was she thinking? Craig’s List for adventure? Death and dismemberment had been in play all along.

“Gah, I’m sorry. I’m desperate. I assumed anyone who answered the ad would be ready to act. It’s 8pm, and I am running out of time to get my car and what’s inside. I’m sorry to bother you.”

He wasn’t just wanting his car; he needed what was inside. Fast. That was interesting. Crap. She was getting sucked in to his trap. But, on the other hand, what kind of criminal apologized and used words like, ‘gah’?

“Okay, surely you can see why I’d be hesitant? Can you tell me what happened? Why did your wife hide your car?”

A conversation was the way to go here. Surely the other lonely losers did that before putting themselves at the mercy of a weirdo.

“It’s a long story, and, like I said, I don’t have much time. What I need is someone who can help me decipher the clue quickly. Are you smart?”

“Well, I’m answering a Craig’s List ad from a guy who lost his car; do I seem smart?”

“Look, are you going to help me or not?”

“You have to tell me what you need in the car.”

“It’s nothing illegal. It’s nothing weird. It’s just embarrassing.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s for my job, and I don’t like telling people my profession. They criticize it.”

“Do you want your stuff?”

“Yes! Listen, my wife said the car was where Jack Shepard met Kate to beg her to return to the island. There are zero words in that sentence that help me.”

Okay, this guy was a weirdo. Who didn’t recognize the characters from Lost? Ms. Cooke could practically rewrite that scene from memory.

“I know where it is. But, I still want to know what’s inside.”

“Just tell me!!”

“No, I just want to make sure I’m helping someone who deserves it.”

“Trust me. No one deserves what’s in that car. It’s awful.”

Now she had to know. It seemed like this guy was in a worse state than she was.

“I’m not trying to be mean. I’m trying to be less nervous about what I’m doing. I feel like I’m part of a crime now.”

“It’s not a crime; I promise.”

“Then tell me.”

“Fine. I’m a seventh-grade English teacher. I left my classes’ essays in my car, and grades are due in two days. I haven’t graded a single paper because I know they will be awful. My wife is sick of my whining and procrastination, so she acted out. There. Commence to telling me how pitiful my job is. Tell me that I am nothing but a glorified babysitter. Tell me, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Yes I have a novel I’d like to get published, so I can quit. But no, I guess I’m not a good writer if it’s been rejected 13 times. I’m stuck as a teacher.”

Ms. Cooke raised her shaking hand from the mouse. She reached around to the power switch and flipped it. She gathered her graded papers and shoved them in her tote bag. Then she backed into her tiny bedroom, threw the tote on the chair next to her bed, and perched on the edge. After several still moments which didn’t even rumple the plain white sheets on her twin bed, she turned off the lamp and let the dark cover her.

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How To Raise A Little Geek

In case you missed my 256 announcements yesterday, I’m guest writing on Quirk Books in their Raising Quirk Community. I’d love for you to go over and take a look and maybe leave a comment.

No,This is 40

Okay, everyone get out your shiny new day planners, calendars, and time management apps.

Got ’em?

Good. Now put a big star around October 11. That is my 40th birthday, and you are all invited to my dance party/dinner/fun fest. I want an excuse to buy a new dress and laugh until my sides ache. And I want to be happy. Because you know what? I’m pretty damn excited about where I am and where I’m going.

I know that turning 40 is supposed to make me cry and wonder where all the time has gone. I remember the black party decorations for my mom when she hit this milestone, and the ‘holding at 39’ jokes. I guess she was supposed to be sad about being that age and that her life was over. My brother Michael did not handle 40 like a champ. It was probably because we threw him a lame family party he told us not to do. When my brother Rob turned 40, he had a big party at his house and doubled down on sporting hobbies that proved his youth and vigor. And I haven’t been exactly kind to the myth of the death of youth and fun at 40 myself, having deemed our friend Old Man Curtis when he became the first of our group to hit that age.

And now 40 has come for me, well, in nine months anyway. And though I’ve been upset about it in the past, today, I’m not. I am not giving in to the stereotype recently reinforced by the movie This is 40, and neither are a lot of really smart women I know.

First, my marriage is in a good place. My husband and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we have figured out a lot about how to work together. I’m sure we have a lot more to learn, but for now, we compromise well and take good care of each other. I firmly believe my husband puts his family first and is intentional in the way he loves us. We’ve survived loss, new lives (Twins! What a fun marriage test!), and two years in Poland away from friends and family. Also? My husband is hot with grey hair at his temples and his toned legs from walking to work every day.

My twins are going to be in kindergarten when I turn 40. I’m not sure why, but it feels like I’ve reached some sort of achievement by keeping them alive until school age. It’s like I leveled up in the parenting game, and I am so ready. Though things are harder emotionally for big kids, and I already worry about how they will face bigger disappointments, I also get to watch them begin their life’s path. They have blossomed so much in this past year, and I know it will only get more interesting as they enter school. I love their perspectives on life and the way they look out for each other. I can’t wait to see the next steps.

But Stephanie, you say, turning 40 for a woman is all about lost beauty and lost opportunities. Well, to you I say:

Because I’m too busy being awesome. I’m not a super cougar hottie. I’m not Stacie’s mom. But, I’m not too hard to look at. This body has done a lot for me, and I can’t blame it for being a bit worn in places. My stomach? Dude’s been in battle. My legs? They have danced a thousand dances and continue to carry a five-year-old when needed. My face? Lined with laughter’s left-overs reminding me of how much happiness I’ve seen. (My neck? Crap. My mom told me for 25 years to take care of it, but I didn’t listen. Thank God for expensive neck cream. I will continue to buy it even if it means I can no longer afford new shoes. Yes ma’am. It’s that serious.)

I have a good vibe going on in my mental and spiritual world too.  I know me well. I’m not perfect, but I know where my imperfections lie. I’m somewhat able to work around them. For example, I know I procrastinate, and I try to fight that natural tendency with lists and self-imposed screen-time restrictions. I face all the parts of me, and I’ve even been known to make a joke or two about them. I know my passions. Writing is back in my life, and I am a happier woman for it. Not only that, but I think I’m a more driven person as well. I want to improve my writing and be read and appreciated by more people. I will write my Poland book and who knows what else. I am surprised because I guess I thought you couldn’t have new goals and dreams at this age.

My heart is also screaming out and yearning to get back to teaching. I remember going to my 10-year high school reunion. I had just decided that teaching sucked, but I had no real plan for another path. So, I worked an hourly job at Citibank and wallowed in existential questions. Could there be a better time to meet up with people who knew you when you were an over-achieving honors graduate? I cried a lot that weekend.

But now, I’m sure. I am a teacher. I love English. I would marry the rules of grammar if it were legal. I am here, ready to help you with your writing and work on my own. I want to talk about books and themes and the power of language.

I have so much to look forward to just in 2013. We are moving back to Texas. I get to see my friends and family. I get to go to writing conferences and continue to meet women who inspire me. When I went to my writing conference last October, it was like a new world opened up to me. I guess I didn’t think old ladies like me could make new friends. But I did. And they happen to be women with goals and dreams and positive attitudes. I want to start a new part of my blog that includes video lessons for families needing grammar and writing guidance, and these women helped me solidify this idea. They make me a better person, and I can’t wait to see how that manifests for me as I turn 40.

We may not stay up until dawn, but we still got it goin' on.

We may not stay up until dawn, but we still got it goin’ on.

So, Judd Apatow, this is really what 40 is and can be. It’s being at a place where you can use the lessons you’ve learned and try new things. It’s a time to enjoy some of the rewards of your hard work while you continue to seek new successes. It’s a time when anything is still possible though sometimes at a slower speed. So, if you come to my 40 and fabulous party, don’t bring any tired stereotypes or weak jokes about getting older. I will punch you in the throat and then blog about it.

So, what about you? What do you like about your age? What are you looking forward to as the next milestone approaches?

National Novel Writing Month

We are now 92 days away from moving back to Texas, not that I’m counting down or anything. When we return to the States, I will be looking to work again. I will start trying to substitute teach and then look for a full-time teaching position for fall 2013. This means I have precious few days of bon-bon eating and pretending to clean the house left.

What to do with that precious time?

How about I write a book? And, just to make it interesting, I think I’m going to just use the month of November. (I’m sure December and January will be filled with anxiety colon and mood swings brought on by moving internationally again.) To help me stick to this resolution, I’m joining up with the National Novel Writing Month website. I can keep track of my word count, get pep talks and advice, and then get a nifty pat on the back when I finish.

I am also telling you, all 7 of my regular blog readers, so that maybe you can help keep me accountable and excited.

Why do I need so much help? Well, I’m writing this post instead of starting the book, so it’s obvious I rule at procrastination.

I’m in trouble, aren’t I?

Where In The World Is @TalkIsPrimary

When I was in junior high, my friend Jennifer used to ask me to change my first name to Carmen. Then I would be Carmen Karmann (That’s my spiffy maiden name. Hi Mom and Dad!). I could have a show called Where In The World Is Carmen Karmann? (Based on Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? Obviously.)

Why am I telling you this? I don’t know. Sometimes I just have to do what the hamster in my brain wants so no one gets hurt.

It’s posible the hamster was trying to lead in to me explaining my absence from my blog. It has been a few weeks since I’ve written, and I know you have been missing me and my words. And by you, I mean my mom and three friends who sometimes swing by.

With the end of our Poland tour fast approaching, my anxiety is ramping up. I’m constantly looking at things in our apartment and wondering how it’s getting back to Texas. Don’t even get me started on my fears about selling our car. I travelled to Texas to get some emotional fuel from my home state and my parents. I caught up with my teacher people and let them know I’d be looking for a job for next fall. I was also fortunate enough to travel to Georgia for my first blogging conference, the Aiming Low NonConference.

I first flew to Louisiana to meet up with my friend Lindsay. It was actually our first time meeting in person, and I was advised to not go in the basement or turn my back on her in the dark. (My mom is so trusting of the people in the computer.) There was a big hug and immediate banter. It was a chick love-connection. Her son B also gave me the thumbs up after I showed him my awesome b-ball skillz. (Please note I only impress on a 1 foot rim.)

Lindsay loaded up on prescription drugs for her aching wisdom teeth and drove us out of town on Thursday morning. It took us seven hours and zero conversation breaks to make it to Pine Mountain, Georgia. It seems fall had erupted there. The trees were turning, and the weather was dreamy. We became especially excited as we entered the Callaway Resorts property. Suddenly I imagined myself with a glass of fine wine (So, not from a box.) in the hot tub soothing my old lady travellin’ bones. I had this image in my brain:

Why yes, I would like a pool boy to bring me some cheese with my wine.

But then the southern ladies at the registration desk kindly asked us to get off the property. It seems we were at the resort, not the location of our conference. And suddenly I was a Sugerbaker sister with a fine Georgia accent mocking our mistake. We assumed we were being gently, like only a southern woman can do, told to eff off and head over to the tents.

That was not the case. The Mountain Creek Inn at Callaway Gardens was equally fabulous.

We did a lot of good thinking out here.

We checked in, and headed to our room to freshen up. For Lindsay that meant putting on make-up and a clean shirt. For me that meant making sure my ball cap was on straight.  Then, the big moment arrived; we went to our first conference function, a meet and greet in the ballroom. I have to admit I was nervous even though I told Lindsay that I was not. See, I felt like she needed me to be tough.

So I was. I walked in like I was supposed to be there. Then I needed to buy a beer.

I introduced myself to Vikki who I knew from the Twitters and her blog. She hugged me and told me Happy Birthday. (Did I not mention my birthday? 39. Ugh.) Then we met the Empress, Julia Roberts (the cool one), and Faiqa. Then we meet Anissa Mayhew, the lady responsible for Noncon. Everyone made us feel welcome and included. By the end of the evening we were joking with our waitress, who we named Cassie, and eating pizza in front of the debate. I met Anne and found a kindred smart-girl spirit. I met a Suzanne who was not my mom and Susan who felt left out when I didn’t put her name here because I’m so tired from traveling! There was Nichole who is writing a novel with me next month. I met the Animated Woman and her suave British husband who loves Dolly Parton’s music. (Turns out lots of NonCon attendees love that lady.)

And then the weekend just rolled along. We fit in and felt at home. We added our sister Jana and took on the world. I learned about Instagram. (Have you heard of it? Oh. Like a year ago? I see.) I learned about how to make my blog more professional thanks to Heather Solos. My new friend Amyriah was cheered on in her quest to grow her blog. More and more people became friends, like lovely Lizz Porter and my other tall girls-Sarah, Jasmine, Katherine Stone (who has changed so many lives), and Dresden. The awesome Kymberli gave great hugs and kept reminding us how much we belonged.

Lindsay and I after we won our boots from Country Outfitter. Jana won too because we are an awesome trio of awesome. When I won, I screamed and jumped up and down and made a scene. In front of the whole conference and The Pioneer Woman. So that happened.

The conference was set up as a roundtable system. The sessions involved leaders starting the discussion, and then the people sitting at the table all joined in. We added our thoughts and asked questions of each other. This led to meeting MORE people. Seriously, I cannot name all my new friends. I do have to mention Maddie and her awesome hobbies of quilting and sex-toy reviews. Also, Leila from Don’t Speak Whinese gave me stickers and a positive attitude. Oh! And I met Cecily and Tracey in Suburbia. (This could go on for a while. Someone please stop me.)

And, I did not monopolize any of the conversations with my constant talking. I don’t think.

Did I also mention these ladies and gentlemen (Hi Neil and DJ and Peter and JC’s Huz!) acted as my advisory board? We came up with a plan to expand my blog and ramp up my involvement in my passions of writing and teaching. My new homeschooling friends, like Melinda, who also had a birthday at the conference, offered to answer my questions and give me all of their knowledge because the plan involves me offering curriculum and lectures to homeschoolers. I’m not going to go into all the details here, but just know it’s a great idea that fit right in with my strengths of writing and teaching.

In other words, they helped me change my life.

But the truth is I’m scared that I’m not smart enough to pull this new idea off and make it work. I’m a good teacher, and I know the writing process, but can I create curriculum and get some customers and new readers? Can I follow through and not get hung up on shiny stuff like the TV and solitaire on my phone?

Will my new friends stay with me through it? I hope so.

Danger Zone-Stream of Consciousness Sunday

Today I’m joining my friend Jana in a little writing exercise. She’s giving me 5 minutes to write my heart out. I’m not allowed to edit the post, so please enjoy my word vomit in its purest form.

Today’s (totally optional) prompt:

What have you done recently or would like to do that’s outside your comfort zone?

What have I done outside my comfort zone? Oh, not much. Just moved to Poland. You know, the country. No biggie.

Huge biggie. Oh my God, so huge.

I cannot believe that I actually did it. I sit here three months away from returning to Texas, and I cannot grasp what I’ve done. I’ve lived so far away from my parents. I’ve spent many days alone with my kids. I’ve taken my husband to the ER. (We thought my kids were getting to see their first dead body, but it turns out it was just a drunk. Whee!) I’ve learned enough Polish to amaze my friends and confuse the locals. I’ve cooked with ingredients in foreign wrappings with no English to guide me.

Today, I was driving home from the grocery store and a though popped into my head. “I am so happy right now.” I felt a little silly, but then I felt proud. I’m in the dark times in Eastern Europe; we are dangerously close to the days where night falls at 5pm. But, instead of feeling blue, I’m feeling happy. I’m happy to be home from our Texas trip and back with Michael. I’m happy he cleaned the apartment and the car. (So happy. And lucky.)

I can’t believe I did it and that now this is my comfort zone. I can’t imagine what dangerous adventure I’ll take up next. Maybe I’ll cook in America too!