Random Writings

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Borne of Water

29 years ago (!), I entered a writing contest.  I think it was the Orange County (CA) Register.  We had to write a story based on the picture below.  The copy I kept is typewritten.  You know, from an actual typewriter.  And the paper isn’t as bright white as I’m sure it started out.  And even though I didn’t win the contest, I remember how fun it was to come up with this short-short story (I think there was a word limit).

I don’t generally do writing prompts, but maybe I should.  Marissa Meyers’ Happy Writer Podcast posts prompts on their Instagram every Wednesday.  Hmmmmm…

Nick had been dreaming about waterfalls.  Every night for the past week, glittering, booming curtains of water had invaded his sleep.  Last night, a crystalline voice rose above the thunder of the deluge, saying, “It’s time, Nick.”

                “It’s time, Nick,” called his mother from the bottom of the stairs.  “We’re waiting.”

                He sat in the back seat with his two sisters, watching the trees sail by the window.

                “What are you thinking about?” asked Marley, his younger sister.

                “Roots.  Thirsty roots,” replied Nick.

                “Who thinks about things like that?” asked Rudy, his older sister.  “None of us do.  See, I told you he was adopted.”

                Another day he was watching his beloved Cardinals on TV.  The day in St. Louis was overcast and the thunder was a low counterpoint to the crack of the bat.  Nick was surprised to find himself euphoric when silvery rain splashed on the diamond and cut the game short.  The Cards had been winning, too.

                Another dream.  A deserted beach, odd in its void of driftage and feathered creatures.  Benevolent surf flung itself against ancient rock, spraying delicate teardrops in the heavy air. 

                “It’s time to come home to us, Nick.”

                Yelling a farewell to his mother, Nick glanced at the numbers beside the front door.  His address in the world. 22222.  As he ambled down the front walk, he recited to himself the chant that had recently lodged itself in his mind.

                H2O   H2O   H2O   H2O   H2O

                At the end of the driveway, the space between his toes started to feel funny.  Wet.  Squishy.  His arches dropped and his ankles dissolved and the bushes behind him got taller.

                “Nick.”  That crystalline voice.  It was right beside him.

                His shins and calves were blue water flowing toward the gutter.

                “Nick, your time here is ending.  Your wish to live in the solid place has been fulfilled.  We’ve missed you.”

                “Don’t let my cap get wet.”

                “I’ll take care of it for you.”

                He saw the knees of his jeans crumple on the driveway.  And, cradling his head between his hands, he uttered one regret. 

“I’ll miss the game tonight.”

                “Water to water,” intoned the crystalline voice.  “Drop to drop.”

An Apple for Cinderella

Of all the fairy tale heroines, Cinderella has always been my favorite.  Amazon Prime just released a new musical version, starring Camila Cabello and Billy Porter, so I thought it was a good time to put this little essay out into the world.

I wrote this quite a while ago.  Maybe 15 years?  But I think it still holds up and my attitudes haven’t changed. 

So, kick off those glass slippers, put your feet up and have a good read!

Just a small portion of my Cinderella collection.

From my first reading of her story in a Big Book of Fairy Tales through Rodgers and Hammerstein and a slender little volume I own set in the 1920’s, Cinderella has always been my favorite fairy tale chick.  But it took all the way to my middle years before the fantasy faded and I realized that there’s a lot to learn from the Cinder Girl.  Some lessons I can absolutely relate to and others I’m still working on.

In every version, Cinderella starts out as a victim of her self-absorbed, mean spirited step-monster.  But aren’t we all victims of the familial pecking order?  Our families label us early in childhood and that version of us endures, no matter how life enriches and alters us.  My cousins, who probably think of me as staid and bookish, wouldn’t recognize me dancing to Santana at my desk and they’d never guess the bra I’m wearing is a tiger-striped push up number from Victoria’s Secret.

Cinderella and I refused to be trapped in the amber of other people’s perceptions.  We nurtured bigger dreams than housecleaning and reading, imagining happier selves in cool clothes.  There exist in this world people who dream no dreams.  This mystifies me.  Dreams prepare you for the seizure of opportunities.  You can’t seize the day if you don’t know it’s dawn.

And sometimes, when opportunity knocks, you need a little help answering the door.  I give you The Fairy Godmother.  Poof!  There she is, handing out designer dresses and turning pumpkins into transport.  I suppose it’s a no-brainer for Cinderella to accept all these things, because she’s got major motivation: wanting to look pretty for a change, meeting the Prince and showing up those snooty relatives-by-marriage.  For those of us brought up in the era of feminism, however, accepting, much less asking for, help is a tall order.

My parents raised me to be independent, which is a nice thought that backfired to a certain degree.  I remember agonizing minutes in my childhood room, trying to fasten myself into a dress that zipped up the back.  Isn’t that a frustrating little picture?  And today, I still find myself trying to zip that damn dress, whether it be reaching for something on a high shelf or finishing a report at work.  Ask somebody taller to grab what I need?  I’d rather teeter on a rolling desk chair.  Talk to somebody who knows Excel better than me?  Not when I can waste 20 minutes figuring it out for myself.  Yes, this lesson is still a work in progress.

So, Cinderella accepts help more graciously than I.  Then what does she do?  She’s standing there in a sparkly gown, mice-horses champing at the bit, figuring the minutes to midnight.  Does she hesitate?  Weigh the pros and cons of dancing the night away?  Worry about getting home before the step-monster?  No, she clicks those little glass slippers right up the steps of that pumpkin and gallops off to the ball.  Then later, she leaps from behind a door (sometimes accompanied by singing rodents), says “Yeah, honey, that’s my shoe” and claims her destiny.

Wow!  What if she got caught in the middle of the dance floor at midnight or she couldn’t jam her PMS-swollen foot into that glass pump?  Rolling your eyes at the ridiculous scenarios?  What if you take the promotion but can’t cut it?  What if you buy the house and the roof falls in?  Risk-taking requires faith and bravery in equal measure.  Sometimes they come fast and easy and sometimes they need to be conjured and coaxed.  Whether we’re talking about a clandestine dance or a step up the corporate ladder, you have to be willing to plunge into the unknown.  Once in a while, you’re going to end up feeling foolish or stressed out, but more often than not you’ll shine like the Princess you know you are.

I want to mention Cinderella’s work ethic, an honorable aspect of her story that’s usually taken for granted.  In every version, the girl never scrimps on her chores and she never runs from them, which would be my method of choice.  She accepts these tasks and performs them to the best of her ability.  I like to think she takes pride in her work, despite the fact that life has given her a pretty raw deal.  But even if she’s doing it well only to avoid the wrath of the step-monster, she has the satisfaction of knowing she’s mastered skills that require patience, diligence and endurance.

Where do I stand on the work ethic agenda?  Well.  When I’m writing, I’ll search for hours for the perfect name.  And I’ve finally decided that “rewrite” is not a dirty word.  At work, if there’s a corner to cut, I’ll find it.  However, I usually end up going around that corner again not just to please my bosses, who are sometimes easier to please than I am, but because in the end I want the satisfaction of doing it right.  How clean is my house?  If you want to eat off my floors, you better have the utmost faith in the five second rule.

Cinderella, in the final analysis, is the Mistress of Her Own Destiny.  Let’s recap: She dreamed of the possibilities of a better life, she knew how to accept help, take risks and work hard.  And she didn’t fall asleep on the job, like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, who depended on Princes to bail them out of their misadventures.  In every rendition I’ve ever seen or read, it’s always been up to Cinderella alone to step forward and claim her new life herself.   Not even the Fairy Godmother meddles in her final trial.  This is probably the toughest lesson Cinderella has for us.  How often do we rail at our misfortunes or missed opportunities when, if we are truly honest with ourselves, it was within our powers to achieve what we desired regardless of the setbacks?

You may say, after all this work and risk, all she got was a guy. But let’s give the Prince his due.  With a kingdom full of T&A parading around the ballroom, he still sought a connection of the heart.  At one minute after midnight, standing on the steps with only a transparent slip-on in his hands, he knew he’d encountered his heart’s desire and wouldn’t stop until he found her again.  It’s a heady little tonic, to be sought after by a Prince.  I have my own warm memories of pursuit and mutual surrender.  And in a world of dirty dishes and step-monsters, it is no small thing to share your life with the man of your dreams. 

Still skeptical?  Let’s take it a step further.  The Prince, after 10 idyllic years with Cinderella, ascends the throne, then gets run over by an ale wagon.  Think of what a fantastic queen Cinderella would have made.  Able to think outside the box, welcoming risks, not afraid to break a sweat.  Presiding over town meetings, funding homeless shelters and giving the servants a raise and child care benefits.  Strong, beautiful and well-loved by nobility and serf alike…  Okay, so maybe my penchant for fantasy isn’t completely out of my system.  Is that such a bad thing?

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