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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

May your days be merry, your season bright, and all of your Bumbles reformed!



Sunday, December 22, 2013

Anything Can Happen: A Novel Excerpt

      What was it with brewers anyway? I wondered, squinting through my peephole at my good friend Dave and the burgeoning mass of bristles that had been protruding haphazardly from his chin ever since he’d taken that assistant's job. They all seemed to be walking around with piles of crazy facial hair, a fact which, if you attended as many beer festivals as we did, became perturbingly apparent. Of course, I’d never seen one as ridiculous as Michael’s; a foot-long, narrowly-pointed monstrosity that ought to have repelled me like a flea collar. If I were the flea, instead of the one with the itch.

      Michael, I snorted irritably to myself, leaving Dave waiting cold and snow-flaked in my foyer while I bundled up in a bulky sweater and one of those loathsome turtlenecks that keep out the cold but then keep themselves amused all day attempting to strangle you. Turning my back on the mean mirror that kept refusing to lie about my age, I plastered my long-johns on underneath my fat jeans and prodded my feet into some rancid rubber galoshes, perfecting the picture of my hideousness. I told myself it didn’t matter. I wasn’t trying to seduce him, right? I sighed internally. I was strong enough to be practical enough not to wear some cute skimpy outfit and be miserable the whole day, but not enough not to be depressed about it. I am woman, hear me roar. Rrrr.

      I tried not to look for him. Much. I drank my beer and chatted with Dave and his equally-bearded brewer buddies and periodically scanned the festival crowd in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner. It was late in the day when I finally caught the dreaded glimpse – it was hard to miss that bright red hair and chest-length beard. It was even harder to miss the attractive young blonde he was hugging when I saw him. Unfortunately for me, Dave spotted him at almost the same moment.

      “Look, there’s Michael,” he said, failing to see me wince at the mention of the name. “Let’s go say hi?”

      Dave didn’t know, of course, about me and Michael. I’d been too mortified to admit that after months of impatient waiting I’d shamelessly tackled him just days after his divorce was final. Or that I wanted to punch something every time I recollected his early-morning speech about not wanting to get involved.

      “It looks like he’s with someone,” I answered, compromising and kicking the floor instead. “Maybe we should leave him alone.”

      “She looks familiar,” Dave responded, oblivious to the damage I was inflicting on the hardwood. “I think she works at the brewery.”

      Even worse, I thought. She has access to him eight hours a day; probably after-hours, too. I only get to see him once every few months, and I’m already forty and getting older by the minute. How can I possibly compete? I felt a jealous rage swelling within me, and impulsively I wanted to smack the alleged little tramp out of my way. Fortunately, the logical part of my brain kicked back in and I caught myself. I breathed deeply. It was not a competition. For what it was worth, I’d already had Michael. I had no right to expect him not to move on to someone else. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t his either. I could be a grownup about this, couldn’t I?

      “I suppose it would be rude not to say hello,” I grudgingly conceded. Dave meandered over to where they stood, not thirty feet away, and I trudged along behind him, feeling enormous, ugly, and ancient. The blonde scrutinized me with pity. It’ll happen to you! I wanted to yell, but she was already walking away, leaving Dave and me alone with Michael.  Dave shook Michael’s hand but I merely nodded and averted my eyes, my brief dream of behaving rationally fading quickly in his suddenly very tangible presence. They talked on about beer while I seethed silently, excoriated myself for even caring, then seethed silently some more. I couldn’t tell if Michael was even aware of that, because I wouldn’t look at him. He doesn’t care, I reminded myself viciously. He never did. He was just using you to – to get his feet wet, I thought, among other things. Remember how he blew you off? Wanted someone younger and prettier, no doubt. He was probably picking up all kinds of women now. Who knew what number blondie even was? I was well shut of him. I had refilled my taster while the boys were chatting, and I was so consumed with brooding that I didn’t even notice when Dave stepped away to fill his, leaving Michael and I alone.

      “How’ve you been, Kate?” he was saying, casually reaching out to touch my arm. I started, then realized who was talking to me and pulled out my best contemptuous sneer.

      “Fine, thank you, and yourself?” I answered coldly, jerking away from his touch.

      “Wow!” he exclaimed. “What did I do?”

      His ignorance of his wrongdoing infuriated me even more.

      “Who’s the blonde?” I spat it out like a curse.

      “Excuse me?” he said with affected innocence.

      “You heard me. How long have you been seeing her?”

      “You mean – you mean the blonde I was talking to a little while ago?”

      “You seeing some other blondes, too?”

      “She works at the brewery,” he answered calmly.

      “You’re dating someone you work with?” I snapped scathingly. “That sounds smart.”

      “I’m not dating her,” he reiterated. “She works at the brewery; that’s how I know her.”

      “Oh.” I was still too mad to be embarrassed, but I could sense that that was about to change. I figured I’d better backtrack fast before he started thinking I liked him or something. But it’s hard to backpedal when you’ve got your foot in your mouth.

      “It’s really none of my business,” I said coolly. “I just don’t want to see you – ruin your reputation.” Really? I confronted my addled brain. That was the best you could come up with? I thought you were supposed to be smart. But it was out and I would have to stick to it now.

      He didn’t buy it anyway. “I haven’t been seeing anyone. In case you were wondering.”

      I knew it might be a line but it sure didn’t sound like one, and his expression was sincere and his eyes were maybe even a little sad, and I was suddenly aware that he was standing very close to me and it was almost like old times, before that night, only more so because I could do a much better job of picturing him naked now. And had I not known that it was finished between him and me, I might even have believed that the anticipation was starting all over again, the wonderful wondering of what just maybe could possibly happen if the planets were somehow aligned perfectly right, a feeling I had sorely missed those last few months. Because when we exchanged our farewells and his eyes met mine, I knew that in spite of what he’d said, in spite of how he’d hurt me, I still liked him as much as I ever had. And what was more, I thought that maybe, just maybe, he felt the same way.   
     

© Lori Schafer 2013

Originally published in e-Romance, April 2013.

A modified excerpt from my first novel, My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged.

 

 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What Doesn’t Kill You Does Not Make You Stronger

Seriously, what is the deal in popular music with this worn-out and woefully inaccurate cliché?

The Kelly Clarkson hit with the phrase in its title. Kanye West’s otherwise entertaining Stronger. Will.I.Am’s That Power. Plus a host of other songs by artists such as Theory of a Deadman, Pain, Dappy, Saving Jane, Shontelle, KISS, Clay Aiken, Solarward, Kataklysm, Seventh Key, Heltah Skeltah, and Carpathian, among others.

First of all, shame on all of you for not coming up with more original song lyrics. It seems to me as if a musician would at least want to use a different cliché from the one everyone else is using. But maybe I’m being too harsh here. There aren’t many words that rhyme with “longer,” after all. It’s not like “Every cloud has a silver lining,” which has a multitude of rhyming possibilities. Pining, dining, whining, signing… imagine the poetry that might be constructed around “mining!”

What really irritates me about this overused phrase is not the words themselves, but the concept behind them. It’s true that most of the time, if you survive a viral illness, you’ll develop immunity to the germ that caused it and will arguably be “stronger” because of that. But certainly in the realm of physical injury, anyone who has ever sprained a knee or slipped a disc knows how vulnerable that spot becomes after you’ve hurt it once. Yet consider this line from The Fighter by Gym Class Heroes (which is a band I generally like, by the way):

“Every time you fall it's only making your chin strong.”

Now that can’t be true, can it? I would think that smacking your chin repeatedly would cause little hairline fractures to form along the jawline, setting you up for a break later on. Maybe what they mean is that repeated blows to the face deaden the nerves, gradually causing you to feel less pain. That would certainly make sense; otherwise how would boxers stand the abuse?

And maybe I’m being too literal, interpreting this in the physical sense. I suppose one could argue that suffering a mental trauma might make a person less vulnerable to emotional dysfunction in future. But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a psychiatrist who would agree with that. Don’t we more often hear of repeated crises referred to as “the straw that broke that camel’s back,” to employ another well-worn platitude? And what about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Tell front-line soldiers that they’re stronger for not being killed in action and see where that gets you.

No, the problem is that people want to believe that they’re getting something out of their suffering; that something positive results from pain. And maybe sometimes it does. Suffering can change a person for the better. There’s value in learning to endure pain. But for the most part it’s a trick; a deception practiced upon one’s own mind to make hardship easier to bear.

The irony is – perhaps it does. Maybe the delusion itself is what prompts us to “dust ourselves off” and “get back on the horse.” Maybe that’s what makes us “look for the silver lining” even when “the chips are down.” Maybe that’s how, when our world is at its darkest, we are able to force ourselves to wait patiently for the dawn.

What doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger. But maybe believing it does.    

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pearl Harbor: The Tragedy that Saved the World

Before 9/11, December 7, 1941 was arguably – apart from Independence Day – the most memorable date in United States history. In fact, 9/11/2001 and 12/07/1941 have a great deal in common. They were both sneak attacks. They were unprovoked. They caused irreparable damage to both American property and the American psyche. They prompted the U.S. into taking global action. They forever changed the U.S. view of the world and of our place within it.

There is, however, one great difference between the two, one very great difference. Very little good came of the events of 9/11. The tragedy at Pearl Harbor, however, saved the world.

There’s no doubt that the U.S. entry into WWII on the side of the Allies turned the tide of the war. The fighting power of our men overseas and the productive power of our machinery at home were the indispensable keys to an Allied victory. But without Pearl Harbor, would the U.S. ever even have entered the war? And without American intervention, would the Allies have lost?

It’s a frightening yet very real possibility, as history has shown us. World War I was essentially at a stalemate until the U.S. arrived in 1917 with its fresh bodies and materiel. Without the “doughboys” and the factories that supplied them, the two European sides would have worn themselves out fighting their war of attrition. Eventually they would have returned to their familiar and welcoming homes, drained, exhausted, and hopefully more wary of the wonders of war. Even without U.S. involvement, peace was probably inevitable, although it may have taken a great deal more time and suffering to achieve.

But World War II wasn’t like the Great War. It wasn’t a war of misguided national sentiment and entangling alliances, a war of nineteenth-century attitudes and twentieth-century technology. No, WWII was about terror, domination, and imperial acquisition. It was about ruling the world and the people within it. The Axis powers didn’t merely re-draw the national boundaries of the countries they conquered; they altered the most intimate aspects of the lives of the citizens within their borders. There was no “going home” for soldiers returning from that war, whether they won it or not. Home as they knew it had ceased to exist. And this is what made an Allied victory an absolute necessity.

My guess is that the U.S. probably couldn’t have stayed out of WWII forever, even if it had wanted to. And indeed, by the time of Pearl Harbor, it was already clandestinely involved in aiding the Allies. Yet suppose Pearl Harbor hadn’t happened. How long would it have taken the U.S. to intervene in the war?

Full-scale mobilization of a “sleeping giant” like the United States takes time, even when its Pacific fleet hasn’t just been virtually destroyed. Think about it. From the date of the attack on Pearl Harbor, D-Day was two and a half years in the making. Since such an offensive could not have taken place in the winter or fall, this means that if the U.S. had found itself compelled to enter the war just four months later than it did, the landing in Europe might have been delayed by as much as a year.

Another year of war. How many hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – would have died in the concentration camps alone if the war had been extended? How many soldiers would have perished along the multiple fronts for which World War II is known? How many more civilians would have starved or been bombed out of their homes? And how much more entrenched in their subject territories would the Axis governments have been if the U.S. had waited another year to render the full force of its aid? How many atomic bombs might have been dropped in order to get them out?

It’s terrible and sad to say, but one of the worst moments in American history may have been the greatest thing to happen to humanity in all of the twentieth century. Let us think about that, when we remember this day that still lives in infamy. They couldn’t have known it then, but for every one of the thirty-six hundred Americans who was killed or wounded that day, hundreds of lives were saved. I don’t doubt it was a sacrifice that every one of them would have been proud to make.
  

 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Author Commentary on Every Day Fiction Publication: Fluffy Robes and Slippers

http://www.everydayfiction.com/fluffy-robes-and-slippers-by-lori-schafer/

This piece was the result of one of the very rare occasions in which I’ve been inspired to write a story by random brainstorming. It was winter, and I was standing in front of the kitchen sink washing dishes and trying to come up with an idea for an ultra-short, and not having very much success, I’m afraid. Then I looked down and saw that I was wearing… Well, I suppose you can guess what I was wearing :)

I’ll admit I was surprised when I saw Every Day Fiction’s Table of Contents and learned that they had me scheduled for the 28th, which is Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. (Normally EDF posts holiday-themed stories on appropriate occasions.) They included this explanation in their announcement:

“We did not receive any specifically Thanksgiving-themed submissions, but Lori Schafer‘s story “Fluffy Robes and Slippers” is about relationships and having company, and delivers the right sort of message for a holiday that brings families together, so we’ll be sharing it with you on November 28th in honour of the holiday.”

However, most readers will probably never see that explanation, and I wonder how reading the story on Thanksgiving will affect people’s interpretation of it. I don’t know – the scene of the final gathering; it could be a bit depressing for what’s supposed to be a day of celebration.

But maybe it isn’t such a stretch, at that. Perhaps there is an element of gratitude, of appreciation for one’s loved ones; for the warmth and ceaseless devotion of one’s family and friends. How often do people who are on the verge of extinction long for just one more Christmas, one more birthday, yes, even one more Thanksgiving with those they love best? How often, too, are they most sorely missed and most fondly remembered on those very occasions, those special times in which our attention is particularly drawn to the people whose lives we have shared?

Maybe my story is about Thanksgiving after all…   







Friday, November 22, 2013

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A Critical Analysis

Well, the holiday season is rapidly approaching and, as it is every year, my mind is inevitably drawn into contemplation of the true spirit of Christmas – 1970s Christmas specials!

Yes, it’s true – Christmas was never more meaningful than it was during that wondrous era in which we celebrated the most important holiday of a child’s year not by going to church, not by caroling, not by hitting the mall at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, but by plopping our butts down in front of a nineteen-inch black-and-white at 8 pm on Saturday nights in December and losing ourselves in these classic tales of childish wonder. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the story of an outcast who saves Christmas. Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the story of an outcast who invents Christmas as we know it today. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the story of an outcast who… Wait, I’m starting to sense a pattern here.

Now, I am not going to confess that I still watch these specials every year, and sometimes more than once, even with no children in sight. I will decline to admit that I have all of my favorites on both video and DVD, or that the one day of the year in which even I will almost certainly tear up is when I witness The Grinch having his big change of heart. I will, however, be happy to share my thoughts on that most thought-provoking of Claymation creations – the story of Rudolph.

Yes, because there’s more to the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer than the patently obvious lesson about the worth and value of misfits. This 1964 Rankin and Bass drama is chock full of enough subtext to satisfy the most diehard of film enthusiasts, and it is still, nearly fifty years later, remarkably evocative of the socially progressive era in which it was born. Let’s look at how.


1. The authority figures are jerks. There’s the nasty coach, who, after Rudolph’s secret is revealed, informs the other children snidely: “From now on, we won’t let Rudolph play in any more reindeer games, right? Right.” Look at Rudolph’s dad, Donner, who forces him to wear a fake nose, which is not only uncomfortable, but wholly undermines Rudolph’s budding self-esteem. “You’ll like it and wear it!” he commands. “There are more important things than comfort. Self-respect!” Consider Clarice’s father, who reaffirms Rudolph’s worthlessness by rejecting Rudolph on sight: “No doe of mine is going to be seen with a… with a red-nosed reindeer!” And how about the mean elf-boss, who yells at Hermey and then (illegally) refuses to give him his break until he finishes his work?

And then there’s the big man himself, Santa Claus. Not content with merely trashing the new elf song his pint-sized slaves have spent so much time writing and rehearsing, he quickly turns his temper to the subject of Rudolph. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” he tells Donner. For what, we wonder? For siring a red-nosed son? “What a pity – he had a nice take-off, too.” In other words, Santa is so closed-minded that he can’t even consider the possibility of putting someone who’s a little different on his team, no matter how good he is or how much potential he has. It’s the attitude of guys like him that gave rise to the idea of Equal Opportunity Employment.

The message is as clear as a bright red bulb on a foggy winter night. Don’t trust anyone over 30!

2. The one authority figure who isn’t a jerk is King Moonracer, that good-looking magical lion. Although he speaks smoothly and with conviction, he is, unfortunately, an idiot. Every evening he circles the entire earth, collecting toys that no little girl or boy loves, and bringing them to his Island of Misfit Toys. Yet practically the first thing he says to Rudolph on meeting him is, “When one day you return to Christmastown, would you tell Santa about our misfit toys? I’m sure he could find children who would be happy with them.”

Okay, Your Highness, you may seem majestic with your wings and your crown and your cool castle and all, but you need better advisers. You’re telling me that you circle the entire earth every night seeking abandoned toys, but you never once thought to stop off at the North Pole and talk to Santa yourself? Heck, I mean, it’s not even that far – no farther than one can travel by ice floe, at any rate. The misfits may be all right, but the ruler of the misfits… Well, he obviously isn’t roaring with a full mane.

I’m not quite certain about the intended lesson here, though. Is it merely a dig at autocratic rule, or are we being taught that monarchy consists largely of exercises in futility? In either case, it’s none too flattering to the man in charge – and in the end, it’s the brash young upstart who actually solves the problem of the misfit toys.

3. There’s a hint of underlying feminism. When Rudolph goes missing, Donner naturally decides to go out looking for him. “Mrs. Donner wanted to go along, too,” narrator Burl Ives assures us. “No! This is man’s work!” Donner blusters in response. But the days of mindless obedience to one’s husband are passing. “No sooner did the man of the house leave than Mrs. Donner and Clarice decided to strike out on their own…” It’s also interesting that all of them – male and females alike - wind up in the cave of the Abominable Snow Monster. The buck, it seems, really was no better equipped to take care of himself than the ladies.

Notice, too, that the women aren’t jerks like the men are, perhaps because they have no actual authority. Why, that Clarice is downright sweet. She doesn’t laugh along with the others; rather, she forces Rudolph to keep his promise to walk her home. She sings to the unfortunate misfit to make him feel better. She even defends his “deformity,” declaring, “I think it’s a handsome nose! Much better than that silly false one you were wearing.” She’s kind of a forward gal, too. The way she whispers “I think you’re cute!” into Rudolph’s ear just before takeoff practice, the way she nuzzles noses with him on their first date – this is not a doe who’s suffering from sexual repression.

Strong, independent, free-thinking females - you can practically see women’s lib being born right in front of your eyes.

4. It’s about coming-of-age. Because there’s no need for Rudolph to actually get rid of his red nose. He just needs to learn to control it. Am I right? The young Rudolph’s “blinkin’ beak” goes off at random, shocking nearby observers with both the shining light and the horrible high-pitched whine that accompanies it. Indeed, his secret is discovered during one such unexpected episode – and worse, he and his friends are almost caught by The Abominable during another. But by the end, Rudolph is flicking that thing on and off on command, and that’s the point at which it becomes useful – even desirable – to Santa and the others.

“Control! Control! You must learn control!” Yoda scolds Luke Skywalker, another youngster with special powers. And what about Harry Potter? There’s a story that’s all about learning self-control. Misfit or no, Rudolph, too, must gain mastery over his body and over his emotions before he can become a productive member of society.

And that, of course, is the quintessence of growing up.

5. It’s about the increasing acceptance of babies born out of wedlock. Surprising, but quite possibly true. Have you ever noticed that Hermey has rounded ears? Strange, isn’t it? Not only is he the only elf who doesn’t like to make toys, he’s also the only one with round ears. Indeed, except for his stature and classy powder-blue attire, he might not be an elf at all. He might even be – gasp – a human!

Of course, among elves, the outcast would naturally be human; the anti-Vulcan, if you will. But why did Rankin and Bass decide not to give Hermey pointy ears? Why did they decide to make him a misfit not just by personality, but also by physical characteristic?

The answer seems obvious. Hermey is – as such children used to be called – illegitimate. Because if Santa and the Missus are the only humans in Christmastown, then where did Hermey get those rounded ears? Hmm, maybe Santa’s a jerk in more ways than we thought; taking advantage of an employee... No, wait. There’s also Yukon Cornelius. Maybe he popped into town one day and decided to pop in on some cute girl-elf’s cottage. Oh, wow. What if Hermey was in fact Yukon Cornelius’ son? Think about it – they reunite, escape death, hang out, solve problems together… I may have to compose my very first piece of fan fiction.

There’s no question that the ranks of single mothers grew in the sixties – the idea of free love was bound to have consequences, after all – and perhaps, in a time in which the term “bastard” still prevailed, Rudolph gently reminded us not to judge the child by the actions of its parents. It’s a lesson that we’ve apparently learned, because look at us today – even our most respected celebrities are having babies without ever getting married, and without having to apologize for it, either. And their children, too, are no longer scorned or held down by society because of their birth; they are quite as likely to succeed in life, perhaps to become celebrities in their own right, or even, if they’re very lucky and study hard, dentists.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913/1914

Morton, Frederic, Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913/1914, Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1989.

Thunder at Twilight offers a detailed history – really almost an exposé – of the conditions of Viennese life that preceded the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which, as we all know, indirectly led to the First World War. The book is extraordinarily well-researched; the author even goes so far as to relay to us the weather on days of particular importance, and to describe which writers and operas were popular at the time. In other words, it creates a very large picture of Viennese society – a society on the verge of cataclysm – by revealing the minutest details of everyday life in a city in turmoil, and, by extension, a Europe in turmoil.   

What’s particularly interesting and most unique about this book is the way it examines its chosen moment in history by tracing the thoughts and interactions of a variety of important figures of its time. Thus not only are we offered insight into the life of Emperor Franz Joseph, and of the Archduke’s eventual assassins, but also of Adolf Hitler, who was then residing in Vienna as an unknown painter, and Leon Trotsky, who had made of Vienna a temporary home, and even Josef Stalin, who visited the city during these crucial years. Even the story of Sigmund Freud is deftly interwoven into this fascinating mix of individual histories, thus providing a perspective on the psychoanalytical as well as the political thought of the that era.

It is perhaps because of this unusual presentation that Morton manages to strike us with particularly fresh observations on the very essence of Viennese life. He remarks, for example, that Freud’s theory of the id-ego-superego parallels the structure of the old Viennese government. By focusing on slights on the Archduke’s wife, a mere Duchess who is not permitted royal privileges in accord with the aristocratic distinctions of the time, he effectively illustrates the rigidity of the turn-of-the-century Viennese class system. He notes the power and prevalence of “thunderbolt” imagery in contemporary politics, and imagines the storm that follows as a means of clearing away the stifling air of industrialization. And, ultimately, he concludes that the Great War was a reaction, not to the political assassination alone, but to the changes effected by modernization; to “progress unmoored from God.” Thus he departs somewhat from the oft-heard presumption that World War I was a result of rabid European nationalism; rather he claims that this nationalism was engendered by a vague and even continent-wide dissatisfaction of the people of Europe with their economic and social lives.

All in all, it’s a fascinating book, and well worth the read. I did find the style of writing a bit cheesy at times, and the characterizations of Vienna (of which Morton is a native) occasionally a little harsh. But it also lends a wonderful reality to one’s perception of the situation in Europe a hundred years ago, a climate that resulted in the worst war the world had then known. By looking at the years 1913/1914 through Viennese eyes, the reader can clearly see, can even possibly hope to analyze, the events, both direct and indirect, that led to that war. And this is perhaps the first step towards an understanding of the genesis of all wars.
 
 


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moving In, Moving Out, Moving On: A Memoir

My short memoir "Moving In, Moving Out, Moving On" has been published in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. 

http://www.foliateoak.com/lori-schafer.html

Although this piece now forms a part of my memoir On Hearing of My Mother's Death Six Years After It Happened, I was originally prompted to write it for the 2012 Ladies Home Journal personal essay contest. The theme was “The Day that Changed My Life.” Boy, was that tough. Very few of my life’s big changes can be traced to one day. The day I nearly drowned a few years ago was a contender, but I don’t think I was ready to write about that yet. The day I ran away from home would have been an obvious choice, but it didn’t make for much of a story. But then there was this day, the day I became aware that my mother was mentally ill, and that, I thought, had possibilities. Still, I suppose it would be a stretch to say that that particular day changed my life; rather, it was more that it marked a turning point in my theretofore comparatively carefree teenage existence.

It’s an interesting idea, though, isn’t it? Every day, people are faced with calamitous events that, in a flash, change their lives forever: accidents, natural disasters, illnesses, deaths in the family. You can’t even prepare for those kinds of changes because, unlike the string of fairly predictable events that make up the majority of modern life – going off to college, finding a job, getting married, having children, retiring – you don’t know they’re coming. Perhaps that’s why these kinds of stories fascinate us; there’s something wonderful in the way people respond to unexpected challenges, sometimes even something heroic. And while none of us wants to suffer a sudden catastrophe, maybe deep down we all hope that we would have the strength and courage to handle one if it came our way.




Monday, November 4, 2013

My Short-Short "Poisoned" in The Journal of Microliterature - Thanks to an Editor's Wonderful Feedback

My flash fiction story Poisoned has been published in The Journal of Microliterature:

http://www.microliterature.org/poisoned-by-lori-Schafer

This was a very tricky piece to put together. It was actually inspired by an incident that occurred in the course of my mother’s psychosis. One day she took me to the hospital, complaining of chest and abdominal pains. I was naturally concerned, but I also recall being hopeful that having a doctor examine her would lead to the (I thought) inevitable revelation that she’d lost her marbles. No such luck. But anyway, they took her complaints seriously, because although she was in fairly good health, at forty-one she wasn’t exactly young anymore, and was a smoker besides, so there was legitimate reason to believe there could be a problem with her heart. They gave her the requisite battery of tests, but couldn’t find anything wrong. Now, as an adult, I can pretty easily guess what they must have told her – that she’d had an anxiety attack, which she probably had – but at the time I had no idea such a thing even existed. In fact, I wondered more if perhaps it was all in her head; she was imagining a lot of strange things in those days. Then the doctor left the room and the interrogation began. And that’s when I began to be afraid that she’d somehow manage to pin the blame for her mysterious illness on me.

The first version I wrote of this piece was mostly reflective of that – my terror over being falsely accused and probably convicted of poisoning my own mother with some substance of which no one could prove or disprove the existence. I sent my story off to Microliterature, and a few weeks later I received a response from the editor that basically said (politely) that I had ruined an otherwise good piece by changing the tone halfway through. He was absolutely right. The story ended in hysterics, with the husband being dragged away by the police, which, while it carried the plot in an interesting direction, utterly wrecked the dreadful calm of the first half of the story. He did, however, say that if I ever did a rewrite, I should feel free to resubmit.

So I rewrote it. I changed the second half of the piece entirely, including the ending, making it more about the relationship between the husband and wife than about the consequences of the wife’s accusation. And I was careful to maintain the tone of the first half of the piece throughout, which worked worlds better than the original version. And here you see the results. How grateful I am to that editor! With one brief sentence he nailed what was wrong with that piece and clued me in as to how to change it from a so-so story into a well-done one. I realize, of course, that few editors have the time to address the defects in the submissions they receive. But I hope that those who do make the effort are aware of how much we writers truly appreciate their feedback, and of what an impact a few choice words can make on the quality of a writer’s work.

Addendum: After this story was published, I also composed an alternate version, a nonfiction piece also entitled Poisoned, which is written in the first person and is featured in my memoir On Hearing of My Mother's Death Six Years After It Happened. It received an Honorable Mention in The Avalon Literary Review's Spring 2014 Quarterly Contest and may be downloaded as a FREE eBook at your favorite eBook retailer; I have also posted it here for those who are curious to compare the two versions. Needless to say, I was very careful to maintain a consistent tone throughout!



Friday, November 1, 2013

Guest Blog Post: Selling the Dollhouse up at Wow! Women on Writing

http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2013/11/friday-speak-out-selling-dollhouse.html

I have a guest blog post up today at "The Muffin," the blog of Wow! Women on Writing. This is the first time I've done a guest post, but I definitely like the idea of doing more.




Saturday, October 26, 2013

Who's the Sexiest, and Why Do We Care?

It’s been a few weeks now since I saw the big news. I’m sure most of you have been thinking about it nonstop since then, too, but for those of you who haven’t, I’ll reiterate.

Scarlet Johansson has been named Esquire Magazine’s Sexiest Woman Alive for the second year in a row.

Okay, headlines like these are the reason I changed my home page to Science Daily. Even if I were a man, I can’t imagine caring who the Sexiest Woman Alive is. Unless, perhaps, she lived on my block, frequented the same grocery store, and was inclined to laugh at my stupid jokes, leading me to believe I actually had a shot. But then I wouldn’t need a magazine to tell me how hot my neighbor is.

But it got me to thinking. Are other animals having these discussions?

“Now that is the Sexiest Walrus Alive!”

“Look at the tail on that mouse!”

“What a fox!”

Well, of course they’re not. The so-called "lesser" animals would never waste time they could be spending ensuring their own survival seeking out the most attractive coyotes west of the Mississippi, especially when they were never actually going to sleep with them.

So why do people do it? Why do we rank our fellow humans? Why do we obsess over Most Beautiful or Most Handsome?

I don’t know the answer, myself. I can’t really even guess. I’m personally inclined to believe it’s got something to do with having too much time on our hands. Because in the animal kingdom, true leisure is very rare. Even playtime is generally believed to constitute training or preparation for the “real” world. But what useful purpose does choosing the Most Beautiful People in the world serve? It can’t be meaningless; there must be some point to this worldwide yet relatively new phenomenon. There were very few celebrities in the 19th century, after all, and the few there were weren’t especially attractive.

But perhaps there is some evolutionary reasoning behind the beauty contest. Maybe it’s not about objectively evaluating someone’s good looks, or choosing the person with whom you’d most like to have sex. Maybe what it’s actually about is offering up a model for the rest of us to emulate; an example for us ordinary women. See, here, they tell us, look at what qualities of femininity Scarlett Johansson possesses. If you can imitate them, then you will be sought after by all of the other men who agree that these characteristics, taken together, constitute “sexy” and your odds of having quality offspring will increase. In effect, maybe we’re supposed to learn by example; perhaps it is a training exercise of sorts.

But then what’s in it for the men (I mean, beyond the obvious)? Maybe if you’re a man, there’s a biological benefit to having an ideal imaginary mate in mind so you can measure your real-world potential mates against her. Or perhaps male humans are designed in such a way that they aren’t entirely sure of themselves when it comes to selecting mates, and maybe having the consensus of other men as to what constitutes a good woman boosts a man’s confidence that he’s made a sound choice.

Or who knows? Maybe it simply boils down to the fact that most mammals, male and female alike, like shiny things.

It does make one wonder how other animals would behave if they enjoyed as much leisure time as modern-day humans. Of course, there already are a few other species that experience lives of even greater leisure than ours. Our pets. Yes, the dogs and cats and goldfish of the world have plenty of hours in which to mull over the mysteries of science and the meaning of pop culture. They can spend the whole day daydreaming up a romance between themselves and the tabby cat next door or the bitch down the street if they choose. I wonder if they do…  


The Sexiest Walrus Alive?




Saturday, October 19, 2013

On Books: Valley of the Dolls

On Books: Susann, Jacqueline, Valley of the Dolls, Bantam Books: New York, 1967.

I decided to read this book after chancing across the movie version on television and realizing, to my surprise, that it was not a horror story, as I’d always thought it was. (I suspect that as a child I got it confused with a book written by V.C. Andrews, of whom my older sister was very fond.)

I’m not going to bore you with the plot points – it’s an engaging if overdone exploration of the high-pressure and sometimes cutthroat world of show business – but I do want to point out that it was hardly the first story of its kind, and certainly not the best. Think The Bad and the Beautiful, Sweet Smell of Success, and, of course, the masterful All About Eve. Indeed, when you look back on the number of motion pictures that revolved around the stresses of Hollywood ladder-climbing in the middle of the last century it makes you realize that this was actually a fairly new phenomenon at the time, wasn’t it? The big stars of Broadway or film experienced fame on an entirely different level than the entertainers of the nineteenth century or before. While it may be argued that, owing to technological advances and the invention of social media, modern performers are subject to even greater stresses, this is a quantitative rather than a qualitative change. And indeed, one only has to glance at the headlines to realize that the entertainers of today have just as many issues with drugs and backstabbing as those of Hollywood in its infancy.

In any case, plot aside, what was really striking about the novel is what jerks the men are, and what idiots the women are. In fact, the jerkier the men, the more idiotic the women become. No, strike that. The women are idiotic in their own right, too, independent of the men. And sometimes the women are jerks, and the men are idiots. Really, what man would ever go on about how he loves a woman for herself, and then in the next breath declare that he loves her for her breasts? What woman would ever decide to give up on having children because she’s reached the ripe old age of thirty? I mean, I know we’re talking about fifty years ago here, but biology hasn’t changed that much. And the attitude towards women, especially coming from a female writer, is just unbelievable. At one point one of the main characters gains a lot of weight, and everyone – men, women, and she herself – refer to her as a useless “sack of blubber.” To paraphrase, “He can’t be in love with her; she’s a pig!” Trust me, if you read the book, it’s clear that this was not ironically intended.

Finally, the sexuality that made the book so sensational at the time is horrible, just horrible. It makes you wonder if the author ever had a satisfying, or indeed, even a vaguely pleasant sexual experience in her life. The women hardly ever want or enjoy intercourse, but that’s okay, says the novel, because they get their satisfaction from “pleasing their man.” Ugh! If this is the kind of example of liberation that women were given back in the sixties, it gives me new respect for my mother’s generation. How heroically well-adjusted they were, it seems to me now.

It’s so offensive that it’s actually worth reading, if only to get a sense of the cultural context. I promise, you will be eternally grateful that these days you can get a wrinkle without wanting to kill yourself. That you can have enough self-respect not to have to lay down like a doormat to “hold on” to your man. And that men nowadays don’t expect you to.  


Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Found Money" in Burningword Literary Journal

My short-short "Found Money" has been published in Burningword Literary Journal:

http://burningword.com/2013/10/found-money/

Like many of my flash fiction pieces, Found Money is based on events from my own life; it's even featured in my memoir On Hearing of My Mother's Death Six Years After It Happened. And, like some of my other autobiographical pieces, at first I wasn’t sure if it really worked well as a fictional story. It actually started out as a considerably longer piece, seven hundred words or so, but somehow I just couldn’t get the middle section right. It sketched out the background of what had happened in the weeks before I found the money, which was itself a story worth telling – in fact, I eventually expanded it and turned it into a separate section of my memoir without fictionalizing it. But to someone who didn’t know the original story was taken from true events, I think the longer version came across as overly dramatic, or at least overdone. After it was rejected by a couple of journals, I took another look at it and decided to cut out the middle altogether. This shorter version I think works much better.

What’s conspicuously and intentionally absent from this piece is any kind of emotion. I don’t think you can afford to have feelings when you’re quite literally starving, and during most of this period in my life, it’s safe to say that the emotional part of my mind was effectively switched off. But I cried when I found that money. Oh, how I cried.

I will never forget the people in that restaurant, either. They only spoke to one another in Chinese, so I have no idea what they said about me, if anything at all. But they went out of their way to be kind to someone who was obviously homeless, and probably very dirty and smelly, and that touched me deeply.

That day marked a turning point in my young life. Not because I found five dollars; a loaf of bread and a small jar of peanut butter later, it was gone. The more important thing I found on the sidewalk that day was something I hadn’t even realized I’d lost. Hope.

* * *

"Found Money" is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $0.99 Kindle, $5.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book's webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.

Found Money

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On Science: Preventing Pedophilia?

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131002131438.htm

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about biology and how it relates to human affairs. I think there’s a tendency among humans to believe that we are somehow special, unique in the animal kingdom, and perhaps in some ways we are. But there’s no doubt in my mind that however complex our brains, our bodies must still operate via the same mechanisms as those of the “lesser” animals – with chemical reactions, nerve signals, and so on. And the more I learn about what’s transpiring in the world of science, the more I suspect that psychology, as it is currently understood, no longer offers the best explanation for human behavior. Or, rather, that a person’s psychological makeup is not derived in any spiritual or subconscious way by the inner workings of the mysterious concept that we call “mind,” but by biological forces operating outside the level of our consciousness. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that human affairs are more biological than we give them credit for, and this study I read on Science Daily seems to me a case in point.
 
The scientists found that juvenile mice secrete a pheromone in their tears that drastically reduces the sexual behavior of adult mice towards them, a “protective” shield, if you will, against mating activity from full-grown males. There are obvious reasons why, biologically speaking, it would be foolish for adult mice to try to mate with prepubescent mice, even supposing that mice are not subject to the same social strictures as humans.

But that got me to thinking. Clearly humans don’t have the same olfactory systems as mice. They do, however, have similarly well-founded biological objections to adult-juvenile pairings. Isn’t it therefore logical to suppose that people also have some as-yet-undiscovered mechanism that precludes adults from desiring intercourse with children? And if this is the case, wouldn’t it also be logical to propose that pedophiles, rather than being victims of psychological unbalance or damage, might instead be genetically defective – unable to perceive the signals that make the rest of us sick to our stomachs at the very thought of what gives them pleasure? And if this were true, is it even possible that pedophilia might turn out to be a treatable condition after all?

Of course, there’s a huge difference between people and mice. The study concludes that the pheromone makes it possible for the mice to discriminate in favor of full-grown partners. It doesn’t, however, offer any evidence that, in the absence of the pheromone, the mice will actually prefer juveniles, which I believe is what most human pedophiles do. For humans, therefore, it can’t simply be a matter of not receiving the “hands-off” signal when it comes to children. Is there another force at work here that we simply don’t understand? A chemical signal, perhaps, that the young exude and that is sexually irresistible to adults who are susceptible to it? It’s not so far-fetched. Look at new-baby smell – it’s clearly one of the many “cuteness” factors that make people want to take care of the little buggers. And think of how different the world could be if there were no sexual predators; if it were possible to simply shut off whatever triggers that lust within them. This, to me, would be an avenue worthy of scientific exploration.

Human sexuality is incredibly complex. And, as we’re learning more and more, so is the sexuality of other animals. People are into all kinds of crazy sexual behaviors that seem to have nothing to do with reproduction. But maybe that isn’t the case at all. Maybe we, as humans, simply haven’t yet figured out the “why” of those things we call pleasurable; maybe, at bottom, there’s some biological sense to them after all.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Author Commentary: Baby and Me

http://www.everydayfiction.com/baby-and-me-by-lori-schafer/

This was the first story I published following my fifteen-year creative hiatus. I’ll admit I was very surprised when I finished it. It’s funny, I thought. That seemed strange. I’m not funny; I’ve never been funny. And then Every Day Fiction published it and their readers thought it was funny, too. Well, what do you know?

I’ve been asked if this was based on true events. The answer is, Not really. I’m at an age where I’m surrounded by a lot of marriage and baby talk and that’s what prompted me to write this piece: the horror of watching other people grow up all around me while I’m still struggling with the disbelief that we can possibly be old enough to be creating a new generation already.

Many people, including the editors at EDF, were very surprised by the ending. I thought that was funny because to me, there would have been no story without the ending. Or, rather, it would have been an incredibly dull and formulaic story if it had come to the expected conclusion. I myself was most surprised by how tolerant people were of the anti-offspring stance of this piece; I expected a bit more indignant horror. It’s good to know that readers can be entertained by a story even if they don’t agree with its premise. Just as I can be amused by the new parents and children springing up all around me J  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Author Commentary: Two Fathers


I originally wrote this piece in an effort to create an ultra-short of 150 words or less. I don’t recall what prompted it, but somehow I got to thinking of my biological father and the very few memories I have of him, which, interestingly enough, taken all together, come out to about 150 words!
The second segment is about the father of the best friend I had from the time I was four or five until we moved to a different town when I was twelve. In the hundreds of times I visited my friend’s house – which was just across the street from ours – I don’t believe I actually saw the man more than a dozen times, and never once in all those years did he speak to me. Of course, most of the time he was busy working his butt off to support their five children, and there was no doubt that he loved his family very much. But as a kid all I was cognizant of was the fear.

I wrote another segment of this piece about my “main” stepfather – that’s the one I had the longest – but I didn’t really care for the way it turned out so I omitted it. I’m still not sure if I should have included it after all. It certainly would have put a different spin on the piece as a whole, because it was a fairly flattering portrayal of a man who, without being anyone’s biological father, was nonetheless the best father I ever had. Except that in the end, when the marriage dissolves, the stepdad moves away and is never heard from again, and my intent was to make the story evocative rather than melancholy. And at bottom, I think it makes for a better “vignette” without coming to such a resounding conclusion, and that’s what Vine Leaves does best.     
 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

That's Life Fast Fiction Quarterly Publication and Author Commentary: Funeral for Charlie


 
 
I absolutely love this story. I think it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever written and I’m eternally grateful to Australia’s that’s Life! Fast Fiction Quarterly for publishing it in their Winter 2013 issue. Unfortunately, they had to edit out some of my best lines for length and content, and I didn’t think the published version was quite as good as the original. I did, however, think the picture and blurb they posted with it were hysterical. As the rights have now reverted to me, for the curious, here is the full original story:
 
FUNERAL FOR CHARLIE
 
Charlie was dead. It was hard to say what had done him in, but given that his roommates Rusty and Redhead had passed away unexpectedly the week before, my husband suspected environmental causes. Not me, though. I suspected Fishy.
The teeniest of all of our goldfish, Fishy had outlived not merely several new fish, but several entire sets of new fish, of a variety of breeds and sizes. We had often remarked on the unquenchable virility which seemed to sustain his minute form while our other fish went belly-up all around him. When poor Charlie got sick, he took to lurking in a corner of the tank, scarcely flapping his large fins, not moving, not eating; barely even breathing. We had watched him anxiously for days before the end. That night I had slept restlessly. Waking up long before dawn and failing to fall back into sleep, I finally got up and went into the kitchen to fix a glass of warm milk. Flicking on the light by the fish tank, I was startled to discover that Fishy had taken up residence in Charlie’s corner, and was, as nearly as a fish can, sitting on Charlie’s head as if trying to smother him. He quickly swam away but it was too late; I had already seen him. And the next morning, Charlie was dead.
I couldn’t prove anything, of course. But I did examine the body pretty carefully when Bob brought it sadly to the surface in the fraying green net, and it seemed to me as if Charlie was missing an awful lot of scales for a domestic goldfish. There were also some detectable gouges on his underside, almost as if he had been fighting. But it was pretty hard to pin anything on Fishy. He swam about as enthusiastically as ever in his empty tank, now entirely bereft of playmates, but not appearing to suffer from either loneliness or a renewed sense of his own mortality. And if he looked with fond or melancholy recollection at the plastic bridge that Charlie used to like to hide behind, or the fake coral that his brothers had favored, it never showed in his face.
“I’ll be right back,” Bob said, holding his hand under the wet mesh to prevent drips from falling all over the floor.
“Wait, where are you taking him?” I asked, alarmed.
“Um, to the toilet?” he replied, as if it were a stupid question.
“Charlie’s not going to fit down the toilet!” I answered indignantly.
“Sure he will!” Bob assured me. “He’s no bigger than a turd.”
“Are you crazy?!! He’s at least twice as big around as a turd!”
“Not my turds!” Bob answered proudly. “And if those will go down the toilet, this goldfish will, too, you’ll see.”
“Okay,” I said, trying hard to comprehend why we were arguing over this, “Okay, let’s just suppose that Charlie really is no bigger than a turd. He’s still not a turd, he’s a fish. A turd breaks up in the water; a dead fish will not. He will get stuck halfway down the pipe and you will be stuck trying to plunge up dead fish.”
“Listen, sweetheart,” Bob said, his tone bearing none of the affection implied by the term, “I’ve fixed plenty of toilets in my day, and I know how big the opening in the pipe is. That fish is going down, mark my words.”
I marked them and followed him into the bathroom. I bowed my head as he plunked our deceased friend respectfully into the deep. I listened quietly as he somberly activated the flusher. And then I watched as the water swirled away, taking Charlie on one final miraculous journey to the home of his ancient ancestors, to the ocean the abrupt end of his short life had precluded him from ever going to see. And then I flushed again for good measure.
It didn’t take. The water backed up into the toilet, causing Bob to flush again, full red in the face this time.
“He didn’t go all the way down,” I observed.
“There’s probably something else stuck in there,” Bob reasoned.
I made hissing noises that can’t be translated into words before finally spluttering, “That fish is stuck in the toilet! Do you hear me?! Stuck in the toilet. There is a dead fish in our toilet!”
“He can’t have gotten stuck; he was too small. And even if he did, I’m sure he’ll break loose and go down eventually.”
“Break loose? Break loose eventually? No way, uh-unh, mister. I am not peeing on that toilet knowing that Charlie’s in it. And we don’t even know where he got stuck. What if a rotten fish comes popping back up into the bowl?”
“That’s unlikely,” Bob assured me.
“Darn right it is,” I answered huffily. “Because you’re going to get that fish out of the toilet no matter what you have to do. And you know why? Because it’s your fault he’s in there.”
I resolutely returned to the kitchen, accompanied by the comforting cadence of Bob’s creative cursing and the gruesome gurgling of the plunger as it sought to resurrect the unfortunate former member of our household from his watery grave. I sidled nonchalantly over to the fish tank. Fishy was still nibbling a leftover bit of his solitary breakfast, flicking his tail-fin contentedly, his conscience apparently as untroubled as the calm unruffled waters which now surrounded him.
“I know it isn’t really Bob’s fault,” I conceded, now that he was out of earshot. “It’s yours. You may have gotten away with it this time, but now I’m on to you. And you know what else? Charlie might not have fit down the toilet, but there’s no question in my mind that you’ll go down quite nicely. One day, one day, Fishy… whoosh!!” I threatened.
Fishy just spat out his chip of orange fish food and swam carelessly away.              
 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

On Books: Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic

Yolen, Jane, The Devil’s Arithmetic, Scholastic, Inc: New York, 1988.

Author Jane Yolen will always hold a special place in my heart. She was my writing tutor in the sixth grade. Yup, it’s true. I have no idea how my school district finagled that or if this was a regular part of her community service or what, but once a week she came out and worked with me one on one. Apparently this is what happens when you’re the one kid in class whose stories are always over the page limit and not under it; people start to wonder if you might have some talent.

Anyway, I can’t say that I remember much of what she taught me, or even much about the many books of hers that I’d read before I met her, but recently I ran across this young adult novel of hers called The Devil’s Arithmetic. I had never heard of it, but believe me, once you’ve read it, you’ll never forget it.

The premise concerns an adolescent American Jewish girl who, in the midst of a Passover celebration a generation after World War II, mysteriously and magically trades places with a rural European Jew caught up in the midst of the Holocaust. It then traces – in surprising detail for a novel aimed at children – her experience of concentration camp life, with particular focus on the individuals surrounding her, and their methods of coping with their chilling confinement. Indeed, the book’s greatest strength is perhaps its ability to “rehumanize” what are, to most of us, faceless masses of concentration camp victims, by delving into their various personalities. And they are human, very poignantly so. While there is a fair share of heroism among the main characters, there is hopelessness and helplessness as well; selfish and altruistic behavior on both sides. The sufferers are not perfectly good, just as their captors are not perfectly evil.

In addition, by literally walking the reader through the trials of entering and then residing in a concentration camp, the book introduces young readers to the Holocaust in a very accessible manner; by forcing them to live it day by day along with the main character. In some ways it reminded me of John Hersey’s The Wall, in which you follow the daily routines of a small group of Jews clinging to life in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII. Sometimes you forget that Jews and other victims of the Nazis were not merely killed; they lived entire lives between their moments of capture and execution or eventual release, and The Devil’s Arithmetic makes those lives real.

My one complaint about the book is that I had difficulty accepting the premise itself. I can certainly see why the author presented events the way she did – there are solid reasons for it in the story – but when confronted with evidence of the “switch,” I sometimes found myself unable to suspend my disbelief. But this is a very small flaw in an otherwise wonderful work that has the power to truly bring home the experience of the Holocaust to all readers, young and old alike.  


 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Avalon Literary Review Publication and Author Commentary: Past and Present



“Past and Present” – 3rd Place winner in Avalon Literary Review’s Summer Flash Fiction Contest

This piece is based almost word for word on one of my own childhood memories. I discovered a strange scar between my thumb and forefinger when I was about eight and my mom told me how I had severed an artery with a pair of kindergarten scissors and nearly died. And at that point I realized that I did sort of remember that – that is, I remembered up until the moment of the cut. I was handmaking wrapping paper for a Christmas present – drawings on lined school paper – and somehow cut my hand open. My mom had already left for work, but she’d forgotten something and came back upstairs to find me “lying in a pool of blood.” That mental image has really stuck with me all these years.

Anyway, I tried in this piece to put a more positive spin on the memory. As an adult, I understand now that all a parent would see was the blood; the sight of your daughter dying in the kitchen. To the child, however, it was all about the present.