This year, I’m resolved to enjoy this writing-and-blogging community, the slow slog meditative process of writing and publishing, and the paths down memory lane I take as I write. And while I typically craft fiction–find some of it here at stories–I responded to a nonfiction call from the editors at Ruminate Magazine for readers to ruminate on “The Everyday.” That prompt led me to think of the joys of special holidays–like the baptism of my guys 10 years ago–and the joys of the mundane: Ordinary Time, ordinary time, and a warm piece of bread.
If you have a moment, my short essay (the second of the readers’ notes) is a two minute read–as are the other ruminations from readers around the country. But you might just want to stay a while, so we can, as the magazine’s About page says, “practice staying awake together.”
Issue No. 8 from Barren Magazineis out, and features my story, “The Virgins,” among among so much fantastic poetry, prose, and photography for your weekend entertainment. (Thank you to the editors for letting my story sit among such great company!) See also my friend (and Rust Belt Girl follower) DS Levy’s flash fiction piece, “Tengku,” my fave poem of the day, “Barrels of Fruit,” by Caroline Plasket, and more gritty, rusty photography–along with sweeping skies and far-off places–than a girl could shake a stick at.
I submitted “Scooter Kid,” a story about conception (of a couple different kinds)–of creation, chaos, and control. (Spot the nod to Stockard Channing’s character in the 1993 movie, Six Degrees of Separation? Yeah, I’m still a little obsessed.)
Many thanks to Elizabeth Varel, Editor in Chief and Fiction Editor, and all the editors of Parhelion Literary Review for publishing my story in your lovely journal. Alongside my fiction, you’ll find a trove of thought-provoking prose, poetry, and art: right here.
Happy weekend. Happy reading. What’s on tap for you?
Thanks for stopping by!
*Seriously though, submitting to literary journals? Check those submissions guidelines.
I’m delighted that my story, “While Our Grown Men Played,” will appear in the Winter 2019 issue of Little Patuxent Review. I’m also delighted to be reading at the issue launch event. For more information or to purchase the issue–or subscribe to this lovely regional literary magazine–click on through.
There’s truth in every piece of fiction, of course–despite my penchant for writerly distance. But if there’s one story of mine that tells the tale of my mom and me, it’s this one. In it, I got to call my mom a “world-class whiner,” which she was. But she never whined about what mattered: the breasts that failed her when they let cancer in, twice; the chemo and wig; the daughter living 12 hours away by Greyhound bus. She whined about the little things we could share: overdue library book fines, our pear shapes, cold noses in winter.
“While Our Grown Men Played” is a story about being female, sure; but even more so, it’s about being together, despite distance over roads and time–and cosmos, even. As I write, she’s still with me in the way I am, the things I whine about, and in my body: our ballet bearing, my veiny hands that are hers, the accent that won’t leave me.
Maybe most stories don’t take years and great personal loss to write, but this one did. It is a bittersweet thing to let it go, to read from it in front of others, to somehow tie a bow on grief. But it is sweet, and a testament to perseverance in writing and in living. I hope my mom would agree.
So, today I urge against writerly distance. Let’s try it, together. Let’s close the distances between past and present, between the living and the dead, between fact and fiction–and mine for story that heals.
My story is set on a fire escape, which reminds me of scaffolding (utility) and a jungle gym (frivolity). And there’s the crux: between work and play, adulthood and childhood, responsibility and freedom, the communal and the individual.
It’s called “Recruit,” and the audio feature–me reading my story in all my Ohio-accented glory–is live at Flock Literary Journal.
‘There is a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.’ I thought of our lake that couldn’t wash away the filth of this city. Of our river that burned so many years ago and still seemed to burn.
From Flock Literary Journal:
In “Recruit,” Rebecca Moon Ruark has us on the edge of our seats and knocks us over with sentences like the above. We’re excited to share with you this short story in audio, a glimpse of what’s to come in #Flock20!
If you’re looking for a little reading (or listening) this weekend, I’d love it if you checked out “Recruit.” Let me know what you think! And share it with a friend who likes stories.
What I learned along the process of recording my story:
Audacity (free recording and editing software) is awesome.
External microphones are best but my MacBook’s internal mic did the trick.
Closets–all those hanging clothes absorb extra sound–make a good recording studio.
Not to mention all the writerly stuff I took away from this process. So, props go out to all the podcasters out there who make it sound so easy. And to the poets, who brave live audiences all the time.
When we last met these characters, the mother–you, in this second-person point of view–has come home to discover that her pre-teen daughter, Cheryl, is missing. Hardly mother of the year, you consider the steps you should take to locate her. You consider what relative might be feeding Cheryl her dinner. You canvas the house again and again.
You are a young mother–still attractive, even sexy. Your daughter can be difficult and makes you feel older than you want to. A night without your daughter is a luxury you feel–after a drink or two–that you almost deserve. Just one night to yourself, you think with relish, as you sink into the middle of your bed and fall asleep…naked.
What kind of woman are you? What if she never comes back?
Around five o’clock, you awake to an upset stomach, make your way to the bathroom and throw up.
Over thirty hours. Gone. You crash on the couch and then drag yourself down the hall. You’re still nauseous.
You stand in the hallway, in your nightie, facing the closed door to Cheryl’s room, like some kind of gatekeeper.
You pace back and forth in front of the door until you hear a rustling sound in the room. Then there’s a slice of light, from the lamp she’s turned on, seeping under the door, and you crouch down on the floor to bathe in it. Then the slice of light is gone, and you bury your mouth and nose into the carpet, and you cry without making a sound.
You sleep for an hour or so, until you’re woken by the sound of Cheryl vomiting into her metal trashcan next to her bed. You wait there, outside, until the springs in her mattress stop squeaking. From your crouching position, you try the doorknob. It’s not locked. You remember your deal, but you break your end. She’ll owe you a tantrum the next time you have a man over. The door squeaks when you open it, and you move to her bedside and grab the trashcan, which you empty in the bathroom and set in the kitchen sink to be cleaned tomorrow. You go back to her room, step inside and close the door. You pull back the comforter on her bed. She’s sleeping in her clothes, dirtied from the bushes under her window. You crawl in next to her. She stirs, but doesn’t wake.
Writers and readers, how do you feel about an unreliable narrator, an unlikable main character? Does the second-person point of view soften the mother’s character at all? Can you understand her…just a little bit?
What are you reading and writing right now? How much like you are the characters you create?
A good friend wrote me yesterday and shared this thought on perfectionism from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life… Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness…
This reminder came at the perfect time, as I am currently wrapping up another season of journal-submission-frenzy. That’s when we writers offer up our fiction and poetry to the journal gods (disguised as fiction and poetry editors) and we pray they deem them worthy, these bundles of words we’ve worked and wrenched and polished and punished. Ah, perfect, we think as we hit “submit.”
But is it perfect? Or, can we wring the life out of our words with so much attention focused on making each one perfect.
I’ve said before, it’s humbling to look back on my writing from years ago. That’s another kind of writerly distance. They’re far from perfect, but old stories give us a window through which to look at our old selves.
So, without editing it, I’ll provide snippet #2 of an old short story of mine, “Sleeping Naked,” that was published in Carve Magazine years ago. (If you missed the start of the story, here’s snippet #1.)
When we last met these characters–the mother, you, in this second-person point of view, and pre-teen daughter, Cheryl–you have come home to find Cheryl is missing.
You think about what you should do, where she could be. You think about taking steps toward finding out, but instead you fix yourself a drink. (Hey, nobody’s perfect!) And you really do expect your missing daughter to come through the door any minute now…
Snippet #2 from “Sleeping Naked” by Rebecca Moon Ruark:
Maybe Cheryl’s being held up by your mother’s incessant gossip. It wouldn’t be the first time. Your mother has no idea what it’s like to raise a child in the nineties, all the nuts out there. You touch the goose bumps on your forearms. It’s getting cold out on the porch so you open the sliding glass door and go back to the living room. “God,” you whisper more to yourself than to Him, but still it startles you because you haven’t so much as said his name since your wedding, “please let her be there.” No Cheryl. You should pick up the phone to call your mom, but it’s too late, so you pick up your drink again and walk down the hallway to her room. You say your prayer. “Let her be there, let her be there,” like you’re some kind of magician. She isn’t in there, in her room. You rest your head in your hands for a minute, sitting on her bed, looking at her matching pink and purple comforter and pillow shams that really need a washing. The whole room, in fact, needs to be cleaned. “Shit, please God.” You look around like you half expect her to crawl out from under the bed, but she doesn’t. Part of you wants to scream, like in the movies when the sound is amplified, and the camera, shooting from above, makes everything swirl; then it all goes black. Read more
Banner day: I’m responding for the first time to the Daily Prompt. Today’s is “snippet.”
So, there you go. Nope, not even a snippet of nudity.
What follows is a snippet of a short story of mine, my first published short story, which appeared in Carve Magazine many moons ago. (So very early aughts–even the second-person point of view.)
It’s funny to look back on a story I wrote while I was still in graduate school, before marriage, before kids, before the first germ of yearning to indicate I might want kids (and the responsibilities that include, often, sleeping clothed and ready as an EMT for the next cry or summons from your progeny).
The protagonist in this story–she is no heroine–is in a stage of life I didn’t know when writing this piece. (I’ve discussed before my penchant for writerly distance.) She has been married; she is the mother of a pre-teen named Cheryl; she has seen her body and spirit morph to become “mother.”
Until, one day, she arrives home to find that her daughter is gone.
And so, a snippet from “Sleeping Naked” by Rebecca Moon Ruark:
You never thought to make a deal that required her to be in the house by eleven, to be home from her friend Julie’s or your sister Judy’s place down the street. You’re surprised she’s not there. She’s always in the living room, six inches away from the television screen, which casts a blue hue onto her face, when you pull into the drive around ten-thirty after your shift at Lubrizol. Tonight you stopped at the Claridon Tavern before returning to your two-bedroom split-level in the allotments. You had two glasses of Chardonnay, and after, you left your old rusted-out Mustang parked on the street before walking the five blocks home. You were smart not to take any chances and drive it, you think, as you rest your head on the doorjamb. Ever since you dumped the town’s deputy officer, Steve, he’s been eager to land you in the holding cell for something, anything. Read more
We were “hicks.” That was the insult of choice directed at us Chardon High School Hilltoppers. Rival school children would call us that or sometimes “farmers,” which said more about the insulters than the insulted.
We were not “hillbillies” (our Hilltopper mascot being something of a misnomer). And so, while reading Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, I had the feeling that not only was his family not my family but his culture was not my culture. (Not to say my culture is crisis-free.) Was his Ohio my Ohio?