Category Archives: Writing Exercise

Writing Exercise #3:

I could stand to lose some weight. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I’ve just turned into a pig lately. It’s really just a matter of being healthy. I should probably start exercising, too. Just to get in shape. I hate being winded after climbing a flight of stairs. I really shouldn’t be that inactive. Maybe I’ll start running. And this time I’ll have to do it more than once or twice a week.

And I’ll look so much better if I just lose a little weight. I’ll be such a better person if I took better care of myself, was healthier, ate better, exercised. It’ll be a whole new me. A me people actually want to be with. Nobody likes the fat girl. Sure, she’s fun to hang around with and be friends with, but nobody actually pays attention to her. I guess it’s just time for a change.

If you could read her mind, that’s what she’d be thinking. Kind of sad, isn’t it? That’s what I keep saying, but nobody seems to listen to me. I guess we’ve all got problems. Her name is, well, I don’t know what her name is yet. That’s not important. She could have any name. Why don’t you pick one? Pick the name of a sister, or a daughter, or a cousin, or a niece. It really doesn’t matter, it’s probably happening to them anyway.

She’s been like this for a few years. It probably started as early as elementary school, as much as we all hate to admit it. They’re just kids, right? Yeah, but kids aren’t stupid. Kids see what goes on. And if the world is screwed up, they’ll just follow suit. She wasn’t always skinny, either. She was one of the biggest babies in the nursery at the hospital. Until she was about five she was a pudgy little thing. But then she started stretching into a green bean, and she’s been tall and slender since. Her hair’s brown and straight, lately it’s been looking like the cover of Cosmo. But I won’t go there yet. She’s 17 and has just about everything going for her. She’ll graduate in the spring and go off to the wonderful world of college. Right now it’s just the state school, and she’ll probably go into education like every other girl.

She’s outgoing and likes to hang out with other people. She’s been into party scene since middle school, and before that she was the queen of slumber parties. She has a gaggle of friends just like her, all of them probably have the same problems and the same hang ups. And of course they don’t talk about it. All of them lost their virginity in the back seat of a car with a random high school hottie — but the interesting part is they all did it in the same park, and not one of them has yet admitted it to the others. For our little sweetheart it was an awkwardly handsome young stud named Craig. They slowly worked their way up from sucking face, to feeling each other up, to Craig getting a little too excited on the back seat’s upholstery. Finally Craig learned to contain himself long enough for the two to consummate their two month relationship and stumble into the wonderful world of sexually active children. Luckily she came to her senses a few weeks later and dumped Craig. But don’t worry about Craig, he’s a real swift guy and picked up a friend of his ex the next week and consummated his back seat again. Apparently he discovered that you don’t get breasts with masturbation, so he had to find himself another insecure girl.

But Craig is so last month. She’s over him now. Not that she was into Craig in the first place, he was just an accessory. Like so much in her life, Craig was just something to make her look good. On the bright side, she is smart enough not to accessorize with cheap beer and LSD. One day that will be Craig’s downfall. It’s usually plentiful at the many parties she attends, but she knows enough to limit her consumption. She got plastered once as a sophomore and it wasn’t a fun morning at work the next day. Every customer who walked into the Gap seemed to be talking way too loud, and her supervisor seemed to find something wrong with everything she did. She spent the second half of her shift in the back room, away from customers, away from other workers, quarantined from all human contact. Her supervisor said something about dark eyes and bags don’t sell sexy clothes. What did she know?

Her parents are pretty clueless. Most parents are. If her father knew of her back seat exploits he’d have to commit himself. He still thinks she’s his sweet little girl, and he tries to ignore everything that says otherwise. The fact is he’s stuck in a marriage that hasn’t worked in quite a while, and he hopes having a perfect daughter will make up for it. If not he pleasures himself with porn on the Internet, just to be on the safe side. He needs to have something pleasureful in his life, and his wife definitely isn’t that.

Mom is another story. She could be her own story, I’ll have to see if anyone’s covering that one. Her marriage is a sham, and only continues because divorce looks bad. So sex is pretty much out of the question. She definitely has the same problems as her daughter, but hasn’t discovered a way to deal with it yet. Right now she gets by with repression and being pretty much completely repulsed with her body. The idea of her husband finding her attractive makes her ill, and she hasn’t let him touch her in five years, and then she was drunk. She works in a big office building for some national company and does some work that nobody really understands. It’s basically glorified secretarial work, but don’t tell her I said that. If she wasn’t so worried about what everyone else thought, she’d be scoring with the guy across the hall, the one that checks out her ass when she goes to make copies, the one who’s actually gay.

So it’s a fairly complicated life. Right now she’s finishing up with high school and beginning to understand that college is the same thing as high school only with more freedom and more ways to ruin your life. Prom is coming up, but she sees that as another show, another chance to make an impression on people who already have more than an impression about her. She’s hoping to lose enough weight to really wow everyone, leave them with one last image of her as the undying hottie of high school. At least that’s what she thinks. Half the girls there want the same title, and the other half think they already own the title.

Besides working at the Gap, she spends her time doing homework, figuring out how to look like someone she’s not (have a tighter ass, have slinkier hair-whatever that means, and make her breasts look bigger than they actually are), and believe it or not, volunteering with kids. That’s the one redeemable aspect of her life. She volunteers at the Y and leads an after school group of elementary kids. They do crafts and have snacks and play games. It’s basically after school baby sitting until the parents get off work, but it’s given her a sense of purpose. This is why she’s going into education, which really isn’t a very promising thought, if you think about it.

So that’s where I come in. It’s my job to keep our little friend from doing something harsh. It’s probably a little late for that, but I’ll do what I can. I’d hate to see her thrown in a psyche ward, or worse, lying motionless in the bathtub, wrists slit, eyes drooping back in her head and soul departing for another world.

Writing Exercise #2

I guess I’m supposed to be upset. That’s what everyone expects. Weeping and the wearing of black and all that funeral crap. But I just don’t want to go there. It looks so fake, crowding into a stuffy church, a cheap stiff suit he never wore in his life. Everyone dressed up like Easter without the resurrection.

I’d rather be outside in the sun. The warm rays and the blue sky eases the pain. I’d rather take a drive into the country and bury him somewhere among the fields and cottonwoods. We’d dress him in a pair of faded jeans and a stained shirt. That’s the way he was. Why do we have to make him something he wasn’t.

I liked to think he loved me more because I was the youngest granddaughter. By the time it was my turn to spend weekends with grandma and grandpa they were already showing signs of wear and tear. He couldn’t toss me up into the air and he couldn’t run with me across the fields. Instead he’d sit in the chair and watch, calling out taunts and jokes, trying to make me laugh and squeel. I’d always come rushing back and put my hands on my hips and try to be as grown up as I could. I’d tell my grandpa he shouldn’t say that to princesses. Grandpa would laugh from his belly and reach out and grab me. He’d pull me into his lap and wrap his weathered arms around me and tell me that he didn’t mean it, that I was a good girl, and that I knew that. I always did. I just wanted him to wrap those tired hands around me.

Grandma would always witness this scene from afar, about to call us to supper but waiting to watch the intergenerational interaction. Now I see grandma across the aisle, teary face hidden behind a black vale. She could use a bit of the early evening sun. That’s the best time for the sun, that’s the best time to pull up a lawn chair and just watch the afternoon slip away. If only I could slip away I’d do it.

Writing Exercise #1

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just said what I feel. If I just spoke the truth and didn’t care what anyone said. Sometimes I wonder if they think it’s for real, sometimes I wonder if I’d have to listen to a phone call asking why. You want to know why, that’s the way it is. You want to know what I think, that’s the way it is. Sometimes special insight hurts. How do you expect me to remain quiet when you’re tearing everything apart.

In the course of writing these ponderings, I’ve often noticed that people take what I say a little too seriously. I was once asked if I was actually shot in the backpack after I wrote a little fiction exercise that I thought was obviously fiction. Apparently I’m not obvious enough. So I’m going to start labeling my writing exercises. Maybe I should label all my writings as exercises and then everyone would calm down and stop jumping to conclusions.

Writing Exercise #1:
So I was walking through the bookstore, looking for something good to read. I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for, something I could slip into my backpack and read at my leisure. My mother would be mortified. But that’s her job. No one wants to be told by the well meaning cop that their daughter is a petty thug. Hoodlum. That’s the word my dad would use. He’s so cute in that embarrassing sort of way that you only admit to your close friends.

I wanted a book that would blow my mind. Something that would reinvent my life. My slightly off-kilter English teacher always acts like books can change your life. In his happy little world every reading assignment he gives us should reshape our universe. If that’s the case, I’d think we’d all be a little worn out from the multiple world view shifts by the end of the semester. I’ve yet to find anything in the class worth my time.

They should have a section of books that will blow your mind. The ‘fuck with your head’ section. I mean, c’mon, isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Let’s clear all the crap and cut to the chase. All these odd people are scurrying about in this giant altar to commercialized book selling because they want a reading experience that will change their lives. I don’t think people read books just for entertainment. It’s not like watching TV and flipping channels and looking for something to suck brain cells. Reading actually takes work. And if you’re going to work, you want a pay off.

But instead of my brilliant section they have all these screw ball, somebody-else-is-getting-rich sections. Harry Potter, Left Behind, the Prayer of–what’s his name–Jabez? It’s all a bit much and dripping with a little too much psycho-spiritual-goo. My mother would probably tell me to go read the Bible if I really wanted a book that would fuck with my head. I think she’s nuts.

Instead I settle for a copy of Chicken Soup for the Anorexic Soul, slip it into my backpack and nonchalantly head for the door. Let’s see if we can shatter Mom’s world.

I Wasn’t Really Shot in the Backpack

That’s the way it goes, he says, and he pops him. Just like that. Straight out of a movie or something. My jaw dropped. My knees shook. My eyes were already open as wide as they could be. I sat curled up in that little alcove for three hours, waiting until I thought it was safe enough to move.

I crept out slowly, afraid for my life. Of course they’d left three hours ago. They never knew I witnessed the job. And there he was. Spread out in the middle of the alley. He was probably all stiff and stuff, but I wasn’t about to stick around and find out. I took off running, like the scared little kid I was.

That’s how it all ended. It started when I was walking home and a bullet ripped through my backpack. It almost tore the thing off my shoulders. I spun around and hit the ground as fast as I could. I crawled to a car and looked both ways. There was a guy running for his life up the cross street one way, and I couldn’t see anyone the other way. They must have ducked in somewhere, hoping to cut the other guy off by going through the alley. Of course they fired a shot first to keep up the chase.

Sitting up, I shifted my backpack to the ground to examine the damage. The bullet went clean through, slicing its way in on one side, and ripping a whole out the other. One of my books had a gash through the spine and half the pages torn and ripped. A few inches the other direction and that would have been my spine.

And then I started running. I don’t know why I did, I just took off. Part of me didn’t want to stay leaning against that parked car waiting for whoever fired the bullet to come out of the alley and see me hiding here. They may be chasing someone else, but they wouldn’t want any witnesses. Rather than run up the street towards home, I went the other way, going up a block and then over, roughly following the fleeing man. They almost killed me, and I wanted to find out what it was all about.

She Wore Pajamas to the Airport

She smiled. It’d be going a bit far to claim she smiled at me, but it’s a nice thought. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts. It’s always worth a shot. I looked back to my shoes and then up again, trying to pretend I was watching the TV behind her. She doesn’t need to be smiling out of pity, some screw ball kid who wants to lay eyes and you don’t want to know what else on her.

But who am I kidding anyway? You don’t just go up to random people in the airport and say hello. So I just sit here by myself, reading a magazine, waiting for my flight to leave. My flight, that just might happen to be her flight. Who knows, we might even sit next to each other. Here we go again, happy thoughts, happy thoughts.

She’s just sitting there, trying not to be bored. But she is. She gave up on her book a while ago. Now she’s people watching. I’d like to think I’m one of those people, but that’s too happy of a thought. Now I’m people watching as well. More like person watching.

She smiled again. This time I know what it’s from. Everyone’s smiling at her. What do you expect when you’re wearing pajamas? Did I mention that? She’s wearing pajamas in the airport. And it’s the middle of the afternoon. So she’s a little weird, I had other things on my mind. She’s just sitting there watching the people go by, watching the people watching her. Them smiling at her and her smiling back at them like she knows she’s just the cutest.

Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if I went up and introduced myself. Hi. My name’s Jones. I couldn’t help but notice those fuzzy bunny slippers. Nice. She’d smile, and that’s about as far as I can imagine. I hate to think what she’d say. If I let my imagination go that far it just might get loose and let out a bunch of not-so-happy thoughts, a.k.a. the realistic ones. That’s not cool. So it ends there. A thousand different introductions, and a thousand different smiles. If only life were that non-committal.

She’s probably in college. I’m usually horrible at guessing ages, but she doesn’t look like the girls in class at school. None of them would manage to wear pajamas unless every one of their follow-the-pack friends did as well. They’re always willing to live on the edge, as long as everyone else does too. But this girl’s all alone in the airport, on the edge by herself. I’m guessing college.

I went left instead of right

That’s what they tell me. But I don’t believe it. I look down at the cards I’m dealt, and I’m reminded of old photo albums of family vacations. Vacations to states I’ve never been to before, and I’ll never visit again. Old faded photos, where the color is disappearing and the clothes are so out of style they’re cool again. That’s what I always think of. Then I trade in an ace and hope for the best. Should have kept the ace. Those family vacations were always a trip. I did my best to get lost, to be the poor child to have his parents paged over the loud speaker. I just didn’t like doing the family thing, everything boiling down to the lowest common denominator, the kid sister. It made me sick. I wanted something interesting, something more worth my time. So I lagged behind, I went left instead of right. I got away from the tea cups and balloons, and went for the water and the sun. I’d wander around by myself, eyeing the girls and trying to guess how old they were. I was usually wrong. I’d watch a group of them giggling together, and follow them along the streets. Then a boyfriend would show up, and he’d be twice my size. I dropped my gaze, and wandered on. In the photo albums I’m always standing off to the side, by myself, trying to get away. That’s probably why I always end up folding. I never get dealt the hand I want, and I end up chasing it, searching for it, and then cashing in my chips and heading home, looking for my parents and brother and kid sister in the play land, with the colored balls and candy coated goods. That’s what they always tell me.

Saturday in a Shopping Mall Restroom

It was designed to easily handle a mid-December crowd. Of course there’s only a mid-December crowd in mid-December, so the rest of the year the bathroom sits quiet and echoy. There were five stalls and eight urinals, six sinks and two hand dryers–more than would ever be used at once, except perhaps for those crowded December shopping days when everyone has to pee at once.

But in mid-September the mall bathroom is usually the most lonely and secluded place you can find. The few patrons who travel down the back end hallways and actually find the bathroom are usually efficient and quiet, doing their business and doing it quickly, eager to return to their consumer bliss. Occasionally a father will take his time, and you can tell he’s probably here with a teenage daughter, or a shopaholic wife and is savoring the moment of serenity.

It here that I find my refuge. That probably sounds crazy, but you’d think a lot of things about me are crazy. Most people do. But that’s okay. I’m not interested in most people. The bathroom is quiet and cavernous, a good place to do some thinking. Your thoughts and any stray noises are magnified on the tile, and everything seems to come back to you more refined.

I’ll often spend an entire Saturday in the men’s room of the Willow Creek Mall. Sometimes I’ll divide my time between the three public restrooms, but I usually stick with the one by the north entrance, tucked away in a hallway to nowhere, across from Victoria’s Secret. There’s a men’s room on one side and women’s room on the other, and a sink and telephone in between. There’s a door a few feet down that leads to the emergency shelter, which once upon a time was a fallout shelter.

Curled Up in a Shopping Mall Restroom

So there I sat, watching the people come and go through the slats in the door. I was in the corner changing room, and I’d been there for the past three hours. It’s amazing the kind of people that come through a department store changing room on a Tuesday morning.

First it was the professional shopping moms. They came in with changing room limit, an armload of clearance items, and tried everything on with huffs and puffs and grunts and the occasional ooh. But for the most part they left empty handed. I think they were taking advantage of children at school and looking for something for themselves, hoping to find a reduced item they could afford to splurge on. This is why the rest of us only find size zero left on the clearance rack.

Later on the college girls came in, trying on the latest fashions and fueling their disorders. They would groan about this or that, ooh and ah over the other thing, rationalize the price, and tell each other how “so you” something was.

Another group of college girls came in later, apparently of another variety. They tried on a slew of fashionable clothes, only to cry in disgust that they looked like a tramp or that their boobs didn’t stay in the shirt. They left empty handed.

Al l the while I sat in the corner changing room, sitting on the short bench, with my knees curled up to my chin so no one would see my feet and they’d assume the room was empty.

Smiling at the Punk Rock Girl

“That’s what I said.” And she walked away. Just like that. Sometimes I don’t understand. Sometimes I don’t think I ever will understand. You just kind of hang on for the ride and expect the unexpected.

That’s how my last relationship ended. It’s a little hard to start up again after a kick in the gut like that. But somehow you always do, like a moth drawn to the flame, I guess.

I’m the kind of guy who notices girls go by all the time. I end up categorizing them in my head, filing them away, based on other girls I’ve known or seen or think about. It’s totally subjective, totally superficial, and usually totally wrong. But I do it anyway. I find I can at least surprise myself.

The other day I had this girl pegged as a punk rock rebel. Not the stylish punker girls who do it because it’s on the cover of some fashion rag, but the ones who had lip rings in sixth grade. She had all the markings. Hair cut short, dyed black, noticeably not styled. Thick chain around the neck. Lip ring. Several earrings. Clompy boots with thick heals. Checkered pajama pants and an oversized hooded sweatshirt. She was hanging out with a couple black guys, one quiet and over bearing, the other loud and puppet-like. He seemed to want everyone around to think he was all that, but he wasn’t quite.

I thought I had the girl pegged, but then she smiled. It was a sweet, innocent smile. Not the kind of smile you expect from a girl with steel-toed boots, and an attitude to match. Usually the punk rock girls would give me a glare that would send even the remotest notions packing.

But she smiled like I’d discovered her secret and she didn’t want anyone else to know. It made me feel warm inside, and when I looked away I was smiling and trying not to glow too much.

Like a Levi’s Commercial

It was a long car ride. That’s all she could think. But of all the things to say, she didn’t want to complain. What would he think? She wanted to come off happy and positive. Guys don’t like depressed girls. They just do drugs and get drunk and she was done with that.

“There wasn’t much to see,” she started, searching for the positive spin, “But then we crossed the state line and the scenery was beautiful.” He smiled, a little. She mentally kicked herself. Now she sounded like a dizzy blond. She was walking the line between being so in touch with life she was manic-depressive, to being so out of touch with life she wouldn’t need a brain. Isn’t there supposed to be middle ground?

“Well, welcome to town. I’ll guess I’ll see you around.” She only nodded, still trying to find the reaction that could undo everything she just did. He turned and walked away, and she watched him go, feeling like a Levi’s commercial.