My Survivor (6 Sentences)

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Dolomiti - Val di Funes e le Odle

lui­gi via Comp­fight

 Can­cer free for a year now after com­plet­ing chemo, my survivor’s hair has grown back shiny sil­ver-white, and real­iz­ing against social con­ven­tions that she doesn’t need long flow­ing locks to be wom­an­ly or beau­ti­ful, she now wears it in smart short Peter Pan-ish lay­ers.

Except, when I enter the exam room I can tell right off that she doesn’t feel wom­an­ly or smart or beau­ti­ful; I have a sixth sense about these things as a woman and as a nurse.

Her guilt, an evil tal­is­man, has grown too large to wear around her neck and now occu­pies the seat next to her so I roll my chair right up in front of my sur­vivor, box of tis­sues in hand, and tell her that she is stun­ning­ly love­ly, because she is, and I push Guilt out of the room, if only for the dura­tion of our time togeth­er.

She is fifty-six years old and will soon need to have the left knee replaced (too) as the pain is too much to ignore, and at a steadi­ly increas­ing 139 kilos, not pounds, she has resigned her­self to giv­ing up on any attempts at weight loss because it’s seems impos­si­ble to fol­low the 1400 calo­rie diet plan the very cute, very young, very (un)knowledgeable, very thin, very-tar­i­an, very well-mean­ing nutri­tion­ist offered her.

I ask my sur­vivor to tell me why this new bat­tle is impor­tant, because though it may seem so, she real­ly has not for­got­ten; it’s just that Guilt as of late has been drown­ing out her voice.

Moun­tains are climbed in small steps one at a time,” I say, then I see the caul of self-loathing lift as she real­izes she can.

(Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished at 6 sen­tences.)

Origins — The ‘Hood

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All Rights Reserved by Wal­ly Wab­bit

Yes­ter­day I start­ed rem­i­nisc­ing about where I grew up, a low-income hous­ing project, or for lack of a bet­ter word, “the hood”.  When I was grow­ing up, say­ing that you came from Brook­side was, in a sense, imbued with a cer­tain degree of pride.  It meant you were tough.  You were cool.  Now, I cer­tain­ly know bet­ter than to think that, but nei­ther am I ashamed. Where we come from great­ly influ­ences who and what we are.  We aren’t just what we eat.  We are also where we’ve been.  The 1 mil­lion dol­lar ques­tion is: Did said expe­ri­ences have a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive effect on the adult that I have become?

Recent­ly some­one close to me said that my ori­gins made me a dif­fer­ent kind of per­son. The impli­ca­tion was that my sense of moral­i­ty was some­how taint­ed by the envi­ron­ment of my upbring­ing.  Obvi­ous­ly, I took offense to this char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.  Despite the offense I do con­cede that our ori­gins leave a mark on us, whether good or bad.  I could have been any­thing from a crack head pros­ti­tute to an edu­cat­ed autho­r­i­al oncol­o­gy nurse (which I am) to a world leader (which in a sense, I am).

Think about the char­ac­ters we write and love to read about.  We relate to the char­ac­ters that have some­thing at stake, some­thing they val­ue, and that sense is influ­enced in great part by where they come from.  Our character’s ori­gins also influ­ence our (the reader’s) expec­ta­tions of them.

If you’re read­ing about a character…let’s call him Ahmad Mujahid from Afghanistan, cer­tain images are bound to imme­di­ate­ly pop into your head.  Cer­tain ques­tions will chime in.  Tal­iban?  War torn?  Rub­ble?  Pover­ty?  Vio­lent?  Devout­ly reli­gious Mus­lim?  Opi­um farmer?  Des­per­a­tion?  Hunger?  Bud­dha stat­ues at Bamiyan?  Pash­tun?  Hamid Karzai?

This is a nat­ur­al human reac­tion and some­thing that we as writ­ers should take advan­tage of when cre­at­ing our char­ac­ters.  Unless the inten­tion is to cre­ate a cer­tain mys­tic by leav­ing the character’s past unknown, we should use the reader’s expec­ta­tions to build a strong well-defined char­ac­ter.  This is pos­si­ble even when the ori­gin is com­plete­ly fic­tion­al.  If we’ve tak­en the time to cre­ate a locale then cer­tain­ly we’ve assigned it dis­tinc­tive qual­i­ties.  Those qual­i­ties will influ­ence the char­ac­ters that evolve from that place.

These pic­tures are of some of the build­ings in the Brook­side Avenue hous­ing projects pri­or to their demo­li­tion a few years ago.  This is much the way I remem­ber the place, sans the board­ed up win­dows and fenc­ing.  Brook­side wasn’t a stel­lar neigh­bor­hood, but it had life and a cohe­sive com­mu­ni­ty and every­one knew every­one else.  It was home for a while.  Every­one has to come from some­place, right?  I wrote the fol­low 6 sen­tence sto­ry a cou­ple of years ago.

Not So ‘Hood

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A brook ran through and around Brook­side Avenue, fringed in pussy wil­lows, sur­round­ed by true woods that turned gold and fire-red in the fall and we’d stand on the bridge and watch hap­pi­ly quack­ing, fat bot­tomed ducks bob under the shal­low mud­dy waters for meals.

In the sum­mer we cap­tured tad­poles and fire­flies in old glass may­on­naise jars, chased rab­bits and but­ter­flies in the field between my home and the woods, and in the year of ’81 there was a mem­o­rable snow of gray gyp­sy moths.

Frankie lived across the street, and he seemed like a nice guy until he start­ed break­ing into people’s apart­ments and steal­ing their tele­vi­sions and stereo sets; our apart­ment was hit twice.

His best friend was Dar­ius, who had his las­civ­i­ous eye on me since about the time I turned twelve and if you could have heard the things he’d whis­per to me when­ev­er he had the chance you’d cringe and I lat­er learned he end­ed up in prison for rape.

This is what I recall of my child­hood home, only ten min­utes from Yale, two hours from the Big Apple, down the hill from the Region­al Cen­ter that housed the men­tal­ly dis­abled, down the street from the cor­ner store owned by Ital­ians, around the cor­ner from the city dump, and across the street from my best friend John who looked like a short not so buff Vin Diesel.

No one believes me when I say that I grew up in the ‘hood, because who’d have ever thought that there was ‘hood in Con­necti­cut, or that a prop­er speak­ing woman could have ever come from there, but I explain that I was bussed to the sub­urbs to go to school with the rich kids…that’s anoth­er sto­ry alto­geth­er.