“The Date”, a short story by Sarah Galyean Jones

In less than three days, thanks to a rave review in the New York Times, Café Luca had gone from hole-in-the-wall to line-out-the-door. It had taken me over an hour just to get a table, but that was okay, because Henry was late and I had gotten there early. This had been our place, our favorite little spot in Manhattan. Now, it was everyone’s favorite little spot in Manhattan.

They finally seated me at a table next to the bathrooms, a downgrade from the booth near the front window we used to occupy. I took a minute to flip open my compact mirror and examine myself. I hadn’t seen Henry in a year, and I couldn’t have him sitting across from me after twelve months had passed with lipstick on my teeth. But, I looked okay. I looked the same.

“Amy?” I glanced up to see him standing there, and it took me a second to recognize him. He’d swapped his lumberjack flannel for a blazer, had on glasses and a legitimate haircut. He looked like a real writer now. He looked like an adult.

“Henry! It’s good to see you!” I stood up to greet him. I sounded a lot more excited than I had intended.

He clapped an arm around me, the way you hug your aunt. “It’s good to see you too, Amy.” We sat down, Henry unrolling his silverware and shaking out his napkin.

“Man, this place is packed now! It was never like this before. Can you believe it?”

“Yeah, I know, it’s crazy!” I said. “The Times bats an eye at you and all of New York comes a’flockin’!” I cringed. Why had I just said “a-flockin’”?

“Very true,” he nodded.

“Amy and Henry!  It’s been a while!” The waiter, who had told me his name maybe a hundred times during the year that Henry and I frequented Café Luca, but I’d always been too drunk to remember it, appeared at our table. “It’s so good to see you two! It’s been a while!”

“Chuck, how are you, my man?” Henry said, shaking his hand like they were actually good buddies and not just server and patron. Chuck! That was it. “Business seems to be doing well. There’s a line out the door!”

They chatted for a minute before he took our drink orders. It got a martini, a gin one. I was going to need it. The last time Chuck had seen us, we’d been so in love that we sat on the same side of the booth. We were that couple you hate. The one you look at and then whisper ‘get a room’ under your breath.

“So, how’ve you been, Amy?”

“I’ve, um, well I’ve been good,” I said. “I’m really surprised that I actually got you to come here tonight.”

“I mean, I’ll be honest, I was really surprised to get your call.”

“Well, I’m glad you showed up,” I said. “You look really good.” I tried not to put too much emphasis on the ‘really’, but it was hard.

“Thanks,” he blushed. “You do too.”

“Have you been doing well?”

He nodded. “I’ve been okay, can’t complain.”

“I’ll say.” I reached in my purse to take out the book. It was as good a time as any to get to the point. “I bought this.”

Henry’s face flushed. “Ah. Well, thank you.”

“Henry, it’s amazing. I can’t believe you finally did it. And it’s a bestseller, too?   I mean, that’s insane! I remember when you were starting to work on the manuscript, and look at it now! It’s in hardback and everything.”

He smiled. “I can’t believe it either. I keep waiting to wake up, you know? Like, someone pinch me.”

I nodded. “I am so proud of you.”

We finally made eye contact. “Thank you, Amy.”

Chuck appeared again to take our orders and Henry and I both got what we always got. We didn’t even need to look at the menus. I ordered a second drink.

“Well, so, I guess I’ll just get right to it,” I continued. “I read it in, like, a day. I mean, it’s really good. It totally grabs you, Henry. I couldn’t put it down.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“But, I, uh, well, I noticed something.”

His face flushed again. “You did, huh?”

“The character you call Avery, the girl who keeps interfering with your main character,” I flipped open the book to the page I had dog-eared and read aloud, “‘She was a drunken mess, a belligerent fool charging through the Union Square farmer’s market at ten A.M. on a Saturday morning. She knocked over a card table of produce, and dashed away in the opposite direction before the vendor turned around to see. I stood there watching as she tore down Broadway, jogging in her heels to god knows where, her crimson hair flying behind her. She was a loon, and I had to claim her as mine.’” I looked up at him. He was staring at the napkin in his lap. “Henry, this is me.”

He didn’t say anything.

I flipped through the book, looking for the other passages I had bookmarked. “I mean, this Avery character, she does all the things I’ve ever wanted to do. Like, she lives in that building in Nolita that I tried to lease but couldn’t afford, she’s a photographer that actually makes money, she’s got a pilot’s license…” I glanced back up at him. “She cheats on the main character like I did.”

He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index finger. “Yes, okay? Yes. She’s you.”

“Henry,” I shut the book. “Is this even legal? I mean, I’m pretty sure I could sue you for libel. Obviously, I’m not going to, but I’m pretty sure that I have a case here.”

He kept his eyes down. “I didn’t use your real name.”

“Why did you do this?”

He shrugged again. “I guess I didn’t think you would ever read it. Hell, I didn’t think I could ever get it published.”

“I mean, Henry, you say things about me in here that I would never want anyone to read about. All of the bad stuff that happened to me that year, it’s all there.”

“I know.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Well, why did you do those things?”

I didn’t know how to reply. Our food appeared at the table.

“Oh, wow, they’ve really stepped up their game since we used to come here,” Henry said, eyeing his chicken and picking up his fork.

“Don’t change the subject.”

He shot me a look. “Well, alright, I’m sorry, Amy. Is that what you want me to say? I’m sorry that I wrote about you in my book. I’m sorry I was mean. But I’m a writer, and those things happened to me, and I can use them if I want.”

“Those things didn’t happen to you, they happened to me.”

“Well, I got to enjoy the side effects,” he said, stabbing at his food.

“Henry, you’re the literary darling of New York City and everyone and their uncle is reading about ‘Crazy Avery’. Do you have any idea what that feels like? This is mortifying.”

He put down his fork and leaned in to whisper. “Do you know what it felt like to sit outside of our building and watch that guy leave? That guy who you said was just a work friend? Tell me how you think that feels, Amy.”

I looked away.

“Tell me how it feels when I get a call from a stranger at three o’clock in the morning, and you have to go pick up your girlfriend from some apartment in Williamsburg because she’s too drunk to go home by herself when she told you she was just grabbing dinner with her girlfriends. Tell me what that feels like.”

I didn’t speak. He kept going.

“Tell me what it feels like to use almost all the money I had in savings to pay your bail. Tell me what that feels like.”

“That was a bad time in my life, okay? I know that I was difficult.”

“Yeah, difficult,” he said, and I knew the word didn’t even begin to cover it.

“I don’t know what to tell you. I can’t change what I did.”

“Well, I’m sorry that you don’t like what you read. But, you know, it’s true. So, if you don’t like the Amy that’s in print, maybe you should examine the Amy you are in person.”

I didn’t say anything. He waited for me to answer. We sat there for a while, him glaring at me, me staring at my plate of pasta, without a word.

“Is that why you asked me here tonight?” he asked me finally.

I shook my head. “No. Well, yes and no. I asked you here because, well, because I had a question.”

“Okay. Let’s hear it.”

“In the end of the book, we find out that the main character is still in love with Avery. We find out that he wants to get back together with her. He wants to give her another chance.”

“Yeah, so?”

I took a breath. “Well, so, I guess I wanted to know if that’s true. I wanted to know if you want to give me another chance. If you’re still in love with me.”

He sat back in his chair, crossed his arms across his chest, and let out a sigh. “God, Amy, really?”

“How can I not ask, Henry? I mean, it’s right there in the last chapter! The main character says he’s still in love with Avery, even though she’s a mess, even though she cheated on him. He says that he loves her enough to work with her through their issues. I mean, how can I not ask if that’s true?”

“It’s been over a year, Amy.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, I guess, when I wrote it, yeah, I was still in love with you. But that was a year ago. And a lot has happened in that year.”

“I know.”

“And, well, I have a suspicion that you still haven’t gotten real help.” He glanced at my empty martini glass. “Have you?”

I swallowed before I answered. “No, not yet.”

“Amy,” he reached out and took my hand in his. “I’m always going to love you, okay? But I can’t go through all that again. I just can’t. I owe it to myself not to.”

“But, but, in your book you said—”

“I know what I said.” He squeezed my hand tight, and then let it go. “But that’s a book. It’s fiction.”

I pushed the martini glass away from me with my free hand.

“Look, I’m not really very hungry anymore,” he said. “And I think that maybe it would be best if I go now.” He let go, and started to lift himself up from his chair.

“Please, let’s finish our dinner. Don’t leave.”

“No, Amy, I really think I should.” He stood up and pulled two twenty-dollar bills from his wallet to leave by his uneaten plate of food. “I’m sorry you didn’t hear what you wanted to tonight. I really am.”

I nodded.

He paused for a second, crossing his arms over his blazer again, tapping his foot the way he always did when he was thinking. “Do me a favor?”

“What’s that?”

He pursed his lips before he spoke. “Take care of yourself this time, okay? Can you do that, please? For me?” I was reminded of the old Henry. The Henry in the flannel, pacing around our apartment on a rant while I sat on our bed, going on and on about how he couldn’t love me enough for the both of us. Because I had to put in some effort too.

I squeezed my eyes shut. “Okay.”

With that, he pushed in his chair, turned, and left me sitting there, alone with his book.

Chuck reappeared to scoop up my empty glass. “Do you want another drink, Amy?”

I shook my head. “No, thank you. I’m done.”

An Extrovert’s Guide to Living Alone

In the past few months, I think I’ve counted maybe thirteen different articles floating around the internet about how to treat introverts.  Lists of reasons why introverts don’t want to hang out with me, and what it is that introverts need in their lives, and how staying in on a Friday night is actually an introvert’s paradise, have all made their way to my computer screen.  Every time I open up Buzzfeed to kill some time and watch single people live like a married couple for a week, or whatever, I find a piece of journalism dedicated to catering to the needs of the solitary, and honestly, I’m over it.  I get it, you like to crawl in a hole in the ground every day and sit by yourself, I know, I know, I know.  But where does that leave me?  Am I supposed to go sit by myself too?

Maybe I’m being insensitive, but I really think that the half of the population who got an ‘I’ on the Meyer’s Briggs test has it a little easier.  I mean, come on, I would love to crawl under the covers all day and actually enjoy it.  But as someone who is extroverted to a fault, I can’t.  Being by myself for hours at a time leaves me lonely, drained, and hungry for a face-to-face connection.  Just like you introverts need a few hours a day to recharge alone, my batteries die if I don’t get my daily dose of human interaction.

This year I signed myself up to do something totally unnatural for an extrovert.  For the next two semesters, I am living alone.  This may sound like heaven to some: a life with nothing but peace and quiet when you come home from the school day, but for me, who has had roommates since age sixteen, from boarding school to freshman dorms to the sorority house, it’s intimidating to think that I will be the only resident in my living space (other than the dog, of course).  As much as I would like to think of my apartment as a sanctuary, coming home to an empty one-bedroom is forcing me far outside of my comfort zone.  It has been an adjustment, to say the least.

But, I’m getting better.

I recently read a book that lived up to its name: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  I was apprehensive to read a book all about about cleaning, since I like to live by the mantra of ‘creative minds are never tidy’.  I didn’t know if this book could offer much to me, but I was interested to see what all the hype was around this book was about, since it’s been a best-seller for months.  Kondo gives some good tips, and, yes, my apartment is now immaculate, but she extends a philosophy about tidying up that I think can be applied to my extrovert-living-as-an-introvert situation.

Kondo tells her readers to reprogram the way they think about tidying.  She wants you to retrain your brain and look at the time spent tidying up your things as a practice of meditation.  It isn’t a chore, or a hassle, or one more thing to check off the to-do list.  It is good for the soul.  It is something to look forward to.  It is something that will leave you feeling whole.  Now, trust me, I hate cleaning about as much as I hate hanging out with myself, but if I’m going to make it through this year in my apartment alone, I’m going to have to shift my perspective.

Thinking this way is a challenge.  Honestly, it feels more natural to slip back into the mindset I’ve always had about living alone.  It’s easy to be bitter, it’s easy to assume that I know what I need to be mentally recharged, it’s easy to avoid coming home.  But at the end of the day, when there’s no one there to feed my extroversion,  and it’s just me in my apartment, I have to make a choice.  I can see the solitude as a burden, or I can see it as a gift.  When it comes down to it, I would rather this experience grow me than defeat me, so I’m stretching myself to look at it differently.  And it’s a little painful, but that’s why they call it ‘growing pains’.

They say that when a couple moves in together, the relationship changes drastically.  You’re closer, you discover every little thing about each other, and you learn to accept those things, flaws and all.  You are forced to reconcile your differences under one roof so that you can create a healthy environment.  That’s how I’m looking at this stage of my life.  I’ve moved in with me, and we’re about to get to know each other a whole lot better.  I’m excited to see how my relationship with myself will evolve in the next year.  And while I don’t think I’ll ever change at the core and I’m always going to choose a crowded room over an empty one, I think it’s time I learn how to be content in the empty room, and maybe even appreciate the lessons to be found in there.

 

 

 

The Broken Haven: Chapter 1

Hi everyone!  I’m doing a little shameless promoting for this blog post, but I think everyone will really enjoy!  If you don’t already know, my first novel was recently published by Lands Atlantic.  It has been such an exciting journey.  I thought it might be fun to share the first chapter on The Rough Draft!  If you’re interested in reading more, The Broken Have can be purchased here!

Chapter 1:

Eleanor

I died on a Friday, just like Jesus Christ. Actually, it was nothing like Jesus Christ. I shouldn’t compare my insignificant life to his. I was not nailed to a cross by my wrists and feet. My death did not wash away anyone’s sins. In fact, I think that my death caused more trouble than good. We did, however, both die on the same day of the week, so there is that.

I wish I could have died for a cause or something I believed in, but I was not granted such a luxury. My short life was stolen from me. When I was murdered.

Ewig is a place where not much happens. It’s a town nestled about halfway up Mount Ewig and consists of a population of less than two thousand, which, might I point out, is about the size of a large public high school. Most of the people that live there have done so since they were born and most of the people that died there are buried alongside their families in the Ewig cemetery. I lived in Ewig from the day I was born until the age of seventeen when I met my fate.

It is a sad truth that life and time are often wasted away. Days are spent on the road, watching television, crunching numbers, devoting effort and energy to things that don’t really matter, things that are never relevant in the long run. Hours turn to days, days turn to months. , and then, after years of just passing the time along turns into a lifetime of emptiness, the dying lay on their deathbeds and wonder when all the tomorrows disappeared and when all the yesterdays turned into a haze of nothing special. And then, because being so close to death has given the dying some sort of clarity, they warn the young, the ones who still have precious time, to live. They tell them to really, really live, never to squander away a single moment, because in retrospect, it all goes by so fast. But the young don’t listen, and they won’t listen, because they think they still have a lifetime to waste.

I’ve only met one person who I believe had the right idea about life and time at a young age, and that is because Phillip Kidd had lived for much longer than his body credited him for.

I sit here, today, the dead girl in the living room, listening to my parents in the kitchen. I cannot see myself, but I can imagine that I look like something you fished out of the drain.

“She hasn’t said a word in any of her therapy sessions,” I hear my dad whisper. The house is soundless. They are less than twenty feet away, and they think that I am so far gone that I cannot hear them. “I’m just wondering what we’re paying for now. It’s not working.”

“It will work. But it’s going to take time. This is going to be a process. No one ever said she would be back and better after just a few sessions.” This, from my mom. “Maybe when she goes today, she’ll talk.”

They think I’ll get better. But I know I won’t. I am once again gripped with the thoughts that have been circling my brain for weeks now. What the hell happened to me?

I sat there on that Friday, at my desk in the corner of Christina Griffin’s Algebra II classroom, gazing out the window. Four sheets of almost blank paper, a calculator, and a mechanical pencil with barely any lead in it lay before me. I had been sitting there, alternating between staring out the window at the great blue sky and at the clock, for over an hour. There were exactly sixteen minutes left of my junior year of high school until summer vacation. Sixteen minutes left to finish my math final, the final I was going to epically, utterly fail. I had tried to alter a few of the problems by changing the numbers printed on the page with a ballpoint pen to make them more manageable, but it was no use.

At last, the final bell rang, and excited chatter and thudding footsteps echoed throughout all of Lancaster Prep. I stood, collected the untouched papers and took them to Mrs. Griffin’s desk, hoping I could slyly slip them under someone else’s test. Just as I reached the door, doing my best to get to the safety of the hallway, I heard my name called from behind me.

“Miss Loveless?”

I froze. The door slammed as the last person exited, and I was alone in the classroom with Mrs. Griffin. I turned apprehensively to look at her as she scanned the test I had just turned in.

“Yeah?” It came out far more sassy than I had intended. I had sort of given up on being polite to my teachers after they had started to call me “bright, but unmotivated,” in the comments on my report card. Mrs. Griffin had even gone so far as to say that she “had never seen a student with so little invested in her high school career.” My mother had highlighted that sentence in bright yellow and tacked it up on my bedroom door when she got it in the mail, as if I didn’t already know.

Mrs. Griffin continued to scowl. It wasn’t a pretty face; in fact, she was really unfortunate looking, which made her so much easier to dislike. She had damp curls, weighed down by some form of a greasy, hair product that really didn’t do her any favors. Her glasseswere old-fashioned and her clothes were dusty and overly business-y. She reminded me of one of the evil queens in the Disney movies I used to watch as a kid: high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, and really thick layers of makeup spread over a face of wrinkles.

“You didn’t finish your exam,” she said, sliding it toward me on the surface of her desk. She looked at me expectantly, as though she wanted me to retrieve it, but I stayed by the door. Through the glass windowpane, I saw a group of students gather their things together to head home, laughing with their friends and loosening their uniform ties. I envied them. They seemed so carefree. They would never be asked to stay behind after class to be disciplined for failure to complete an exam on a Friday afternoon, especially the Friday before summer vacation.

“I did.”

“No, Miss Loveless, you did not. This is mostly blank. You absolutely cannot turn in work of this quality for a grade.”

“I mean,” I said as I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, “what do you want me to do?”

“Sit down and take your test.”

“But, I did. I mean, I tried.”

“Eleanor,” she said as she picked it up and flipped through it again. “I’m sorry, but this looks like you absolutely did not try. It looks like you put in as little effort as possible. Did you…” she stopped and squinted at one of the pages, “change the questions? What is this?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Eleanor, this is infuriating. How many times have I asked you to come to me after school and let me help you?”

“Sorry,” I said again.

“Sit down and try once more.” She looked at me with disgust, as though I had a curse word scribbled across my forehead. I took a second to contemplate how I could get out of sitting down in a classroom by myself for the next hour, staring at the same problems I knew I couldn’t solve.

“That would be kind of pointless.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said it would be kind of pointless.”

“Pointless?” She narrowed her gaze, her beady eyes smaller and less attractive than before. She was one of those people who you could tell was mean just by looking at them. People like that always end up doing torturous things like teaching math.

“I mean, let’s face it, I don’t know how to do this stuff. I spent the past hour and a half not knowing how to do this stuff. I don’t think sitting down and giving it another try will render any different results.”

“Miss Loveless, if you do not finish this exam, you will not pass my class.”

“I know,” I sighed.

“I’ll have to notify your parents right away.”

“I know.” I wanted more than anything to leave. “May I be excused now?”

She studied my face for a minute, as though she was trying to figure me out. I looked at the floor. “Yes,” she said at last, a hint of exasperation in her voice, “you may go.”

I turned, but before I had even reached for the doorknob, she stopped me again.

“I just have one last question before you leave, Eleanor,” she paused and took in a deep breath. “Why do you do this to yourself?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Eleanor, if you would just believe in yourself and try a little harder you could do great things! If you turned in your homework and came to me with questions, you wouldn’t be so unprepared for tests. You should not be failing my class. You’re such a smart girl.”

“I’m not, actually.” I didn’t want to look at her. All my teachers went on and on about how I didn’t care about their classes anymore, and I really couldn’t argue with them. That’s what they all said: that I was a smart girl. I was so sick of being called a smart girl. It had become an insult.

Truthfully, I didn’t care. While the rest of the world was working on maintaining their grade point averages and reading college brochures, I stood still, waiting for something worthwhile to happen to me, something that would actually change me for the better, something exciting. Something that would take me far away from Ewig. Little did I know what I was in for.

Once in the hall, I dashed toward my locker, when suddenly I felt someone from behind me grab my arm. At first, I thought it might be Mrs. Griffin, ready to torment me a little more with my pitiable test, but I turned around to find Kent Harris, captain of almost all of the varsity teams at Lancaster.

I remember meeting Kent Harris on the first day of kindergarten almost twelve years ago, and from that day on, I did not like him. He was mean, he was a bully, and he had always been taller and bigger than all the other boys in our class. By the time we all graduated from Ewig Elementary and got to Lancaster Junior High, he had about a foot of height on everyone else and looked like Superman. Everyone respected him, some out of habit, some out of fear, mostly because the alternative was painful. Kent beat people up. I’d seen him shove frail freshmen in the halls on several occasions and overheard him trashing various people at his lunch table full of varsity football players. Maybe he wasn’t all that bad, but the side of himself that he advertised at school was thoroughly rotten.

And yet, as much as I hated him, a part of me was always brought back to December of eighth grade, when all of Lancaster was buzzing with rumors of Kent Harris, that he had taken almost all of his father’s pain pills for arthritis and had slit one of his wrists open in the shower. He didn’t come back to school the semester after and no one saw him during the summer. First day of ninth grade, he was there and he was beautiful and masculine and confident, and no one said a word. I didn’t know if it was true or completely made up, but I always felt sorry for Kent, just a little bit.

“Eleanor, slow down,” he said, pulling me backward so I shuffled over my own feet. I tipped back, stumbled, and fell to the floor. “Well, look at that, Loveless.” He smirked. “You fell for me.”

The thing about the boys at my school, and I say this not to brag or to use as a redeeming factor in the story that is my sorry life, was that they chased me. It’s because I’m pretty. I’m not being conceited, I’m just aware. Most of the time, the boys would lose interest, once they had a conversation with me and figured out that I willingly chose to sit in my room and read on weekend nights and basically never talked to anyone.

Kent was a little different though. No matter how many times I turned him down, because “meathead” just wasn’t really my type, he would always try again. I always resisted though, because the idea of hanging out with Kent Harris made me a little sick to my stomach. I mean, sure, he was good-looking, he was very, very good-looking, but he had dated almost every girl at Lancaster who was pretty enough for his standards. Part of me just didn’t want to be added to his list of conquests. The thing about those girls was that they were all aware of his well-deserved reputation of being a serial-dater when they agreed to go out with him. You would think that the female side of Lancaster’s junior class would band together and make a pact not to date him, but apparently not one girl was capable of turning away his good looks and overused pick-up lines.

“What do you want, Kent?” I asked, regaining my balance and standing. I noticed that he still had not let go of my arm.

“Hey, that’s no way to greet a friend,” he replied, smirking.

“I’m sorry, are we friends?” I started heading for my locker again. “Because the last time I checked, you were just some guy who wouldn’t leave me alone.”

He trailed closely behind. “Come on, Loveless. You know I like a challenge.

“How flattering.” I reached my locker, opened it, and tossed my calculator inside. I turned and walked in the other direction, hoping Kent would stop following. To my dismay, he didn’t.

“I’ve been hanging around here forever looking for you.”

“I was talking to a teacher.” I picked up the pace, trying to out-walk him. It didn’t work.

“Well, what are you doing right now?”

“It’s a Friday afternoon, Kent. I’m leaving.”

“Eleanor, wait,” he yanked me toward him again, gripping the same arm. I glanced around the hallway, noticing for the first time that it was completely empty. I knew everyone wanted to get off campus as quickly as possible after the last bell, but I hadn’t predicted that the school would be so deserted. From the outside, Lancaster looks like a posh sorority house, made of dark red brick with colonial columns and white trim on all the windows, but I know for a fact that the teaching salary keeps declining and our tuition keeps rising and the money all goes to the upkeep of appearances. There, alone in the hallway with Kent Harris, surrounded by hardwood and navy blue lockers and gold light fixtures above every doorway, I was reminded of just how uncomfortable this place made me, and was even more grateful that I had chosen to spend as little extra time there as possible.

“Listen, a bunch of us are heading up to the cliff at Mount Ewig, and we’re going to, you know, throw rocks off it and stuff. You should come.”

I glared at him in disbelief. “You’re… what?”

“We’re going up to the top of Mount Ewig.”

“The suicide cliff?”

“Yeah, why not? You should come along.”

“I am not going up to Suicide Hill with you, Kent. It’s creepy up there.”

“Well how would you know?” he asked. “Have you ever been there before?”

“No,” I said. “Have you?”

“Plenty of times,” he bragged, a dopey grin on his face. I had the feeling he was lying.

No one willingly hikes all the way to the top of Mount Ewig unless they have the intention of never coming back down again. Hundreds of years ago, when the cemetery in Ewig hadn’t even been plotted yet, a group of settlers built the town from the ground up, just before the founding fathers wrote a stern letter to the mad king across the pond informing him that they were declaring their independence.

Before long, several of the men in the town left to serve the country, and only a few made it home. This caused the widows of Ewig to hike to the peak of the mountain, where the cliff drops directly to uncharted forest a few hundred feet below. There, they would leave the troubles of this life behind and jump to the next one, with one step of desperation.

For about a hundred years after, Ewig was still. The people were peaceful, and the bleak history of the cliff seemed to have been forgotten. The era was, however, short-lived, and after that came the dispute between the north and south. Since the rumors of “Suicide Hill” were still afloat a century later, people took the leap as war tore one family apart after another. Ewig became one of the most popular spots for suicide in the continental United States. They fenced off the hiking trails leading to the top sometime in the late 1940’ s, after the second and first world wars led grieving widows to reunite with their loved ones lost in Europe, and wealthy businessmen who had been destroyed by the stock market crash took the leap. People came from miles around to jump from Suicide Hill. To an outside observer, jumping off the cliff would almost look like a sick trend. However, for those who are determined enough, hopping a chain-link fence is hardly an obstacle compared to the trouble life can dish out.

My grandmother, Cecilia Loveless, my father’s mother, did something terrible when she was in her mid-twenties. She had only been married for three years and my father was a baby. It was quite the cliché really: she came home early one day to find her husband in bed with her sister, Eleanor, who I am named after. Instead of throwing a fit and demanding a divorce like any sane person would do, she quietly turned and headed to the top of Mount Ewig. There, she met her fate, leaving my grandfather with the baby and a world of guilt to live with for the rest of his days. He ended up marrying my great aunt, and together they raised my father until they both died and were buried in the Ewig cemetery.

“No thanks,” I said, twisting my arm to break Kent’s grasp and pushing open the mahogany double doors that led out to the parking lot. I was blinded by the rush of daylight and had to stop and squint before I got dizzy. I started toward the sidewalk, because, me being the loser that I am, I still don’t drive and I have to walk everywhere.

“Come on, Eleanor,” Kent said, reappearing and positioning himself in front of me, blocking my path. “What are you going to do instead? Go home?”

Across the lot, I noticed Mrs. Griffin heading to her car, carrying her briefcase and a white cardboard box stuffed with manila folders and assorted assignments. She had her cell phone pressed to her ear.

“No,” I said, feeling the heat of nervousness wash through my insides. “Parents are there.” I would come home to a bitter mother and disappointed father. They would sit me down at the dining room table, my mom would do most of the talking, my dad chiming in when he thought of something to say. They would then force me to study, checking over my shoulder every ten minutes just to make sure I was actually working and not copying down the lyrics to a Simon and Garfunkel song. And then they would say something like, “Why do you keep doing this to us?” I would feel horrible about myself. It would be miserable. It would inevitably happen, but I could postpone it. Going to the top of Mount Ewig with Kent and his friends didn’t sound so terrible. At least, I didn’t think it would kill me.

 

 

.Hope y’all enjoyed!  To keep reading, you can purchase your copy by clicking here!  I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, so please always feel free to email me: sarahgalyeanjonesauthor@gmail.com!

Have a good weekend everyone!

SGJ

 

 

The Writer’s Tool Box

Hello, everyone.

I’ve been incredibly busy lately, what with my book coming out in less than twenty days (HOLY MOLY, IT’S FINALLY HERE) and revisions of the new book and working on short stories for my fiction class and also forcing myself to trudge through all of the other academic work on my agenda so I can actually, you know, earn a degree and not give my dad a heart attack when he finds out he paid tuition dollars for C’s, so I haven’t had a lot of time to come up with fun and quippy ideas for blog entires.  However, with all of this extra writing I’ve been doing, I’ve realized that I can’t really have a productive day of talking to myself unless I’m well-equipped with my “writer’s tool box”.

Now, I know you may be conjuring up images of a some rusty looking fishing tackle box or Luke’s tool box, Burt, from Gilmore Girls (I appreciate you if you get the reference), but, alas, I have no physical container to store these necessary items.  My “writer’s tool box” is imaginary, so the comparison may be a bit of stretch, but it’s 11:06 on a Tuesday night, so cut me a break.  Anyway, I thought I would share with you what all I have in it.

1.  Massive amounts of coffee

Here’s a true story for you.  This morning, I woke up a little early to get started on my daily goal of 2,000 words, and rolled out of bed at the wee hour of 8 AM (I’m in college.  This, to me, is early.) and came downstairs to let my dog out and brew myself a warm cup of liquid personality.  Except for one thing: I was out of coffee.  How could I let this happen?  How could I have been so foolish?  So, I put on some pants and got in my car to head to my local Starbucks.  I turn in to go through the drive through, when I see this heinous disaster: a chalkboard has been propped up at the entrance that says that both the indoor cafe and drive through are closed due to a power outage.  They are sorry for the inconvenience.  I, personally, feel that their apology doesn’t quite make up for the inconvenience.  Alas, I know that I can’t come home unless I have something caffeinated in my hand, and I look way too just-rolled-out-of-bed to go into a grocery store for ground coffee.  So I stooped to a level of fast food eating that’s lower than low: the McDonald’s McCafe.  It’s not my favorite, or ever my first choice, but it did the trick.

 

2.  Auto-Save

I can’t tell you how many good stories I have lost to Word Document.  It’s taken me a long time to get over myself make the switch, but I now only use Google Docs, and they take extra special good care of my work.  I feel like they actually care.

 

3.  Major self-control, or an App that doesn’t let you get on BuzzFeed while you work.

There are a lot of these out there.  I highly recommend Freedom.  Suddenly, I don’t go from composing dialogue to scrolling through a list of “Dogs Who Are Stuck in Things, But Totally Okay With It” and lose hours of my day to the black hole that is the Internet.

 

4.  A good editor.

Thanks, Mom!  Hold on to these people like they owe you money.  Even though you probably owe them money for reading your crappy first drafts.

 

5.  A door that locks.

I get a little weird when I’m in the writing zone.  I pace around the floor, I have conversations with myself, I end up in all kinds of yoga positions to get the blood (and, hopefully, ideas) flowing to my head.  I don’t necessarily want the rest of the world to see this.  So, I lock the door.

 

6.  Other books.

“You’re not a writer unless you’re a reader.”  I don’t know who said that, so I’m claiming it as my own.  On the days I don’t write, I try to read a little of something someone else wrote.  It keeps you sharp.  Like a pencil.  A pencil that you write with!

 

7.  A deadline.

This works for some people better than others.  I’m the type of person who won’t do anything if you give me unlimited time to do it, so I make up deadlines for myself, and then I act like it’s incredibly important that I finish on time, or else we might face a real life The Day After Tomorrow situation, or something.  Which might make for a good story.  So there you go.

 

If you have any other tools for your writer’s toolbox that you swear by, I’d love to hear about them.  And possibly steal them from you.  Thanks for reading!

SGJ

 

 

Late night thoughts on Valentine’s Day…

This is probably going to be a quick post, not because I don’t think it’s important, but because it’s 10:52 on a Sunday night and I have a test in the morning.  But it’s on my mind, so I thought I might talk about it.

 

I had a bad week.  Like, really bad.  I won’t go into the ‘why’, but I will say that my boyfriend deserves a crown and a gold star for listening to me whine for the past seven days.  He’s a good one.

 

But, despite the fact that I had some things happen this week that, well, weren’t my favorite, I can be grateful for one thing.  I had an okay Valentine’s Day.

 

Now, before you shut down your browser because you don’t want to hear about flowers and candy and my romantic restaurant dinner for two and all the lovey dovey moments of my day, hold up.  Full disclosure: today, I studied for my test that I have in the morning, took another online test, ate a Healthy Choice microwave dinner, and watched the Bachelor reunion thing that came on TV tonight so I could spend time with the real love of my life, Chris Harrison.  Just kidding.  Sort of.  But, no, I’m telling you, we did nothing today that had anything to do with celebrating this Hallmark holiday.  At all.  I promise.  And I was really, really okay with it.

 

I was pretty single for a long time, so I know what it feels like when Valentine’s Day (or, as it is sometimes lovingly dubbed, Singles’ Awareness Day) rolled around and I had no boyfriend to buy me a giant teddy bear or anything.  I would spend the entire day, morning to night, feeling sorry for myself.  It wasn’t because I really wanted a giant teddy bear, it was because I didn’t want to be reminded that I was alone, and I felt excluded from all of the festivities because I wasn’t part of a package deal.  For someone like me, who is very affected by seasonal depression, Valentine’s Day could not have come at a worse time.

 

I’ll make my point, and then I’m going to bed.  To all of you girls out there who had a crappy day, I wish I could give you a hug (or buy you a heart-shaped box of chocolates, if you would prefer that) because I’ve been there.  But try to remember that this day, while, yes, is a scheme for candy and flower companies to make money, is also about love.  Love can be shared between all kinds of people, in all different relationships, and that includes family, friends, and pets.  Pick someone in your life who you love, and call them and tell them.  They may be feeling low today too.

 

And, if you like a big cheesy Valentine’s, that’s great.  But don’t be upset if your significant other didn’t pull out all the stops.  In my opinion, a good relationship is one where it feels like Valentine’s Day 365 days of the year, and you don’t need a goofy holiday to prove it.

 

And can I just say, can we please bring back elementary school Valentine’s Day?  Because that was so fun!  I want to decorate a shoebox and make a bunch of paper cards for everyone in my third grade class.  How can we do this as adults?  Someone figure this out and make it a thing.

 

So, anyway, to tie all this up, spread the love.  But kill the hype.  Because this holiday makes people feel bad.  And I would really like to change that.

 

Love all around and goodnight!

SGJ

The Smart Girl

I just absolutely hate it when bloggers begin their latest blog post with something like, “Sorry, I’ve been so absent, and haven’t been posting on my blog, but…”  It’s a my-dog-ate-my-homework excuse.  Like, don’t apologize!  Keep up with your blog!  Make a blogging schedule and stick to it!  Come on!  Be disciplined, damn it!

But, despite that, I’m sorry I’ve been so absent lately.  I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything since, um, December?  I’m sorry, okay?  I’m actually sorry.  I feel guilty.  I’m not sure if anybody actually reads this, but, if you do, and you look forward to hearing from me from time to time, I apologize for failing you.  I will be better.  I will try.  Maybe.

Okay, moving on.  Let’s get started.

I’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs in my writing career in the past few weeks, which will explain why I have been M.I.A. on my blog.  Luckily, it has been a lot more ups than downs (which is rare in a writer’s life)!  I finished a new novel, and I am actually receiving some pretty good feedback on it.  I don’t want to tell you how good, because I would hate to jinx anything, but if everyone could just send up a prayer and/or beg the universe to deliver some positive vibes, that would be great.  Because I have my fingers crossed.  Big time.

But, unfortunately, like most writers, I get a lot of rejection letters.  They’re great, man.  I mean, I really love having something extra to blow my nose on when I’m out of tissues.  Very useful.  No, but, really, getting rejected really can sting.  That moment where your heart drops, when you can actually feel it descend a few inches in your chest and then-THUD!-collapse right around the top of your stomach, is pretty much the worst.  I’ve been there, and if you write, I know you have too.

I wrote an essay for a magazine recently that I actually thought had a shot of making the cut.  Like, I really worked on it.  Like, did several drafts and rounds of editing.  So, since I worked so hard, receiving the “polite step aside” today was no fun whatsoever.

I took a few moments to myself to sit alone in my room and be sad.  And then when I was done grieving, I googled famous authors who made it big after countless rejections and listened to Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” on repeat, which always makes me feel better.  That was when I realized that, hey, I have a blog!  And I can put whatever I want on my blog!  And that includes this essay!  No, it’s not as glamorous as prize money and being printed in a magazine, but at least it’s getting out there in the world.  And maybe someone will read it, and relate to it, and like it.  Which is the whole point anyway.

So, I’m giving you my essay that I wrote, and I hope you enjoy it.  Here it is:

 

The Smart Girl
By Sarah Galyean Jones

I got my first C in the second grade. The second grade. I want to repeat that one more time, just to let it resonate that the first time in my life that I got a C was when I was seven years old and the most complicated thing we were learning was multiplication tables. I got a C in second grade. My first, and definitely not my last.

I would also like to clarify that this C was not just on some dinky homework assignment or a quiz or a test even. No. That C was my final grade. And just like Hester Prynne, that letter served as a scarlet mark to shame my second-grade self. But, unlike Hester Prynne, the letter was a C, not an A. I would have traded my Oreos at lunch every day for the rest of the school year if it meant I could have an A.

Mrs. Albert stood at the front of our class and passed out the academic prizes, blue ribbons to represent the achievements of the smartest kids who made the prestigious Principal’s Honor Roll and red ribbons for the less respectable, but still acceptable, Honor Roll. I received a yellow ribbon, a “thanks for playing” participation prize, which I promptly ripped off and stuffed in my pocket.

“Where is your ribbon?” asked on of the girls in my class, whose shiny blue ribbon was tacked to her sequined t-shirt from Limited Too.

“Oh, I just didn’t want to lose it, so I put it away,” I remember saying, trying to act casual.

 

Report cards came out every six weeks, and during those anticipatory few days when I knew its arrival was forthcoming, I kept a hawk eye on our mailbox like I did on the fireplace at Christmas Eve, hoping Santa Clause might come early by mistake. I checked it before and after school and at least once before bed, darting outside with my breath held and heart beating. My parents must have thought I was some kind of mail-obsessed child, thoroughly thrilled by the idea that bills and coupon books would magically appear at our house daily.

After a few days of fervent stalking, the wilted envelope with the Memphis City Schools emblem on the top left corner finally showed up. “To the parents of Sarah Jones” was printed on the front. I was so proud of myself for having gotten to it before my parents. I took in the mail like every other day, put the Funny Times in the wicker basket on the front hall table, and slipped the humiliation-laden envelope in my backpack where I intended to hide it. I was set! They would never know! The evidence was safe! And I would be saved from having to confront my parents with the realization that their kid was not as good as the other kids that brought home gleaming report cards covered in A’s.

 

As I’m sure you can guess, this did not work. They found out in the worst possible way: my teacher called, and my mom was hit with a one-two punch. One: your daughter is having trouble math. Two: you haven’t received the report card yet?

Now, I was not only a dumb kid; I was a slimy, weasel-y, dishonest kid who hid mail from her parents. Oops.

 

I went to a pretty typical elementary school. We had those wavy cardboard borders along the edge of every paper-covered bulletin board. Every student was required to bring a box of tissues and a bottle of hand sanitizer on the first day of school to supply the classroom for the upcoming year. You belonged to Miss Leroy’s Leapfrogs or Mrs. Davis’s Dolphins or Mrs. Wade’s Warthogs, or whatever last-name animal alliteration you happened to be placed in. It was a big deal to have your artwork tacked up in the hallway and an even bigger deal to beat all the other kids at four-square on the playground. We had a Christmas program and science fair every year.

And really, I was a pretty typical elementary school kid. I carried my super cool blue leopard print backpack to my second grade class and hung it up in my very own locker every day. I had a take-home folder with homework inside it. I always brought my lunch from home, packed by my mom, instead of stooping to the unspeakable fate of having to buy Memphis City Schools’ food from the cafeteria. Which was gross. I was a fairly cute, mild-mannered, slightly short, blonde girl missing a few teeth, with a striking resemblance to both the illustrations and actress who portrayed Eloise in “Eloise at the Plaza”.

Our classroom was an array of some twenty multi-cultural, middle-class children, diverse with personality. We had shy Rory and Lucas who was good at science and Leigh who was as happy-go-lucky as a golden retriever. And then, me. Me, who even at a young age, refused to be ignored, already overpowered by the only-child’s deep seated need for constant attention and praise, and the desire to stand out. I longed to be the best at something. The day I received my C, I realized I could cross “smartest” right off the list.

 

Up until that moment, I had been pretty good in school. I never even fathomed that I could possibly make a C. Now, not only was I panicked with what my parents would say, I would have to find my new niche. I was good in art class, but not the best one. My piano lessons never amounted to much. I was a lost cause in gym, thoroughly hating the experience and already annoyed with those kids who claimed P.E. was their favorite part of the day (What’s fun about running? I still don’t know). I wasn’t the prettiest girl in my grade. I wasn’t the funniest either. I wasn’t the sweetest, or the best dressed, or the most athletic. I was seven years old and desperately seeking what superlative I could assume. I needed to find just where my talents were hidden and somehow prove to everyone I wasn’t un-special. My search seemed to always come up short. And now, with my C in math, I wasn’t just thoroughly average, I was sub-par.

And here’s what made everything worse: we had evidence that I wasn’t just an unfortunate dumb kid. No, I was actually a smart girl. How frustrating for my poor parents to watch their only daughter, who scored in the 99th percentile on standardized tests, sit through a flashcard session flustered and red-faced, getting every one wrong. When I kept struggling, even after my traumatic C, and my grades began to fall in every other subject in grades 3, 4, and 5, they began to wonder if there was an underlying culprit for my academic troubles. With a daughter so clearly gifted, there had to be a reason why it wasn’t translating in the classroom. And so began the tests.

I went to a number of specialists and psychologists and psychiatrists and other “ists”, all of them charmed with the spunky adolescent in their office but not clear on a solution to her problem. Results came back, and to my parents’ relief and also continued exasperation, I was perfectly fine. ADD? No. ADHD? Nope. Motor Skills? No problem. Dyslexia? Not even a little bit. Nothing was wrong. Nothing needed medication. They even had my hearing checked (turns out, I am, what the doctor called, a selective listener). We didn’t even have a faulty glasses prescription to blame it on. It was just me; my C was all my fault, no disorder to use as a scape goat.

So, we pressed on, and I kept struggling, and the only thing my parents could think to do was put me in a new school.

Act Two began, aka middle school, and I found myself in one of the most academically rigorous schools in Memphis, who had told my desperate parents that they could harness my potential and turn me into the student I was meant to be. I wish I could tell you that one C in math made me so determined never to sink to that level again that I began to “do my best on the test” at my new school, soaring through British Literature and doing cartwheels around the history of Mesopotamia and dissecting every frog like a promising young surgeon. This was not the case.

Here’s an even bigger confession, and one I would rather not admit in this personal essay, but I’m going to do it because it’ll make for good writing. I have even failed an English class. Me, the writer, the senior English major, the published author, had an F on her report card in seventh grade English. Granted, it was English grammar, and I knew even then that I would never, ever, actually need to diagram a sentence in real life, but still.

 

That was really shameful. That brought tears.

After that F, my mom and dad hired a tutor. A sweet lady from our church, and luckily a former teacher at the school, came to our house a few nights a week and sat with me in my room to go over the different types of pronouns. The stakes had been raised, because an F was really, actually bad news and meant academic probation for me at my advanced, all-girls college preparatory, elitist school. So, I kicked it into gear, because, all of the sudden it became too clear that skirting around sentence diagrams could actually mean having to switch schools again, a consequence I didn’t want to endure. After a few weeks of having objects of prepositions and indirect objects and reflexive verbs drilled into me, we finally had another test in English Grammar, and by the grace of God, I got a low A.

I was thrilled! I had done it! I realized then that the studying and the flashcards and the highlighters and the repetition actually worked! It wasn’t all just an elaborate torture device! After class, I sauntered up to my teacher’s desk to receive my congratulations, all to proud of the 93% printed in red ink at the top of my paper.

What came next was one of those occurrences in childhood that you will forever remember, because even at a young age, you knew you were being wronged. My teacher was not as thrilled as I had hoped she would be. In fact, she was livid.

“You should have been doing this all along. You should have been getting A’s all semester. I don’t want any more excuses.”

She stared at me with a look so unforgiving that I still have it burned in my memory some ten years later. I don’t know if she intended to crush me like that, but looking back on this episode in my childhood, I know now that I didn’t really care if I got an A or not in English Grammar. I just wanted everyone to be proud of me. I wanted the gold stars and the high fives and the celebratory dinners out where my proud dad tells the waiter to bring a dessert menu because his daughter got straight A’s and she deserved it. Where I should have been praised, I was shamed for not always delivering the work of a “smart girl.”

 

I would switch schools twice more before I eventually found my way at a high school that did an excellent job of openly embracing all types of students. There, at my little boarding school on top of a mountain in middle Tennessee, where we called the teachers by their first names and often had class outside and could design independent studies that counted for credit, was where I finally, finally, finally, started to make decent grades. Not straight A’s, never straight A’s, but a solid-enough average so that I could actually get into college. And thank God.

So often, we adults feel that we can predict the rest of a child’s life by judging their performance in the first few years of school by their grades, their standardized test scores, their first place ribbons, their performance…but that’s all that it really is, just performance. And if we only judge kids on their performance, we forget about a whole group of dreamers that may not rise up until they’ve gained the maturity to realize that talent and success come in all different styles. No math test or vocabulary quiz could measure what was going on in my mind, what was tinkering away. When I was doodling on my tests, I was creating worlds in my head. When I was daydreaming and looking out the window, I was writing up scenarios. When I was repeatedly forgetting my homework, it’s because I was off in my daydream. When I was a child, this translated to laziness and a lack of motivation. When I became an adult, I had to hold on to these traits as hard as I could, and learn how to harness them, because they would end up becoming my greatest accomplishments and my biggest identifier.

Parents, if you are reading this and finding some similarities between my childhood self and a child of your own, if you take anything at all from this essay, please read the next sentence carefully and try to embrace it. If all you’ve been hearing in parent-teacher conferences is the phrase “lacks focus”, and your child seems to read dozens of books but refuses to touch the ones assigned from school, and lives each day of summer like a freed prisoner after a ten-year sentence, and has no trouble compiling a daily household newspaper, containing all the goings-on inside your home, but won’t sit down and just knock out a simple worksheet, there is a very good chance that your child is a writer. Please, let their minds wander.

I wish I could separate the memories of my younger years from the frustration I had in school, but unfortunately, they were riddled with it. And I think about how much my younger self felt like less of a person, just because my grades weren’t good.

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if I could travel back in time as older me, and talk to younger me, to offer her some advice about what to do in these trying times of struggling grades and disappointed parents and aggravated teachers.

I would knock on the door of my old room with the dry-erase board hanging on the outside covered in colorful slogans like, “I love dogs!” and “XOXO,” and wait until a blonde head emerged and demanded a password for entry.  I would follow her into her room and let her show me her doll collection (all of whom had suffered a haircut or two) and her boom box, and the sheets of printer paper stapled together to make homemade books, written and illustrated all by yours truly. And then I’d ask her about school, and I would let her talk as much as she wanted.

There are a lot of things I could say to my childhood self: I could adopt the role of older, wiser, big sister, and tell little Sarah to just do her damn homework (the damn being more than shocking enough, as young Sarah was very much conditioned not to say “bad words”) for the sake and sanity of herself and everyone in her family. I could tell her to actually believe them when the tutors and the principals and Mom and Dad say to her that she is a smart girl. I could tell her she’ll open up all kinds of opportunities for herself if she would just study for the test and not pray to magically know the answers somehow by the next day. I could tell her that instead of watching another episode of Lizzie McGuire, spending that half-hour on reviewing material might mean the difference between having to change schools again or not. I could tell her these things, but I think I would refrain.

Instead, I think I would tell childhood Sarah that she should keep on doing everything exactly the way that she is. Because even though my lack of effort made for a bumpy path through my school years, it got me to where I am now. I spent all of elementary school comparing my triumphs and failures to the other kids at school, watching them go to the front of the multi-purpose room to receive academic medals on honors day and while I stayed firmly in my seat. What I didn’t understand yet was that my journey was not like theirs, and there was and is a reason for that. For seven-year-old Sarah, there was no perspective yet, but I know now that failing over and over again didn’t rob me of a childhood: it set me up to look at the world in a way that I feel is inspired.

 

After I would spend my imaginary afternoon with my younger self, I would hug her, take a good last look around my untidy childhood room, try and memorize it, and restrain myself from telling little Sarah that everything would eventually be okay. She didn’t need to know that yet. And then I would leave, knowing she would grow up and finally be proud.

SGJ

 

 

The ‘S’ Word

Oh, Lordy, it’s that time of year again, isn’t it?  Here she comes, the month to trump all other months, the Queen December, and for 31 days may she reign.  I have been so “crazy busy” over the past month that I began to sound like a Kardashian sister.  And I know that I’m not the only one!  I’m sure all of you can sympathize with me when I say that I haven’t had a spare minute to even keep up with those crazy Kardashians over the past 22 days.  What with final projects, exams, coming home for the holidays, jumping back into work and running all the Christmas errands like a North Pole elf, I am officially deep in the ‘S’ word.  And I don’t mean that ‘s’ word. I mean Stress with a capital ‘S’.

So this post is all about stress and how I handle it, because everyone who knows me personally knows that I have a lot of the ‘S’ word, and I typically make damn well sure everyone around me is aware.  Sorry.

When I stress out, it takes toll on my body.  I typically get approximately three or four planet-sized zits on areas of my face that cannot be avoided, like the exact middle of my forehead or (this one was fun) the very tip of my nose.  I looked like Rudolph and it was so festive that I don’t think anyone judged me. Just kidding.  I can’t stop myself from eating massive amounts of sugary carbs and will go out of my way to get them, like driving around at 12:30 at night looking for a grocery store in the tri-state area that is open and contains the limited-edition birthday cake Oreos, which I then eat in disgustingly large quantities.  And my hair falls out, so I end up shedding more than my dog, which makes us both a little confused.  I have trouble sleeping, I nervously pull out my eyelashes, I forget to hydrate and I can’t communicate on a basic human level with any other homo sapien.  Basically I look and act like a zombie from the Walking Dead, and it always happens during this time of year.  And then my blog suffers because I have no time to write since I am so busy trying to fix my pizza face.

I don’t think that all of this makes me special in any sense or that I am the only individual in the world who deals with stress, so I am not writing this post as a poor-pitiful-me soliloquy.  In my first blog entry, I explained that The Rough Draft exists for the sole purpose of whatever I decide to use it for, whether it be a rant, random musings, or just a rave about whatever Ina Garten recipe I am currently obsessing over.  I just want to talk about my anxiety because I think it is healthy to acknowledge the fact that as a human being, sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) I have trouble handling what life can dish out on the day-to-day.  So, I have some strategies to keep me breathing and guide me back to sanity and I would like to share them with whoever out there is reading. And, it’s my blog, so really, I can write about what I want.

 

The first thing I do to combat my anxiety when I know that I am straight up stressed as hell, is sit down and have a come-to-Jesus with myself.  It usually happens in my car, when I’m sitting in the parking garage of my University campus, mentally preparing myself to walk to class and attack the day.  I say, “Sarah, we need to calm down, and here’s how we’re going to do it…” and somehow I instantly feel a little better knowing that my responsible side is still in existence.  It’s like when you break something valuable and your mom swoops in to inform you that it can all be fixed with a little super glue and determination.

Next, I try to identify my “real fear” (I say like this I have some idea of what I’m talking about or like it’s a legitimate of psychiatric term, but it’s totally not).  I’ll explain: if I have turned in an application for an internship or submitted a piece of writing to a magazine, and the waiting process is causing all kinds of unwanted emotion, I say to myself, “Are you really this nervous about an creative nonfiction essay, or is it something bigger?” And typically, Sarah will answer Sarah with something like, “I’m scared of rejection and what that could mean for my career and what that means about me as a writer.”  So there you have it, my “real fear.”  I think that opening up the situation to examine the broader picture is, like, maybe 70% of the battle.

And next, I ask myself, and this may seem a little counter-productive but roll with me, “What is the absolute worst possible thing that could happen?” and Sarah says to Sarah, “I receive a rejection letter and it really saddens me and I lose faith in myself and my talent and start questioning if I have any at all.” So then Sarah takes a deep breath and says to Sarah, “Well, we just won’t do that, okay? You have the choice not to do that.”  If have a plan for how I want to handle the worst-case-scenario, I know I can do it and come out on the other side.  So, self talk successful. This works. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a good friend who sought you out for advice.

 

Lately, my biggest point of stress has been my future.  I feel like when I say the word ‘future’, it needs to ensue some lightning and scaring echoing and other random special effects, because that’s the way it sounds in my brain.  I hate not having a plan.  This is something that I have realized about myself through a lot of self-talk and journaling.  As disorganized and hippie-dippy and carefree as I am about my present, not knowing exactly what I will be doing in the next five years gives me serious heart palpitations.  I think it’s because I’m scared that I’m not doing the right thing in my present to get me to where I want to be in my future, and also nervous that I don’t even want the things that would really make me happiest.  And that’s a really hard thing to judge.  I’m at a very transitional time in my life, approaching the post-grad world, and I don’t really know what I’m doing.  I like to act like I have my shit together and I’m all professional with my book coming out and what not, but when it comes down to it, after the release date in March, my life looks a little bit like dark alley, the kind you try to avoid because you have no idea where it leads. The control-freak inside of me is about to lose her marbles because of this.

It’s especially hard because a lot of my friends are receiving job offers and amazing internships and getting great opportunities that not only mean they’ll be making a living, but it gives them a set plan. I’m happy for them, but I can’t help but compare myself to them. I find myself asking, “When’s my great offer going to come in?”, “When am I going to get the excited phone call?”, “When am I going to have the good news?”  I don’t want to be a jealous person, so my reaction to their success stresses me out even more than I already am. And then I get another zit.

So, I’m going to self-talk a little on my blog, because, frankly, I think I really need it. Here we go.

“Sarah, what’s the absolute, end-of-the-world, very worst possible scenario that could happen?”

“Well, Sarah, I think the worst thing that could happen is that I graduate and have absolutely nothing to do because no one has hired me and my life has come to a grinding halt and everyone I love moves away to pursue amazing careers and I am left all alone and abandoned.”

“So, Sarah, this isn’t so much a fear of not getting a job, as a fear of loneliness and being left behind?”

“Yes, Sarah, I believe it is.” (BAM!)

Unfortunately, the therapeutic voice in me doesn’t quite have an answer for this one yet.  So, I’m waiting on inspiration, and it’s asking a lot of my patience.  I think for now, I just have to wait, and enjoy the present, and stay positive in the sense that I have lived a pretty good life so far.  Nothing so bad has ever happened to me that I couldn’t handle it, so why would the tune suddenly change now?  Maybe soon some events will occur and suddenly I’ll have a better idea of what my upcoming next few years will look like, and I really hope that happens.

I do know this, and I think this is a good thought to end the entry on: whatever I do, wherever I live, however I make my income, I know that above all, I want to feel happy and loved and surrounded by individuals and a setting that inspires me to create. I like to close my eyes envision that feeling in the hope that it will bring that life into being, and part of me really believes that it will. For those of you who are also approaching transitional periods in your lives, I wish you peace of mind, and please know that you are not alone in your stress. Feel free to give me advice on how you handle your anxiety! I’m always open to new ways of dealing with the tangled mass of unraveled yarn that I assume is what you see when you crack open my skull.

 

Happy Holidays and lots of love to everyone! I hope you find joy and refuge in whatever celebration you partake in!

 

SGJ