Sunday, November 11, 2012

Too Tired to Write a Real Post

I bring you this excerpt for two reasons: I like the direction it's taking my novel, and I'm not sure if it makes sense.
That's where you come in! Please let me know if the flashback is too abrupt or terrible. I usually hate flashbacks but in a novel where her upbringing is so important to the way she acts, I have to keep going back and explaining my main character's childhood. Gah.

“Thank you, Laurel,” Elsie said seriously, holding her little green bowl of mac and cheese in her hands, staring into my eyes with all the sincerity she could muster. She believed strongly, almost dogmatically, in politeness; except, of course, when she and Fernando got into fights.
I had seen this systematic politeness before, in the children of stay-at-home, upper class mothers. It was an affliction of the higher classes, little girls in sweet dresses with innocent eyes kowtowing to powers greater than themselves in social status and money without any real knowledge of what they were doing or why. It was a habit best preserved in children, when it was still a positive and desirable trait; it was when the guileless children blossomed into women trapped in a community cultivated by their parents that the unending politeness mutated into something more dangerous.
Elsie with her great brown eyes, like a cow’s before the slaughterhouse, would grow up into a young woman with a sweet disposition and a quiet voice. As she puttered around the kitchen, eating her mac and cheese with a fork and twirling every couple steps, I saw it laid out before me like a cosmic dare, an oracle of Southern women and their future. I saw politeness morph into passivity, humility into meekness, a desire to please dominated by a quest to quench every other personal dream that did not fit with her predestined future and the demands of her friends and family.
I felt a crushing sorrow as I watched her, so free in her youth, not yet fully expected to conform to her parents’ expectations. For now, they could blame any unorthodox behavior on her age; brush off her tantrums as a phase, explain away her tendency to talk to inanimate objects by mentioning her overactive imagination. But it would only last for just a couple more years; her introduction into the society, walking down a marble staircase in the Leaf and Burrow Country Club in a glimmering dress and a charismatic smile would be the end of it. From then on, the expectations would pile up and begin to smother her. I saw this as clear as the daylight streaming through the bay windows in the kitchen, flowing across the floor and over the expensive trappings of her home; I could feel it in my Southern woman’s bones. I knew her future because it had been my past.

A breezy Virginia day, one of those days that reminded you of Virginia’s proximity to the North; a borderline state that had the searing Southern sun but the occasional gust of crisp, clean Northern wind. The breeze moved through my dress with the ease of a lover, airing out the heavy fabric that clung to my skin as I clomped in my heels towards the car with my mom in tow.
“Laurel, dear, please don’t get your dress dirty. Remember to lift it off of the floor; it looks sloppy if you let it drag.”
“Yes, mom,” I replied rather breathlessly. Staring at the empty, cloudless sky granted me a sense of weightlessness, as if the white lace straps of the dress would soon morph into feathery wings and carry me off into the boundless heavens.
“Watch where you’re going!” my mother admonished me as I stumbled on a crack in the driveway , the spiky heel of my gold strap shoes forcing my ankle sideways. Pain spread out from my joint in a fiery pulse, shooting up my leg and back down again, but I straightened myself with some difficulty and took a couple limping steps to the door of the car. Folding my bare legs into the car and leaning back on the leather seats was bliss, feeling the weight taken off of the pain in my ankle, and I sighed in relief. Mother got in the passenger seat, looking towards the door in anticipation of my dad.
“Do you feel ready?”
“Yes, mom,” I replied. In truth, I felt nothing but a vague annoyance at being dragged away from my plans to spend the day lazing in front of the TV. Underneath my apathy was a strange nervousness, too, but it manifested not in my conscious but in the automatic tapping of my fingers on my thighs. I refused to acknowledge its existence.
“Where is your father?”
“I don’t know.”
There was a silence. My mother and I never talked much, had no time for heart-to-hearts when we were constantly interrupted and sought after by my brothers or my father, any of the men in the house. Because of this, we were at odds with each other when we were alone; there was pressure to say something, to bond, but neither of us knew how. My mother, being the socialite and expert on small talk, eventually struck up conversation.
“I remember when I was introduced at the club,” she said offhandedly, staring out the dashboard at the towering dogwood tree casting a slight shadow onto the house, attenuated by the sun nearing its noontime peak. The dogwood was rustling gaily in the wind, shaking off the heat with glossy green leaves, and the remnants of its beautiful and tragically short-lived blossoms littered the vibrant grass.  She seemed lost in the world of the dogwood for a couple moments. I attempted to join her there, losing myself in the chattering branches, but I found myself distracted by the buzzing of a lonesome fly against the far window. I watched its doomed path instead.
“It was one of the most stressful days of my life,” my mother resumed, and I started, so drawn in was I by the peripatetic fly and its journey around the interior of our car. I felt a kinship to the nomad. I joined in her tiny laugh. “There was so much to do and so little time to get prepared. I felt such pressure to be perfect for this; it was nearly suffocating. Or maybe that was just the dress.”
My attention was diverted by this. I never felt like my mother understood the way the subtle hand of society put pressure on your shoulders and dragged you downward to your knees like a disobedient dog learning to sit, but maybe there was more to the perfect matron than I had suspected all my life. 


There's more, but I don't want to overwhelm you. So ta-ta for now!

Finally caught up and tiredly yours,


1 comment:

  1. I would say the flash back is pretty well done. I really enjoyed the comparison of a cow before the slaughterhouse, and how she walked around eating mac and cheese. This I thought alluded well to a cow who is raised for the soul intent of slaughter, just like how the girl is raised to become a pawn in society. I question why you refer to your "Mother" as Mom. You switch between the two when talking to her and when talking about her. I personally believe that that contradicts the presentation. Especially being a southern character who doesn't interact well with her Mother, I would stick with calling her Mother. That's just my suggestion. Also, from this snippet, the sentence about staring off into the emptiness and feeling weightless is out of place. You seem to be in a rush being out of breath and such, I don't see why you would be staring off into the distance and feeling weightless. Also, when you speak of the fly on it's journey you speak of a doomed path. It'd be nice if you built off of that and connected it more with your character, right now there seems to be no reason for his path to be doomed. That's just what I got from this small piece, haven't read the rest of your work. Another thing I noted is that you have a great vocabulary, but you don't have to rub it in people's faces. In order to appeal to a wider range of audience I would stick away from jamming in all the great words you know, and just put in some quintessential ones. That's just my two cents. Your writing style in general is fantastic, and good luck with the rest of your piece!