Saturday, December 8, 2012

Different Forms of Writing

Set Notes:
                As this is a monologue and takes place in a vague space that changes with Jeanie’s mental space, there are no props or set pieces. The lighting should be sparse, mostly dark with a spot on Jeanie as she walks, except where noted otherwise. If desired, however, a screen could be placed upstage center behind Jeanie as she talks, and I have noted ideas for images that might play on the screen to add visual dynamic. It is noted as optional because it is merely added effect and is easily removed.

Jeanie Brosnan
(Jeanie, a 44 year old single woman with an aversion to people and a habit of sarcasm, is standing upstage, looking at her hands. There is a spotlight on her. She addresses the audience as if talking to a new friend.)
I’ve got this throbbing in my fingertips and I’m not sure what it means.
It started in only one finger, I think it was my pinky
on my left hand
but now I don’t know how to make it stop.
It started in my sketching hand, which was bad enough
because it made holding a pencil difficult
and I don’t have time to wait for it to subside because images are fleeting,
you know? Birds fly away.
But then it spread to my bird-watching hand and that’s more annoying
because the throbbing is distracting and
when you’re holding binoculars for hours on end it can get painful.
And if you drop the binoculars at that crucial moment
when you’ve got the beautiful plumage in crisp
Technicolor focus
it’s a moment that slips and breaks away and is lost forever.
I don’t know what this means for my birding life
if I can even call myself that yet.
I feel like I am on the cusp,
the tween of the birding world:
more serious than a bird-watcher but not quite accepted into that society, you know?
The society of birders, of avid avian fanatics;
the community invested in the winged and the feathery,
who gather in the dense woods and
line up at the edge of the sounding sea .

I’m not exactly there yet.
Not that it matters much to me,
Lately I haven’t been one for societies.
I’ll let you in on this secret, since you’ve been so kindly
listening to me whine
(that’s the nature of the hypochondriac, and I’ve been one all my life):
People as a whole tend to have this horrible habit
of just letting you down.
(She turns on her heels and paces stage left, then stops and puts her finger in the air with the air of a storyteller)
Elnora Brown first taught me this valuable lesson in the 7th grade
and I would thank her for it
if she hadn’t punched my nose in,
“doing me a favor because it was too Jewish before,”
outside the girls’ locker room,
which I remember because my blood got on the lockers
and I had to clean it up.
When just the day before
she had smiled at me in the hallway,
said “Hello, Jeanie,”
under the watchful gaze of the hallway monitor;
but that’s how people are. Just when
you think you’ve reached solid ground
they shove your little dingy off into
the crashing waves again.
(She sighs and casts her gaze out above the audience, as if recollecting from a far-off memory. The stage lighting assumes a bluer cast, as if night, with silvery undertones like the glow of the moon.)
That night after my mom had patched it up she wanted to sit by me
as I slept
and make sure that I could breathe properly,
make sure that the white bandage and purple swelling
didn’t constrict my breathing.
But I told her that I wanted to be alone.
That night I first looked out of my window
at the deceptively calm night
and guess what I saw?
A nighthawk!
For a fleeting second, I saw it flit past,
dive to the ground, out of view, in chase of some bug.
Such a little bird, but such incredible speed.

Then I heard the characteristic boom,
(The boom of a nighthawk’s wings is heard- it is less like a concussive boom and more melodic in nature, almost a whistling of wind past something heavy. Optional: on the screen behind Jeanie, a nighthawk plunges from a great height only to pull itself out of the dive at the last second.)

the sound of its wings pulling it out of that dive
and I had no idea what it was, so I looked it up
in an anthology we had lying around, luckily for me.
There’s still a spot of blood in that book,
but in my excitement I don’t think I even knew I was bleeding.
I like to think of that night as the beginning of my bird-watching,
though it took me many more years to return to that calling
because as a young child I hadn’t lost that adorable innocence.
(Her gaze is fixed back on the audience, harsh, and her voice is bitter, edged with poison. The nighthawk footage fades away but the lights remain darker and blue.)
But oh, that innocence had to chip away sometime.
Todd Woolsey saw to that. Todd Woolsey, with the beautiful blue eyes,
and the winsome smile, and the toned arms,
and the deep tan, and the meaty hands
that wrapped around my wrists,
and the slightly crooked Cupid’s bow
that turned up in a sneer when he called me ‘bitch’.
I was twenty- three then. I hadn’t been called a bitch since
the petty days of high school. I thought all that
was behind me but the word still stung,
smarted in my embarrassed cheeks.
 I don’t think I cried that night
after he allowed me to leave his car
after stealing a kiss I didn’t want to give.
I think I was busy breaking down all of the stupid columns
that supported my faith in people. I was deconstructing
the logic I used to continue deluding myself into trusting
these people that only tried to hurt me.
I don’t remember any tears on my face when
I looked out my window again,
at the cloudy moon, obscured by the leafy branches of an oak tree,
and stared right into the lunar gaze of a Great Gray Owl.
(Optional: On the screen displayed behind Jeanie a pair of great yellow eyes open slowly and stare out at the audience, or perhaps a Great Gray Owl’s head swivels around to stare)
They’re not common in Colorado, you know.
Sightings do happen, but I think I was meant to see him that night.
He gave a hoo, the most beautiful, haunting sound you ever heard;
it’s true, I remember it.
(She pauses and looks straight out at the audience with a small smile on her face. A Great Gray Owl’s call is heard, maybe once, twice, and then fades away- with it, the image of the eyes. Jeanie smiles broader.)

And then he flew away, and his wings were massive.
I was astonished. Astounded. I went out the next day and
bought a pair of cheap binoculars and a book on birds.
It was just a hobby then,
a weekend thing when I didn’t feel like reading.
(The convivial, friendly atmosphere returns. The blue lights fade back into the simple spotlight on Jeanie. She is enthusiastic, eyes aglow)
But now, after so many years of stories and getting so angry,
the strangers who stare at me on the street
because of the binoculars swinging from my hips
and my frizzy hair
I know what I really want! I’m going to be the best
birder you’ve ever heard of.
If you can’t impress them, beat them.
This weekend I’m going to get a camera,
just a little digital thing, but I can’t always get the birds
on paper quickly enough.
I’m going to learn all of the birdcalls. Just listen;
(She composes herself, closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and clasps her hands together. She then brings them to her mouth and lets out a low, throaty whistle, modulated by opening and closing her hand on top of the other. It is obviously amateurish but she is enthralled. As her birdcall is ending the call of several other common barn owls is played over the sound system, further away, distant.)

Did you catch that?
It was the common barn owl! I bet you’d have recognized it if you lived in the country.
I’m going to learn how to do even more,
and then when I flip through my sketchbook and
see all the beautiful birds I’ve seen,
I’ll also be able to remember how they sounded. 
(She begins to lose herself in a daydream, strolling slowly through imaginary forests, her right arm tucked at her side as if carrying an imaginary sketchbook. Dappled golden spotlights fade on, the briefest suggestion of a forest, and she is smiling. Optional: on the screen behind Jeanie, the trunks of many trees as if seen from regular height while walking through a forest.)
I’ll get out into the wilderness
all by myself, just me and my sketchbook, and my binoculars,
and of course, all of the avian wonders that await me.
I’ll sit by a tree in a folding chair-
or maybe just on the ground! Who cares?

And I’ll stare up and up with my magnified vision,
catch the sound of flapping wings and low whistles.
And I’ll fill up my sketchbook with those birds,
flying and perching and swooping and calling;
it’ll be bliss.
 (She stops her gentle stroll, dropping her arm to her side. Her expression is once again somber. The dappled lights begin to fade away, as does the image on the screen if present, leaving only her spotlight, as she talks.)
And the best thing is,
I don’t need people to do it.
I’ll be on my own, independent,
happy in my own right.
I’ll never again have to deal with people and
their lies and
their petty grievances and
grudges. Always begrudging me for one thing,
if not another.
Always smiling when what they want to do is strangle you.
I’m done with that.
There’s something freeing in being happy without them.
It seems daunting now,
that dark forest and the seclusion.
But I know when I get there I’ll feel different.
I know the magic will come back
and the birds will take me under their wings.
I can escape into the trees and the birdcalls,
watch the misty mornings turn to golden afternoons,
and even the night will be no obstacle
because I’ll have friends in the wise gaze of the owls
and the plunging nighthawks. We’ll dance.
(As the daydream fully leaves her, she is returned, frustrated, to the ‘real world space’.  She tries, forcefully and with a touch of the earlier bitterness, to convince herself that her dream is attainable.)
I’ll never have to return to people again.
No one will miss me. And I won’t miss anyone either.
My parents, shriveling away in that
cage of a retirement community;
they won’t even notice I’m gone.
What did they say when I told them
I wanted to go to Colorado Springs
and stake out a spot on the central flyway?

“You’re an adult now,” they said,
“Do something useful with your life.”
What, like sitting around
whining about the temperature?
The highlight of their week is when
they venture outside and take an assisted
dip in the pool.
My friends? What friends?
I don’t have friends. I don’t need them, either.
I like to think that the woman at the bookstore,
Ellen, I think her name was,
will miss me a little bit. I think she knew me
as the crazy bird lady. Better birds than cats.
But that’s no friend.

Significant other?
Don’t make me laugh. That ship sailed long ago.
But I’m not bitter.

I have the birds,
and my graphite,
and the feel of binoculars banging on my thigh,
and my sun-dappled forest.
That’s all I want. That’s all I need,
complete separation from that noisy,
abrasive, grueling company
of people.
(There is a pause. She is spent, her rambling leaving her at a loss. After a beat, she looks back down at her hands, wonderingly.)
That’s why I’m so worried about this
damn throbbing.
It’s like a heartbeat,
ba-dum, ba-dum
tying me here to society. I can’t get away from it.
What is causing it? I looked it up on the internet
but I only got hits for arthritis.
I’m not that old, yet.
What if it doesn’t go away?
There’s no room in the forest
for my birds and my binoculars
and this throbbing.
(The light in her eyes, whatever was left, dies. She drops her head and holds her hands, palms up, a foot or so from her face. Then she stares helplessly at the audience.)
I’ll have to go to a doctor.
He’ll have to fix this. Or I’m finished.
He has to save me.
And then set me free,
let me grow wings and fly to
the one thing I want:
to be alone in the forest
with the booming nighthawks.
(A nighthawk call, buzzy and harsh, fills the air as the lights go down. It echoes, and then is joined by the sweeter calls of other birds; sparrows, thrushes, accompanied by the rustling of leaves. Jeanie’s last expression is one of loss.)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Endings Before Beginnings

This blog post is, wait for it...

NOT about my novel. Gasp. No, instead, it is dedicated to a flash fiction challenge posed by Chuck Wendig of the fantastic blog Terribleminds. He swears a lot so he's right up my alley and I highly recommend his internet diary. 
The challenge was to write the ending to a novel that doesn't exist in around 1000 words. I was excited about this because I've had an ending line stuck in my head for awhile, but NaNo made me focus on other things and I never had the time to figure out it could be built around. But now that I'm free of NaNo's clutches, this was a fun way to get in my writing exercise. Enjoy and let me know what you think! 

What A Strange Cat

                There was a quietness in the snow drifting down from the sky outside, visible only in the glow of the streetlamps, so Hazel decided to play the Christmas music softly. Her mother looked up questioningly when she entered the living room, dominated by the tree standing bare and verdant by the back windows. She was sitting on an ottoman with her elbows on her knees, draped over the skirt of her dress, and the rims of her eyes were slightly reddened.
                “Well, we still have a Christmas tree to decorate,” Hazel said, dropping a box of ornaments by the couch. Her brother, his deep brown eyes tired and sad, looked out of the window.
                “It’s snowing out.”
                “I know.”
                “Maybe he found a place to sleep,” her mother piped up.
                “He probably did. He’s a smart cat.”
                Hazel allowed their words to wash over her, to comfort her like they were meant to. She knew that even though odds were she would never see Raphael again, at least in the meantime she had her family. At least now they were talking to each other, even if it was awkward. Still, the absence of a furry ball rushing around the house and rubbing against her legs was an almost physical pain. Hazel could imagine Raphael skirting around the tree, sniffing at the strange intrusion before stretching his ginger claws up to the first branch and tearing at it, and she felt tears well up in her eyes.
                “There’s more boxes in the kitchen,” she sniffed, nonchalantly wiping at her eyes as if dabbing at stray makeup. Allan got up instantly and her mother glanced at Hazel, at a loss for what to say.
                “I’m sorry about Raphael.”
                “It’s okay, mom. Thank you for helping me look for him, anyway.”
                “Of course.”
                The beginning strains of “O Holy Night” could be heard wafting from the speakers on the floor, and Hazel sighed.
                “You know, Hazel,” her mother began, and she was looking at her maroon velvet heels as she spoke. “It’s not like I’m clueless to my behavior over the last couple of years.”
                Hazel stared at her mother, seeming small and meek now on her little ottoman, adrift on an island in the sea. It was a side of Grace she hadn’t seen before, so used was she to the flinty glares and barked orders, the professional suits, the hard set mouth. Her dress made her look softer.
                “I know I haven’t been the best mother. I should have been there for you during the divorce instead of judging you. I know it’s been hard on you. I’m just sorry I didn’t see that until a little while ago.” Her mother’s voice was dangerously close to cracking, but she stood up and grasped Hazel’s hand in hers. The snow fell gently outside and coated the hard ground.
                “It’s okay, mom, you've already apologized.” Hazel said hesitantly, not sure how to react to this woman, the mother she’d hardly known as an adult, as an equal, breaking down in her arms.
                “No, it isn’t,” and tears began to slip from Grace’s eyes and course down her lined cheeks. “I should have been impartial, nonjudgmental, but I turned on my only daughter and I can’t ever forgive myself for that.”
                “But I can,” said Hazel, and she put her other hand on top of her mother’s. “You messed up, but that’s what parents do. Don’t worry about it, mom. I’m okay.”
                “Are you sure?”
                “I am. I love you, mom.”
                “I love you too, Hazel. Merry Christmas.” The hug was unexpected and warm. Hazel could feel her mother’s bony shoulder blades through her dress, could feel the weight on her shoulders.
                “Let’s do this,” Allan said, reentering the living room with another box in his hands and grinning broadly. “For Raphael.”
                “For Raphael,” echoed Hazel, and a wan smile made its way to her face. She took the top off of the box and shifted around its glittery contents. After a moment she pulled out from the bottom a fragile glass ornament, dangling from a gold ribbon looped around her fingers. The glass cat sparkled in the bright lights and twirled slowly.
                “This has to go on first,” she said, holding the ornament high and getting to her feet.
                “Wait, wait. I believe there’s a tradition we’ve been neglecting for couple years now.” Allan placed his box on the ground and disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a bottle of Bailey’s and three shot glasses clinking between his fingers. He passed them out and his mother began to laugh.
                “We started doing this when you two were young and you were always so mad we gave you chocolate milk instead.”
                “Well now I can participate like a real adult,” he said mischievously, filling up each glass with the thick cream. “I was ticked off we were all too busy fighting when I turned twenty-one to have a family Christmas because I was looking forward to it.” Though he meant it playfully, his comment sobered up the room. Hazel glanced around at her family.
                “I’m sorry. About everything.”
                “I’m just glad we’re all together now, like a real family,” said Grace with a smile.
                “To family,” said Hazel, lifting her glass and watching the cream swish around.
                “To family.” Glasses were tipped and everyone let out a tiny sigh as they were plinked back onto the coffee table. Hazel, with a warm buzz building in her stomach, slipped the glass cat onto one of the highest branches of the majestic tree. The cat was frozen mid pounce, and as it twisted back and forth for a little while it looked to Hazel like it was readying itself to jump from branch to branch with the fluidity of a lithe hunter.
                Then it steadied itself, a glittering drop of ice-like glass in the middle of the dense branches. Hazel stared out of the window, not quite ready to delve back into the box of ornaments and memories, tracking the progress of individual flakes of snow as they fell in and out of the light. Her family bustled around behind her and the Christmas music drifted underneath it all, made the room feel pleasantly busy, especially when compared to the stark and lonely Christmases of the past. The Irish cream warmed her chest and she smiled out at the powdery night, glowing even in the darkness because of the reflective snow.
                There was a rustling in the bushes below the window, and to her surprise a gray squirrel shot out and bolted across her backyard, disappearing up a barren and snow-covered tree. She laughed as it zig-zagged around the branches, its bushy tail waving about wildly to help it balance. And then a furry little face was staring at hers and meowing in the chilly air.
                “Oh my God!” Hazel scrambled for the latches of the window and hoisted it so quickly it dislodged from its old, worn tracks. A ginger paw stepped delicately onto the windowsill, followed by twitching ears and whiskers with flakes of snow clinging desperately before they melted in the heat of the room.
                He jumped lightly to the floor, landing with a thump, and looked up at Hazel with his amber eyes before parading right over to the tree and giving the bottom branches an experimental bat. Everyone stared at him, dumbfounded.
                “Where was he? All this time?”
                “We’ll never know,” replied Hazel, laughing and putting a hand to her mouth. The cat, the little furry source of so much stress and worry over the last week, the cat who had inadvertently brought together a family for the holidays for the first time in years,  began a trip around the room, rubbing against legs; whether from affection or in order to dry himself off, Hazel couldn’t tell. Then everyone was laughing and bending down to pet him, to listen to his purrs and grateful meows.
                “What a strange cat,” said Allan eventually, with a gentle smile.
                And he was.