Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Ups and Downs of Being Invisible

Although I wrote this story over the summer, it is seasonally appropriate, as several of you pointed out, so enjoy!

My best friend is invisible.
No, he’s not a ghost, and he’s NOT my imaginary friend, whatever my parents used to say. He’s just invisible, and he always has been.
Once, a green frog sang about how it’s not easy being green. Well, it’s not too hot having an invisible best friend either. It’s like when you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and you maneuver around your furniture in the dark so that you don’t stub your toe or bruise your shin, only to habitually turn on the bathroom light and blind yourself.
No, having an invisible best friend is not easy. When we were kids, Wendall and I would take our evening bath together. We sailed the seven seas in our bathtub pirate ship. We surfed the waves of Hawaii on our bars of soap. We became weather gods who created a tsunami to drown the peaceful settlers on the white tile beach next to the porcelain ocean.
When my mother would come to scold me for getting bathwater on the floor, Wendall wouldn’t confess his part in the flood. He stayed silent, the little bugger, and I had to endure the entire punishment. At least I had company in time out; Wendall follows me everywhere, for I am older.
Sometimes, having an invisible best friend is great. On principle, I do not eat vegetables that look like summer or winter trees in miniature. My mother, however, loved to serve minuscule flora. Wendall has no aversion to tiny trees, so whenever Mom served broccoli or cauliflower, I gave mine to Wendall. He ate over at our house a lot, which was good because Mom served broccoli and cauliflower a lot.
As we grew older, Wendall and I forsook our nautical adventures in favor of braving the land beyond the borders of my house. We explored the mysteries of the box hedge until every branch and every leaf had been assimilated into our kingdom. We ventured passed the wrought iron gateway into unknown territory. We exchanged grassy paradise for hellish asphalt, and we found that we enjoyed the escapades the asphalt gave us better than the pleasure paradise provided for us.
We wandered farther and farther from the front yard until our feet beseeched us for mercy. We promoted ourselves from feet to roller skates to bikes. Wendall and I would wheel ourselves to the park where I would watch the birds and the people while Wendall walked to Wal-Mart across the street. Wendall haunted Wal-Mart. He considered it a second home. (My home was Wendall’s first home because he spent so much time there.) Because Wendall is invisible, he used to steal us sodas and snacks from the store until we were banned from ever entering that particular Wal-Mart ever again. Somehow, the security guard discovered our scheme and came after us in the park one day.
Actually, he came after only me because he couldn’t see Wendall. When the security guard caught me, he blamed me for shoplifting. Just like when we were kids playing in the bath, Wendall didn’t confess his part in the crime. The security guard banished me from Wal-Mart, and I, in turn, banished Wendall. If I couldn’t go there, then neither could he. Wendall disappeared for a while after that because I made him scared when I yelled at him.
I didn’t actually know that Wendall was gone, of course, because Wendall is invisible. He could have been sitting next to me the whole time giving me the silent treatment, and I wouldn’t have known it. I’m fairly certain he was gone, though, because the empty space off of my left shoulder was just a little emptier than usual.
Then, I turned sixteen, I earned my driver’s license, and my parents bought me a car. Wendall can’t resist cars, so he appeared again. He didn’t have his driver’s license, so he sat in the passenger seat and seduced me to speed while he turned the radio up too loud.
There’s nothing quite like driving too fast with the windows rolled down and rock blasting out of the speakers. The wind dries out your eyes so they water and make the road blurry, and it numbs your hands so that they don’t feel like a part of your body anymore. The music pulses in your veins alongside your heart and fortifies your mind against any other sound. It’s bliss, until the cops pull you over.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the cop asked.
“No,” I replied, and I really didn’t.
“You were driving in the carpool lane, and you’re alone,” said the cop.
“No, I’m not,” I said.
I explained about Wendall, but the cop didn’t listen, and Wendall didn’t speak up, like usual. One ticket later, I yelled at Wendall again, and he disappeared again. This time, I knew he was gone. Not only was the empty space next to me emptier than usual, but Wendall’s pillow and blanket disappeared from my closet (his honorary room as my best friend), and chills stopped running up and down my body as they usually do when Wendall enters a room.
I missed Wendall more this time than the last time he disappeared. I felt like you do after watching something intense, like a fireworks show. As the white light streaks into the sky, leaving behind a trail of smoke, and explodes in white, red, blue, and green, every muscle tenses unintentionally, waiting for the BOOM that reverberates into the grass beneath your feet and travels up into your body. After the show finishes, you feel hollow exhaustion, and you are not sure why.
That is how I felt when Wendall disappeared.
Luckily, he returned quicker than last time, and he came back with a request: he wanted to drive my car. I was so happy to have my best friend back that I agreed to Wendall’s entreaty. I spent that afternoon teaching Wendall how to drive. We laughed at his mistakes and wrestled when we disputed.
That night, Wendall drove out of my neighborhood and onto the freeway. He drove faster than I do. He drove us to a party. I remember that night only in flashes: a blue front door with a knocker on it. Writhing bodies on a dark dance floor. Red Solo cups. High cut shorts. Low cut shirts. Messy hair. Running makeup. Music. Music. Music. The front door again. Stumbling to the car. Wendall driving. Laughter as we drove in S’s down the road. The road no longer in front of us. A house. A jolt as we made a hole in the house. Red and blue flashing lights. Trouble. Trouble. Trouble.
I don’t remember what we told the cops, but my punishment was community service and paying for the damage caused by my car. Wendall totaled that car, and my parents did not buy me another one.
I turned eighteen, and I did not go to college. Who needed college when I could support my lifestyle by working at the factory? And what a lifestyle it was! A two-room apartment with a TV and plenty of time to muse about life. Pop tarts and ramen and re-runs of the Simpsons. And Wendell.
He didn’t contribute to our household. He ate all of the pop tarts. He was hardly ever at home.
Until one day he returned and interrupted one of my musing sessions. He announced that he was covered in blood.
“What?!” I exclaimed. I dropped the last pop tart on the carpet and did not pick it up again.
Wendall again announced that he was covered in blood. When I enquired whose blood it was, he said in a sassy voice that it wasn’t his.
“We have to get you cleaned up, man,” I said, panicked.
I took Wendall to the bathroom and turned the shower on for him. I climbed inside with him and helped him to wash the blood from his body. I saw it spiral down the drain and I felt sick for two reasons. One was because it is unsettling to see blood in your shower, and the second was because it is unsettling to see blood in your shower without seeing where it comes from. Eventually, the water turned from red to clear, and I knew that Wendall must be clean again. He still wouldn’t tell me whose blood it had been or how it had gotten on him.
I soon found out when the police arrived.
“You’re under arrest for the murder of the Wells family,” they said.
I expected Wendall to speak up, to confess, but of course he didn’t.
I’m in prison now. Sometimes, I get a chill, and I know that Wendall is nearby. Sometimes, he leaves me pictures of hangman’s nooses. He’s a little grim, but that’s probably because he’s invisible. I asked him to bring me a razor. After all, since he got me into this mess, he should be able to get me out of it. I’m confident that he will bring it for me.
That’s what best friends are for.

What did you think? The next one won't be as creepy! Don't worry. Happy Halloween. And Happy 500th Year of Martin Luther pinning his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Meet Una Van Allan

A few months ago, I introduced my next writing project, She's Leaving Home, which is about three friends who go on a road trip around the United States together. I thought it would be fun to introduce you to the main characters, so I found this questionnaire. First up in Una! 

1. How old is she mentally and physically? 
Una is 64 years old both in physical age and mental age. She was called an "old soul" as a child and has finally grown into her age. 

2. Did she have a happy childhood? Why/why not?

Una would say yes, but everyone else would say no. Una was born in 1920, and she is the youngest child in a large family. She doesn't remember her father because he died from World War I related injuries when she was three. Her mother and brothers worked hard to feed and clothe the family, but when the stock market crashed in 1929, Una's family first lost their jobs and then their house. While her oldest three brothers and sister traveled West à la The Grapes of Wrath, Una, her mother, two sisters, and one brother moved into a Hooverville. Despite bad circumstances, Una remained happy. Her mother taught her at an early age to be content and joyful in all circumstances. Una remembers her childhood as an adventure, even though she didn't always have enough food to eat or any toys to play with. 

3. Past/present relationships? How did they affect her?

-Una has a close relationship with her family because they relied on each other so much when they were growing up. They taught Una how to trust, how to be grateful, and how to be joyful.
-In 1941, a young man named Dirk Van Allan began courting Una. After World War II, they married. Dirk has had the biggest effect on Una. He taught her about unconditional love and bravery. He also watches out for her well-being because, sometimes, Una is so busy taking care of other people that she forgets that she's a human with needs, too. 
-Una's two best friends are Annie and Maebeline. She met them during World War II when they all worked in a factory together. Annie taught Una about selfless service and hard work, and Maebeline taught Una that it's good to let go of logic and propriety sometimes in order to have fun. 

4. What does she care about?

Una cares deeply for disabled and discarded children. Because of this, she and Dirk have adopted several orphans. Additionally, Una cares about parents who have had their children taken away due to neglect or improper treatment. Una cares so much about parents and children that she started a program within her church to equip parents with the skills needed to take care of their children.

5. What is she obsessed with?

Helping people. In fact, Una is so other-focused that she forgets to take care of herself.

6. Biggest fear?

Deep down, Una worries that she is not good enough. Although she genuinely loves to help people, she sometimes goes too far because she is worried that if she doesn't take every opportunity to help people, God, her family, and her friends will leave her. 

7. What is the best thing that ever happened to her? The worst?

The best thing that ever happened to Una was marrying Dirk. The worst thing that ever happened to her is a spoiler. :)

8. Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to her?

Once, Una, Annie, and Maebeline decided to rebel against the men running the factory where they worked, so they didn't wear their hair turbans to work. They wore their hair long and luscious... and Una got her hair caught in the machinery! It didn't hurt her beyond a sharp tug, but Una had to wait for her male overseer to come and set her free. So much for asserting her femininity! 

9. Biggest secret?

Una's biggest secret is that she is tired. She is tired of always giving 110% of herself to the service of others. She is tired of the worry that comes with caring for so many people at once. And she is scared that this tiredness is selfishness. 

10. What is the one word you would use to define her?

What do you think of Una? Come back in a few weeks to meet the next of my travelling old ladies: Annie! 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Kitchen Adventures: Eating at College

Dear relatives, friends, and parents who are concerned that I am a starving college student...

Food no longer looks like a word after making that graphic

Don't worry: I AM EATING.

Everyone at my school has dining funds to use at the cafeteria, cafe, and Eagle's Nest (which features burgers and ice cream almost exclusively). Since I am over twenty-one years old, I have $250 in dining funds, which is $1,200 less than I had last year, and I am SO happy about that! Last year, I had such a hard time getting rid of $1,450 worth of meal funds every semester, especially since cafeteria food is gross. Also, the only way to eat $1,450 worth of food is to eat junk, and I'm not about that life (usually).

This year, I am cooking for myself. I have a whole freezer full of meat and a George Foreman. I'm set.

I make a lot of eggs and a lot of potatoes.

Egg scramble with potato
When I'm too tired to make myself dinner, I make myself burritos or quesadillas.

Sad, warped picture. I don't know what happened. 
When I'm not too tired to make myself dinner, I make a pork chop or a chicken breast or a sausage.


Sometimes, I order Chinese or pizza or Noodles & Company.

I also eat a lot of sandwiches.

I wouldn't say that I'm a great cook, but I'm slowly learning a thing or two. I wouldn't say that I'm eating the healthiest that I could be, but I'm not getting nearly as many stomach cramps as I did last year, so I must be doing something right.

All this writing about food has made me hungry, so I am going to go and make myself something to eat.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Some Thoughts on Poetry

I'd never have thought I'd say this, but... I'm enjoying poetry.

I've never enjoyed poetry because I'm a literal thinker, which makes it hard for me to understand imagery. Additionally, the poetry that I had been exposed to before coming to college was sappy and sad, and I didn't like that.
Right now, I'm taking a class on how to write poetry, and it has made me think about poems in a way that I never have before. Learning about how technical poetry is, reading a variety of poems, and writing my own poems have helped me enjoy poetry for the first time in my life.

Poetry is much like prose in that you have to think about what you write, use specific and concrete language, and the first draft is never perfect. Poetry requires just as much revision as stories, articles, papers, or blog posts. I would say that writing poetry is even more complex than writing prose.
Just like it takes a soprano years of practice and technique to make a Puccini aria sound as easy to sing as Old Mcdonald Had a Farm, it takes a poet years to master form (or lack thereof), meter (or lack thereof), and literary devices (such as simile, metaphor, synecdoche, synesthesia, and other types of imagery).
Because poetry is so specific (especially if you are writing within a certain form or meter), every word is carefully picked out and placed in its appropriate spot so that there are enough syllables in a line or so that a rhyme will be perfect.

Form refers to a specific type of poem, such as a sonnet or a ballad. My favorite forms that we've learned about are pantoums, sestinas, and villanelles because they feature repeating words and lines; if you change the meaning of a word or line slightly, your poem can go in a completely different direction than you had originally intended!
The villanelle, for example, contains five tercets (five stanzas of three lines each) and a quatrain at the end (one stanza of four lines). The first and third line of the first stanza repeat alternatively in the the following stanzas, and then both of them are repeated in the quatrain. The most famous villanelle is Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas. Check it out, and you'll see the form!

Poems can also be written in a certain meter. Meter refers to how many syllables are in each line of a poem. The most well-known meter is iambic pentameter. An "iamb" is a pair of unstressed-stressed syllables, such as "the dog" or "predict." An iamb equals one "foot." "Pentameter" means that there are five iambic feet per line. There are many more types of meter, but I won't list them all (unless you really want me to).
When reading a poem, you can do something called "scansion," which means that you are examining a line and figuring out what meter it is in. Then, you write a dash above unstressed words and little u's above stressed words. It looks like this:

I love the technical side of writing, so form and meter have been right up my alley, but my poetry class has also been learning about modern/freestyle poetry, which doesn't necessarily stick to a certain form or meter. It's much looser and relies more heavily on imagery. I enjoy writing poetry because I get to play around with words and sounds and syllables.

Here is the first poem I wrote in class. It's an epistle (which is a fancy word for "letter"):

A Letter Home
By Abbey Stellingwerff

If you sniff, the air is sweet here.
Sweet and warm.
Comforting like clean laundry or cookies.
A scent like cyclamen upon the wind,
with a snag of cow.

If you listen, it sounds of bugs;
They buzz like that out-of-tune piano.
Cicadas clatter all the day and night;

If you sit and watch the weather,
storms arrive.
Leaf-strained wind hugs strong like a long-lost friend.
A boom-crash! across the Midwestern Plains;
thunder smothers me.

If you eat, prepare to eat well:
sweet corn—butter drips down face and fingers—
meat and potatoes. All American.
No yucca fries here.

If you look up, foreign faces
smile at you.
Friendly farmer's salute hides a headache
caused by a fixed world of red-checked flannel.
Pick-up trucks abound.

Distance destroys disagreements.
I recall
only the memories that make me smile:
laughing and walking and talking and you.
Love from, your daughter.