Maleah: An Introduction to My Writing, In My Own Words
Trapping Life with a Word Net
I was tracing over-sized tropical flowers onto long strips of colored butcher paper, the kind you find on giant rolls in the faculty lounge, when Mrs. Wirthlin shouted to my best friend, “Lara, cry like you mean it.”
We were almost twelve, and Lara was starring as Dorothy in the annual sixth grade play. Mrs. Wirthlin explained to the preteen cast that Dorothy is a difficult role to play because she is a real, human girl.
“Sometimes it’s easier,” said Mrs. Wirthlin, her magnificent classroom voice always flowed with vibrato as though she were on the verge of singing about fractions in an opera, “to cackle like a witch, roar like a lion, or squeak like a munchkin than to cry, believably, like a real girl.”
My name is Maleah, and I write contemporary women’s fiction – the kind that chronicles real life and doesn’t have any heart-throbbing vampires or bare-chested Fabio’s.
If fiction gives readers a momentary escape from their reality, then why would anyone want to read fiction so real that it borders on being creative nonfiction?
Good question. Maybe nobody does. But I will write anyway, because
life is rich, messy, interesting, monotonous, beautiful, hideous, exhilarating, and devastating.
Life is so easy to complicate.
I must attempt to capture real life with words, like a child who chases a butterfly with a net, hoping to trap the graceful creature – not to cage, but to slow for a brief moment of closer examination, admiring its magnificent, yet delicate form. When the child releases the creature to again fly free, he barely feels the ripples in the air that softly kiss his cheeks, and then crescendo to form tsunamis on the opposite side of the earth.
This is my goal – to momentarily entrap and ponder the metamorphosis of the monarch life.
I will see you here on Smashing Stories every 10th, 20th, and 30th of each month.
post script–the child in the picture is mine, the butterfly is courtesy of photoshop.
That I have a fear of being blown into the Grand Canyon.
And did you know?
That in a dust-covered cardboard box labeled “Maleah’s college stuff” is a rumpled newspaper article from the Salt Lake Tribune, April 27, 1994. The last sentence quotes me, a nineteen-year-old college freshman, and reportedly I said, “I have anxiety about writing and having people read what I write.”
So what, in good glory, am I doing on a writers’ blog?
For years, my fear of writing for the public overpowered my love for writing. (Yes, I am also in possession of an ancient cassette tape–press play and hear me as a squeaky-voiced, ten-year-old fourth grader declare, “I love to write; I want to grow up and write stories for people to read.”)
Now, I approach writing with a (somewhat) fearless disregard for public opinion–because, what the heck, I have:
* pushed a human the size of a seven pound bowling ball through a one centimeter bodily crevice without pain meds (not by choice…the first time) while naked from the waist down in a room full of strangers,
*slid to the cliff of mental reason and did not fall off the edge,
*watched every last penny of life savings slurp into a bottomless, black business hole,
*and returned each time, still breathing, still alive, and still mostly happy.
I. Can. Write.
Michael Jordan said,
I’ve missed more than 90,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games, 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
If I need to invest 10,000 hours of practice in order to excel at writing, (thank you Malcolm Gladwell and Dr. Livingston, I presume) then, by golly, I’d better get crackin’!
Up, up, and away…
post script: here is the Vogue-worthy (so not!) photo of me that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune next to the article, “Gang Presence Unnerves Residents” – not the article for which I was interviewed. Okay, Loraine, this is my bulbous-head-mini-feet mug. Let’s see yours!
By the way, this photo was the model for the new Maleah Bobblehead, available at Wal-mart this Fall (also, so not! phew).
Remember my fear of being blown into the Grand Canyon?
This is me last Saturday.
Notice the wind mightily huffing and puffing to blow me down.
Which just goes to show –
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SEND INTO CYBER UNIVERSE.
Last post I confessed my lifelong fear of being blown by a sudden gust of wind into the depths of the Grand Canyon (thus the reason I have lived north and south of the big GC and never stopped to visit). Nine days later I’m fighting to keep my footing at eleven thousand feet on the saddle of Mt. Timpanogos. The wind reached its blustery hand into my jacket pocket and stole my stash of Kleenex, releasing the fragile tissue to be teased, whipped and torn to confetti along the streams of gusting current. I thought of every person I knew in the Utah Valley, and wondered if they would catch me should I become blustery tissue paper.
Last post I also typed out my online confessional, my fear of public writing.
I surrendered my safe hideout as a closet writer.
I hit “publish” and voila, people, real people, read my writing. Aaaahhhh.
(Thank you for reading. Thanks for taking the time. I am terrified and grateful.)
I see a pattern here.Let me try this…
Did you know that?
I have a fear of money, lots and lots of money.
Let’s get a visual on that – the power of one thousand words.
There you go cyber world. Take that and run with it.
As a scrawny, buck-toothed twelve year old, I slowly filled my piggy bank with wages earned babysitting. One of my regular gigs took me to a home where five sticky kids ate on paper plates, and the living room furniture remained in perfectly new condition, covered in plastic.
I tell you this because the other night I dreamed that the mother of my babysitting family died suddenly. I woke up panicked, Did she ever use her living room furniture?
I thought about aspects of my life that I keep perfectly new, safely shrink-wrapped.
Safe from dirty hands.
Safe from rips and tears.
Safe from jumping feet.
Safe from needing care, cleaning, repairing, and rearranging.
Safe, Perfect, and Unused.
The following excerpt comes from one of my best teachers of creativity:
“I loved the artificial flowers my mother-in-law had given me. They didn’t need water, had no aphids, would never wilt. Hating the bother of caring for real flowers, I was therefore annoyed when my husband planted rose bushes in our garden.
But finally the day came when he brought me the first bloom. Reluctantly I took the artificial roses from the vase on the television set and replaced them with the one single flower.
For three day I casually watched the red velvet rose unfold. Once, passing nearby, its delightful fragrance stopped me.
I paused–and in that moment a poignant truth overwhelmed me; something alive, something growing, evens something dying is wondrous and beautiful indeed. Instinctively, we love that which we must care for and protect; a child, an animal…a red rose that drinks from a crystal vase.”
The quest for perfection is a road of exhaustion, misery, irritability and a constant awareness of not having, doing, or being enough.
Finding perfection would be like finding the fountain of youth, once attained, you’d want to give it right back; because, after all, the appeal of youth is riddled with inexperience. And after achieving perfection, what then? I think of perfection as something frozen and unchanging, like a botoxed face. “Perfect” implies a final destination – done, complete, finito. No improvement, no growth, no change. Think of being stuck with one “perfect” hair style forever. Aaaaahhhhh. That is scary.
Let’s try on this definition of perfection from the World English Dictionary: “Perfect – having all essential elements.”
Hmmm, I like that idea. Perfect is having what is essential. So…
A perfect family might include sticky hand prints, chaotic mealtimes, and dishes left undone while dad launches sofa cushion missiles at popsicle-licking children.
A perfect gift might be the one thing you needed most – nothing at all.
The face of beauty would be carved with deep lines of experience, courage, indecision, sorrow, laughter, perseverance, emptiness, loneliness, happiness, and love – for these are essential elements for a perfect life.
One thing I know for sure, the perfection label cannot be applied to anything that does not exist, even if the model looks perfect on the magazine cover. Even if my novel reads perfectly in my head.
Something perfect must live. Perfection is a state of being.
For me the living, growing, learning, and changing processes are the essential elements. The process of perfection is more desirable than the end result.
A perfect manuscript might need all the raw, choppy, emotional words barfed up in puddles of chunky, broken sentences, faulty grammar, and horific speling.
The process of perfection connotes creation, bringing into existence something of beauty and worth that did not exist before – something that grows, changes, and needs my attention.
The perfect appearance of silk flowers pales without the scent of life. A plastic protected couch is denied its place as the family cushioner, its chance to feel a weary body slump into its pillowy softness, to prop up tired, dusty feet for a twenty minute power nap. Pinochio, tg.he perfect puppet, longed to be a real boy.
The stillness of perfection is not what we seek, but the process of gathering all the essential elements. Living. Growing. Changing. Needing.
Postscript: The rose pictured is not a random google image, but a real valentine rose given to me and captured in perfect still life photography by my J.
Open a new box of Crayolas.
(Aahhhh, new crayon box, my favorite first grade scent.)
Choose your favorite color.
Sky blue, no, carnation, no, burnt orange – oh, go ahead and use all the colors.
Write a story in crayon.
Feel what children feel.
Experience what children don’t feel –
use kindirgoten speling leave out punctuation draw a picture
Give yourself permission to create – imperfectly, authentically.
Proudly display your story on the refrigerator, adhered with masking tape or a Tweetie Birdmagnet. Mail your creation to your mother, folded in a bulky square and stuffed crookedly in an old fashioned envelop – aaah the taste of sealing an envelop. Remember when an upside down stamp on a letter meant I Love You.
Go to the neighbor’s monkey bars and do a trick.
“Look at me, look at me”.
Children are not smaller versions of adults; they are a different species entirely (unless poisoned by criticism or too much correction).
They are self-forgiving, creatively expressive, and free with imaginative experimentation.
After this post, my life insurance policy was terminated due to non-receipt of premium payment. Finding myself uninsured and hyper-aware of bizarre death scenarios, I began application for a second policy while I faxed bank record proof of premium payment to the first company.
LSS (long story short), the first policy approved reinstatement shortly after the second policy processed. Today I am worth double the cash value as the me in the cash-blowing-in-my-face picture, but only if I am blown into the Grand Canyon by a sudden gust of wind.
The whole scenario reminds me of “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs – that wretched short story where the family makes three wishes on a magical monkey paw, but their wishes come true by gruesome and undesirable means.
Thus, I will be content with the natural course life and will stop interfering with fate via non-subliminal cyber-images.
In Extreme Makeover Home Edition style, I renovated this junky section of my kitchen into a standing writing area. Please notice the laptop, cup-a-pencils, and commercial-strength pencil sharpener. I haven’t done any writing here yet, but the desk has stayed clean for six days – a Warner record. Home organization people recommend getting stuff off the counter tops. I hung the wire file organizers on the wall and, miraculously, the kids now put school papers in them. Amazing. One small step for a writer, one giant leap for motherhood.
Third, Digging up the yard.
As you can see, I wasn’t kidding about digging up segments of our yard. I pried up cement trim, took out dirt, and put weed barrier in the flower beds. This is the “before” picture. Next spring I hope there will be beautiful, tulip-filled and weed-free “after” pictures to post.
That works for me.
J. thinks a yard gnome village would be the perfect finishing touch.
Maybe, just Three Gnomes.
Thanks for tuning in.
Go read “The Monkey’s Paw,” or save it for next Halloween.
If you see my head rolling down your street, it’s not the gory end of our Halloween story, it’s that I’ve lost my grip. Not my grip on reality – my grip on my head.
I feel like a dough-kneading kitchen mixer spinning lumpily close to the edge of the counter, facing the prospects of plummeting over the edge and dangling by my electrical cord inches above the tile.
I feel like a barreling merry-go-round throwing off sweaty-handed third graders.
I’m a top-load washer with too many bath towels.
I’m not sick, just uncommonly dizzy.
I don’t have a cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, stomach ache, or fever.
But today my neck can’t support the weight of my head.
When did my cerebral cortex put on so many pounds?
Is it a virus?
Is it my thyroid?
Is it all in my head?
The names have not been changed, since no one is innocent.
This story has been re-told each Christmas for the past 13 years, but this is its first appearance in written form.
Once upon a time…
We were poor. You know, like freshly-wedded, tuition-paying, diploma-earning, employment-seeking, future-awaiting kind of poor–our matrimonial union a mere four months old.
I laid my last college final on the professor’s desk – a blue essay book overfilled with rapidly scribbled responses to essay questions like: What role did the head of the United States CIA play in the downfall of the Guatemalan economic system?
If I passed this final, I would walk across the stage next June among a sea of fellow graduates, reaching out my hands to receive my congratulations and my double (and equally useless) degrees in Liberal Arts and Political Science.
(See my cousin Natalie with the long brown hair
behind me? We both married into W’s and dropped
to the bottom of the alphabetic graduation line).
I exited the humanities building and entered the student center, intending to visit the display of the campus clubs Christmas Tree Decorating Contest. The December sun poured through gigantic skylights and bathed me with rays of my bright future and sunny holidays with no papers, finals, or boring texts. I began to daydream about my upcoming first Christmas with my new hubba-hubba husband. Just then, a whale-ish black cloud swallowed the sun, plunging the Taggart Student Center into darkness, and I remembered our bare, Christmas-less apartment.
I’d spent my last two Christmas’s breaking dry baguettes with equally homesick companions in cold-floored, bare-walled, Christmas-less missionary apartments. More than anything, I wanted a warm, homey Christmas with all the trimmings.
My melancholy deepened as I passed the remains of what had been the Christmas tree display. Pine needles, scraps of tinsel, and a few remnants of broken ornaments dirtied the floor, which begged for a deep vacuuming. Too busy cramming for finals, I hadn’t walked through the tree festival before, I hadn’t expected it to be gone so soon. I hung my head feeling a lot like Charlie Brown.
Then, in the far corner, looking very cast-off and unwanted, I spied four naked trees.
Let me interrupt the story here to explain that the universe and I have an unspoken agreement–I will never buy anything without a coupon, and the universe will provide me just enough opportunities to mooch, beg, rummage or win the barest necessities of luxury.
Suddenly filled with Christmas optimism, I bounded up the stairs to bother the Student Body President.
Hello, um, Mr. President, Sir. There are some trees downstairs that look like they’ve been sentenced to Christmas at the Logan landfill. I’m married and poor, you see, and if they’re just going to the trash, I’d be happy to take one off your hands.
Well, Mrs. Poor & Married (or was it Mrs. Married and Poor?). Anyway, we donated the decorated trees to the Salvation Army for needy families. However, one tree was too big to fit in our truck and we don’t know what to do with it. If you can haul it away, it’s yours.
No Problem. I’ll go get my newlywed semi-truck. But… I didn’t see a decorated tree.
My committee left that tree by the back doors. It has white lights, gold angels and musical instruments like violins and trumpets and stuff. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Married.
Skipping two stairs at a time, I raced to meet my new, fully decorated, and free Christmas tree.
Holy oxen and wise men.
Ladies and gentleman, this was the very tree.
(And see what I mean by hubba-hubba hubbie?)
The tree came with:
four golden angels,
six trumpets and french horns,
golden apples and golden pears,
over-sized burgundy flowers,
red and gold ribbon,
artificial and live foliage,
seven strands of white lights,
an extension cord,
two tree skirts,
a tree stand.
How we got the tree back to our formerly bare apartment is another story entirely. (Picture hubba-husband crouched deep into the trunk of an Oldsmobile four door sedan straddling and clinging to the prickly bark of a biggie-sized Blue Spruce shouting “Slow down, honey, we lost an angel.”)
Pulling into our designated apartment complex parking spot, we unloaded the tree, unlocked the apartment, wriggled the branches through the door, replaced the fallen angel, plugged in the lights, snapped our fingers, and Abracadabra folks, instant Christmas!
Staring awestruck at our stroke of good fortune, hubba-hubbie said,
This is the most beautiful Christmas tree I have ever seen. Of all the clubs and organizations on the USU campus, which one decorated this tree?
Well, until that very day, I hadn’t even known the club existed at USU in 1997.
This tree was the creative product of the Gay and Lesbian Club of Utah State University.
Now, every Christmas when hubba and I drape the gold ribbons, hang the harps, trumpets and angels, we give thanks in our hearts for their talent, artistry, and generosity.
My kitchen drawer beds a dandy tool,
Used January through December Yule.
I mix a bowl of chocolate dream,
It scrapes the sides and folds in the cream.
When I need to stir, into the boiling sauce it will go,
Or I stuff it in the freezer to wait with the dough.
By the end of each meal, it’s been washed and rinsed thrice,
My heart beats “thump, bump” for such a functional device.
Then out to the driveway with shovel I trudge,
Time to move snow – a chore I begrudge.
The shovel leaves trails of uncaptured snow,
The handle breaks off, in the trash it will go.
Every years it’s the same, I’m left so bereft,
Until I find a snow shovel made by Pampered Chef.
is not reflected by how cleverly they can outsmart the next person,
but by how acutely they are capable of perceiving his unseen genius.
Karen Armstrong left the convent in the 1970’s because she could not pray, “which is rather a downer for a nun,” she says. After a six year depression, a failed PhD and being asked to leave school teaching because of her epilepsy, she fell into the world of religious study and has become one of the world’s greatest religious historians.
Many people ask her, after years of in depth religious study, which religion she has joined. None, but rather she has become an ambassador for all that is best in the great religions of the world.
In essence, she has developed compassion.
Karen Armstrong is one of many individuals and organizations launching compassion movements across the globe.
In spring of 2010, the city of Seattle became the world’s first official “City of Compassion.” Seattle’s mayor and nine city council members affirmed the Charter for Compassion, and committed to a 10 Year Campaign for Compassionate Cities. The campaign was largely promoted by Microsoft executives, who are working to apply the Charter to their business practices.
Karen and others hope this movement will propel society towards a Socratic dialogue, which was conducted gently. People enter a Socratic dialogue with the intent to leave enlightened, enriched, expanded, and changed, rather than to win the debate.
“Put your clever, over-educated self to the side and approach learning with an open heart. Don’t judge too quickly. Wait. Listen. Suddenly you will understand another person in a deeply perceptive way,” says Karen.
“We are addicted to our prejudices. We have our pet hates. We define ourselves by comparing to what we are not. When we utter a cleverly-brilliant, wounding remark, we get a buzz of triumph, but it also poisons us, just like addiction does. It poisons our intellectual and social atmosphere.”
With parallels to the Twelve Step Program for alcoholics, Karen has authored the book, “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.” As with Alcoholic Anonymous, these twelve steps are practiced until they become a natural, integral part of one’s day-to-day life.
The book’s preface is to Wish for a Better World, which reminds me of the scripture:
Whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world…
which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men,
which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works.
Karen’s twelve steps are:
1. Learn about compassion
2. Look at your World
3. Compassion for Yourself
7. How Little We Know
8. How Should We Speak to One Another
9. Concern for Everybody
11. Recognition: To see oneness in yourself, your community and the world.
12. Love Your Enemies: The word “love” historically did not reference “feelings of affection,” but meant “loyalty.” Two countries would vow to “love” each other or to be loyal to each other – essentially to have the other person’s back.
Karen discusses how fear is the root of much conflict. “When someone feels they are threatened, that their backs are to the wall they can lash out violently. In their anxiety to protect their faith, they actually distort it.”
The antidote for fear is faith, or the pro-active application of hope. Faith in the goodness of humanity. Hope that we can all behave better than we have in the past.
Faith, Hope, and Compassion.
If this is the movement chugging across the nation, I want on board the train.