Sunday, March 25, 2007


Created as a writing exercise.

I got lost, savoring the chill of winter on my tongue and the freshly falling snow. The iron in the spring thaw water, bubbling and laughing over the rocks and underneath the moon, that washes away the coppery metallic taste of the hunt.

It’s one of those nights. Those beautiful nights when the world is all the shades of grey, but the mountains seem touched by blue. It’s impossible, but it’s there. Silence so thick it can be felt hangs over the merry brook and presses against my body. When the heart is the loudest noise—it shakes within my rib cage, until my very veins shiver from the rush of blood.

The ground is cold, snow-covered. I feel it between my toes, the last vestiges of winter struggling to reclaim territory from spring.

Spring tastes like life and blood, and the cold, cold water that washes away the beast. But in my reflection, those timberwolf eyes remain.

Lick your lips, and you can taste the beast. Breathe in, and you’ll feel it press against your skin—on the inside, desperate to get out.

I feel it, too.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Strawberry Pocky (non-fiction)

I don't like strawberry pocky. Not really. But I forget this sometimes and find myself craving it. Like most things, the reason I want it is sentimental. It's an effort to recreate a purely natsukashii moment.

Strawberry flavoring isn't something I'm a fan of, but it was during my stay in Japan that I became enamoured with it. Thus, strawberry pocky, which tastes of fluoride and breadsticks, brings back memories of an upstairs classroom with that looked down on a plum tree blooming across the street. Light would come in through the windows and create squares of lazy warmth on the carpeting. It was silent before the first set of students arrived. If there was sound at all, it came from the CD I'd play to build up the momentum I'd need to keep me going for the next three to five hours.

Those silences weren't lonely. Not like the ones that settled, deep as mid-winter snow, in my apartment after I returned home. I played music a lot at home, or had the TV on just so it seemed like someone else lived there. James, the district leader, told me once that I might have had the largest apartment of any of the teachers.

Most nights it was too large.

I don't remember the name of the town that upstairs classroom was in, but I recall I had to take a bus to get there. Two or three of the five days, I had to hope the parents picked all the kids up on time, because otherwise I'd miss the last bus. Not once did I, but I always worried that I would.

It rained one night—poured and pissed—while I hurried for that last bus, splashing the puddles in my suede boots. They'd already been "ruined" on the night I walked from Dave's to the Lawson's, caught in a celestrial temper tantrum, and had one of what should have been the most comedic conversations of my life. The night where a semi splashed me head to toe, as if I was in a romantic comedy or a chick lit book. Only, in fiction, an adorable Japanese guy would have stopped his car afterwards and offered me a ride home—instead I trudged the rest of the way to my apartment, soaked from head to toe. At least my umbrella didn't have a hole in it.

That town, oh that town, was so good to me. With the cake shop where I'd pick up treats to share with Dave and Alice when we all went to his apartment for dinner. The three of us chipping to make something of a meal, to form a little Kumagaya foreign family.

Why can't I remember the name of the town? I remember the teacher at the school was Rumi, who didn't speak very much English. She was yasashi—kind and genki—enthusiastic. I loved when she was there to teach the younger classes, even if we couldn't really say much to each other. What mattered was two people filled the silence, turning it from lonely to comfortable.

I can even remember the name of the teacher who Dave had a crush on. Nozomi—hope. How upset he was that she brought him chocolate on Valentine's day, but John was substituting so he ate the chocolate instead. How I always wondered if it was giri-obligation chocolate, like the bar I gave Dave, or honmei chocolate like what I never gave Masahiro. (Or was his name Masahito?) Honmei chocolate, to confess the feelings so much more appropriately than how I struggled on that last night in Kumagaya, when he'd been drinking but Dave wanted us to have a chance to say goodbye. How I didn't understand that being Japanese meant never having to say "I like you," and that feelings should have been kept inside so as to not burden the other party.

I wonder if Masahiro/hito still has the keychain I brought him from Tokyo Tower on one of the Foreign Family outings. We got lost trying to find Tokyo tower—Dave, Alice, Wasim and I. Maybe Jimmy and Waka were there, too. We ended up at a temple that seemed to be just in front of the tower, and I bought the little doll charm who was supposed to take all my bad luck from me. The one whose bell fell off a few weeks later when I was walking home one night, and I always wondered if that was because she'd saved me from... something.

I still have the doll charm. Just like I still have the keychain Masahiro/hito won for me from a UFO push machine on our first "date." When Dave and I met him and his coworkers for kareoke. Dave and I tried to sing "Eyes on Me" as a duet, but he didn't know the words, despite swearing that he did.

There's a picture of Masahiro/hito and I together on that night. We look like a couple. At least I thought so when I got it developed, but maybe I saw what I wanted to see. Maybe Ayumi took the photo. Maybe she really did name her baby after me or Dave, like she joked that she would. Maybe Masahiro/hito said that we were friends in English when I asked him if he liked me in Japanese because it was the proper thing to say. Do you think after four years he's forgiven a foolish foreign girl who didn't know the rules?

She's forgiven him. Even if there was nothing that needed forgiving.

I don't really even like the taste of Strawberry Pocky, but I eat it. Just like I'm not sure I even like Japan, but I still dream of being back there. It's not the country that disappoints me, but the fact that it can never be the country of my memory—stripped of its prejudices and sewer smells, lonely lonely nights and heartbreaks, rudeness and stares and segregation.

So I buy a ticket, and I tell myself "this time, I will love Japan." Becauase, in its strange way, Japan loved me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

The beauty of the punishment was the translucent curtain the glamourie created.

When we look at someone, their body is the window to their mind. We judge their inner life by what they present to us in our mutual outer lives.

The glamourie made that presentation a lie. It robbed Bianca of her ability to frame her face and form with carefully chosen attributes. It took away her expression and made the canvas of her outer life someone else’s masterpiece.

The mirror became her enemy—her foe. They would duel: it reflecting what it saw, and she striving for an angle where the lamp didn’t highlight her frightening perfection. For her beauty was ancient magic, a cold marble divinity that artists sought to capture and poets spent countless sonnets trying to describe.

She hated it. Hated being a prisoner in her skin that no longer resembled her skin. Her face that she stopped being able to see from the corner of her eye, if she held her head just so and concentrated.

It would have been nice if they’d left her her shadow, but that would have been sloppy. The Fair Folk were not sloppy. No, they were vindictive. Especially when crossed, and she had crossed them. Knowingly. Willingly. Foolishly.

They had cursed her with her inhuman beauty, so she might better understand the pain that she caused.

Character study

Created for a writing exercise.

Candy was the girl you hated in high school. Blonde, beautiful, and deliciously clever. The girl who wealth and privilege clung to like bonfire smoke, soaking into her hair, clothes, and pores. But with enough washings everything fades. At twenty-seven, Candy was slowly coming to realize her sense of entitlement didn’t have the same influence it had had at cheer camp.

“It’s not that I can’t,” Joanna said, snapping her pink bubbalicious. “I don’t want to.”

“Please?” Candy asked, the word like mystery meat in her mouth. “It’s a really important appointment—”

“I’m, like, going shopping,” Joanna said. “That’s way important.”

With a bounce of her blonde ponytail, the seventeen-year-old sauntered off, as she led Mr. Buttons—a small Jack Russell terrorist—toward the waiting room.

Candy looked at her chipped manicure, the French tip had been marred by an excitable Dalmatian, and realized that she hated Joanna. Hated her with every fiber of her being. What had the world come to that she, Candy Benson, had gone from head cheerleader to assistant dog groomer?

For all the Juicy Couture-wearing bitch knew, Candy had an appointment to check on a suspicious lump that had been found in her left breast. Shopping was not more important than possible breast cancer—not that Candy had a lump in either of her breasts, or that Joanna had bothered to ask. That was the problem, Joanna didn’t care enough to inquire so that Candy could have tested her Oscar-winning performance, while cleverly hiding that she’d really just managed to finally get an appointment with the stylist all the celebrities were raving about.

Candy glared, as she willed split ends and dark roots on Joanna’s perky ponytail. Hopefully the little twerp would unknowingly buy a Chinese knock-off and be laughed out of homeroom by the cheerleader with the real Gucci.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I have to rewrite the second book. Well, to be fair, I have to re-outline the whole damn trilogy. And you know what I'm learning? Put the goggles on, kids, roll up your sleeves, and kill those ugly babies. Much better things are born in the carnage.

Delicious, wicked, brilliant things come from writing what you want to write because you're the only one mad enough to write it. Remember that.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Loose ends

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

I’m not sure I knew I was setting out on an important journey. Those words laying the groundwork for our next adventure. If I wasn’t sure, and you weren’t sure—although you would’ve never admitted that before—then the world just became a much more interesting place.

How could we be unsure, when we were the ones who had crafted this intelligent design? This clever machination made simple and functioning on the basic principle that if you didn’t tell my secrets and I didn’t tell yours, they’d be none the wiser.

Now you weren’t sure the secret was only ours. He might know what we didn’t tell your family. If he knew. If—that damnable tormenting possibility. If he knew, what hadn’t he said anything? Was he protecting you? Protecting me? Protecting the ghost we were remnants of?

That was why he’d kept us apart, wasn’t it? With fifteen years of silence and the ocean between us. So we wouldn’t learn his secret. So we didn’t know he knew that we knew that he knew. As if his knowing could somehow lessen our burden. As if we could all pretend there wasn’t a bloody body in the room with us—a corpse that moved from home to home and rode about in the trunk of our cars.

If he knew—even if he didn’t—maybe it was time someone else did. After all, it was at least partially his fault. He’s the one who told you to do it. Now we were going to have to do something about him.

For Sarah

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

I wish I were able to talk to you. Not through the computer, but face to face over coffee—you would drink tea.

I remember when I last saw you at Christmas, the marshmallow world a pristine white. Remember how we urged the new year to fly to us, as the scent of miso soup and green tea reminded us of what had happened the year before. One year before exactly, when you thought the student loan people were calling. They kept calling, so after we finished lunch, you answered.

I remember watching your face, listening as you tried to make everything better for Krista. She wanted you to, and that’s the kind of person you are beneath the piercing and dreadlocks. You were searching for the perfect words that didn’t exist. There were tears in your voice, as I ate the orange cube off its toothpick and waited for you.

That was the first time I felt so out of that element—unable to make everything instantly better for you, without you having to ask.

Then you emailed. You said you’d been sad—no, you said you’d decided your symptoms of major depression were more than you could handle on your own. So you were getting help.

I thought of you on my screensaver, as it rotated pictures from your visit last September, and in my mind you were smiling. Eating a treat from Little Tokyo. Pancake cakes, that looked they should have berries inside, but they had sweet beans. Cakes that smelled like festivals and Japan, so they mixed what should have been a happy time with my recalled depression.

I know you’ll get through it. You’ll cope. You’ll deal. You’ll prevail. But I still wish I was there, embraced by the aroma of coffee, telling you face to face.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Metaphoric Description

Created as a writing exercise.

He’s a snow-peaked mountain—taller than Fuji. It’s that hair of moonlight on ocean waves. Snow falling around mirror eyes. Eyes that are your eyes, my eyes, but never his eyes.

His smile is a katana—polished gleaming steel. It cut you when you were distracted by your smile in his mirror eyes.

He is that shadow when there is no light to cast it. The whisper at your ear when you’re alone.

His hands are death—death you don’t see coming. Not from the mountain, so steady and stable—until an avalanche.

His laugh is a chill running down your spine. You laugh, too, but at the same time, you’re wondering what the joke was. That’s when you’ll see the geisha smile, his Noh mask. You try to push aside the velvet curtain, looking for the actors—only to realize it’s a rope, and your name is not on the VIP list.

He is the music you can hear from inside. Fast. Wordless. Bass and volume the only certainty.

His conversation is not a game of Go, although you’ll think that at first. He has no reason to focus on claiming your black pieces. They were taken when you were busy blocking his katana smile with your own bladed words.

No, his conversation is more tea ceremony than anything else. It’s the ritual that you should appreciate. Presentation is everything, and the word you need to fully express his peculiar flavor exists only in Japanese

Freewrite exercise

Created from prompts for a writing exercise.

YESTERDAY, MY NAME WAS change. Winds blew me to your door. Cold winds. And you stood inside, wrapped your sweatered arms around yourself, and begged for me to enter. Bring the warmth, you asked. Implored. But you didn’t hear me answer “gladly.”

Hugging yourself, you let the curtain fall back over the window. Velvet kissing the emptiness between us. You never opened the door, and I knocked many times. I stood, lips blue, breath crystallizing, but you never answered.

You, who called me from the warm place by the hearth, begging and pleading, and swearing oaths to any god who’d listen. You said you wanted me. You said you were ready. So why didn’t you let me in?

Clouds across the moon tonight, and I am in their shadow. Glance, but you won’t see me. Not in a mirror. Not from the corner of your eye. You won’t see me.

It was cold on your doorstep, y’know. It was colder still in knowing you were so close. I could taste you. Breathe in your cologne.

Know TOMORROW MY NAME WILL BE vengeance. I’ll dress in my warmest coat, tie my hair back, and creep to your house. I know where you hid the spare key. After letting myself in, I’ll look at all those memories you hung on your walls, and I’ll replace them with the doubts you hid. (I saw them behind the shoebox on the top shelf of your closet.) Sheet upon sheet of printed words that shame you with their comma splices and awkward syntaxes. (What is the plural form of syntax?) Those characters that never developed. The relationships they fostered that you abandoned before the climax.

And, oh what a climax it would have been when she revealed that “SECRETLY, I KNOW MY NAME IS Countess Von Landerkiss, and all of this belongs to me.” She was going to oust those interlopers and who had wrongly seized her family fortune. The money would help to set-up a charity to get pretty sweaters for abandoned Chihuahuas.

You gave up on chick lit when you decided it was beneath you to write it. Only serious, thought-provoking words were good enough to fill your tome—the one that you were certain would change the world.

Well, you know what? I liked Countess Von Linderkiss and her little dogs. And who’s the muse here, you or me? That’s right, me. So how about you start listening again?