New story – Everybody likes goats

I’ve got a new story ready to share. It’s called Keeping Goats Happy. Thanks to Ty for the heads up on Fainting Goats. Who knew? Hope you like. http://raysquires.virb.com/keeping-goats-happy

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Bells Palsy and My Boob Paper

I am looking for my voice in older pieces of writing. I found a paper I wrote for my nonverbal communication class my senior year of undergrad at UGA (1995).To read it click here or just browse www.raysquires.com for essays. That was probably the most influential class I’ve ever taken. I learned the building blocks of how I deal with people in all situations. It basically got me thinking about thinking, constantly analyzing, and censoring myself. Because once I knew what needed to happen to attain comprehension, perceived understanding, of what I want to be understood, then I didn’t see an excuse in not striving for that every time.

Nonverbal communication accounts for a significant percentage of comprehension in a given conversation, details are in my paper. But now that I have Bells Palsy, a temporary paralysis of my face, my nonverbal skills are beyond my reach. It’s good for me because it’s helped me to realize how much responsibility I take in conversations. More than my half. I tend to think for other people, assuming that the outcome of the conversation will go my more way, and so I tend to hyperextend my nonverbal communication. But as meditation teaches me and from what I read about other writers, the best way to let the truth, beauty and art of life materialize is to not try to control it so much. Try not to force it. It’s a matter of trust. Of faith. Even in everyday life, or especially in everyday life I need to trust that what is meant to be will surface. I can try my best, but I can’t try other people’s best. That’s too much forced effort. And even my best is something that I don’t quite understand yet. Maybe just being is my best.

I wanted to preserve the paper, so I had to retype it because all I had was the printed copy. It was a good exercise. I heard my voice and I felt it. I found myself funny, and a little sad, which pretty much describes my experience with Bell Palsy. The title of the paper is Personal Appearance and Breast Size. I got an A+. My teacher, a middle aged man, at the time, named Dr. Leathers, said:

This is a perceptive and highly stimulating paper. This is one of the most original and through-provoking papers that has been prepared for this assignment. The paper is responsive to all parts of the assignment, is well organized, and is well written. Your personal examples that highlight the potential effects of large female breasts on self concept are fascinating. You make skillful use of current and appropriate sources. I would like a copy of this paper.

Unfortunately, at the time, I had a bad case of senioritis. So I never gave him a copy of the paper. Also, I think the word “fascinating” scared me off. I still am a little shy about my boobs. But he’s right. It really was a great paper. Hope you enjoy. Oh and Mom, sorry, but I’ve found another thing to blame you for. No hard feelings, k.  Love you.

~Ray

Accepting Defeat: The Seventh Grade Bike Rack Incident

Ugh, the bike rack story. In honor of me accepting the fact that my short story titled Ceremony may never be worthy of sharing, I will instead share my story of the seventh grade bike rack incident. In doing so I face my current fiction craft defeat with a recanting of the defeat I endured that black, black day.

Middle school was extra cruel because of how close it was to my house, too close to ride the bus but too far to walk. So I rode my bike. And that just gave me this pseudo sense of freedom. I could ride my bike to and from school, but once I got there, it got locked up in the fenced in and gated bike rack until the last bell rang. So in order to go home early I either had to leave it behind, tragic, or get one of my brothers to haul it over the fence. I have to admit though the urge to leave institutional structures was not as great in middle school as it had been in elementary. I guess because I got into being social, which meant that riding my bike everyday required balancing style with practicality. Miniskirts before leggings were a challenge.

Anyway a whole bunch of elementary schools converged into my middle school, so in sixth grade I got the opportunity to meet a lot of new people. We were all new, and some were very interesting, and I happened to have every single class with this one particularly interesting chic who, unfortunately, I cannot describe. I can’t even use her initials because she would freak out if she ever caught wind of this. In fact, speaking of wind, she was so paranoid that she would not eat vegetables during the school year. And see, that is enough to give her away to anyone who went to my middle school. But the seventh grade bike rack incident did not involve that friend I made in sixth grade, at least not directly. She did not ride her bike. She lived too far away, in the more affluent subdivisions and took the bus. Through her, however, I had made friends with a few other girls who were pretty talented dancers. And while we did not have dance class at our middle school, we did have drama and musical theater. So these very talented girls signed up for seventh grade drama class, which was a precursor to eighth grade musical theater, and I did too. I was an ok dancer. I didn’t practice enough to be really good, but I was pretty natural with the acting. I was hands down the best actor in our seventh grade drama performance. I played Dube Duddly. (That’s right, gender switching.) I played my heart out in that role. And even the parents of one of these very talented girls said so. So since my debut was such a hit, I decided to try out for the end of the year play.

None of my very talented dancer friends were interested in trying out for it, but a girl I’d been friends with since third grade said she’d try out. BG was a great person. A real steady person. She actually was an amazing gymnast too. She lived down the street from me and we used to play together a lot, but as we got older I stopped hanging out with BG other than to just ride bikes to and from school because she was a year behind me, so no way. And on top of that we had that year of separation when I was in sixth and she was in fifth. But BG and I had history. One time when we were riding our bikes home from elementary school we passed by a dirty freak who asked us for directions and when we looked in his car we saw that he was jerking off with a rubber blow up penis. You know, I wouldn’t believe the story either if I hadn’t seen it first hand. But it happened, and I was like, come on BG, let’s get a way from this sicko. Another interesting thing about BG is that her dad was some kind of an FBI agent, something top secret like that, and her family had lived in some real neat places, like Peru, and they had Peruvian decorations in their house. By the time I met BG, though, her dad was stationed in the culturally deprived, bubble community where I grew up. The diversity of my hometown, located twenty miles west of Fort Lauderdale, consisted of White Catholics and White Jews. I was in high school before I met any other Christian denominations. Course he was probably there for the drug boom that was spreading north from Miami, but I didn’t know anything about that at the time.

Anyway, so me and BG each tried out for this play on the stage of our middle school auditorium which doubled as the cafeteria. I don’t’ remember what the play was, just that neither of us got a part, but I do remember being immediately aware of the fact that I did not do a good job. We weren’t given any material to practice ahead of time, at least none that I was aware of, and so all I had to go on was the script they handed me at the audition. And I think I just read it wrong. With no iPhone to Google it, the role didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t understand the context, see. So I probably made up my own context, which still today tends to be pretty far off from the norm, and so maybe that explains my poor performance. I don’t know. But, in the moments immediately following my audition, in a state of deep sinking disappointment, while walking toward BG who was waiting for me along with our books at one of the cafeteria tables, I happened to have caught the attention of a very tall and broad shouldered eighth grade girl. I know that I’d never seen her before, but as I walked by I thought I heard her say something pissy about me. I don’t even remember what it was exactly, and the truth is, she might not have said anything at all. But in that moment, fueled by my heightened anxiety of coming right off the stage as I grappled with the fact that there was no doing the audition over, I believed that she did say something pissy about me. Whatever she said or didn’t say, it, or my imagination of it, and my own dismantling failure, fused to a nuclear point and darting with the momentum of light speed pissed me to the core. And I somewhat absentmindedly responded by mouthing the words “fuck you.”

Now, I know mouthing the words “fuck you” was not a nice girl thing to do, but I was not myself. I was shocked at the permanence of how badly I performed. You know that dream where you realize you have a final exam for a class you didn’t even realize you’ve been signed up for all semester and now there’s nothing you can do but fail that life changing test? That’s the feeling. Utter failure for my own failure. And of course the unknown eighth grader followed me and BG out of the auditorium on our way to the fenced in and gated bike rack, and as she followed she taunted me the whole way, demanding an apology. I was like, who the hell is this chic and why did she have to show up now? To add to the shittiness of this situation, not only did I have this big eighth grade bitch following me and my younger friend, but with her, as like her sidekick, was this other eighth grade chic who I did know, MH1, my nemesis.

MH1 and I also had history, but we were never really friends. The reason we were never friends is that she was supposed to be some sort of mentor for me. She had been my fourth grade TOT. TOT stands for Teachers of Tomorrow. My fourth grade class had two of them, two girls of course, and they both had the same initials MH. They actually also looked very much alike, coincidentally, freshly pressed clothes and really long ponytails, one on each side of their heads, with bows! TOTs are fifth graders who come into your elementary school classroom and take the role of teacher’s pet to a whole new level. It’s very invasive. They grade your papers, they put up bulletin boards, which means they know who won the creative story writing contest before you and your classmates know. They sit right by the teacher’s desk and get to hear the inside jokes that I guess only middle-aged women get and the way-advanced minds of fifth grade girls. Yeah, like I’m so sure those snobby fifth grade bitches already knew that they wanted to be teachers when they grew up. They were only a year older than me, and at the time I still thought I wanted to be a scientist just so I could wear a lab coat. Anyway, the point here is that MH1 was my TOT from fourth grade and so I always held her on a certain pedestal. She was a model of how much extra attention a pretty girl can get by being a goody-goody. So what the fuck was she doing hanging out with this big bully bitch, who was obviously hell bent on making me pay for my momentary loss of self control.

Well I sure as shit didn’t feel like apologizing. My dream of being in the school play died as I exited that stage. I felt too many emotions to deal with at once. So I didn’t turn around and settle the score right then and there. Me and BG just kept walking to the bike rack and when we got there we unlocked our bikes from the fence, but we couldn’t leave. The reckoner held the bike rack gate shut, with MH1 standing by, and reamed me out for what must have been at least an hour. Good Christ, didn’t she have anywhere else to go? And it was just humiliating shit, like how I wasn’t such a tough girl now, and I needed to watch my mouth. I was extra embarrassed, not just because of MH1 but because of BG being there too. I was supposed to be older and able to protect her. The truth is, BG would never have gotten us into a mess like this because she was a steadier person than me and probably had less of an ego. Still, she stayed with me. She had to, really, since the gate wasn’t opening until I said I was sorry. And, gee, that’s tough, isn’t it? Having to say you’re sorry when you’re totally not just sucks. I look back at that day and I am still so angry. At least BG stood kind of behind me so she couldn’t see how humiliated and frustrated I was at that older girl holding me against my will all just because of a momentary lapse from my usual nice-girl self, and poor BG, too, an innocent. If only I could take those words back. Why couldn’t I have just had another minute to get my head on straight after that awful audition and remember that most people, if they’re paying attention, don’t take kindly to younger, gifted and popular types mouthing off to them? And what was up with MH1? She was supposed to have been some kind of tutor to me, but she just stood by with a look on her face like, yep, you really did it this time, Squires. I felt so betrayed.

I don’t know what made me finally give in. I was probably getting hungry. But I did finally apologize and the big bully girl let us out. When we got far enough away, I cried. BG didn’t say anything. She just rode behind me in a single file till we got passed the bike path and onto our subdivision street. I never told anybody about it, not my mom or my brothers, certainly not my talented dancer friends. And BG was good with stuff like that. She never mentioned it again either. Just me, BG, MH1, and no-name bully bitch knew the most painful defeat of my pre-pubescent years. Of course the shit got way worse once puberty hit. But that bike rack incident set me back, that’s for sure. I never mouthed off to a girl who was bigger than me ever again. Fortunately I never saw no-name big girl ever again either. That’s weird actually. Like I said I have no idea who she was. I didn’t know her at the time and I don’t recall ever seeing her again. I would have remembered seeing her again. But I did see MH1 again, and again and again. And boy did she get her own comeuppance in high school big time, poor thing, some crazy sex rumor. Of course by then I was taller than her, and the sex rumor actually made her seem more human, but still, we never really did become friends.

So what’s the moral to this story? I don’t know. Defeat sucks. How about that? Whether you earn it or not. And yeah the lesson you learn from the experience usually helps out, eventually, down the road, but while it’s happening, and even immediately after, it sure does suck. Like this damn short story, Ceremony. I started it in June and I have fifteen versions of it, and I really like it, parts of it anyway, but damn if I just can’t get the thing to work. And my struggle with it is keeping me from working on anything else. Uh oh – scary realization – seriously, you’ve witnessed it – recorded for posterity. That is the gist of the story: accepting defeat and moving on. Wow. My new nemesis is Ceremony…

The Day I Wore My Mom’s Bra to School

Second grade was a particularly hard year – a transitional year. We had just moved into a new house with this guy my mom was dating, who she described to me, even then, as a person who didn’t like kids, great, and his poor son who my brothers HATED. We moved into this new neighborhood where all the houses were bigger by a whole second story and all the pools were screened in. Some contractor made a goldmine convincing upwardly aspiring middle classers in South Florida that a screened-in pool was better than a non-screened in pool and so all the bigger houses had screened-in pools and I’m here to tell you that screened-in pools suck because they block the sun. So here we are, living in this big crazy house with a cold ass screened-in pool and this weird guy and his weird son and we all had to start a new school. My oldest brother had to start middle school, so his was new anyway, and my other brother and I had to start a new elementary school. Only the school we were supposed to go to wasn’t done being built yet so we spent the first I’d guess about two-thirds of the year in the portables of this other school. Like migrant worker kids.

My teacher was really a pretty sweet lady, Mrs. P. I know she was sweet because she never called me out the day I wore my mom’s bra to school. I don’t why I did it. I mean, I guess I was always curious about bras and tampons and stuff like that. I don’t  think I did it to intentionally draw attention to myself, although I did choose to wear it with my sheer white button down blouse with the pink pinstripes and short gathered sleeves, which I’m sure anyone could totally see the outline of the bra through, if nothing else the bulk of it. The bra was not small. My ma, like me now, has big boobs. It had underwire cups that took up my whole flat little second grade chest and even pushed out to under my arms, and the triple hook and eye clasp in the back took up half of my back. Thank God it wasn’t like today where the cups stand up on their own, but still, I am sure it was noticeable. I do not see how it could not have been noticeable. When I looked at myself in the mirror I saw it. But no one stopped me. I snuck it out of my mom’s bottom middle drawer. I think it was one she didn’t wear anymore but had saved because it was pretty. It was pretty, light pink satin with lace on the cups. I don’t know why she didn’t see it on my before I left the house. I didn’t wear a jacket that day. I must have held my books in front of me. I’m not sure. But my brother must not have noticed either because there is no way in hell that he would not have reamed me out for being so ridiculous and for embarrassing the shit out of him. I wore that big ass bra with my sheer shirt to the bus stop and I can’t believe none of those bully assholes made fun of me there either. Those pricks teased me all the time. But they didn’t that day. I got all the way to school and I went to my classroom, Mrs. P’s portable, and I sat in my seat, and no one said anything. I would have remembered because I would have been mortified. But nobody said anything.

At one point just before lunch I got to feeling uncomfortable and paranoid. All I could feel was that bra and I couldn’t focus on anything else. It was like I had an awakening, like from a dream, one of those dreams where you wake up and realize you’re naked. I woke up and realized I had my mom’s huge ass bra on underneath a sheer shirt. What the hell was I thinking? I had to get the thing off right away. So I asked Mrs. P if I could go to the bathroom, and I took my bookbag with me. I walked quickly along the sidewalk path to the portable bathroom, dodging any passersby. I remember pretending I was in like a James Bond movie. I walked up the wooden steps of the portable bathroom and went into a stall. I slipped my arms out and pulled it over my head through the neck hole of my blouse, a maneuver that would one day become routine, and tucked it into my bookbag. It took up a lot of room in my bookbag. Then I walked casually back to my classroom, hung my bookbag up on its hook and took my seat and went on with my day.

To this day I think it is very weird that nobody noticed. When I got home I snuck into my mom’s room and snuck it out of my bookbag and into my mom’s drawer, exactly where I took it from and no one ever said anything about it. The one thing I did that I felt like I totally deserved to get made fun of for or get in trouble for and no one ever called me on it. What the hell? Was it that disturbing?

2 Funny Stories From Kindergarten Circa 1978

Some real acid trip experiences took place in kindergarten. I can remember a bunch of them, but I’ll just share a couple now. Like whatever day this was when we learned about our senses. The kindergarten classes at my elementary school shared one big, giant classroom. So we did most of our activities together as one giant group but then we broke up into groups with our assigned teacher for things like reading and I guess detailed activities that required more direct supervision. So this one day our big group of kindergartners broke up into stations – like I said that shit actually happened everyday – but this one day we broke into stations where we were I guess supposed to learn about our sense of taste. Nice, right? Well I tell you what I learned, a giant taste of disappointment. We sat at our miniature tables and chairs and had plates in front of us with different food items separated into piles of sorts. Of course it was before lunch, and I was convinced that one pile was Oreo crumbs. Looked just like the crumbs from the chocolate part of an Oreo cookie. I was so excited. I thought, well shit, these ladies have got it going on today. They thought to get us Oreos. So we had to wear a blindfold and taste the different things on our plates. I don’t even remember what any of the other shit was. I was totally focused on the Oreo cookie crumbs. And of course I kept peaking so I’d know when it was coming, and when it did I dumped a big handful in my mouth, a big old fist full of Oreo crumbs. And guess what. Fucking coffee grinds. Those evil bitches. They knew we thought that shit was a crumbled up Oreo. I mean, why did they have to be so shitty like that? Who the hell wants to taste bitter old coffee grinds. That sucked.

Then there was this one day when I distinctly remember our teachers telling us to wear kind of crappy clothes the next day. I mean, they didn’t say crappy. But you know, definitely not our best because of some art project we were doing. So, you know, like a good little droid I kept that in my head, wear not nice clothes tomorrow, which sounded like fun, a chance to wear my cut offs and a t-shirt. So the next morning I guess I got myself together and I came out to the kitchen where my mom was and she looked at me and she said, “Oh, Ray Ray, sweetie, you have so many nice dresses. Why don’t you wear one of your pretty dresses today?” And just like that the reason that I was supposed to wear not nice clothes left my mind. And because I couldn’t remember why, I figured I didn’t have a good enough reason to disappoint my mom who seemed very into me wearing a pretty dress that day, so I said, “OK.” And I ended up putting on my most dressy dress, a white frilly several layered number with a slip and ribbons and all, all white dress. My mom dropped me off just outside my classroom and I remember when I walked in my teacher saying to me, “Rachel, you were supposed to wear play clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.” And I remember thinking to myself, Jesus Christ. You know, I don’t know if any of you realize but I am five. Hello, five. If you want me to do something that requires longer than a-one hour memory recall ability, you need to tell my mother. I mean fuck sake, apparently I don’t even know the difference between a chocolate cookie and coffee grinds and you want me to remember something you said to me on my way out the door yesterday. Do you have any idea how many distractions I have encountered since then? And then I felt like such an asshole in that dressy dress. I mean everyone else looked like they were ready for field day, and I’m set for a wedding. I think that’s why I went all rampage with the finger paints too because I remember running around each finger painting table like a wild woman. The tables were all covered with paint, thick goopy colors dripping off the edges, and I just ran around them dragging my fingers in giant circles along the edges, mopping up all the goopy drips with my whiter than white ruffly ribbon dress. I mean they put a smock on me, but it didn’t do shit. By the end of the day my dress looked like a sunset, my favorite colors at least. My poor mom, when she came to pick me up, didn’t even realize that I was me because she could have sworn I had a white dress on that morning. And I was like, yeah, thank God I didn’t ruin my favorite cutoffs.

Writing is easier when you know you’re right

Well I have been putting off my post, first because I wanted to see if my rewrite of Ceremony had paid off so that I could make a comment on how improved the rewrite was once I got into flow…. But it took much longer than I thought to revise for flow, of course, and I’m still too shy to comment on it yet. However, my writing coach has been a great help and a great booster of esteem on it. Second, I got sucked into a vortex of low self esteem, despite my coach’s faith in me. I am happy to say, however, that I have pulled out of the vortex. In fact, it leads me into today’s post – what the hell happened to the sense of self righteousness I had when I was in elementary school? I think I know – and I think it has to do with puberty, but whatever made me lose it, it sucks. How do I know that I had a wonderful sense of self righteousness when I was in elementary school? Because I’ve been writing about my childhood.

A dear friend of mine recently lent me Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird. After a particularly low-self-esteem, lack-of-energy-to-write-anything-creative kind of day I read the first few chapters and was totally revived. Among other brilliant things, Lamott suggests writing all the stories of your childhood that you can think of – just let them flow. She says to do it so that you create a pool of characters and details from which to pull from for other stories. The great thing for me is that all of the stories from my childhood that I’ve written so far are not about my family. So I don’t have to feel guilty about sharing them, which I may just do. They are about people I didn’t even remember I remembered, like this really annoying bitch named Shelly who hogged all the attention at naptime in kindergarten. Only one of my friends that I am still friends with today is in some of these stories, but she was just as angry as I was, so it’s cool. I’ve written about four of them already, just about 900 words each, so they are short but they come out like a story, beginning, middle, end and all. And they are very funny, but they are also full of frustration and curse words. Who knew? I was a very pissed off little girl apparently. Lots of people annoyed the shit out of me when I was little, especially people who didn’t see the world the way I did, like teachers who read stories in installments instead of just giving it to me all in one day. How could she guarantee that I wouldn’t be absent next week when she moved on to chapter 2 of the Secret Life of the Underwear Champ? She couldn’t. I knew that, and I was just seven. Sometimes I spoke up for myself about these injustices, but most times I just knew I was right and that is more than I can say for myself nowadays. (I’m working on it.)

So my tip for today is that when you are feeling low energy or depressed, write a story from your childhood. Unless of course even as a child you doubted yourself. Then it might be better for you to write a story about the future, a future where you are right and you fucking know it.

Three Points on Flow

I’ve focused on flow all weekend and want to share a few words on it, and then I have to get busy on work that currently pays my bills.

First, recognize the importance of flow. Anyone who’s taught English composition knows the difficulty in articulating a good definition of flow to your students. You know it when you read it, and you know it when it is not there. I believe flow is the balanced movement of energy in a story or any piece of writing that makes it art. When energy is blocked, its flow is interrupted. For energy to be effective it must flow free of obstacles. The tricky thing is that these obstacles exist on a sentence level, a paragraph level, a scene level, and on a global level of the entire story. It’s like a giant Rubik’s cube getting all of those levels to flow among themselves and with each other. Thinking of flow in terms of moving energy may help because it gives us something physical to hold on to in the abstract world of fiction. Good luck with it. I’m still practicing.

Second, if you are workshopping a story and people get stuck on details that you are sensitive about, trust your sensitivity. If fiction is presented well – with good flow – then your details will ring true. If your story flows then your readers accept those details even if those details disturb them. So when you find yourself in a situation where your readers are not accepting your details, go back to flow. Something is wrong with the flow of your story that makes those details seem “wrong.”

Third, as you focus on flow, details that are “wrong” or that don’t ring true will become apparent to you, the writer. When they are apparent to you, then you can do something about them. To “fix” those details, focus on flow, in every paragraph, and strive to bring those details into balance with the whole story. This may require changing them.

All right, now get back to work.