100 Day Book Challenge

by Selma

Boy, was I in for a surprise… Here I was – little insignificant me, listening to podcasts every turn I got when I heard a name that I have come to love.

The Write Practice… the name came to me through the grape vine at the best time of my life. TWP was holding a Contest on one of its forums. Unsure of everything ‘technology’ I searched for a brave picture of myself and opened up to the idea of a Facebook account in order to dip my toes into the Becoming Writers Forum. Ready to claim a miracle, I joined my first Writing Contest.

Dang! I aced it! I got my miracle!

No, I didn’t win the Spring Contest, but I WON big time.

And little insignificant me — wow, I was pleasantly surprised.

After a month of practice Joe Bunting entices me with a wicked idea:

“pssst pssst,” he calls out to me, “why don’t you write the first draft of your book?”

“Nah, not me. I still need more practice,” I say.

“You’ll get 100 consecutive days of practice, with daily guidance and accountability,” he says.

I needed practice, guidance and accountability. “Sign me up,” I say.

Boy, was I in for a bigger surprise.

I had started exploring a story idea in the Writers Workshop, but I hadn’t given my idea purposeful direction. The pre requisite of a premise, synopsis, and outline came as a total shock to me.

Two words stunt me: “What? How?”

I exhale all the hot air that has my stomach in knots. I sit my butt in my chair and I give my little story idea the respect it deserves.

Then dang, I’m transported and amazed at myself at what came out of me for not fighting the exercise. It was my first time doing something like that. It was hard, I tell you, but I. Loved. It.

“Oh, Joe Bunting,” I say elated, “you the man!”

And we hadn’t even began…

Then the introductions begin. I feel like a fake.

“Wow Selma, that sounds soooo exciting. I want to read more,” someone tells me. I blush. I’m in disbelief. I sigh, relieved.

Next moment I start doubting myself.

What if I can’t deliver what I say I will do?

I’m overwhelmed with embarrassment.

I shush the voice in my head long enough to read everyone’s, and I mean everyone’s premise. I feel like a fake again and this time I set my feelings out in front of me for a talk. “Really, who do you think you are?” I reprimand myself huffing and puffing.

I’m sure I’m in the wrong place. I take long breaths.

“Nope — I can’t do it,” I tell them.

“You can do this Selma,” Ruthanne cheers me on. “I’m sure you have a book in you.” I take longer breaths…

More people read my premise. They like it.

“Hmmmm,” I sigh with eyes shut tight, “I guess I’ll try it.” My breathing stabilizes.

I ease into it. I start whipping out 800 words a day. I delve deeper. I find that I like what I’m doing. I try to stay within the confines of my outline but my characters pull me in different directions.

“Wait, wait, don’t go there,” I shout at them. They don’t listen. And my fingers follow my characters’ lead. “What am I, chopped liver?” I complain. They laugh.

And I. Like. It.

“Haha…” I laugh.

And that’s how it goes.

The daily guidance are a godsend.

Though I couldn’t read them religiously everyday, just knowing that they were there was reassuring. I skimmed through them and when my day and my characters allowed it, I would read Joe’s words, or listen to the lessons, and sometimes I would even add my thoughts on the threads — when time allowed.

The weekly check ups by the best administrator ever — priceless!

“Oh my gosh, I’m so busy,” I say to her one day. “I don’t know if I lost my horse or if I just found a rope — hahaha.”

“Your enthusiasm is contagious,” she tells me. I gloat at the thought that Ruthanne is referring to me.

Another time, “I wish you could ‘feel’ how I feel right now,” I say to her.

“I ‘can’. I can ‘feel’ it Selma,” she replies.

And I knew she could feel what I was feeling.

Oh my gosh! The company of the other Writers: Price-less.

These other Writers knew what they were doing. They were at the helm of their stories. They were calling the shots with such grace and dexterity and unbeknownst to them, they were pulling me up; elevating me to such heights with their stories that I started to soar alongside them. And I. Loved. It. It was never just about me. It was always them. They helped me to feel what I was feeling. That wind that I felt under my wings — it came from them. It was incredible.

They contaminated me. I was in good company.

And so it went.

The entire time I felt I was in a different zone. I was. Mentally and physically. I absolutely loved the mental part though it was far from easy. I loved the push. It was exhilarating. I felt invigorated and alive.

There were eyesores: my house and my yard looked forlorn and abandoned. Well, the dishes were washed and so was the laundry. But everything else… sssh!

This was not easy.

But you know what I would do it again. Sssh!

Then in week 12 someone went, “woo hoo, I’m finish.”

“I’m almost there,” I told them. I was gliding with outstretched wings.

On week 14 I came to the part where I got to write The End — I cried! I didn’t want it to end…

Though still in a less than pristine stage, I wrote an entire book in 100 days. The practice, guidance and accountability all contributed to get me there.

I no longer feel insignificant. I have an amazing experience under my belt and I have something huge to show for it. I wrote a book! Yay!

I’m not receiving any royalties for saying this, but the 100 Day Challenge was the oxygen I needed to breathe life into my creative outlet. It lit my candle and kept me focused in something that I didn’t think I could thrive in. It changed me. It made me believe that I had a real story to tell. And amazingly, I was capable enough to stick to the program. I would do it again. I would recommend it wholeheartedly. So if you, yes you dear reader are wondering if you might have something like a 70,000 manuscript in you, the 100 Day Program at The Write Practice is the place to do it. Trust me, you’ll love it.

***

It’s been almost a month since we submitted our last submissions with the prized words ‘The End’ attached. I felt such jubilation then. BUT– But, now I feel a little lost. Where do I go from here?

Yes, I have to work on my rewrite, but how do I begin to do that? It’s only 100 days old. Let me bask in the memory a little bit longer.

(Besides, I need to clean my house and my yard.)

I know that I have to replenish my well; the well I didn’t know I had. I will be at TWP recharging. The rest will happen when the time is right.

From someone fresh out of the amazing experience, here goes: the link to TheWritePractice.com/WriteABook, and do drop me a line if you decide to join the community of amazing cheerleaders. I want to cheer you on.

Fall Reigns Supreme

by Selma

Isabella was waiting for “something” to point her in the right direction with a self-hate habit she had been fighting with for a long time. Then a simple act of kindness from someone who had always been there in her life made her feel worthy of love. It was subtle.

Yet in that subtleness she found her resolve to change. As they say, when you’re ready, the universe conspires to bring you the change you need. Please read. This is the story I entered in a recent contest. Let me know what you think.

Fall Reigns Supreme

What will be on Your Fall Table?

by Selma

September ushers in a season I love.

In the summer, small colorful salads satisfied us. Fall offers us a chance to revamp our menus at home. For me, everything about the new season is amazing, but I’m particularly drawn to all the food that the season allows us to bring to our tables. Well, if not to our tables, then to the tables at the different restaurants in our areas.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who finds that food catches the essence of the season and that it nourishes our souls from the inside. Mother Earth is generous to us. That said, I dare ask you: what will be on your table this fall?

At mine there will be braised lentils, parsnips, Butternut squash and Kabocha, crunchy al dente green beans, hearty stews, sweet potato raviolis, pickled apples, glazed pork, mushrooms, and if I can wing it, osso buco. Hahaha — if only! …the vegetables will definitely be there.

Fall reigns supreme!

Ah yes, I entered a writing contest this month and wrote my contest piece with that theme in mind. I want to invite you to read my contest submission published with Short Fiction Break.

http://shortfictionbreak.com/fall-reigns-supreme/

…And if you don’t mind, tell me what will be on your fall table. I really want to know. Blessings. Happy Fall.

Thank you, Mr. Ramclam

by Selma

To Sir, with Love and Appreciation.

People come into our lives for a reason. Some enter to teach us lessons about life, others to teach us lessons we need to learn about ourselves. Yet others are paid to teach us the lessons we need to learn in order to find the meaning of life. When done from clear-sighted earnestness, teachers deserve the prize for conjuring cohesion and purpose out of students. For me, one such person was my English Literature Teacher in High School. There were others who set me straight, but none more timely than shy Mr. Ramclam. And though he might never read this I want to send this letter out to the Universe where it will be turned into blessings for my dear Mr. Ramclam wherever he might be. Thank you Sir.

Concurrently, I have included a letter that I read today from a twitter thread from someone placed in my life today to teach me a lesson. I'll name her: Marylee MacDonald, through whom I came to know about brainpickings.org. Thank you two for the timely present. Sending out blessings to them as well.

The letter by Mr. Camus brought tears to my eyes today.
Born to an illiterate mother who was nearly deaf and losing his father in WW1, Albert and his older brother faced a dim future. It was then that a teacher by the name of Louis Germaine took the young Albert under his wing and nurtured the boy. Well, that boy went on to become a philosopher and the youngest recipient at the time of the Nobel Laureate. He then went on to write the letter I quote above.

Today I pay homage to Mr. Albert Camus (1913 – 1960) for causing me to think of my Mr. Ramclam.
To borrow a line from the great master : I embrace you with all my heart. Thank you Sir.

Siblings–A force of Nature

Is your family close? What’s your relationship with your siblings like? 

In my family of origin, I’ve always been the outsider. I’m the oldest of three sisters and the one who no one “includes” anymore. And that is sad.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this happened and when. But now that I’m an adult and more comfortable in my ways I’ve come to embrace sibling rivalry as a force of nature.

I’ve stopped asking whys, whens, and hows and being comfortable with who I am has never felt better. I am not my sisters, and they are not me!

But if you were to return to the place where you grew up and were to ask people there how they remembered you, I wonder what that would be like. Might there be something we could learn from that? I wonder.

#

Sandra, the middle one, had always been the healthiest of all three sisters.  She was all about pleasing and about standing out. Typical for the middle child, you might say. But really?

Pleasing and standing out came easily to her. She was outgoing and she had a bright disposition. But despite that great fact, somehow, she couldn’t hold on to friendships for long periods at a time. Perhaps underneath her desire to please, she was too clingy and insecure? Maybe.

Personally, I’ve come to believe that she put too much of her self-worth in her petty acquisitions. To this day, that hasn’t changed.  I used to feel bad for her. Now I don’t bother thinking about it.

We are all different from each other; never better than each other.

If you were to go to Macondo today and mention us, people there would remember Sandra as the wise one; the one who was more tomboyish, the one who would take on a dare without thinking out the consequences first, the one who would think out good ways of making money on market day.

Sandra would be the one who would climb the trees the fastest and descend with the biggest coconut or the biggest avocados wrapped up in her skirt. The one who would not cry at the dentists’ or at the clinic when we’d get our shots.

I, on the other hand, would be remembered as the sick one.

I developed asthma as a child and missed a lot of school on account of that.  School was where I wanted to be most of all, but I never complained about being absent because it gave me the wonderful opportunity to get on with my passion for a good story book.

And when Sandra would come home from school and start a fight out of nothing, I would let her win. Always. I let her win because I felt bad that I couldn’t be there to keep her company at school as big sisters should. Instead, I  was at home hogging the attention of our parents AND reading to my hearts’ content.

As for my youngest sister, she would be remembered as the one who got away with a lot. We were instructed to keep a watchful eye on her and to cater to her needs because we were told, that’s what big sisters did.  And we did.

So when Terry became rebellious and arrogant, was that her fault? And when she surpassed me and Sandra and left home before we did, was it her upbringing that brought that on? I cannot say for sure.

As of now, Terry has been married and divorced three times already. She is in a relationship with a younger man and helping him raise his teenage children.

Sandra married once, divorced and now living the life of a single woman. She has a good job and travels often. She has a nice apartment but claims she’s not attached to anyone or anything.

Me, I’m happily married to the same man for nineteen years.

How come we’re so different in the lives we lead now? What brings about what we become? Though I said that I thought that sibling rivalry was just another force of nature, I cannot help wondering why I’m still the one who never gets invited.

 

What this author so eloquently explains in her piece about learning a language, could be applied to every aspect of our lives. It resonates with me in many levels. Afterall, we are all learning to do LIFE.

When the Chickens Come Home to Roost 

by Selma


“Young lady– obviously, you don’t know who I am. I’m Mrs. Manzanilla from Refaccionaría Manzanilla,” my mother announced in Spanish in a voice too loud for my liking. I wanted to run and hide. The way she said that, and the dignified way she looked when she said that made the poor cashier take a nose-dive into the deepest recesses of her brain. I saw it in the way the cashier tipped her head. She wanted to try to understand what this lady in front of her was talking about. As far as the young girl was concerned, there was only one Refaccionaría Manzanilla in the whole of Macondo and this lady was not that Mrs. Manzanilla. She knew.

She knew for a fact that Mrs. Manzanilla had never set foot into a Save Big Store; that instead, she sent her housekeeper into the store twice a week to drop off a grocery list. And that the necessary items then got delivered to the mansion. And besides, Mrs. Manzanilla’s daughter and her were thick-as-thieves. She knew exactly what that Mrs. looked like.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Manzanilla, but I’m just following protocol of a report from our security personnel. They’ve instructed me to ask you to step aside and to request that you voluntarily return the items that they saw you stash into your two bags.”

“And I say, you are wrong! I have no need to do such an outrageous thing as stealing from a place like this. I demand to see the manager.” The girl makes a phone call.

It was a busy Thursday evening and people were stocking up on items in anticipation of the long holiday weekend. The buzz of the cash machines, the intricate bustle of the happy shoppers and the upbeat tempo of the music in the store, drown the embarrassing tone of the commotion going on in front of me. But in my insides I felt a volcano erupting. I wanted to run away. I didn’t want to be around to see my mother get escorted to the police station.

On my back, I carried an overstuffed rucksack that was ripping at the seams. My mother carried a small buston bag with wheels — just as conspicuous looking as mine.

“Oh I understand,” my mother volunteered, “you see our overstuffed bags and think the worst… well I never! …” she slams her fist on the counter. “We came here with our luggage because we’ve just arrived from a short trip. We stopped in to pick up a few necessities. And you immediately assume that what you see us carrying in these bags are items stollen from your shelves. Well you are wrong…wrong, I tell you!”

Any minute now, any minute now the earth will rumble and swallow me up whole, I think. That will be better than this. I start to sweat cold.

The people in line at the cashier where we stand get directed to a different line. They look at us with scorn for disrupting the rhythm of their shopping experience. But that is all they do. To them, we are nobodys. No one bothers to know more, but to me, of all the inconsistencies that I have seen and come to understand since turning nine, this has got to be the worst.

And people will talk, a nagging voice announces inside my head. They don’t seem interested in the heated discussion going on right now, but someone will remember. 

I start to pray…

They escort us to a room in the back; the office. They ask us to wait.  My mother gives me a side glance and the zip-it-up sign to keep my mouth shut. No need to tell me Mom, I think, even if I wanted to, words have left my thoughts moments ago. All I have now is prayers. And those won’t buy me a pardon… 

Inside, we see a row of monitors apparently displaying every aisle in the store.

We are dead, I think, then I hold my breathe. Just then I notice that the monitors show a lot of static on the screen. I exhale. But the exertion of exhaling, or perhaps it was the part about holding my breath, makes me feel light-headed. I lean on the wall and close my eyes.

I hear the voices of men talking and above theirs I hear my mother’s unwavering voice. I do not know for how long this goes on; I remain fixed on my prayers.

“Come on child, let’s get out of here.” Mother takes my hand and together with my uncle, the owner of Refaccionaría Manzanilla, we walk out of Save Big.  He calls us a taxi.  He hugs my mother and pats me on the head. Mother and I sit in silence in the taxi until we arrive on the front steps of our house. I drop my rucksack and make a dash for the chicken coop. I remain inside until my mother calls me in for supper.

“Besides, it’s time for the chickens to roost,” she says. And then I begin to cry.

Shadow Syllabus

Reblogging because Work, feelings/insights like the ones portrayed here need to be circulated again and again. The Author IS the right voice in the right time. This piece serves to reaffirm our faith (if ever we feel we’ve lost it) in our own humanity. I am glad I stumbled upon this one (via Cheri Lucas) I hope you find value in it as well. Selma

Their Ears, Not Pierced

by Selma

February and March had me busy working on this contest piece. I worked hard on it, submitted and Short Fiction Break Magazine published it. Yay!

I didn’t win the contest but certainly emerged a Winner in more ways than one. I invite you to Please read in its entirety. Thank you. And I’d be thrilled to read your comments to me there… Thank you.

http://shortfictionbreak.com/their-ears-not-pierced/

But, if you don’t want to visit that link, here it is again. Open.

THEIR EARS, NOT PIERCED

“The Heresy of one age becomes the Orthodoxy of the next” Helen Keller

I sit on a bench outside the airport newly arrived on my flight from Asia. Two little girls sit beside me. They’re either twins, or very close in age. Their ears, not pierced. They are wearing dresses that reveal chubby arms with rubber bracelets of many colors. They are completely absorbed in their iPads whose cases match the color of the dresses they wear. They don’t acknowledge my presence and neither does the young mother. She stands swaying from side to side tapping her baby’s bottom with a rhythmic beat as she hums softly. The baby, she carries in a sling. The baby’s hand is all I can see because it is dressed in a hooded-Pikachu-romper. Yellow. The young mother’s gaze is focused on the street and she is obviously waiting for her ride. I close my eyes for a moment and immediately, I’m transported back to a time when there were no iPads.

Both of my sisters and I wanted to sit by the window on the bus. We wanted to look out the window to see the villages go by. We wanted to see the dogs barking and chasing after the bus. But we were too little; the windows too high. More than once people sitting on window seats offered that we sit on their laps. Mom would let us. But the roads soon lulled us to sleep. We’d wake up with our cheeks stuck to the unfamiliar necks of sweaty people; the necks of people whose faces we didn’t ever remember seeing before. Who were these people we’d think and then we’d give out a cry for our mother.

Once I remember being awakened by a pair of hands with rough nails caressing me down the front of my little body under my little dress. The unfamiliarity of the hands alerted my senses and startled me awake. And yet another time a woman shoved me way under her own blouse and had me sucking on her breast like a baby. The salty taste of her skin made me feel like gagging and woke me up with a tremendous start.

Growing up in Macondo my friends and I always saw it as a good place to grow up and a good place for raising kids. There was nothing the townspeople wouldn’t do to help young mothers. It was as if the entire town was involved in the raising of children.

As young girls learning about our place in society, we all agreed that here, mothers did a lot to help their children form lasting friendships by exposing them to other children. Someone was always ready to attest that growing up their mothers were good at making play-dates for them, at hosting parties, picnics and outings. That observation was uncontested. Sleepovers at friends’ homes were unheard of though. For that, mothers here relied on their own sisters and sisters-in-law and employed the assistance of cousins. In my case, sleepovers with my cousins meant a 5-hour bus ride in the company of strangers.

In my mind I can still see my mother carrying one baby boy, a big over-stuffed bag holding books, blankets and baby clothes and three little girls running behind her. The day before the trip we were made to understand that we would be wearing our cousins’ clothes because though he was still too young to notice that he was a boy, society required that mom had him dressed in boys’ clothes at all times. This was mostly as a tribute to dad for having reached that coveted goal of procuring a boy — dad’s trophy.

Girls were produced at a-dollar-a-dozen but boys had to be special-made. So that when a family was blessed to introduce a son into the world, God forbid they’d ever be mistaken for a girl. In those days, no boy-baby ever knew the joys of wearing pink and orange and purple or variations of those colors. So cloaked in that mentality, mom did as she was told.

Those early practices of sharing clothes and riding buses molded us. They taught us that we belonged in a community of girls and that we had each other to rely on when we needed support. Every bus ride ended being a happy time; unhappy incidents, if any, only lived on in our minds.

In the Macondo that I know, there has always been a strong belief that girls have to endure much grief and pain throughout their lives starting with the miracle of birth. Of course there were male-doctors and nuns ready to assist in the delivery of a baby, but neither the doctors nor the nuns had first hand experience of what the pain was like. Epidural anesthesia was unheard of then as it was understood that the price of the miracle was the pain.

“Our main job as women is to carry a heavy banner and to make it look easy. No matter what, you cannot give any hints of how heavy or painful it all is. You do that, and all the other women will continue supporting you. Fail, and you stand alone.” That’s the mantra my friends and I heard repeated often growing up. Thus, when in the throngs of the delivery, wet towels would be shoved into the mouth of the mothers to prevent any sound of agony from escaping into the waiting room.

If a boy popped out, the doctor himself would shout it out in siren fashion:  “…itsa booooooooooooy!!” And this would ring through the town by word of mouth. A celebration, tailored for the father, would then begin and it would continue until the mandatory 5 days of rest for the mother was over. Acquaintances and family alike would drop in on the father to offer a congratulatory pat on the shoulder. A small present that almost always consisted of clothes for the baby — blue, would accompany the well wisher.

On the other hand, if a girl popped out, there would be no such announcement. The doctor would exit the room, seek out the father’s eyes, and just nod a sympathetic nod. At this, the father would lower his head in an apologetic gesture and his buddies, standing at sporadic locations, would read into the father’s demeanor, wave and walk away saying “better luck next time buddy,” under their breaths. The new mother would still qualify for the mandatory 5 days of rest and one day, during that short rest-period, the baby would get her ears unceremoniously pierced to comply with their antiquated belief concerning girls and pain.

Everyone knows that babies cannot fend for themselves. They need feeding, bathing, cleaning up after and more. But unlike other countries where independence is encouraged in boys and girls, here in Macondo the practice of doing everything for the boy would continue. Never allowed into a kitchen, sisters would turn into maids for their brothers. And brothers would take their sisters for granted never really conceding to the idea that what they were doing was unfair.

There I sit out on the bench, thinking all these things in no particular order. I am tired and sleepy but forcing alertness. The tropical breeze on my face, arms and toes titillate my senses. I slip off my sandals, crack my toes, open them wide then rotate my ankles. The girls and their mother are still there. I stand next to the bench, leaving my sandals where I sat, clutch my hands and stretch my arms long causing my back to curve. I proceed to stimulate my body into alertness with my various stretch poses and then as I am in limp-pose with my head touching my knees, I hear the mother speak for the first time.

“Come on girls get your things, dad and grandma are here.”   I straighten up and remain standing. I glance over at the girls as they scurry around trying to fit little feet into their rubber polka-dot boots. Then holding their iPads by the small handle they stand shoulder to shoulder by the edge of the sidewalk giggling softly. Dad gets out of the car and kneels down on bare knees to embrace his girls.

“Daddy, daddy, daddy,” they repeat over and over. They each kiss daddy on his cheek and the next moment one of them is on daddy’s shoulder and the other one is hanging on to one of his arms. With the girls stuck to his body this way, he stands and kisses his wife on the forehead and pats the sleeping baby on its hooded head once. I don’t mean to intrude, but my eyes get fixed on his ears. Dad is wearing earrings. On both ears!

“He couldn’t stay awake for daddy huh?” he says, rubbing the baby’s head again but looking into his wife’s face. “That’s okay,” then he discreetly pinches her on her hip. “I have missed you terribly honey,” he whispers close to her ear. Then sliding the door of the minivan open he places his giggly-bundle inside and directs them to the back seat.

Grandma sits in the middle of the seat so the girls position themselves on each side of her. They strap themselves in, kick off their boots again, raise their legs and the next moment they are staring into their screens again while grandma strokes their hair one at a time. The baby in his Pikachu romper, a boy I come to understand, is strapped into his purple car-seat and off they go back to their lives.

My ride into town doesn’t arrive for another hour. I expected them to be late as usual; only people in Asia are punctual, but they just wouldn’t let me plan on a bus-ride. Too dangerous they said. So I wait. Out here I see people come and go. Teeth flashing in open laughter on the faces of some, mostly the newly arrived passengers and restrained smiles on the others.

“Those girls are studying medicine, and those will become pilots and engineers,” a voice says to me from inside my head.

“Yes,” I say to the voice absentmindedly. “Still in its nascent stage, but things are different now. I wonder if they can feel how much the winds have shifted. I get the impression that Macondo is ready to embrace the change that is being soldiered on by those kids returning with knowing-laughs on their faces.”

“They are the lucky ones,” I reassure my imaginary companion sitting on the bench now. I sigh long and feel a weight lift off my shoulders. My whole face breaks into a smile.

“I’m glad I made this trip. Ten years away is a long time.” I speak the words aloud to my companion again, “I’m one of the lucky ones too!”

I hear the buzz of dreamland calling me. I yawn such a great big yawn that tears spring from my eyes. I go over to the food-stall and get a coffee-smoothie and I plead with my mind to keep watch for just a little longer. I sip my smoothie and wiggle my toes.

“Change’s a-coming”, I inform my toes this time.

An off-duty taxi drives up to the curb; its radio blasting. I recognize the song playing and I smile from ear to ear.

“Oh Michael Buble,” I say out loud, “you and me both. I am feeling good!”

Thanks again. Selma