Monday, August 22, 2011

skate or die!

The lights dimmed. The mirrored ball dangling over the smooth wooden oval began to spin, delicately flinging shards of reflected light over every one and every thing. I knew what had to happen. I knew what the deed was that should happen. I skated over to my friend James.

I gotta take a little time
A little time to think things over
I better read between the lines
In case I need it when I’m older

“Want to skate [with me]?” I asked, mumbling in the last two words.
“Ok”, he shrugged, in his shy way. 

We began skating, side by side, the sweet, soulful sound of the 80s – Foreigner – washing over us. I concentrated on trying to set my feet down gently in their heavy, metal-bottomed skates. The other girls could glide. The other girls could skate effortlessly, pushing gracefully off of each foot, without the merest hiccup in cadence or speed. My skates, on the other hand, clanged loudly against the floor each time I pushed off and I lost momentum repeatedly, which sent me forward in a lurking, jerking fashion.

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like a world upon my shoulders
And through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

I had been watching the other girls, some skating over to boys they liked, some waiting for the boys to come to them. Even on a fifth grade field trip to the big skating rink in the city, the chips had fallen and we could tell what our futures were. Forget the stupid story of the ugly duckling, and late-bloomer redemptions – that shit is a lie. Everyone knew, even then, who the girls were that would have boys clustered around their lockers in just a few short years, come high school. We all knew – those who would be them, and those of us who wouldn’t. The other girls had flowing hair. The other girls had glowing skin. The other girls had legs, actual legs, that were tan and long in shorts, and borderline shapely, for god’s sake, even at 11 or 12. I never wore shorts. My legs were chunky, pasty white, mottled with chicken skin colors even in the height of summer, and knobbly-kneed. My hair was always cut blunt, not in layers, and was perpetually the wrong length – short when everyone else’s was long, and long when everyone else went Dorothy Hammil.

In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far
To change this lonely life

The outcome was, deep down inside, known, but everything else – all the steps – were a giant puzzle that I was still trying to figure out. It seemed like it still could work for the rest of us, if only we knew the secret to putting it all together! I could identify all the parts, but could not for the life of me figure out how they fit together, while the other girls – the girls with legs – seemed to be able to see easily what followed what. They took a look at the pieces spread on the table top – bits of colors called love and attraction and flirting and looking good and being cool in the right place and the right time – and slid them into the gaps, smiling down at the perfect scene they had created, with a devoted guy by their side and legions of others panting after them.

I could see the supposed to here – you’re supposed to have someone that likes you, that you like, that you ask to skate with you, that you hold hands with, that you exchange notes with, that you remember forever the sound of the wheels whooshing smoothly over the wooden boards, the sight of the white squares of light gliding over their face, the feel of their warm hand tentatively in yours. But I couldn’t identify love or attraction or flirting or anything else. It seemed like James came close enough. After all, we spent lots of time together. He would come over after school and we’d head into the forest, looking for frogs and fish and snakes that we’d put in jars and bring home. We’d eat berries and sometimes assemble model cars, quietly sitting side by side at a card table. What else could people be talking about, with this whole love thing?

I want to know what love is
I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is
I know you can show me

The song was passing by. We weren’t speaking. This was not our element. This was not the space of our friendship. This was not our pace, to be trying to keep up with the others. We had remained friends by being ourselves – James, shy and socially cautious, and me, somehow perpetually out of synch with all the other girls, somehow never quite understanding what was going on. Maybe he didn’t either. But we both liked frogs and trees and being outside and not talking about anything deep and eating the sort of incredibly sweet Oregon blackberries that grow best out in the country, far from anyone else. This rink, this self-proclaimed palace of skating, was not the setting, not the parameters, of our relationship. But I was desperate to figure out if I could be like the others, at least on some level. Part of me wanted to fit in – I wanted to be one of the other girls, at least for a moment, at least while skating, making memories, and moving onto the next stage of life – even though I had no idea how to really make it happen.

It was now or never. The song was nearly over. Wasn’t it possible, just barely possible, that someone like me could fit in, could figure out this puzzle? I reached out and, a bundle of nerves, grabbed James’ hand. He jumped and looked at me. And I knew I had made a huge mistake. I was not going to remember his face with the sliding lights, gazing at me with anything remotely resembling interest or excitement or intrigue or love. The expression on his face was confused, startled, and wary. It was clear that we would never speak of this again. I couldn’t cross over and was stupid for ever thinking of such a thing. My skates clunked down loudly on the boards, and the song couldn’t end fast enough for either of us.

I’m gonna take a little time
A little time to look around me
I’ve got nowhere left to hide
It looks like love has finally found me

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

in search of style...

so, this may be completely obvious, but i have absolutely no writing training.

coming from the technical/science/whatever-economics-is end of the academic spectrum, writing instruction is not emphasized. at all. once you've completed the onerous requirements of writing 121, you're free and clear.

so, despite the fact that i love to read, and i love to write, i'm woefully lacking in any formal education in the subject. it's something i wish i could remedy.

yesterday i was browsing around the sale that is going-out-of-business borders, when i stumbled across one of the more famous writing help books: The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White.

i've seen it referenced before, in a chatty, surely you know this one sort of way, but never owned it. and i can already see why it's such a classic.

so far, i can't even leave the 'misused words and expressions' chapter, which is probably good, because that's probably my worst crime. in fact, i can't imagine what a field day White would have with my blogs overall.

even though it's highly subjective, i love it. there's some comforting in the authoritative tone of the book. it's like a very wise, very opinionated, very experienced grandfather setting you straight.

"Certainly. Used indiscriminately by some an attempt to intensify any and every statement. A mannerism of this kind, bad in speech, is even worse in writing."

thanks for not sugar-coating it. i wonder what he'd think of my favorite all-purpose modifier (fuck)?

"Contact. As a transitive verb, the word is vague and self-important. 

"Enthuse. An annoying verb growing out of the noun enthusiasm. Not recommended.

"Facility. Why must jails, hospitals, and schools suddenly become "facilities"?

"Factor. A hackneyed word; the expressions of which it is a part can usually be replaced by something more direct and idiomatic. 

"Finalize. A pompous, ambiguous verb."

of course, we all have our grammar or style pet peeves. if ashley's reading, i'll just ask her about the King and I. i had the horrors of the misused apostrophe drummed into me from a very early age, by my mother, the self-appointed apostrophe police, who never realized she could've made a fortune by making her complaints public.  

then, just when i'm cruising along in somewhat self-satisfied smugness, nodding my head to such sage advice, i reach one that hits a little too close to home:

"Hopefully. This once-useful adverb meaning 'with hope' has been distorted and is now widely used to mean 'I hope' or 'it is to be hoped.' Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. To say, 'Hopefully I'll leave on the noon plane' is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you'll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you'll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven't said it clearly."

ouch. but thanks, White. i still love you for the trumpeter of the swan.