On being random, dismantling and finally updating.

It’s been over two months since the last time I posted, and there’s nothing I want more than to tell you I’ve been doing wonderfully interesting things, that I’ve been really and truly living. But that would be a hyperbole. I’ve been alive, yes, and I’ve done some fun things, yes, but nothing that should keep me from writing.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

I haven’t lost any weight, but I have gained some. I haven’t really been trying, as I’ve felt mostly unmotivated and uninspired lately. Is this summertime sadness? Is this some looming emotional, existential crisis that has finally landed? Am I just melodramatic? Rather than answer these questions, I usually eat a bag of potato chips (the ones that say “Family Size”) and fall asleep on my couch.

I think I’ve identified one behavior that needs to change.

I wish I had a camera that could take quality pictures of the moon and do its beauty justice.

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

I don’t fantasize about sex. I fantasize about intimacy; how sad is that?

I think a duck must have a perfect life. They just float on, no matter if the water is calm or choppy. They can take off and fly whenever they want. If the only dunk their heads in the water, they have food. It’s simple and free, and I am envious.

I am done romanticizing broken men, as if loving them adds something noble to my character.

“I don’t hold grudges. I believe that’s the shit that leads to cancer.”

The school year ended on a high note. The senior events I was charged with helping to plan (Mr. Manchester, Senior Prom, graduation) all went off without a hitch. I am proud of the work I’ve done.

“Nothing is ever over.”

I really need to use my upstairs more. I don’t have central air though, so during the summer, the temperature is almost unbearable up there. So I’m in pretentiously self-proclaimed “office,” but it’s dark in here. It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

“I know what I want, and I don’t mind being alone.”

It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

The literary agent who requested the first fifty pages rejected me, but my original publisher is still thinking about it. What’s that saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window? I’m feeling ambivalent to everything, mostly because I’m sunburned and it hurts so I’m cranky.

I like collecting little, seemingly unimportant details of the people in my life to better craft my characters.

When school was in session, I realized that the worst thing about leaving my house each weekday morning wasn’t having to bid adieu to my comfortable bed and its cozy covers, but that I miss the early sunlight streaming through the windows and lighting the wooden floors. It’s beautiful, and I was sad I could never just sit and admire it. But now I can. I think that’s how life is supposed to work.

I do this thing sometimes where I just sit in my car. I might leave the engine running, or I might shut it off, but either way, I sit in the driver’s seat, scrolling through the social media garbage on my phone or playing Tetris. It’s wasting time, one of the most precious gifts, and I hate it. I don’t know why I do it. Is it exhaustion? Is it moodiness? I abhor how lazy I am. I had an idea for a scene for my third novel, but the details have faded. I remember it had something to do with a modest, upstairs library and someone watching on anxiously as someone else carefully surveyed the titles. I wanted to throw in visiting a favorite author’s grave, but there was definitely more to it, like dancing or something? I need to write things down more often … obviously.

“Wanting it doesn’t make you the monster, taking it does.”

Some days, I just waste the hours until I can go back to sleep.

“You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well do what you love.”

I’ve been in a miserable sort of funk, so I’m endeavoring to change my life. My friend thinks I need to be comfortable alone before I can be comfortable with someone. She recommended hiking, picnicking, wine on the beach, seeing movies, and getting coffee. I also think I should leave the state. I’ve been dying to go to Key West in Florida. This summer, I’ve decided to dismantle myself from the inside out, rebuilding to be more carefree, more creative, more in love with myself and less dependent on others. Some days, I have to talk myself into getting out of the shower, and even then, I change into pajamas.

But I’m trying to be positive, I swear. I’ve begun keeping a running list of things that make me happy to be alive (in no particular order).

  • fireworks on a summer night
  • driving my Jeep without its roof and doors
  • sunburn (as long as it turns tan)
  • books (even the shitty ones because they’re non-examples for my career)
  • clean sheets
  • hot showers
  • food, glorious food!
  • running and being sweaty after a run because it helps me to love my body
  • good movies
  • laughing
  • the national pride fearlessly displayed by soccer fans

“The effect you have on others is the greatest currency you’ll ever have.”

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

“I’m ripe with things to say. The words rot and fall away.”

So, here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m working on. You should hit “play” on the video that follows now, so you can have a soundtrack. Ironically, the song playing is not the one I quote in the paragraph that follows. I wish I knew why I do the things that I do.

“The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said, and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me, I had to make up what it meant.”
– Amanda Palmer

Kelly dropped the box filled with odds and ends concerning the kitchen with an exaggerated, dramatic sigh of relief. The box landed on Charlotte’s tiny, cheaply and poorly made kitchen table, a piece of furniture she had salvaged from her grandmother’s home, a piece that had likely been in the home for forty years – a horrible blend of Formica and putrid pastels. For a moment, Charlotte had been hopeful the weight of the box would crush the table and put the ugly thing out of its misery, but she had no such luck. She watched Kelly similarly drop herself into a chair, sweaty and tired from a day spent moving, a day of manual labor. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she whined.

Charlotte offered a grin of commiseration. “I know, me neither.” She moved a few steps closer, resting against the back of a chair.

“Then let’s call it quits and do something better.”

“Like what? As you can tell, I haven’t got much of anything.”

Kelly thought for a moment. “You got playing cards?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. She knew damn well that she did, but she was playing it cool for no other reason than it was a habit turned instinct. It was irrational – there was no way Kelly would give a shit about how those cards came to be in Charlotte’s possession, or how seeing those cards made Charlotte’s dumb heart skip a beat even now, even though she was nearly 1,000 miles away.

Kelly’s face of thoughtful concentration broke into a youthful smile of excitement. “Well, shoot – I’ve got beer and some of them crisps. How’s ’bout you and me play us a few rounds of cards?”

“Sure,” Charlotte smiled. Kelly scurried back to her neighboring apartment to scrounge up some beer and some snacks, and Charlotte headed to her bedroom. At the foot of her bed, upon the creaky floor, sat a box labeled, “PERSONAL.” It had been the only box Charlotte had personally moved, had tucked discreetly in her car and carried hurriedly across the threshold of her new apartment, lest anyone should see and ask about the contents, most of which meant absolutely nothing to anyone except Charlotte (hence the label). It wasn’t filled with lingerie or vibrators or dirty pictures or anything like that. The contents only embarrassed Charlotte because of their innocence, because only a prude would cling to a random assortment of objects that reminded her of people who had long since removed themselves from her life, or had been removed for any number of offenses. The items in the box would mean nothing to a passerby and that embarrassed Charlotte, like there was something shameful and almost juvenile about being anything but obvious.

She squatted somewhat uncomfortably to delicately open the box, lovingly unfold the flaps so that she had complete access to some of her memories, so that the majority of the contents were visible. Charlotte only needed to scan the contents for a few seconds before she found the deck of cards, quaintly contained in cardboard, beaten up from a few years of handling. A smile splayed itself unabashedly upon her lips as she reached into the box the same way a heart surgeon would reach into her patient’s chest cavity. With the same kind of epic patience, she removed the playing cards from the box and began walking back to the kitchen. The youthful, exuberant smile quickly became nostalgic and sad.

The playing cards were white with silver, loopy hearts decorating their backs. The hearts were cute, sure, but there was nothing remarkable about their appearance. They were a treasured item for Charlotte only because of the way the cards came to be in her possession. A few years ago, Charlotte had fallen in love with a beautiful, brilliant, and broken man. As a result, she had developed a constant need to be around him, to be close to him, and so, she invited him everywhere.

One night, she invited him back to her hotel room after a work conference. She and her colleagues had all been drinking for quite some time, right up until the lights came up for last call. The beautiful, broken man had joined them at the bar, at Charlotte’s request, of course. Charlotte had always envied the sort of effortless grace that surrounded him, the way he could suddenly appear anywhere at anytime and be welcomed and accepted. When he strolled into the bar without fanfare or pomp and circumstance, without having attended any of the conference because of a prior commitment, Charlotte was breathless with awe. It was like something of a horribly cheesy and romantic movie made for network television; he could have been walking in slow motion beneath a burning spotlight towards a strategically placed wind machine. The fact that he was walking towards Charlotte smiling was wonderful and she was so happy she could burst apart. She never ever wanted her time with him to end, and her colleagues and friends didn’t want to stop drinking, so a select few decided to buy some beer and return to Charlotte’s room. She turned to her beautiful, broken man and invited him. He played it cool – he was always so goddamn cool – and didn’t really answer one way of the other. Even when they were walking back to the hotel, just across the street, he wouldn’t accept or outright reject the invitation. When he climbed into his car, a lump formed in Charlotte’s throat. She would let him go and hide her disappointment, try and play it cool, so her parting words asked that if he did come, to bring playing cards. He waved somewhat dismissively and drove away. The copious amounts of alcohol she had consumed kept Charlotte’s mood from dipping too low and she scampered back to the hotel among friends, arm in arm, with high spirits.

He sent her a text later saying he couldn’t find playing cards and was just going home. Charlotte sighed heavily and thought her best recourse was to just keep drinking.

About twenty minutes later, there was a booming knock at the hotel room door. It sounded particularly authoritative and Charlotte was worried it was the cops. Were they being too loud? Her one friend raced to the bathroom to hide while the other pressed herself further into the bed, as if the mattress could swallow her whole and conceal her. They had left Charlotte to answer the door and so she did, despite feeling suddenly and incredibly nauseous. She opened it and saw no one. No one was there.

She whipped her head to the right and gazed down an empty hallway.

Looking to the left revealed her beautiful, broken man. He was leaning against the hallway wall like some leading man from Hollywood. His arm was bent at the elbow so he had one hand behind his head and rested his weight against the wall through the point of that bent elbow. His right leg was crossed behind the left one and the toes were pointed down at the plush carpet. In his other hand, he twirled a pack of playing cards. He was smiling, quite pleased with himself and the effect it all had on Charlotte. There was certainly something gorgeous about him, something more than his appearance. His demeanor drove her wild – she would never able to pull off such an entrance, but he had.

And it had been for her. What more could a girl possibly ask for?

But nothing had come of it. He was with some woman with a checkered past and too much makeup. Charlotte’s grandma was worsening, and so she had left it all, run away. But she kept the playing cards to remind herself that for one night, she had gotten exactly what she had wanted, that she had been perfectly happy. The cards symbolized possibility – if it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

 

On the persistence of the Universe

badbeauty

Some situations in life are unavoidably awkward. Indeed, some moments are socially awkward by definition. For women, I believe this includes any and all visits to beauty salons. Just the other day, I had an appointment for a manicure and pedicure and right off the bat, I was uncomfortable. There’s something inherently unsettling about the setup, about the implied hierarchy. Who am I to show up and demand some other woman (more often than not) try and make me beautiful or more appealing? I’m much too lazy and impatient to paint my own nails so I’m willing to pay someone else to do it, so I’m not passing any sort of judgement. I’m just saying it’s a little weird; feels a little medieval in our modern, wildly progressive world. No? Am I thinking too much about it?

Anyway, I immediately apologized to the manicurist for my gnarly feet. While it is true that my feet resemble men’s feet from the prehistoric era (think “Flintstones”), I’m not actually sorry about it. I’m totally okay with my feet, but I apologized and made a joke about my physical appearance because it’s my comfort zone. Self-deprecating humor helps me to break the ice, chip away at some of the awkwardness of having a stranger rub your gross feet, and lets the other person know I’m not some high-maintenance chick; I’m a commoner, one of the people, I swear! I’m just too lazy to maintain a beauty regimen is all.

For dealing with a self-righteous, pseudo-intellectual, the manicurist couldn’t have been nicer and she did a wonderful job. I love my nails and my toes; perfect shade, elegantly done. I have no complaints and will absolutely go back without hesitation (shout out to Lee Nails in Bayville). You would think such a positive experience would ease my social anxiety about going to beauty salons, but you would be wrong. My neuroses know no bounds, apparently. Upon getting my nails done, I called a hair salon I was familiar with (I’d only been there once, to be fair, and it was months ago) to schedule an appointment to retouch my highlights in an effort to transition to becoming a blonde (which is something else I’m stupidly struggling with, but I’ll save that for another hilarious, highly entertaining, self-indulgent post; I know those are your favorite). I was excited, eager for the appointment, but the receptionist on the other end couldn’t have cared less. Her responses were short and repetitive, like she was offended by making this appointment, as if it were a personal insult or something. I persevered though (because I’m a masochist?) and she asked which stylist I’d prefer. When I mentioned the woman who styled my hair the last time, when I asked if that person was available, the receptionist only tersely replied, “No.” I guess some uncomfortable, tense situation had gone down and everyone was still feeling a type of way about it, but how was I supposed to know? I felt guilty and quickly replied that it was fine, that anyone would do, but the receptionist kept telling me they had nothing opened, that they were straight booked … but offered me three different appointment slots. I picked an outrageously early time on Sunday and hung up. I had a bad feeling and based on my last blog post, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t some kind of sign from the universe, telling me to abort, to abandon ship. So when my mom kindly cut my hair later that day, I called another salon and made another appointment.

From the get go, I felt much better about the whole thing. The woman unknowingly eased all of my social anxiety simply by being nice. She said she was excited I was coming in and offered me all sorts of time slots and asked questions about what I wanted done. Even if such personal interest was inauthentic and all in the name of consumerism, at least it was there. I mean, it worked and I made the appointment.

When I showed up, I was a little uneasy. Obvious and aforementioned social anxieties aside, I always feel like a fraud walking into salons. I always think of that scene from “Pretty Woman” where prostitute Julia Roberts walks into that high-end clothing store and gets treated horribly. And to think she was beautiful! I’ve had bad acne lately, have gained weight and have just been really down on myself lately about my physical appearance (hence all the salon appointments) and I suddenly didn’t want to go. I forced myself inside though, and was immediately charmed. What ambiance! And the friendly receptionist from over the phone was behind the desk and just as friendly as ever. She offered me coffee and water, and the water I requested came in a trendy, fashionable mason jar with an adorable paper straw, decorated with illustrations of branches from dogwoods. I was charmed and felt better … until I had to sit and allowed myself to get trapped inside my own head.

Though my appointment was at 11:30, I didn’t get into a chair until around noon, which I’m not even mad about. I understand that sometimes styling takes longer than anticipated, and I don’t understand complaining about having to be patient in salons when it’s all luxury, a luxury to have time and money to spend on something as superficial and fleeting as appearance. I’m not judging; here I am on a personal appearance improvement tour. I’m just saying I wasn’t annoyed and that would never be something to annoy me. I know that’s just me, so I’ll move on.

What did annoy me was that when my stylist went to pull my hair back from my face, she poked me in the eye. She didn’t apologize, and we both acted like it didn’t happen even though my left eye was fluttering and watering. Both her and I kept right on talking like my one eye wasn’t shut and like I wasn’t in obvious discomfort. In her defense, she probably didn’t know she had done it. I could have said something, but I didn’t, and so I was still incredibly awkward and anxious, and now I was in pain (that’s dramatic, I know). Suddenly, the whole experience seemed like a punishment for my vanity, for my sudden focus on not only my appearance but on myself. I thought, this is where being selfish gets you, with a poke in the eye. All my earlier misgivings seemed to be confirmed and I was on the verge of misery. It didn’t help that my stylist resembled an antagonist from one of those “Hostel” movies, all decked out in a black apron with black latex gloves. I gulped; would she be coming for my eye again?

But then I actually started talking to my stylist. Her name is Dana and she’s from Asbury Park. Not only is she a remarkably talented stylist, she is also full of sage advice. As we spoke, I began to consider the possibility that maybe her poking my eye was a symbolic gesture of how my mind’s eye needed to be poked. The conversation we had was one of the most eye-opening (are you sensing a theme yet?), self-affirming conversations I’ve ever had. We skipped over the small talk, the shallow pleasantries, and went right for the intellectual and philosophical concerns of life. She flat out asked me about my stance on the whole “nature versus nurture” debate. She believed it was nurture all the way, that humans are irrevocably shaped by experience and that explains everything. I agreed to a point, but also revealed that I believe it’s more nature that determines who we are as human beings. I offered up the example of my twin sister and me. Both came from the same nurturing environment and have arrived at completely different results. Dana countered, explaining that my twin sister had life experiences without me that shaped her and molded her differently, encouraging me to be empathetic, sympathetic and open-minded. I’ve refused to do so as of late when it comes to my sister. Rage is simple; it’s so much easier to be angry and infantile, but is it fair? Is it right? Why should the focus switch to me the second time around? Shouldn’t I still be concerned with Sammy’s well-being and recovery? Isn’t there a happy medium, some sort of balance between caring for my other half and myself?

During this discussion, a charity for recovering addicts came into the salon, handing out flyers and asking for donations. Dana asked for a flyer and donated a dollar. I was touched. Rather than ignore and dismiss these men who intruded upon her place of business, she was encouraging and kind. She never dismissed anyone. She was so kind, a truly remarkable woman. And she was so humble, paying as many compliments as she received and then some. This woman restored my faith in humanity in the most unlikely of places.

As our conversation continued (I was in the chair for like three hours; I have a lot of hair), I learned that she also has aspirations to be writer, that she has plans for a memoir and a children’s book. I told her all about my struggles and successes, and we discussed talent and how we both believe that if someone – anyone – is blessed with talent, that it becomes necessary to pay it forward, to use whatever blessings (specifically monetary) come from that gift to better the world. A lot of big ideas fell into place and connected with one another as she spoke so that I began to understand and believe that I was given this writing talent – or ability, depending on how you feel about my writing – for a reason, and that because I am not distracted by a love interest or a family, now is the time for me to hone my talent, to focus on becoming published and getting my work out there. What a positive outlook, to give my loneliness a purpose, a reason, a meaning. She confided with me she’d been with her boyfriend for seven years and while she’s in love and it’s all wonderful, it is still limiting. She can’t just do whatever whenever because she has someone else to consider, from the small sacrifices (like eating at Chipotle because she’s gluten free when they’d rather eat elsewhere) to the major ones (time, money, energy, etc.). I’m not a lonely loser unless I choose to be; this time alone is an opportunity to fulfill a destiny and should not be wasted wallowing in some self-created despair.

Dana told me I was an amazing person, and told me she could figure that out after only an hour of conversation.

At one point, she said, “You can’t control your heart, but you can – and you have to – control your mind.” She encouraged me to choose to be happy. What else can we do?

Needless to say, it was the best experience I’ve ever had at a hair salon. Ever. My sincerest gratitude to Dana at Shear Glamour.

newhairnewme

 

On near misses.

wakeupcall

For someone who believes in, and more often than not relies on signs from the universe, I’m constantly missing those signs. I’m frequently guilty of missing the point, as it were. It is usually only in hindsight that I am appreciative and finally realize that the Universe was trying to alert me to something.

I left Busco Beach ATV Park in Goldsboro, North Carolina around 9:30 yesterday morning. On the main highway in town, I was stuck in a line of cars waiting for the longest freight train I’ve ever seen in my life. I was patient and waited. Now I wonder if those ten minutes that felt like an hour made any difference, if those ten minutes affected my journey in a crucial way.

About 45 minutes later, I was merging onto I-95 and nearly had to swerve to avoid hitting a giant vulture and some other small bird feasting on a carcass in the middle of the interstate. I’d never seen vultures feeding in real life, only in the movies and on television, and it seemed especially stranger the birds would land and feed on such a busy road. It was a gruesome reminder of mortality, regardless if the location seemed unrealistic.

Some time later, I ran over a blown tire. The sound was loud and startling, but the collision was harmless. Another sign, perhaps, but of what?

The trip was mostly uneventful after the aforementioned incidents, aside from irritating pockets of traffic, until I reached Baltimore, Maryland. I was traveling over the bridge that ended in tunnels near the Port of Baltimore. I was being attentive, wasn’t distracted by my cell phone or iPod, but none of that positive, defensive driving seems to matter. Somehow, an orange construction cone (one of the big ones, shaped more like a tube and reminiscent of a garbage can) was left behind. There was no obvious construction, no other cones or material left behind – just the one thing. The car in front of the truck in front of me decimated the cone, smashed it all to bits. The truck in front of me slammed on its brakes, and I had no other choice but to do the same. I also swerved to the left, into the shoulder.

For a few terrifying moments, I was convinced I was going to crash into the concrete barrier, wedging my jeep between that median and the back end of the truck in front of me. I saw it all happen like some lame scene from one of those “Final Destination” movies. I’d slam against the steering wheel (would the air bag go off?) and there’d be blood gushing from my nose and mouth. My teeth, after thousands of dollars spent at the orthodontist, would be broken and shattered more likely than not. Would the windows bust from pressure of being squished between the concrete and the truck? I had my seat belt fastened, but what would that have really prevented?

But I’m okay. There was no crash, no sickening crunch of glass and metal, no screech of a scrape against concrete. The whole awful mess was avoided and I kept on driving, kept on going. There was no time to stop and investigate the accident that had almost happened, no time to figure out how it had been avoided. Pieces of the orange and white plastic flew by, circling end over end along the shoulder. The sound of my squealing tires reverberated in the air but only for a moment. Life kept moving.

And I was okay.

I think that’s the message from the Universe: Mandi, life changes and keeps going despite your personal dramas, and you’re okay. You’re going to be okay.

So I’m listening very seriously to my mom when she advises me to work on myself, to be happy with me. She seems convinced that once that happens, everything else will fall into place. I’m starting to agree. The ideology makes sense, but it’s also exhausting feeling guilty for absolutely everything that happens in my life. If friends hang out without me, I immediately wonder what I did wrong and try to figure out why they would launch an offensive to alienate me. If I was happy with myself, truly happy, I’d be able to realize that not everything is about me and how horrible I am. That realization makes me feel guilty, like I’m wrong for thinking badly about anyone ever when there’s so much wrong with me. Well, that’s an incredibly depressing attitude and I don’t want to be apart of it anymore.

Today, I got a manicure and a pedicure. Tomorrow, I’m trimming my hair and on Sunday, I’m coloring my hair. These may seem vain and shallow attempts at becoming okay with myself, but we all have to start somewhere, no? And truth be told, I’m happy with who I am on the inside. Sure, I’ve got some crippling insecurities and some awfully bad habits to work through, but don’t we all? I’m going to work on myself in the best way I see fit because I trust myself and I love myself.

There is a difference between narcissism and introspection.

I’m not missing any more signs.

vacation

On the struggle with technology.

I absolutely loathe my dependence on technology.

I know this may seem like quite the hypocritical statement as I am using my computer and the internet and social media to update my narcissistic, self-indulgent blog, but hear me out. I want to be a writer, so in this digital age of selfies and tweets and whatnot, I’m going to have to adapt and get on board or die (metaphorically speaking, of course). If people take to Google and social media for book recommendations, I have to be on Google and social media. It’s a concession I can live with to help build my writing career. It’s almost unavoidable.

So let me rephrase my earlier statement: I absolutely loathe my dependence on technology in my personal life.

My phone is nearly always in my hand. If I’m not texting (but hardly anyone ever messages me because I physically interact with those who matter most, which is certainly a good thing) or checking e-mail (does anything important ever really come via email?), then I’m using Safari to check Facebook (I deleted the app to make a statement, but I found a way to be on the social media site constantly anyway). I’m scrolling and scrolling and scrolling on Instagram and Twitter, looking for likes, re-tweets, mentions, whatever. When there’s nothing satisfying there, I play Bubble Mania, Candy Crush or Tetris. I’m always looking down, disengaged and only pretending to listen to the authentic life happening all around me because I’m obsessed with this piece of technology and all the artificiality that goes along with it.

It’s my greatest weakness, and what I dislike about myself the most.

In my opinion (so please only take it for whatever it may be worth), social media only reinforces the crippling need for outside validation that seems to plague the human race. I recently traveled to Philadelphia to see David Cook in concert with my sister, and I took pictures. That in itself would be harmless if the intention had been true, if I had honestly taken pictures to create memories. However, creating and saving and storing memories was only part of my motivation. I wanted to take those pictures so I could upload them to Instagram and Facebook so I could count the likes and comments so I could feel cool and hip and modern, so I could feel like I belonged at the metaphorical watering hole of this super progressive, hyper intellectual, digital age. How stupid. How vain. Why do I need everyone to know where I am and what I am doing at all times? Why do I think everyone wants to know where I am and what I am doing at all times? If I put everything out there all the time, there’s no mystery left. I’m essentially robbing people the opportunity of getting to know me because I’ve created this false persona using technology and social media which could easily satisfy anyone even remotely curious. I’ve created an alternate version of myself for the masses and have rendered myself lonelier than ever. What kind of masochistic nonsense is that?

A wonderful colleague recently told me she’d read a few of my blog entries. She complimented me on my writing (yay!), but said I broke her heart (oh no!). She told me I was too hard on myself, and I know this to be true. Self-deprecation is usually the only humor I can handle, and I am constantly screaming at myself for all of the awkward, dumb, harmful, and lazy behaviors I engage in on a daily basis. Reaching for my phone and idling instead of reaching for a book to expand my mind fulfills all of those categories. It’s awkward to sit in a room – any room at anytime, anywhere – full of wonderfully interesting humans and ignore all of them to go on a phone. It’s dumb to not expand one’s mind and perception through reading, writing or conversation and instead retreat to multicolored candies that need crushing. It’s harmful because it perpetuates the idea that self-love is indulgent and ugly, and that worth is truly determined by society and the media and this new social media. We are all forced to become our own PR people and it’s weird and gross, and I dislike it more and more the more I think about it. It’s lazy because all I need is my thumb and a pair of glazed-over eyes.

Now, I’m not saying I’ll go completely off the grid by any means. Family and friends and loved ones can be scattered from one end of the globe to the other, so it is important to stay connected. I love that my aunt in Pennsylvania likes the memes I share about weight loss, and I love that she likes the sexy pictures of Elvis I find and post from time to time. I love that my cousins in Alabama can be brought up to speed with my life by a few pictures here and there, and vice versa. My coworker is going to the Big Apple today to see “The Crucible” on Broadway, and I’m looking forward to pictures and her review. My cousin is currently overseas serving his country, so we need the social media to keep in touch, to share messages of love and support. These are harmless human connections that are beautiful and wonderful.

But it’s all about moderation, right? It’s all about keeping our minds right and prioritizing.

The best part about the David Cook concert was not the blurry pictures I posted on Instagram a few hours later. It was spending time with my sister. It was shouting out the word “bipartisan” when David was struggling to find it, him thanking me for doing so, and my sister rolling her eyes because I’m “such an English teacher.” What a beautiful moment to feel validated about my passion and career. I did all of that without my phone. When my former phone was destroyed last month and I was without a phone for a few days, I survived. The world did not end. I was okay.

I did lose thousands of pictures, though. That was my own fault because I never backed them up using my computer. I assumed those treasured images would always be on that phone, because I tricked myself into believing technology is infallible and perfect and the answer to every question I ever had. That is simply not true, and I just feel that if I remind myself of that, I’ll regain faith in nature and people and all that surrounds me.

I fell in love with a great friend, but he didn’t feel the same way, and the friendship has since changed and is beginning to fade. Some of the pictures I lost were of the absolute greatest day we ever spent together. This makes me sad for many valid reasons. However, I was inspired to write this post (but really, it’s become a rant, hasn’t it? My bad) because in mourning the loss of the digital images that I never printed (what a metaphor for the relationship, huh? I’ll save that for my next novel), I realized that I felt I needed the pictures because I didn’t trust myself, didn’t trust my own memories and feelings. Those pictures became a kind of talisman that helped me pretend the friendship wasn’t fading, that I was right about everything, so look, look everyone! Look how we’re smiling with our arms around each other! I’m not crazy! There was something there, and I can prove it!

Why should I have to? I don’t have to, and that’s my point. I want to reduce my dependence on technology and social media in my personal life because I need to love myself and my life in reality. I don’t need the approval of others, and I don’t need to know everything about everyone because then what will our conversations be made of? What will I discover in intimate moments?

When I’m at the dentist’s office, or waiting for friends at a bar, I’ll pull out my journal or a book, but never my phone. That’s a new resolution. That’s a promise to myself.

I’ll post to promote my writing and my writing career, but not to start some drama or for attention or to start a pity party. That’s a new resolution. That’s a promise to myself.

And now, I’ll post those pictures of me and my sister and David Cook, since I invited you in.

Enjoy the weekend. xoxo

 

 

On being the Duckie.

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I love 80’s culture; movies, music, fashion – all of it. I’m something like a girl anachronism, born 18 years too late. I should have come of age in that decade of magic, of decadence. It was the last era of wholesomeness (even despite the extravagance). Things really seemed possible then.

One of the greatest artistic – and yes, I used the word “artistic” – endeavors from that decade is the movie “Pretty in Pink.” I wrote a blog post two years ago about when I met Andrew McCarthy and was irrevocably charmed. He was intelligent, charismatic, and incredibly talented. Because of my undying affection for the actor, I can honestly say I’ve seen that film close to twenty times. One such time was Wednesday night, when a good friend and I traveled close to an hour to watch the movie on the big screen. The film was released for a brief second time to commemorate its 30th anniversary.

We knew the lines, we knew the plot, and we knew the music. What sense did it make to pay to see the film? One could argue it did not make any sense at all, but then again, I was shocked to see how many others had traveled to see a movie they’d already seen. I have always had a decidedly human problem of thinking my inclinations and hobbies are unique and singular and special. I’m proven wrong time and time again, but in frustratingly human fashion, I’m still always surprised when I realize my passions are shared.

At any rate, the film as was entertaining as ever, and there was something thrilling about seeing it on the big screen. I could imagine I hadn’t missed my favorite decade, that it was opening weekend and I was enjoying it all in real time for the first time. In danger of overdosing on nostalgia that was never really mine to begin with, my good friend leaned over and asked me if I ever had a “Duckie” while attending high school.

For those of you who may not know, Duckie is a character from the film. He’s hopelessly, shamelessly, desperately, and even embarrassingly devoted to his best friend, madly in love and utterly heartbroken over the unrequited nature of the relationship. He admits he would die for her, stands by and patiently suffers as she chases after another guy, and even lets her go so she can fulfill her wildest, romantic dreams while his remain unfulfilled. It may not be as traumatic and dramatic as all that, but forgive me; I have never had a Duckie.

I’ve always been Duckie.

I’ve always been the friend in the background, lingering and pining secretly – sometimes creepily – for a friend I never really had a chance with. I remember at one high school dance, I was asked by a mutual friend to break up with her boyfriend for her; a boy who was my close friend and whom I had been crushing on fairly seriously. Why I agreed to be the harbinger of such devastation I’ll never know. Maybe it was because I was eager for any excuse to talk to the boy, and maybe because such an episode could escalate and strengthen the friendship. I hope it was because I wanted him to hear it from me, a real friend, because I could soften the blow and handle the whole thing delicately, properly. Whatever the reason, I took a deep breath to steady myself, to prepare myself, and left the gymnasium. I stepped out of the double doors and into the bright hallway, blinking against the harsh fluorescent lights. I looked for my friend, and he wasn’t hard to find.

He had tried to hide himself on the far side of a short but wide trophy case, but his long legs stuck out. He was sitting on the gross floor with his back against the uncomfortable and random brick wall. He was opposite the refreshment table, but despite the flurry of activity, he was looking down at the dirty floor with a can of soda clutched in his hand. He was out there all alone and looking especially despondent, like he already knew what was coming. I breathed a small sigh of relief; my job would be easier. I walked over and sat beside him.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he said.

I figured it’d be best to just come out with it, do it fast like ripping off a band-aid. “Hannah wanted me to-”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. He cut me off, but didn’t say anything else. He took a swig from his can.

“Oh,” I said. I was slightly dismayed by the building, awkward silence. I looked down at my hands and tried to think of what else to say.

“You don’t have to sit out here with me,” he mumbled. He hadn’t made eye contact with me.

“I know I don’t have to. I want to,” I smiled. He looked up and returned the smile.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I remember we had a good time. So while being Duckie can be limiting and heartbreaking, it’s also pretty awesome because being a friend is awesome. Sometimes a friend is all a person needs.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself as of late.

 

 

On being a big, fat liar.

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Two weeks ago, I went to confession. The line of sinners was surprisingly long; I assume the snowstorm from the previous weekend had kept the faithful at home and away from the church, so everyone was playing catch up. That’s why I was there, at any rate. But there’s something about being in that intimate, sacred setting that always compels me to spill my guts. Maybe it’s a simple effect of being raised Catholic, a kind of Pavlovian reaction to the whole ceremony, but I like to believe it’s more than that, like it’s a sign from the universe that my faith is real and working, and that this kind of spiritual purging is healthy and necessary. Whatever the reason or motivation, when it was finally my turn to enter the confessional and the heavy, cloth curtain swung shut behind me, I dropped to my knees and told the priest everything that had been burdening my soul. I unloaded my emotional baggage, carefully and delicately removing every piece of troublesome ego and holding it up to the light to reveal all the intricacies. I think the popular nomenclature for such an event is “word vomit.” At the end, I was breathless but felt somewhat lighter. I also felt guilty and ashamed, truly humbled.

And the priest laughed. He laughed loud and long and hard.

This may seem like a harsh reaction, but please trust me when I assure you that it was completely warranted. My life, as of late, has turned into quite the melodrama. To protect the innocent I won’t go into details, but if you could me a favor and think of the most ridiculous plot line from a daytime soap opera – that’s my life. That’s how I’ve been living. To hear it out loud, to finally speak about it all, was somewhat amusing. I was on the verge of laughter myself – sometimes we laugh to keep from crying, no? So the priest was in no way a villain. His laughter subsided, and he told me I was certainly in a “sticky situation.” He promised he would pray for me.

The priest promised to pray for me. That’s how dire my situation is.

I hope this anecdote helps illustrate why I haven’t been keeping to the resolutions I made so boldly before the new year started. I’m the worst, I know, but I’m trying.

I hope you are all trying to, no matter the endeavor.

You’ll be hearing more from me soon; I promise.

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On battling bullshit.

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It’s the end of another year. We’re all preparing for the onslaught of “new year, new you” messages and postings, and I know the majority think such verbiage is cliched bullshit. I was such a believer until I sat down to draft this blog post.

The endings and beginnings of life often prompt us to be introspective, and as a writer, I’m hopelessly narcissistic, so at this time of year, I do nothing but think about myself, talk about myself, and write about myself. I think we’re all allowed some selfish moments if they are to truly be reflective and endeavor us to be greater.

There are lots of things I hate about myself. One of the more depressing aspects of society is that we all can do this, and that we all have done it, and that we all will most likely continue to do it, and that is list our failings. My favorite kind of humor is of the self-deprecating kind, and my favorite kind of gathering is a pity party. I’m not revealing these less than appealing parts of myself to elicit sympathy or to begin to construct a false kind of humility to make my self seem more creatively eccentric. Hand to God, I’m just trying to let you know that I get it, that I understand, and that I’ve been there too. There are days where I absolutely and unequivocally hate myself.

But there are also days where I’m not so bad. There are days where I am downright awesome and a sheer pleasure to be around. In 2016, I am going to acknowledge more of those days. And in that same state of mind, I’d like to share my favorite thing about myself. What makes Mandi Bean worth anything is my childlike optimism. I could list all the disappointments of the past year, but I could also list all the times I’ve been pleasantly surprised, when I’ve fallen in love – yet again – with this spinning globe, with humanity, and with the endless opportunities for romance and adventure this crazy, miraculous life offers. As such, I am totally buying into the “new year, new me” bullshit. I will be a newer, happier, and healthier version of myself in 2016. Those who roll their eyes in derision and/or disbelief are free to do so; that’s their right. But as for me, with a smile and a deep breath and a pleasantly unfamiliar sense of determination, here is how I am going to make 2016 my banner year:

  1. I will, as mentioned previously, focus on the positives. Every day, I will find something to be grateful for and I will put it in writing, so I can’t lie to myself later.
  2. I aim to lose 60 pounds by December 31, 2016. I’m the maid of honor for my friend’s wedding, so there’s extrinsic motivation, but more importantly, I want to be beautiful. I want my outside to match my inside, and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve got going on in there.
  3. I am going to be a writer. I’ll update this blog faithfully, market my published work, work harder to get my second manuscript published, and seriously work on a third.

Three promises to myself. I can do this. I will do this. I will forgive myself when I stumble along the way, and I will encourage others endeavoring to become the best version of themselves.

Here’s to a happy, healthy New Year.

xoxo

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On Andrew McCarthy and being un-pretty in any color.

The world was supposed to end on Friday, December 21st. However, I am proud to report that I am still here, along with the rest of the world. Actually, aside from the raging winds knocking the basketball hoop in the driveway onto my car (which cracked the windshield and prevented me from entering the vehicle on the driver side) and an increased police presence at work, Friday was awesome. The days leading up to this posting were also quite awesome; I spent Christmas in Virginia with my nephews and now I am in The Sunshine State – vacationing in Florida. Though I traveled close to eighteen hours from home, I could not escape the fears and insecurities which essentially plague me.
I am slightly terrified that I am more skilled at picking up and impressing women than I am with the opposite sex. It makes me feel like a loser and terribly lonely. Last night, I went to the more prestigious branch of the Ocean County library to listen to Andrew McCarthy speak about his book, and to have him sign it, and get a picture. I was really dressed up in a red, lace number, complete with black stockings and black high heels. I curled my hair and rouged my lips and made sure my eyes looked smoky in varying shades of lilac, lavender, violet and purple. I thought I looked seductive, mysterious or, at the very least, pretty. When I walked into the library, no one seemed too impressed though. I didn’t see any heads turning to watch me pass and no one struck up a conversation even though I was clearly flying solo and obviously unattached.
I slid into an uncomfortable, plastic chair at the end of an aisle that was near the center of the large, dimly lit room. It did give the place a certain ambiance and that set my mind reeling with romantic, optimistic possibilities. I turned to the woman beside me. She was older than I was, with red hair and small eyes. About her was a decidedly academic and impressive air. I asked her if she would mind if I put my bag on the seat between us and she politely replied that no, she wouldn’t mind and that it would certainly be all right. An awkward sort of silence descended, as if both of us were waiting for the conversation to continue but neither of us really wanted to bear the weight of that responsibility. Eventually, I bit the bullet and asked her if she read a lot and that question and the resulting threads of conversation carried us to the start of the program. I learned that she was also an aspiring writer, but spending hours alone in a locked room putting words onto paper did not really appeal to her; she freely admitted to being a herd animal and to being dependent upon human interaction. I commiserated and confessed that I was turning into a writer recluse myself, and supposed that could either explain or rationalize my chatty behavior of the evening.
The conversation was cut short as an older, chubby, and balding man came to the podium with his chest puffed out, as if he believed the small audience assembled before him were just as interested in him as they were in Mr. McCarthy. He cracked a few mildly funny jokes and then introduced the man of the hour. I watched him climb onto the stage with baited breath and slight trepidation not because I was starstruck, but because I was nervous. What if he was completely narcissistic? What if he spoke at length about Hollywood and acting and did not even mention writing or his process? Or worse, what if he attempted to discuss the craft of writing and it became painfully clear that he had no idea what the hell he was talking about?
Refreshingly, none of my fears came true. He did talk about himself, but that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it? The book is a memoir and he is a celebrity- are they not more inclined to be something of an attention whore? After all, if one is a writer, an actor, a painter, a musician or any kind of artist, one is constantly demanding to be noticed because creations are parts of the artist himself, some pieces more personal than others. However, the key for any artist, in my humble opinion, is to strike a healthy balance, which McCarthy did. He spoke of how he came to be an actor, of how he came to be a writer, about his character flaws and insecurities, of his family both past and present, and of his tastes. He confessed to being a huge Springsteen fan and mentioned that the song “Badlands” is especially important to him and holds a special, significant meaning for him. Clearly, I only fell more and more in love with this romantic hero from my younger years.
He stated a couple of ideas which struck me and will stick with me for some time, I believe. He mentioned that he sucked at journaling and that he found his entires to be self-indulgent and repetitive; I couldn’t agree more. He talked about how traveling allayed his fears and as he traveled, he wrote to keep himself grounded; that inspired me to take my iPad along on the family trip to Florida this year. He also made up my mind- I will travel to Ireland, England and France. McCarthy was genuine, honest and authentic. He is who he is and did not apologize. He wanted to do things and he did them; he did not plan, he was just passionate and pursued those impassioned ideas, goals, aspirations. McCarthy also said that the aforementioned passion was what moviegoers and fans responded to, that there was something in his eyes that confirmed he was right where he was supposed to be doing what he was supposed to do. According to McCarthy, that something was pure, unbridled joy because he felt at home in the world and, perhaps more importantly, in his own skin. I truly enjoyed myself.
The lights came up and there was a question and answer session. Some zealous, older woman asked about three questions and talked as he talked, talked over him even. I raised my hand, but he did not call on me, so I did not raise my hand again. That was cowardice and I mentally berated myself in my seat. We rose to form a line in the short, wide hallway where a table was set up and piled high with copies of his book. While waiting, the woman I had spoken with earlier resumed conversation. She agreed to snap a picture of me with McCarthy, though declined having the favor return – she confessed that she never gets her picture taken with people because she finds the whole process uncomfortable. We spoke about writing again, as well as brief snippets of our personal lives. She is currently unemployed and has previously worked in a pharmacy. She’s been married for a year and lives in Manahawkin. When it comes to writing, she’s having trouble getting started and developing a plot. We agreed to exchange e-mail addresses as both of us would like to widen our writing circle.
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Then came the moment of truth; I met Andrew McCarthy. He took his book from me, said hello and asked how I was. He asked who the book was for, and I told him it was for me, and that my name was Mandi with an ‘i.’ Quickly, with a light laugh, I added, “Don’t judge me.” McCarthy put down the marker, stopped what he was doing, turned to me, looked at me, and laughed. I made him laugh. I entertained him. That has to count for something, right?
Having thusly roused a chuckle from a teen idol, I was feeling pretty damn good and special and unique and all that jazz when I drove down to Atlantic City to see my oldest friends. I love them all so, so, so much because no matter what happens, we can all get together and make each other smile. We smile about the good times and joke about the rough times and it is perfect. I was having a wonderful Friday night … until we went to the club.
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I know I have been gaining back the weight that I lost, and I know that my teeth need to be straightened and whitened, but I have never been as aware of my flaws as I was that night, watching prettier girls become the centers of attention in assigned, miniature melodramas. No one approached me. Well, that’s not entirely true; when Heidi was being wooed, the possible interest had his friend chat me up to keep me busy. I saw through this ruse and called the friend out on it. This seemed to impress him, believe it or not. He said he never had a girl call him out like that before and in turn, he called me out for feeling superior to the whole scene. He was right, but that did not repel him and we kept talking and I was actually having a nice time, but I kept pushing him away with both my words and body language. I figured that since we both knew he wasn’t romantically interested, the whole thing could be over and done with and I could then avoid feeling lonely, lame and like I was the biggest loser in the universe. My persistence in insisting made him feel bad, I think, because he went to the bathroom and never came back. I was expecting as much – had encouraged him to do as much – but it still stung. All my confidence from earlier fled and I wanted to leave. I wanted to go home and cry in my room and watch “Pretty in Pink” and forget the whole thing ever happened. It’s ironic, isn’t it, because here I am, memorializing the whole incident via the internet.
McCarthy talked a lot about insecurity and about how crucial it is to shed that fear. I think he’s right, but I also think to shed the fear and to become the master of insecurity, one needs certain tools. Emotionally and mentally, I feel that I am a catch – that I will care and love someone in unfathomable amounts and be loyal and true – but physically I know I leave a lot to be desired. McCarthy also talked a lot about paradoxes and I believe there is power in paradoxes and contradictions and that is what people gravitate to. Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes” (forgive me if that was not an entirely accurate quotation). I know that I am a walking contradiction and that I am positively filled with paradoxes, but that does not make for someone guys want to grind against for a night in a sweaty, smoky club. The true, swift kick in the ass is that I don’t even want to be THAT girl until I’m in the club, and I’m so clearly the only girl who doesn’t want to be that girl. I preach and pontificate about being true and genuine and cling proudly to my self-proclaimed title of “woman of substance,” but then I find myself near tears, desperate to suddenly assimilate.
I can’t be the only one, right?
This upcoming year, the year of 2013, I am going to fix the things I don’t like about myself so that I can become more attractive, appealing and well-rounded. It is not just about getting the attention of males – though it is certainly a factor and I admit that freely because The Boss says it don’t matter what nobody say, ain’t nobody like to be alone – it is about getting the exterior to match the interior. I want to be beautiful inside and out. That being said, I would also like another crack at McCarthy. I would love to meet him again, hand him a copy of my book, tell him how great I really think he is, and snap another photo in which both of us are beautiful.
Wish me luck.

On awkward.

Today was a good day.  Nothing remarkable happened – nothing worth mentioning, really – but there were no disasters, either.  No news is good news, right?

Sometimes I worry that I talk too much.  Not only that, but I ingratiate myself into the lives of others and thereby create an odd sense of intimacy that has no business of being invented.  I worry that people honestly find me annoying and suffer through each encounter with a smile, only to turn to a neighbor later and commiserate with one another about what a killjoy I am, or what a loser I am, or how obnoxious I am.  It’s ironic; being a writer, I am talented at manipulating words to evoke certain moods, but it seems that talent only extends to the written page.  It does not pertain to conversation, or at least, that is my greatest insecurity.

PROMPT: “I saw a picture of him on the Internet.  Pretty scary.”

 

PIECE: Morgan hurried up the aisle, her stylish, black flats scuffing soundlessly against the cheap and abounding carpet.  She had a minute or two before the professor started class, but only a minute or two, so she did her best to quickly and discreetly slip into the vacant seat beside her friend, Christine.  When Morgan was seated, Christine turned to face her.  Her face looked most serious, like she had learned some terrible news that she could not bear to keep to herself.  Morgan felt the color slide from her face to the tips of her fingers; her heart beat there.  She swallowed hard and asked the obvious question.  “What is it, Christine?”

Christine shut her eyes.  It was like she thought if she didn’t see Morgan, then the whole ordeal was nothing more than a figment of her imagination.  That belief made it easier to manage, gave Christine more control, and it didn’t matter that it wasn’t real.  At the moment, it was effective.  In one giant rush of air and with her eyes shut tight, Christine said, “I saw a picture of him on the Internet.  Pretty scary.”

Morgan was quickly becoming irritated by the lack of information.  “You saw a picture of who, Christine?”

“Of the professor,” Christine answered.  Her eyes were now open, but her lips were turned downward in an awful, adolescent kind of pout.

“So?”  Morgan was being flippant, angry because she didn’t understand what Christine was getting at because Christine was holding back necessary details.  Morgan opened her mouth to damn near beg for clarification when the classroom door flew open.  Her eyes traveled down the aisle, towards the left corner in the front of the room.  In rushed her biggest regret, with his briefcase sloppily unbuckled and falling open, papers precariously sliding about and ready to fall.  One side of his stained, button-down shirt was hanging un-tucked from his pants, which were in desperate need of ironing.  His thick-framed glasses were askew on his face, most likely unable to balance on ears that were too large and on a nose that was too small.  His thin lips twitched from side to side.  His dark hair was all askew and stuck up with sweat at odd angles.  His name was John and Morgan had met him at a bar last year.  She had been especially vulnerable, especially desperate and exceptionally drunk when she had allowed him to take her home.

Now here he was, teaching American Literature at the local college.  Morgan suddenly wanted to die.  Groaning, she allowed her head to fall to her crossed arms.  Christine tried to soothe her friend by rubbing her back.

It was going to be a long, long semester.

 

On farewell food fights.

I had an interview today for a long-term maternity leave at the high school. I think I looked nice, and more importantly, I think the interview went very well. I thought the same thing the last three time though, so who knows? One teacher gave me advice on dressing more professionally, and how to wear my hair and whatnot, and I appreciated the kind words, but it made me feel insecure and icky. I debated not going to the baby shower after school today, but I knew that I had to and in retrospect, I am very glad that I did.

I went to dinner with an old friend tonight. We went to Hibachi, and I stuffed myself like a big, fat pig. My friend is going through a rough time, and I was glad I could talk to him about it.

I’m not crazy about today’s prompt, so you’ll have to let me know what you think.

THE PROMPT: “Retirement Party Food Fight”
After 40 years at the same job, you are finally ready to retire. Your coworkers throw you a party with cake and ice cream. Everything is going well until the end of the celebration when they ask you to speak. Instead of using this opportunity to thank everyone, you reveal a deep, dark secret about your boss that leads to a massive food fight.

THE PIECE:

I remember standing at the podium – an aged, cheap wooden contraption that had been at the school as long as I had been. Most of the faculty had gathered in the large cafeteria, with its harsh halogen lights burning overhead, and their asses were all going numb from the uncomfortable benches and chairs that students were only subjected to for thirty minutes. Inexpensive plastic plates holding remnants of ice cream cake that had my name plastered on it, with the words “Happy Retirement.” Forty years ago, I walked through the doors of the high school and my boobs were firmer and further above my waist, my smile displayed more of my real teeth and my hair was longer. It seemed like forever ago, and as I looked out at the faculty members in attendance, I realized that they were infants – children, toddlers, and babies. Not a single soul had been present for my first day on the job, save for one, and he was my boss.
Mr. Smith was only a few years older than me when I started as an English teacher for the 12th grade, but he was older enough for me to be impressed and intimidated. He was charismatic and charming, and he was married. But that didn’t seem to matter to me when he took me by the hand and kissed me near his car, or when we slept together after the teachers’ convention in Atlantic City. After the sex, and after the mystery and intrigue had vanished, we hadn’t seen each other socially. He stayed with his wife and had a family. We were young, optimistic, romantic and stupid – I convinced myself that was all it was, and was comfortable with our past. For forty years, I had let sleeping dogs lie but for some reason, in front of these strangers, I opened my mouth and said, “I’d like to thank Mr. Smith for the best sex I’ve ever had. And for giving me a job, I guess.” I offered an awkward smile stretching across my crooked mouth, and met only silence.
Then suddenly, from the back of the crowd that was facing me with open mouths, I heard a woman shout, “You pig!” I closed my eyes and braced for the impact, because I was sure she had thrown something. I hoped it was just a plastic cup, or maybe some plastic cutlery, but a small piece of me feared it might be the knife we had used to cut the cake. Nothing hit me though, and I remained unscathed, so I opened my eyes. The young woman in the back, the newest hire in the foreign language department, had thrown a full cup of diet soda at Mr. Smith. Her hands were trembling at her sides, so she clenched them into fists and breathed deeply through her nose like a raging bull. I wondered if I should clarify that I had slept with Mr. Smith a lifetime ago, but then Mrs. Radner, another English teacher, stepped between Mr. Smith and the young woman. She had a freshly cut slice of cake upon a plate in her palm. She faced Mr. Smith on steady feet, and demanded to know how many others he had conquered.  He looked down at his feet, mumbled something quietly and whatever it was, Radner did not find it satisfactory. Not caring for dignity, and mustering up all the anger and shame that she could, she shoved the cake into his face.
Several faculty members gasped and shuffled backward. It became eerily quiet and again I wondered if I should say something, explain myself perchance, but then an older math teacher entered the circle and faced Radner. The math teacher, Mrs. Northampton, had cake of her own and slammed it into Radner’s face, screeching that Mr. Smith deserved more respect as a supervisor and besides, Smith was in love with her, and would be leaving his wife. Radner’s best friend, Ms. Schue, dumped the bowl of pretzels over Northampton’s head and told her she was crazy. Soon, all sorts of female faculty members were throwing condiments, entrees, appetizers and desserts at one another, while the male members stood back to watch with goofy, juvenile smiles.
I felt responsible, but enjoyed my removed position, and so I very discreetly stepped off the podium and headed to the double doors to the right, which was far from the fray. I had my purse, coat and car keys, so I was good to go. It wasn’t exactly the note I had wanted to end on, but I felt satisfied that no one would ever forget the day I left those hallowed halls of education. I was smiling in spite of myself, but stopped when I saw the ever-popular Mr. Smith, sitting just inside the exit doors, wiping cake from his face. He looked to me, and he looked ridiculous – covered in cake and deflated; somehow smaller than he had been just moments ago. “Happy trails, Linda.”
“Good luck, Frank,” I said. Then I left the building.