Tag Archives: writing

An Interior Design

So, I just finished my draft for my Fiction class. Not too excited about it, hoping to get some feedback in class tomorrow. Maybe y’all here can give me some suggestions as well. Otherwise, enjoy!

Interior Design by Liz Van Buren

Morning peeked its head through the yellow cotton curtains. The reflection it created enhanced the sun’s rays against the stark white walls of my bedroom. But what woke me is the low drone of the television, left on from the previous night, now playing a rerun of I Love Lucy. In bed, I tumbled over myself, curling into an inhuman ball of limbs. At seven a.m., I was not yet ready to face the day.

A soft breeze filtered through the propped window and underneath the golden cloth, so that the yellow illumination danced across the wall with each small gust. My deep shadow seemed abrasive against the egg yolk wallpaper, cracking and peeling from years of unattended water damage. With a prolonged stretch of stiff muscles and tired bones, I finally rose to greet the morning. An impression of Pete’s slumber lay next to me on my right. He never cared to sleep on the other side. In the beginning, Pete would rather I be awake when he wakes up, but now he would leave me sleeping as he crept out to go to work.

I worked from home, so I had a lot of alone time, most of which was consumed by weekly chores. When I was recovering from my injury three years ago, I was unable to go to work. Pete wouldn’t allow for it anyway. It’s not like I was handicapped or anything, but he worried about me going out in my condition. He really cared. Now, even though I was fully recovered and cleared to get any job I could, I still worked from home as Pete’s secretary of his furniture company. At this point, I was just used to it. At first, I would stay home and answer the phones all day, but these days Pete and I did a lot of shopping in town for lumber and fabrics.

I changed out of my pajamas – one of Pete’s once-white T-shirts, now discolored by time and sweat – and began excavating our neglected house in search of empty beer cans and overflowing ashtrays. I then washed the sun-dust off the windows with the tired cotton rags. Mopping the tiled kitchen floor involved several attempts, for our footprints were conserved with dirt; you could trace our journeys over the week through the house. The last task was always to vacuum the combination of a week’s worth of food crumbs, wood chips from the bottom of Pete’s boots, and the dust that collected on our raspberry carpets during my cleaning.

The tedium of cleaning often seemed to be of no use, because our deserted flat was five miles outside the nearest town. There was nothing to see, and nobody with whom to bask in this nothingness, except for Pete of course. But even still, he was never happy if the house was messy, and since I owed him my life, a little cleaning was insignificant in the grander scheme of things.

After wiping the remaining streak marks from the high windows, my gaze fell upon the outside world. I almost forgot what it looked like out there. In spring, the irises swallowed our home, opening themselves to the world and consequently closing us in from it. But now, in the winter, the naked branches stood like corpses, mummified by the snow.

Pete and I had been together for about four years, but I moved in with him right after my accident. When I met him I knew that there would be nothing to separate us, except for a five-year age difference. Though the accident and my consequential shock left me with only vague flashes of unpolished memories, I did know that a negligent driver hit me during one of the town’s heaviest hurricanes. Authorities told Pete that my car must have swerved sharply off the road, driving through the guardrail and down the steep shoulder, wrapping itself around a thick redwood trunk, an unfortunately common occurrence for teenagers. When I saw Pete in the waiting room the morning I was discharged, I knew I just had to stay with him.

 

Just like clockwork, he returned home every Friday at six p.m. Weekends were our time to spend together, free of his labors of running a business. For the first few years we were together, his need for relaxation resulted in us staying inside most weekends. I didn’t have many friends, and Pete was always happier to have me around the house when he came home. But just recently, we started driving into town every Friday for a walk around the block and lunch in his favorite café. I had to admit, it was nice to be outside.

It was the first weekend of January, so the streets were still sprinkled with the remnants of the New Year festivities – crumpled noisemakers under sidewalk benches, streamers imprinted with the bottom of snow boots, broken novelty sunglasses and crowns. As we walked, Pete’s hand gripping my hip towards his, I remembered hearing faint cheering from behind the full forest of empty trees at that stroke of midnight. When Pete shook me out of my memory, I couldn’t help but see a teenage boy – only a few years younger than I was – staring at me from across the street, like my eyes were drawn to him. He was sitting on a bench, legs and arms akimbo. He looked purposeful, like a watchman. Though his stare was not menacing, it was obvious he was thinking about something, which was still unnerving. As Pete and I continued on the slushy path, he followed us with his eyes, still thinking. He watched and watched until we turned the corner and he was out of sight. In my last moments in his line of vision, I looked back. I realized at that moment that he was looking at me like he knew me. Only he didn’t know how, so he was trying to figure it out. I never mentioned it to Pete. He was always a little territorial of me because he cared so much. I squished my body tighter against Pete’s for protection.

I forgot all about that incident until our next walk the following week.

Pete had to buy more cigarettes, so we stopped in the gas station two stores down from the café. He didn’t want me standing alone outside, though I never liked the awkward looks I got from the clerks. My eyes were focused on a pile of crumbling snow outside while he searched for his favorite brand. So I didn’t notice her approaching from across the street, and I wasn’t aware of the nervous look in her eye.

“Abby?” Her head was cocked to the right and her brows were pinching the top of her nose as though forced together with a needle. She stood there like a tree stump, frozen, beneath layers of winter garb. Her eyes bulged with delirium. She was standing in the doorjamb.

“Abby!” She called to me again. I had no choice but to respond, as she was now right in front of me.

“No ma’am I think you have the wrong per– ”

“But…oh but it has to be you, Abbs. It just has to be!” She was processing my body with her eyes – down to my toes, up to my hair, and back down again. It was as if she were trying to make sense of me. She went to touch my hand but Pete made sure that didn’t happen.

“No seriously, lady! You’ve got the wrong girl. ‘Scuse me.” He ignored the insistent expression on her face and pulled me out of the store, pushing across the strange woman’s body angrily.

But she didn’t stop. She followed us outside and though I wasn’t looking at her, I could hear that her voice was several steps behind us. She must have stopped.

“I would recognize her face anywhere,” she called out. This piqued my interest, so in spite of Pete, I turned around. “Don’t you remember? You’re my daughter!”

 

The bright spotlights shining through the translucent curtains gave the illusion of midday at midnight. I nudged my face against the front door window but all I remember is a white orb of light stinging my eyes all the way into my brain. I was blind to everything in front of me. I heard the cocking of weapons so I imagined the SWAT team raised their arms to their faces when they saw mine through the filthy window. I hadn’t cleaned the house at all that week.

In an instant, even through the light of emergency vehicles and blinding spotlights, I started to see everything clearly. I knew I recognized the boy on the bench. He had my eyes, and it was like I was staring at myself. It was Michael. But most importantly, I saw my mother. Not as she was that night, standing outside my once-home anxious to have me on the other side of the door; nor as she was that day outside the gas station, jittery, disoriented. No, I saw her as she was on my sixteenth birthday, calm, performing spatula arts in the kitchen as she prepared my favorite meal. She greeted me with a smile that morning, and a gift – a hand-decorated journal. Of course, it was the day I disappeared.

Yes, I saw it now. There was no accident. Flashing, cryptic images were slowly fitting themselves together. I walked to school that morning. I turned the corner. It was the path leading to the back entrance of the building. My friends, they stood at that entrance just before homeroom everyday, sharing a pack of Newports stolen from Kim’s mother’s carton. Before I arrived, before I could smell the familiar hint of nicotine, I was pulled by my hair, my face forced into a napkin of a toxic liquid. The last thing I can recall – faintly, however – was my leg being broken in what I think was the backseat of a van.

Now though, Pete was behind me, tugging at the tattered flannel shirt he had me wear and muttering some helpless plea, crazed just as my mother was that afternoon last week. From his eyes, I gathered he was begging me to stay, but I couldn’t hear him over the booming sounds of a man’s voice projected into a megaphone, carefully instructing me to come outside.

 

Returning home after being kidnapped has been difficult. It’s been challenging putting the pieces altogether, readjusting to my family, and my bedroom. When Pete took me, we stayed relatively close by; he thought it would throw everyone off. But he kept me inside for so long that everything seemed unrecognizable. If my brother hadn’t seen me in the park that day I’d still be with Pete. To be honest, there are days when I miss him. He never allowed us to have pictures in the house, but I have a distinct memory of his face: the harsh curl of his eyebrows, his jowls like a bloodhound. It’s the only memory that’s truly been mine in the last five years.

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Filed under Fiction, Short stories, Written Life

mini-rant + apologies on being aloof

Hands-free = brain-free?

First of all, sorry for being a terrible hostess. I was under this very inaccurate delusion that senior year of college would be like senior year of high school – a joke. Well, I’d say that assumption was more of a joke than anything else. I have been up to my ears in homework: I’m reading books for three classes, painting for my painting class (naturally), and working on a short story for my fiction class. In other words, I have not had a spare moment to breath, sleep, or eat the proper amount of meals a day, let alone write anything other than papers and impatient e-mails.

Which brings me to the main focus of this post. My shortcomings as a blogger are far from my point.

What is the point of having cell phones? I mean really. It went from having house phones, to having cordless house phones, to having e-mail and cell phones. Now we have smart phones, which allow us to do all of the above and make some toast and fry an egg all from the comfort of your home. Or the bus. Or work. Or in the middle of a boring class. Or while someone is in the middle of talking to us. Essentially, these gadgets allow us to be connected and plugged into the entire world at all times, anywhere.

Sounds convenient, but my question still remains, what is the point? I assume that these smart phones, and laptops, and Wi-fi are all supposed to be helpful, allowing us to be available to others whenever they need us. Well, given my experiences so far this semester, they serve no purpose. Every time I’ve needed to get in touch with someone via e-mail or cell phone, my questions have gone unanswered. I e-mailed the Dean of the English department back in August regarding an internship panel I was interested in being a part of. Last week all English majors got an e-mail about upcoming events, including that internship panel, not including me. Gee, thanks. Earlier than that, in mid July, I e-mailed the scholarship coordinator my thank-you letter required for receiving my cashmonies. Just a few weeks ago I was told that they revoked my scholarship for a “lack of a thank-you letter.” Uh, wrong. And now, I’m supposed to be participating in a walk tomorrow, and am unsure if I even can because the first girl responsible for giving me a ride changed her mind and didn’t think it necessary to tell me, and now the new designated driver has yet to answer my voicemail which I left over 3 hours ago.

Clearly, me and technology do not get along. So, why get a Blackberry or iPhone or any of that crap in the first place if you aren’t even going to make use of the practical functions? What is the mystique if I still have to be sending a follow-up e-mail or two or seven? As my 2-year plan comes to an end in February, I am on the prowl for a new phone (preferably one that doesn’t shut off sporadically) and the more frustrating situations I am thrust into, the more I don’t see the point in spending exorbitant amounts of money getting a phone with internet capabilities. People are still going to ignore me, whether I’m in a car, on a bus, or in a cardboard box on the sidewalk. Puh-lease.

EDIT: In the time it took me to write this, I finally heard back from my DD for tomorrow. So that’s 1 in about 50 that actually acknowledged me. Somewhat promising.

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Filed under Everyday Life, Rants

musings on a feather

Another hidden gem: circa 2008, Creative Writing 1.

Musings on a Feather by Liz Van Buren

I stare. I observe its fragile beauty and the careful way it rests on the table, almost levitating. I note its elegance as the wind carelessly carries it across the counter, hairs aflutter. But beyond its mannerisms – beyond the way these hairs dance like tiny hands when my breath escapes me – I see something else, something more. I find peace in the way something so fragile can stand on its own – in the way it can be detached from everything native,
drift

to

the

ground,
and yet survive, independent, after suffering a lifetime of hiding behind others. Once alive, it is now battered with the harshness of time, yet still floats on. I am actually inspired by this resilience.

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Filed under Everyday Life, Non-fiction, Observations, Written Life

harriet the spy + why i write

So here I am, sitting in a cold, damp, deserted-dorm-room-turned-night-host-office and, instead of doing my homework, I am sifting through my Craft of Nonfiction portfolio compiled last Fall and came across this. I forgot I wrote this and it made me smile. Enjoy, and have sweet dreams as I sit here freezing my ears off.

Harriet the Spy and Other Reasons I Write by Liz Van Buren

It all started with Harriet the Spy. I was about seven when the movie came out, and the thought of there being an eleven year old spy exhilarated me. This was still around that time when I thought “anything was possible” and didn’t see anything wrong with that scenario. She traveled the dangerous streets of the city in her oversized yellow trench coat with all her “gear” tucked gently into coat pockets and the waistband of her pants. She also carried a composition notebook, personally decorated, which kept all of her observations and personal thoughts and speculations about all of the people she encountered in her travels. Harriet M. Welsch was the coolest girl alive to me, and I wanted to be a spy just like her.

Since the closest thing I had to a trench coat was a plastic Barbie raincoat, and my parents didn’t let me any farther than the front lobby, I settled on spying on people from my bedroom window, up on the sixth floor of an apartment complex mostly inhabited by Jewish seniors. This and my faulty binoculars did not stop me from believing I was going to achieve greatness as a seven-year old spy on my block. On my first day, I sat and scouted the building across the street, window by window, until I finally spotted someone moving on the third floor. I scrambled for my notebook – spiral not composition, and only decorated with the word “PRIVATE” in bubble letters – and began taking notes.

This lasted a total of fifteen minutes, until I realized that nothing interesting will come of a stay-at-home mom vacuuming and cleaning windows. Disappointed day after day with such poor results, I began to contrive my own observations – as a product of an overheated imagination. One night, I saw an adult male walk through his bedroom, look around for something, and then leave. He returned, looked out the window, and then shut the curtains. Though he probably saw the seven-year old Peeping Tom across the street and wanted some privacy, I imagined that he had some poor, innocent victim tied to a chair, ready to be sliced apart. He seemed like that kind of person. Because surely, a professional spy such as myself could read his facial expression accurately enough to make such a deduction from a hundred feet away.

But I suppose I am getting a little off-track.

Why do you write? I was once asked this very same question at a week-long writer’s workshop about four years ago. Many of the other impressionable young writers in my group spoke of family members, of being the first generation in their family to strive for education and success. Others said they hope to be published someday, and one kid even included that he often writes to calm himself from the paranoid feelings he gets while high on marijuana. We were a very eclectic bunch, I’d say. But the only problem is I don’t actually remember what I said. I remember it being some grandiose statement about something like “the awakening of my soul,” or a “cathartic release of emotion,” and perhaps “inspiration.” Ah, yes, I remember there being lots of inspiration.

Though I mock the sixteen-year old me, I’m almost ashamed to admit that those statements aren’t too far from the truth, as it stands now. I am now twenty years old, and essentially, I write to blow off steam. I write down my thoughts when, for whatever reason, I cannot verbalize them. I write when my friends piss me off, or when some asshole breaks my heart, or when my family hovers and overprotects me and treats me like an irresponsible, incapable invalid who can’t take care of herself. I write when I’m stressed about school, or afraid of the future. I write to escape the pain and distress of all of this. And sure, I suppose I write when I’m feeling rather jaded, hoping that maybe a word, or a phrase, or even the feeling of pen to paper will spark something exciting in my soul.

But I suppose that isn’t all there is to it. Lately, I also write because I am obsessed with the English language, and have been since the eleventh grade when Mr. Vicari introduced me to its many complexities and quirks. In eleventh grade English, he taught us to analyze a work until you could no longer read its original text, only the hundreds of notes you’ve taken in the margins and between the lines; not only did he heighten my awareness to intricate metaphors and imagery, but he also taught us to take note of every punctuation mark, when an author capitalizes words, and other seemingly minute details. These methods of reading also taught me to enhance my writing; I remember wanting to someday be so talented as to write something that could be so carefully scrutinized by the students of Mr. Vicari’s eleventh grade English classes.

Now, far beyond the eleventh grade, I use this almost-newfound love of words as something didactic. I challenge myself every time I write something, and I push my words to be something far better than they’ve ever been. Writing is almost like a puzzle for me – like a challenge or – ha! – a word problem. I’m like a “soccer mom” to my thoughts, obsessed with their performance.

If I were to concisely recapitulate what I’ve just said (which I often find a grueling task) I could say that the reasons behind why I write are ever-changing; it really depends on the day.

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battling the buts

Confidence. That dirty bastard seems to be poking his giant, mangy head into my life these days. In fact, a lack thereof has always been an issue for me for so many reasons, really. But more specifically, I remember that being a theme in my teachers’ comments on my performance: “you’d do so much better if you had more confidence,” “your biggest issue is confidence,” “have more confidence in your work!” You get the picture. As if my lack of confidence in my body, my social skills, and myself were hard enough to handle back then; now we were throwing my strong suit into the mix.

So, in high school, confidence in everything from my formulas in math class to my paint strokes or color choices in art class was an uphill battle. I thought once I graduated high school, moved away to school, and began living (loosely) on my own, that I would shake most of that off like wreckage from a construction site.

Well, as it happens, I noticed this annoying little habit I’ve developed recently: when I meet someone for the first time, I talk to someone I haven’t spoken to in a while, or basically whenever I’m in any slightly uncomfortable social situation, and the topic of my post-grad plans comes up (thus taking any level discomfort and maximizing it by, oh, 1000), I always seem to respond with some vague description of my not-so-vague goals, followed by, “but yeah, I have no idea!” As you can see, I have an issue with my buts (and my butt, for the record).

Or say someone asks what I’m studying at New Paltz. I always respond in a confident voice, “I’m majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in Visual Arts,” then wait a few seconds and sheepishly add, “but we’ll see where that takes me I guess,” as though my major/minor combination is so bizarre, or as if majoring in creative writing can be likened to majoring in friendship bracelet making.

In reality, neither one of these circumstances reflect how I really feel; I know exactly what I want to do, and therefore I have a legitimate reason as to why my major/minor combo makes sense. I hoard a lot of solid goals for the future up in my noggin. They change every day, sometimes every hour. But for right now, I’m working towards becoming an interior decorator (with my own business) and/or (eventually) a published young adult author. I figure both careers could be done from home, and neither are full time in regards to being cooped up in a stuffy cubicle with Casual Fridays. When I graduate college, I’d like to work in publishing for a few years (haven’t decided what area of publishing yet) and save up a lot of moolah and eventually get my own apartment. I’ve also started researching decorating and potential online classes I could take. While you don’t need a degree for decorating, I imagine it would probably help to have some kind of experience in decorating-related color theory.

But honestly, I’m not going to outline a long-term life plan – complete with presentation boards and WordArt, of course– every time someone asks me this question.

I’m just tried of being asked the same follow-up questions. Let me demonstrate:

“So you’re going to be an English teacher?”

“Oh, English? Like, English education?”

“Do you want to teach?”

“What grades would you teach?”

Et friggin’ cetera. I am in no way knocking teachers. One of my role models happens to be my eleventh grade English teacher, not to mention several members of my family are teachers and several of my friends at New Paltz are doing education. So obviously, no disrespect. I just don’t see why that has to be where everyone’s minds go when they hear I’m an English major. Sure, I guess it’s the most obvious? The more economically wise decision?  Okay, I’ll give you that. But then, I have to almost guiltily reply, “No…just English. I want to be a writer,” and feel as though I’ve just slaughtered an animal right before their eyes. It makes me feel like my choice is a giant “<” in the face of everyone’s expectations, especially when followed by a furrowed-brow response.

So, after two years of this hogwash, I’ve learned to put up yet another proverbial wall in my life. I find it easier to sound like some lost puppy of a soon-to-be-graduate than to have to explain that, no, I am not planning on becoming a teacher.

Either way, I need to minimize the “buts” in my life (and then maybe I can finally work on the butt). In fact, why don’t we go ahead and erase the preceding commas altogether? They serve no purpose. I need to learn a thing or two about assertion.

I bet we all could use a good detox in that department, whether the “but” is any general nay-saying Negative Nimrod or, if it’s a nagging feeling, a cloud of doubt holding you back from truly embracing all of our nooks and crannies.

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Filed under Introspection, Rants

breakfast for the brain

Stop creativity: You are Entering a School Zone?

So my brain has been going through a drought lately. A writer’s drought. It’s like, whenever I get a somewhat interesting thought process going, it just fizzles out like a campfire in a storm. I figured it’s because I’ve been going through a funk these last few weeks, and haven’t really been up to doing anything productive. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been so focused on getting back into a school zone that I’ve sort of put my creative on the backburner, which is completely unfair to the creativity that seeps through my veins on a daily basis. Either way, I’ve been needing a creative pick-me-up, a breakfast for the brain.

Lucky for me, tonight, while at home for Labor Day week, I happened upon a box full of my old writing from high school, mostly from the hundreds of writing workshops I attended during those four years, but also a bunch of free writes and undeveloped short stories. A lot of it surprised me – I didn’t realize how good I was even at age fourteen – but it also really made me miss the good ol’ days. I was so passionate about a lot of things back then. I still am passionate, I guess, but it’s different now. Back then, I used to write all the time: on napkins at Starbucks, or in the margins of my class notes. I used to be known for this passion; my teachers would come to me whenever they heard about a writing workshop or something of the like. But now, I’ve become more passionate about writing to impress my professors, or writing to impress my blog audience, or writing to jumpstart a career, but when it comes to just plain writing, for the bloody hell of it, I can think of 100+ other things to do instead. How sad, that that’s how I treat my life’s fervor – like some old childhood trophy that’s destined to a life of dust-collecting on the back of the highest shelf in the house. I quickly shook off that heavy feeling and realized that that’s the missing piece: excitement. True, honest, raw excitement. And belief, I suppose, in my talent.

Anyway, after that momentary soul searching, I realized how helpful it was that I happened upon this little treasure chest. Like I said, the bulk of this canon-of-sorts was from local teen writers’ workshops: cheap folders full of dozens of unfinished free writes, and useful free writing ideas. Finding a large source of inspiration in the midst of creative drought? Pretty sure you couldn’t write better coincidence even if you tried.

Point is, expect to find some finished (or in some cases, updated) versions of these little gems in the near future. And it’s time for me to rekindle that true excitement and fervor!

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Filed under Introspection

a virtual sticky note

I usually don’t like to explain or prove myself to people, but recently, several people have approached me – usually concerned family members/boyfriend – asking me about “how I’m doing” or if “everything is alright.” Obviously, I completely appreciate the concern because a) it proves people are actually reading my blog and b) it proves people actually care about me. Much love, much love. However, I just want to clear up some obvious confusion.

I am not, nor have I ever been seriously depressed. Sure things get to me from time to time; I sometimes get severely bummed, at most. This is just how I write. These posts about losing friends, feeling lonely, etc. are not some kind of desperate cry for help. It’s just me, being me. I’ve always written about my life, or how I feel, whether in a LiveJournal or a live journal. It’s what I’m used to. This is just me writing out how I feel because sometimes, it’s easier that way. My computer screen can’t talk back, or tell me I shouldn’t feel Emotion X; it doesn’t judge me or tell me when I’m being too sensitive or when I should just let things go. While I try to remain open-minded about advice like that, sometimes, I just don’t want to hear it. So I write. And maybe sometimes my love of words takes over and I find myself sounding a wee bit more dramatic than intended. Okay, there’s that too. Not that I’m lying or exaggerating. I just don’t want people thinking that all I do is toil over my angst. That’s what 90’s teen dramas are for. (And God, I love them.)

So for all of those wondering: I AM FINE. I totally and 105% appreciate the concern, really I do, but I’m just writing. Seriously. Keep reading, and please, keep being interested, but also keep all this in mind. Because if I can’t write about everything – including the bad times or the shades of gray – what is the point of keeping this blog?

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Filed under Who Cares?