Overheard at the Spa

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Snow_monkey_Nagano

Jacqueline dipped her toes into the water.  It was warm, just shy of truly hot. The kind of warm that invites you in and can hold you there for hours.  The hot spring released long ribbons of steam into the winter air, which were easily lost against the white banks of snow behind it.  Jacqueline slipped into the water.

The spa was crowded.  It was the high season for such things, and everyone was eager for the naturally occurring bath.  She looked around, recognizing almost everyone: their name, their rank, their family relations.  No such thing as anonymity here.  Absolutely everyone she knew came to this spa absolutely every year. If the water wasn’t so nice, the whole thing would be a bore.    

Jacqueline brushed a stray silver hair from her eyes and waited.  And it didn’t take long for her to be found.

“Oh my God, for a minute I thought you weren’t coming,” Barbara greeted her, gliding through the water, “How’ve you been, kiddo?”

“Fine,” Jacqueline shrugged.

“Really?  You’re fine?  You’re sure?  I would’ve been a mess after a humiliation like that –  sorry, a tragedy – it’s a tragedy, Jackie, really.  But you were always so…demure.  No wonder you’re holding up so well.  Oh, here, sweetheart, let me get that,” Barbara reached up and plucked a louse from Jacqueline’s hair.  She tossed the bug into her mouth with bath-wrinkled fingers.

“But really, you’re fine?”  she asked as she chewed.

“It’s not so bad,” Jacqueline said, allowing Barbara to continue picking through her hair, “I mean, we had a decent run, I suppose…And  I always knew it wouldn’t last.”

“That’s really big of you, Jackie, I mean it.”

Jacqueline mulled it over, picking up a pebble with her toes and letting it fall back slowly through the water.

“Do you think it’s the hair above my lip?” she asked, “I’ve always been kind of self-conscious about it.  Not that there’s a lot of it or anything, it’s just…it’s something you might notice, y’know?”

“There’s nothing wrong with your lip, believe me, it isn’t you.  He’s just an animal – all impulse, no commitment. Like you said, you knew it wouldn’t last.”

“Oh God!”  Jacqueline slipped out of Barbara’s hands and into the water until it was  up to her nose.

“What?”

“There he is!” Jacqueline pointed to the far edge of the pool.  Through the throng of other bathers, adolescents, and infants clinging to mothers’ backs, strode in Shep, the alpha-male.  All others yielded from his path.

“Well, wouldn’t you know it,” Barbara said, matter-of-factly, “Some nerve he’s got showing up in this corner of the pool…with her.”

“Her?” Jacqueline asked, still cowering in the water.

“Yes – the little tart.  Have you heard about her?  She’s taken to calling herself Hélène – who does she think she is – as if nobody knows her name is Helen,” Barbara scoffed, “Just because she’s got Shep’s favor for now, you’d think the was queen of the universe or something, the way she struts around like that.”

“He’s with Helen?”

“Oh, God, sorry sweetheart.  You didn’t know?”

Jacqueline dunked her head beneath the water.  Barbara pulled her up.

“What should I do? What should I do?” Jacqueline panicked, “Should I bare my teeth?  Huh?  Should I throw my–”

“No, no, no – that’s beneath you.  You know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna get you all nice and groomed, and you’re gonna have a nice soak, and by the time we go back up the mountain you’re gonna feel fine – brand new.”

“You mean it?”  Jacqueline asked, wringing her tiny hands together.

“Absolutely.”

“You’re the best…Oh, here,” she plucked a tick from Barbara’s neck.  She even allowed herself the hint of a smile as she made a snack of the bug.  
Jacqueline turned her back, letting Barbara groom her coat of silver hair.  She pushed away all thoughts of Shep as far as she could, concentrating instead on the long pink faces bobbing aimlessly through the warmth of the water.

——-

The picture comes from Wiki Commons.  Public domain image.

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Modern Odyssey

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Mosaïque_d'Ulysse_et_les_sirènes

And lo, the mighty siren sang of pumpkin lattes.

Such bewitching melodies would have surely lured the sailors overboard, abandoning their diets, had Odysseus not ordered them to plug their ears with wax.  But alas, a young oarsman did not heed the order, for he was briefly distracted by the entertainment of Tubed cats.  Thus the siren’s song crept into his ears, igniting a most powerful desire.

Ignoring the cries of the mast-bound Odysseus, the oarsman leapt from his bench and took hold of the wheel.  And though he was but a scrawny youth, he strained the rudder against the current with tremendous force – turning the entire ship towards its doom.

Realizing their peril, the other sailors tried to stop the oarsman – but nay, it was too late.  The youth was already intoxicated by the siren’s frothy spice of pumpkin, the proof of his folly already posted to Facebook.  Hashtag sorry-not-sorry indeed.

Odysseus’ grief was great, but seeing as they were already stopped, he saw no harm in ordering a  mocha, which was much to his glorious preference.  And yea, all the sailors did drink the fancy coffee of the siren, delaying their oft-detoured return to Ithaca by another twenty minutes.  Odysseus prayed to the gods that Penelope would not mind.

The picture comes from Wiki Commons.  Public domain image.

The List

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list

The dishes need to be washed.

The laundry, washed and dried.

The mail needs to be retrieved, opened, assessed, and – invariably – thrown away.

An email needs to be sent to a to a relative, to a friend.

An order cancelled, an order made.

The accounts need to be checked and adjusted and checked again, with as little disappointment as possible.

The carpet needs to be vacuumed.

The shelves need to be dusted.

A batch of cookies need to be made for no other reason than that the decision was made earlier in the week.  They serve no real purpose.

And the dishes will need to be washed again.

The homespun pedicure needs to be touched up, though the open toe shoes are almost never worn.  Especially this time of year.

The laundry needs be folded.

The houseplants need to be watered.  One needs to be replanted, lest its roots be left to strangle.  Eventually.

That spot on the floor will need to be vacuumed again.

The laundry needs to be put away.

The bathroom needs to be scrubbed.

Things need to be accomplished.

And somewhere in there, somewhere in the madness of the list, there needs to be time.

There needs to be time for her to think and create.  Time to absorb and exude all that the list is meant to enhance.  Or facilitate.

And yet, all the time there is is readily eaten by the list.

Realizing this, she struck a match.

And burnt it.

On Writing: Balance

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UnderwoodKeyboard

Today’s theme: Balance.  There’s a fine line between not enough, and way too much.

Therefore, it is best to avoid:

  1. Lazy word repetition.  This is not to be confused with purposeful word repetition, which creates emphasis or a rhythmic effect.  Lazy repetition is using the same word more often than necessary out of a lack of effort.  It really bogs down the prose, making it boring and stilted.  Changing things up with a synonym (or maybe a pronoun) can go a long way.  Just be careful not to over-do it (see: Thesaurus addict).
    1. Not Great:  The sun shown high over head, beating down directly on their heads.  Sweat dripped from their foreheads.
    2. Better:  The sun shown high over head, beating directly down on them.  Sweat dripped from their brows.
  2. Look-at-my-big-word syndrome.  I like big words, but I prefer them to be used judiciously.  Unless, of course, you want to  be the literary equivalent of they guy with the huge, extra-grumbly truck and a really small…never mind.
    1. Not Great:  It provided ample serviceability.
    2. Better:  It was useful.  (Please note that this one largely depends on context, and overall tone.  The ‘not great’ version is appropriate if you have a ‘high style’ throughout the piece.)
  3. Clown-car sentences.  This is when someone tries to squeeze all of their ideas into one long, complicated sentence.  They stack clause upon clause, sprinkling commas about like parade candy.  It may be grammatically correct, but it’s like having twelve circus clowns stuffed into a tiny car.  Nobody knows what’s going on in there – Who’s hand is this?  Where did my shoe go?  Splitting it up into a few shorter sentences will be much easier to understand.
    1. Not Great:  Before inserting tab A into slot B, ensure that, underneath panel C, between the cables, thumbscrew D has been secured.
    2. Better:  Between the cables under panel C, locate thumbscrew D.  Tighten thumbscrew D as needed, ensuring that it is secure.  Then insert tab A into slot B.
  4. Details for the sake of details.  Some detail is great, but if your piece sounds more like a catalog (and isn’t actually a catalog) you’ve gone too far. So before you tell me exactly how tall that character is, or how many bolts are holding the table together, ask yourself:  Does it matter?  Does it add anything (of substance) to the piece?  If you don’t say ‘yes’ immediately, you probably want to find something else to say.
    1. Not Great:  Phillip was 47 years old, six foot three and had a broad, barrel chest.  He wore faded blue jeans and a white t-shirt, tinged slightly yellow, that was stained with oil, grease, and sweat from a busy day working on in the garage.
    2. Better:  Phillip was middle aged, built like a Clydesdale, and smelt like the garage.  It had been a busy day.
  5. Thesaurus addict.  This is the flip-side of lazy word repetition, and cousin to look-at-my-big-word syndrome.  Yes, you want to vary your wording to keep things interesting.  However, if you find yourself using five different terms for the same thing – it’s too much.  Over-variation sounds unnatural and distracts from what you’re really trying to say.
    1. Not Great:  The noon-day sun shone high over head, at it’s zenith.  It beat down on them from it’s position aloft.
    2. Better:  The sun shone high over head, beating down on them.

Happy Writing,

-C

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The picture is from Wiki Commons.  Public domain image.

About Relationships

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Two women, wine, and a chat about relationships.

First Woman – Greta Becker (@gmbecks)
Second Woman – Allison Merten (allisonmerten.com)
“Director” – Kathleen McCarthy (@kathleen_McC)
“Writer” – C.L. Manion (clmanion.wordpress.com)

Written, Directed, and Produced by C.L. Manion (clmanion.wordpress.com)
Filmed and Edited by Yasir A.
Assistant Director – Kathleen McCarthy (@Kathleen_McC)
Music by Kevin MacLeod

The Jungle Has Sticky Floors

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Gfp-dining-tables_wikiCommons

“I just like watching the people, y’know?” Jessica said, pulling more of the Orange Julius into her mouth, “I like thinking about what their lives are like, or making up stories for them – sometimes I get really elaborate with it.  Last week I made up three generations worth of backstory for woman wearing a salmon colored blazer.”

“Because of the blazer?” Nina asked.

“Because she caught my eye.”

Nina glanced around the food court.  There was certainly more than enough to look at: new mothers navigating their SUV strollers, the determined walk of the track-suited elderly.  Coming down a corridor, a gaggle of prepubescent girls shrieked and giggled; no doubt eager to spend their allowance money on the pleasure of buying, rather than having.  Elsewhere, a group of juveniles like peacocks engaged in earnest displays of courtship.

“It’s like a zoo,” Nina said.

“What?” Jessica pricked up her ears.  Their conversation was barely audible to one another over the hum of other people.  Overhead, the mall tv blared, its banalities amplified poor acoustic choices.

“It’s like a zoo, y’know?  You come and see the animals?”

“No,” Jessica shook her head, “It’s like a jungle.  Here we observe suburban human in it’s natural habitat.  They gather at the watering hole.”

Nina followed Jessica’s gesture up, observing the the fluorescent canopy held in place by massive pillars, then down again to the masses below.  She smiled limply.  The notion of their safari was equally comical and depressing.  She stacked up the remains of her slick-packaged carrion.

“Ready?”  Jessica asked, discovering an empty sound with her straw.

“Yeah.  I just want to stop at one or two places yet.”
They rose and left their table, depositing their trays in the appointed bin.  The circle of life and wrappers. Nina and Jessica assimilated into the slow stampede back toward commerce, passing a man with mop and bucket as they went.

The picture comes from Wiki Commons.  Public domain image.