Monday, August 31, 2015

Rise and Write #5. Prompts 29-35

Hello writers and welcome to the second month of daily writing exercises, week #5. 

I'm offering you 7 new prompts for the next 7 days, as usual, and remind you that you always can write either about your life (personal essay) or about your fictional characters (or maybe not even your character - maybe you feel inclined to write fan-fiction). Feel free to experiment with poetry, drama, newspaper report (as I did in the post What the Bleep They Were Thinking?). Try your hand in comedy or tragedy. Write whatever inspires you and helps you grow. I know, I know - I said it before. I also said before that if you don't feel particularly inspired by a particular theme, then write about what YOU want to write. But starting this month, we are making it official (after discussion with Justin). Do write and link the story excerpts that you currently are working on (or think about starting working on), and if your stories go a direction different than my prompts, still write and link. Spend as little as 5 minutes, or as much as you want. Post a rough draft, or a freshly polished piece. The most important thing that we are learning to find time and inner resources for writing... every day.

Happy writing all!

Prompts 29-35. Week 5

Write about sunflowers – in the garden, in the fields, in the bouquet, in the wreath on the door. Write about the flowers or the seeds…
OPTIONAL: Work on your own fiction, without the connection to the topic. Share what you are working on.

Write about a cup or a mug. Maybe it’s the one you love to sip your coffee or tea from. Maybe it’s a family heirloom or an antique find. Or maybe it’s a paper cup.
OPTIONAL: Work on your own fiction, without the connection to the topic. Share what you are working on.

Write about feeling angry. What are the sensations in the body? What’s happening with the thoughts? Write a scene when your character feels angry. Do they want to punch someone? Will they?
OPTIONAL: Work on your own fiction, without the connection to the topic. Share what you are working on.

Write about a number that is significant in your life. Maybe it’s your lucky number, or the opposite. Maybe you feel connected to a certain number and see definite patterns in your life (or your character’s life).
OPTIONAL: Work on your own fiction, without the connection to the topic. Share what you are working on.

Write about a happy day from your childhood. Where are you? With whom? What’s going on? What made this day so memorable?
OPTIONAL: Work on your own fiction, without the connection to the topic. Share what you are working on.

Write about reptiles. Most people have very strong feelings towards them – either love or hate them. Which are you? (Or your character?)
OPTIONAL: Work on your own fiction, without the connection to the topic. Share what you are working on.

Write about feeling peace. What brings peace to your inner state? Is it being in nature, or being alone at home? Describe a particular situation when you are (or your character is) feeling at peace with yourself and with life.
OPTIONAL: Work on your own fiction, without the connection to the topic. Share what you are working on.

* * * 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Daily Sketches. #28 Sound

Write about a sound. Maybe you woke up from a sound. Maybe it is a sound of music, or an annoying noise.

Since I started writing about the sand and living on the beach in the last sketch, it brought back the memories of the sounds that I had never experienced before on a day to day basis… I often think that even though we now live on the hill by the road, our house still is surprisingly quiet most of the time. You can hear the cars passing, but mostly just one or two, with breaks before the next one appears. During those breaks, what we hear is the sound of the wind chime that I traded with my festival neighbor for a couple of beautifully carved birch bark boxes during my trading years. That chunky chime, made of wood, metal tubes and a big slice of a natural stone, has provided us with a beautiful sound for years, hanging outside of every home we lived in. We also hear birds, mostly seagulls, crows and blue jays. The rest of it is… the sound of silence.
The sound of silence was something that the tiny rugged beach house performed with perfection. I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a place where the silence was the major sound I heard. I never even thought that silence has a sound. But it does. When you hear it, you understand – this is the sound of silence. How to put it into words? I’m afraid my language is too poor to describe the magnificence of the sound of silence. And yet, it is very simple really. Living on the beach, we were on the very bottom of a steep 200 foot hill, and there was no road to get there, only a small woodsy trail partly with wooden or concrete steps. So there was never a sound of a car or truck which surround you not only in a city, but in the quietest of neighborhoods and villages in America. (It used to be that far away Russian villages were practically free of the car noise, but I know that it’s rapidly changing there too.) And that is a huge part of it – simply the lack of the mechanical noise, for the vast majority of time. We lived in a secluded little neighborhood with only a dozen or so little houses spread apart, so there was not very much human noise either – rarely someone passed by our house, and if they were with a walking buddy, then you’d hear the excerpts of their conversation very clearly, word for word. Army planes would fly above the beach from time to time, filling the sky with the thunder-like sound, though still distant, not at all as close and deafening as the naval jets learning how to land above the glorious Deception Pass north of Seattle. There would be some boats and huge ships from the nearby Port of Tacoma that passed by our windows, and we’d hear them. But other than those rather interesting and not trivial occurrences, all we heard was the sounds of nature. Seagulls and crows getting all excited about the bald eagle getting out to fish – that was probably the most common sound that we heard daily. And our wind chimes on a rare blustery day (as we’re having today, as I write this, and the wind chime goes nuts in the garden). And that was it. That is the sound of silence to me. The rarest and the most precious sound that I know.

Daily Sketches. #27 Sand

Write about sand. Imagine touching it with your hands. What does it feel like? Write about a sandcastle you built as a kid or as an adult with your kids. Or about construction sand. Write whatever comes to mind.

Sand brings the memories of a few years living in a beach house on one of the rather rare sandy beaches around Puget Sound. Growing up in Siberia, I was mostly introduced to sand as a kid in the form of sand boxes which were a popular part of children’s playgrounds in every court yard or day care center of our small town. I do remember infrequent trips to a little river called Yesaulovka, about an hour away by foot, where probably there was some mixture of sand, gravel and round river rocks. When Mom took us to the Black Sea a couple of times in my childhood, there sure were plenty of sandy beaches there, but strangely enough, I don’t have vivid memories of that sand. Maybe I need to spend some time with the black and white photographs that my brother took of us.
But a few years living on a sandy beach, in a small rugged wooden house that looked like a fisherman’s cabin, though it was actually built as a family house in the 1930s (the family raised two sons in that tiny space), those years made a very vivid imprint on my memory. Of course it helps that it was just a few years ago. The sand was not the soft and pretty light color that you see on photos of sunny southern beaches – it was rather coarse and grayish tones, not especially picturesque or photogenic. But it was soft and pleasant for the many barefoot walks or taking a seat resting and watching the sea before going into the cold water to refresh yourself on a hot summer day, which, as we discovered, we had in abundance here. Since the house was literally built on the beach, we were always only a few feet away from the sand, and at high tide, no more than a foot away, sand became a part of our everyday living. No matter how hard we tried to clean our feet after walking on the beach, with towels and buckets of water set by the entrance to the little house, sand was everywhere in the house – on the furniture, on our bed sheets, and of course on the rugs and floor. I soon realized that there was absolutely no way to keep the myriads tiny particles away – and I relaxed about it, telling all our visitors, that they don’t have to worry about how clean their feet are when they visit our beach house, that the sand still will be here, it’s just a natural part of living on the beach.

* * *

Friday, August 28, 2015

August Make-up Link-up!

Dear friends and fellow writers, I thought about the rhythm of doing daily writing exercises, and after discussing it with Justin, decided that it would be a good idea to have a few days break before we start a new month of prompts on September 1st. But if you wish, you can use these few days to write the sketches that you missed, or write new versions (maybe try your hand in a new genre), or work on a particular sketch to make it into a story or essay, or even simply work on your fiction and... link all your creative writings (sketches, poems, stories etc.) which you will be doing these few days to this "make-up" link-up which will stay open till August 31st. (Then I'll open a new link-up with new prompts.) I know that I have a couple of prompts and a few of your writings to catch up with. So I think it will be a good use of these few days in between.

To review the writing prompts that we did in August, from 1 to 28, go to these posts:

And do remember that the short story link-up, WRITE AND LINK, on my other blog, In The Writer's Closet, stays open till September 1st, and you still have time to write a story and link it up!

Happy writing all!

Daily Sketches. #26 Train (Excerpt)

Write about a train. Did you ever traveled by train? If not, what do you think it would feel like? Write about a character who’s traveling by train if you prefer.

Trans Siberian Crush

Marusya curled up on the upper shelf of their train compartment, with Matveika sleeping on the other upper shelf, and their parents occupying the two lower shelves. Funny how they call these beds shelves, as if the passengers were nothing but stuff being neatly put away, so they don’t disturb the machinist, conductors and their important journey. Marusya’s thoughts were slipping away as the train went choo… choo… chooga chooga… choooo…. in a steady rhythm that seemed to be designed to make you sleepy. As her eye lids were getting heavy, vague memories of her very first journey with Matveika and their mom crept into her drowsy mind. Marusya had just turned seven and was about to begin school the following fall, as mom took the kids to visit their grandma in a far away land which by now is another country – babushka lived in Ukraine for a few brief years. They were also visiting the Black Sea and Crimea and all sorts of places with strange sounding names that Marusya had never heard before that trip, other than maybe occasionally in the national TV news which to her sounded just about the same as adult conversations in Peanut cartoons: "whua whua whua, whua whuaaaaa…"

There was something else Marusya encountered for the first time in her seven year old life on that journey – the weird, unfamiliar longing for someone she barely knew whom she'd met on that first train trip. He was 22, blond with blue eyes and a cheerful smile, tall, or at least he seemed so to Marusya, slender; and the two young conductors, students who took it as a seasonal job, brought him everything in doubles – two blankets instead of one, two spoons and two cups of tea. The cups looked exotic: glasses dressed in silver “jackets”, which seemed somehow to be in the Turkish manner, Marusya thought. “They do love you”, their talkative fellow traveler, a woman in her 60s, said out loud to the handsome young traveler. The woman who’d tell them funny stories from her life calling her husband grandpa, slept enviably deeply at night and produced the loudest noise Marusya had ever heard, and the 22 year old neighbor who slept on the upper shelf just above her, would look down, hanging above the snoring woman and Marusya, and say in a naughty voice, as a kid who knew he’d be told-off or even mildly punished if he ever was found for doing it, and yet dared to do it anyway, “Auntie, don’t snore... Auntieee...” And then they both giggled, and it was pure happiness. That pattern repeated both nights during which the cute neighbor shared their compartment, and then it was his city, his station, Marusya still remembered the name of it that seemed short and abrupt as she heard for the first time then - Omsk. In the same cheerful friendly manner, he took all his belongings and left the train, blending in with the busy train station crowd. Mom and the snoring auntie went out to buy some warm boiled potatoes wrapped in plastic bags and home made pickles which you could find on any big or little station along the Trans Siberian Railway.

“What happened? Did you fall down? Anything hurts?” asked mom when she came back, as tears went down Marusya’s cheeks. She only shook her head. Nothing was hurt. Her arms, knees, feet were all just fine. And yet after the cheerful traveler left, there, in her little heart, a big hole quickly formed. She had no idea what to do with the hole. She wanted to get off the train and run to the station to find him. She probably wouldn't know what to say or what to do if she'd found him, other than just stare at him with a happy gaze. He was 22 and married, and he lived in a city with an abrupt, unfriendly name Omsk which she did not know existed two days before. She was 7 and did not know that that big hole in her heart was something people have when they miss someone they love.

* * *

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Daily Sketches. #25 Feast (Poem)

Write about a feast – a family gathering, a company banquet, or maybe you treated yourself after fasting.

Foodie Anthem

Food, they say, is nutrition –
When we eat, we exist.
But if you’re a foodie,
Every meal is a feast.

Every meal is adventure,
Exploration and bliss,
Tests, research and some fieldwork –
Every meal is a feast.

Spoons and forks are the helpers
That your journey assist,
For if you’re a foodie,
Every meal is a feast.

You discover new continents,
Learning what’s overseas,
Every meal is a Christmas
Or Thanksgiving day feast.

Every meal is exciting,
Or peculiar at least,
For if you’re a foodie,
Every meal is a feast.

* * *

Monday, August 24, 2015

Daily Sketches. #24 Pain (Excerpt)

Write about pain – either physical or emotional. Or write about how it feels to live without pain.

The pain got sharper with every minute, so sharp that it affected her ears, she started hearing a constant noise but as if it was from far away, or as if she was wrapped in a thick blanket. The noise was distant, but at the same time filling the whole room and was making her unable to hear anything else. She knew of the only one medicine that treated that sharp pain. With her hands shaking she filled a syringe with the healing clear liquid and stuck the sharp needle into her own flesh – something she’d probably wouldn’t be able to do to anyone else, but herself, being afraid to hurt them, but with herself she knew that that small pain was nothing compared to what she experienced, and only this treatment never failed to save her from the agony. But not this time. The agony began despite the taken medicine – perhaps she missed the point when the injection would rush quickly to save her muscles from the pain, or maybe the medicine was too old and lost its power, but the pain continued being unbearable. She rolled in a tight ball on her bed and thought only one thought: please, please, have mercy… She was breathing heavily, and cold sweat was covering her face and body. She did not know how long it took – one hour? an hour and a half? – for the pain to start losing its grip on her physical being. Little by little the periods between attacks became longer, until the pain left the body. Then she just said “thank you” and, completely exhausted, fell asleep…

There is no quick medicine that helps our soul to heal when it’s suffering. There is no doctor or emergency to call in a situation when we feel helpless. Her soul’s agony that began as bewilderment, slowly grew into disbelief, then denial, until it became obvious that what she was going through was not only unseen by the one she trusted, but not even wanted to be seen. That’s when the agony began. Much as with physical pain, it creeped on her, grabbing her whole soul with an aggressive, merciless hand. It would tighten the grip to make her feel small, insignificant, invisible and miserable. It would tighten then even more, until the pain was unbearable, and loosen up the grip just a little, so she could catch a breath, hearing a deafening silence around her. Then the agony would grab her soul again, with the full strength, and again, and again… like an evil roller coaster. Love was the only medicine she knew could help, and love was the only thing missing. In the heart exhausted by fear, there was very little place for love, so little that she started losing its sight. She suffered until one day her body got sick with a flu and couldn’t shake it off as fast as it usually did. She stayed in bed for weeks, feeling week and almost numb, not able to talk, to read, to write, not able to process even one simple thought. After those few weeks of flu that hit her harder than ever, she woke up one morning feeling completely recovered. Not only recovered from the flu – but recovered from her soul’s agony too. It was just like waking up after a nightmare – as if it all was but a dream that she remembered distantly, a dream that seemed to last too long , but that was rapidly fading away with day light. 

* * *

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Daily Sketches. #23 Hair (Excerpt)

Pippi Longstocking Book-cover by Lev Tokmakov

Write about hair – either yours or a character you work on.

Marusya never liked her hair, or as she often would say, she hated it. Looking from a distance, you’re now probably as surprised as Marusya was when she grew up and looked back at herself, how much the word “hate” circulated between the girls of her age.
“How is school?”
“I hate school.”
“Isn’t math fun?”
“I hate math.”
“Do you like your classmates?”
“Hate ‘em.”
 “Oh such a sweet dress!”
“I hate it.”
Marusya did not start putting this thought together until one day one of her classmates said that another of her classmates said that she hated Marusya.
“What?! She what me?!”
“That’s what she said. ‘I just hate Marusya,’ she said.”
Marusya stopped breathing for a moment, feeling as though her face was burning – she always blushed easily. Never before had anyone told her that they hated her or knew someone who hated her. Hating school was one thing. It wasn’t personal. School was just some cold, official, faceless institution. Just a gray building with a bunch of rooms and corridors painted in a toxic green color (why schools and hospitals always pick such an unpleasant color?). All right, hating classmates was not especially a nice thing to say, but it also wasn’t personal, it was just all of them together, not each of them individually. “All” means a mass, a blob, it means nothing. But how on earth someone could say “I hate her, Marusya”?
Now, if Marusya was totally honest, she would tell that friend that she also hated that other girl. She even wrote it in her diary which she would never, ever want to show to anyone. But she did not say it, because that’s what diaries are for – to write any thought that entered your mind, and it did not have to be nice. Marusya knew her thoughts were not always nice, and she would never want to pretend that they were. But one thing was to think that thought and even write it down in your diary, and quite another to say it out loud to someone. To say it out loud almost felt like doing something not nice to that person. Or maybe wishing that you were doing something not nice to that person. And Marusya did not want to do something not nice to anyone, no matter what she’d write in her diary.
From that day on, Marusya was quite sure that it was not okay to hate anyone and was not sure it was okay to hate anything either. But she reserved her right to hate one thing – her own hair. Her hair was long and curly and tangled to the point when it was a nightmare to brush it. Grown-ups often would stop and tell her how pretty her hair was, but only grown-ups. Kids were teasing her as long as she could remember. As if having curly unmanageable hair that had a mind of its own was not enough to torcher Marusya, her hair was also copper red color, which ran in the family. Matveika got lucky, Marusya though. Yes, he got curls too, but his hair did not have to be long, and it was not hard to brush short hair – not as hard as her long curls anyway. But he also got a normal golden brown color that many kids have, with only a hint of copper in the bright sun. No one would think of teasing Matveika for having a hint of copper in his hair. People probably did not even notice that slight change of his hair color on a bright sunny day, when Matveika got straight sun rays on his head. Marusya got teased-at since childhood, when she’d ask her parents not to bring her to day care early in the morning and just let her stay at home which they couldn’t do of course since both of them were working, and Matveika went to school. Only on very rare occasions would her mom take Marusya to her work instead of day care – those were happy days. Mama’s students seemed to like Marusya, and no one called her “ryzhaya” (*) or “clown” as kids in the day care did. When mama’s students or grown-ups mentioned Marusya’s hair color, it always sounded like a compliment, not as an insult. She noticed that some women colored their hair in red color on purpose (something that blew her mind – why on earth anyone would want to be red haired, she’d never understand that). She made a little peace with her hair when she first read Pippi Longstocking. She was ten or something like that. For a while, she felt as empowered as Pippi, as if she could pick up a horse or a policeman with her arms. She’d imagine how one day she picked up the most annoying boys from her school and throw them in the air, and how their faces would get long and scared, and full of remorse, and how they’d land and run as fast as they could, looking back at Marusya with fear and even respect. The thought that she was somewhat similar to Pippi was comforting for the next couple of years, but now at twelve Marusya started being annoyed with her hair in a somewhat new light. She couldn’t say exactly what was going on, but somehow with all the body changes she experienced lately, having bright copper red hair became an issue again.

(*) “ryzhaya” means red haired (about a female), and “ryzhyi” – red haired about a male in Russian.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Daily Sketches. #22 Rain (Excerpt)

Write about rain. Is it a warm summer shower or a heavy stormy downpour? Are you indoors or outside, all soaked through? Write about a character if you’d like.

She always loved rain. Her girlfriends would complain about it – can’t go out under this downpour, puddles outside leaving unattractive splashes on freshly cleaned tights or fashionable trousers, the gray sky making them depressed. She’d stay by her window and watch the silver droplets making their way down. The courtyard would rapidly empty out, only a rare babushka hurrying home, with avoska (*) filled with groceries under a rugged umbrella, which no doubt served her for the better half of her long life. Or a couple of young guys jumping over the puddles, rushing towards the closest roof. The children’s playground, abandoned only in extreme cold days of Siberian winters, otherwise always bursting with children’s voices, now becoming deserted. Pigeons and a few pretty doves curling under the roof of the green pigeon-loft built by her neighbor, ever cheerful uncle Vanya who moved out years ago, as he started a new family, but his birds were still here, and he’d come to visit them daily. Watching the rain was one of her favorite things on earth to do. She couldn’t help but smile, feeling the warmth spreading in the chest area where she thought her soul lived, reaching everything around it with its sunny rays. Rain was the secret language that she understood and spoke. Rain was the universe’s way of saying that everything was well.

He always loved rain. If it caught him on the road which happened a lot in stormy Midwest springs in his many years working in factories, he’d stop his car on the shoulder of a narrow country road just to watch the rain. If he was driving in the city, he’d park in the parking lot of the nearest mall near Barnes and Nobles where he loved spending evenings reading or writing, and watch how the droplets were making their way down the car window. The streets were rapidly becoming deserted. Rare shoppers were rushing to their cars, and soon he’d hear the splashing sound from under the rolling tires. He’d stay in his car in silence, with the engine turned off, and listen for the last few drops, as if the rain was telling him a story. There were always ellipses at the end of rain stories, which left him feeling refreshed and hopeful. It was the rain that suggested to him to use ellipses abundantly in his prose. He felt all-embracing peace watching the world getting a shower, making a pause in the busy life, postponing all the chores which seemed unnecessary, or at least not as necessary as being quiet. Rain had the ability to make him feel rested and content, as if the garden inside of his being was receiving a long needed watering. The quiet world, sparkling with raindrops, was telling him that everything was well.

(*) avoska – net shopping bag or string bag, popular in Soviet times, especially with the elders

* * *

Friday, August 21, 2015

Rise and Write Link-Up. Daily Writing Sketches 22-28. Week 4

Hello writers! It's hard to believe that we are already into our 4th week of daily writing. I will admit sometimes I resent my daily writing as I resent any routine. But that negative feeling goes away as soon as I start typing the first words. I let my imagination go. I find that writing energizes me, unless I write about matters which are difficult for me or still bothering me. But it is also a part of the process of becoming a writer. I think that in the end, it is what we really need to do - to write about what hurts with the same honesty that we use when we write about what makes us happy or fascinates us.

I started experimenting more with fiction (writing about my character Marusya from my old Russian piece) and with poetry. That stimulates me. If you feel resentful of the routine, try something new, break out of the familiar mold - you will be surprised how much fun there is beyond our familiar route! But I'm sure you already know that. 

On the other hand, if you feel uninspired or low energy and you need a break, then just skip a few days. It's all totally up to you. You might find later that you want to come back and write the prompts which you skipped, or just move on to new prompts. Whatever helps you with your own writing goals and dreams. Here are seven new ideas for your daily sketches - use them as they are or write about what you feel like writing; the most important is that you write, practice, and grow.

Write about rain. Is it a warm summer shower or a heavy stormy downpour? Are you indoors or outside, all soaked through? Write about a character if you’d like.

Write about hair – either yours or a character you work on.

Write about pain – either physical or emotional. Or write about how it feels to live without pain.

Write about a feast – a family gathering, a company banquet, or maybe you treated yourself after fasting.

Write about a train. Did you ever travel by train? If not, what do you think it would feel like? Write about a character who’s traveling by train if you prefer.

Write about sand. Imagine touching it with your hands. What does it feel like? Write about a sandcastle you built as a kid or as an adult with your kids. Or about construction sand. Write whatever comes to mind.

Write about a sound. Maybe you woke up from a sound. Maybe it is a sound of music, or an annoying noise.

Daily Sketches. #21 Hot (Poem)

Write about feeling hot – your sensations, thoughts, desires. 

Driblets of salty fluid
Down the burning neck.
Creeping under the skin,
Warming from the inside.
Trickling down the back,
Purling over the spine –
Murmuring creek to a bay.
Running to cold,
Rushing to wet,
Sharp rocks hurting the feet.
Jumping from fire to ice,
Savoring long summer days –
Memories’ sparks for winter’s hearth.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Daily Sketches. #20 Summer Day

Write about a summer day – a particular one or a fictional one. Where are you (or where your character is)? What’s the weather is like? What are you doing or wanting to do? Are there people around you, or you are alone? Write about your thoughts and feelings on that summer day.

“Nobody wants to be left alone,” she thought as the light breeze caressed her skin. The beach was filled with people, all sorts of them. Some were there by themselves, but very rare ones, maybe just one or two, including herself. Most of people came to beat the heat accompanied by an army of their families and friends, and friends of the families, and the friend’s families and their friends. Kids yelling, babies crying, dogs barking, husbands chuckling, wives gossiping or exchanging recipes for strawberry preserves.
This little life on the beach reminded her of everyday life in the city, only in miniature, similar to the way artists recreate masterpieces in microscopic scale, miniature paintings or sculptures, so that to make sense out of them you need to look at them through a magnifying glass.
She often thought that her soul was like a magnifying glass. She did not mean to understand things about the people around her, people who, if they were aware at all, were desperately trying to hide from others, and most of all from themselves. She never wanted to notice those things about people, respecting everyone’s right to live life the way they chose to live it. It was none of her business that the girl who she considered her closest friend lived in a loveless marriage for years, not seeing for herself other possibilities. It was not especially her desire to see under the gorgeous surface of her colleague a lost, lonely and deeply unhappy woman who gave up on her dreams, all to feel financially secure and superficially successful. They chose what they chose, and who was she to judge them. Sometimes she thought that she’d rather be as seemingly easy-going as people around her whenever they were getting together in large groups, always with loud pop-music, always with jokes mixed with complaints about either a bitchy friend or a bitchy life and often with alcohol. Why couldn’t she be normal, like everyone else? Why did she even have this ability to see beyond the surface?
“We thought you were just so annoyed with everyone, that you’d rather be left alone.”
She also thought so, she really felt annoyed with everyone, and she really rather would spend time by herself, just like today, when she took a bus and escaped the hot and sticky city, arriving within an hour or so at this beautiful park with refreshing breeze caressing her tired body. She took the bus to leave the crowd, but even here she couldn’t escape it – the crowd that was perfectly content to play loud music hits which not only did not transport her to a better world, but rather depressed her. It really wasn’t all that different – on the far away beach she was alone in the crowd, the way it was in the city, the way it had been all of her life as long as she could remember.
…A sweet little girl, feeling hot in a city apartment, was sent to a courtyard by her mom. “Go play with other kids.” She would go out, stay by the apartment building, watching other kids playing and feeling shy to join them. She’d stay there for a while and come back home, to the familiar world, to the things that she loved, to her own universe where she could dream and see things for what they were.
Nobody wants to be left alone. We are social creatures. We all want to be accepted, we all want to be understood, we all want to be loved and cherished. Nobody wants to be ignored. “She’s annoyed with us all, let’s just go play, leave her there alone in her corner.”
The sand by the shore was mixed with small rocks, heating her body through the thin beach towel. The waves were ready to cool her down when she began to feel too warm. She’d swim until exhaustion and fall on the warm towel again, enjoying sunrays on her wet skin. Her skin would rapidly dry out, and the salt would leave the crunchy crust on the surface.
It was only the surface. Nobody thinks that the salt crust is what her skin is made of. It was not different from life. The surface is only a dry crunchy crust that washes off with clear water. She saw such little tips from nature that would uncover the secrets of life to her, and thought that everyone saw them. Maybe it’s in the music. How can you hear life secrets whispered in your ear when you surround yourself with this loud noise?

“Don’t worry about her, she’s fine. She just wants to be left alone…” 

* * *

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Daily Sketches. #19 Disappointment (Excerpt)

Pastry from my childhood (source)

I was on fire with writing today and wrote not only two sketches to catch up with the link-up, but also a sketch for tomorrow's topic, since I plan to be out all day tomorrow. Here it goes.

Write about a disappointment. Were you the one who felt it, or was it someone you cared about who was disappointed? How did it make you feel?

As the school year progressed, Tanya continued coming back to return books that she borrowed from Marusya’s home library and to find new books to read. It sort of became their weekly hang out, and Marusya was secretly pleased that she, though unintentionally, was able to brake her friend’s hermit habit to stay home after school. A few times, they even went to that little café Marusya was talking about. She now had more pocket money than she knew what to do with as she wrote a couple of more articles, and the sum she received in the mail was already over ten rubles which was about a tenth part of her mother’s modest monthly salary. Marusya eventually learned that it was not even nearly enough to purchase binoculars or a compass, not the real thing anyway, and she would have to write many, very many articles to get to the point when she would be able to afford them. It seemed way too much work and discipline – not the writing part, but the strategical savings part. She felt that she did not have any patience for that. So she decided to spend her earned money which was not called “salary”, by the way, but “royalties” as she learned from the editor. Royalties! It sounded way better than the more prosaic salary. Anyone could make a salary. Royalties sounded much more special and even extravagant. No one in her family ever had royalties, that Marusya knew for sure. She decided that it would be only right to spend her royalties in a royal way, so she invited Tanya for a little celebration in the café near their courtyard, just across the street, where both girls picked every pastry their hearts desired. Now that was a celebration!
"I just love this cafe, I will also bring Sara here," said Marusya. 
“What do you even find interesting about that Sara?” said Tanya, and Marusya detected a trace of hurt feelings in her voice.
Tanya was jealous. Obviously, she was, even though she did not want to admit it no matter how hard Marusya tried to get her to admit it.
“You just don’t like her because I like her.”
“It’s not true, Marusya. Say that you don’t actually think that.”
Marusya felt bad that she had poked at her friend’s feelings.
“Sorry. I did not meant it, of course. I’m just teasing.”
It was partly the truth, at least as much as Marusya was able to be truthful at this moment, finding herself in this strange triangular situation.
“But how can you even decide that you don’t like someone if you have never met the person?”
“I saw her. She was in the grocery store the other day.”
“You did not tell me about that.”
“Well you just keep going on and on about her, I felt like it was pointless.”
“So what did you see?”
Tanya moved her mouth left to right, and left again – she always did that when she felt unsure of herself, but at the same time unable to keep silent about whatever bugged her.
“Well, it’s just that she is so proud …”
“How is that a bad thing? Why does everyone tell us that pride is something to be avoided by any means?”
Marusya felt annoyed with her friend who seemed to be much less progressive thinking than Marusya expected of her. How can you read all those books and not realize that the world is moved forward by self-confident people?
A long pause hung in the air, and the pastries suddenly tasted sour.
“I’m sorry, Tanya. I did not mean to snap at you. It’s just that self-confidence is a good thing. Don’t you see it? If I was not self-confident even just a little bit, I would never be able to submit my articles to the newspaper. And now look, I’ve published three of them, and it is not the end – it’s only a beginning.”
“I know, Marusya. I really like it that you write your articles. You are very good with words, and you have a lot to say. I admire you. I wish I could be more like you.”
That was something Marusya never expected to hear from anyone, and especially from her best friend. So while Marusya was looking up to Sara, Tanya was looking up to her, Marusya? Really?
“Really, I mean it. And about Sara… I understand that she is fun and very creative. I believe you. I read her articles, and I agree – she has a gift. She is also a good writer.”
“Then what bothers you?”
“I think you are right about the self-confidence thing. But Sara seems not simply confident, but rather overly pleased with herself.”
“What do you mean?”
“Marusya, you are so naïve sometimes,” said Tanya shaking her head, as if suddenly she became ten, or even twenty years older and had all the wisdom of the world at her disposal.
Marusya hated when people called her naïve. What did it even mean? Did it mean she was stupid? But obviously, she was not. She was one of the best students in her class and got the advanced assignments at math tests. They wouldn’t give her the most difficult tasks to solve if she was stupid. And yet, people called her naïve, and nobody calls Matveika naïve, or even Tanya – Marusya has never heard that someone sighed and said about her friend, “Oh she is so naïve.” And Tanya was barely able to pass regular math tests.
The next day Marusya met with her new friend Sara whom she met at the weekly youth journalists meetings. She still had some royalties left, so she figured she’d treat Sara to a pastry in the little café.
“Mmm, try this one, Marusya!”
“Yeah, this is one of my favorite too.”
They let each other bite into each other’s pastries and cakes and giggled. Marusya seemed to giggle a lot when she was with Sara. Unlike when she was with Tanya, they did not discuss such delicate matters as self-confidence or jealousy. Sara traveled all over the country and even visited a couple of foreign countries. She knew so many stories and knew how to tell them in a very engaging way. Sara often seemed older than she actually was. She was tall too, and looked and behaved differently from other girls of her age – more mature, more experienced, and definitely more confident.
“Did you finish your next article, Marusya?”
“I almost did. I think I’ll probably take another week to write that one. I feel it needs time. I’m really nervous about it. It’s kind of personal. It means a lot to me.”
“Well, I completed mine and am ready to submit it tomorrow.”
Marusya thought about what Tanya said earlier – at this moment, Sara sure looked very pleased with herself.

“I never want to be a writer! Never! Ever!”
Marusya cried out loud as soon as she entered her apartment. The folder with her writing notebook and pens flew in the air and fell on the floor as a star fall of pens, pencils, erasers and dozens of other small objects that can be found in any twelve year old girl’s folder.
“What happened? Don’t scare us,” said mama.
“I thought we were friends! I thought she was my friend!”
“Who? Tanya?”
“No, not Tanya, mama – Sara!”
“Well, what happened, can you just calm down and tell us what happened?” mama held her shoulders and walked her to the sofa in the living room.
“Misha, bring her a glass of water,” she commanded to Marusya’s dad.
Surrounded by her parents and familiar things in the small, but cozy living room, Marusya calmed down, stopped crying, and only her shoulders shivered a little. She had a full glass of water before she was able to tell what happened to her that memorable day. Here is the story Marusya told her family.
Apparently, Marusya was working on a piece that was especially dear to her. She was writing about being a girl who had to go to school every day, wear a uniform and basically pretend that she is someone else all day long, day after day. She was writing about school teachers, even though they were mostly nice people, who probably have families and kids of their own, but who don’t usually seem to be interested in what they were teaching, and sometimes would just ask students to read pages of the text book in a classroom, and then complete a test, and that was all. Marusya felt like something was missing in most of her school days, and she knew that it had something to do with the physics teacher in the beginning of the school year who left so abruptly, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it yet. So she shared her thoughts with her new friend who seemed to be such a bright girl and a really good writer, and also had an original perspective on things because she traveled a lot and lived in a few other cities. Her friend seemed to be very interesting in Marusya’s ideas and complimented her on them. She seemed to be sincere, you know, like a true friend. Yet when Marusya told her that she would take an additional week to complete her new article, the first thing she had done was run with Marusya’s ideas, writing an article in which she exposed all the thoughts Marusya discussed with her, as though they were her own. She did it well, oh yes, she did it so well that the editor immediately accepted her submission and even was talking about awarding Sara as a rising star of their youth journalists group.
“What did you say? Did you say anything?” asked papa.
“I did not. I could not. I was just… so shocked,” said Marusya, and her voice trembled a bit. A few teardrops rushed down her cheeks.
“Go to bed, little one,” said mama. “Things always look brighter in the morning.”
Marusya couldn’t sleep that night. She tossed and turned, and cried a bit more. And when the morning arrived, things did not start looking brighter. Her family was already out – both mama and papa left at seven, when she was just waking up. Matveika got up as late as he could, usually when Marusya was out the door.
On the way to school, she couldn’t help but telling all that happened the night before to Tanya.
“I guess you were right about Sara. She actually did look really pleased with herself.”
“Did she say anything?” asked Tanya, settling eyeglasses on her nose.
“Not really. Nothing significant anyway.”
“And you?”
“No, I didn’t say anything.”
They paused.
“I don’t think I’ll ever want to write again,” said Marusya.
“Don’t be silly,” said Tanya. “Maybe you’ll never write for the youth journalist group. But you sure have more than enough to write about friendship, and honesty, and self-confidence.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your idea was great, Marusya. It was so great that not only did Sara steal it from you, but the editor wanted to award it.”
“I guess… I did not think about it this way.”
“And there is something else too.”
Tanya fiddled with her glasses frame again.
“Now you are nobody’s fool.”

Daily Sketches. #18 Pine (Poem)

A view from my window (August 2015)

Write about a pine tree – any pine tree, a real one which grows in your yard or in the woods you go for a walk, or a pine tree you saw on your vacation, or a pine tree painted by an artist. What it looks like, smells like, how does it feel to touch?

City of Pines

I was born in Siberia,
In the city of pines.
They would rock me gently,
Singing their ballads.

Pines thick sweetness
Was spilled in the air,
The needles aroma
Nearly unbearable.

Now far from Siberia,
From the city of pines,
They surround me stubbornly,
They protect me motherly,
Reminding of home.

Daily Sketches. #17 First Money (Excerpt)

Sosnovoborsk, my home town, in early 1980s (source)
It actually could be a view from my apartment window, though I found this photo online.

Write about the first money you earned. Was it for a chore you did for your family, or you got a job outside of home? Was it for something you enjoyed doing? Remember the moment when you held money (or a check) in your hands for the first time. How did it make you feel?

Marusya was sitting on the wooden stool in the kitchen, sipping tea which was rapidly becoming barely warm, with an open book on the table in front of her. If mama was around, Marusya would now hear something like “Marusya, put your feet down, it’s not good for your blood circulation to sit like this.” Marusya remembered about the blood circulation, but still it felt so comfortable to tuck her legs under on a slightly wobbly wooden stool, and since mama was still at work, Marusya did not change her position.
She was not in her kitchen anyway – she was somewhere in the jungles of exotic Patagonia which sounded as fun as the name of the explorer with whom she traveled, Jacques Paganel. Tropical birds, big, colorful and loud, were singing above her and Paganel’s heads. Tropical rainforest, thick and whimsical, hung above her and Paganel. Tropical rain, a heavy downpour, was all over her and Paganel’s bodies. But none of that stopped them from going further and further in their exploration of Patagonia.
A ring at the apartment entrance took Marusya out of the dreamy state. It was Tanya – she came back to return the books she got from Marusya’s home library a couple of days ago.
“You read them already? So fast?”
“Yes, they were great. May I borrow something else?”
Marusya was so surprised with her friend’s reading abilities, but she hadn’t even noticed that she was half way through the thick tome in two days herself.
“I was thinking,” she said when Tanya decided on her next reading selection. “That would be so fun to become a writer. Can you imagine how fun that would be?”
“I guess,” said Tanya hesitantly.
“Hey, we could write a book together,” Marusya continued her daydreaming. “Let’s write about Paganel. Have you read about Paganel? We could write about his next adventure that happened after the captain Grant’s one.”
“He could visit other continents and work on a research project…”
“We’ll write a book and get it published. I’m sure we’ll get famous. What do you think?”
Tanya seemed too busy settling her eyeglasses on her nose. How she reminded Marusya of Paganel now, with this uncertain look on her face.
“Maybe you can write something for a newspaper? I saw some kids write little articles and get published in Pionerskaya Pravda.” (*)
“Yeah, I guess. But they won’t publish about Paganel.”
“Or you can try to submit your articles to the local newspaper first.”
“Rabochiy?” (**)
“Yes, I guess.”
“But they won’t publish a story about Paganel. Although, I saw some stories and poems in it. Even our literature teacher sometimes publishes her poems there.”
“Well, maybe you can write about something related to school life.”
“Like what?”
“I don’t know. Like how kids do recycling, or something like that.”
Marusya was disappointed. Clearly, writing about recycling was much less exciting an idea compared to writing about the adventures of an explorer by the name Paganel. What Tanya was thinking? Who of the writers she loves to read would ever write about recycling?
But the thought stuck in Marusya’s head, and after a conversation with her family (she always talked things over with them, if the topics were not too personal or embarrassing of course) she showed up at the first meeting of youth journalists at the local newspaper Rabochiy, just like Tanya suggested.
The meeting went well, though they did not discuss anything especially interesting. There were a couple of other girls from Marusya’s school and a girl from another school, she was the same age as Marusya and seemed a creative type, so Marusya watched her the whole hour during the meeting. Of course, she tried to watch her in a way that wouldn’t be noticeable. Like she would doodle in her notebook and look down the whole time, only glanced at the girl a few times when she was busy writing some clever thoughts. Really, what was so clever at that first meeting to be worth writing down, Marusya couldn’t say. Maybe it’s even good that Tanya found an excuse to not come with Marusya.
“I’m not a writer, you see,” she’d tell Marusya. “I love reading, but when I need to come up with my own story or essay, I never know what to write.”
That was strange, Marusya thought. She wrote without even thinking. It was like a separate little channel was working inside of her, and she did not need to put much effort into it, other than just letting this channel run through her fingers. She wrote a few stories and poems as a child, and her essays were always considered the best in school and were read in front of her class and even other classes, which made her blush. She thought that writing was the easiest thing on earth, and assumed that everyone felt that way. But honestly, Tanya was right to not come to this meeting. The newspaper editor asked them some questions which had nothing to do with writing, Marusya thought. But she’d never be as rude or as brave as to actually say so. So when they discussed the meaning of the word “okay”, Marusya said that it just means “not too bad, but not especially good either” – at least that’s how everyone she knew used this word. “How are you?” – “Okay I guess.” She’d hear it often from others, and even said it herself on a few occasions. Okay means I’m not even sure if I am okay.
“No,” the editor said. “Think harder.”
Another girl from Marusya’s school, who she never especially liked, said that “okay” means “well”.
“Yes,” the editor said. “Okay means well, good, all correct.”
Marusya snorted, but only in her imagination.
Anyway, that was the sort of stuff they discussed in their first meeting, and Marusya was even glad that Tanya did not come. She would definitely be disappointed with this meeting. It was nothing like a meeting of writers, real writers.
“But it wasn’t a writer’s meeting, Marusya,” said Tanya when the friends were walking to school the next morning. “It was a youth journalists’ meeting, remember?”
All right, all right. Tanya was right, as usual.
So little by little Marusya decided to stick with their meetings and started thinking about words in a new light. Maybe the editor was right about the word “okay” after all. Maybe it was intended to mean “well” or “good”, but in real life people started giving it a slightly different meaning. Maybe they both were right.
After the second meeting Marusya submitted her very first article. Tanya had been spot on when she had suggested writing about something related to school life. The topic of recycling came up during that second meeting, and the two girls from their school had decided to write about it. Phew! At least Marusya would not get stuck with such a dull writing assignment.
“And what would you want to write about, Marusya?” the editor asked her.
The woman had a friendly face and voice, but Marusya still felt a bit intimidated by her.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, think about it, and we can discuss it in our next meeting.”
But there was no need to discuss her possible topic because when Marusya came back home, she closed the door in her brother’s room (who was four years older and got his own room by now, while Marusya could only use his desk to prepare her homework, and then slept on the sofa in the living room after all) and started writing.
She wrote about something that had happened in her literature class that had bothered her. A few boys, those who don’t study very well and didn’t behave very well (you know the type) had made their teacher cry. Right there in the classroom, they had actually made the poor old lady cry. They probably had not intended to. They probably were just fooling around and teasing her just because she looked so easy to tease, with light yellow curls framing her little head. Marusya was not surprised at all when she had read her teacher’s poems in the local newspaper and found out that she loved nature and Pushkin, and that she had some romantic feelings, probably a long time ago in her youth when she had not needed to bleach her curls because they were naturally blond. Her lessons never were particularly interesting, but to have made this sweet lady so frustrated, to the point when she could not reason with the students, but could only cry quietly ... this was something Marusya couldn’t get out of her mind for the past week. So she wrote about all the events and her thoughts about them and submitted the manuscript as her first article.
The editor liked Marusya’s article and said that it would come out in the newspaper the following  week.
Marusya did not read newspapers. She never was really interested in them, and she did not feel the need to stay informed, like her father would say. When she came to school the day after the newspaper with her article came out, she secretly hoped that nobody would read the newspaper anyway, because the thought that they would read it, and know her thoughts, and probably hate what she had written and hate her too – that thought was unbearable.
But to her surprise, girls from her class, those girls that you’d call popular girls (you know the type) actually did read the article, and not only did they not hate it, they actually felt proud of her.
“Good job, Marusya!”
“We’ll show them!”
“Write more!”
They came to her, those girls who usually did not even notice her existence, or so it seemed, and thanked her for her article. And the boys did not seem to hate her either. And the teachers. And the school principal. Everyone came to her to say that she had done a great job and that she should write more.
But what was even less expected, (though really, it would be difficult to say what was less expected in this story) was that later in that same week, Marusya got an envelope in the mail box, which she checked almost automatically every day on the way home from school. In the envelope, she found a mail order in her name. 3 rubles and 52 kopeks. She would have to go to a post office to cash it. Her very first earned money. More pocket money than she had ever had in her life. It was just weird. But good weird. She wondered what she could buy with this money. Would it be enough to buy binoculars, for instance? Or a compass? A real one, something that Paganel would use on his trip to Patagonia.

(*) Pionerskaya Pravda (The Pioneer’s Truth) used to be a national newspaper for youth in the USSR.

(**) Rabochiy (The Worker) was a typical name for local newspapers in the USSR.

* * *