Nich

The Real LJ Idol - What Happened?

I haven't been able to post here in the last few weeks.  Or maybe I could have.  I've been having a bit of a sad.  I was forced to withdraw from the writing 'competition' (I use that word loosely) over at therealljidol due to a girl at work calling in horribly sick.  They had no one else and it was unavoidable and I still hadn't written anything I was pleased with.  I assumed I'd have time that day. I didn't.

Being a part of this community provided me with a reason and a subject to write on every week and it was unbelievably motivating.  In the last three months, I generated more material than I had in the last three years.  Can't possibly express how grateful I am to have been a part of it and get to connect with so many other writers.

I was really afraid that my will to write might die down after Idol.  Maybe it was because of this fear that it hasn't.  I usually shun any sort of 'writing tutorial book', but I found this one at Chapters and have been enjoying the hell out of it.

It's called The Creative Writing Coursebook.



What I like best about it is that it isn't exactly instructional. (Fuck that.  We all have different creative processes and different things work for different people.)  Instead, it's just a bunch of different authors sharing their experience with you - which, if you're like me.. hearing anyone just talking about the act of writing makes me want to do it.  And then also talk about it.  Enthusiasm is contagious.

At the end of some of the chapters are these exercises... not to come up with a full fledged story, but to hone your skill.  (Though of course, they could do both!)  They make you pay more attention to your wording and the special way that you tell a story.  It helps you to develop your voice as a writer.  Seriously so much fun and has made me feel so productive in my creative life.  I totally recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of inspiration or encouragement.

So glad to say that having to withdraw from Idol hasn't totally killed my will to live write.

Nonetheless, I'm grateful that I was given the chance to be involved again this year.  It definitely spurred me on to creating more things.  Everyone was so positive and supportive in their comments that I looked forward to posting and seeing what sort of feedback I'd get.  I think the thing that stuck out to me the most is seeing what details different members got hung up on, related to, or had different perspectives on.  Sometimes there was a bit of confusion as to what I was trying to insinuate without outright spelling it out for my readers.  Incredibly useful, because it made me want to work at being more precise in my word choice.


If they do another season, I'd recommend that anyone I know participate.  In a heartbeat.

I know that, given the opportunity to do so, I'll definitely be hopping back on the bandwagon.
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Nich

LJ Idol: Yes, Anastasia, Creeping Meatballism

Photograph of my Sister in the Garden


In a nightgown with an outstretched net

Running barefoot in the grass

Trying to capture white butterflies

Like Alice through the looking glass.

The hope the picture holds
Was with her, and is with her still:
My sister, now grown;
Now a rose with a sharpened will.

The nightgown my sister wore
Serves as a steadfast reminder;
I have no thing I treasure more:
It reminds me of her power.

Oh, to dream strongly and

still run rosy through flowers

This thing she takes with her now!—
That tenacity will serve her well,

As she leaves this garden

Farewell, farewell.

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Nich

LJ Idol: Week 19: Que l'enfer, c'est seulement Canada

Pardon the blood on this letter.  It certainly isn’t moose blood, despite moose being what Margaret Atwood, Michael Ontaatje, Miriam Towes, and I are currently tracking.  It’s human blood.  My own, actually. I was tying rope to a tree to secure our dollar store tarp over the tents.  When I went to sever the excess length of the rope, my hand slipped.  It was an easy mistake to make.  Though Margaret would say otherwise.

I won the opportunity of a life time.  Spend a weekend with the top three contemporary Canadian writers.  Get invaluable input on your writing from the pros. Apply now, they said. It will be fun, they said.

I met the three of them in the lobby of the Best Western in Trail, B.C.  I still had resting smug face after receiving the news that I’d won the contest.  The rest after that was a whirlwind.

There was Maggie Atwood grinning with poison in her eyes.  She didn’t look like the old lady she pretends to be in her publicity photos.  She was a spider in a blue scarf and power suit.

One appraising look.  She said, “What a lost person needs is a map of the territory, with his own position marked on it so he can see where he is in relation to everything else. Literature is not only a mirror; it is also a map, a geography of the mind.”[ii]

“I’m not lost,” I informed the spider.

“We all need such a map desperately, we need to know about here, because here is where we live.”[iii]

And then we were all packed into the back of a Ford pick-up truck and driven off into the wilderness.  On the way, I asked her to sign my copy of The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Very well,” she dug in her purse for a pencil. She only writes in pencil.  “Tell me what absurd inspirational message you’d like me to write.”

“Write what you think is suitable,” I said.

“I wrote the book,” she snapped.  “That’s all you get.”[1]

So I had her simply sign her name.

She handed the book back.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“To practice surviving,” she said with an arachnic wave of a bony hand. “Canadian literature is centred around the concept of victims.  Rather, the victims' ability to survive.  This preoccupation is what sets our writing apart from British or American work.  How else can I hope to instill any lesson in your writing if I do not give you this gift?”

And so we drove on into the woods.


...


An admission.  I’m drunk.  Ondaatje and I shared a bottle of maple whiskey after building a fire.

“Tomorrow we will mark ourselves as the ultimate Canadians.  We will mark ourselves by nature,” he said.

I told him that I didn’t like the sounds of that.

He laughed.  His face was brown and his hair was white.  His eyes were deep set with pupils that were so black and large it was like he could see everything.  Maybe that’s why he was such a talented writer, I’d thought.  He’s an owl.

“We will catch a moose,” he stated.

“How?” I asked.  By this point, I’d learned to stop asking why.

“I don't have a plan for a story when I sit down to write. I would get quite bored carrying it out.  The same is true for life.[iv] You need to avoid all the planning and just get down to the action. And do it privately.”

“Okay,” I said.  I took another swig of whiskey.

Michael poked the charred branches further into the flame.

“Why privately?”  I couldn’t resist asking.

“Because you’re trying to descend to a level you haven’t gone to before.  That’s why it should be private.  It should be secret.[v] It’s necessary because it becomes a time of discovery rather than tainting your experience with what you and others already know.”

“I see.” I said.  Although by this point, I was not seeing very clearly.


...

The next day, the signs of moose were very abundant.  Even hung over from whiskey, I could still identify them.

Miriam Toews and I had been put into a pair.  She had tucked her jeans into her sneakers and was stepping gingerly over piles of acorns and debris.

I was not sure what we were meant to do if we saw a moose, but I was positive that we would think of something.

She was carrying a cup of hot coffee.  Maybe it was tea.  I realized she didn’t look very intent on finding a moose.  She was picking up stones and placing the most interesting ones in her pockets.

“Did you collect rocks as a kid?”

I nodded.

“I still do,” she confessed with a coyote-like grin.  “I like to think that they bring me good luck.  It’s a tough task finding the perfect good luck rock.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever had one,” I said.   Maybe this is why I still haven’t been published.

“Here.  Take this one.”  She placed a black and red brindle stone into my hand.  “It’s my favourite.”

“Do you think writing has a lot to do with luck?”  I asked.

She tilted her head to one side, considering.  “Yes and no.  It depends how concerned you are with fame, I think.  It doesn’t take a lot of luck to just sit down and write. When I started writing, what I wanted first and foremost was the vibratory quivering, the violin bow over the imagination. Later, much later, I often preferred the succulence of compact words, rich in dentals and fricatives, that the ear could snatch one by one, like a dog catching pieces of raw meat: in a way, like going from word-as-mood to word-as-food, the path that leads prose to…”[vi]

She stopped here.

We’d come across a moose.

Only, it was already dead.

It wasn’t clear what it died from.

It looked as though it has been there for a while.

The moose’s mouth gaped open in what almost looked like a laugh.

“Do you think this counts?” Miriam asked me.  “Can we truly call ourselves Canadian writers yet?”
I was horrified to see that she was smiling.

I stood there numb from the sickening image of the laughing dead moose.   I told her that I thought we should leave.

She gave me a baleful look.  “To be a good writer, you need to be unafraid of the subject matter,” she said , “to get the tone right, right off the top, and get the readers’ trust, so we can come out together in some other, less dark place.  This is what makes for good writing.”[vii]


And it hits me that this is what my writing should be doing.
It is the why and the how that I’ve been searching for.





----

This has been an entry for therealljidol.  Made it to the final 15!  If you liked what I wrote, please take a moment and vote for me here.
(As well, check out my team mates' entries this week!  They are fantastic.)  Thanks for reading!





[1] An experience a colleague of mine had at a Margaret Atwood signing.








[i] Atwood, Margaret. Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
[ii] Atwood, Margaret. Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
[iii] Ondaatje, Michael. BrainyQuote.com.
[iv] Ondaatje, Michael. “A Conversation”. Writing Life: Celebrated Canadian and International Authors on Writing and Life.
[v] Toews, Miriam. TheGlobeandMail.com
[vi] Toews, Miriam. TheGuardian.com
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Nich

LJ Idol: Week 18: Cruising

There were two sisters standing in line at Safeway. One was called Louise and she wore a dress that looked like a doily that someone's grandma had knit many years ago. She held a plastic basket containing Smarties and M&Ms, maraschino cherries, and cream. The other sister wore a pair of brown corduroy pants with a grey hoodie. She held only a large bag of salt that she insisted on carrying instead of putting on the conveyor belt, because it was going to strengthen her arms. Her name was Margaret. Both sisters had hair the colour of oatmeal and their eyes were like wet cement. Neither was very much to look at, but out of the two, most would have chosen Margaret, because she had animated eyebrows and a crooked smile that played across her face so spontaneously that to talk to her could be a game to predict what would amuse her and what wouldn't and why.

They were in line buying ingredients for their new ice cream business. They had inherited an ice cream truck that their father had brought home from the junkyard that he ran. He had gotten it fixed up in no time at all and insisted that they sell ice cream out of it, because otherwise they were only two useless-tits-on-a-board. This is what he called them on a regular basis. With a phrase as absurd as this, it was never clear to the sisters whether he meant it or not.

Apparently he did, because there they were, buying the ingredients for another half-hazard batch of ice cream to sell to the poor unsuspecting children of Spinner Valley.

"Look," Margaret hissed, elbowing Louise in the hip. "Isn't that the boy you like? Patrick?"

"Shh!" Louise hissed. "As if I'm going to answer you now that you've told the entire store."

But it was. Louise had been watching him for quite some time. She could have told you everything that had been packed by the cashier into the white plastic bag. There was Moroccan oil - most likely used to make his beard so glossy, she suspected - and a tin of Folger's coffee and a package of light bulbs and a chocolate bar. She was pretty sure it had been a Mars bar, which wasn't her favourite, but given that he was the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes on, she was willing to let this slide.

Margaret did not find him so attractive. Rather, she thought he had the expression of a cat having it's whiskers pulled. It was like he was always sneering.

"Well it must be him," said Margaret. "Your cheeks are glowing bright red. Why don't you just tell him how you feel? It's been years."

"I can't and I won't!" cried Louise.

"Why not?"

"Because if I asked him how he felt about me and he said he wasn't interested, I'd forever try to find reasons to hate him. I'd never be an honest woman for the rest of my life," Louise said, putting one hand to her chest and blinking her eyes with conviction.

The line was moving very slowly and Margaret was anxious for something interesting to happen in her day. "I think you should just go talk to him," she said. "Just say hi. I'll put the salt down and hold the basket."

And so Louise was pushed forward and Margaret stayed with the groceries.



He was almost to the door by the time that Louise caught up.

"Patrick!" she called.

He turned and said hello and that he hadn't seen her and asked what she needed.

"Oh, I just wanted to say hi," she said.

"Okay," he said. "Hello."

"Are you having a nice day?"

"It's fine," he said.

"How is your mother?"

"She's good," he said.

"Any exciting plans today?"

"No," he said.

"I see," she said.

And then there was a bit of silence and finally Louise told him that she'd best return to her sister to help with the ingredients for their new ice cream business because they had to drive the truck around again the following day and maybe he would see them and if he did, he could have a free cone.

And then he was gone.


She made her way back to the cash register to help Margaret with the bags. The cashier was in the middle of telling a horrific story. Her eyes were as wide as moons and her hands were gesturing wildly. "I saw him! I'm sure I did. He reached right out and grabbed the donation can for the WAR AMPs."

"Who did?" asked Louise.

"That man that you were just talking to,"

"Patrick? Oh. No. He wouldn't do a thing like that. Why would anyone?"

"Did he say anything odd to you?" asked Margaret.

"No. He didn't really say that much at all."

"Oh," said Margaret.

The sisters were both disappointed in the entire turn of events.


"You should both follow him," suggested the cashier. "I bet you a million bucks he goes straight to the bank to deposit all of that money!"


"That's an excellent idea," Margaret said.

Louise wasn't so sure, but it was Margaret who drove the truck and not her so she didn't get much of a choice in the matter.


"Do you know how we can turn off the music?" Margaret asked once inside the truck.

Louise shook her head.

"There must be some way. We need to be incognito if we're going to be cruising around spying on someone."

"Don't say spying," said Louise.

"Well, we are. And it's for a good cause. We're getting that money back for the War Amps."

Louise flicked a switch that had a music symbol above it and hoped this would do the trick. It did.


They were slowly cruising towards the bank. Both sisters had the feeling of impending doom inside their chests but they crept onward through the town, the school zones, and the playgrounds. The entire ordeal had the weight of having cheated on a test. They each tried to reconcile themselves with the feeling of being in the middle of doing something wrong. After-all, it wasn't them who had stolen the can.

Perhaps, thought Louise, if it turns out that he actually did steal the money, I can feel better about that conversation. It was so obvious he wasn't interested in me. But if he's a thief, I'll know that he's not the right man for me anyway and so I can be on my way.

I wonder, thought Margaret, if he really did steal the money. And if he did, what are we supposed to do when we find him? Maybe if we draw enough attention to the situation, they'll write about us in the paper. Dad will be so proud that he'll say that we don't have to sell ice cream anymore because we've already proven our worth.

And so they continued onward in the truck, both anxiously looking out the windows and scrutinizing every man they passed. With every bump, a slight jingle would chime and a few chords from the song, "Do Your Ears Hang Low" would be heard.

The RBC bank was on the horizon. "There he is!" shouted Louise. "Stop the truck!"

Margaret tried to pull over to the side of the road smoothly, but it didn't quite work that well. The tires hit the curb and the full jingle from the truck started up. She searched frantically for the switch to turn it off, but Louise had already slammed the door behind her and was running up to a very dismayed looking Patrick.

Margaret decided to just leave the song going and climbed out of the driver's seat just in time to hear Louise ask, "Are you interested in me or not?"

Patrick was slowly backing away. His hands were up in front of him as if to fend both of them off. "I don't know what would have ever given you that idea."

"Well that's just as well," snorted Margaret. "I'd rather die right now than see my sister with the likes of a thief. Did you steal that can?"

He stared at her guilelessly, the cat's sneer ever on his face. "I'd like it if both of you left me alone from now on."

And he walked away with the soft melody of "Do Your Ears Hang Low" escorting him down the street and outside of their view.

Margaret secretly thought he looked quite princely, but comforted herself with the thought that he'd make a terrible prince, because all he cared about was his beard. Inside her heart, she did not believe this at all though.

Louise was upset that more people hadn't seen the show down between the three of them, because she would now be stuck selling ice cream forever with nobody to send the story in to the paper. It was somehow his entire fault for not confessing to stealing the can. She wondered what other stories would make for a good newspaper article and if she should just write for the paper herself.

So they climbed back into their truck and drove home and both felt bitter and relieved at the same time, because nothing had changed and yet everything had.



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Nich

LJ Week 15: Satisfaction Guaranteed & Call and Response

Topic: Week 15

Satisfaction guaranteed
Call and Response




The test had begun. The professor had drawn a clock on the chalkboard which had an animation spell cast on it. The hands of the clock dutifully counted down the seconds with a noise that sounded like it was supposed to replicate authentic ticking, but more resembled the sound of dashes of nails on slate. The other students were busy applying ink to their feather quilled pens and making the appropriate gestures and incantations to have them write their thoughts for them onto the parchment.

Nigel gazed at the words forming on his test booklet. They looked like a swarm of bees materializing into letters, but still made no more sense to him. He hated wizarding school.

Magic was just not practical. The desks had all been widened last year after the freshmen had begun to put on extra pounds due to learning the skills necessary to avoid carrying out any physical action on their own. All around him, his class mates' chins warbled with worry over their exams. It was a well known fact that the more weight a wizard put on, the greater their spell power. Obesity was a thing of beauty and envy.

Not to Nigel.

He longed to go on long walks and buy groceries that had actually been hand grown. He wanted to carry them home in their plastic bags and then concoct them into various recipes – by hand. It wasn't like this sort of thing was outlawed where he was from. Such shops just didn't exist anymore now that people could materialize any food item that they wanted to with a wave of the hand. The only way he'd found out about the organic versions was from an old flier from some place called Walmart that had drifted under his bedroom door one evening. He wasn't sure if it was a relic of some time long past or if it was from an exotic land that still existed.

It advertised not only hand grown apples, oranges, and blueberries but also bologna and cheese and sweaters and puzzles and paper towel. He still wasn't sure what the paper towel was for. In History, he'd learned that towels had been used to dry the body after cleaning oneself in a shower. He didn't think that paper would quite do the job. But he longed to find out.

It delighted him to think that such a world might still exist.

In a moment, it became clear to him. He would go home and find the address to this place called “Walmart”. If it still existed, he would submit an application to begin an apprenticeship there. Surely they would be able to give him directions out of this horrid place and into real authentic society. Surely they would sympathize.

He hastily scribbled the answers on to his exam page – by hand – and handed it in on the Professor's desk. He didn't much care if he was right or wrong. There was only one objective on his mind now. He had to escape and work at Walmart.

He arrived home out of breath and flushed. The other students opted to ride their brooms from each place, but he knew that he needed to be in peak physical condition if the people of Walmart accepted him. If the journeymen there were used to doing everything on foot and by hand, they'd scoff at his inability to keep up. He'd have to start his training early if he was going to succeed.

The flier was still on top of his night shelf. However, try as he might to find an address to send a letter to, he quickly found that it didn't exist. It was infuriating. He briefly wondered if one of his class mates had made up the advertisement just to get his hopes up. Page after page he scanned until finally, he found a phone number to inquire about the deals of the week.

It would have to do.

He muttered some words under his breath and steepled his hands to recreate the figure of the cell phone he'd seen in his textbook. His professor had warned the entire class not to ever attempt fashioning such a device due to the chance of radiation damage to their brains. However, desperate times called for desperate measures. This was his only way out.

He punched in the numbers and held the phone up to his ear.

A funny ringing sound came through the 'hearing part' of the phone. Had he done it right?

Suddenly, his bedroom door bashed open. His room mate was home. “Nigel, you finished fast. You think you did okay?” Simon threw his broomstick into the corner of the bedroom and collapsed on the bed. “I'm terrified that I didn't get at least a 65. Veterinarian Wizardry jobs are few and far between. You really need to be top notch to – wait. What the hell are you doing? Are you trying to kill yourself? That's not a cell phone. Please tell me that is not a cell phone.”

A woman's voice sounded at the end of the line. “You've reached Walmart Downtown Eastside where satisfaction is guaranteed! How can I help you?”

Nigel was breathless. This was his chance of escape. “Hi. I'm calling to see if you're hiring.”

Simon stared at him, eyes bugging out of his multiple chinned face. He probably would get the veterinarian position. He was a very powerful wizard-in-the-making. But this life wasn't the one for Nigel. He wanted to work with his hands and live an honest life. He wanted something practical and real.

“I'm not sure if we're hiring right now. That's not really my department. We actually do all of our applications online on our website, walmart.ca. If you sign on to your computer, you can find the link at the bottom of the page.”

This was all gibberish. Nigel wasn't sure how to respond. “I don't have a computer.”

“Thank God,” Simon muttered. “We could be expelled if they found the cell phone, let alone one of those demons. Maybe they'd let us off easy if we claimed we were depressed and trying to fry our own brains.”

Nigel shushed him.
“Do you have an address that I could send my application to? Is there someone I could talk to maybe? Someone who might have an idea if there are any open positions?”

“Who are you even talking to?” Simon hissed. “If you get a vet wiz job before I do, I might strangle you in your sleep. Especially if you do it with one of those.” He glared at the offending cell phone in Nigel's hand. “Though it'll probably kill you before I'd get the chance.”

“That's not really the way we do things here,” the woman on the phone sighed. “I don't really know what to suggest other than coming in on Monday to Friday between 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. That's when Judy's around and she'd be able to give you much better advice. Oh wait! Have you tried the library? They have computers there that you could use.”

“Not the ones here,” mourned Nigel into the speaking-part of the phone.

“What are your skills? Maybe I could just write down your name and some basic information and pass it along,” the woman offered.

Nigel racked his brain trying to think of skills that might impress someone with so much practical knowledge. “I'm good on my feet. I don't use my broomstick at all. Hardly ever. I tried to grow some carrots last spring, but I don't think I made the seeds right. Nothing came up but termites. I haven't lost hope yet though. I think my pumpkins are going to do way better. Also, I'm really good with paper towels.” This last part was a downright lie, but he'd heard that it was expected that you embellish a few things on your resume. Judging from the center fold of the paper towel placed in the advertisement, he thought they probably placed a lot of importance on paper towel knowledge over at Walmart.

“Riight,” the woman said. “Okay. Well. Thank you so much for calling. I'll pass this along.”

“Wait. You need my name. It's Nigel. Nigel Flowers. And my phone number is.. “

She hung up before he realized that he didn't have a phone number to even be reached at.

Simon threw his hands up in the air in exasperation. “What the hell was that?”

Nigel was already packing his bag with clothes. “I need to get out of here. Do you ever think about how sad this is? After we graduate, we'll never have to put an ounce of work into a physical action ever again aside from waggling our fingertips. Does that not depress you?”

Simon stared at him with vacant eyes. He brushed a piece of lint off of his cordoroy jacket. “No, Nigel. It doesn't.”

“Well it depresses me. I want to end each day tired and exhausted and proud of my work. I want to live a more authentic life. I'm going to Walmart. I don't know where it is or if I'll ever get there. I guess I'll have to call back. But in case you never see me again, you should probably know that I went to a better place where I think I'll be happy.”
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Nich

LJ Idol Weel 13: Love and Loss

Love and Loss


The first time that my mother took me to church, I was eight years old. We were not a church going family. I remember holding the choir book in my hands, the thin paper threatening to rip at each turn of the page. I couldn't find the song that we were supposed to be on so I just sung the theme song to Sailor Moon while everyone else lifted their voices in praise to God. I figured that I had the point down well enough.

"Fighting evil by moonlight
Winning love by daylight
Never running from a real fight!
She is the one named Sailor Moon!"

I changed the last line to "He is the one named God", but it didn't quite work as well as I would have wanted. I had to drag the word "God" out two syllables too long.

When we finished with the singing, someone started speaking. Naturally, I assumed this must be God himself. I strained my neck over all of the tall bodies standing in front of me.

"Is that Him?" I asked my mother.

"No."

I waited a few minutes longer, shifting impatiently from foot to foot and flipping through pages of the song book. "Is that Him now? When is He going to speak?"

She ignored me, did some sort of weird voodoo symbol with her hands, and then we were finally allowed to sit.


Thirteen years later, I continued to attend. I think that service was the one and only time I'd ever seen my mother enter a church.

There was something about all of the strange rituals, community, and the despair associated with the-world-as-I-knew-it that held me. And there was also a boy.

His name was Amos. He was the Pastor's son.

He worked as an electrician and I loved how he always smelled of saw dust and coffee. I loved the rough feeling of his carhartts. His crooked nose. And I loved the way he scolded me when I showed up late to a service. It was important that I was there adding my voice to each hymn.

Thinking back to that first service, I was ashamed that my mother hadn't known to tell me that it really was the voice of God speaking - but through his chosen vessel. I was ruminating on this while singing along to "God of Wonders" when I felt Amos take my hand in his. He pulled me towards the door to the parking lot and I followed.

"I've been thinking a lot about God's will for us," he said.

I wondered if he was going to propose to me in the parking lot of the church right in the middle of the service. I couldn't decide if it was inappropriate or humble - and thus glorifying of God.

"That's good," I said. "I pray for direction nightly. I feel that God has sent me so many messages of affirmation that we're doing the right thing. Just last night, I prayed asking for guidance in how I can be a better future wife to you. In the morning, I found that river stone you'd given me that first week we began dating. It was sitting right on my night stand. I'm sure that I didn't put it there. It was a sign."

Amos had been watching me carefully. He nodded, taking in what I said.

"Remember when you said that God has been sending you visions of our future together? Has he sent you another?" I ventured.

"No," he shook his head. "I haven't been feeling His presence at all lately."

"Oh. Do you think that-"

"I've been thinking long and hard about this," he said, kicking at rocks with a tattered shoe. The laces hung dejectedly over the sides. "I'm not sure if I see myself with you anymore."

Silence. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.
"This is just Satan casting doubt in your mind," I finally managed to assert. I felt my chin quiver trying to suppress sobs and anxiety.

He shook his head. "No. I really don't feel like we should be together."

"Maybe you just need to pray about it," I said. "Have you spoken to Pastor Don?"

"I've been praying and talking to my Dad since February. I'm sorry. I just need to end this."

Since February. I silently did the math in my head. That had been seven months. Seven months that he'd left me in the dark.

"This doesn't make sense. I receive signs from God on a weekly basis that this is the right thing. I have such a strong feeling of righteousness whenever I think about it. When I was invited on that missions trip, I turned it down, because God told me I had to be here to support you in your work. I don't understand why we would receive two different messages. One of us is wrong. It isn't me. I'm certain of it."

Amos sighed. He was still gazing at the rocks. His shoulders slumped. When he finally looked up at me, there was no expression on his face, but inside his wet gaze, something shifted. "I just don't think I love you. This is going to be so painful to hear. It's awful to say. I'm not sure if I ever did."

There weren't many words after that. I wasn't sure how I eventually got home, but I did.

I left my Bible on the pew.
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Nich

LJ Idol: Week 12: Happy Place

I was thirty six years old when I lost my job at Walmart and the first thing that I did was buy a dog.

She had a short tawny coat with a pinkish white patch running down her chest. An information sheet hanging on the netting of her pen labeled her a ‘bully breed’ best kept apart from other animals. Her name was Kip.
Her eyes shone as if sharing a morose inside joke with herself against the entire world and I loved her for it.

I paid $319 for her – leaving me with $250 left from my last pay cheque. I used the rest of the money to buy a big bag of Iams dog food in succulent roasted chicken flavor. Kip would be eating better than I would for the foreseeable future. I wasn’t sure what would happen when the bag ran out, but I figured that I would find a solution when the time came. I also bought a large canvas backpack, a tool set, and a tarp.

Then I went home and loaded the backpack with apples and beef jerky and bread, a journal, the tool set, the tarp, two blankets, some sanitary items, and three packs of cigarettes. I left the rest of my belongings to be disposed of. As Kip and I walked out the door, she gave a disdainful sniff at the life I was leaving behind. Her pink and black mottled tongue lolled out of her mouth as she grinned at me, eager to get on with our adventure.

We walked west.

Vancouver at that time of year was always ominous and gloomy. The sky was neither grey nor white. You could barely even call it a sky. It was a void hanging over the entire city, watching down without emotion as everyone struggled through the rain and the feeling of heaviness it brought. Kip and I trundled on, the bag of dog food hoisted upon one shoulder and the backpack slung over the other. When we reached Stanley Park, I stopped to let her drink from the duck pond and chase a few of the waterfowl.

I watched her, taking joy in her hunt and knowing that a better life was ahead of both of us.
Tourists snapped pictures of bathing turtles and dolphin statues. Of themselves standing beside towering trees dripping with rain. They wore t-shirts with killer whales on them that had “Vancouver, British Columbia” emblazoned across the bottom.

“Vancouver is a nice place to visit, but not to live,” my mother had always told me. It dawned on me that I would now have no way of contacting her. She would think I’d been abducted. Perhaps the year or so of sadness she would have would be preferable than a lifetime of worry over my financial well-being. Heaven knew I was sick of worrying for myself let alone imposing it upon everyone around me.

Kip nudged me behind the leg, making my knee buckle. She was eager to get on.

We continued through the park, beyond the aquarium and passed where all of the trains and buses led tours. Eventually the forest became denser and we stopped seeing other people wandering the trails. We were alone. Occasionally, a shoe would be seen poking through the hollowed stump of a tree. Or a snore could be heard from within a bramble of stacked branches. We were getting closer.

“Hey. You there.” A deep growling voice stopped us in our tracks. “This area is off limits. It’s protected.”

I spun around. A man of about forty was standing behind us. He held a gnarled wooden stick in one hand pierced with rusted nails. He had a yellow stained bandana tied around long greying brown hair. His eyes were tired looking and but had the dimly glowing colour of deep ochre.

“It isn’t though, is it?” I queried. “Not officially.” Kip stood at my side, alert.

“This place isn’t for the likes of you.” The man countered. “If you’ve lost your way, I’d suggest turning back and retracing your footsteps.”

“I haven’t lost my way. It’s just that. I suppose I haven’t found it yet,” I found myself saying.

He took a moment to digest this. “I see. You know, something like this,” a gesture at the surrounding woods, “takes proper consideration. You don’t just go gallivanting into the woods one day with a pup and hope that things will take care of themselves. You don’t just give up on the life you have and think that you’ll have a better go of it out on your own. Living like this isn’t for quitters. If it’s an easy life you want, I’d suggest going back and making a go of it wherever you’re from. This takes effort. Every day is a trial. This isn’t a retreat if that’s what you’re looking for. People don’t want us here. You fight for the space you live on every day and then fight to survive on top of that. This isn’t for you.” He gestured at my department store clothed self.

I stood staring at him in silence. The intention had been to be alone. To survive somewhere unnoticed. I would gather plants and herbs and make a small quaint home from old branches. I’d diminish my environmental footprint. I’d be away from the corporations and greed and money based egotism. From the endless feeling of rejection and not-quite-fitting-in with it all. However, I didn’t say any of this.

Instead, I said, “But I have nowhere else to go. And I don’t know what I’m doing back there.” My voice came out small and trembling. Kip whined in protest of my uncertainty.

After that, Kip and I stayed with the man in his hovel for two weeks. We studied which plants were safe to eat and how to dumpster dive and all of the expected lessons of living in a national park. But several times nightly, the man would bring up hypothetical scenarios of survival in the city. What measures could be taken to find enough income to pay for food and board there.

During that time, I developed two dreams. One in which my hair grew long and knotted with dirt. I’d be digging in the ground in an old tattered dress, Kip at my side ready to hunt rabbit and defend my hovel from intruders. The solitude was paradise. In the other dream, Kip and I lay curled on the couch. I had a movie on and was talking to my mother on the telephone and telling her about my new job, popping pieces of popcorn into the air for Kip to snap up.

One day I woke up to the last ribbon of the sunset slipping away into the distance like a train charging forward. The paths curled in every which way through the woods, forwards and back. My pants were damp against my thighs from the endless rainfall and I rubbed my hands together to keep warm. Kip leaned against my leg and I scratched her behind an ear, taking comfort in her partnership. It was time to begin.
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Nich

LJ Idol: Occhiolism

Hi. So a few things..
I'm right in the middle of moving and have no byes. I also have no computer available. Or internet. And I'm moving in the morning and my things still aren't all packed. It's 3 AM.

UM. Well. I've found a bit of paper and gave this week a shot anyway! I've had to take a photo of my entry with my phone. I don't know if you can even read the text.

It's supposed to be the inner monologue of a person who works sweeping the sea floor of debris.

...
I really wish I still had a bye. My God. You know it's bad when you have to summarize your entry before it's even presented..




Nich

LJ Idol Week 10: Hedging Your Bets/Streaming

Dorris found the head of customer relations to be intolerant and prone to temper tantrums at the slightest hint of unproductivity, but he listened right away to her entire story. Much to her dismay. To be fair, given the situation, it couldn’t very well be avoided.

There were three young men in the lobby of TD Bank, outfitted with ghost detectors, thermal cameras, recorders, and something called a spirit box. They were all looking at Dorris asking her to speak to the woebegone souls who couldn’t leave their financial troubles behind. It warranted explanation.

Her voice came out shaky and soft through pursed lips. “There have been a lot of good folks losing their jobs in the last few months.” A furrowed brow from her boss made her nearly swallow all of her confidence.

“Due to difficult times in a struggling economy,” he said, visibly stiffening under the accusation. “We’ve done the best we could. I don’t see what this has to do with them.” A dismissive gesture at the wanna be-ghost busters, who were standing with their recorders at the ready. One observed the scene through an infrared headset.

“Well, I’ve been applying for jobs just to, I guess you could say, hedge my bets,” said Dorris. “I love working as a bank teller. And getting to help all sorts of people. And work with such nice folks like yourself. But with the way things have been, sir, I thought I should have a plan in case anything ever went south. I like to think of it as having a backup chequings account for emergencies.” She hoped that the tie-in to their recent advertising campaign would win him over.

It didn’t. “Start from the beginning Dorris.”

And so she did.

----

The posting for a Ghost Investigator had actually been listed under the “Casting Calls” section. Dorris wasn’t even sure why she looked at other pages than “Help Wanted” other than to satiate her curiosity. Then there it was. They’d included a picture of Slimer from Ghost Busters, peering out from behind a film reel. The advertisement read as follows:

“Are you good at improvising, reliable, SPIRITUAL, pro-active in problem solving and able to work in a team environment with multiple pieces of groundbreaking technology?

No experience needed, any nationality. Pref female.

Please apply with pictures and resume.

Pay: $1500/episode”


Dorris made sure to apply to at least five jobs a week. She didn’t plan on accepting any of the positions. She just wanted the option there incase anything happened with the bank.

This would be her magical fifth application before she’d be free to close the tab and open a new game of Bejeweled. She made sure to include her choir experience in Bethlehem Lutheran Church to prove that she satisfied the ‘spiritual’ requirement. She also noted that she knew how to operate a DVD player, cell phone, computer, was a social media expert after achieving a near legendary status on Farmville, and had a typing speed of 45 wpm. There was something about drafting cover letters that made Dorris feel proud of herself. It was beginning to become addictive. Looking over all of her accomplishments, she knew that the Ghost Investigators team would be very impressed. With a self-satisfied click of the mouse, she hit ‘send’.

“Gosh darn it!” Dorris swore. She’d forgot to include a picture. She didn’t even know if she had a picture. Her Facebook profile shot had been taken by her son twenty years ago. She’d just have to go down to the office and explain. That way, they’d be able to get a good look at her as well as see how keen she was on following up with people when she made a mistake.

She picked up her knit shoulder bag, adjusted the Remembrance Day poppy on her blazer, and wrote down the address from the ad.

----

Ghost Investigators Inc was based out of a storage locker. There was no reception area, only long plastic tables cluttered with computers and pieces of equipment. Dorris shyly tucked a strand of copper hair (recently permed) behind one ear while she waited for someone to notice her.

Nobody did. Two men had their faces nearly pressed up against their computer screens, rewinding footage over and over again. They were pointing at motes of dust that kept floating in front of the camera lense. “Definitely supernatural,” they kept assuring one another.

“Hey, Evan,” the one with the dark spikey hair called over his shoulder. “Get a load of this.” Out of the corner of his eye, he finally noticed Dorris and swivelled around in his office chair.

She offered her most welcoming smile and clasped her hands in front of her. “I came about your job posting.”

The one who must be Evan rose from a box of technical supplies with some strange contraption in his hands and power cords resting around his neck. “Right. You’re probably Dorris,” he said. “I’m Evan. This is Chad. That’s Henry.”

Henry, blond and bespectacled, waved enthusiastically from the computer station beside Chad - the dark haired one.

“I had a look at your resume,” Evan said. “We’re really looking for a stronger female presence on the show, but you know. Well. The thing is, we might be looking for someone.. I don’t know how to put this.”

“Younger,” Chad stated.

Dorris felt the colour drain out of her face. She was glad she’d taken care to apply blush that morning to cover her mortification. “Younger? Well, I never! This is discrimination. Are you fellows aware of that? I could..” she fumbled for words. “I could sue. I could file a complaint to..” Who would she file a complaint to? “I could just..”

“Dorris,” Evan said. “Sit down. We didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” He shot Chad a look while helping Dorris into a rolley chair.

“I’m so mad that I could spit!” Dorris threatened.

“I know, I know. It’s not your age. I wouldn’t say you’re a day over sixty five,” Evan soothed.

“I’m sixty!” spat Dorris.

“Right. A young looking sixty at that. I bet you still get IDed,” he smiled.

“I do,” she insisted.

“We’re just looking for a girl with a little bit more..”

Suddenly the contraption started going off in Evan’s hands, picking up radio signals and buzzing as it switched from channel to channel.

“Get the cameras!” Chad shouted.

Henry launched a heavy looking camcorder onto his shoulder. “We’re live streaming!”

“Hello? Who’s there?” Chad demanded of the empty storage locker.

Dorris looked around. It was still just the four of them.

“Fuck! Something just touched me man, right on my shoulder. It felt like death. It didn’t feel right,” Chad said, his dark eyes bulging out of the sockets.

“Are you here to fuck with us?” He asked the room. “Why are you here?”

Dorris cringed at his choice of language.

“Maybe it’s here for Dorris,” Evan said, the contraption still buzzing violently in his hands.

Henry swung the camera around the room wildly.

“Dorris, say something!” Chad hissed.

“Hello, this is Dorris speaking,” Dorris said in her best bank teller voice. “How can I help you today?”

“Apples,” said the contraption in a robotic voice.

“Apples! Evan! It knows we had apples yesterday!” said a terrified looking Chad.

“Apples. I always get the best ones from Save-On Foods,” said Dorris. “My son likes the Golden Delicious, but I always preferred the Granny Smith. You look like him,” she said to Chad. “My son. You both use too much dippity-doo in your hair. Though he has better manners by far,” she sniffed.

“I’m picking up a heat signal!” said Chad, after hitting a button on a separate camcorder. “It’s standing right behind Dorris!”

“Bye,” said the radio contraption. The buzzing stopped.

Dorris looked behind her, but saw and felt nothing.

“It’s gone,” mourned Chad. “Did you get that all on video?”

“It’s already on the website,” said Henry. He hoisted the camcorder down from his shoulder and eyeballed the computer monitor. “There’s already tons of responses. Our followers can’t get enough of Dorris and her golden apples.”

---

“And then I left,” said Dorris. “Asking a lady about her age. It was simply profane.”

Chad, Evan, and Henry stood in the bank lobby and continued rolling, waiting for spiritual activity to occur. Evan adjusted his headset.

“Why are they here now then?” asked her boss. “They’ve chased away all of our clients. This is simply unacceptable. We put a lot of trust in our customer service reps and for you to bring in a situation that would jeopardize TD Bank’s reputation really puts us all in a difficult position here. I hope you understand that.”

“We came in hoping to get another shot of Dorris interacting with a spirit,” Chad said. “The bank’s location was on her resume. Dorris, can you say something to any beings that might be in the room with us right now?”

“I’m sorry,” said Dorris to the entire room. “This is awfully embarrassing.”

“Listen,” her boss straightened his shoulders. “I’m going to have to do a lot of damage control over what happened here today. I’ll have to issue you a warning at best. I want you to think long and hard over whether you want to continue a career here. Do you understand?” He towered over her, mustache trembling with irritation.

And she did. It didn’t take her long to consider what her answer would be.

She walked over to Evan holding the radio transmitter and said the magic word. “Apples.”

It buzzed to life with a million ethereal voices all lamenting their unpaid bills and high mortgage rates and being eternally hungry for apples.

Dorris’s boss looked very afraid.

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This has been an entry for therealljidol. Many thanks to my sister Sydney, ellakite, and kathrynrose for inspiration and edits.

Please check out my fellow team mate's entries dmousey and ellakite and vote for any/all of us here.
Also worth checking out is the main poll located over this way.  Thanks!
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