The flickr challenge proved to be harder than imagined. First, I found myself “cheating” by restarting the photo selection process a few times….only to regret my decisions a few times, before finally allowing the cards to “fall where they may” and giving it a go. (This is ironic considering the fact that I enforced the “rule” of not starting over with my 6th graders…oh horrible teacher!) Yes, Alan, that was my kids flooding the stream!! I so admire my students’ willingness to put themselves out there, unafraid of judgment. They couldn’t wait to see their stories posted!
In the end, I chose to write a series of personal narratives loosely woven together by the images. (This is likely due to the fact that I spend much of my time teaching this genre at the beginning of the school year…it’s always a difficult transition for me to switch between writing for young adults and writing for adults..actually no adult has ever asked to see my narrative writing so….)
Five Card Story: Snapshots of My Life
about this story
I was born on an island, surrounded by beaches too unsafe to swim on. I was around 10 years old when my dog, Dutchess died. I begged my dad to take me with him when he went to bury her under the crumbling boardwalk that flanked the condemned beach. It was dawn. I watched from our old station wagon. He carried the body, wrapped in an old comforter, from the car the way one would hold a baby. He somehow managed to dangle a shovel from his fingers. I sat and waited and stared at the rusty sign that read “BEACH.”
1982: Road trip to Wisconsin. One of only two “real” vacations with my family, the memories I hold from that time are fragmented and hazy. I have snippets of lying in the back of our wood-paneled Caprice Classic with my brothers and two dogs, covered in fur and dog slobber and sweat, wind blowing so loud I could barely hear the AM talk radio buzzing in the background. Random visions of rest stops and picnics. Mom was born in Wisconsin and we were going to see all of her cousins and her grandmother, “Grandma Black.” She made her own strawberry jam and her house smelled like gingerbread, with hair as white as clouds. Some relative of ours lived in a “round house.” That’s what it was….round. We went to the lake and sat by the campfire. And then there was the greenhouse. The Black family owned a greenhouse with flowers and plants as far as the eye could see. All these things I remember partly because I lived it and partly because I have photos that jog my memory every once in awhile. Sometimes I wonder how much of my life I actually remember and how much is recreated through pictures.
My first job was at McDonalds. I was thrilled to have some extra income and quickly became the “drive-thru” expert (This was a most-coveted position, as you got your own little booth and no one looking over your shoulder. The food would come from the kitchen on a conveyor belt!!) After a while, I became friendly with some “regulars.” I eventually got to know one customer, in particular, very well and we ended up going on a date. One date, to be exact. He drove a Mercedes and I took the bus. He was 30 and I was 16 (I lied to my parents about where I was going). We had nothing in common. He took me to a small beach on the “other side of the island.” It was beautiful. Breathtaking, actually. The date, however, was awful. We literally had nothing to talk about. I don’t remember his name or even what he looked like…but I do remember that beach. It was all worth it.
I met husband at work. He was the “IT guy” and I was in Marketing. I was living with my (then) ex-boyfriend at the time (darn NYC leases), and he was living with his (then) girlfriend. Neither of us was looking for a serious relationship. We ended up getting engaged on our second date (totally unplanned, no ring, no real “proposal,” just an agreement that we were meant to be together forever!). He drove a U-Haul into the Village that week and we packed up my things while my ex-boyfriend was at work. I left (him) a note and the security deposit. Two weeks later, my “fiance” invited my mother and friends to a bar to see him sing. I forgot you’re in a band!!! Jackpot!!!…and so I went to see my fiance’s band for the first time ever. He played his guitar to a full house in a small “Jersey” bar. Then, he called me up on stage. He had a ring this time and proposed on his knee in front of his soon-to-be mother-in-law-he’s-never-met before…and we have it all on video. I wore leather pants. Perfect!
And so, as I sit back looking at the tangerine-streaked horizon and reflect on my life thus far, I think: It’s good. No, it’s been great. Life is interesting and magical and beautiful and wonderful. A picture can preserve a memory or spark a memory or inspire a memory to be created. They capture what our minds let go and hold clues and hints and layers in them for all those who choose to look.
Next, I debated about which story to “rewrite.” I really wanted to participate in the remix aspect of this task but was frankly a little intimidated by all the fantastic writing out there. I feared I would “taint” or do a disservice to the original story. To that end, I ended up remixing my own 5 card story. As a personal challenge, I committed to trying my “hand” at a little fiction (this was a first for me). Instead of looking at the photos in a linear way, I tried to imagine each as one of the story elements (advice I recall myself giving to my students at the start of their flickr challenge). So I tried to create characters, setting, conflict, etc. based on the whole set and then tried to let the story flow. To be honest, I really NEVER write fiction. Turns out, I hate it!!! I didn’t know where my story was going to take me when I started, but apparently, I write cheesy Hallmark Channel-like romance stories for YA. Haha.
The teacher in me was committed to conveying a sort of completed story-arced tale so I was concerned about how to do it without it being too lengthy. Interestingly, however, just when I thought I was done, I decided to add more, hence, part 1 and part 2. I’m a gimmicky kinda person, so I decided to tell the same story from the other character’s POV (kinda taken from that new show on HBO, I think it’s called The Affair-I’ve only seen one episode, but I believe that’s the concept and probably where I picked it up from…not that it’s never been done elsewhere before, but that’s my most recent encounter with the tactic…) In the end, it was actually fun and therapeutic. I always hear about authors and their “process”…I must say it was quite interesting to “feel” how my story unfolded from my mind. I could probably write, at length, about that process in itself. What it must feel like to write a novel!!! Or any fiction piece beyond a few pages. Like I said, I never did write any “real” fiction pieces, despite being a graduate student of writing studies. The closest I got was my creative non-fiction manuscript, which consisted of a few short-ish memoir-types (in addition to the traditional research papers, of course). So, yes time well spent.
Here’s the result:
Five Card Story: Broken
about this story
Part 1: Terry
He was a beach bum. No, I don’t mean the kind that rides the waves and plays hacky sack all day. No, Teddy was a just your regular, ordinary, average, run-of-the-mill bum that happened to live on a beach. South Beach, Miami, to be exact. The surprisingly striking, yet weathered, young man could most often be found strumming his guitar in front of the Clevelander busking for pennies and wondering how he got to this place. Wondering where he went wrong. Wondering if he’d ever get over her.
The setting sun had sky had turned into a swirl of orange and white clouds and most of the dinner crowd had died down. Terry collected the loose change and bottle caps from the bottom of his guitar case. He lit a cigarette and was starting to head to the beach when something stopped him dead in his tracks. It was a voice. A voice that he hadn’t heard in ages but played on repeat in his mind.
“Terrence?” her lilting voice cried. “Is it really you? I can’t beli—” The voice faded. The eyes softened. “Terrence—uh–wha—-are you–I mean–how–” She glanced away.
The pair stood in silence with miles and years between them.
“Terrence. Hi,” she breathed with an honest smile that told of secrets and a past they shared.
“Madison.” he mustered. “It’s so good to see you.” His mind raced with a million things to say.
At that moment, a tall, thin man with jet black hair and a leather jacket too big for his own good came up from behind and grabbed Madison by the arm.
“Who’s this?” he said with a condescending nod of the head. “Let’s go,” he demanded, uninterested in the reply.
She sheepishly submitted to the request and clumsily tugged at the man’s grip half-urging him to let go. She glanced back one last time, locking eyes with Terry, who’d kept his gaze on her since the moment she spoke. He hadn’t blinked once since she appeared, for fear of missing a split second’s worth of her beauty. But they didn’t need to speak. Their eyes did all the talking and said what couldn’t be said with all the breaths from a thousand conversations. They knew.
He stared in her direction long after she was gone.
Part 2: Madison
“Mads, you’ll have a good time. Don’t worry. Just enjoy yourself while you can and don’t worry about the whole ‘commitment’ thing for now. ”
“I know, you’re right Lisa, but I don’t know. It doesn’t feel right to go on vacation with someone I don’t-you know, love.”
The two sisters discussed Madison’s upcoming vacation to Miami as they worked pruning and watering and planting in the family-owned greenhouse in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. Madison, now 36 and half years old, was beginning to feel the pressure from friends and relatives to get married and start a family.
“So, you’ll just go, have fun and if he happens to pop the question…well…what’s the big–”
“Lisa!” Madison interrupted. “”Stop. Not you too! You know how I feel about that.”
“I know, I know…there’s only one man that you’ll ever truly love…blah, blah… You really gotta get over that, hon.”
The next day, Madison and Robert landed in Miami around noon. After spending a few hours by the pool, and some late afternoon shopping, the two headed to dinner on Ocean Avenue, at the Clevelander Hotel. About a block before the entrance, Robert stopped in a bodega to grab a pack of smokes. It was then that she saw him. She recognized the profile from a half block away. She didn’t hesitate and made her way over to where he stood. She could barely catch her breath.
“Terrence? Is it really you? I can’t beli-” She paused, taking a moment to make sense of the scene revealed to her.
“Terrence—uh–wha—-are you–I mean–how–” She fumbled hopelessly looking for the words to make it OK. To not make him uncomfortable. But then, she remembered: It’s Terrence.
Whatever had happened since they last spoke, whatever had led him to this place, whatever he’d done or seen or been through didn’t matter right now. It was Terrence and she was Madison. And they were standing in front of each other at last.
She wanted to jump up and hug him tight. She wanted to squeeze him and tell him that she’ll never leave him again. She wanted to run away with him right then and there and never look back.
But instead, she just smiled a whole-hearted toothy smile and said, “Terrence. Hi.” She waited for him to utter back all the thoughts that spiraled in her head. She hoped so desperately that he felt the same. That he would say what she couldn’t bring herself to utter.
“Madison. It’s good to see you.” And that was all that came from his lips.
“Who’s this?” came a stern voice from behind. “Let’s go.”
Feeling stupid and defeated and heartbroken, Madison reluctantly walked away from Terrence. She gave one last hopeful glance back and caught his eyes returning the stare. It was as if his heart had jumped out and locked with hers.
She knew then that they would never have to speak. She knew that all the words in the world would never be enough to say what needed to be said.