Friday, May 1, 2020

Memorable Meme that Sparked a Story

This screenshot of a text message, showing a hilarious miscommunication between strangers, circulated the internet, and I couldn’t resist turning it into a story. I even assigned it to my teenage writing students as a prompt (and I will probably post their resulting collaborative tales on my other blog, at If you already follow me on Instagram (@susanllipson), you know that I often see writing prompts in unexpected places because I continually turn Nature images into metaphorical poems. Social media posts sometimes inspire my creativity, too--as you can see in this fictional response to the "text fail" image, above: 

Here for You
by Susan L. Lipson

Stan held his breath as he opened the door of the Uber car. After his embarrassing reply to her text that said  I am here for you, he wished he could have canceled the ride.  This driver probably thought he was a pathetic basket case, unloading on her as if she were a friend offering support. Standing stiffly outside the Honda Civic, he called, “Um, hi. Are you Tammy?” Peering into the car, he gulped as a smirking, but pretty woman, turned toward him and nodded. Her shiny black bangs skimmed long eyelashes, framing dark, black-outlined eyes. Stan hesitated to get in. He looked down at the phone in his hand.

            “Stan? Don’t be embarrassed, it’s okay. Just get in,” Tammy urged, soothingly. “Text fails happen.”

            Stan slid onto the fabric seat of her Honda Civic and shut the door as softly as he could. “Sorry about that.” He cleared his throat. “I thought you were someone else.”

            “Obviously,” she quipped, her eyes smiling at him from the rearview mirror. “You okay?”

            Struggling to muster a smile, Stan saw his own reflection in her mirror. He looked as awkward as he felt. He smoothed down his ginger, frizzy hair against his temples. “Can we, um, listen to some music, maybe?”

            She turned on the radio. Demi Lovato cried-sang, “Like a skyscraper…” And Stan burst into tears. Tammy changed the channel and turned up the volume. This time it was a sad song by Post Malone. Stan recognized the voice but couldn’t hear the words over his own sobbing. He hunkered down in the back seat so she couldn’t see him in the mirror.

            “Stan? Stan, get a hold of yourself, would you?” Tammy called out over the music. Her GPS rerouted her, due to excessive traffic, and she snapped at the mechanical voice, “No!” 

            Wiping his tears on his tie-dyed t-shirt, Stan blubbered, “I’m sorry, but can you just turn off the music? Please?”

            She turned off the radio, sighing deeply. Stan could see her frown in the mirror. Her thick eyebrows nearly met in the middle. “Look, just calm down, dude! We’ll be there in ten minutes. Unless you need me to pull over now. You’re not , like, going to be sick or anything now, are you? I just had my seats cleaned.”

            Her “compassion” stunned Stan and stopped the flow of tears. He sniffed loudly. “Well, aren’t you just the kindest human being?! I THINK NOT!”

            SCREECH! The car jolted toward the curb and slammed to a stop. “Get out, Stan. I don’t need to have compassion! I’m not your freakin’ therapist! I’m not a bartender! I’m not your friend!”

            Stan’s eyes bulged, and his puffy lips parted as his jaw dropped. “Wait, what? You’re serious? No, just drive. I’ll shut up. I need to get there on time!” 

            “Tough, Stan. And speaking of tough, you have no idea what a tough life is like.” Suddenly, Tammy was crying. Shaking, sobbing, sticking her head out of her open window and gulping air...

            Stan gasped. “Tammy? Are you okay?”

            She didn’t answer, only cried harder. Stan reached across the seat to pat her shoulder and she crumpled over the steering wheel. “I...I need...a hug, Stan. You’re not the only one with problems.”

            Stan got out of the back seat, opened the passenger-side door, and jumped into the front seat. He and Tammy hugged, sniffling over each other’s shoulders. 

Strangers acting strangely, thought Stan, feeling her hand against his lower back, enjoying her surprisingly kind massage.

Just two more gentle tugs and I’ll have his wallet, thought Tammy. But then she stopped herself from giving in to her compulsion. She needed more money, yes, but her driving job was too important to risk getting fired. And Stan seemed like a decent guy who didn’t deserve to be an unwitting donor to her medical fund. Even if he is kind of an emo freak, she thought. She sniffed loudly, patting his shoulder blades, and pulled herself out of his embrace, noticing the mascara streaks she had left on his shirt.

He remained in the front seat, and they resumed driving, in total silence, to his destination. “Should I pull into the driveway?” she asked softly.

“Sure, that works,” mumbled Stan. “Um, do you mind if I ask you a question?”

Tammy shifted the car into Park. “Well, that depends… About what?” She stared at the windshield, avoiding his gaze.

“Uh, about why you were crying and, um, why we...why we hugged like that?" Stan raised his eyebrows hopefully as she looked at him. 

Tammy emitted a bitter sniff. “Because life sucks, that's why. How about you?”

“Same.” He forced a grimace-like smile.

“You gonna be okay, Stan?”

“I think so. The hug helped.”

Tammy sighed, mentally patting herself on the back for resisting the urge to rob him. “I’m glad. Take care of yourself, dude.” She watched his stained shoulder as he opened the car door and stepped out.

“Yeah, you, too. Thanks for the ride.”

After he left the car, Stan concluded the ride on his Uber app, but not before giving her a five-star rating and impulsively adding a hundred-dollar tip. Acts of random kindness deserve rewards, he thought. He felt better already.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Poem Born of Empathy for the Bryant Family's Tragedy

I've been meaning to post this poem, which I wrote on the tragic day that Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna left Earth together, along with their friends. As a parent, not even a basketball fan, this tragic news evoked my tears of empathy and words of compassion for the grieving families. Here are those words, as usual, in a poem:

Arrivals and Departures
(On the passing of Kobe And Gianna Bryant) 
By Susan L. Lipson

They arrived separately, 
almost three decades apart,
to begin their intersecting journeys,
to celebrate living. 

They became celebrated themselves,
as they toured their destinations,
separately and together,
making memories and sharing dreams.

They departed together, 
when Life rerouted them
into a detour to the Divine,
disrupting flight patterns,
cancelling plans,
and leaving their loved ones waiting at the gates,

forlorn and incredulous.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A New Poem that Clarifies Why I Had Bladder Problems During First Grade

     I know that the title of this blog post sounds strange, but you'll understand it once you've read my newest poem about one of my oldest memories:

The Star’s Shadow
by Susan L. Lipson

I stared upward at the gold, foil star
stuck proudly below my bitten fingernails,
to the right of my one wrinkled thumb,
and now held aloft in my first-grade teacher’s    
tight grip.

“Look at this! This is yesterday’s star for spelling!” she announced.
Everyone looked at my treasured sign of specialness.
Except me.
I looked at the teacher’s downturned lips and her wrinkled nose. 
My skinny arm trembled in her grasp.

She clucked her tongue and asked, for everyone to hear:
“Why did you leave it on your hand? Don’t you wash every day?”
Everyone looked at our teacher’s grimace.
Except me.
I looked down at my desk, where a big teardrop had just plopped
onto the math quiz she had just delivered,
marked with a few red x’s, and no smiley face.

had washed my hand.
But I had washed around the star.

“Children,” she asked with scary sweetness, still gripping my wrist,
“remember our lesson on the importance of cleanliness?”
Everyone nodded.
Except me.
I was clenching my teeth, trying not to blink,
so that tears wouldn’t spill.

My teacher clucked her tongue again,
dropped my hand, and strutted off to the next desk,
to deliver the next graded math paper.

Hiding my right hand under my desk,
I pinched off the star,
folded it into itself,
hid it in my pocket,
and then tried to rub off
its grayish, adhesive outline.
I wanted to go wash off the star’s shadow in the girls’ bathroom.
But I was too afraid to raise my hand to ask permission.

Have you ever dug into your past as I have in this poem, to examine the profundity of relatively mundane moments that influenced your evolution? Try walking in your smallest shoes again so you can see your little child self with new empathy.