Showing posts with label #S. L. Lipson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #S. L. Lipson. Show all posts

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Poem About How Assumptions Inform Perspectives

View from a Different Bench                 
By Susan L. Lipson

He sits on a bench in the mall,                            
Eyeing passersby,
Unaware of my spying
From another bench, across the hallway lined with shops.
His gaze scorches a snapping, young mother
Who is berating her crying toddler,
Slapping her tiny hands as they grab at her mommy’s thighs,
Shushing the child as she begs to be picked up.
I see an invisible speech bubble above the watching man,
And in it the words: Pick up your baby, you ingrate!
Some of us would give anything to be blessed with a child!
You don’t deserve to be a mother!

Yes, I agree! I say to myself,
Missing my days with my crying toddlers,
Imagining myself sitting on the bench beside him,
Sharing our feelings,
Connecting with this stranger through our mutual love for children.

And then I hear him bellow from his bench
At the unappreciative mom:
“Can’t you make your kid shut up?!
Some of us are trying to enjoy a peaceful day here!”

Some of us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

THE GAUNTLET, a short story by S. L. Lipson

          I still can’t believe Mimi’s here, in spite of Mother having tried to convince her yesterday, on the phone, to cancel her train ticket because “Lia’s not up to hosting visitors, no matter what she told you.” Mimi apparently argued with her because I heard Mother answer in a cold, snippety way, “Fine. Then you’ll just have to ‘hang out’ with your little cousin in our house—no outings. And don’t expect me to serve you like a guest, either; we’re all recovering here. Got it?” I guess Mimi got it, because I’m hanging out with her now, in my room. I can’t stop smiling.

I shudder slightly as Mimi tickles my eyelid with “midnight blue” eyeliner, to accentuate my blue eyes. “Stay still, Lia, or you’ll end up with major cat eyes!” She smiles as I giggle. “You know, I have to tell you,” she says, “I felt so bad after I mailed you the purple hair extension and then found out you had to have chemo and lose your hair again.”
“Don’t feel bad! I’ve been wanting to clip it into my wig to make it look cooler, and now that you’re here, you can show me how! It’s right there, in my top drawer, waiting for you.  Mother forced me to get this poofy, weird doll hair, and I hate it.”
“Well, to be honest, it’s not a wig I would have chosen.”
“I told her I wanted a natural hair wig, but she says they cost too much to use just for a temporary time.”
Mimi rolls her eyes. “She’s a freakin’ doctor…. Have you tried just not wearing a wig at all? Some female celebrities purposely shave their heads, right?” Mimi finishes my eyeliner and steps back to examine her handiwork.
“But I look weird bald. Mother says it makes people uncomfortable.”
“Show me.”
“No, it’s embarrassing.”
“Seriously? This is me you’re talking to.”
I hesitate, and then take off the wig. My new hair underneath is about a quarter-inch long now, very fine and light auburn, like the hair in my baby pictures, except I have pointy sideburns.
Mimi smiles. “It looks kind of punky, like you trimmed your sideburns that way. I like it.” She runs her palm over my head. “Soft, too, like a baby’s head. Nice.”
Grinning, I joke, “Maybe I could get a part in an alien movie, right? My sideburns look like Spock’s on ‘Star Trek’.” I hold up my hand in the form of Spock’s “Vulcan” greeting.

“Live long and prosper!” she says, like a Vulcan. The look in her eyes shows me that she is thinking about those words, as if they were a prayer for me, not just saying them. “Now give me your cute face so I can finish your eyes. You need a little mascara and some shadow. Then we’ll add a tiny bit of blush.”
She removes the packaging as I lean toward the mirror and study my eyeliner. Not too heavy, like some of the “scene kids” at school, but thick enough to make me look kind of…edgy, I guess. Especially because of the contrast with my vampire coloring. But I like the look. I feel cool. “Thanks for bringing me my own makeup, Mimi. I never would have been able to buy it myself. First, Mother wouldn’t give me the money for makeup. And second, I’d have no clue what to buy.”
Mimi shakes her head. “I still can’t believe you’ve never worn makeup.”
“I’ve never done a lot of things that girls my age do. Thanks to cancer.”
As she applies the rest of the eye shadow—pale pink on the lid and indigo in the crease—she says, “Well, I’m glad I could contribute to your proper teenage persona. I hope you’ll use it and feel beautiful.” She pauses, looking thoughtful. “Oh my gosh, I just remembered the first time I used mascara.” She smiles nostalgically. “I didn’t think the brush looked coated enough so I kept dipping it, and then my eyelashes looked all clumpy, and I tried to wipe some off, but then I smudged it all over, and I ended up looking like a raccoon!” She brushes the lightly coated mascara wand over my tiny lashes, holding her breath.
            When she moves out of my way so I can see my eyes in the mirror, I notice not my tiny lashes, but rather, the darkness of the “chemo rings” under my eyes. I mutter, “Speaking of looking like a raccoon…”
She notices, too, and blushes. “Darn, I didn’t bring you any concealer or base makeup. Sorry. I thought that would be too much for a first-time makeup wearer. I just brought what I use myself: eye makeup, blush, and lip gloss.” She rummages in the new makeup bag that she brought me, and pulls out the blush and lip color. “Turn toward me again. She brushes pink powder on my cheeks, and then instructs me to open my lips slightly as she holds the lip-gloss wand toward my mouth. She colors me like a work of art. “Okay, now turn around and look in the mirror. No one will notice the little bit of darkness under your eyes now. You look so pretty. See? Sooo pretty!”
            I see my exotic-looking eyes, cheeks with actual pinkness in them, and lips shining like pale, juicy plum flesh. I see a regular teenage girl, not a cancer patient. And I half-laugh, half-gasp. “Wow. I actually feel pretty.” 

Mimi sings, “I feel prettyyy, oh so prettyyy—’”
“I know that song! From ‘West Side Story,’ right?”
“Right! Remember the next line?” She waits for my reply, but I shake my head, so she sings, “I feel prettyyyy, oh so prettyyyy; I feel pretty and witty and gayyyy….” Then she smirks, and asks, “Did you realize that Maria was gay?”
“Yeah, right!” I laugh. “That song’s from the days when ‘gay’ meant ‘happy.’”
“Okay, how’s this one—just for you…” She waltzes around me, singing in a hilarious falsetto: “I feel prettyyy, oh so prettyyy, even though I feel SHITTY, oy vay!” She twirls at the end, and suddenly my bedroom door bursts open.
Mother stomps into the room, “What’s going on here? You call yourself a role model, Miriam?”
Mimi’s face has turned to stone. “I don’t call myself anything but Lia’s friend and cousin.”
Suddenly Mother looks at my face, all made up, and she erupts: “WHAT THE HELL IS ON YOUR FACE, LIA?” Before I can answer, she jerks her head toward Mimi, her eyes shooting daggers. “How dare you, Miriam! Don’t you know that makeup could be dangerous for her?! She’s got a weak immune system, for Chrissake! She could get an infection?! Why would she need makeup!” She thrusts her hand forward to ward off interjections. “And don’t tell me because her friends wear it. THEY aren’t sick! How DARE you do this without asking ME! Just like you set up this whole weekend visit with her, without asking ME whether she’d be up to such a visit in her condition! WHO KNOWS HER CONDITION BETTER THAN I DO? HUH, HERO? WHO!”
            We all hear Jason slam the front door, leaving the House of Chaos, as usual. Mother stiffens at the banging sound, and her nostrils flare over her pursed lips. Glaring at my pale face, she grasps my arm and turns me toward my mirror. “Look how pretty you look now, smart one! You’re a mess!” Mascara has dripped down my cheeks, and I look like one of the creepy, sad-clown paintings that Mother happens to love and collect. She growls at my reflection, “How could you be stupid enough to let someone put their makeup—and their germs—on you!”
“Mother, she bought me my own makeup—brand new!”
 “Oh, isn’t that sweet of your ‘cool cuz’?” Mother doesn’t look at Mimi (who is fighting tears, I notice). “Well, you listen to me, Miss Teenage Know-It-All: NO MAKEUP FOR YOU. Got it? If you want to look pretty so badly, put on your damn wig!” She picks up the wig from the dresser, and gritting her teeth, yanks it over my head. “There! Now go wash that crap off your face so you can look like a normal girl!” Mother storms out the way she came in, like a tornado.
I shut my door and whisper to Mimi, “Normal? Yeah, right.”
Mimi lifts off my wig, drops it on the bed, and rubs my head soothingly. We hug tightly till I pull away. “I need to wash my face,” I murmur. She sighs.
When I come out of the bathroom with a blank face, her eyes look fierce as she holds out the wig, with the beautiful strand of purple hair clipped in, and declares, “You’ve earned your stripe, Lia.” I nod and accept the wig as if it were a medal.

The End

Note: This short story is actually an excerpt from one of my forthcoming YA novels. Please leave feedback. Writing is about communicating, and I want to know whether my story has touched you in some way. Thanks.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Remembering Typewriters, The Stacks, White-Out, and Other Extinct College Artifacts

Pre-1990’s College Nostalgia that Today’s Students Will Never Know Firsthand (Unless They Find a Time Machine)
By Susan L. Lipson

The Stacks: That’s what we called the top floor of the oldest library on campus, reached by climbing skinny metal staircases, where serious students studied silently among stacks of the dustiest library books and the ghosts of students past. The multisensory experience of leafing through heavy, hard-covered tomes in the dim light among crowded, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves; hearing whispers and the sound of turning pages around the shelf corners; smelling the mustiness of yellowed pages longing to be aired out; and feeling the thin, onion-skin paper of delicate old books, in this once-revered section of the campus library—is this experience lost forever to college students of today and tomorrow, who now crouch over computers at cubicles, listening to music through headphones, in the new campus library world?


The smell and sight of correction fluid (which we called “white-out”) as it dried on translucent typewriter paper: Sour-smelling as it wafted upward into the nostrils, the dabbed white spots dried brighter and more opaque than the paper they covered. You blew on the painted spot so you could quickly resume typing, but if you didn’t wait long enough before rolling the paper backward on the typewriter roll—into that perfect spot so the letter key would strike in the right place, aligned with the other letters around it—then you’d end up seeing not a crisp black letter over your whited-out spot, but an embossed-looking smudge. And then you’d have to clean the typewriter key, before starting the correction process again—with patience. Such “simple” methods of revision hardly encouraged multiple drafts! The Delete key of today’s students was but an imaginary invention in a science fiction world. 

The DING at the end of each line of type:  After hearing the happy typewriter bell, nothing beat that joyful release of hitting the carriage return to slam it to the left side of the typewriter and start typing another line. This sound, if not in front of you, could regularly be heard through the thin dorm walls.

Cut and paste editing. This involved using scissors to cut a misplaced paragraph out of an essay, and cut a spot in another place to fit in the passage like a puzzle piece. Then you either taped or glued the puzzle piece into its new spot in the essay so that you could make a photocopy on a Xerox machine (we all called it “xeroxing” then). The copy would come out with a faint outline around the inserted words, which you would then dab with “white-out” to disguise the inserted section before making another copy of the “clean” page. If you didn’t learn from hastily typing over not quite dry white-out, then you might have also discovered that outlines became gray smudges on copies AND left white smears on the glass surface of the copy machine!

Word Limits on Essays: You either counted words with your index finger, bleary-eyed, and had to recount in the middle if you lost your concentration, or you estimated based on the typical number of words on a standard, double-spaced page with one-inch margins all around—margins that you set manually on the typewriter carriage, and sometimes fudged a bit when you realized you exceeded the word limit but had no time left to edit and retype.

Grade Postings: They were literally posted on a bulletin board outside a professor’s office, which meant walking there, sometimes in lousy weather, just to eliminate some of the waiting time until the transcripts were mailed to your mailbox—that’s MAILBOX, not INBOX. Instant gratification wasn’t a Thing yet.

Carbon copies: You know that line on your email in today’s world, that says “cc” so you can simultaneously email the same message to another person? Those letters stand for carbon copy, which used to be created by inserting a sheet of black-inked carbon paper (one side inky, the other clean to the touch) that you inserted between two sheets of typing paper before rolling the three sheets into the typewriter carriage (the “carriage” was the round, scroll-like thing that the keys tapped against, in case you’re from that other planet called ComputersOn). Typing on the top sheet caused the ink in the middle to imprint the identical letters on the bottom sheet, like some old-fashioned checkbook registers still do today (mine does, of course).

Dictionaries and Thesauruses: Those big books full of words and definitions and etymologies and sample sentences that we always kept beside us while writing essays. They would help us spell words and find more powerful substitute words, and sometimes we’d even get sidetracked by other interesting words on the page and even add more to our vocabulary. Fancy that! Dictionaries and thesauruses also made good, albeit hard, pillows when we’d find ourselves snoozing in the library during an all-nighter. Furthermore, these word-finders didn’t require an internet connection.

Encyclopedias: These multi-volume hardcover books provided the information now usually found by students on Wikipedia; however, the encyclopedias were supposedly fact-checked and not able to be edited by any reader who deemed themselves more of an expert than the reference book writers.

Mail in the dorm mailbox: As we entered our dorms, we’d stop to check out mailboxes in the lobby for letters from home or elsewhere, maybe even for a bill.

Dorm rooms had wall phones. A missed call was missed. No answering machines either.

Rather than go on and on with this nostalgic brainstorm, let me explain the catalyst. An 11-year-old student, in the middle of completing a writing assignment during my workshop, paused to reread, then frowned. He looked up at me from his notebook and commented, “I wish paper had built-in spell-checkers.” I pointed to the dictionary, and he groaned. Then he added, “And I wish it could cut and paste lines, too.” I offered to get him scissors and some tape. He shook his head, sighed, and started rewriting the page.

I replied with a chuckle, “You are so…two-thousands.”

And then I realized that we are already way past 2001, the year that my college classmates and I thought of as the year of a space odyssey. 

I finished that lesson with this advice to my student, “Just remember, when you’re a dad someday, that your kids will make fun of the ‘old-time smart phones’ that they used to have before your kids began simply dialing their arms.” We exchanged smiles.

Imagine my surprise when I opened Facebook that same night and saw on my Timeline a link to a video that showed a new bracelet that turns your inner forearm into a cell phone! So much for “old-fashioned.”

                    (This essay also appears, along with some essays not found here, on         

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spring Has Sprung!

by Susan L. Lipson

To help them flower and spread,
I add to the seeds of my ideas
inspirational flow,
figurative fertilizer for nurturing full color,      
and empowering light after germination.

And then I weed,
ripping out random growths
that strangle their laconic beauty,
detract from their tones,
cover their distinctive petals and leaves,
and clutter their well-aligned lines
with verbose foliage.

I try to resist clipping a bloom
or forming a bouquet to share
until each flower's growth has peaked,
to avoid publishing prematurely harvested blooms,
which will wilt in the shadows of disappointment.

In verbal vases
I present the bounty,
hoping that you see Beauty and Truth.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

#NationalPoetryMonth 2014--Day 3 of a poem a day...

#NationalPoetryMonth Day 3


My blind dog
Looks as if he sees,
While sitting and staring at me,
Silently conversing as I rub his neck.
My blind dog 
Seems guided by radar
Until he walks into a piece of furniture, out of place,
Then pivots and reroutes
Like a robotic, self-propelled vacuum cleaner,
Without even so much as a whimper.
My blind dog
Helps me see
How adaptation and positivity
Enable rerouting to roads less traveled.
He is my leader dog.