Showing posts with label @sllipson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label @sllipson. 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.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A New Spin on “Show, Don’t Tell”: How Writers Can Be as Memorable as Their Words

          Most us of have heard the saying, “You’re only as good as your word.” Does that also imply that you’re only as memorable as your word(s), too? Does it matter whether you matter as much as the matter you write? Maybe you’re fine with remaining anonymous, letting your words supersede your self. But most writers have more ego than that; it’s not a bad thing, but a fact. If you’re like me, you write words because your inner graffiti artist wants to leave a mark upon the world, to draw eyes to unexpected views that represent you to others and make them remember you.
[that was my graffiti, yes]

          You have surely been advised to “Show, don’t tell” in your writing. Well, here’s how to apply that adage to yourself, as author, to be as memorable as your words:

  1. Show your respect for words via precise word choices, no matter how many revisions it takes to find them.
  2. Show your respect for your readers via subtlety and conciseness, to honor their ability to interpret and their appreciation of precious time—both of which are disregarded by superfluous words and overwritten descriptions.
  3. Show your depth of observations and psychological insights by developing characters that seem realistic and evoke empathy from readers.
  4. Show your wit via well-paced, cleverly worded phrases that carry readers along, rather than force them to follow.
  5. Show your intelligence via apt analogies, thoughtful symbolism, and insightful observations.
  6. Show your style via figurative language that reflects images the way you’d post pictures on Instagram to reflect your personality.
  7. Show your values via your fictional characters’ successes and failures, qualities and faults, their coping methods, and their various points-of-view.
  8. Show your personal path in life by noticing and accentuating the thematic threads that run through many of your writings.  
  9. Show your artistic influences via your allusions.
  10. Show your understanding of your readers by choosing age- and/or genre-appropriate matter to unfold.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Whimsical Thoughts Hatch a Poem

          I stepped outside my front door to relish the sunlight glowing on the winged reader statue who sits in my garden. As I poised my camera to take a photo of her, I moved closer, quietly, and then asked myself, "Wait--why am I creeping up on her as if I'm taking a picture of some wild creature? It's not like she's going to move!" After snorting at my own silliness, I suddenly imagined that the book in the statue's hands was my own novel, now in submission to agents. What if this reader were my Muse, pondering my pages--pages she had inspired? What if she were making a routine landing to check up on my progress, and then she would leave the book on the pedestal, to allow me to etch more words for her next visit? Or maybe she'd fly off with my pages, to inspire a reader (maybe an agent or a publisher) by carrying my words into their hearts and minds. Suddenly, I thought of this poem, and then ran back inside to write it: 

To the Muse in My Garden
by S. L. Lipson

Soften your heart, my Muse;
Look up from the words I've laid in your lap,
Smile, nod, gather my pages to your heart,
Then leap up and fly away with my treasure,
To land in the garden of another dreamer,
Waiting to be moved, too.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tweeting Memorable Words

New to the Twitter world, I have taken on this social media platform warily, even disdainfully at first, considering it a vacuous "Look-at-me!" exercise. But at a recent writers' conference, I kept hearing about how important tweeting is to drive people to read more from you if you hooked them with your cleverness. "That's how you get people to visit your website, read your blogs, know your name," claimed the presenters. So I signed up, and then studied tweet patterns like a birdwatcher, noting whose tweets turned my gaze to them, which inspired me to tweet back, and which of my new flock bore bands that showed they're being tracked.

I found out it's a game. First, it's about who can make the best move in 140 characters, catching the eyes of followers and inspiring them to retweet a post; second, who can be consistently clever, snagging the top branch of the Twitter feed at just the right time for maximum exposure; and third, who can achieve the highest number of followers, without following more than follow him/her ("Mom, you never want to be following more people than follow you," advised my daughter, a more experienced player. "AND you should follow people who follow you if their posts interest you and they have a lot of their own followers, because they might retweet you to their people. See?") Yes, it's definitely a game. A game with rules that reveal themselves as you play. A game that makes me nervous about the etiquette that seems to underly it (regarding who to follow or unfollow), and makes me hesitate to type something for unknown eyes that might mislabel me and end up on "my permanent record." Yes, I feel like I'm back in elementary school, tweeting hesitantly and hoping others like me.

Aside from the realization that the Twitter game requires strategy, I notice something else that has to do with its worth to writers: forced conciseness. Like a poetic structure, a tweet must use hashtags sparingly--I still haven't quite figured out how to use them!--leaving room for the strongest possible words. I find myself cutting down tweets to fit the 140 character limit, substituting words for shorter synonyms, and paying more attention to word choices than I have to do on Facebook. It's like the difference between poetry and prose. I advocate that all writers practice writing poetry to tighten their prose. Now I'm advocating that writers use Twitter not just as "Look-at-me-and-follow-me" tool, but as an exercise in the economy of words!

And now I'm off to tweet an interesting observation that just occurred outside my window. Curious? Come follow me on Twitter: @sllipson.