Welcome to Wal-Mart

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Yesterday, I went to Wal-Mart.

I know, I know. That’s where I went wrong. But I drove right by one on my way back from taking my 6-year-old daughter to her cousin’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese and simply couldn’t resist stopping.

Clearly I’m a glutton for punishment.

But I’m not the only one, apparently, because Wal-Mart was mobbed.

You see, here in Iowa we’re expecting a blizzard—forecasters are calling it Snowmageddon—even Jim Cantore arrived yesterday (along with most of the presidential candidates preparing for another kind of storm). So grocery stores, supermarkets and super stores like Wal-Mart have been stocking their shelves in preparation for the mad rushes of people seeking milk, eggs, bread—the usual.

I’m obviously not the only one who associates snow with French toast. Yum.

I’ll admit, even I had two of the three ingredients in my cart (I’ve not needed to buy bread since receiving a bread machine for Christmas and soon after the bread making addiction that goes with it).

Wal-Mart was, as it always is, a mad house. The store was packed with last minute shoppers. The checkout lines were practically wrapped around the store. Well, the few which were actually open.

I’m a rather patient in-line stander. My mind sort of drifts away as I casually wait my turn. I don’t tend to get frustrated or impatient in line. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not always a patient person. In fact, I practically lose my mind altogether when I misplace something as meaningless as a flip-flop in December. But while in line and even in traffic, I manage to remain calm as the time slowly passes.

This may be my inner-city east coast upbringing that explains why I’m used to waiting—in line, in traffic, at the DMV. Or perhaps I somehow inherited the I’m-okay-with-waiting-as-long-as-I’m-around-others-who-are-also-waiting gene from my parents. It’s hard to say for sure.

But, from what I witnessed at Wal-Mart yesterday, the woman standing in line in front of me was obviously missing that gene… or perhaps she was missing something else altogether.

Again, it’s hard to say for sure. But when the woman in front of her dropped that two gallon canister of water (because you can never have too much bottled water in a Snowmageddon) and it shattered causing a flood of H2O and a necessary cleanup in aisle 11 (ironically, my lucky number), the seemingly normal enough lady in front of me lost her patience and her mind.

I didn’t even notice when it happened. My mind was in another place. The checkout kid didn’t say anything. He simply continued checking as slowly as humanly possible. Then at some point much later he nonchalantly told me that the man behind me and I would need to find another lane because he was closing his. It was in that moment that I noticed the woman in front of me start to twitch.

The problem was there was nowhere for us to go and she took it upon herself to stand up for us and say so. It wasn’t necessary but, at the time, I thought it was rather nice of her so I thanked her for doing so. There were so many people behind us already and all the other lines were just as long if not even longer than ours so when the woman spoke up, the checker changed his mind and said we could stay.

A few minutes or twenty later a woman pushing an industrial sized mop bucket came along but instead of using it and the matching mop to clean up the mess, she grabbed a large roll of paper towels (not the Bounty quicker picker upper variety either) and proceeded to roll them out all over the floor and try to sop up the tsunami. It didn’t work, of course. She created waves of water and waves of anger, as well.

The woman in front of me suggested (albeit snarkily) to the employee with the mop bucket that she should actually try using the mop instead. Then when the employee admitted she did not know how to ring out the mop, the demeanor of the lady in front of me changed altogether. She went from helpful to horrible in a snap. Had I expected it or had I been paying closer attention at the time, I might have tried to listen for the clicking sound her brain likely made in the moment when she in fact snapped.

The employee (a rather large woman in her late 50s or so) got down on her hands and knees in the checkout lane and started pushing the dirty water around with the paper towels. The woman in front of me turned to me with eyes dilated and breathing heavily and asked me if I thought she should mop it up herself. Huh? Then she simply disregarded my “I wouldn’t” and did.

She aggressively grabbed the mop, rung it out in some of the grossest water I’ve ever seen and started mopping the floor.  The employee, still on all fours, tried to tell the woman to stop but she wouldn’t listen. The lady just kept on angrily mopping the floor, pausing briefly to aggressively ring out the mop.

I turned to the man behind me, who was equally in shock at the show and just as stuck as me since there really was no place for either of us to go, and we shared a nonverbal what the fuck is happening?

Then as the water swished and swashed to and fro and every which way, including ours, until we were in fact standing in it too, I moved around a few of my groceries so I could pick up my daughter and put her in the seat of the cart. I didn’t want her in the wacko’s way or to slip in the approaching puddles.

I’m glad I did because it was at that moment when things got really… um, muddy?

The lady who brought the mop but didn’t know how to use it reprimanded the crazy customer while she was mopping the slop and told her to put down the mop. The customer lost what was left of her mind, refused to stop mopping and claimed she was doing Wal-Mart a service, that she was in fact concerned for the safety of the employee and the other customers.

None of this made any sense, really, and she was more likely frustrated by the stupidity of the situation and unfortunately allowed that frustration and the fact that she was probably off her meds (and her rocker, quite frankly) to get the best of her.

The two women shouted profanities at each other with me and my daughter and the man behind us all trapped between them, the water, the industrial sized mop bucket contraption and the various shelves full of all the usual impulse buy items until the cashier finally called a manager and security for backup.

At which point, things actually got worse.

An assistant manager showed up and slogged through the water and tried to tell us the lane was closed, due to the flood and the frenzy, but Crazy Mop Lady refused to let this happen. She started shouting that we (as if she, the guy behind me, my daughter and I were indeed a team) had been waiting for at least 40 minutes by this point… To be fair, the time flew and the other lines weren’t moving any faster.

Assistant Manager Chad (I couldn’t have picked a better name for him) tried to take charge of the situation, simply by standing in the middle of it all like a buffoon while his employee continued to crawl around on the floor. He stood between her and Crazy Mop Lady and proceeded to shout to anyone who would listen that if she didn’t stop mopping he would call the police.

Well, she didn’t care and continued to mop up the slop. And, despite the fact that she was obviously insane, she did a pretty decent job of it.

Once Crazy Mop Lady finally finished her task, she put the mop back in the bucket, paid for her groceries and left the store. But Assistant Manager Chad, for no obvious reason, stayed put blocking me and the man behind me. Meanwhile, security showed up and then Chad and his employee, the mop-lady-who-couldn’t-actually-mop, stuck around to tell their versions of the story to the security person.

With the floor mostly mopped up, aside from the sea of dirty wet paper towels, I moved ahead and starting unloading my cart onto the conveyor. The man behind me did the same. I think we both thought the ordeal was over. But Chad was just getting started. Now standing a little too close to my daughter, who was still sitting in the cart, Chad ranted his version of what happened to security and really anyone who would listen. His tone got angrier with each sentence so I wiggled my way between him and my daughter simply as a buffer so he wouldn’t be shouting in her face (at no time did I touch him).

Then, as Chad spoke to security, the mop bucket employee started to cry. I felt awful for her. I imagined it being her first day and my heart sank for her. I told her it wasn’t her fault, even though it was partially since she wasn’t good at her job, but that didn’t matter really because none of the madness would have happened if that other woman had simply taken her meds or skipped shopping at Wal-Mart altogether.

Like an idiot, I was still trying to console the mop bucket employee when she and Assistant Manager Chad suddenly turned on me.

Somehow, they both confused me with Crazy Mop Lady, who was by this point long gone and who for the record looked nothing like me.  The two Wal-Mart employees began pointing at me and telling security all the awful things I’d allegedly said and done to them. They corroborated a rather detailed and mostly accurate story about the string of ridiculous events which had taken place. The only real problem with their story was that they had somehow agreed that the crazy mop customer lady was if fact me.

Chad claimed I’d pushed him out of the way while his minion said I stole her mop and cleaned the floor, putting her and everyone else in the store at risk. I tried to explain that they were clearly confusing me with that other customer but they wouldn’t listen. They kept insisting that I was the one who had stolen the mop and who had lost my mind at Wal-Mart that day.

Assistant Manager Chad threatened to have me arrested for all of it while my child sat quietly in the cart watching and listening.

In addition to yelling at me for no reason whatsoever in front of my daughter and a store full of customers, Chad kept using and abusing the word “literally” while pointing at me and shouting things such as “she literally grabbed the mop” and “she literally pushed me out of her way.”

Thank God for that part because it somehow kept me grounded in the humor beneath the insanity and for the man behind me in line who (in a thick Irish accent) finally shouted, “Are you all insane? This woman wasn’t the loon who lost her shit and mopped up that mess. This woman and her child were literally trapped here in the middle of all of it just like me.”

Irish dude and I were on the same page.

After asking to speak to a real manager and telling our version of the story, we finally escaped.

I loaded our groceries into the car, secured my daughter in her booster seat and drove away.

Then, as we pulled out of the Wal-Mart parking lot, I thought I’d better take a moment to tell my daughter how inappropriate the adults in this situation had acted. Mostly I wanted to make sure she was okay so I calmly explained to her what had happened and asked her if she had any questions.

She had one.

“Mommy, is literally a bad word?”

 

 

Haibun and Haiku

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I spread my yellow cotton sheet out onto our lawn’s lush green grass and lay down alone with my laptop. The warm air still smells of last night’s campfire tainted with a faint hint of chlorine. Birds are chirping. Bees are buzzing. This is the perfect spot to write a poem about nature, I think. I look across the street at the young cornfield and wait for my inspiration to come to me.

I feel the sun’s warmth
as deer play in the distance,
zero distractions.

But then braided blond hair bounces by. It belongs to a giggling girl. I look up and watch as she skips through a sea of bubbles, laughing, playing fairy, granting wishes. She spies a butterfly, chases it for a moment but becomes distracted, as easily as me, by a dandelion that has gone to seed and so she pauses to make a wish of her own. I lean in and listen.

She wishes for cake
with candles. Ah, more wishes.
Mother like daughter.

She spins off and I smile and look away. I try again to write this poem. “Watch me, Mommy,” she shouts and I turn back again just as she scoots her bottom onto the swing. Then she watches me to make sure I’m watching her. I smile to reassure her. She holds on tight and launches.

Swinging on a swing,
higher and higher she goes,
toes tickling clouds.

As she looks up, I do too. I see the cotton candy blue sky above us with its big puffy white billowing clouds. They pass ethereally. Maybe they’re my inspiration. They glide by and by and as I relax into the moment my mind decides to go with them.

Floating on a cloud,
looking down, the world drifts by,
but only a dream.

The sound of sneakers on gravel brings me back to my blanket. I rub my eyes and then stare back down at the glare on the blank screen. This assignment is due soon and I feel I must focus on being inspired. I need to force this poem out of me. Just then the reflection of the sun’s rays barely stings my eyes, just enough to inspire me in a different direction.

I look away again and see Lyla at the top of the slide.

“Arr, I’m a pirate!”
Sharks are surrounding the ship.
This haiku can wait.

Go Ask Alice (a personal PS)

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I first read Go Ask Alice at age 12 and it was so powerful that it’s stayed with me. It was one of my favorite books back then and reading it again at 37, it was still powerful but it was also nostalgic. I remember once I read it back then wanting all of my friends to read it, too. It felt important. And honestly I still believe every teen girl should read it. What an awesome book.

I love to write in the margins as I read. I fully intend to share this book someday with my daughter so this time I wrote notes to her in the margins. Every time “Alice” wished she had someone to talk to, I wrote a little note reminding my daughter that she can always talk to me. And each time “Alice” failed and felt badly about herself, I wrote a note telling my daughter that I will always love her no matter what.

Happily Ever After

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This exercise came from the book 4AM Breakthrough by Brian Kitely. The instructions say to write a 250 word story without repeating a single word. Each word must be different, even the title.

Whoa… this was hard! Not being able to repeat words like “the” or “a” and “an” proved pretty challenging! But to make it easier I chose to write it about my favorite muse: my daughter, Lyla. Awwww!

(Let me know if you spot any repeats!)

Happily Ever After:

Once upon a time (this one right now), there was an incredibly sweet, sassy, beautiful, bright, happy, healthy (thank God) 3-year-old little girl named Lyla Rain Henderson.

With passionate adoration for some pretty random if not wildly ordinary things, including but not limited to: vanilla ice cream, hugs, kisses, apple juice, family, friends, preschool, stars, triangles, octagons, shapes in general really, princesses, puppies, pirates, picnics, fairies, racecars, road trips, running, singing, dancing, ballet class, bologna, butterflies, baseball, the moon, stars, Looney Tunes, rainbows, horses, squirrels, cupcakes, castles, spaghetti, school busses, clouds, laughing, fruit (specifically bananas, strawberries, apples, pears, blueberries, cantaloupe…), vacation, movies, milk, McDonald’s, muddy puddles, playing games, reading, coloring, flowers, snacks, snow, knock-knock jokes, make believe, glitter, buttered toast, Twizzlers, Tootsie Rolls, toys, her hair, airplanes, fairy tales, scaring people, dresses, candy sprinkles, yogurt smoothies, green grass, taking baths, going fast, flying over railroad tracks, big trucks, hay bales, helping, holding hands, cornfields, carrots, crocodiles, edamame, using chopsticks (well, trying), magic, cardboard boxes, pancakes, presents, unicorns, Dora, being best friends, talking your ear off, telling stories, learning math (not me!), eating graham crackers (AKA: yummy rectangles), giving mosquito bites (you might say “pinching”), food shopping, swimming, smiling, stirring liquids (yeah!), swinging on swings, spinning herself dizzy and, finally, all things pink, she makes our world so much better just by being part of it.

Run-on? Maybe. Long list? Definitely. But it’s okay.

Another fortunate mommy, I love my daughter more than anything. Oops. Check that. Everything.

Word Count=250

Lyla’s Shopping List

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I need to go to the supermarket today and do some pre-Thankgiving food shopping so this morning I decided to put together a list. While doing so, my 3-yr-old daughter, Lyla, approached and asked me what I was doing.

I told her I was making a list of food and groceries to get at the supermarket and she replied that she wanted to make one, too. So, mostly humoring her, I asked her what needed to be on the list, though I’m not sure why I bother humoring her when it’s becoming clear that she’s smarter than me.

Anyway, (without any prompting and in the order she mentioned each item) the following is exactly what she told me to put on her list:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Bologna
  • Milk
  • Apple Juicey
  • Fruit Snacks
  • Rectangle Crackers (AKA: Graham Crackers)
  • Sour Creamy
  • Colored Cereal
  • Charm Cereal
  • More veggies for dipping
  • Yo-grut (this is spelled incorrectly on purpose per her pronunciation)
  • Ranch Dressing

Not a bad list. I’ll need to add a few items of my own and maybe remove at least one (or perhaps both) of those sugary cereals she seems to love so much but all in all it’s a pretty decent shopping list… especially for a 3-yr-old.

I’m actually kind of surprised she didn’t include ice cream (Va-lil-la is her fave). I think I’ll go ahead and add that one in anyway!

 

 

 

Reading Out Loud

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I often read out loud.

In fact, I feel the need to read everything I write out loud, not just because I like to hear my own words (though I’m sure that’s part of it) but more so because I have to hear the words in order to know for sure whether or not they’re right—contextually, rhythmically and, if it’s dialogue, right for the character speaking. No matter what I write, I need to hear the words.

For similar reasons, I recently started purchasing audio books and listening to the narrator read out loud while I visually read along.

I like to read others’ works out loud, too. In workshops, I often read the submissions of other writers, those I’m meant to critique, out loud. Doing so helps me focus entirely on the words and phrases as if my own voice cancels out distracting noises. Just the act of reading aloud helps me better absorb the information and it keeps me connected to it instead of spiraling off into my own head to add bullet points to any number of mental ‘to do’ lists.

I once lost my voice (literally) reading a 300 page manuscript out loud before submitting it for consideration to an agency.

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading Kindred by Octavia Butler to my three-year-old. I’m reading and analyzing it for a class and since I read to my daughter everyday anyway, I guess you could say I’m killing two birds with one stone (you’d probably only say that if you love clichés as much as I do).

Anyway, it’s not your typical toddler story but Lyla doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, she seems to enjoy hearing me read it to her. Maybe she somehow knows how much it’s helping me.

Writing Short Stories

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Joyce Carol Oates says, “Fairy tales are miniature narratives that typically begin Once upon a time and swiftly, sometimes bluntly summarize entire lives within a few paragraphs.”

Oates also says, “The miniature narrative is often most effective when boundaries between ‘real’ and ‘surreal’ are dissolved.

I’ve never been very good at writing short stories. I think this is mainly because so much needs to be covered in such a short span in a short story that my mind cramps trying to think how I might fit it all into just a few short pages.

It might seem silly but I get nervous thinking about them and tangled up writing them.
But, before now, I’d never thought of fairy tales as miniature narratives. 

Being the mother of a three-year-old girl, I’ve certainly read (and memorized) my fair share of fairy tales. I’ve even composed a few impromptu fairy tales typically at the bedtime request of my very own Princess Lyla (my daughter’s name and her preferred character title). All of which have been met with smiles and gleeful giggles. Of course, she’s not exactly the toughest critic and as long as she lives happily ever after in them, well, then she’s happy (and I am, too).

But using Oates’ thought process, maybe it is simply about dissolving that line between real and surreal. If dissolving the boundaries between real and surreal is what makes fairy tales more effective, then wouldn’t that be true of other types of writing, as well? In a fairy tale, those boundaries dissolve immediately, of course, as we open our minds in a carefree fashion to the magic behind fairies, frogs and princesses. But couldn’t we, as writers, achieve that same effect by working to dissolve that line between real and make believe in non-fairytales, as well?

Isn’t writing fiction about creating something that someone will be willing to believe in whether or not the subject in and of itself is naturally believable? Isn’t our job as writers to make our stories believable? Or perhaps it’s simply (or not-so-simply) to inspire our readers to believe.    

I believe it’s the pressure we put on ourselves that makes one thing seem more or less challenging to accomplish. What is a challenge to one is a piece of cake to another. For example, I’ve never been able to do a cartwheel. Ironically, my brother can. If you asked him, he’d claim he could never write a novel. I think he could if he put his mind to it. He’d say the same about me and that cartwheel. Clearly, we both have our fears.

These pages have inspired me to make a real attempt at a “real” fairy tale. Not just an off-the-cuff version of someone else’s tale with my daughter’s name and favorite past times slotted in but something tangible, written down and that other children might enjoy, as well. Maybe that will be the push that will help me conquer my silly little fear of short stories, too.

I’m still not ready for the cartwheel.