I was having dinner tonight with A, my friend. Our busboy settled into a conversation with us about how hard it is being in your 20s without family or supportive friends. White knuckled is how I spent my twenties. Many lessons were learned and I passed on my wisdom to the kid. He found comfort in two women listening to him with empathy.
On the way home A and I launched in a discussion into the tribulations of being 20 something girls. We had different experiences, yet we had enough of common. I wondered what other people wished they knew when the adult world is both terrifying and delightful.
What do you wish you knew?
What was your biggest mistake?
I wrote this last night before the DP came out. Funny how the universe works. I have an appointment to turn my dog into Courtney Love for the 4th of July fireworks, so I will answer when I get back. Please let me know your experience and I will share mine.
My parents and guests are discussing the Omakis. Most Ticans will only discuss foreigners after a few drinks. Champagne emanates from the room. Father and The Diego discuss their business dealings with Omakis. I know we have to allow some outside business in, but these men and their families are a threat to our national security. If another waves of sickness falls on the island, The Diego, would be blamed on him for having allowed them in. During his weekly radio address, he asks the people to tolerate them as a way of creating prosperity. Our leader echoes this sentiment tonight, but the table still laughs at their sunburns, which never seem to go away. Mother says it is the charitable thing to do to teach them how to make sun cream, then she bursts into laughter. Noor implies after our coffers overflow, we will return them to their homelands, “Tica for the Ticans” they toast.
Mother and The Noor venture to the library making me run to catch them in the next room. They were both Art History majors at Graciella University a few years apart, so Mother is eager to show off our pieces for official approval. The kings of the family collection include a Dali, a Picasso and a Rodin.
“Oh darling, you have a sketch of Gala, how impressive,” Noor fawns.
“Not as impressive, I’m afraid, as a genuine wax vow from a Pope,” Mother replies as hints of envy-iron- tickle my nose.
Wax vows are a popular thing here. Followers of Saint Rocco make wax molds of the parts of their body that the saint has cured, parading them through the streets on his feast day. The first Omakis on the island ran with terror when the body parts waved in the air. One old Omaki woman died on the spot thinking we had turned savage. I think it is a beautiful custom, to have one from a pope must be very lucky.
“Thank you. That one is staying with me when we retire. I do wish people appreciated creativity here and did not think of it as another shade of stupid or lunacy,” Noor says.
“Oh I agree. I hear the mural of The Diegos is beginning. Your husband must be flattered.”
“Well, I am paying for it myself. We want to get the people more involved with art. I am making it my new effort.”
They continue talking about art and lament the lack of local talent. Most Tican artwork is kitschy with subject matters such as fishermen, goat herds and occasional mermaids.
“I am going to tell you something in confidence. It is a matter of national security. Also because your oldest brought up a touchy subject. We need to make sure there are no leaks.”
An annoyed look crosses mother’s face and my nose twitches.
“My husband will be the first Diego to write his political memoirs.”
“Oh, how exciting,” Mother exclaims.
Noor holds up one finger signaling her dominance. “We are bringing in the Icelandic writer your daughter mentioned. How did she know his name?”
“Well,” Mother smooths her hair, “Pluma reads and writes like a woman on fire. I sometimes have to lock the library to get her away.”
“I think that is wonderful. But that does not answer the question.”
I blush at her compliment.
“Pluma reads from all countries. My husband brings her a Omaki paper and there was a big article on Mr. Bondi. She asked for his collection during the holidays.”
“He has won many prizes and he was seeking immunity from his country. We brought him here to write and teach some classes. No one knows about this at the moment. He got into some trouble back home and we do not want any press.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“An accident. They drink like fish over there, I’m surprised they don’t all fall on the ice and crack their heads.”
The men call the women back for a nightcap; I leave my post for bed. I am eager to smell Noor Florianna on my hand. It had been hard not to touch her scent all evening. My sisters, with their petals strewn about, are sleeping in my bed. They must have snuck in after pretending to sleep for Neptuna. I push them over a bit and kneel at my bedside to thank Saint Rocco for a lovely night and to bless my writing. My fingers perch under my nose as I make the sign of the cross. She smells of beer. Breathing again with my thumbs up, I have the strongest flash of my knowing yet.
Beer is from the conditioning treatment she does every night. She is afraid of losing her hair’s luster, the pride of her youth. In my vision, I see her doing this in a deep black marble bathtub, pouring the amber liquid over her head while immersed in white suds. She is afraid of aging-lavender-and longs for her husband not to take another wife. The Diego strolls in, removing his tie, and sits on the ledge of the tub. She smiles for him and prays internally for an heir-sweet grass. They are completely devoted to each other, but they cannot produce an heir and she feels her status is in jeopardy. It always is.
“It would be so very.”-Heathers
The word very is one of the laziest words. It is an adverb that is overused as an adjective. As a teacher I discourage students from using it in essays. It bothered me so much, I would take five points off for its use much to their dismay. They would see is as an easy way to be descriptive. I wanted them to expand their vocabulary.
The room was very cold. Bad
The room was frigid/arctic/freezing/. Better
That house is very ugly. Bad
That house is gaudy/an eyesore/ hideous. Good
Using very is the same as using curse words to be descriptive. It does show a lack of vocabulary and lack of imagination. Frequent users should purchase some vocabulary cards to acquire some new words.
It is better to look after a thousand goats than one curious girl.-Tican Proverb
My name is Pluma de la Oso and I am almost seventeen years old. I was born under the sign of the mermaid on the coldest day ever recorded in Tica. Tonight is a big night in our family. We are hosting a dinner for El Diego, our leader and unofficial king, at our house. My maid, Neptuna, reminds me that I have less than a year before marriage as she washes my hair and rubs an herbal paste on my round face. Mother makes her do my two sisters and my hair before important functions so the photographers can capture us at our best. Ticans obsess over marriage, social standing and our dual religions; one from the Vatican and the other from the sea.
I want to go to college and leave the island. Imagining the scandal as Neptuna puts my indigo hair in rollers makes my eyes bulge at the delight of starting my life. Neptuna scolds me for making my eyes even bigger and I quickly resume my thoughts. Nothing too bohemian, I want to live for something else besides picking the next house I will be trapped in. My ancestral house is on two hundred and thirty-four acres with purple ivy that covers it all the way down from the fourth floor. Papo, my father, is president of the sugarcane association. Mother wants me to be a political wife, maybe even the future 86th Noor. Our leader can take two wives which we call Noor which means light. Neptuna scolds me to sit still as the rollers singe my scalp.
I am looking forward to smelling The Diego’s wife, Noor Florianna. What not even my family knows is that my nose can inhale emotions. Anger smells of iron, love is a rose, sickness a wet dog, and sadness has the most beautiful fragrance, like fresh grass mixed with honey. Mother suffers from tremendous allergies, so I am not questioned about my sniffs. Sometimes I wonder if Mother can smell as well I do. We both have green eyes with a heavy curtains of navy lashes that soften their larger size. We also share the same rounded faces, small red lips, and hourglass figures. Looking at her is like looking in the mirror. She has two inches of height on me, but I am thinner by three pounds. I know this because Mother has been with her seamstress all day lamenting her weight.
Neptuna instructs me to wash my face and I walk to the bathroom as my sisters begin their beautification. Noor Florianna is an interesting woman; she does not walk in the streets yet is in every newspaper and tabloid. We worship her as if she was a minor deity. I imagine her to smell like lavender candies or a mango custard. Mother after tonight she will have her pick of suitors for me. I don’t know how to tell her I would be happiest living in a little room and writing for the rest of my life. She would not even consider it and might even deadbolt the library. There are certain expectations of me. I don’t really want to do anything but leave, but now there does not seem a way out besides running away. Ernest Hemingway says to write one true sentence a day and the only rebellion I really have is the truth. So today my sentence is sometimes your life is not your own. I would still choose to attend the dinner tonight however. Mother requested that I meet in her closet for a private chat and to check my appearance. I enter and she lights a candle for the miniature Saint Rocco stature which lives next to her shoes. When I was a child, the statue frightened me. Its eyes seemed to follow my every move and it was taller than me for a few years. I used to think it grew as I did. Mother checks my appearance.
“You are to make polite small talk if our visitors address you, otherwise just smile. Do not touch your nose for any reason and make sure your sisters are behaving. I expect big things Pluma. This is a chance for us to move into the political circles.”
“Yes Mother,” I say.
Mother smiles critically at me and ties my dress bow a bit tighter than necessary. She is still upset about the three pounds.
Around the dinner hour, El Diego’s motorcade pulls inside our gate. Please let me be perfect for him I implore Saint Rocco, adjusting the flowers sown into my hair as I watch from the upstairs window. In a swift, fluid movement, his long legs emerge from the stretched car, then he stands to his full seven feet. His green eyes flash as the evening sun hits his face. His wife Florianna comes out next. I count ten pleats on her purple dress and marvel at the height of her bun. My nostrils flare in anticipation.
I fly down the stairs to take my place in the main entrance hall. Mother shoots me an annoyed glance for not setting the best examples for my sister. Papo opens the door and moves a strand of the ivy out-of-the-way, my two little sisters and I curtsy, then present Noor Florianna with orchids, the same as those in our hair; they match her dress as we’ve planned. My hand brushes hers just enough to pick up her essence, but not arouse suspicion.
El Diego shakes our hands and pulls a flower from behind Clarka’s ear much to her delight. The youngest, Ine, has a coin pulled from behind her curls. He pauses before me.
“Ah, yes, Pluma. How are you? Your father tells me you are quite the writer.”
“Yes, I do like to write and read. I’ve discovered an Icelandic writer…”
“Good, good,” he interrupts. “We need a real writer on the island. Too many critics here with nothing to do besides stare at the Omakis.”
Papo guides our guest to the formal dining room. I had his attention for less than a minute and could not detect a scent. I press my lips together and remind myself I have the Noor’s scent on my hand for later. Under calmer circumstances I can just smell the air to get information, but the excitement is throwing me off. Neptuna summons me to the kitchen where we eat a miniature version of the adult’s feast: braised goat in pickled bloodberry sauce and the traditional five side dishes. Ine and Clarka try to convince Neptuna that The Diego is magical. They hold up the torca and flower as proof that he can conjure objects out of thin air. I agree he is more magical than Papa Christmas. Once we have eaten more than Mother would usually allow us, Neptuna leaves me in the kitchen as she leaves to prepare my sisters for bed. I assume my favorite vantage point by the staircase, to see how the visit is going. In Tica, it is considered good luck to house a chinchilla under the main staircase of the home. Any noise can easily be dismissed as being made by the creature. I make sure to feed it plenty of sugar when no one is looking so that it likes me.
My biggest challenge has been writing a book in exactly two weeks. It would be a self-help book. My twenty-year old ghostwriting client gave me an outline to follow. He chose topics that only such a younger person would. Always think positive and focus wins every time. Although I did not agree with every single thing he said I accept the project. I did not exactly know how much it would take over my life.
For a week I woke up every morning drafting in my head and remembering stories that would fit into my client’s outline. It was something hanging over my head until I sat down to write. If I wasn’t working on it, I was just about to. The deadline was looming and I was not even halfway done. So I had to set up a work area in my apartment and sit there for at least four hours a day. Five days in, I purchased a wrist brace, a keyboard pillow and a butt cushion. This was not fiction, so I could disguise my opinion much easier and the words could gush or trickle depending on my mood. A self-help book was a new adventure for me. One that I would never have taken on myself. Ray Bradbury found them a poor substitute for actually reading and I find some patronizing and simplistic. Still, I found myself actually enjoying the whole advice giving vibe.
By no means am I an expert in mental health, but I have had plenty experience in life. Losing parents, losing friends, break ups, searching for friends, trying to stay gainfully employed, having your heart broken so many times that connections are scary, keeping hope alive when doom is easier, and other things. Fiction has always been my first love and now I was cheating on it with reality.
Then the deadline suddenly was way too close. I had not wasted time, but had not lit the fire under my ass needed to write a book in two weeks. My first book took me close to five years to complete. It was a lovely two week affair with non-fiction. However, I had to end it and quickly. Yesterday I woke up early for the summer and made my couch as comfortable as possible. I layered on pillows and got a gallon of water. I had 12,000 words due in 12 hours; it was go time. Procrastination was not my thing, but I was never going to get it done unless I bit the bullet and sucked it up. I wasn’t sure how I would respond to the pressure.
Ideas stalled at first. I had to write a thousand words an hour to deliver the goods. I had to research different topics and write as if I was on fire. Some of the ideas I could not wrap my head around like showing genuine interest in every person you meet tripped me up. I goggled a few ideas and took off. Just because it was my view that you should only like the people you do otherwise friendships become shallow were obsolete. This was about the client and I had to get out of my own way. Luckily, my hands did not ache and for hours on end as I wrote. I kept track of track by posting my progress on Facebook. My “friends” must have been confused but I needed to gauge my progress. A thousand words an hour became my goal and as the day wore on, I was able to bring it down to forty-five minutes.
Then my nephew came for a visit. When he is around, he is priority and I stopped my writing. He said I looked like a woman possessed as I nested on my couch, engaged in my own speed writing contest. As midnight neared I became on edge. Never one to miss a deadline, I feared this might be the first. My client did not contact me, but another one did wanting a huge chunk of their piece done by Sunday night.
Right after this project another awaited and then the phone rang. Another client rang and wanted to discuss a project. I begged him off telling him I had another deadline and would call when I was done. It is a general rule to make each client feel like the only one, but today was not the day for that. Every one had to be a hostile stranger today.
Around one o’clock, I was done. My eyes were sore and my brain was crispy. The television had not gone on all day. I had been strangely peaceful as if my nervous energy had direction for once. Coming down off the writing high was tougher despite my complete bodily exhaustion. I had not moved all day and I likened it to flying to Thailand non-stop; you want to move, but you have to stay in your seat.
I read about Kim Kardashian’s bad maternity wear choices on the dailymail.co.uk to calm down. My brain needed fluff to stop the rush of ideas and stories still running around. It worked and I was snoring within thirty minutes. My mind had finally gotten the release it craved after so many weeks of running on toxic energy and panic.
I learned that I can be a prolific writer and if I need to punch out a fiction book in a month, I would be able to do it. My only secret is sit your bum on the couch and decide to do it. There are no shortcuts. It helps tremendously if you have already written a book and your mind has a blueprint. If you are a writing virgin, then just go for it as well. It was an empowering day, one I may repeat as the projects miraculously line up as if the universe has been waiting for me to stop torturing myself with self-doubt and start seeing that my energy has a purpose- to create.