Growing Up in 2012

Wow, has it really been a year since I started this blog???

Well, actually, the fact of the matter is…no, it hasn’t.  (Hahaha!)

I started this blog in May, so clearly, I’m a few months shy of a year.  But, for the sake of being in tune with the rest of the end-of-year countdowns and rembrances, I thought I’d play along with everybody else.  I mean, why not?  Granted, it hasn’t been exactly twelve calendar months since I started blogging, but regardless, I have been writing actively for the past year, so why not celebrate and commemorate it?  One thing I’ve learned this year is that it is hard work writing and maintaining a blog, and despite the many ups and downs, highs and lows, I have not given up.  I continued, I pushed on, I perservered, and most importantly, I grew.

I can honestly say that I’m happy with that, mainly because it turned out to be, for me, the big surprise in 2012: that blogging would help me grow as a writer.  It’s the last thing that I ever expected to happen, but the first thing I can now look forward to next year as I continue to write.  When I think back to my first (horrible) post and compare it to my most recent post, the improvement is almost tangible.  In these months that I have been writing my blog, I found my voice, I narrowed in on a particular style of writing, and I found the purpose and reason for maintaining the blog to begin:  a writing showcase.

And in that spirit, I’m excited to revisit and share some of my  favorite posts, mainly because, just like looking through a photograph of childhood pictures, I want to reflect on how I’ve grown up in 2012.

I am the Doorman

This was the  first post where I thought  there might be some hope for me as a blogger.  It wasn’t some stupid rant about what I was doing with this blog, but rather,  a moment to write about something and someone else other than me:  the class of 2012.  It was my way of wishing my students well as they took their first real steps into adulthood.  It probably could have still used some polish, but all in all, I think it came out okay.

This Post is about Nothing

I like this post because it was the first time I truly understood that I had to have a clear objective when writing blog posts:  there has to be a point, otherwise, why bother?  There are so many blogs in the sphere that have no direction or point.  Clearly, I’m no genius or expert at blog writing, but nonetheless, I had a happy moment when the idea of writing with a clear and defined purpose really sank in. This really helped me define my blog writing moving forward, and I think I started to improve quickly after that.

Finding Horror

My first guest post!  I  got tapped by the illustrious Edward Lorn himself to write for his blog, Ruminating On and it was pretty cool, I have to say.  It all worked out well, too, because he happened to tap me to write on his blog just as I was pondering the horrific and ugly nature of something that I had seen online and that had pushed me to write a poem about it.  I was exponentially angry when I wrote this particular poem, and in my anger, I happened to narrate it in the voice of the “bad guy”, if you will, and to me, it actually made it more scary—truly, it was a dark piece of work, and certainly, I would classify it as horror.  In any case, in my post, I wrote about how I came to write this poem, and write horror in general.  Mr. Lorn writes horror (is damn good at it, by the way), and the topic of that particular blog post, I think, was just perfect.

All That I Am

This was the moment where I really started coming to terms with this new path I’m on in my life with my writing.  Sometimes it’s not always easy to embrace all the aspects of the person that you are or strive to be, and this was my attempt to come to deal with that.   Not a bad thing to do, let me tell you.

Also, did I mention that this was the first time I successfully introduced a video into a blog post???  Hey, it may not be big news to you, but it was totally awesome for me….(silly, I know).

Introducing...

Ah, this post was as much for me as it was for my dear friend, Francis F. Keating.  It was here, with these words, that I felt I turned  a corner in that I was helping a fellow writer make his own mark into the literary world, one that was a long-time coming yet well-deserved. Writing is a difficult market to break into, so whenever someone can give a helping hand—however big or small—it can be very helpful.  Certainly, it’s a wonderful ego boost, and for Francis, it was the least I could do.

Plus, it was just fun to reminisce about our college days—who doesn’t like doing that?

Just a Quick Word

And this post, although it’s the shortest post I’ve ever written, is hands-down the most important, because it’s here where I thank everyone who takes a moment to read my blog.  Building a readership is no small task, so it’s wonderful every time someone stops by my blog to read and comment.  I don’t know that there is anyone who writes without an audience in mind, without hoping for an audience to read their work and that I myself actually have one makes me grateful to no end.  I hope that next year, in 2013, you’ll continue on with me and my little journey and find the ride to be enjoyable.

Wishing you a safe and Happy New Year!  See you January!

EMJ

Being Fluent

As a linguist, I love languages.

I’m enthralled by the broad nature of language, and how, through its words, an entire people can be reflected.  I’m a big believer that language is the first introduction to into the nature of a nation, a culture, a people—and not only by their words, but by how those words are expressed:  through pitch and tone, through speed and tenor, through inflection, nuance, and accent.  In Haitian Creole, the lively nature of even the most mundane discourse is a reflection of the vibrancy of the people who speak it.  In French, the very even rhythm of the language hints at the balanced essence of a people who equally celebrate and lament both the joys and sorrows of life.  By contrast, the German language is a structured, tightly woven tongue that mirrors a highly ordered, logical people in thought and deed.  In Japanese, inherent to every syllable to be uttered is a note of respect that defines the culture itself:  respect for self, respect for others.  Even in the dead vernacular of Latin, the language exalts the virtue of man and all things masculine, which is very much evident in the historical accounts of the relationships of men to women.

Yes, languages speak to us about who we are as people, why we believe what we do, why we live as we do.

I find it wholly enchanting.

Even English, with all its variations and dialects, tells the story of the people who speak it.  In Britain, English is very refined and clipped, with a strong, almost condescending accent that suggests privilege and high culture (I mean that in the best possible way!).  Australian English is to me as feisty and rugged as its speakers.  And of course, there’s American English—my own native tongue—with its many accents and reincarnations that are a reflection of the varied and diverse of make-up of our citizens (this would be my own personal shout-out to my great country:  USA!).

Yes, language is the great bridge that broadens my worldview and acquaints me to people everywhere.

I tend to find that pretty cool.

It is also the great bridge that I use to bring people to my world.  Of the languages I know–I speak English fluently, dabble frequently in the Romance languages, flirt sporadically with the German tongue, and dream wistfully of the Cyrillic vernacular–I am also very proficient in one language that is not always so obvious:  the language of writing.

Okay, I’ll admit it:  I’ve written about this topic before but as a linguaphile, it’s a topic that I’m drawn to again and again.  The idea that writing itself is a kind of language appeals to me, for various reasons, and because I’m still a couple of hundred words shy of meeting my word count for this post, I’m going to share them with you (oh, no attempt at meeting the word count in that bit of dribble there, no sir…hehehe…)

One reason I’m always fascinated by this is that not everyone is fluent in writing.  Oh, sure, anyone can pick up a pen or pencil and scribble words and phrases, but not everyone can write to communicate a clear, concise message or tell a story.  If we understand that this is the function of language, than writing itself—in its own unique function as a language as opposed to being a vehicle for language—is no different if it serves the same purpose.  It doesn’t matter if what we’re writing is real or imagined, fact or fiction, speech or story—in order to convey the message, a person needs to be a fluent, coherent writer.  If you want to share your tale, even when writing, you have to “speak” the language, and you have to “speak” it well.

And yet, interestingly enough, the great thing about writing is that it’s never wrong.  The nature of writing is such that though its form may sometimes be incorrect (a clear indication that the writer is not yet “fluent”), its expression is always true.  There is never a false aspect to speech or accentuation or tone because when I think of writing as a language, I understand that this particular “language” is an extension of the human experience itself that is so broad—if not infinite—there really is no flaw.  I can create characters, scenes, or settings with any breadth of tone or speech I want, and although there may be mistakes in grammar or syntax or punctuation, my story elements are always as real as I imagine them to be, written in a voice that serves to characterize the writing itself.

And like with any other language I’ve ever spoken or studied, the more I work at it, the better I become.  My syntax improves and my vocabulary grows.  I gain more and more control of nuance and meaning.  My words develop a signature rhythm, a particular style, a certain je ne sais quoi.  I manipulate more and more different registers, from humor to prose to verse to essay.  The more I write, the more fluent I become.

Because when you love languages as I do, spoken or written, it’s all about being fluent.

EMJ

The Big Collision

Hey, I admit it:  I’m a dreamer.

I dream of my children going to college.  I imagine paying down my debts.  I envision renewing my wedding vows.

I dream of vacations on the French Riviera, where dark, swarthy Mediterranean men serve me exotic drinks with a sexy accent (heck of a leap, I know).

Sometimes, I dream of what might have been.  Frequently, I dream of what will be, and of course, there are those moments when I dream of what never was (there’s a little story to that, but I’ll save it for another day…)

And they’re glorious, my dreams!  There’s laughter in those reveries, lots of joy and much elation.  Life is very often good, even easy, and so it’s not hard to wonder why I dream.

But.

Recently, I made a completely innocuous observation that it’s a terrible thing when your dreams crash into reality. At the time, I just thought that sentence waxed poetic in my head and I actually posted it on Facebook, if for no other reason than I just like the way it rolled off my tongue.  Very wise, very profound.  (It’s because I’m so deep, you know?)

But actually, when I sat down at my computer later to do some work—after already having dedicated about an extra twenty-five hours above the forty hours that I’m actually paid for— that sentiment came back to me with a sudden kind of relevance.  I was at my computer, creating yet another lesson, planning to grade yet another assignment,  looking for yet another intriguing piece of video to bring the lesson to life (because God forbid students should be bored because your class is not entertaining enough) when I thought to myself, my god, I would so rather be writing right now.  After all, that’s my dream, is it not?  To be a writer?

I’ve got a novel going that I’m working on with a friend of mine that has been in my possession for months now and that I haven’t been able to look at (fortunately my writing partner has infinite wells of patience and doesn’t say anything—such a good guy!).  The little blog here that I write feels neglected.  It’s been months since I churned out a good short story.  And the one poem I wrote last month seemed to take forever to write, which for me, is a bit unusual.  When the writing bug hits, I can turn out a good poem in a few hours.  This one took weeks…but I digress…

All this nags at me, fills me with a sense of loss or despair.  Hopelessness.   There’s a kind of high I get when I write something, an immeasurable sense of accomplishment that picks me up and carries me away to heights beyond the heavens themselves, so when I’m unable to write—not because of lack of desire, but due to lack of opportunity—I get frustrated.  Antsy.  I feel unfulfilled.  I hear a little voice in my head that whispers that it’s time to write.  It tells me that I need to get a few words on paper, be it prose or verse or blog.  It suggests that I should dabble even if I can’t write

But time is my great enemy.  There’s never enough of it.  When I’m working, textbooks strewn about, tests stacked high on my dining room table, it steals from me precious hours and minutes that I could be using to scribble a verse or spin a tale of woe.  When I’m done, the ticking clock reminds me that my children need me and my husband misses me and so to them I go…and when finally, at long last, I think I’ve found a moment for myself, sleep (time’s evil partner if ever there was one) makes my eyes heavy in my head, my fingers slow on the keyboard, and my mind less sharp, less alert. Whatever even faint idea I may have had to write something slips from my thoughts, never to return….

The fact of the matter is that although I want to write, I have to work.  Bills must be paid, the kids have to be fed, my husband needs attention…and I’d like to enjoy a little something in the way of leisure activities.  As such, finding time to write every day is hard.

I know that there are people out there who would read this and scream out:  “Don’t make excuses! Make the time!  Find the time!  If you’re a writer, write!

I wouldn’t disagree with that at all, but finding time is hard.

During the school year, I work all the time, around the clock.  It’s a miracle to me that I still find time for kids and my husband (although my husband swears he suffers neglect at my hands, but you know, digressing and all that…)

So how do I reconcile the two?  My desire to write with my need to earn money?

I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to that.  I know that I have to take care of my family, and although I wish to no end that I could accomplish that task by writing, I have to be realistic.  I’m not famous, I’m not prolific, and when my dreams crash with my reality, there’s really no around even to hear the big bang, much less pick up the pieces of my frustration.

But I will give myself some credit. One of the beautiful things about wanting to do well is that I am becoming persistent.  I’m willing to try new little ventures when I write with the hope that every new story or poem or genre helps me wield a sharper, mightier pen, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I sneak in tidbits of story here, lines of stanza there, and finagle a little bit of paragraph for a blog everywhere.

As a matter of fact, when I dream, the thing that I see over and over is that I don’t give up.  That I push myself and that I try.  I find moments, sometimes one after the other, sometimes far and few between, to get my words on paper.  And all the while, there’s a mantra in my head:  I will do this thing, I will make this work, and one day, I will be great.

And when these dreams crash into this reality, what is left behind is hope.

EMJ

Not Even Death

photo credit: photo retrieved from Haunted America Tours

The hand he placed on her shoulder shimmered with an ethereal light, faint and pale.

She turned, startled.  Her eyes widened when she saw him.

“You’re…you’re here?

“You thought those pills would keep us apart?”  He exposed his wrists, revealed the ugly wounds. “Oh, lover, don’t you see? Now we’ve got eternity.”

She screamed.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.

Like what you’ve read? Then visit  Austin Briggs Flash Fiction Contest and give this story a “thumbs-up”!

Thanks for reading!

 

Ghost

What would the Halloween season be like without a ghost story?  Or in this case, a ghost verse

Moan and wail, clank of chain

Smell of death, recall pain

Haunts this hall, brings on fright

Shackled man who lurks this night

Smoke and mist, trick of light

Floats on air, a ghastly sight!

Behind the glass, through the door

Children, hide! And look no more

Obscure face, unknown soul

Wanders past, wanders slow

Sudden chill, horrid gasp

How long shall this terror last?

Rambles through, seeks to find

Passage to another time—

Bloodless spirit forced to dwell

Here on earth, a ghostly shell

Shimmers dark, shimmers light

Brings on fear, shrieks at night

Children, flee! Run and hide

‘Lest your wish too is to die

Beast and fiend, man no more

Soul is lost, love abhors

Anger stirs, hope is lost

Demon creature will accost

Children, please!  Heed this cry

For this is no lullaby

Rage abounds, fury too

Care that he comes not for you—

Moan and wail, clank of chain

Near the end of terror’s reign

Takes a soul, guards it well

Floats them both on down to hell.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN

Saying “Boo!”

As a writer, I love to write.  At any moment, at any time, whenever the inspiration hits me.  In the springtime, if it’s raining and the rain splatters on the rooftop in just the right way, I may write a poem.  When it’s hot and muggy outside and the mosquitos and the flies are buzzing around, I might grab my pencil and turn out a lazy bit of prose to match my summer day.  I’ve been known to tweak out a verse or two based on lyrics of a song that intrigued me.  And bearing witness to an act of kindness or malice has often demanded that I make my way to my computer and adapt my testimony into words of warmth or tales of woe.  On my phone I have a note pad app that allows me to tap out a line or two when I’m in my car and a bright idea hits me (when I’m stopped somewhere, of course!), and in my purse, I have a small, spiral-bound writing journal that I always keep handy so I can write when I take the kids to soccer or to Barnes & Noble (I mean, it’s Barnes & Noble, for Pete’s sake!  How can you not find inspiration there???)

Yea, I’m always ready to write, and lots of things move me to do it.

But nothing so much like the month of October.

October signals the time for witches and goblins, ghosts and ghouls.  It’s time for scary movies, horror specials, and dark novels.  It’s when the monsters in the closet seem a little more real, the creatures under the bed are more determined to get you, and that obscure shadow in the corner is not really a shadow at all…but something far and significantly more sinister.  Friday, October 13 is the ominous date on the calendar, and crossing the path of a black cat is a little creepier.  When the window is open but a crack, you hear the wolf howl at the moon and in the light of a fire—campfire or other—flames dance and prance the steps of the wicked.

October marks the time for fear.

As any horror writer will tell you, October is the month for our craft.  This is the season when people are not as afraid to take on the dark; in fact, they challenge it, consequences be damned.  We allow ourselves to fear with both amusement and trepidation, with both giggles and shudders.  We squeal with dark delight at the terrors that flicker across our TV screens in the safety of our own homes, but at night, we shake with anguish when the floorboards creak and the windows rattle.  And it’s this curious mixed acceptance of fear that horror writers thrive on and makes it easier to write than any other time of year.

Ah, October.

It’s the beginning of the celebration of the macabre.

In the mind of the horror writer—at least mine, anyway—this month is almost sacred.  There is a heightened sense of terror during these four weeks, and I am keenly aware of the darkness and treachery that is lurking.  Things speak to me during this month and I find inspiration everywhere:  from the little old lady hanging giant spiders on her porch to the dime-store monsters on sale at the local drugstore to the pint-sized ghouls that roam the streets forever in search of Halloween treats.  Michael Jackson’s Thriller plays on a loop on the radio and its spooky beats help set the mood for thirty-one nights of chills and thrills.

October.

Terror abounds in this corner of the calendar, and for those of us who like to pen dark, twisted tales, it’s ripe for the picking.  Sometimes the ink in our pens spills a classic story of evil witches looking to dine on naughty children.  Other times our pens will speak for the dead, recount their haunting, and deliver their revenge.  At still other moments, our pens scribble the random, incoherent thoughts of the insane, only to leave the sane wondering, bewildered and terrified.

More than any other month in the year, I am inspired by the whispers that float on the air, the undertones of death that waft on the breeze, the stark, bleak silhouettes of bare trees backlit by the ghostly light of moon and the owl’s haunted hoot.  They are stage and prelude to a symphony for the damned, where the screams of innocents and the slippery slide of blood upon the walls are the grand overture.

And I am inspired to write.

But more importantly, I am also even more inspired to share.  Because let’s face it, who doesn’t like to share the fear?  Who doesn’t like to go into the haunted house with friends so we can all scream together, laugh together, be scared together?  Who doesn’t like to sneak up on their best buddy and say “Boo!”?

Because really, that’s what horror writers do—certainly that’s what I like to do.  Writing horror is about sneaking up on someone and saying boo!—in the grandest way possible—and the month of October makes it both legitimate to do and lots of fun.

Yep, yep, I love October.  It motivates me like no other time of year, and despite all that I have going on and the troubles that plague me, October is calling me, winking at me, telling me it’s time to write.

There is inspiration everywhere and it’s time to say…

BOO!

EMJ