Earlier this month, my short story “Bringing Them Home” was featured in Switchback Magazine. It’s based on a true story that my mom saw on the news and told me about. I was so moved that I sat down and scribbled out my own version in one go. Certain elements have been changed from the real event, but I think the heart remains the same. And it’s a fitting tale for Memorial Day Weekend. It’s a thank you to our all service men and women.
It’s funny what you remember and what you don’t. Like, why did Angie and I decide to drive around and take photographs of fancy houses? I have no idea. But I remember sunlight streaming through the windshield, and the weight of the old Nikon around my neck, and Natalie Imbruglia’s voice lilting over the speakers.
That day, that day, what a mess, what a marvel…
We parked in front of a two-story behemoth, all white stucco and Spanish clay. The high-arching trees of Tanglewood threw dappled light onto the road and across our bare arms. Our shoes shuffled down the sidewalks, skipped over puddles of yesterday’s rain. We photographed ourselves in the water’s murky reflection.
Every secret shared… Why do I drink the feelings dry?
My broken heart was finally mended. I had time, distance, perspective — and now a handsome friend texting me flirty messages. Angie’s heart was more freshly torn, and I ached for her. But we were together, muddling through the humid day, talking and not talking about the things that had hurt us so.
Everything wrong gonna be all right, come September…
This neighborhood seemed like a good place to dream about the lives we would lead someday. Safe behind wrought iron gates, happy in high-ceilinged homes. It was the future, full of possibility, still tinged with the past. The first boy I had seriously crushed on lived down one of these streets. Flame-colored hair, sea-colored eyes.
Tie a silver ribbon around the pieces that remain…
When we finished our rolls of film, we got back into the car and drove away. With the windows down, I let my hand float outside, fingers buffeted by the air. We sang at the top of our lungs.
Later, most of the pictures would turn out to be crap. Some memories can’t be developed in a darkroom or preserved behind plastic.
We slid the 4×6 prints into photo albums anyway.
I am successful because my mother showed me how it is done. She invested herself in me, and I owe her everything. I hope that she knows that I knew what she was doing. I knew that she cared and wanted me to learn how to work, how to be generous, how to be loyal. She is the reason I know how and where inside myself to dig deep. I was paying attention. I recognize the tireless campaigner she was on my behalf.
From Kevin Durant’s MVP speech (which you really should watch, with tissues handy):
“And last, my mom. I don’t think you know what you did. … You’re the real MVP.”
In my opinion, one of the best things creative people can do is partake in creative work outside their chosen field. Because art sings to art.
Friend, fellow writer, and all-around-awesome-dude Dustin Hansen decided to start this thing called #MayAlphaZoo — a daily “sketch” exercise, guided by the alphabet. For a couple days it was just me and him, but quickly enough, other artists of all kinds were joining the ranks.
Designer Loel Phelps works with rich colors and textures. Children’s illustrator Amanda Erb draws critters that kill me with their cute. Musician/sound editor Jason Robison is composing short original scores to accompany Dustin’s animals, while Alternative9 Comics is “robotizing” them. Ben Brooks is making a codex of all the creatures in his Middle Grade fantasy work-in-progress. And like I said, I’m doing bugs. The ants and bees were a coincidence at first, but everyone encouraged me to keep with the theme. What can I say? I bowed to the (positive) peer pressure.
What I love about the #MayAlphaZoo project is how I’ve fallen in with this group of amazingly talented artists that I normally wouldn’t have reason to work with. I’m pushing myself to draw better and stay committed every day. And I’m purposely limiting myself to the Paper by 53 app on my iPad mini, because it’s efficient, because I’ve had the app forever and never use it, and because my design classes taught me that constraints boost creativity.
Maybe none of this will directly impact my writing, but I think it’s improving me — as a problem-solver, as an artist, as a person — and I have to believe that trickles through.
Anyway, here are a few examples of what each of us is doing. Hope you enjoy! And if you want to join in, just tweet your work and hashtag it #MayAlphaZoo. The more, the merrier!
— Ben L. J. Brooks (@BenLJBrooks) May 3, 2014
— loel phelps (@Design7307) May 3, 2014
— Jason Robison (@FFSounds) May 5, 2014
— Alternative9 (@A9comics) May 6, 2014
— Dustin Hansen (@DustHansen) May 7, 2014
— Amanda Erb (@mandaErb) May 7, 2014
— Kristan Hoffman (@kristanhoffman) May 7, 2014
Saw rerun of Bewitched. Recalled childhood kinship w Tabitha bc she was halfie too. Witch, not Asian, but still. <- #WeNeedDiverseEverything
— Kristan Hoffman (@kristanhoffman) May 1, 2014
In case you missed it, the YA community is spearheading a charge for increased diversity in contemporary literature. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is amazing, and you can find out how to participate here.
For my part, I’m tweeting and re-tweeting, and I’m writing diverse stories, and I’m now (as ever) sharing my own personal thoughts and experiences.
Last night, I caught a rerun of the 60s television show Bewitched, which I used to love as a kid. The hijinks of a witch and her ad exec husband — what’s not to like? Best of all, they had a kid. A HALFIE kid. Like me. And even though little Tabitha didn’t do a whole lot in the story, I adored her. She was one of the few “biracial” characters I knew growing up.
Other favorites included Evie, the half-alien star of Out of This World, and Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation, who was half-Betazed. Noticing a pattern, anyone?
There’s more. My favorite Disney princess was Belle, a brown-haired, brown-eyed book lover, and my favorite anime character was Sailor Jupiter, a brown-haired, brown-eyed tomboy. No matter that they were French or Japanese, respectively. I was looking for myself in stories, and these were the closest resemblances that I could find. Not precisely right, but better than nothing.
Now imagine a kid who can’t see herself anywhere. Not even in these pale approximations. The idea of that honestly makes me cry.
We need diverse books — and movies, and music, and teachers, and business leaders, and politicians, and everything else. We need them, and we shouldn’t have to justify why. The reasons are pretty evident.