Dandelions

My yard is dotted with miniature white pouf balls that flake apart and float around my legs as I slaughter them row by row with my lawn mower. They disperse even before I reach them, as though they sense the end is coming and abandon ship. It’s a defense mechanism; these dandelions give their life today but their drifting seeds ensure that the species lives on. Live on, they will. Tomorrow twice as many will pop up in my freshly-mowed lawn. Tiny yellow circles will emerge through the tall grass stalks, polka-dotting my otherwise uniform yard, starting the whole process over again. I’m fighting a battle I cannot win.

How times have changed.

Dandelion warfare used to mean hiding in the bushes around our brick house in the country, waiting for the neighbor girl to come find me. When she got close enough, I jumped out from the shadows and wrestled her to the ground. Armed with a bunch of yellow blossoms, I sat on her chest and mercilessly rubbed the flower heads against her cheek, painting her face a bright gold. Standing victoriously above my victim, I’d let out a long laugh. She rolled over and plucked a nearby dandelion; as she rose to her feet, I retreated. She chased after me with hopes to repay the favor.

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I spent whole afternoons outside collecting dandelions. Those that weren’t used as ammunition made a lovely bouquet that I could present to my mother. And she’d take out a small shot glass and fill it with water, displaying the weeds proudly on the kitchen counter.

Back then, we laid in the grass, looked up at the clouds, and picked white pouf balls out of my mother’s lawn. The milky fluid inside the stem seeped out onto my hand and arm, leaving me sticky. We closed our eyes and made a wish. Then we took in a deep breath and blew off the seeds, impregnating the grass with more dandelions to come. My mother must have hated it, just as I now hate to see the seeds whirl around and settle elsewhere in the yard.

In my youth, dandelions were synonymous with play, dreams, and love. Now in my adulthood, dandelions are synonymous with work, reality, and hate. They infiltrate the landscaping and the grass. They are unsightly and embarrassing. I spend hours bending over, attempting to pull them up, only to have their stems break off; their roots, their life force, are left behind to grow new flowers. They mock me with their resilience.

For what reason do I hate them? It would seem that vanity is to blame. Homeowners are expected to keep their yard clean, their landscape immaculate, their sidewalks edged from meandering grass. It’s not proper to let things get wild and unkempt. Tidiness and order are valued most. Says who? I have no idea. It’s an unspoken rule that becomes evident the minute you sign the mortgage.

So we waste our weekends and our evenings mowing down those yellow blooms and or plucking out white poufs, even though they’ll come right back.

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As I get older, I feel like I’m expected be tidy and have order. And sure, that can be good. It promotes reliability, security, comfort. But it can also promote predictability and monotony. There is little time for dreams when there’s so much work to do.

But dreams, I find, like dandelions, always come back the next day. And I have been mowing down my dreams lately, telling myself that I’m not good enough, that I’ll never make it. Yet the next day, they pop back up like tiny yellow circles through the tall grass stalks.

Those little yellow blossoms are a reminder for me—a reminder to be wild and unkempt sometimes. They make me want to forget work every once in a while, and instead run through grass, paint my skin, and make wishes.

I think I will leave the lawn mower in the garage, pluck a white pouf from the yard, close my eyes, make a wish, and blow.

Writing Prompt: Swimming

I do not like swimming in the ocean. There are too many things that live in the ocean that could eat me or maim me. I don’t always like swimming in the lake, either. I often can’t see my feet, so who knows what is lingering underneath in the great deep? When I was young, maybe six years old, we went camping on Lake Huron. The lake is filled with big round boulders. I held onto an intertube, and when I kicked my feet to propel myself forward in the water, my toes would touch the smooth cold slab of rock. I believed I was kicking whales, sharks, underwater dinosaurs that would chomp off my feet as payment for disturbing them. I floated all alone, far away from my family, too scared to kick my feet in order to make it back to shore.

I much prefer the comfort of a swimming pool, where I can see my feet at all times. In our backyard, we had a large round above-ground pool with a bright blue liner. I put on my googles, held my breath, and investigated every inch of the pool. My mother called me a waterbug and said I had webbed feet. I belonged in the water.

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While on a tour of Italy with my travel agent mother and 40 strangers, I was feeling queasy from riding the bus all day through the countryside. When we returned to the hotel, my mother went to church, but I went up to the rooftop terrace to the pool. I slid myself into the cool water from the edge until it covered my head. Like a baptism, whatever evil plagued my system was cast out and I was cured.

Water has always had healing powers for me. And in that way, my interactions with it are somewhat religious. It frightens me but it can also soothe me. It absolves me from my earthly life and transforms me into something new. If humans evolved from fish, it’s no wonder I wish to return to the place whence I came.

Shadow Dancing

I lean against the foyer wall and let my forehead rest on the cool plaster. It throbs with a headache. My stomach rumbles low but loudly. It is trying to digest the fast-food cheeseburger I picked up in a rush on my lunch hour. I had brought a salad with me, but when I thought of eating it, it was unsatisfying.

The temptation to slump onto the couch and watch television seems irresistible, but I have already forsaken the salad. So I change into my workout clothes and descend to the basement where we keep our exercise gear.

Shoelaces tied and hair pulled back, I step onto the treadmill. I put on my headphones and swipe through the playlists on my smartphone. I select something upbeat, hoping the rhythm will energize me. I press “play” and turn the volume up.

A woman’s confident voice floods my eardrums and a strong drumbeat resonates in my hips, which start to bump out to the side as I place one foot in front of the other on the moving belt. I make a desperate effort to keep time with both the treadmill and the rhythm of the song, but they are not the same speed, and I have to do a half-step cha-cha move in order to keep on the beat.

The cha-cha step wins me over. My arms no longer swing at my sides but are in line with my shoulders, as though I were salsa dancing with a partner. I shake my shoulders, and my breasts flail chaotically under the constraints of my sports bra.

I hit the “stop” button with a determined thud and leap off the belt onto the floor, music still pounding in my ears. There is nothing in my mind but the thump of percussion and that confident voice provoking me to move, move now!

I thrash my arms side to side as I jump up and down. I’ve completely gotten off the beat of the music; I’m not listening to it anymore. All the energy inside me, all the stress and tension from the day, all the aspirations and goals I desperately want to achieve are released in this tumultuous moment. I scream the lyrics at the top of my lungs, gasping for breath in between jumps.

I am casting out the demon within me. This is my exorcism.

The song ends. I am panting through a big open-mouthed smile. Another song begins.

This time, my movements are more methodic, more melodic, more controlled. The demon is gone. I can dance as I wish. Memories of ballet classes and high school dances and choreographed routines flood my memory. My feet remember the steps.

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Recessed lighting splashes my shadow onto every wall. Neither my frazzled hair, now falling out from its ponytail, nor my pudgy skin is discernible in the reflection on the drywall.

With one swift movement, I extract the cloth rubber band from my hair and the strands fall to my shoulders. I shake my head back and forth in time to the beat and the damp ends of my hair whip at my face and sting my cheeks. I close my eyes and laugh gleefully. Running my fingers through my hair, the warm stench of perspiration fills my nostrils, and I delight in the sweet and sour smell of my body’s hard work.

I dance with my shadow now, attemtping to seduce it. I thrust my pelvis and run my hands up my sides. You want me, I tell the shadow. I am sexy. But you can’t have me. I’m too good for you.

I turn my back on the shadow and flick my hair.

The song ends. The lights flicker and I hear the groan of the garage door crawling upwards. I collect my hair and replace the cloth rubber band. I wipe my sweaty face with the back of my hand. The door opens and my husband steps in the house. I peer up at him from the bottom of the staircase.

“Hello, dear,” he says. “What are you to?”

“Just exercising,” I reply simply, a little embarrassed that I was almost caught. “I’ll be up in a minute.”

I look back into the basement and smile at the experience I just had. I found a new workout, yes, but I found more than that.

I leave my headphones on the table and turn off the light. The walls go dark and the shadow disappears. I pause for a moment, then climb the staircase.

*What makes you feel free, helps you forget the stress of everyday life? What makes you feel most like yourself? Leave me a comment. I’d love to know!*

[image found here](http://www.graphix1.co.uk/2011/09/01/creatively-outstanding-shadow-photography/)

Writing Prompt: Sports Teams

I’ve been watching the Red Wings playoffs for over a decade. Every year the season starts with hope and anticipation. How far will they get? What saves will our superhero goalie make? What hard hits will our veteran players crush their opponents with?

During a college summer internship at a General Motors transmission plant, we piled into a small break room washed out by florescent bulbs; the windows that looked out onto the factory were grimy from years of cigarette smoke. Above a wall of vending machines hanging in the corner was a 20-inch tube tv. Men with greasy mustaches and mullets, dirty t-shirts and ripped jeans, huddled with us clean, naive college kids, all eyes locked on the small screen. With minutes to go, we all held our breath as one of our players flung the puck down the ice; we watched it slowly glide past the red posts of the empty net. Those still working watched us through the dirty glass silently jumping up and down in celebration.

One of the movie theaters in town showed the playoff games on the big screen. Every seat was full. People cheered and booed and groaned and gasped together as our team got close to scoring or close to getting scored on. A player approached our goal and smacked the puck toward the net, but Chris Osgood swept his arm and caught it in his wide glove. The room erupted in cheers and high-fives.

I worked second shift and got home about 11pm, when the game should have been over, but that year the playoff games went into triple overtime. I got home from work and got to watch a whole other hockey game. We stayed up until 2 in the morning, fighting sleep, to see the final outcome.

We don’t invest our money in cable. There’s nothing good on television, besides hockey, that is. So we park ourselves at sports bars, on friends’ couches, anywhere that gets us a view at game time and gives us a hand to high-five when that airhorn blows.

*What’s your favorite sports team? What are some of your favorite memories of watching them? Get our your timer and start writing!*

A Collection of Passion

My husband and I attended Founder’s Black Party last Saturday, where specialty limited-release dark beers are featured on tap. We bellied up to the bar for some delicious selections; I chose the Panther Cub with its sweetness of maple syrup and vanilla and my husband chose the Donkey Stout with its chocolatey smokiness. We ordered some blackberry barbecue rib tips from the deli and took all our loot outside to enjoy what was left of the day’s sunshine.

As we ate and drank and enjoyed, we heard a band inside the taproom start to run a sound check. The large garage doors to the taproom were open to let in the fresh spring breeze, but we had our back to the main building and instead stared out onto the city. We heard the expected instruments each try out their microphones—the drums thumped, the guitar strummed, the bass guitar grumbled.

Then we heard a woodwind. “Is that an oboe?” my husband asked me. We both turned around and peered inside. A tall young lady with blonde hair was chirping on a clarinet.

“Well, that’s unexpected,” I answered.

The next sound check came from a skinny man with a small ponytail. He practiced his trombone into the microphone. Over the next half hour, a collection of different instrument sounds wafted from the taproom and out onto the patio in endless succession: a mandolin, an accordion, a wooden flute. It was the longest and most interesting sound check I’ve ever heard.

Our curiosity eventually lured us inside just as their set was about to start. A banner with the name “The Collection” was draped in front of the keyboard. We turned our attention to the bar for a moment to order a second round, and when we looked back at the stage, we were met with a surprise—the entire band put on what looked like Venetian Carnival masks. I wasn’t sure what to expect next now with this eclectic masquerade unfolding before me. I leaned over to my husband and whispered in his ear with a chuckle, “I don’t know if I’m drunk enough for this yet.”

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The band began to play, and the upbeat music had me instantly and uncontrollably tapping my foot. All the instruments blended together perfectly and their musicians switched between them fluidly and flawlessly. One minute I spotted the man in the back playing a banjo, and the next second he had moved onto the didgeridoo (a freakin’ didgeridoo, guys), and I never saw him switch the instruments out or noticed any note out of place.

It wasn’t just their skill or their melody that lured me in. It was the sheer enjoyment they got out of playing. They weren’t playing to impress the audience. They weren’t even playing to boast of their abilities. They were playing for the sake of playing, because that was what they loved to do and wanted to do in that very moment.

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A man with a full beard tangoed with his bass guitar, taking nimble steps back and forth across the stage. The man with the ponytail closed his eyes and turned his face towards the heavens as if performing this song was a spiritual act for him. The ladies on the left side of the stage sang every word instinctively under their breath, though it wasn’t their turn to sing. They were fans of their own band. The songs they played were their favorite songs.

And it was infectious. I smiled a wide open smile throughout their performance. I didn’t want to blink because I didn’t want to miss a minute of their joy.

When they played “The Gown of Green” with its hypnotic beat, the audience nodded their heads together in sync. There were people of all ages, of all walks of life in the crowd, but it didn’t matter. The band had united us. We moved as one.

I think part of what surprised me and entertained me so much with this performance was the fact that, yes, they were so obviously passionate about their art. But I think it extends farther than that. They were passionate about life. They were excited to live; because they were living, they were able to play. And that may sound strange—of course they’re happy to be alive. Yet I think it’s so easy to forget how wonderful passion can be. The older I get, the more I can feel it draining from me and getting replaced with responsibility and routine. I hold onto it with white knuckles, refusing to let it go entirely. Because I believe that passion is the means to happiness. I’m most happy when I’m passionate about what I’m doing.

The Collection taught me a valuable lesson. I don’t want to write because I want to impress the audience or boast of my abilities. I want to make sure I write because it’s what I love to do and what I want to do in this moment, because it’s what I have passion for. I want to be my biggest fan. I want what I write to be my favorite story.

As we walked out of Founders, the sun long gone and the fires on the patio glowing bright, I still had a smile on my face, a melody in my head, and a passion burning in my heart, all put there by The Collection.

Writing Prompt: Storms

The swift air slaps me awake and I gasp, startled and afraid. The blinds blow into the room, floating in front of the window like a ghost. Rain is pounding the grass in my front yard and I get out of bed and feel the screen. Mist dampens the sill and the floor. I push the window down with effort until it slams shut. The blinds relax. The room is silent.

We watch storms come in across the bean field on the other side of the road. We sit protected under our covered porch on a wooden bench and feel the wind change against our face, breathe in the fresh smell of forthcoming dampness, and watch for bursts of light to flash in the clouds. One, one-thousand, two one-thousand—BOOM, the thunder crashes. And we remain on the porch. This is a spectator sport.

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image from theenchantedhome.co

Sometimes we sit in lawn chairs in the open garage. As the wind brings the rain closer to our bare feet and legs, we push our chairs back to keep dry. I remember one evening when the sky turned an eerie and beautiful lime green. The wind calmed. We held our breath, waiting for funnel clouds to form in the infinite stillness.

When I was young, I had to be carried out to the school bus when it was raining. Our driveway was dirt and gravel and thousands of worms would writhe on the ground. I couldn’t walk around them, and I refused to walk on them. The neighbor girl offered me her back. I crushed her bookbag as I wrapped my legs around her small body. She carefully but hastily tip-toed down the driveway. I kept my eyes on the ground, my feet safely two feet above the slithering serpents.

*What was the scariest storm you lived through? Do you enjoy storms or do you hide under the bed? Set the timer and write it all down.*

In Defense of Literature

It was a beautiful spring day, bright and sunny, and students dotted the grassy knolls with open books in their laps, cramming for their final exams, as I hurried across my alma mater’s campus toward the English hall to watch a friend defend her Master’s thesis. I reached the conference room just in time and took the first empty plush chair inside the door. Her professors, who once were my professors, sat expectantly across the table, dressed up and sipping coffee from paper cups. In front of each of them laid a stack of paper filled with thousands of my friend’s thoughtful words which she wrote and re-wrote over the course of a year.

My friend sat at the head of the table, a stack of her own words in front of her as well. To the side was a fat paperback novel, obviously well-used; scotch tape could be seen holding the binding together. As she explained the premise behind her thesis (which was based on that novel), she lovingly (and most likely unknowingly) stroked the front cover as though it were the cherished family dog. That book was probably her best friend for the past year; they were rarely separated and now it was here to celebrate this milestone with her.

It seemed like just yesterday I was in her seat, uncontrollably stroking my copy of a collection of Shirley Jackson stories, exhiliarated to have accomplished so much and nervous to hear others’ opinions of my hard work.

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The English hall at my college alma mater.

It may seem useless to spend a whole year dissecting and interpreting every single word in a book or a story. You may ask, what is the point? It’s just one book. It’s just one author.

But it’s more than that. It’s a passion. It’s a passion for the work and for the author, yes, but it’s also a passion for truth—for learning about this world or an older one and prophesying about a future one.

It’s like deciphering a puzzle, only the puzzle you’re deciphering is human nature. The author has encoded everything they’ve learned about life up to now in their work, and it’s your job to figure out what they are trying to say.

It’s a passion for thinking hot-burning thoughts, for seeing things no one has seen before, for telling the whole world about something you discovered.

It’s an adventure. It’s exhilarating. It’s so goddamn fun.

I remember sitting in her seat two years ago, declaring my discoveries in front of God and my professors. I had broken the code. I had uncovered the secrets of Shirley Jackson’s writing!

I walked out of that building feeling like I could change the world. I felt like the smartest person who had ever lived…because of one book, one author.

It’s a rare feeling. I’ve struggled with the jobs I’ve had up to now, because even on days when they’re most challenging, I get nowhere near feeling as accomplished as I did that spring day two years ago.

But writing helps. Writing puts me on the other side. I get to take everything I’ve learned about life up to now, put it into words, and post it online for you to decipher and interpret. It’s a different type of excitement to know that you’re out there, reading my words. I wonder how they affect you: if they touch your heart or motivate you to move. I wonder what messages you take away from my encoded words.

I only hope that you find reading my writing to be at least somewhat of an adventure, and hopefully more than somewhat fun, so that you may have a taste of what it is I’m most passionate about and begin to understand.

Writing Prompt: Favorite Food

My husband came home with a miniature food processor one day, which, to me, was way better than a bouquet of roses. We boiled apples in a big stockpot until they were tender, then threw them into the food processor and whizzed them around until they turned to mush.

My mother-in-law prefers a different method, which involves boiling the apples down to a thick sauce, constantly mashing and toiling over her bubbling pot, as though she were mixing a magical potion, only stopping to replenish the water as it evaporates away.

Though both methods make decent applesauce, neither make the right applesauce.

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The only recipe I need is my grandfather’s, but he can’t teach it to me because he’s dead. I rummaged through his drawers and binders of recipes left behind in his empty kitchen and found none for applesauce. I know where his recipe is. It’s in his decaying brain and his quiet heart six feet under.

I find I can’t replicate the precise golden color–more yellow than bronze–with flecks of ground cinnamon and nutmeg. My attempts are too spicy or too sweet. I can’t re-create the cold taste that refreshes my hot mouth and hot breath, the taste that cools and warms all at once with love and comfort.

*What is your favorite food to make, to eat? What foods make you nostalgic? Get out your trusty timer and write about it!*

In the Driver’s Seat

I’ve owned two cars in my life, and I considered them both pieces of junk. I learned early on in my driving career how to fill coolant and check my oil not because I wanted to know but because I had to know. These tasks had to be done before I took any trip over 30 miles.

However, the extent of my car knowledge didn’t expand much past coolant and oil. I made plenty of emergency stops at roadside gas stations in the middle of nowhere to call a parent or a friend to come and rescue me.

And yet road trips were always a love of mine in my early driving years. I had friends throughout the state, and I wouldn’t think twice about visiting Lansing or Detroit on a whim, map in hand and with a vague idea of where I was going.

I used to drive the 2.5-hour-long trip back and forth from college to my mom’s house all the time. It was routine. It was easy. I’d pop in the soundtrack to *Rent, Aida, Ragtime,* belt out the lyrics and bounce up and down in my seat. The minutes, the hours would tick away and I wouldn’t even notice. By intermission, I’d be in Brighton. By the finale, I’d be home.

But college finished and I started dating the man I would eventually marry. And from then on, I had a travelling partner to accompany me on those long rides across the state or anywhere else we wanted to go. He’s always had the more reliable car, and his car maintenance knowledge extended far past coolant and oil.

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Me with my crappy rusty Malibu

It was natural, then, that we got in the habit of taking his car when we went out. I was content allowing him to take the driver seat and for me to climb into the passenger seat. I enjoyed not having the responsibility of driving. I much preferred the freedom of my relaxing post the next seat over. From there, I could watch the world go by outside the window, only changing my glance to look over at my husband and smile. My hands, not needed on the steering wheel, could reach over and rub his shoulders. My feet, with no pedals to press, could be tucked up under my leg. I could make myself comfortable. There is nothing I have to do but ride.

But recently, I had to make a 2.5 hour-long trek up to Traverse City alone for work. I borrowed my husband’s 2010 SUV and let him take my rusty 2002 Malibu for the day. I climbed into the driver’s seat, his seat, and shut the door. I adjusted the mirrors and took a deep breath.

I wasn’t sure I could get myself there in one piece. I was inexplicably nervous. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t have any CDs. My phone wouldn’t get a signal up there. What would I do if I got lost, if I got in an accident? Who would be able to help me?

The driver’s seat wasn’t mine. The passenger seat was where I belonged.

I had grown afraid of the driver’s seat. I was used to depending on my husband to safely transport me places. I somewhere lost confidence in my ability to get myself anywhere on my own. When I had to drive somewhere, even if I had a good idea of where I was going, I still put the address into my GPS and followed it obediently thought it may take me a way I wouldn’t normally go. I had completely lost faith in myself.

The thing is, as much as I tell myself I can’t drive, I know that I can. I know that I must.

Of course I got myself to Traverse City and back, though there was snow and ice and darkness and deer jumping across the highway. My knuckles may have been white from grasping the wheel too hard, but my tight grip helped me stay on the road. I hadn’t forgotten how to drive. I just had to believe in my ability to do it.

Last weekend, I bought a new car. It’s reliable. It’s good on gas. It’s the car we’ll take across the state to visit family or up north for vacation or anywhere else we want to go. “I’ll drive,” I’ll say, and climb into the driver’s seat unafraid.

I know what I’m doing. I know where I’m going.

Writing Prompt: Childhood Vacation

My rich uncle owned a condo in Myrtle Beach, and he let my family stay there a few times. I don’t have a clear picture of it in my mind, but all vacation condos I’ve ever been in are the same. Light pink and light blue Polynesian floral patterns cover the soft surfaces: the walls, the cushions, the bedspreads. All hard surfaces are white: white cabinets, white wicker furniture, white tile on the floor. Condos are luxurious and cold at the same time. People are always coming and going, living and creating memories and then disappearing into oblivion. The decorations lack any sort of personality; they must fit everyone’s taste and also provide an easy way to quickly wipe away any sort of living that went on there. The condo waits, sterile and empty, for another family to come along.

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It is the time we spent outside of the condo that made the trip memorable. This trip to Myrtle Beach will always stand out in my memory because of the amount of alligators we saw. We saw them on our bike ride sunning themselves, on the grass by the river, the river where we fished from a small wooden dock. My father, forever afraid of worms (he and I have that in common), used hot dogs as bait, which attracted all the alligators in a five mile radius. He hurried to take my fishing line out of the water as a large dark shadow paddled closer and closer. Hot dogs safely back in the cooler, we decided that was enough fishing for one day.