General Ramblings

Short Story: Living in the Extra

This story was originally submitted for The Real LiveJournal Idol, a writing contest that changed my life. I’m talking more and more about my writing process and writing in general, and thought it was a good time to share this. It’s personal and it’s raw, but it’s honest, and all stories should be honest. Enjoy, and tell me what you think!

“That computer is your buddy, isn’t it,” my grandmother asked me, a shard of light through the window falling on her silvered hair. And I smiled, awkwardly. Because it is. And it’s not. It’s a lot of things to me, this computer.

When I was little, I used to hate the very act of writing. My tiny hand curled around the too-big primary pencil in ways that were more comfortable than the pinch-grip they tried to teach me. I had to use pencils with that stupid plastic thing on it, to train my fingers to grip it correctly.

To this day, I still don’t.

We had an old typewriter from the 60s in the house. I was never allowed to touch it, because it was old, and it was fragile, and as a five-year-old I did stupid things like bang too hard on the keys, or run my fingers over the inky ribbon and smear the ink across things. But when I was seven, I typed my first story.

I fell in love with the sound of the keys.

To many people, writing is lifeblood. It’s something that they can’t imagine doing without. It’s like breathing.

Yeah, it is.

This past year has tested me more than any other as a friend, writer, and person. I lost my job at the end of a very dark February and subsequently was stuck daily in the house with my own thoughts. And my computer was my buddy – because it was one of my only lines to the outside world.

There are a lot of things you can’t tell people. You can’t tell them when you feel like everything is so dark that there are no shards of light through any windows, ever. You can’t tell them that a bottle of Tylenol 3s you got for a tooth infection look like a way out. And you can’t tell them that most days, “I need to go and clean” means that you went to bed, curling up under the covers, and waited out the waves of darkness until it seemed safe to come out.

I couldn’t tell my friends, maybe, but I could tell the computer. I could tell the keys what to say.

When I published my book, I had no idea that I was letting people into a world that I don’t share with many. I’m pretty reserved. I pretend everything is fine. And a lot of people who knew me tangentially through my parents, or my sister, were surprised when they read a book of poetry that’s sometimes raw, and sometimes too honest, and sometimes really abstract.

In short, they glimpsed the world I retreat into when things are too dark.

In a way, I think that I live in two worlds. One is the one that I see every day. There are hints of beauty. An Instagram photo. Someone’s reblog on Tumblr. The spectacular view of a lake sunset. That sort of thing.

And then there’s the world that’s punctuated by the sound of the keys. Where things are a little too raw. Where a picture of a thin actress smoking looks like the most beautiful work of art ever. Where I live inside my own head and imagine things that will never happen. Where I hear the voices of people who lived in my city well before anyone alive today did, asking me to tell their stories.

I’ve occasionally lost that world – or maybe I fell too far into it. When I can’t find the words because someone found them first, and said them better than I ever could. When I spend the day staring out the window at the endless traffic, wondering if I’m going to ever be able to make a difference. Whether it’s worth trying.

I sat with my grandmother today in the pure afternoon light of a spring afternoon and listened to her ramble on about her life sixty-five years ago. And I punctuated her story with the sound of my keys, trying to capture the mood, the light, the words, the story – before she realized what I was doing and stopped talking.

“Yes,” I replied, and smiled. “The computer is my buddy. It’s how I write.”

And she picked up my book, lying in a place of pride beside my mother’s chair, and paged through it thoughtfully. As she traced a finger over my poetry, her mouth softened, and she said,

“I can see why.”

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