Friday, June 23, 2017

Writers Who Struggle with Underachievement: Perfectionism by Dan Peters

This clip is specifically about some gifted children who end up paralyzed by perfectionism and the anxiety it can elicit.

This is also very applicable to many, many, many writers I've met over the years; both children and adults.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty

**New chapters posted on Wednesdays**

“Your destination is ahead on the right,” my phone informed me.
I scanned the dark road ahead and saw a small spotlight illuminating a wide sign sitting in the center of a weedy median separating two roads, one that led in and one that led out of the Shady Vil age M bile Home Par .
I pulled Vader over on the side of the road. I reached up and turned on the interior light then checked the address I had scribbled on the blue sticky note with the one underneath the dilapidated Shady Village sign. Maybe I had entered the wrong address into my phone?
My eyes flicked back and forth between the sign and the note several times. No, this was the place. For some reason, probably because I had seen Porter walking Paige from her elementary school, I had imagined that they lived inside one of those small but quaint brick homes in the same neighborhood as the school.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I had expected when I opened his file, but I hadn’t guessed that I would need to turn page after page of other stuff before finding his address.
I had tried to not read what those pages had written on them. But some of the phrases had practically leaped out at me.
Emotional trauma due to . . .
Porter had bruises on . . .
Removed from the home due to physical abuse . . .
All of these clues, hints into what had happened to Porter, why Porter was the way he was—I forced myself to not read too closely. When I had eventually found his demographic info in the file, I saw that there was a #43 following the address and figured it was an apartment.
I turned off Vader’s interior light, shifted into first gear, and slow rolled into the Shady Village Mobile Home Park. #43 was not an apartment number—so what? It was a trailer number. It’s not like it mattered. Lots of people lived in trailers—and some of them were really nice. Gran had even lived in one, I reminded myself. After Pops died, and she didn’t want to stay in their house in Jacksonville all by herself, so she had moved to that cute retirement community on the beach—those were mobile homes. With their tiny lawns, and bright colored awnings, and all the tanned, well-groomed retirees driving around in golf carts and waving to each other as they shouted reminders about the clubhouse events, like swing dancing and dominos.
Inside Shady Village, the first trailer on my left, #01, had a crumbling driveway and a set of broken stairs that led up to a screen door desperate to hang on by the one hinge still connecting it to the frame. I drove slow, my eyes swinging from left to right scanning the numbers on the wooden stakes hammered into the ground in front of every angled trailer. Some were lit up inside; their windows illuminated the night with shades of orange and yellow, the flashing white light of televisions. Others looked like abandoned black blocks.
#18 had two men slumped in low slung lawn chairs. They talked and sipped from cans, the red tips of their cigarettes easy to spot in the dark.
#32 had a bright security light that pierced the night as soon as I drove past. The harsh light was so white it almost looked blue. With it on, I could clearly see the American Flag mounted next to it and the perfectly manicured patch of grass waiting to turn green as soon as the weather stayed warm and the owner could start watering.
#43 was ahead on my left.
I stopped Vader across from Porter’s trailer, right in front of #44. I was careful to not park in front of their driveway even though the truck that was parked there was propped up on four stacks of cinder blocks and looked like it hadn’t moved anywhere in the last five years.
I turned off Vader’s engine and waited for the nervous clatter that radiated from my bones to stop. I stared at Porter’s trailer. Deep breath. I can do this, I told myself, hoping that some unexpected rush of courage would propel me from the safety of my car.
I didn’t move.
How mad was Porter going to be to see me at the front door of his shitty trailer? And why exactly was he going to be mad? My God, there were so many possible reasons. The real question was, which one of them was going to be that wrong step in Porter’s emotional minefield that triggered one of the rages that filled his psych file?
Which brought me to my worst offense: the fact that I had rifled through that confidential file in order to get his address. What was I going to say when he asked me—and he would—how I had found him?
The truth? A tight knot pulled at my stomach. I’m sorry Porter, I needed to talk to you and your phone wasn’t working and yes I looked through your file but I promise I didn’t read anything. Totally believable.
My hand reached for the keys still hanging from the ignition. I considered starting Vader back up and driving quietly back to my house—Porter would never even have to know that I had been here.
My feet pushed in the clutch and brake while my hand shook the gearshift to make sure it was in neutral before turning the key—I should absolutely go home.
Movement at Porter’s trailer caught my attention, and when I looked I saw the front door cracked open. A wedge of light from inside the trailer lit up the narrow front steps, and Paige slipped through the door and into the night. With her head down, she held the handrail and watched every step until both her small feet were on the ground. She circled back behind the stairs and then disappeared beneath them.
I took my foot off the clutch and pulled the handbrake before grabbing my phone—it was 9:17. What was she doing? I watched Porter’s front door again, he’d probably come looking for her any second. Lights were on inside but the curtains they had hanging over the short windows were closed.
But I could see shadows moving.
It was cold outside, and I was pretty sure Paige was wearing pajamas and had bare feet. I watched the dark space beneath the stairs she had slipped into and waited for Porter to come looking for her. One minute, two—I checked my phone: 9:20. What was she doing under there?
Shadows were still moving behind the thin curtains, and then, for a moment, the fabric shifted suddenly before settling back into place. The shapes inside seemed to be all over the place.
Dread settled over me and I clutched my phone. Something wasn’t right. As my eyes flicked between the trailer door and the small hole Paige had crawled into, my limbs felt heavy and useless. I wished desperately for Porter to appear on that rickety metal porch outside that door, call for his sister, then haul her back inside while scolding her for messing around.
But with every second that passed, I realized this probably wasn’t as simple as a seven-year-old hiding before bedtime.
My body was loose and shaky but I took a deep breath and opened the door. The temperature had dropped since I left my house. The cold air washed over me and made goose bumps rise up all over my arms and legs. I forced myself to walk toward the trailer and could feel the gravel crunch beneath my shoes. My spine rigid as a steel rod, I clutched my phone for support.
When I heard it, I froze.
Inside my car, Vader’s interior had kept the sounds from reaching me. But out here, standing in the middle of the Shady Village, I could hear that the shadows moving behind the trailer curtains had sounds to go with them.
A man’s voice, deep and aggressive, yelled. Porter shouted back. I heard a loud thud, like a body landing against a hard surface, then more yelling from them both.
My heart thumped hard and a sweep of panic rushed through my body like poison. I looked around at the other trailers sitting silent. Should I run to one for help? I thought of the two men I drove past on my way in, relaxed in their chairs drinking beers and smoking cigarettes—would they come?
I didn’t know what to do.
When I looked back, Paige’s head was peeking out from beneath the steps. It was too dark for me to see the exact features of her face, but I could feel her eyes watching me.
Waiting for me.
Without thinking, my legs moved. One step, then another, running toward her. I half expected her to duck back inside her hole, but she didn’t. By the time I was on their driveway she had crawled all the way out and was running toward me, arms out, tears streaming down her face.
I opened my arms to her and when her tiny body slammed into mine, the force of her knocked me back a step. She buried her face against my stomach and I felt her little hands grasping tight fistfuls of fabric at the back of my shirt.
“Paige.” My voice was shaky and desperate.
She clung tighter, her small arms a vise around my waist.
“Paige.” I reached for her head with both hands and dropped my phone on the ground. I tried to tilt her face so I could see it. “What’s happening?”
The shouts and slams from inside the trailer grew louder, harder than even a minute ago. “Please, Paige,” I begged, but I didn’t know why. I knew exactly what was happening inside that trailer even if I didn’t understand why.
Why it ever happened.
Desperate, I looked all around us. The silent trailers filled with people who either didn’t know or didn’t care about Porter and Paige. Just like Paige, I was waiting for someone to come and help.
Paige tilted her head back and looked at me. In the glow of the trailer’s porch light, I could see the red knot rising near her eye, her split and bloodied lip. “I didn’t . . . mean to,” she sobbed.
I held her tighter and looked up at the trailer. Cold fear washed through me. No one else was coming, and I suddenly realized that I was it: the help Paige had been hoping for.
My eyes found my phone lying in the dirt.
With Paige still clutching me, I bent and picked it up.
Please don’t be broken.
The screen lit up.
My hand shook.
I pulled up the keypad, and dialed.

It rang once, twice; I heard a click. “Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Book of Speculation--Erika Swyler

The Book of SpeculationThe Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautifully written, interesting and unique characters, and a sublime fantastical tale about an unusual, and cursed, family. Everything about this book satisfied. This book is a keeper that will now get space on the home library shelf.

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Big Little Lies--Liane Moriarty

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved it! Page turning book crack.

Never put the book down and finished in one day! Another great read from Moriarty! Now I can finally watch the HBO version.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Nineteen

**New chapter posted here every Wednesday**
I tried again, just in case I had dialed wrong the first time.
We’re sorry, but the number you have dialed is no longer—I hung up. Porter’s phone had been disconnected.
It was the second number they had had since I met him two months ago; his father used prepaid phones, and when they ran out of minutes, he didn’t always have the money to charge it up again.
I put my phone on my bedside table and lay down. I really, really needed to talk to him. To tell him I was sorry. To tell him No way did my mother ever tell me any of the personal stuff you shared with her. Because why would she? She didn’t even know I was sneaking around with him.
Because I had lied to her too.
I picked up my phone and dialed Eli’s cell. It rang five times before his voicemail picked up. His phone never went to voicemail after school hours—he was ignoring me. I envisioned him, hanging out with Bella Blake, showing her his phone with my caller id and the goofy picture he had of me with my eyes crossed and my finger up my nose. Ugh, when will she take the hint already? they would say, then roll their eyes and dissolve into a fit of laughter.
I placed my phone facedown on my night table and rested both my hands on the empty-feeling space just above my stomach. The problem with having only one friend, I now realized, was that when you had jacked that friendship up, you didn’t have a whole lot of other places to run to. I stayed there, flat on my back and very still. As the light in my room changed from the harsh orange of late afternoon to the soft gray of early evening, I imagined myself always feeling this way.
Tears streamed from the corners of my eyes and left hot wet streaks that eventually cooled and created cold wet pools in my ears and on the pillow next to my head.
What if Eli never forgave me?
What if Porter never spoke to me again?
By the time my room had gone completely dark, my head was pounding from all my crying. When the street light outside clicked on and backlit my blinds with an electric yellow, I rolled over and faced my closed door.
If this had been a normal day, my mother would have been at my door asking me a hundred questions about what I was doing, what did I want to eat, why was my door closed . . . her absence was making me feel the deepest alone I could imagine. I pushed myself up to sitting and endured the rush of blood that turned my mild headache into a bomb exploding in my brain. I pressed both my temples and sucked air while I waited for the worst wave of pain to pass before standing up and opening my door.
The hallway separating my room from hers was dark. When I stepped onto the landing, I could see that the whole house was dark. Maybe she had gone somewhere while I was shut up in my room?
The door to her bedroom was cracked and when I pushed it in, I saw her bed and the dark lump of her body spread out on top of her comforter. “Mom?” I whispered, but when she didn’t answer me I moved closer.
She was flat on her back, one hand resting on her stomach while the other lay limp at her side. Her chest rose and fell in a deep and steady rhythm. Even though her digital clock said it was only 8:11, she had been sleeping long enough for her jaw to relax and tension around her eyes to soften.
Her shoes were on the floor next to her bed but she was still wearing her navy-blue wool dress pants and the blue-and white striped blouse she’d worn to work today. I grabbed the small blanket she always kept folded neat and square on her footboard and pulled it up and over her until it covered her shoulders. This close, I could see the dark smear of mascara around both her eyes and the inky stains that had run down the sides of her face.
She’d been crying too.
I watched her for a minute, peaceful, asleep, her face relaxed into soft, unlined features. My mother was beautiful. In her sleep, she looked like she might actually feel some happiness in whatever dream world was happening in her head. “I’m sorry,” I whispered more for myself than for her unhearing ears. I turned and left her, closing her door quietly.
I didn’t want to ruin her peace with our current reality.
Downstairs, I fumbled along the wall for the kitchen light and then shielded my eyes against the fluorescents while I searched the cabinet where we usually kept the ibuprofen. My headache had swelled and now thumped in rhythm with my rushed and raggedy heartbeat. Squinting, I shifted past the cough syrups and allergy medicines—where was it?
My searched moved to the downstairs bathroom, where I opened one drawer after another and pushed around old nail polishes that neither my mother nor I ever used, stray tampons, nail clippers, samples of face lotion that had been collected out of magazines, loose bobby pins—ugh. I closed the last drawer, frustrated with my failed search and pounding brain.
I turned around and crossed the narrow hall between the bathroom and my mother’s office, pushed her door open, and flipped on the light switch. The soft light from the lamp on her desk cast a dim glow over her stacks of files, stray papers, and her laptop.
But most importantly, the bottle of ibuprofen. “Thank God,” I whispered, grabbed the bottle, then pushed and twisted the cap until I was able to shake out two bright-orange pills. There was a half glass of water that didn’t look too old near the stack of files so I used that to wash the pills down.
When I put the glass back where I had found it, I froze. The file, the one on the very top of the stack—I recognized it. My eyes scanned the small tab at the top.
Creed, Porter
I put the glass down and stared at the closed file. When I picked up the folder, thick with years of notes and psychological reports about my boyfriend, I sat down in my mother’s desk chair and placed the file directly in front of me, adjusting its placement so its edges aligned perfectly with the edge of the desk.
I rested both of my hands on top of it.
Was I going to do this? Was I going to read my mother’s private file on Porter? My whole body became nervous and shaky just thinking about the betrayal of trust, the violation of both Porter and my mother.
I sat back in her chair and considered putting the file back where I had found it. I should put it back, stand up, walk up the stairs to my room, close the door, and lie down on my bed to wait for the ibuprofen to work its magic on my now screaming headache. I sighed, the pinpoint of pressure filled the small space between my eyes. I needed, desperately, to speak to Porter—but with their phone shut off again, there was no calling him, and because he never let me see where he lived, I couldn’t just show up at his door.
I didn’t have any way to reach him.
But this file. I leaned forward and pressed both my hands onto its surface. This file would have his address.
All around me, the house was a dark void. My mother, exhausted and asleep upstairs, would have no idea what I was doing. I would only read Porter’s address. She would never have to know.
And when Porter asked me how I had found out where he lived? What was I going to say to that? I didn’t know, but I would think of something.
Probably another lie.
I leaned forward and flipped open the file.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Eighteen

**New chapters posted every Wednesday**

Staring down at the text from my mother, I considered lying to her for half a second before I realized it was already way too late for that. If it was the middle of the school day, and my mother, who worked at the school, was wondering WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?, it was a pretty good bet that she had already checked all the likely on-campus excuses I would have been able to come up with.
Sorry . . . at the coffee shop. I texted her back. I would cling to the edge of truth and hope that it at least earned me some bonus points. I was ditching school. I shouldn’t be, but I was. My mother found out, and there would be a reasonable punishment and that would be the end of it.
Who’s with you? Was her next text.
And my heart, it stopped, and I could have sworn I was going to have a seizure right there in front of Porter and the two baristas working the counter of Coffee Cabana.
“What’s wrong?” Porter asked.
I looked up at him then, my brain frantically trying to spin a way out of what was about to happen. My phone buzzed in my hands. I looked down and saw my mother’s next question.
Is Porter Creed with you?
“Shit,” I whispered.
“What is it?” Porter asked again and tried to see my phone over my shoulder.
My right thumb pressed the Y.
“It’s your mom?” Porter asked, I noted that his voice was an octave or two higher than normal.
My left thumb pressed the E.
“How does she know my name?” He leaned away from me. “Did you tell her about me?”
My left thumb moved to the S.
“Not exactly,” I said. My right thumb hovered over the Send button for half a second before I completely gave up hope of figuring out a fantastic lie. I pressed send—Yes.
Yes, Porter Creed was with me, and yes we were ditching school together.
Both of you, get back to school and meet me in Principal Connor’s office. NOW.
Porter’s head was pressed next to mine and we read her message together.
“She went to the principal?” Porter exclaimed. “Crap! That seems kind of extreme.”
I swallowed and took a breath. “I don’t think so,” I said. My mother wouldn’t have gone to the principal. If my mother had figured out on her own that I had ditched school and that Porter was with me, she would have just handled it on her own.
I had a horrible feeling that something much worse had happened.
Porter stood up and grabbed his bag from the floor. “Well, it sure looks like it.”
And, of course, there was the other side of how this was going to blow up in my face. Porter didn’t know that my mother was Ms. Carrie Ann, school psychologist, coupon giver, Porter’s very own case manager, giant psych file keeper. “There’s something I haven’t told you,” I whispered.
When I told him who my mother was, how she knew who he was, all the blood drained from his face and his forehead bunched up into an angry scowl. “So . . .” He ran his hand through his hair and his eyes looked around Coffee Cabana like he was trying to find a solid thing to hang on to. “So, what . . . you know about my whole life?”
He didn’t even give me a chance to answer. He pushed past me and out the glass door that chimed loudly with his exit.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” The car ride from Coffee Cabana to the school parking lot took about eight minutes—Porter didn’t speak to me even once despite my repeated attempts to explain and apologize to him. When we got to the school, Porter had the car door opened and slammed behind him before I finished setting Vader’s parking brake.
“Porter!” I called across the parking lot and tried to catch up with him, but I was no match for his long, fast strides. I didn’t even come close until we were both standing at the receptionist’s desk outside Principal Connor’s office. “We have an appointment,” Porter told her.
Cheryl, the white-haired receptionist who had probably been working here since before the school even opened, raised her eyebrows and twisted her red-lipsticked mouth in an Mm hmm I know all about your “appointment” look. “Go on in,” she sighed.
Porter moved around Cheryl’s desk and headed for Principal Connor’s door, but I didn’t move. I could see my mother and Principal Connor through the large plate-glass window. He was sitting behind his desk; she was standing and staring back at me, waiting for me to follow Porter inside.
The look on her face—it was like watching her juggle emotions. She was mad, yes. But more than mad, my mother was confused, anxious, and really, really scared. A fresh wave of dread rolled through me but I forced my body to follow Porter into the office.
Three chairs were carefully positioned in a semicircle in front of the desk. Obviously Principal Connor and my mother had had time to prepare exactly how this meeting would go down while Porter and I were busy getting here. My mother sat in the chair closest to the desk while Porter took the one farthest from her. I got stuck in the middle, directly facing Principal Connor.
On the desk in front of me, each and every pass I had forged for Porter and myself were stacked into piles next to a piece of white paper filled with columns of dates that someone had taken the time to examine and highlight in bright yellow. My eyes quickly scanned this and read Attendance Record—Porter Creed. I could only assume the Attendance Record—Ruth Robinson was underneath.
On the other side of the desk, Principal Connor took a deep breath, leaned forward in the chair, and steepled his hands in front of him. “Ruth.” His eyes met mine then focused on Porter. “Porter. We seem to have a problem here.”

My mother’s silence was an awful, ugly, horrible punishment. It was so much worse than yelling. At least yelling I could wrap my brain around, yelling I could respond to, maybe even yell back—even though I had absolutely no right to. At least if she yelled at me I could get mad at her for coming unglued, for losing her temper. If she lost her temper, then maybe I could get mad back because she would jump to unreasonable conclusions just like every other normal parent on the planet.
But no.
My mother, the child psychologist, wasn’t yelling.
Even though I could totally tell she was more pissed off at me than she had ever been in her entire life.
Still, she wasn’t yelling.
She didn’t even look at me, only held up her hand—silence.
I shouldn’t say anything right now. Really. I should just shut up, stare out the dirty passenger window of my mother’s Camry, and wait for her to begin lecturing me on how completely crappy my life was going to be from now until I left for college in the fall.
But I couldn’t help myself. “I’m really sorry,” I said, staring at the side of her face, trying to gauge if there was even a hint of movement, the slightest softening of her steely gaze out the front windshield.
She bit her lips and closed her eyes. Her chest filled with air, held it, then let it all out in one loud push from her mouth. When she opened her eyes again, they focused only on the road.
She was thinking, deciding how she was going to handle the giant mess I had gotten us both in.
Yes. My mother was in trouble too—and it was all my fault. Principal Connor had asked where I had gotten all the passes from in the first place. Once he realized that I had practically unrestricted access to my mother’s office, and had taken full advantage of that access, he had cleared his throat, “Yes, well. Carrie Ann, we’ll discuss that privately at a later time.”
My mother had trusted me—and I had betrayed that trust. I had no idea what would happen to her. Could she lose her job over it? The thought made me sick with worry and guilt. I wanted to tell her, again, how sorry I was—but she didn’t want to hear anything I had to say right now.
I gave up trying to engage her before she was ready and stared at the bright and beautiful day outside the car. Earlier, in Coffee Cabana with Porter, before I realized that my life was about to come crumbling down all around me, I had been loving the feel of the warm sun on my face, the sound of happy people out enjoying the day. Now, it felt like a cruel contrast, a bright light shining on the huge mess I was in.
Porter and I had both received three-day suspensions.
It meant nothing at all to Porter; he had probably been suspended a hundred times before. As soon as Principal Connor had made the announcement about our fate, Porter smirked, shook his head, and asked, “Are we done now?”
Principal Connor considered Porter for a second before he sighed and sat back in his chair, “Yes, we’re done. I’ll try calling your father again to let him know what’s happened and that you are to return to school on the fifteenth.”
Porter got up, swung his ratty bag over his shoulder and said, “Don’t bother.” For half a second, before he walked out of the office, his eyes met mine and I held my breath. Porter put on a big act, and he had maybe even fooled my mother and Principal Connor, but because I knew him, really knew him—I saw the truth.
The same truth I’d seen that first day when the cops had restrained him in the hall.
I saw Porter’s desperation.
And then he was gone.
My mother pulled her car into our garage, shut off the engine, and sat still, staring out the windshield. I didn’t dare move a muscle to get out until she did.
“We’ll get your car later,” was all she said before opening her door and getting out. I watched from the passenger seat as she opened the door to the house and went inside without any of her things or even a single glance back to see if I was coming.
My bottom lip quivered and, even though there was no one around to see it, I bit into the soft flesh to try and keep it still as tears welled up behind my lids.
My best friend hated me, my boyfriend wasn’t speaking to me, and my mother was so disappointed in me she wouldn’t even look at me. I had gone from on top of the world to complete crap in less than twenty-four hours and, quite frankly, it was more than I could deal with.
In the privacy of my mother’s Camry, hot, salty tears rolled down my face. I let them fall.

Thank you for reading chapter eighteen of Affective Needs. A new chapter is posted every Wednesday. If you don't feel like waiting for updates, here is the link to my book page and all the vendors that carry my books. Happy reading!