Tag Archives: depression

Wed’s Word and Flash Fiction: The Creeping Vine

Every Wednesday, on Writing Under Pressure, you’ll find a post based on Today’s Word (from Wordsmith.org). Past essays, poems, or flash fiction pieces can be found under Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar to the right.

Today’s word:

esker. noun. A long, narrow ridge of gravel and sand deposited by a stream flowing in or under a retreating glacier.

The visual I needed appeared in the quote that followed the definition:

‘My Grade 11 geography teacher likened an esker to the mess left by a drunk simultaneously walking backward and throwing up.’ — John Barber.

Now there’s a powerful image.

Following the image, I brainstormed this morning and these words came to mind: refuse, scars, and collateral damage.

~

The Creeping Vine

Franny pulled the hospital sheet back and looked down at her arm. The wound had soaked through the bandage and formed an elongated letter S. She would have to call the nurse.

Her mother slept in the chair next to the window with her feet propped up on the bed. Franny twisted her head around to see the clock that hung on the wall behind her, but she couldn’t decipher the difference between the big hand and the little hand. Maybe it was the medication they’d given her last night.

She could turn on the TV, she thought, but decided against it. She didn’t want to wake her mother.

She wasn’t ready for the questions.

Always, her mother bombarded her with questions as soon as she saw Franny was awake and alert. Each time, Franny did her best to respond, but her answers were never quite good enough.

“I’m sorry.”
“I don’t know why I did it.”
“I only meant to take one or two of your pills. I guess I lost count.”

Her mother needed Franny to explain, she always said, but even Franny didn’t understand. Her depression came on slowly and then pulled her down hard, like the creeping vine that snuck in under the neighbor’s fence last summer and took hold of the rose bush she’d helped her mother plant. The vine look harmless at first and stayed close to the ground. Then, one day Franny found her mother panicked over the bush.

Continue reading

In the Belly of a Cargo Plane

I planned to write a light-hearted post for today. But, it’s difficult to spin a frivolous tale on the day you pick up the newspaper and read painful estimates on the loss of life and homes caused by an event you’ve tried hard to deny. I’m not insensitive to disasters, but I’m prone to depression. I slide easily into hopelessness if I stay too long in a story where hope is hard to find.

Still, I couldn’t overlook the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s front page today. In the print version of the paper, a large photo (found online here – it takes a second to upload) from the associated press shows hundreds of people sitting on a cargo plane flying from Port-au-Prince to Orlando.

This morning, I scanned the faces. A young man sits next to a younger boy, and they are held together by a strap. Maybe it’s a seat belt, or a tether so neither get lost in the mass of wandering victims. A mother sits in the front looking down at two young boys. As both boys sleep on her lap, her hand graces the face of one.

I wonder what they dream about.

Hundreds of people crowded into the belly of a cargo plane, fleeing calamity with just the clothes on their back.

On today’s front page of the Local section in the Journal, a column written by Eugene Kane continues the discussion on Haiti. Though not directly related to the hundreds loaded on the cargo plane, Mr. Kane’s words* hone in on another block these refugees face as they wait for aid: US politics. Continue reading

The Boardwalk.

It’s Wednesday, mid-week, and the sun refuses to cut the chill in the air. But, that’s okay, because the day fits Wednesday’s word.

sorrel. noun: a light reddish-brown color.
(from Wordsmith.org, Today’s word)

Wordsmith chooses their word of the day based on a theme every week. This week’s theme is Autumn colors. There’s more to the definition of sorrel. But, I’m sticking with the color, as colors often match a mood.

File this under Flash Fiction.
It’s difficult to explain how this story surfaced – something about colors in nature leads to healing. For someone who’s a cynic most of the time, that sounds awfully dramatic. Still, that’s where sorrel took me today.

***

For a long time – after the incident, the accident, the misunderstanding – my body misbehaved.

It twitched and recoiled and my hair fell out.

I stopped listening to the radio. It was easier, that way, to avoid the certain pitch that sent my brain into a momentary spasm, the same way it cringed the first time I heard that pitch. It was the night of the incident, when the second verse switched to the chorus of that song blaring in the background. Or, was it the pitch of the scream that burst from my mind to my mouth but was stopped short by the palm of a hand?

For months after, my eyes bounced from the ground to the horizon and back to the ground. I watched my feet as they moved along the sidewalk, until I caught sight of a rusty grate along the curb. The rust of the grate brought back an image of brown hidden beneath peeling paint on a radiator against the bedroom wall. My eyes darted away from the grate and up to the top of the street. When the sun came out from behind a building, my eyes stung. I blinked, and all I saw was the bedroom. I looked down again in search of my shoes.

I found clumps of hair on my pillow each morning. In the shower, the drain clogged up faster than usual. I wondered, how much more will I lose? My reflection in the mirror resembled a worn painting: frozen in time, the colors faded, a lack of definition. I stared at my wispy hair and my weak reflection and thought in time I might disappear.

But, it was color that brought me back into focus. My sandwich sat, unwrapped but untouched, on a picnic table where ate lunch one day. The leaves rustled and disturbed my cushion of quiet. I turned toward the sound and saw a sign that said “Boardwalk.” I folded my sandwich back up in the plastic wrap and put it in my coat pocket. I followed the boardwalk through swampland and marshland, past cattails as tall as me. An opening in the weeds showed a bright green layer of algae atop a small body of water. I circled the shore to the other side. I sat down near the green under a canopy of trees. I closed my eyes and breathed in the cool, damp air of Fall. The leaves blew together, rose to a crescendo, and again beckoned me to look.

At the edges, the leaves were brown and dry. But further in, close to the lifeblood of the tree, there was gold and red and even green.

***

I admit, this Wednesday’s word isn’t my favorite. I like the word, but the story needs work. Click the Wordsmith link above yourself, read the definitions of sorrel, and see if the word inspires a better story worthy of your own blog post. If so, shoot me the link in a comment. I’d love to read it.

Keep it light.

On a quiet morning last summer, I ran my fingers along the row of books on a shelf in our living room. I stopped at one heavy-weight: The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, 2nd edition. I scanned the table of contents. James Baldwin, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, Flannery O’Connor. Over fourteen hundred pages of classics written by heavily-studied authors. But, it wasn’t the classics that made me walk to the table and sit down with the book. It was the very first story, right there on page one: Woody Allen’s “A Giant Step for Mankind.”

Bound alongside “The Metamorphosis” and “Hills Like White Elephants” is Woody Allen’s story about three scientists who almost discover the secret behind the Heimlich Maneuver. I laughed out loud the first time I read it, with its high register language describing the research behind “dinner-table choking.” But, beyond the humor, Woody Allen’s writing is a great example of how to show, not tell. My favorite introduction to one of the characters presents a picture so clear I can almost see the smudges on his glasses:

His beard is of a medium length but seems to grow with the irrational abandon of crabgrass. Add to this thick, bushy brows and beady eyes the size of microbes, which dart about suspiciously behind spectacles the thickness of bulletproof glass. And then there are the twitches. The man has accumulated a repertoire of facial tics and blinks that demand nothing less than a complete musical score by Stravinsky.

I love this story. If you haven’t read it, you should — even if you can’t stand Woody Allen.

Sometimes classic literature reads heavy and dark to me. I often wonder if, to be a truly successful writer, you have to be a depressive. Reading Woody Allen’s short fiction counteracts that myth. His story not only drew a hearty belly laugh from me today, it reminded me that I don’t have to take my writer self quite so seriously.

What’s hiding on your bookshelf?

*****************************************************************

  • The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, 2nd edition. Copyright 1981 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. [ISBN 0-393-95178-2]
  • Woody Allen, “A Giant Step for Mankind,” copyright 1980. Originally published in Side Effects by Woody Allen (Random House, Inc.). [ISBN 0-345-34335-2]

Writing as Evidence

Every few days, the little voice inside my head confronts me with the same question: why write? What follows is a brief battle between several pros and one very strong con – you’re wasting your time.

Julia Cameron devoted an entire book to debunking that creative crusher. Plenty of well-known writers have published their own essays on “why I write.” Margaret Atwood lays out her reasons in her book, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. * After a page and a half, she refers to monetary reasons only once. And, so much of what she says speaks to my own writer self. She writes:

To set down the past before it is forgotten.
To excavate the past because it has been forgotten.
To produce order out of chaos.
To say a new word.
To justify my own view of myself and my life, because I couldn’t be ‘a writer’ unless I actually did some writing.
Compulsive logorrhea.
To cope with my depression.
To bear witness….

To bear witness.

Sometimes, I write to unravel my past.  I write essays about experiences that hold me hostage, still. Words fall onto paper, and I see the event with more clarity. Even when I write fiction, I scatter pieces of me throughout. The characters differ, the details vary, but the rise and fall of emotion mirrors my own. I revisit the pain, dissect the details, and find resolution. Once in a while, I even let go.

I may never get paid for one story. That novel might never make it to the galleys. But, I still have to write. If I succumb to my critic who says I’m wasting my time, I will forget the experiences I want to remember. Or, I will fester in the haunts I wish to forget.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

* Margaret Atwood. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. Copyright 2003 by Anchor Books (isbn 1-4000-3260-1)

Dirt Roads and Pine Trees

Up north, where the paved highway gives way to old asphalt then gravel and finally dirt, tall northern pines grow in height and mass.

I took a walk through the woods this weekend, alone, searching for quiet or at least reprieve. And, I noticed my view of the woods changes on a given day, depending on the state of my mind.

Sometimes, the pine trees look menacing to me, like barriers closing in. My mind fills with what if’s and I rummage through contingency plans for escape. Other times, the trees stand tall and open. They guide me up towards the clear blue sky. I follow their trunks down to forest floor — soft in its layer upon layer of pine needles and moss, and protective with its offerings of shade and shelter and periodic sun beams throughout.

How can I see the same picture in such extremes?

Depression is so subtle.It settles quietly, and I don’t notice until it lifts.

I made my way through the woods, through shadows from trees and deep sand in the dirt road. I kept looking down to find my footing. My head swelled. Until, finally, there was a break. An opening. The sun. And a one lane bridge built precariously over a small stream.

I stood there, on the bridge, for several minutes, unwilling to turn back. I held my breath and burned the image into my brain: water over rocks, bees on flowers, the sun. The clearing.