Quick Change on a Street Corner

 

A little slice of life piece that I wrote is included in “The Personal Issue: Essays and Memories”  over at the the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  Sorry for the brevity of this blog post. Stacks and stacks and stacks of student essays are calling my name.

Happy reading!

http://www.deadmule.com/essays/quick-change-on-a-street-corner-by-a-j-tierney/

What Teaching in a Prison Taught Me

Dearest friends,

My essay, “What Teaching in a Prison Taught Me” is now available on The Wordsmith Journal website. It’s been two years since I’ve taught at the prison, but I still remember my time there as challenging and ultimately life-changing.

Enjoy!

Sorry for the blandness of the post. Teaching has consumed life once again. In a good way of course. :)

What I Can’t Throw Away

Another great writing exercise created by Steff: “What I Can’t Throw Away”

Prompt: What is the one piece of clothing (or a pair of shoes) that you know you will never wear again but you cannot bring yourself to throw it away and why. 20 minutes.

Each season I pull clothes out of my closet evaluating whether they should stay and be packed away or go in a black garbage bag headed for the Goodwill. I have long let go of the notion I will ever be a size 4 or 6 again. I am solidly a size 10-12 and I have come to embrace this reality. So I don’t hang on to clothes that are too tight. I’m too into comfort to be squeezing into jeans that I have to lay down to zip up. I’m no fashionista. I actually get most of my clothes as hand me downs from my sister so whatever was in style in 2010 is my style in 2013.

All this is to say I don’t hang on to clothes I won’t wear again. But there are a couple of things I haven’t been able to part with even though in all likelihood I’ll never wear them again. I’ve held on to all of my Irish step dancing costumes. And in all fairness to me, if the opportunity arose to do a show and tell about the skirts I could wear them and explain little details about the skirt. But my Irish dancing hard shoes are something I know that I will never wear again, but I can’t throw them away, give them away, or part with them in anyway.

My right foot is such a skeletal mess that even sliding on the shoe is a challenge. I just wanted to see if I could shuffle around a bit. Nothing too fancy, maybe just a cramp roll or some heel clicks. Not to be. I slid the shoe off and ran my hand over the broken in but still shiny leather remembering the last time I wore them during a performance at Oktoberfest. The performance where I came down wrong on a high kick and injured my foot, ankle, and knee but kept dancing on it.

So now I’m left with these scuffed, Irish hard shoes but can’t wear them. I turn them over and run my fingers over the engraved brand name of Rutherford on the sole. It looks like the name is hand-tooled into the leather. My name and phone number are written in a clear, legible print in case I ever forgot them at a performance- a holdover from the time my mom would write her name and phone number inside all of my dance shoes when I was little. I slide my hands into the shoes and clack the heels together simulating the action of my feet. I bend over and continue with a stomp and shuffle all as if my feet were dancing.

I lean back in my chair and let my mind drift back to moments dancing in competitions and pageants, hot and sweaty for hours in dance studios, auditioning for a spot in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and making the top 32, twirling around in a full nun’s habit as Sister Mary Leo, in a corset and pantaloons in the musical Oklahoma!, in a short can-can skirt, throwing my leg up as high as I could, high kick after high kick in Guys and Dolls, and my heavy straight arms nearly glued to my sides, as I executed near militaristic stomps, kicks, and jumps in unison with my Irish step dancing group.

I keep these shoes, these worn out and tired shoes, that I can no longer wear because they remind me of where I’ve been and the ground I’ve covered. The shoes represent the determination, persistence, and tenancity that I showed with every dance I had to master. When I have an “I can’t do this. It’s too hard” kind of day, I can look at my shoes and know that I can.

Irish Hard Shoes

Part Love Letter, Part Shameless Self-Promotion

Each week, I spend two to three hours with my writing buddy, Steff. This week the morning was filled with chitchat, iced coffee, gluten-free, caramel and sea salt macaroons, and a great writing exercise. No! You cannot have my writing buddy!

We met two years ago at a writing conference and let me tell you God’s hand was on this from the beginning. In short, I love this woman. She is part supportive writing buddy, part tough big sister, part loving mother, and she does it all in an impossibly classy way. I mean she has matching luggage and matching notebooks and pens and always, even at nine in the morning, looks amazing!

We have shared the loss of loved ones, phenomenal food (AWP Chicago), stories of our daughters morphing from little girls into young women, and, unfortunately for Steff, nursing me back to health with bottles of Ginger Ale in Boston (AWP). I promise I will be healthy for Seattle next year!

Yesterday, I received news that Wordsmith Journal accepted my essay on teaching in a prison for their September 2013 issue. Then a couple of hours later received word that River Lit was publishing my flash fiction piece “My Mother’s Room” on their site today. http://riverlit.clymergallery.com/

To say that I was excited would be an understatement. Writing is my life. I have bins and binders filled with writing that will never see the light of day. Although, Steff has seen most of it- the good, the bad, and downright awful. I write during Bellina’s violin lessons; I write in between the classes I teach; I write while waiting for appointments; I write on napkins, paper towels, receipts. But the lovely, beautiful, awesome thing about this all-consuming writing endeavor is I get to share my frustration over the 20th rejection and the joy of the one acceptance with my writing buddy, Steff!

“Stuck Like This Forever” finds a home…

A year ago, on Memorial Day actually, I got a “vision” for a new memoir piece. My butt didn’t move  from the chair for the next five hours while I tried furiously to keep up with the deluge of memories. The first draft was 16 pages. Through many, many, many revisions, today the final version appears on The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature site. I almost gave up on this piece, but after having my confidence boosted at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival this year, (thank you, Ken Hada) I doubled down and started with a fresh round of submissions. Everything turned out as it should. Happy Reading! :)

http://www.deadmule.com/essays/

A Little Yellow House and Forgiveness…

Sunday night I was thinking about the three purple X’s the doctors drew on my grandma’s chest before her radiation treatments for lung cancer. I wrote about them in an earlier blog post and have not been able to get them out of my mind. Thinking about them again, got me to thinking about all the plans I made with my grandma. The little yellow house she said we’d live in some day; the white rocking chairs on the front porch, and hand-squeezed lemonade we’d leisurely sip. I started scratching away on the back of another story until 30 minutes later, I had something.

What I had written was full of love, and sadness, and so much anger. A self-destructive seed of anger planted in the heart of very tender 13-year old girl. I loved my grandma dearly; and truly, I say a part of me died the day she left me. And that’s how it felt when she died that she had abandoned me. When I woke up Monday morning, I was so troubled by the notion I could hate my grandma- hate her for dying of a horrific disease 25 years ago. But there it was. My morning devotionals have felt perfunctory at best for the last couple of weeks. I know it’s not always inspired words and Holy Ghost hugs when I’m sitting in my big brown chair, but my devotion to the practice, the ritual of it all, brings me peace, so I keep at it. But I needed a word of comfort, something to ease my distress. I never ask for a particular scripture from God as I just don’t think that is the sort of thing God would do for me. I asked and he answered almost immediately. Colossians 3:13. This was significant for at least one reason. I’m on my first reading of the Bible (and only starting Luke) so I wasn’t even sure that Colossians had a Chapter 3 or Verse 13. So I grabbed my black leather Bible with the silver owl on it and flipped to the verse.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (NIV)

It’s cliché, and I own this cliché, but I felt like I had been stabbed in the heart. Tears, buckets full, tumbled from my eyes. I could not stop sobbing. I needed to forgive my grandma for leaving me. The adult in me realized that people get sick and they die, but the 13- year old in me hated her for abandoning me and not keeping her promise to run away with me.

Of course, I immediately forgave her and told her I was so sorry for holding her illness and death against her. Then I saw flashes of all the times people promised to be with me, made plans with me for the future, and how they walked away sometimes without even an explanation. Some of the explanations were flat out lies (possibly to ease the hurt, but lies, nonetheless). Then, the really hard images started. All the times I have bailed on people because I wanted to beat them to the punch of leaving me. Good people. People who loved me and wanted a future with me. And promises I’ve made to people, typically with good intentions, but sometimes not followed through.

So I started down the line forgiving each person and situation. Then worked on forgiving myself for my broken promises. After all of that I didn’t think there were any more tears to shed. I told myself it was time to get out of my big brown chair, give myself a hug, and made a promise to myself to do better in the future and pray that God’s grace would continue to heal my heart so the next time someone breaks a promise or leaves my life  (or I leave someone’s life) there’s some peace about it all.

You’re a Maid in a Hotel…

This writing prompt is courtesy of my fabulous writing buddy, Steff. It was so much fun to write some fiction and just be silly for a bit. :)

Prompt: You’re a maid in a hotel. You find something in the room that isn’t normally there, do you return it or not? Write for 20 minutes or 2 pages, writer’s choice.

My shift ended in 15 minutes and I had all my rooms cleaned and cart ready to check-in. My co-worker Sheila begged me to take her last room; she was running behind and couldn’t afford to miss her quota again. I pushed my cart back to the service elevator and pressed 3. Room 3115 would be the last room I would ever clean.

When I pushed open the door to the room, it appeared that no one had stayed in the room. The bed linens weren’t creased. The soaps and shampoos that most guests squirrel away in the luggage sat untouched along the spotless bathroom counter. Nothing appeared to be altered in any way.

I stood in the middle of the room searching for any sign of a visitor. Then I spotted the edge of a book at the end of the bed. It was covered in a worn leather. I sat in one of the chairs next to the window not wanting to mess up the bedding. I untied the leather strip and placed it on the table. The book cracked as I opened to find the pages filled with handwritten notes covering the front and back of every page. The precise script began, “The book you hold in your hands is no ordinary book. It has sought you out to impart secrets only a few will ever possess.”

I closed the book and peered around thinking this had to be a joke or my bosses were testing me to see if I would sit down on the job or take the book for myself. Well, I decided I didn’t need any secrets. Secrets get people in trouble. I tied the leather strip back around the book and placed it on my cart. In the basement, I checked my cart in, signed the “Lost and Found” log describing the book and left it with Jerry the night manager.

“What’s this? Someone’s diary?” He flipped it over in his hands.
“I don’t know. I didn’t look at it.”
“Well, let’s take a looksy, shall we?”
“I don’t think we should look at someone’s diary.”
“Oh don’t be such a Pollyanna.”
Jerry opened the book, same cracking sound as before.

“It’s blank.” We said in unison.

His more a statement, mine more of a confused question.

“Well, that’s no fun. I was hoping for some juicy stories.”
“My shifts over, so I’m going to head out. You think someone’s really going to come back for that diary?”
“Nah. Probably won’t make the effort.”
“Mind if I have it?”
He tossed the book at me. “It’ll be our little secret.” He gave me a wink.

With the book tucked securely under my arm, I clocked out and hurried to the park across from the hotel and sat down on the bench where I often sat after work gathering my thoughts. I untied the leather strip, curled it around my fingers, and opened the book to the first page.

“As I wrote before, the book you hold in your hands is no ordinary book…”