Engaging Stories and Authors to Binge On

If you have seen my work, then you know that I am easily entertained. I create doodles, write short stories, or share personal thoughts via haiku. I tend to indulge in popular literature and culture be it written, spoken, filmed, or painted.

When I read, I love the thrilling stories of political intrigue by Vince Flynn or dramas of crime and legal theory by John Lescroart. But I also love reading tragedies in verse by Euripides and Shakespeare.

Whoever the author, I prefer a good yarn that evokes my imagination. Sure it can be filled with eccentric characters and plot twists. But it also has to be passionate and thought provoking

If I find myself truly engaged, then I tend to binge. I might try to consume all of their works. (I can honestly recommend the curated tome, “The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde: Stories, Plays, Poems & Essays.”)

Typically, my binging does not start with their bestseller but with their first story. I like to travel with the author and his characters. And it may take me a while before I move on to another storyteller. (I felt that a season had passed while following Jack Reacher travel with a moral dignity on his shoulder.)

Whatever the story, and outside of the authors listed above, I prefer a story not to be too long with every bit elucidated. I do not want to hear the author justify his voice.  I prefer a storyteller to evoke imagery and engage the consumer as a participant.

One of my favorite storytellers is the poet Robert Frost. He did not write with any continuity of characters, nor did he seem to build or address a community. But I still love to jump into his well of work. Here are just a few of his stories to consider:

  • A popular piece about an alternative reality in “The a Road Not Taken
  • A nod at the end through “Fire and Ice
  • A story of an armchair traveler listening to “The Sound of Trees
  • A tale of the growth of communications via the telegraph in “The Line-Gang
  • Or (one of my favorites) the struggle with morality and reason in the “Quandary

Do you have a favorite storyteller? If so, then who is it?

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©2014 Stephanie Abbott. All rights reserved.
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Sunday, November 23, 2014. My post today was inspired by the prompt “Spinning Yarns” from the folks at Daily Prompt.

 

My Salad Days

My Salad Days
My Salad Days

When I hear someone reference their “salad days,” I envision a younger, successful version of that person. Or, in terms of lifetimes, I think of a bygone era of upright, suburban subdivisions filled with well-adjusted families, nice lawns, practical cars, and financial security. I might envision my own idyllic childhood.

However, today I am thinking of a particular and brief period of my life filled with far less love, home, or security. It was filled with actual salads.

Nearly 30 years ago, I left home, moved to another state, and shared an apartment with my boyfriend. It was a nice place but expensive. Not long after arriving, I had to pick up a second job. I worked 60 hours a week just to earn enough money to cover my share of the bills. I had no extra cash for luxuries like concert tickets or dining out at the local burger joint. And my reality was so much better than those who were living on the street and unemployed. I just wasn’t prepared for such a dramatic change in my life, and I had no understanding for how much in my life that I took for granted. I was overwhelmed. So, while mine were just #firstworldproblems, I soon found myself exhausted, stressed, and looking for a way out.

In fact, I ended up looking down the wrong end of a gun. A huge gun. I think it was a .44 (but it could have been his 9 millimeter). Honestly, I wasn’t focused on which model my boyfriend was pointing directly at me. I was begging for my him not to pull the trigger. Without going into detail, let’s just say that whatever caused the showdown, it did not validate the brandishing of a loaded firearm. I had no weapons and was physically disadvantaged. I had only my wits and a strong bladder. Leaving alive was the only other option provided at the time, and I took it. That very night.

Newly single and in a town with no family, no friends, and too proud to return home. I soon found myself living paycheck-to-paycheck and week-to-week in a large residential hotel. I paid my rent in cash, weekly, to a creepy guy on the first floor. While I had no view, it was relatively clean but spare. My room had a bed and a sink. There was no kitchen and “no hot plates allowed.” I shared a bathroom with everyone else on the floor. I was the newbie and quickly figured out the order of things. With no seniority, my bathroom privileges meant that my showers were late at night and luke warm at best.

But I had a roof over my head. I was sober, focused, and healthy. I had a job on the night shift at an ice cream shop near campus. Best of all, I had a new chance at life.

And, for a few months, I lived on only one meal a day. I could afford one, fresh, healthy meal. So, I made it special. Each afternoon before my shift, I would walk to Cafe Intermezzo and order a salad.

This was not just any salad. The broad bowl overflowed with a healthy mass of vegetables tossed in a delicious house-made poppy-seed dressing and was topped with a hearty slice of freshly baked whole grain bread. I considered it the food of the gods.

I enjoyed those meals. Usually, I sat near the window to watch people going about their lives. I believed that my life could only get better, and it has. Now is the period when I have felt the most loved and secure. Now I am blessed with a home where I can prepare a meal for my loving family.

But 28 years ago? Those were my salad days.

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©2014 Stephanie Abbott. All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, November 19, 2014. I wrote “My Salad Days.” I was inspired by today’s writing prompt “Salad Days” from Daily Prompt “Is there a period in your own personal life that you think of as the good old days? Tell us a story about those innocent and/or exciting times (or lack thereof).” I created the image using ArtRage 3 on my iPad.

My Twelve Minute Brain

Short-Attention-Span-Brain-by-Steph-AbbottEach day, I follow a certain schedule. Change is infrequent, but I am flexible and only to a point. My patience has limits.

In fact, there is a specific window of time before my patience has met its limit—twelve minutes.

Twelve minutes is about as long as I can wait for just about anything:

  • Waiting to be seen by a doctor
  • A cup of coffee
  • A pot of spaghetti
  • A batch of cookies
  • A movie’s exposition
  • Crying
  • Complaining
  • Folding laundry
  • Searching for the other sock
  • Internet searches
  • Doodling
  • Planning for times when an activity will take longer than 12 minutes

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of all the things for which I might wait minutes. It just reflects the amount of time I can stay focused to write this blog post.

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©2014 Stephanie Abbott. All rights reserved.
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Sunday, November 16, 2014. I wrote “My Twelve Minute Brain” this morning. I followed a writing prompt from Daily Prompt, “Waiting Room”: “’Good things come to those who wait.’ Do you agree? How long is it reasonable to wait for something you really want?” As my patience was about up, I created the image, “Short Attention Span Brain” based on a pencil sketch of a brain done by my son for his own short story, “The Land of Knowledge.” I created this doodle using ArtRage 4 on my laptop.

Ode to an Early Winter

20141109-195839.jpgShhh! Here it comes
Leaves rattling, timbers yawning
Temperamental sentries
Shrugged, ready to listen
As whispers get louder

Ooh! Did you feel that?
Flakes landing here atop
Hills braced for impact
Bearded, ready for slumber
As shoulders get shrouded

Brrr! Are you ready?
Grounds shivering, warmth waning
Time waits but not really
As winter arrives, early

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©2014 Stephanie Abbott. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2014. I wrote the “Ode to an Early Winter” this morning after cooking pancakes for the family. I was inspired by a prompt from a friend who noticed my doodle, “Early Winter.” Yesterday I had a vision, today I have the words. My mind works like that sometimes.

P.S. I’m not sure that it’s long enough to be an ode, but it’s long enough for me. Ha!

“Hey there!”—the backstory

Hey-There-by-Steph-Abbott“Hey there, Steph! This is …” began a voicemail that grabbed my attention as I recognized the voice immediately.

“Fred* called?” I pondered. “Why now?”

Once a boyfriend and now just a “friend” on social media, Fred had a special place in my heart. He was my first. My first love, my first…well, you know.

Anyways…

Listening to the recording, I struggled to decipher the rest of the message to only pick out portions, “I’m sorry…. I should’ve told you months ago…..Bye.” No matter how many times I listened, I could not hear what he had to say.

I thought, “Well, that was a fine ‘how do you do?’” followed by “Seriously, after all this time why would he call me?”

While trying to figure it out, I got lost thinking about our shared history.

Our relationship had been brief and awkward. He had a life of privilege filled with material wealth. My life had neither. The only thing we had in common was where we attended school. Even that was due to his transfer from the public school in his neighborhood to that in mine.

If I remember correctly, that is how we met.

Every morning, on his way to school, he drove through my neighborhood. Most times, he would pass me as I walked to catch the bus. After a couple weeks of this routine, he tapped his horn as he passed. A simple “beep, beep!” from a teenage boy seemed like an innocent “hey, there!” to this naive girl.

Eventually, his daily greeting included a smile and a wave and an actual “hey, there!” hollered out his window as he drove by. It didn’t take many more passes before he stopped and offered me a ride to school. There begins our story of an odd-alcohol-induced-but-basic version of boy meets girl.

I now realize that whole scenario sounds creepy now, but in the early 80s it was the stuff of idyllic teen dramas. I’m not one for reliving my teen angst, so I will spare you the drama or even a John-Hughes-like version.

It’s just the backstory. Now, to the reason for his call…

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©2014 Stephanie Abbott. All rights reserved.
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Sunday, November 9, 2014. Today’s cliffhanger was inspired by the prompt “Bad Signal” from the folks at Daily Prompt: “Someone’s left you a voicemail message, but all you can make out are the last words: ‘I’m sorry. I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.’ Who is it from, and what is this about?”

I doodled “Hey There!” using ArtRage on laptop. This graphic is simple because my hands are swollen and cramped this morning. Trying to draw using a clunky old mouse is bit painful. Typing out the story? Not so much.

*His name was not Fred.

Don’t you see it?

Viewpoint-Reflection-by-Steph-Abbott“See it? Over there! Yes, that’s it! What does it mean?! I think… well, you know…um. No, I don’t know.”

Today’s post was inspired by oneword.com. I had sixty seconds to write about the word “viewpoint.” My brain and fingers raced. I think I nailed it. About an hour later, I decided to create an image that might complement, or dare I say, reflect the text prompt. I found an appropriate prompt from Writing.com: “The sky looked in the mirror, and it saw…” The doodle took longer than 60 seconds (using using ArtRage and PhotoWizard). © 2014 Steph Abbott. All rights reserved.

Learning to Savor Time: A brief lesson of work-life balance

Stella considered herself fortunate.
Stella considered herself fortunate.

Standing still and enjoying the moment are two actions Stella has struggled with since she was a child. To pass the time, Stella kept herself busy.  She figured she could accomplish anything as long as she kept her eye on the clock. Turning from task to task was just part and parcel to Stella’s life.

Her kinetic energy fueled her schedule. She worked two jobs during college. She kept fit by incorporating exercise into her routine. She walked or rode her bike to and from every shift, class, and social event. When she moved from the seaside to the desert, she simply traded her mountain bike for an elliptical machine.

Eventually, as the years passed, she married, and her family grew. Stella’s schedule provided less time for personal fitness and more time for the needs of others.

She found that her schedule ran smoothly as long as she skipped one particular task as often as possible—preparing a full meal. To wit, she served tasteless food quickly.

For Stella, cooking was one task that needed fewer details. Stepping through recipes and fiddling with fancy cookware was a burden. She liked to limit the time necessary from recipe to result.  Preparations were best limited to rinsing the meat, rice, and vegetables before throwing it all into a pot with herbs, garlic and a glass of water. If a meal might take more than 30 minutes to cook, Stella considered options for takeout.

Timing was everything. Like any mother with a family and a full-time job, Stella found herself running from sun up to sundown. She stressed daily with dressing the kids, checking their teeth and bags, taking them to school, racing to the office, and processing words. As time rounded, her stress expanded for picking the boys up, fixing dinner, unpacking bags, washing clothes, and checking teeth before she slumped in to bed before the next day’s marathon.

Only on Sundays did she finally relax and refocus her energies. She found escape from her regular reality by filling up her day with someone else’s drama through TV, books, music, or art. Stella loved Sundays.

This particular Sunday she found herself gazing across her desk only to spot an old cookbook. Not the slick, spiral-bound booklet listing with over 100 ways to grill meat. No, what Stella glared at was a classical culinary collection known the country over to most women of a certain age.

She glanced at the clock and sighed, “I find no joy in spending hours tasked with sifting, separating, soaking, turning, boiling, or braising. I never seem to have all the ingredients or quirky tools. And who even keeps homemade, pressure-cooker chicken stock, well, in stock?”

Then the phone rang.

“Hi, mom,” she answered.

For the next 30 minutes, Stella listened to the myriad of meals prepared and activities accomplished by her parents during the past week. Upon hanging up, she considered herself fortunate. Stella realized time should be savored and not simply passed.

“Geez, what was I complaining about? For nearly 80 years, my folks have worked longer hours, raised more kids with fewer resources, yet they continue to find the time to enjoy themselves.”

Appreciating time all the more, Stella reached for the cookbook and opened to the recipe for joy.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013. ©2013 Stephanie Abbott. All rights reserved.

I created the picture of Stella this morning on my laptop using ArtRage 4 and my new Wacom pen tablet. I wrote the story last night.

I have not written creatively for some time. My writing has been restricted to tapping out basic business bother. By the time I get home from work, my head hurts and my body aches too much to be creative. However, after an entire season (or two!) of the doldrums, I’m ready to stretch and start creating again.

Today’s post was inspired by memories of my mother’s cooking. To help me start writing again, I had to use a writing prompt: “Following instructions is really all about…” courtesy of Writing.com. If I wasn’t clear in my post, it’s “all about” learning how to savor time. Also, since this is creative writing, I should point out that not all told is true. I don’t even own the “Joy of Cooking.”

Found: Prompt Drawer

Junk drawer
Just another place to find a writing prompt.

Looking for a writing prompt, I found my desk in disarray. Odd items seemed to be lying in wait: a lanyard, a roll of nickels, a tube of hand cream, a disk cleaner, a tie, a plastic starfish, a digital voice recorder, a button, and a cough drop.

Each item was used this week. Used either at home or the office, I found each necessary to perform a task. No longer needed, these things were not put back.

Is this how junk drawers are created? I’ve always wondered.

Looking for a drawer, I found a writing prompt.
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Friday, February 8, 2013. My doodle and ditty was inspired by a writing prompt found on Writing.com. I created the doodle using Xara Designer Pro X. Usually an Adobe gal, I’ve never really used this funky British design software. It is quite fun to use. Although, I’m going to need to practice quite a bit more.

A Mindful Season

Mindful Season by Steph Abbott

Amoral reaction
Crystal clear fragments each one
Shots fired, souls lost

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I wrote the haiku this morning. However, I began this digital painting in early November 2012.

My original doodle was simple. I had a vision of innocence for the winter season. I even tried to capture a memory from childhood, one of freshly falling snow. I envisioned a day trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was a time of joy and serenity. My painting started out much bigger, with bright colors, and lots of light.

For whatever reason, I felt compelled to stop and reconsider the landscape. Was life so simple, clean, and picturesque? Was my vision simply to recreate a lost reality? I started to lose my focus.

When I returned to painting over a month later, my vision was not so clear. My memory seemed fuzzier. I felt compelled to deepen the mood. My lovely landscape became transformed.

Why did my vision change? Perhaps I was distraught after recent acts of violence and loss of life in Sandy Hook? Perhaps I was distressed from the reactions from both sides of the political aisle? How did so many people become so sanctimonious and self-righteous?

My soul tells me the reactions are simply manifestations of the human condition. From here, I can only hope our society takes a step towards enlightenment. Can we learn how to cope with our differences without the use of violence? Or is that too simple a vision?

Sunday, December 23, 2012. I doodled this image using ArtRage Pro.