I Quit

Don’t be worried by the title, I’m not quitting my Thirty Day Challenge of writing a blog post everyday. This is the title of a short story I wrote while living at the beautiful Skidmore College campus (the pretty picture below) this past summer while attending an incredible writing camp.

Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY

Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY

This story was inspired by an awesome TED Talk by Scott Dinsmore about refusing to waste your life and instead pursuing a job you actually care about.

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”

Madeleine pushed the heavy door open like she did every day, but now for the last time. Stepping into the daylight, she let the rays of sun caress her face. She smiled at the sky, she hadn’t felt this good in years.

“What just happened?” Russell’s brows raised in confusion as he followed his co worker out. He was exactly a step and a half behind.

Madeleine turned to him, her smile growing as if she had just realized that outside the mundane realm of fluorescent lights and bleak cubicle walls there were birds and trees and blooming flowers. She finally returned to Russell.

“I’m free. I finally did it. I’m out of this insane asylum for good.” She said.

Russell’s jaw dropped, but he quickly regained his composure with a thin-lipped gaze. He looked like a disappointed parent, as if he was waiting for her to apologize and march, head bowed, to the corner to lament her mistake.

“So, you finally did it? Quit the job. I know it’s been a little stressful but no twenty five year old walks out on a job this good.”

Her mind reeled back to a week ago. It was a grim Wednesday morning. Fog hung in the air and she stood with her eyes cast down trying to avoid the casket being lowered into a pit. Her eyes were stinging but as hard as she tried, she couldn’t cry. There was no relief. She couldn’t make them come. She wasn’t close to her father. He was always one of two places, at the factory or drinking at the bar down the street. She’d been working since she was fourteen. She supported her family by chipping in for overdue rent or reluctantly giving a five for gas. I guess that’s where the rat race began, Madeline realized. She was always searching for the stability her father didn’t care about. Seeing for the first time in two years she felt a pang of sadness as she looked into his pale face. This was it? She felt that he’d wasted his life. And she wasn’t about to do the same.

Now she turned to Russell, “Yes. Yes I did quit my job. Ask me again, I love the way it sounds.” She had almost reached her car and the entire walk to the parking lot she hadn’t noticed his negativity. She was tired of it all. The dark mornings stumbling from her blaring alarm clock to her dripping coffee machine to her droning conference calls. She was free, thanks to her father. The best thing death can bring is a revelation. She had realized that she was writing her own story and she didn’t need to make herself the victim.

“Do you realize the implications that you will–”

She wasn’t listening to him. She was thinking of the offer she had received for an internship in Venice a month ago. It barely paid any money. But still, she’d always wanted to work at a bakery. To create something more than her own misery. “By the way, do you know how much plane tickets to Europe go for these days? God, it’s been forever since I left this city.”

“Um, well, no.” Russell mustered, losing his train of thought. “But as I was saying–”
He tried to continue, but she cut him off again, “Oh Russell, don’t you see? I don’t want to end up like my father. I need to change something about my life.”

“Then change something! But quitting your job? It’s ridiculous. You can do what you really want when you retire. After three years of working with you I have never questioned your sanity until now.”

“Russell, stop looking at me like I’ve lost my mind and just listen. We could be replaced with a computer programmed robot and our world wouldn’t look any different than it does right now. We could press a few buttons, instruct it to follow our daily routine, and sit back to watch our life pass by. I’m done living like this.”

Russell’s arms were folded across his chest. He wasn’t buying it.

“Just think about it.” Madeleine said, her eyes lighting up. “We don’t have to be trapped. This is our life and we can do whatever we want. The possibilities are endless, and exciting– yet how do we spend most of our time? Letting the days troop by, sleepwalking through life.”

He didn’t understand her. His father was a banker and his mother a secretary. He’d grown up comfortable and accustomed to this lifestyle. He asked, “But aren’t you scared?”

“Honestly… yes. But that’s normal. I’ve learned that the only thing people are more scared of than wasting their life is uncertainty.”

“Well Madeleine, I still think you’re a little crazy. Just don’t come crawling back to me when you’re unemployed and scrounging for money.” Russell turned abruptly and walked back in through the tinted door of the towering building.

Madeleine called back to him, “Don’t save up everything you want to do for retirement! It’s riskier than anything I’m trying to do.”

He didn’t turn back. He had an appointment to go to and he didn’t want to be late.

Backing out of the parking lot, Madeleine watched the hot sun reflect off the outside of the tinted building. The rays of light bounced off the glass in waves, barely letting any sun inside. Looking ahead, her past waving goodbye in the rearview mirror, she began to think that maybe her dad’s life wasn’t wasted because, after all, she was finally leaving.

Monday Morning at the Laundromat

This is a short story that I wrote for English class about the American Dream and following your passion, any feedback would be great. Hope you’re having a great Friday and thank you in advance!

It’s Monday morning and the city air is convecting with a drone of energy.  A traffic-cluttered street stretches onwards beside a pulsing mass of people on the sidewalk.  The mid-March breeze blows warm in the sun and cool in the shadows.

Aden Grayson is among the crowd of listless people striding determinedly down the sidewalk in the shade of the skyscrapers.  He troops along, almost carried by the current of others around him, dressed in a suit with a briefcase in hand.

A few blocks later he breaks from the stream of people and turns into his Laundromat.  Swinging the doors open he steps into the garish fluorescent lights and faces a bleak wall of tumbling washers and dryers.  

Making his way to the counter with a smile he asks the attendant, “Hi, is my suit ready?”

The young man’s eyes lift from his notebook and up to him, “Your name?”

“Aden Grayson.”

“Let me check.”  He goes to the back room for the specialty cleanings and emerges with a shrug, “Sorry, we’ve been having trouble with the machines, it’s gonna be another 15 minutes.  Feel free to grab a coffee.”  He offers nodding towards the coffee machine on the counter.

Glancing at his watch Aden mumbles to himself in disappointment, “Well, I guess I’ll just wait.  Why is it that stuff like this always happens on Monday mornings…?”

“It’s Monday?” the guy behind the counter realizes, “Already Monday, I guess I forgot.”

“Forgot it’s Monday?”  He looks up from pouring his drink, “That’s pretty hard to do.  I basically dread this day the whole weekend, all it means is another week of this.  You must know especially, working here and all.”

The young man behind the counter breaks into a half smile, “Yanno, it’s funny because I don’t even think of this as my job.”
Aden turns his head, confused at what he means, “You mean, you actually like working here?  No offense or anything” He adds thoughtfully, “but, well, you know…”

“Here?”  He looks around surveying the cracked linoleum floor and rows of endlessly spinning washing machines.  “Uh, not exactly. But I don’t really consider this my job, I guess it’s more of my day job, you know, to help pay the bills… but definitely not my real job…  I think I would start noticing Monday mornings if it was.”

“I guess you’re lucky then, I work at a bank.  Can’t exactly say it’s my passion, but I’m successful.”

“See, what I really am is an artist.  I paint on my off-hours and am even starting to be featured in some local galleries.  I can’t say I’m successful yet, but it’s definitely my passion.”

“Wonder which one of us is better off?”  Aden jokes lightly.  “I mean, you not minding working here just because you have something else in your life that you really love, kinda makes my idea of success crumble apart, yanno?”

“I didn’t want to point it out, but I think you’re right.  I think this world has a messed up idea of success.  I mean, just look out there.”  He excitedly stretches his arm towards the big glass windows and the mass of people busily walking by, “They all seem unhappy.  I always think about this, what exactly is everyone looking for?  We only have about 70 to 80 years here on earth, and that’s if we’re lucky, and what will it all be worth if we just let the days troop by into years and then before we know it, we’re buried in the ground?”

“Yeah, you’ve really got a point.  It’s a point I try to ignore, but even when I do I know it’s there.”

“I know how it is.  I used to try to push that thought out of my mind too.  My parents were big into the whole, get good grades in high school, go to college, get a steady job thing.  And I tried it too, mostly to make them happy, plus I thought it was what I should do.  Barely made it through two semesters as an accounting major until I moved here and went to art school.  Parents were against it at first, but it’s the best decision I ever made.”

“What finally made you decide to do it?”

“I guess the life I live now is based on a chance remark.  I was talking to my professor one day after class and he had noticed my drawings on the margins of my tests.  He said the math was mediocre, but the sketches weren’t.  I told him why I wanted to be an accountant, and he agreed I was going to hit a dead end.  He quoted Van Gogh, actually, and he told me, “Normality is a paved road: it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”

“I guess you’re lucky then, you know when to leave the main road, to plant your own flowers.  Part of me really wants to, but I can never bring myself to do it.”
“That’s the problem.  We’re all directionless, but we can’t settle.  We can’t be more focused on staying alive than finding a reason to be alive.”

The young man behind the counter hears a beep from the machine in back, “That must be your suit.”  He walks to the back room and comes out with it.  “Well, here’s what you came for.”

Aden pays and turns to leave, “Thanks for your help, I mean it.”

The guy smiles, “Anytime.”

He walks back out the door into the crowd, the room inhales a wisp of fresh air as the door is shut.

An Old Man’s Winter Morning

robert frost

This is a (very!) short story that I wrote after reading “An Old Man’s Winter Night” by one of my favorite poets Robert Frost.

Morning awoke with frost littered upon the grass and silence piercing through the frigid air.

Slow footsteps crunched, a weathered cane trailed a step ahead. The man craned his neck, searching the landscape. It was tousled with wind from the night and misty with fog from the morning. The hills rolled into and over each other, outwards in all directions.

Not a soul was in sight. The February bite stung his face but he carried on walking and walking and walking, what for?  Every morning he would wake in the dark, feed the dying embers of the night before, and put his overcoat on. Waking and walking each step he would wait for the sunrise over the bend of the next hill. The light he searched for was dwindling within, it had grown quiet over the years.

Strangers on a Train

I would really, really, really appreciate any of your feedback on this short story I’m sending with my application to a writing workshop for this summer. Any comments to help improve it would mean a lot, thank you!

The sunrise swallowed the inky darkness hiding in the shadows of the rolling plains. Bridgette’s eyelids fluttered open to meet these first streaks of mid-July daylight pouring in through the window her head had been leaning against all night.
She had fallen asleep to the rumbling of the train passing through the misty lights of Chicago, 950 miles from home. The looming mountain range of skyscrapers had dissolved into the night sky and daylight revealed rolling hills in place of the concrete. The sunlight was spilling over deep purple moors and was seeping through the wispy flower-specked plains beyond the stonewall separating the fields from the tracks. The scenery continued despite the blur of the fast moving train. Miles of track couldn’t escape the vast countryside.

Bridgette grabbed her canvas backpack from the seat next to her and pulled out a worn leather notebook. Flipping through the pages of scribbles, she found her hand-drawn map of the United States. She traced the line that ran across state borders from Boston to San Francisco until the creased itinerary in her pocket matched with where her finger landed on the map.

She got out of her booth seat and made her way down the aisle to get breakfast and freshen up. When she returned, she slid open the door to her oak-paneled compartment to find two strangers sitting in the booth parallel to her seat.
Inching into the room, she sat down and clutched her notebook on her lap. She glanced around the room only to meet the older man’s steady gaze.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt.” He assured warmly with a smile. “It’s just that some of the compartments are kinda crowded so they’ve been moving people around.” His faded hazel eyes twinkled earnestly reminding her of a grandfather when he spoke.

The younger man in his freshly pressed suit, who Bridgette assumed must have come from another crowded room, had his head cupped in his hands and continued to look down as she smiled at the old man.

“Oh, I don’t mind. Actually, I’ve been traveling alone for about…” She opened her notebook to the map and looked down considering for a moment, “for about two thousand miles or so.”

He observed with eyebrows raised, “You seem to be quite the traveler for someone so young, where are you from? And more importantly, where do you plan to go?”

“Well, I’m from a small town about fifty miles outside of Boston and I’m heading toward San Francisco to visit my aunt.” She answered while trying to suppress a smile because she’d wanted to make this trip a reality for years. “But I wouldn’t really say I’m a traveler,” she added, “seeing as this is my first time away from home.”

“First time away from home,” he smiled as though he was watching his own memories playback in an old film. “That must be very exciting for you then. And by train,” he exclaimed, “that’s even better. It’s a shame how little people travel by railroad these days. Imagine all they’re missing out on.” He gestured towards the expansive window framing the cascading Colorado Mountains.

The young man in the suit finally raised his eyes with a very subtle look of disapproval and then glanced back down at his smartphone.

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Bridgette’s voice rose in excitement, choosing not to acknowledge the man in the suit. “If you’re going to travel across the country, wouldn’t you want to actually see the country?”

“That’s the real problem,” his voice grew more serious and he leaned in, “everyone wants to go, go, go. Secure the fastest flight, no stops on the way there, pop a few pills to pass out on the plane. That’s what I don’t under-”

The man in the suit finally spoke up and cut him off mid-rant. “Don’t understand?” He exclaimed with his eyes narrowing in frustration. “Maybe you need to wake up and realize this is the 21st century. People have places to go and they don’t have time for this!”
He looked down embarrassed at his reaction then took a deep breath and made eye contact with the two. In a more reasonable voice he explained, “Look, I’m sorry about that, okay? I guess it’s been a rough day.” He paused for a moment then joked sarcastically trying to break the tension he caused a few moments earlier, “It’s just that this isn’t exactly my favorite way to travel. I’d actually say it’s pretty far down on the list right above horse and buggy.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it. We’ve all had those days,” reassured the kind old man.

“Just about another half hour to Denver where I can catch a plane and finally get out of here,” he mumbled reassuring himself.

The old man and the young girl exchanged glances and watched him as he raised his cell phone in midair in attempt to find some Wi-Fi.

“I hate to break it to you but I haven’t had any service all morning.” Bridgette held out her phone as evidence. “And I know that you said you don’t exactly want to be here, but it really isn’t so bad.”

He stuffed his phone inside his pocket and considered the statement.

“Have you ever been to Colorado?” the old man said interrupting his thoughts.

“Well, I guess you could say so. I’ve passed over it before. I have to travel a lot for work so I’m always back and forth.”

“So you’ve traveled over it then.” He repeated glancing out the window again. “Looking down at the clouds, it’s a nice view but…”

Everyone’s eyes now trailed back to the window he was gesturing toward. The green grass slopped down the landscape and met with the mouth of the lacquered deep indigo lake. The midmorning sun glittered off the still surface mirroring the curved mountain range resting against the clear sky.

The man in the suit narrowed his eyes. He looked as though he was trying to decipher a foreign language he had long ago forgotten. He was silent the rest of the train ride, his eyes never leaving the window.

The train pulled into the station with a screech. The old man was the first to stumble out the sliding door. As Bridgette tossed her canvas backpack over her shoulder, she noticed out of the corner of her eye a smile on the old man’s face.

Bridgette followed the mass of people exiting the train right to where the train ticket booth was. Sitting down on the bench to the side of it, she pulled out her notebook and found her itinerary where she circled in dark ink where she was heading next. Fifteen minutes until she was supposed to be at Gate E to catch the train for the last leg of her journey.

After she walked over, she stood at the opening of her gate and went to check off one last detail in her notebook. She dug through the side pocket of her backpack for her pen only to find it wasn’t there. She looked across the large station to where she had been sitting to find it resting upon the bench. She considered for a moment whether she should walk all the way across the crowded floor just to pick it up. Before she could make a decision, she saw the man in the freshly pressed suit again. Her eyes followed him as he quickly reached out and grabbed her pen off the bench. He stepped back over to the booth next to it and signed a piece of paper that he exchanged for a train ticket. She turned her head and started walking toward her gate. She decided to leave the pen.

Second Hand Nostalgia

The street lights shined through the shadows that rested on the road. My windows fogged with condensation and second hand nostalgia as we rolled down the streets. Each turn my father knew like the back of his hand. They had been embedded deeply within the layers of his memory from a routine that hadn’t been followed for decades, yet still remained. The large number of years it survived could only be counted with the dates scrawled on the backs of old photographs.

The brick sidewalk was the path to school. The schoolyard, now silent and empty, once fizzled with the joyful shrieks of children. I could see through the windows classrooms, classrooms that once brimmed with eraser shavings and complaints of too much homework. Across the parking lot were stained glass windows and cathedral bells. Missing math for holy mass they would cross the cement for church.

Fields of Golden Flowers

The first thing I remember seeing as the plane glided downwards from the sky was a glimpse of bright yellow fields in the distance. The golden tufts of flowers illuminated by the sunrise were carried away with the morning breeze gracefully and suddenly out of my sight.  This transient scene passed unnoticed by most of the passengers, still asleep and unaware of the first streaks of daylight pouring in through the fingerprinted windows.  But for me, wide eyed and peering through the glass, I greeted this first glimpse of land with a pulse that matched the turbulence of the journey and with a mind ceaselessly growing with wonder.

The plane rumbled as the wheels hit the ground.  The rhythmic sound of the fast moving concrete beneath me was a reminder that this was not another daydream; the solid ground under me had removed my head from the clouds.

The next stage of arrival was a blur.  A blur garnished with clunky luggage being handed over by attendants speaking in a foreign way, the echo of unknown words sounding over an intercom that enveloped and reverberated off tall glass walls, and groups of international travelers speaking fluently in a myriad of languages.  Darting glances between friends revealed our disorientation.  Between many bonjours, mercis, and pardons our group made our way from the airport to a bus and from a bus to a subway.  Each link felt like an eternity whose sole purpose was to prolong my anticipation and heighten my fascination with the questions that lingered, close but not closely enough, in a city that was still beyond my reach.

The subway car screeched into a stop and the metal doors slid open with a high pitched ding.  Stumbling feet hurried out and onto the concrete platform.  As heads were counted, mine was turning in every direction attempting to absorb the large French advertisements sprawled against the grey walls and the many people moving in all directions.  We made our way through a maze of white tiled hallways.  As we moved closer, our view began to flood with natural light pouring in from a stairwell in the distance.  Each hurried step up was not fast enough for my curiosity that grew as the light got closer until the darkness of the subway dissolved in the striking light of my surroundings.

My mind slowed as the world around me seemed to accelerate.  The cast-iron metro sign, its classic black lettering contrasting its rouge background, opened up the view.  My eyes traveled over the distinctly Parisian architecture lining the street, running in every perceptible direction.  The brisk mid-April air erupted with the sound of conversation and city traffic.   My eyes lit up with the idea that everything around me was real, I was really there.  I wished I could pause time and look at each small detail for hours in attempt to grasp the intricacies lying below the surface of the scene.

Our group, ready and eager to explore, were told that we could break off with others and walk around until a set time when we would all meet up.  With a map and growing anticipation, we set off into the unknown.

The unknown turned out to be the Latin Quarter of Paris.  It was where the cobblestone streets met with the left bank of the Seine River.  The Notre Dame resided in all its grandeur and infinite complexities across the vast Seine.  The pastel hues of spring flowers crept over the bank separating the cathedral garden from the river.  We passed an ancient bridge furnished with intertwined railings and old-fashioned street lights on our left while across the road there was a long strip of quaint shops.  I could easily imagine myself inside these picturesque cafés, boutiques, and bookstores that perfectly lined the streets.  Each storefront had a façade with paned windows and overflowing flower boxes held back with laced cast iron frames.  Placed carefully among these shops were tall antique lights and newly blossoming trees.  With a gust of wind, the branches shifted and light pink blossoms flew spiraling down onto the ground.  I admired them as they wafted down the stone sidewalk and past my feet.

Along the river bank worn with age, was a stretch of venders.  Within the long row of stands, stood a wooden table stacked with shelves of used books.  Yellowed pages veiled by faded covers, their fragile spines splitting at the seams.  Hundreds of stories, adventures, and secrets within each book, they were elegantly bound but concealed by a language that I could not read.   At the next stand there were beautiful paintings, each careful stroke encompassed the past of the anonymous artist who had created it.  Old letters and postcards, collected over the years and worn by age, were sold at another kiosk.  Authentic messages dating back to the early nineteen hundreds were scrawled in barely decipherable cursive, the individual behind the signature unaware that their sentiments would decades later be for sale.

As I walked my heart started beating faster as I found I was captivated by the world.  This image in front of me was tangible; I could feel the centuries old ground beneath my feet and smell the blooming April flowers.  My impression was a perfectly entwined array of the pictures, films, and books I had seen and poured my interest into over the years.  Every crack in the stone wall along the Seine was another discovery, every hidden alleyway a small detail in a grand masterpiece.  All these simple findings were magnified with my enthusiasm.

I soon began to notice that moving through the streets in different directions seemed to be an impenetrable mass of people.  As I looked more closely, the lines between their figures softened.  There were college students on their way to cafés for a coffee before class, serious looking people in suits rushing to appointments, and parents chasing after their overexcited young children.  Each person was consumed within their own world.  I watched with interest how some walked down the same street as me, seemingly unaware of everything that I saw.

The question lingered in my head for quite some time.  How could two people walk down the same exact street and one react unchanged while the other is overcome by the beauty that is around her?  To one person, their surroundings were normal because this was their life.  It was the same street they walk down every day of the year; the small details were blended by routine.  Then I began to wonder how many times I had failed to acknowledge the simple beauty around me on a regular basis, the beauty that I would normally disregard because it was paled by monotony.  Then it occurred to me that the way someone looks at the world determines what they see.  Someone could live all their life in the dim light of their mundane routine, never looking past the surface of things deemed ordinary.  Their minds would not appreciate the simple beauty of a bare tree’s silhouette against the water colored sky during a November sunset or the way that the afternoon sun sometimes illuminates a single speck of dust slowly floating in the air.  I did not need to be in Paris to view an alleyway as a discovery or to regard every river bank as a piece of art.  Instead I could change my outlook and always have eyes eagerly searching for beauty in the simplest of places, because the last thing anyone wants is to wake up one day and realize that they slept through their life and were unaware of the beauty of the many fields of golden flowers outside their fingerprinted window.