Monday, November 16, 2020

The Bitter Joke

     

I've never written in the genre known as flash fiction, so I decided to give it a try. What is flash fiction? you ask. According to Wikipedia, "Flash fiction is a fictional work of extreme brevity [usually around 1,000 words] that still offers character and plot development." The idea is to hint at or imply a larger story.
     Here's what I came up with. Let me know what you think. 

The Bitter Joke

Cindy L. Freeman

    Unlike George and Stephanie, Rebecca had returned to the family home after college. Marshall Worthington trusted only his youngest daughter to run the business and manage his considerable estate.
    After the divorce, Marshall’s first wife had succeeded in vilifying him to his eldest children. Rebecca--born ten years later to Lily, the deceased love of his life--scarcely knew her half brother and sister.
    Now, a mere two years after Rebecca’s homecoming, nurses provided around-the-clock care for her father, allowing her to soak up the precious hours of his final days.
    During the months since Marshall’s diagnosis, George and Stephanie couldn’t be bothered to visit or even call to check on their father. Why had they shown up now when he drifted in and out of a morphine stupor?
    Rebecca hadn’t meant to eavesdrop that day, but hearing her name mentioned, she slipped behind the half-open door to Marshall's study. It wasn’t the first time she had caught them discussing her in hushed tones.
    “We need to find it before it’s too late.” It was Stephanie’s voice mingled with the furious tapping of computer keys.
    “Rebecca will get everything if we don’t change it. She already has the business.”
    “He’s barely conscious, George.”
    “That’s no problem. I’ve mastered his signature.”
    “Are you serious? Forgery is a felony!”
    “Sh! Not so loud. Only if I get caught.”
    “Even if we find the original, Father’s attorney will have a copy. Hurry up! Before somebody comes.”
    “I can’t crack the passcode. It’s encrypted.”
    “Great, just great! I thought you were an expert hacker.”
    Raising a hand to cover her mouth, Rebecca slipped from her hiding place. She charged on stocking feet up the marble staircase, reaching the master bedroom just as Mount Vesuvius erupted. As she collapsed onto Marshall's hospital bed, her muffled laughter sent shivers through the mattress. Marshall started, but his dark-rimmed eyes remained closed. A pale limp hand reached to stroke his daughter’s silken hair.
    “Oh, Papa! You were right. How could I have been so naïve? They’re downstairs right now hatching a plan. But you’ll have the last laugh, won’t you, Papa? The joke will be on them.
    A weak smile lifted the corners of Marshall Worthington’s lips. Then, with one final puff of air, he lay motionless. It was over. Rebecca wept until evening shadows darkened the room. 
    The next day, George and Stephanie each discovered deposits of two million dollars to their checking accounts. 

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of four award-winning short stories and three published novels: UnrevealedThe Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com  Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.


Friday, October 23, 2020

Fulfillment or Destiny?


Have you considered what contributes to your fulfillment? Not just enjoyment, but that deep sense of “This is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.” How does one go about discovering one’s life’s purpose or destiny? Somehow, I don’t feel fulfilled unless I’m expressing myself creatively.

At one time, I was sure my destiny was to be a singer. At another stage, my destiny was to be a teacher and choral director. Then, I saw my destiny as founding a music school. Upon retirement, my destiny became publishing a novel. Have all of these things happened? Yes. Have they fulfilled my life's purpose? Perhaps these career goals have contributed, but career goals don’t necessarily equate with destiny.

Some years ago, I read Eckhart Tolle’s inspiring book, A New Earth. It had such a profound effect on my thinking that I decided to read it again. In it, Tolle refers to this idea of
fulfillment as “awakened doing.” He defines "awakened doing" as “the alignment of your outer
purpose--what you do--with your inner purpose--awakening and staying awake.” It’s about discovering your destiny and then thinking and doing life in such a way as to fulfill that purpose.

Do you think every human is born with a destiny, a life’s purpose? While Tolle describes destiny as becoming “one with the universe,” I’m convinced that true fulfillment comes from becoming one with God. Actually, that’s what Tolle is saying, too, when he writes about “align[ing] your life with the creative power of the universe.”

If one is moving through life in a constant state of awareness or “awakening,” this process of finding one’s destiny is possible according to Tolle. However, it may also be gradual, even changing with different life stages. Why? Because finding and accepting one’s God-given purpose involves purging the ego. Ouch! Try accomplishing that in one sitting! Or even in one lifetime!

Yet, it’s exactly what Jesus calls us to do when he says in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).” Who are the meek? The meek are those without egos or rather those who are not controlled by their egos.

Ego tells us that we are better than/more deserving than others, that we must be famous, wealthy, and top in our field to live a fulfilled, purposeful life. Ego wants us to step on other peoples’ toes to get where we think we’re supposed to be, to achieve what we think we deserve. Ego encourages us to boast about our accomplishments instead of supporting and affirming others. Ego keeps us focused on ourselves and constantly seeking approval.

It is challenging to sort out whether one’s personal goals are in alignment with one’s destiny (God’s purpose for one’s life). It's even more challenging to rid oneself of ego. At my stage of life, God is inspiring me to write...not to become a New York Times best-selling author, but as another step toward fulfilling God’s purpose for me. How God uses my destiny is up to God, not me.

What creative fulfillment is God awakening in you?


Cindy L. Freeman is the author of four award-winning short stories and three published
novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website:
www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available through
amazon.com or hightidepublications.com. Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and
Peace.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Overcoming Writer's Block


Let’s be honest. Writer’s block plagues every writer from time to time. For me, it happens when I’m especially busy. I still spend time writing when deadlines or other responsibilities are looming, but I find it harder to be productive--to “enter the zone.” 

Here are some practices I’ve found helpful in staying on track with my writing:


  1. If the words just won’t flow, get up and do something physical. I prefer walking, but any type of physical activity can reignite a sluggish brain. 

  

  1. If your thoughts are constantly interrupted by a mental to-do list, make a list of everything that needs to get done that day or that week. Then, set it aside until your allotted writing time is over. The act of listing tasks seems to free your conscious mind of its nagging until you are ready to tackle them. 

  

  1. Move from your usual writing space. If you usually write at a desk, try taking your laptop to a recliner or sofa and vice versa. Sometimes a change in venue will be enough to spark your creativity. On nice days, try writing outside on the patio or deck. In the days B.C. (Before COVID) I would occasionally spend my writing time at Panera Bread or my favorite coffeehouse. I was shocked at how well I was able to concentrate in those public places. Of course, I always ordered food or a beverage so as not to take seating from paying customers.


  1. If you are a blocked fiction writer, stop and read a chapter or two of a classic novel. For me, nothing works better to start the creative juices flowing than reading Brontë, Dickens, Tolstoy or Steinbeck. After only a few sentences, I’m feeling inspired by the beauty of language as demonstrated by great literary masters.


  1. Free-write like you would in a journal, without making corrections, without deep thinking. I admit to finding this practice difficult. As an editor, I tend to want to edit as I go. But I’ve tried writing a first draft without correcting and it does work. You simply write whatever comes to mind without structure. You don’t worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation. This process seems to help me get past bludgeoning my brain for the perfect synonym or metaphor. 


  1. If you typically use a word-processing program, try writing long-hand for thirty minutes. Likewise, if you’re used to writing with a pen, try thirty minutes of typing into a computer. This sounds simplistic, but it seems to function like a factory reset for the brain. 

 

If you’ve tried everything and are still blocked, consider Rachael Cayley's advice. In her March 2018 blog post, she says: "Most graduate writers who are struggling with their writing are actually struggling with their thinking." Cayley suggests that writing through writer’s block is the best way to conquer it. She recommends changing fonts to indicate that what you write next is for your eyes only and will be deleted from the paper before it is submitted. Then, write exactly what your misgivings are: “I'm worried that what I'm writing here…” followed by “To figure this out, I need to…”1


Have you suffered from writer’s block? What have you done to unblock? Please share your suggestions. We’re all in this struggle together.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

So Little Time


Had I known I would one day become a writer, I would have done far more reading in my early years. Reading good literature is probably the most important preparation there is for becoming a writer. I wish I had devoured all the classics as I was growing up: Dickens, Brontë, Austen, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and others. Of course, many of these authors’ works were covered on my required reading for school, but I should have consumed so many more...when I had the time...instead of playing catch-up in my sixties and seventies. 


Classic literature, like classic music, has stood the test of time for a reason. By definition, it is recognized to be of the highest rank of excellence. The classics are works of enduring significance that I could have studied all these years, learning at the knees of the great masters. 


The ability to express one’s thoughts on paper with accuracy and elegance is a craft which, like any craft, requires study, practice, critique, rewrites, and more practice. In many cases, talent plays a miniscule role in producing a good essay, poem or novel.  


Perhaps the Brontës were inherently gifted as writers, but according to Juliet Barker, author of the biography, The Brontës, their literary upbringing served their talent well. They were voracious readers. On page 169, Barker writes:


“From the books that we know the Brontës possessed, it is possible to deduce something of the education Patrick [Brontë] offered his children.” 


Barker goes on to list history, geography and grammar texts. “Each,” she says, “was heavily annotated” by the children and undoubtedly provided inspiration for the people and places they would invent. But, according to Barker’s research, the Brontë household’s collection of books also included second-hand volumes of classic literature by Homer, Horace and Virgil, to name a few--second-hand because books were expensive in the nineteenth century and were considered an extravagance--and these other literary treasures:


“...a 1743 edition of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a 1791 edition of the hymn writer, Isaac Watts’ Doctrine of the Passions and a 1797 edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.”


Also displayed prominently in the Brontë home library were numerous volumes of the Bible, plus poetry books, texts from their father’s Cambridge education, and a copy of The Union Dictionary. What I find incredible is that they mastered the art of writing without the benefit of internet research or a readily available Thesaurus. Theirs was a thorough, well-rounded education whose teachers were books. 


As a late-blooming author, I am envious of the Brontë sisters who were encouraged to start early in life and fill their days reading. At my age, I’ve had to adopt the mantra, “So many books; so little time.” 


Now, please excuse me while I curl up in my favorite chair and whittle away at my reading list.  



Cindy L. Freeman is the author of three award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website:

www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available at

amazon.com or hightidepublications.com Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.

 

Friday, September 11, 2020

A Day I'll Never Forget

That Tuesday morning in 2001, I dressed for my school’s first day of classes. Good Morning America aired on the bedroom TV nearby, but I wasn’t tuned in to Charles Gibson. Rather, I focused on reviewing my lesson plans and checking off the mental list of preparations necessary for a successful start of the school year.


At 8:59, the television’s abrupt silence caught my attention. Wondering if the power had failed, I turned from the bathroom mirror toward the screen to witness a rare occurrence: a confused, mute host of a popular, upbeat morning show. Gibson’s too-calm demeanor belied a palpable tension. For a moment, he shuffled the papers on his desk and manipulated his earpiece. I expected the “Breaking News” warning to flash like it had in November 1963, the day of JFK’s assassination...another unforgettable moment in history--the kind of day when you recall where you were, what you were doing, and exactly how you felt.

The difference was that, nearly sixty years before, I had been sitting in my eighth grade math class when the announcement came over the loudspeaker, unable to watch Walter Cronkite’s profound reaction to breaking news until that evening. Like every family in America, my family gathered around our black-and-white TV until bedtime when we lay awake wondering if the world was ending.

Precisely at 9:00 am, a plane headed straight for one of the Twin Towers in New York City not far from Times Square where Charles Gibson sat in his GMA studio. A sickening explosion followed. Somehow, an eye-witness had caught the exact moment of impact. It was happening in real time. Gibson could only try to make sense of what his audience was already seeing. Was it a tragic accident? What actually was happening? Wait! Wasn’t that an American Airlines plane? When a second plane crashed into the South Tower, we knew. Every viewer had caught the indelible image, and fear engulfed a nation.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

Just as Gibson began to make sense of the unfolding event, sorting the jumbled messages that surely deluged his earpiece, he learned of a plane crash in Pennsylvania and another plane crashing into the Pentagon. Could they be related? Had war reached our shore? Surely not. This is America, after all--“land of the free and home of the brave.” Wars happen in faraway places, not here.

Within moments, President Bush had grounded every American airplane and put the U.S. military on high alert. Eyewitness reports, including photographs and videos taken by reporters and ordinary citizens, alike, flooded news stations. They were surreal; they were grim.

It was just the beginning.

I sank to the bed, paralysis gripping me. Yet I knew I had to go to work. Teachers, parents and children would converge on the school at 9:30. Children needing reassurance would ask questions I couldn’t answer. I had a ten-minute drive in which to prepare.

On September 20th, 2001, President George W. Bush declared that the United States of America was at war. Life would never be the same.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of three award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available at amazon.com or hightidepublications.com

Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Words Have Power



Recently, an interviewer asked me who inspired my desire to become a writer. Certainly there have been numerous “writer heroes” whose work I admire, some famous, others more obscure. But one person stands out as leaving the greatest impression upon me. Her name was Mrs. Davis, and she was my seventh-grade English teacher.

From an early age, I knew I would be a singer and a music teacher. That’s what I studied in college, and, indeed, music education became my long career. But for many years, I set aside another persistent dream. Starting from an early age, I wrote journal entries, poems, stories, and plays. I couldn't help myself. I had a love affair with words and a burgeoning appreciation for the beauty of language.

Mrs. Davis’ job was to teach English to a bunch of pimply faced preteens. I remember her as young--probably straight out of college--beautiful, and kind. Yes, she taught us grammar, punctuation, and the importance of correct spelling, but the most important thing I learned from her was that carefully chosen words have power...the power to influence and the power to stir deep emotions.

Mrs. Davis assigned her students a weekly essay topic. Some of my classmates balked at this assignment, but I couldn’t wait for Mondays when we would see the week’s writing topic displayed on the blackboard in her classroom. I always wanted to get started immediately. Why? Partly because I loved to write but also because Mrs. Davis appreciated my writing. She never graded my essays below an A and always included an encouraging, affirming note. Additionally, she displayed my work on the bulletin board outside her classroom, and, as I learned later that year, she read my essays aloud to all her classes.

I recall one instance in particular. As she was sharing my essay with the class, she began to cry. I don’t remember the topic, but I will never forget the euphoria in realizing my words had stirred my favorite teacher to tears. That was the moment I realized that words have power.

If, in my teaching career, I have touched even one student as profoundly as Mrs. Davis influenced me, it has all been worth it. To have your hero believe in you and admire your work is, indeed, powerful. Through the years, I’ve tried to locate Mrs. Davis...to thank her for her inspiration. Chances are, she is no longer alive, but she lives on in the heart of this "literary late bloomer" who finally fulfilled her dream of becoming an author.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of three award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or www.hightidepublications.com. Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.

Monday, August 10, 2020

A Timely Story



Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be homeless through no fault of your own? Suppose you are a teenager looking forward to her senior year with dreams of going to college. Imagine you live with your college-professor dad, your stay-at-home mom and two younger brothers in a comfortable home in an average middle-class neighborhood. Now imagine that idyllic picture, painted with the colors of hope
and a bright future, fading to black.

In 2018, when I wrote my novel, I Want to Go Home (click title for Amazon link), I was trying to understand homelessness at its core. I found it challenging to create a plausible situation where Abby, the teenager, and her brothers lost their home and their security. After all, what events could possibly be extreme enough to plunge a comfortable middle-class family of Williamsburg, Virginia into financial ruin and a situation dire enough to compel the children to run away, avoiding foster care and ending up in a shelter in Washington, DC?

Little did I know that only two years later, the events of 2020 with its pandemic, political and racial unrest, and economic nosedive would happen. I could not have predicted that some breadwinners would die of COVID-19, that business owners would suddenly be left without their source of income or that families, many already forced to live paycheck to paycheck, would find themselves in danger of eviction. Had I waited to write I Want to Go Home, my research into the causes of homelessness would have been unnecessary. Now there is clear evidence of how quickly peoples’ lives and livelihoods can change.

On the news, I see a single mother with four children standing outside her apartment house in Chicago, tears running down her cheeks. She has lost her job because the company she worked for had to close. She wants to work; she wants to support her children, not lavishly, but with basic food and shelter. She cannot pay her rent. I see the owners of a popular restaurant in Washington, DC forced to close for three months, unable to pay their loyal staff. The business this couple poured their finances and energy into for twenty-five years is now in danger of foreclosure. It is their only source of income, which means they could also lose their home. These are only two examples from thousands of true stories that reveal how fragile life is and how easily whole families, even in the USA, can become homeless.

Little did I know that my fictional story would be so timely only two years after I wrote it. I was determined to depict a plausible homeless journey, but I was just as determined to end it with Abby’s survival and triumph. I wish I could do the same for my fellow citizens who are experiencing uncertainty, anxiety and hopelessness. I wish I could guarantee happy endings for them, too. Unfortunately, I have no control over the current situation or their uncertain futures. But there are leaders who do have a degree of control. It’s time they set aside their partisan differences and worked together to create happy endings for real people experiencing real struggles.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com. Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.