Stormy weather, reflection, and personal growth

The weather for today called for thunderstorms, and the forecast was certainly spot-on in that regard. Proper thunderbolts-and-lightning, very very frightening, and so on. Oh, and grape-sized hail that scared the crap out of my cats.

I love a good thunderstorm. One of the things I miss most about living in Carnegie is being able to lie in the back room–my grandma’s old room–and listen to the rain hitting the skylights. Thought it wasn’t quite the same, I did take some time to sit out on the back deck to watch the beginnings of the storm. I snapped a few pictures, enjoying the crazy clouds and the increasing winds, wrote in my journal a bit, and then set both my phone and journal aside to appreciate the weather.

Fun fact: I used to be terrified of thunderstorms. Specifically, I was terrified of the thunder itself. By association, I would freak out when I saw bright flashes of lightning; I knew what they meant, and I didn’t like what would follow. The typical response? Find the nearest pillow and hide, as pillows were obviously the greatest protection from the elements. It’s a common enough fear, and so I don’t feel too bad admitting to it. If the thunder’s loud enough and the lightning’s crazy enough, really, it becomes a surprisingly rational fear, I’d say. It was during those times that I spent cowering under couch decorations that my grandmother would try to comfort me by explaining the thunder away as angels bowling. The louder thunder rumbles were, the more likely it was the angels got a strike. I learned enough about bowling during my formative years while still not finding thunder to be a great source of terror, but the idea that it wasn’t so bad stuck around. My grandmother actually spent a good deal of time watching storms, too, and it’s something I seem to have picked up at some point. I even, against what was probably better judgment, went with my stepfather to try retrieving my grandmother and great aunt after a tornado cruised through Mount Washington and wrought all sorts of havoc.

This is something I dwell on from time to time, as it’s something I’ve grown out of. Here’s the part where I get ridiculous, because I’m drawing parallels all ham-handed and shit. My writing is like the way I’ve gotten used to, and have grown to love, thunderstorms. When I started writing, it was all short stories with MS Paint and Microsoft Works. Lots of crappy writing, thoughtless snark, and…Well, it was my first attempts at writing. Over time, with practice and patience, I slowly got better. I found an audience that enjoyed my writing and I ran with it. I’m still, I’ve discovered, finding new audiences and continuing along the process of finding what works and what doesn’t, and I’ll probably have to keep doing that until the day I die (or, less likely, my fingers all fall off and I’m no longer able to write).

The comparison may have fallen apart there. Over time, these two things–thunderstorms and writing–became things that I didn’t fear (for different reasons, obviously), but things I enjoyed a great deal. They both old a special place in my heart, even when they are a source of frustration.

The strange monetization of childhood nostalgia

Update: Found the link to the obscenely expensive Pokemon cards! Here they are:

Disclaimer: I go into this post acknowledging my experience is not an entirely universal one. My parents have, and continue to, do everything they can to ensure my happiness and comfort whenever possible (as well as the happiness and comfort of my siblings). This is something that no number of thank-yous can possibly make up for in any number of years. I say this because, though I doubt it will necessarily become an issue, I want to address that I’m aware that not everyone’s parents are insane enough to shell out the frankly-absurd amount of money for the latest Lego sets or whatever, and that’s on the basis of everyone coming from different social and economic backgrounds, and so on. If I offend anyone, in any way, with this post, I apologize. This post is probably going to wax a bit nostalgic, too, which is something I can’t apologize for because it’s literally part of the post title. You knew what you were getting into before you even got to this point, people.

That last bit may have sounded a bit dour, and that is largely because I have just dealt with the fourth and fifth calls to Navient (the off-shoot of SallieMae now responsible for crushing the souls of current and former college students everywhere). It has not been a particularly cheerful morning. This information comes in handy, however, as something caught my eye as I was scrolling through Facebook in the brief time I have left before I head to work.
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The magic in The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I’ve found myself dwelling on Neil Gaiman’s novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane a fair bit lately. It became, very quickly, my favorite of his novels, as evidenced by such things as me calling it a treasure. After much pining over the deluxe edition, and many thanks to my mother (who does far more for me than I could ever hope to repay in anywhere less than a dozen lifetimes), I now sit waiting for its arrival. No single word or phrase seems adequate to describe the levels of excitement and anticipation, or the joy and disbelief, I’m experiencing over this as I impatiently await its arrival. My first edition of the American hardcover release, however, will continue to remain one of my most cherished books (I loaned it out earlier today, issuing a death threat should it return in less-than-perfect condition). I’ve thrown in a picture, because I honestly just love everything about this book (the picture’s on Instagram, which I’m learning does not like to share).

In many ways, The Ocean at the End of the Lane has gone from being a novel I loved reading to a sort of magic. To those who haven’t yet read it, I cannot recommend a fiction novel more highly than I do this one. There are some biases at work there, perhaps, but I stand firm in that assessment. To that end, I can’t help but wonder what about this particular novel really captured my heart (forgive the cliche, please). Yes, it’s beautifully written, with wonderful characters and a narrative that swept me up to such a degree I had to set the book down and focus on nothing else but accepting I had finished reading it once I’d completed the last page, but that wasn’t quite it. Tonight, in one of my more introspective moments, I think I’ve pinpointed at least a little of the magic of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I’m content it’s only a little. Too much understanding, I’ve learned, can spoil this sort of thing. Continue reading

Revisiting the frozen north, and thesis seminar presentations

Or “I named the MS Word file ‘edinboro_nostalgia’ because I couldn’t think of a better title, as evidenced by the title of this post.”

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I think this bit of writing speaks well enough for itself. Also, it’s been an atrocious day and I’m feeling lazy (so sue me). Unrelated aside: The Bloggess followed me on Twitter today, which makes today the starstruck equivalent of Christmas.

Moving along…

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The Old Castle on Meridan Street

This short story was, in some way or another, a-brewin’ in the depths of my brain, and possibly somewhere deep down in that little, cranky dark place I occasionally refer to as my heart. My recent trip home for Easter, a short story my friend Lindsey had me read, and my own recent reflecting on the Pittsburgh area were apparently the necessary catalysts to bring this out.

I’ve not seen my grandmother’s house since the last time my family was there to pack things up and move her in with us. A lovely family moved in, and apparently it’s changed quite a bit. There’s something about that I can’t actually cope with, so I’ve stayed away.

Anyway, I’ll stop lollygagging and get to the important part: the story, which is titled “The Old Castle on Meridan Street”. This story took several emotionally-draining hours to write, and it made me feel a curious mix of nostalgic joy and sadness. I hope it translated into some good writing. Enjoy, and feel free to share similar locations from your past that have left permanent impressions on your heart in the comments.

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Some misadventures in non-fiction

I’m going to just go ahead and say this week’s post will be delayed, because it evolved into something bigger than it should have.

Oh, and I worked twenty-three and a half hours between yesterday and today, and I’m also in the process of celebrating not dying or killing anybody by drinking half a bottle of wine.  Yes, you read that right.  Half a bottle.  No, this isn’t a regular thing.  In my defense, it’s Moscato, which I’m told is Italian for “liquid candy that produces great happiness” and not “wine you should be enjoying in moderation.”  So at least I have that going for me at this point in time.

Speaking of time, and not in the Doctor Who sense (well, maybe a little), tonight marks the fifteenth anniversary of the tornado that hit Mount Washington* (located in scenic Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I have lived all my life in some capacity or another).  To commemorate that, I will share the story of how my grandmother nearly died in the previously mentioned tornado, and how my stepfather and I made the remarkably bad decision to try driving to the site of a major storm to pick up my grandma and great aunt.

My Grandma Betty was very fond of watching storms.  When she lived at her house in Mount Washington, she would sit out on her porch to enjoy them.  Later in life, when she had moved in with my mom, stepdad, sister, and me, she continued this tradition via the two skylights in her bedroom, an entire section of the house we had added on for her.  Today, fifteen years ago, my grandmother sat out on her porch with a paper plate loaded with Lay’s Classic Potato Chips.  And she watched.  Eventually, or so say some of her neighbors who had looked out, the chips started swirling around in a circle on the plate.  The winds were getting worse, and the rain was coming down quite heavily, so my grandmother made her way to the front door.  She pulled the screen door open, only to have it slammed shut by the gale force winds.  She tried a second time, only to be met with the same results.  Finally, I’m told, she braced herself between the screen door and the larger, heavier storm door, got it opened, and made her way inside.

The porch roof dipped, collapsing completely on the one side moments later.  I still get chills thinking about that now.  She retrieved my great aunt Renee and went down to the basement.

Meanwhile, I was kneeling on one of the living room couches, watching the pitch-dark clouds drift lazily across the sky.  I still remember how the streetlights were on and everything seemed so surreal, and that’s when my stepfather asked me if I wanted to go see if Grandma Betty (my mother’s mother; I suppose I could have clarified this point sooner, but I have now so that works as well) and Aunt Renee were okay.  I agreed, more than eager to have a visit with my grandmother.  And, of course, I thought I’d get to see a real tornado, up close and personal.  I was not a very bright child.

As my stepfather drove, the sky grew darker the closer we got to Mount Washington.  That didn’t deter us, though.  We were adventurers, braving the elements to rescue two little old ladies in distress.  What could possibly go wrong?  It took arriving at a police barricade for the right thoughts to click in the right way in our heads.  I remember looking to my stepdad and saying, “Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.”

My favorite bit to tell, however, is this part.  We had a lovely above-ground swimming pool at my grandmother’s house.  I had a lot of great times in that pool, and also one time I jumped onto a raft that flipped over and nearly drowned my wild and crazy self.  The tornado picked up our entire cinder block garage, moved it about ten or so feet back, and deposited it onto the swimming pool.  Save for the garage door, though; to this day, nobody knows where the hell that ended up.

It’s weird to think back on all of this, especially since it still feels like a painful length of time too long since my grandmother (and great aunt) passed away.  On those nights I’m home and it’s storming, I make it a point to lay down on the floor in the back room.  No lights on.  Just the occasional flashes of lightning to illuminate the room and the sounds of the rain against the skylights mixed with the rumbles of thunder.

*As of when I started writing it, mind you.

Short Story a Week #1: Grandpa Pembroke’s Greatest Treasure

A little pre-story reading, first.  Yes, I’m totally almost two days behind.  Yes, I’m still also two weeks behind, more or less.  No, I did not account for how stressful these past two weeks would be; what, do you think I have a crystal ball or something?  I’d have won the lottery if that were the case (and totally made it so the people who matter to me are debt-free and living comfortably, as well as making my life a little less crazy).  However, because of that I have two stories (the second one will be arriving tomorrow, during the day), and a bonus something-or-other because I still feel guilty for some reason.  Maybe because I’m already well on my way as a writer to ignoring deadlines as they fly past, glaring at me for my lack of good work ethic.

This first short story, titled Grandpa Pembroke’s Greatest Treasure, started off as an idea about a chess set.  It gradually evolved into what it is, and it has become rather dear to me.  I’m fairly certain the inspiration is my stepmother’s father, Tibor Zalavary (whose name I hope I’ve not butchered, since I only really knew him as Mr. Zalavary).  He was one of the first people I ever played chess with, and I still remember how he schooled me every single time.  He also introduced me to The Pink Panther, as portrayed by Peter Sellers, and I will always treasure the memory of sitting in his living room, the smell of cigarette ash in the air, laughing to the point of tears with someone I wish I could have gotten to know better.  As such, I hope this story does his memory justice. Continue reading