Monday, February 8, 2016

I Get Lost

In my youth I was a mall rat. From the time I started working, as a babysitter at about age 13, I spent most of my free time and money at one of several malls in my area. And I got my first mall job as a teenager.

Technically, saying I spent money at the mall means this whole post disqualifies me from 2/3 of the Kevin Smith definition of mall rat: “They're not there to shop. - They're not there to work. - They're just there.

Which is fine. I was just as happy to hang out as I was to work, and shop, at the mall.

There was something comforting about being enveloped by the latest trends in consumerism day in and day out. You experience a sterile, bland feeling that overtakes you as soon as you walk through the door to a mall. It isn’t quite clinical like a hospital but the level of perfection achieved in window displays, squeaky clean floors, and toothy smiles on the faces of every (disgruntled) employee, always brought a similar smile to my face.

Entering a mall is a lot like entering a casino. Think I’m kidding? There are more similarities than you might think.

Lighting tricks are used. Where a casino keeps the captive from noticing there’s a world outside due to lack of windows, malls usually have a lot of windows. They allow natural light to pour in during the day, forcing a level of euphoria for shoppers and employees alike.

Good luck finding a clock. Time doesn’t exist in the mall. Unless you work in the stock room. Plus, that directory you’re looking for? Yeah, you’ll need to traverse the entire mall to find it. Clever marketing tactic. You’ll probably end up shopping while on the way to find where you want to shop.

Not to mention, they’ll gladly take all your money without a second thought. Nobody in retail gives a shit if you can afford what you’re buying. Those people are making about $12 an hour. And probably spending their entire check in the very place that provides it every week.

And I was definitely one of those people.

Back in those days, I always loved the mall. I could get everything I needed in one indoor adult playground. Tampons, diamond studded high heels, a back scratcher, and an extra set of keys? A mere mile apart. Need a prom dress, set of bowls, a haircut, and a specialty watch engraved for your 2 year anniversary? You can have it all within the confines of those walls.

Why would anyone want to spend their time anywhere else?

When I was younger there were four malls I could get to on the T: Woburn, Assembly Square, Burlington and Meadow Glen.

Burlington mall was the go-to location. I only needed to catch one bus right out of Arlington center and in 30 or so minutes I could pass through the doors of consumerism with ease. Not only did I hang out there (usually at Heel Quik, the shoe repair place where all the cute boys worked), but over the years I also worked there in multiple stores.

However, Burlington mall and the others didn’t have the one store that Meadow Glen had. The money waster of all money wasters.

The recording studio.

I can’t remember the official name of the place but I could get there in my memory a million times over. Through the doors of the food court, straight across the main hallway and all the way to the back of the mall, down the hallway nobody ever visited, on the end on the left.

Friends, family and I spent time there trying to convince ourselves we could sing. Or at least do Karaoke over a pre-recorded background track. 9 times out of 10 we wasted money by singing along to songs by New Kids on the Block or some other popular pop artist of the time.

My sister, who could actually carry a tune, busted out an awesome rendition of Debbie Gibson’s Lost in your Eyes. I might even still have the cassette tape of that recording somewhere.

We’d sing our little hearts out then go get cheese fries at Friendly’s, or a bacteria laden smoothie at the juice place. On the very rare occasion I had a couple bucks left, I’d usually spend them on magazines or buttons with Jonathan Knight’s face.

All of that time “in the studio” even convinced a few of us we should start an all-girl band back in high school. We called ourselves Girls on the Move. We took the train to Dorchester or Roxbury, and by some miracle of chance, we located the studio of uber-producer, Maurice Starr.

Then we sat on a couch in front of this enormous music presence and sang some sugar-laced pop song at the volume of a nervous mouse. Which prompted Mr. Starr to smile and all but shove us out the door.

Hey, we tried.

But all of those terrific experiences in my life likely never would have come to light if it hadn’t been for the influence of the mall.

So I had mixed emotions when I heard that the very site of our initial star-in-the-making location was about to become a grocery store or some other everyday store with no character of its own.

Meadow Glen officially closed its doors forever last week.

Over the past couple decades Meadow Glen went through lots of changes. The recording studio and everything down that hallway fell by the wayside in favor of some cheaply made crap stores. Casual Corner, and all the other clothing stores where shoulder pads weren’t optional, closed years ago.

They tried to keep the place alive with chain restaurants, party supply stores, and some other shops that just couldn’t cut it in the end.

In all honesty I probably haven’t stepped foot inside that mall in well over ten years. Maybe fifteen. After I stopped working in retail I tried like hell to limit my time spent in malls to, well, never if I could help it.

Because, really, why bother?

Every mall is pretty much the same these days. The same overpriced stores. The same lame merchandise. The same snarky and irritated employees making little money for a thankless job.

So, I guess it felt weird that I was as bummed out as I was to hear my former favorite dirt mall was closing its doors forever. But nothing really lasts, right?

Except maybe nostalgia.

Goodbye Meadow Glen, thanks for all those ridiculous teenage memories.

I came across the picture above on Facebook shared by a share of a friend. If you took this photo and would like the credit please contact me so I can add that info to the post. Thanks!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Writing for Real

I went out the other night with a couple writer friends. One of the things we talked about is where all of us are in our book writing endeavors.

Almost word-for-word, I said:

Every time I sit down to work on book 3 in my Shaw McLeary mystery series I give the finger to my laptop.

Yeah. Kind of been like that lately.

But saying that out loud got me thinking about what I'm doing with my writing life and, after flipping it off repeatedly, how I spend my days since I stopped all progress on the series.

Tweets, blog posts, and a brand new book are all on the daily docket. Yea, new things!

I love writing those things and that’s terrific but what about where I left my audience hanging in the last Shaw book? That phone call? The possibility of a relationship? Her trip to Seattle?

What happens if I just can’t bring myself to write it? What if I feel like giving the book the finger every day of its existence and I don’t release one single title this year?

If I leave the series in the dust and move forward with all of my exciting, new, shiny work instead, what happens to Shaw, JJ, Danny, Krista, Shaw’s sister and mom? Do they languish out there in the abyss for the rest of their un-finished lives?

In short? Yes.

So here’s a few things I need to face facts about:

1. Life isn't fair.
2. I’m being a pansy.
3. Boo hoo I have to do work I don't feel like doing...

Said every employee ever.

However, this is where the unique part of my job comes into play. I'm not really an employee.

Self-publisher, self-employed, indie author means I do actually get to choose what kind of writing I do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. I get to be inspired and write things that I love. Be floofy! Play with my inner self-ness!

And of course I never have to worry about people forgetting about me and my writing because I take so long to release a book. Oh, and the other thing is I never have to worry about people caring if I answered all the questions from the first two books or not.

Wait, right?

In short? No.

Because I do have readers. People who have read the first two books, reviewed them, mentioned to me how much they’re enjoying the series. Said outright they can’t wait to see what happens in the next book.

That means, no matter how much I want to pretend I can do anything I want, that I can forget entirely about writing ‘the end’ on my series, I know what I have to do. And also what I want to do about finishing the thing that I started.

Whether number 1 up there is true or not I still need to be fair to my readers. As well as myself and my writing. And that means I need to see this thing through to the end I decided on when I started writing the series in the first place.

Because when it all comes down to it, I love writing new things, love scheduling tweets and posting blogs like this where I work out all the crap in my head. But that doesn’t get me the loyal, dedicated readers that I really want for my fiction.

I think I finally figured out that what I need and want to do have to meet somewhere in the middle. Until I figure out how to bring the Shaw book to light, I’m just going to dedicate some time to it every week and do my best to pull a first draft together by the end of February.

Using all of my fingers. 

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

We'll Get a Table near the Street

Every time I listen to that Brad Paisley song “Letter to Me” I full-on cry. No, I’m not kidding. Despite the fact he sings about boy things solely applicable to himself – Playboy, chewing tobacco, dating girls – I still can’t help it.

The song reminds me of where I was at age 17, how far I’ve come, why all the drama of those days just doesn’t matter anymore, and how I wish I could go back in time to remind myself that everything is going to be fine if I just chill the heck out.

Oh hell. Just typing the premise of the song has me choked up (thanks again perimenopause!)

Anyway, I’ve talked in the past about this thing that happens to me with some songs. And, as a side note, this thing that happens is the very reason I never want to know what a song is really about. All the artists can keep that to themselves, thanks. I like to feel my music. And in cases like the Paisley song, though I can’t specifically relate to the words, I can relate to the overall feeling behind the words and music.

Best way I can describe what happens? The song lyrics will remind me of a feeling I have inside, not a specific time and place.

And “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” is another one of those songs.

I don’t know anyone named Brenda or Eddie (or more appropriately, as the song goes, BrenderenEddie because those two names are really just one word). I don’t know anyone who owns a waterbed, paintings from Sears, or enjoys rosĂ© with their meal. Nor do I know a single person who hangs out with a group of people (called the greasers) at the village green.

The lyrics and references in the song tell us it took place in 1975. A year when I was 2 years old. Hardly wishing two crazy friends well on their doomed-from-the-start marriage.

But something about that song makes me long for those two people that Billy sings about to be the romanticized version of my parents.

BrenderenEddie are two people who once loved each other so much, but just couldn’t make it together, sitting across from each other at their old favorite place to eat, years after they divorced, catching up on how both of their lives went on without the other. That they’ll never forget who they were then but how much happier they are now.

The funny thing is that I have very few Billy Joel songs I can even tolerate anymore. Let me back up for a second and explain.

After living in LINY for a couple years I was SO burned out on hearing Billy Joel every 5 minutes that I pretty much stopped listening. (Seriously, I sometimes thought about staging a Billy Joel v Mariah Carey cage match to the death just so we could get some different music on the FM stations).

Last night revived my love for the man and his music. I’ve never heard him do “Scenes” live before. And I never stay up until 11:30 at night. But when Jimmy Fallon announced that was the song Joel would close the show with, I grabbed my toothpicks to prop open my eyelids and just listened.

May I just say, holy crap! He still sounds great even after 43 years in the business (fun fact: his first single “Piano Man” was released just 130 days after I was released!).

If you’re interested in checking out last night’s performance you can check it out here.

And, in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t cry last night. It was far too late for that much emotion.

But re-watching it this morning…

Image courtesy Microsoft clip art

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Like short fiction? Get a brand new story every month (one you won't see anywhere else!) when you sign up for my newsletter Facts & Fiction. Make 2016 better. Do it now!