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Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills

 

I was almost a Heidi. However, some distant cousin, thrice removed, whom I haven’t seen since I was six and was not actually related to at the end of the day anyway, was born mere weeks before me and snagged the name first.

 

Who’da thunk?

 

So my mother figured calling me after her favorite teen actress was a much better idea and I ended up a Hayley instead. And because we are of that befuddled British bunch, that name was never used. I have been called by my middle name my entire life. Yes, right from the get-go. A name my parents thought they’d made up. My dad’s name with an a on the end, Alana. (Rhymes with Savannah, never to be confused with banana) And really, there was not one other Alana to be found in my early years; I’ll give them that. In fact, I didn’t meet another Alana until I was fourteen, which in child years, is an entire lifetime.

 

Not to offend all the Heidi’s of the world—it’s a lovely name—but I’m glad I’m not one of them. A name not only states who you are, it shapes who you become and I am who I am because I had to repeat my name several times when meeting someone new, because I had to enunciate it slowly and clearly over and over—painful for a shy young girl, and because I was made fun of by kids who feared all things new and foreign. I’ve evolved and strengthened a certain way because I wasn’t one of the five Lisa’s in the class, just as the Lisa’s are who they are, in part, because they’ve had to vie for their individual identity at every turn.

 

Branding someone is a hefty task. One loaded with potential and possibility. Obviously, we’re given our names at birth, sometimes even before, and rarely do we get to pick them. In combination with many things throughout life, we are kneaded with the experiences and interactions we have because of our names.

 

This is why they often bring me to a halt. I’ll be plodding along; engrossed in creating an opening scene, and…urrrrch…I need a name. It sometimes stops me for hours. I have even been known to write short stories in such a way that I don’t need to name anybody. Not a single character. Sometimes it’s a copout; sometimes it just works well with the tone of what I’m writing.

 

So you can imagine I had an agonizing time creating the name for my blog. Looking back on my “brainstorm list” now is embarrassing. At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to write about—ahem, we don’t need to note that not much has changed—so picking a name for it was, needless to say, challenging. I’m a Make-up Artist by trade and beauty blogs are extremely popular, but I figured out early on that I didn’t really want to start off writing about beauty, or, be pigeon-holed to just that one topic at the very least. In the end, Hazy Shades of Me was born from a combination of my indecisiveness, much play on the metaphorical and cosmetic connotations of shades and shadows, my desire to be as uncommitted to one subject as I possibly could and, of course, my long-lost first name.

 

Maybe you pick names that have a meaning? To you? Or to your character? Or your subject or story? Perhaps your storyline determines your decisions? Do you decide fate before their birth or after? Maybe they tell you who they are, or do they mold to the names you chose for them? Have you ever changed a subject’s name mid-way through?

 

By some miracle, I have never, ever, had one pang of regret for the decisions I’ve made in naming things that cannot be changed—my children, my pets or my blog. Someone clearly has my back in that department, for which I am eternally grateful.

 

As a writer, I know there are many different answers to the questions I’m asking and that they will even vary coming from the same person, depending on which story or topic they’re writing or referencing.

 

I’m curious. How do you name the important things in your world?

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This piece is part of the NYC Flash Fiction 2015 writing challenge I’ve entered. We were given our group assignment, genre, setting/location and an item at the stroke of midnight and then had 48 hours to write a 1000 word story inclusive of this criteria. My criteria turned out to be Romantic Comedy, a recording studio and a Cactus. This is what I came up with: (*warning – profanity)

 

This To That

I smell it as soon as I walk in—creepy incense rolling down the dim halls, bouncing off the photo-filled walls, air punching at my already aching head.

 

“What the fuck?” I reel from the stench that seems to be seeping quickly into my skin and making me contemplate hurling into the big standing plant pot by the door.

 

“Yeah, sorry dude. The chick in 4C is burning some voodoo shit or somethin’. She’s real hot though.” Phil looks at me across the counter guiltily. “I was gonna tell her to stop, but she came out right then and caught me snubbing my butt, so I kept my mouth shut.”

 

My own cigarette dangles from my dry lips and I prop my elbows up, waiting for him to pass me the book. My leather jacket creaks as I move to lower my shades and my hand trembles when I reach for the pen to sign in.

 

“One too many?” Phil asks with a scoff, mostly ‘cause he already knows the answer.

 

“Maybe. Maybe ten too many. I can’t really remember.”

 

“Well, you’re here now. If you’re up for it, you can head on in. 4B is yours.”

 

“Coffee made? The boys’ll be here any minute and I need a brew bad.”

 

“Made it myself.” Phil says all proud. “Miss Spritz there ain’t drinkin’ it though. Brought in her own Jasmine tea or some kinda shit.”

 

I make my way down the hall, grab a coffee and stop at 4B, as close to 4C as you can get. Even 4D is across the way. But 4B and 4C share a glass wall, so as soon as I walk in, a stronger version of the incense I’d smelled outside the room smacks me in the face. I slump into one of the chairs, swivel to face the control board and kick my feet up onto the ledge, taking a deep sip of scalding coffee.

 

The panel comes to life and the big green button flashes.

 

“How’s the java?” Phil was always scrounging for praise, usually while being a smartass. “Made sure it was extra hot.” His voice crackles through the speaker. “A sore tongue’ll stop ya thinkin’ ‘bout yer head.”

 

I lean forward and press the green button down as my boots hit the floor with a thud. “It stinks in here.”

 

“That sucks, Mickey, but I ain’t riskin’ it. She tells Joe I was smokin’ at the front desk and he’ll have my ass. Let her burn her shit. She’s only booked for a few hours.”

 

The button goes red.

 

I close my eyes and swirl around to face the window. 4B looks insane. I slip my aviators down my nose to make sure I’m not seeing things. This chick has actually changed out the regular spotlights for purple and orange bulbs. Amidst hues of eggplant and cantaloupe, I can see plumes of fine smoke drifting through the air. She’s brought in her own rugs and they’re scattered everywhere. Her back is to me. She’s at the mic, moving her arms in time with sounds I can’t hear.

 

Is that a Cactus? I swear that wasn’t

 

Green button. “Dudes aren’t here yet, Mickey. You want me to sit in for a bit?”

 

“Yeah, man. I gotta lay down this track. I don’t know how much longer I can stick.”

 

Phil appears instantly, always eager to be in on things.

 

“Phone’s set to voicemail an’ I’m all yours, sunshine.” His widely spaced teeth create something of a Cheshire grin as all six foot four of his lanky physique folds through the doorway.

 

“I guess I’m up.” I force myself out of the chair, each cell of my body angry at the disturbance.

 

As I open the glass door of the sound booth, she turns as if sensing me. All at once, her chestnut curls, saucer eyes and doll-like skin are caught in shades of maroon and burnt gold and, she’s breathtaking.

 

No, literally, I can’t breathe.

 

She gives a cute little wave. And then again, beckoning me over.

 

Oh God, I think. I am so not up for this.

 

“Hey!” She glows as I come cautiously through the door. “I hope you don’t mind.” She opens her arms and twirls slowly around the room. “It’s not too distracting?”

 

“I, uh, no. No, not at all.” A cold sweat comes over me and with horror, I realize I might actually hurl.

 

“You do not look well.” She notices and I feel sincere concern. “You want to sit?” Gesturing to a plush purple chair I’ve never seen before, she takes my arm and moves me.

 

Again, literally.

 

Before I know it, she has my jacket and boots off and my feet up on some marshmallow-looking thing.

 

“I’m Daphne. Daphne Dane.” She offers her hand but I’m too mesmerized by the flecks of sky in her lavender eyes and the thick black lashes that hit the tops of her cheeks every time she looks down.

 

“Daph,” a voice over the speaker, “I need your okay for that last one.”

 

“Oh, just play it. I’m listening.” She’s curled some kind of beanbag around my neck and is on her way over to the Cactus when a voice unlike anything I’ve ever heard fills the studio. A cappella.

 

She’s humming along, eyes fluttering, clearly taking mental note as she begins to lightly burrow a Cactus needle between my brows.

 

“Umm, hey! What…”

 

“You just never know when these will come in handy,” she explains. “To relieve your headache?”

 

Phil gapes through the window in awe.

 

She skips to her mic. “Josh, another cup of that Ginger tea if you would be so kind?” Heading back to me, “A bit of acupuncture and a touch of Ginger will have you right as rain.”

 

This isn’t how I foresaw my morning, but I cannot believe my luck. Melting into the chair, I let her work her magic while trying to figure where to take her for lunch.

 

I’m thinking organic.

Cactus-006

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Like Julie Powell to Julia Child, I am going to ride the coattails of Donna Tartt off into the wordy, smooth posting of a flighty blog entry. After all, when you can’t write yourself, writing about what someone else has written is, well, material. She’ll understand—we’re BFF’s after all.

 

Truth be told, there was no decision on my part to join a Book Club. I was dragged by the neck, warned there would be much wine-drinking and minimal book-talking and that I’d just have to suffer through because I simply had less than no choice in the matter.

 

And I’ll admit that I didn’t decline their multiple demands, err, invitations too loudly, for any more than six months, because, to be honest, I was in need of a reminder that reading is not a device designed to torture me for my failure to produce anything of substance.

 

Or, just anything.

 

At all.

 

And because I’d forgotten that reading can be done for the simple fact that it brings immense pleasure. Because I’d lost sight of the light it spreads and the inspirational notion that anything, whether observing or creating a world of fiction, is possible.

 

Infinite anythings.

 

How could I have forgotten?

 

Not to fret. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt brought it all back.

 

I don’t review books. I have trouble being that presumptuous. But I do like to share things I learn from, things that entice me to reach for more, things that make me entertain possibility—things that make me forget how envious I am, long enough to merely bask in their bewitchment. This book was that. Bound by incredibly long sentences and crisp with incomplete fragments, it proves that just because Word underlines it in red, you don’t have to correct it. Full of undisguised emotion and weighty character, words I had to look up and succinct sentiment. I nearly phoned Ms. Tartt to ask if she has ever actually been a thirteen-year-old boy at any point in her lifetime.

 

It was a truly gratifying read, but my reasons may differ from yours. I was seeking to be both grounded and lifted. Shaken and stirred. Simultaneously tamed and teased. Oh, and I needed something to not discuss at Book Club.

 

It took Donna Tartt eleven years to write The Goldfinch. I’ve got at least that left in me, wouldn’t you say?

Donna Tartt in her Paris hotel room, promoting her book , The Goldfinch (Photo courtesy of theguardian.com)

Donna Tartt in a Paris hotel room, promoting her book, The Goldfinch (Photo courtesy of theguardian.com)

 

 

 

 

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You’ll notice this is not a morning post.

 

I am currently trying to drink a cup of boiled water mixed with half a lemon, a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and a dash of Cayenne. This is supposed to cleanse my system, protect me against bacteria and boost my metabolism. It’s also supposed to taste so refreshingly healthy that I will soon crave this in replace of my morning coffee. While the first three points may happen, I can promise you that the fourth will not. I have in fact not had my morning coffee yet today, but only because I’ve been procrastinating about making and drinking this concoction since I woke up six hours ago.

Eush

Eush

It’s really tough going. I’m not even sure I can describe the taste, but being the stalwart scribe I tell myself I am, I will try.

 

It’s a bit like falling into a hot, dirty pond and trying desperately to get out before any of the sour, stagnant water makes its way into your mouth. But of course you can’t escape it in time and end up with a big gulp singeing your tongue and raking its way roughly down your gullet. And as it does, you feel like you might cease to exist if you have to experience that sickly, searing taste even just one more time.

 

Amazingly, there are people that live like this on a daily basis, people who don’t even think of living any other way, people who ingest only organic, (and I mean that in the rootiest sense of the word) made-from-scratch, sustenance. There are actually people who forgo a morning brew for this kind of torture. It boggles the mind. Well, my mind anyway. I am simply not wired that way. Oh, I believe in healthy choices, but sometimes I don’t…make them, that is. I like moderation. I like fruit…dipped in chocolate. I like my attainable to be sustainable. I like food that doesn’t hurt.

 

A lot.

 

Well, while writing this post has helped me get to the bottom of this pond, I mean mug, and I’m grateful, I do have to leave you. Now that my metabolism is buzzing and the bacteria in my body has most definitely been thwarted, it’s time to go rinse out this nastiness because my coffee pot is finally beeping.

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No surprise, but I’m a daydreamer. It’s not an easy thing to hide. My school reports often cited that I tended to wander off without actually leaving the classroom, and seeing as I’m confessing it all, I may as well admit that I probably still wander off about a hundred and sixteen times a day.

 

But there was a period of time in my life where I was able to focus. You see I used to be this really good housewife. I was even, in fact, once accused of mirroring the likes of June Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver. I admit I didn’t see the resemblance back then, but I will say that I took my daily chores very seriously. They were always completed in a timely, organized fashion and no cupboard or corner was ever left unturned. The kids smelled good, unmentionables were folded, floors gleamed, toilet rolls were always miraculously placed on the holder and there was something fairly edible to eat at all the right times. The least of which is not that I somehow managed to perform all of these things with barely an eyelash bat.

 

So, why not now?

 

Now everything is Everest, its trails littered with obstacles and me, always looking to tunnel through the middle rather than suffering the long way ‘round. You know the drill. The perfectionist holds out—Oh, if I just give this a swipe and that a wipe I can hold off another week until I can do it…properly. These are the tall tales I tell myself. They are the bungees that bounce me up just before hitting the hard bottom of that long dark rabbit hole—It looks fine. It’ll do for now. No one notices anyway. But I notice. And I’m held in a state of unrest.

 

So, why don’t I just buck up?

 

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. And, it’s starting to sink in. There are just too many balls to buck. I can’t focus because I don’t know what my focus is anymore. Now that the kids are older, my plate is piled even higher with outside responsibilities that go beyond vacuuming and changing the bed sheets. Back when I was a young housewife with three small children, my role wasn’t in question. It was simply to serve and protect. And although serving and protecting will always be my heart’s work, the kids are vying for independence and with me on the precipice of 45, it seems only natural that I start to question whether there might be more to the meaning of my existence.

 

So back to my daydream. I was imagining what it would be like to step off the front stoop every morning to follow my fiction. To have nothing on my mind for the first eight hours of every day but fostering what it is I want to achieve. To write without distraction. To have someone running my family and my home, allowing me to work on making a success of myself. To be one of the chosen few who gets to concentrate solely on my goals and aspirations.

 

But daydreams aren’t always realistic. To truly triumph I must achieve whatever it is I want while living the life I’ve already made.

 

That’s victory. That’s genuine success.

 

That’s being a mom.

june-cleaver

 

 

 

 

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The corner store is peeling, its peach paint rolling down toward the dirt, dodging a lifetime of being stuck in one place. Where, she wonders, will the wind take it once it’s free?

 

She sits in the front seat of her car, grappling a family size bag of Ruffles, her only company the small sprouts of green budding through the dryness of the earthy lot. Alone, but for the weeds, she needlessly slumps below the driver’s window and listens to the hum of the wheels bumping through on the small town road behind her. The content of the bag is finally released with one more pull and she closes her eyes, breathing in through her nose, savoring the first crack of salty chip.

 

Bump, bump, bump.

 

She twists at her ring, normally a mindless habit, but her fingertips are oily and she’s forced to be conscious of the now slick metal. Her thoughts slip with the ring, back to long ago. Long ago when his photos and the few things he’d left behind had scorched through the night. Roaring flames shot from her mother’s bonfire as she had watched in fear, her legs extended and toes sinking deep into the mattress on which she’d stood, her pudgy hands gripping the windowsill with all her might. The back yard, lit only by the blaze, looked scarier than she’d ever seen it and she was relieved a week later, when she and her mother were forced to move to a studio apartment with no back yard.

 

Bump, bump, bump.

 

Her graduation ring, the one whisper from her father in all the years that have passed since that fiery night, marks her finger like the black circle left on the grass at the old house. She wears it anyway. It’s what she has—the ring, the pale pink box, the envelope he’d scribbled over in seeping blue ink and the outline of his face as he’d said good-bye to her in the low glow of her bedside lamp one last time.

 

Bump, bump, bump.

 

She could’ve walked. The store was close enough to home but she refuses to be caught in the streets clutching a bag of grease. No, relaxed in her car, shielded by its metallic shell, she’s safe from judgment. She knows it’s not right. The eating with reckless abandon, and often recites the many reasons she shouldn’t, but the crunch between her teeth, the crackle of fragments lining her cheeks and paving her tongue, bring her a sense of comfort she can, only in this moment, grasp. It is as simple, and as complex, as that.

 

But for a split second, she knows that she is, in more ways than one, like the chip—simultaneously curved and flat, plain and sparingly seasoned. One clench away from cracking and crumbling, breaking, but most of all, consumed by the lost, the disappointed and the dismissed.

 

She thinks of her mother, run off her feet at the deli, calling out Next! to the numbers that will reach into the hundreds today. She pictures her standing on the crowded bus, smelling like meat, her feet and aching back making the trek uphill from the stop to the small studio apartment they still call home. She knows she will pour herself a glass of wine and a bath and sit in the too small tub, knees exposed, pretending she’s anywhere but here.

 

She imagines her father’s image slithering down the peach wall facing her and sees him being lifted by the wind. To where, she does not know, but envisions it to be, of course, anywhere but here.

 

May bites into another chip and wonders what it must be like to dodge a lifetime of being stuck in one place. Her thoughts are as simple, and as complex as that.

 

Bump, bump, bump.

peeling-red-paint-22175955

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Driving this morning, contemplating my woes—plenty of material for long journeys—I hear the radio DJ’s talking about the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker. And it got me thinking. Where will they go from there? Where can they go? Well, being a woman of almost forty-five years, the only answer to that is; The Darkest Shades of Fifty. (I swear if EL James & Co. use this title I will sue. You are my witnesses)

 

I’ve never read the book. I’m not against steamy subject matter, but there are far too many titles ahead of that one on my To Read list. However, I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. In fact, it keeps me awake at night. You probably want me to say the content is what’s stimulating my brain’s core to the point of distraction, so, I will.

 

It’s the content.

 

There’s been so much talk about how poorly written this book is. About how it’s written like a high school student—someone who just found out how babies are made and takes it to a whole other level to prove they didn’t just find out how babies are made.

 

This book has been criticized by many people. People who do not have a published novel sitting on a shelf…anywhere…or a blockbuster on a screen…be it big, small or silver.

 

I could be bitter about EL James’ success. I could be angry that her apparent grade nine scribbles didn’t slip to the bottom of the pile of slush, where most people (who gobbled up her prose) say they should be. I could be sad that such writing has a place in the literary world at all.

 

But, I’m not.

 

I’m jealous. I’m envious. And I’m spurred.

 

She had something to offer. She wrote it down. She believed in her work. She got it published. She completed her mission. And then some. Good for her, I say. After all, she’s not fretting over putting food on the table or making her minimum Visa payment.

 

We’re all we’ve got. There is no other us. We have only our take on things, our thoughts, our originality. Our idea of what makes a story good. This is what we have to use to win in this game. We have to plug our ears, put on our blindfolds and handcuff the haters to a bedpost.

50-Shades-of-Grey-Poster

 

 

 

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