By Laura Moore
I tried really hard to make my story fiction.
I wrote down what I knew to be true and then I let my imagination sprinkle it with details.
I changed the setting.
I stretched out the timeline of the characters's relationship.
I imagined a dramatic fall at the end, where the stranger reached out and caught the protagonist, uttering a poetically perfect phrase that wrapped up the tale with a tightly looped ribbon.
And in the end--despite the story being 75% real--everything about it felt false, forced, fake. It felt overly convenient and unrealistic. It felt all pie-in-the-sky, all naive, all sickeningly sweet.
When I pictured it in the hands of a reader, I could imagine someone snickering. "That would never happen," the guy would say. Or "now, now, you unsavvy, little optimist. Do you really think someone is going to buy this [insert eye roll] little tale?"
Each time I imagined the story's reception, I returned to the piece and revised the living daylights out of it, spending hours word-smithing sentences, altering images, deepening my characterization, heightening the drama, searching for ways to resolve the issues, before tucking it into a drawer and starting the process again a month later.
But no matter how many times I did this, no matter how many active and inactive months I spent, every time I read the story out loud, something always felt off.
Having been nose deep in writing books and articles and workshop notes, I wondered if perhaps this piece was hopeless. "Sometimes a story just isn't salvageable," a small press editor said in a workshop. "Before you invest a significant amount of time on a project, you need to decide if it's really worth it."
If the story had been 100% fiction, I think I would have said it wasn't worth it. I think I would have pegged it as a troublesome pest. I'd have chalked it up to a learning experience, a part of the process, a step along the path to getting better.
But the story--the true story--was real and because I knew it was a good one, I couldn't let it go. It happened five years ago, and yet time didn't render it any less significant in my life. Even more, each time I told it aloud to friends or to strangers sitting around a table, people were moved, stunned, silent, as they listened to each detail.
I knew there was something to it. There just was, and so no matter how immature or optimistic the story sounded, I couldn't bring myself to toss it into a slush pile of experimentation. I couldn't accept that it was an unsalvageable beast. I couldn't close out the document for good.
So I kept revising.
For seven months.
I kept trying to figure out what was wrong. I kept trying to figure out how to fix it. And the more I worked on the story, the better it got. The sentences were certainly crisper, the images were definitely more evocative and the story fit more snuggly into the plot arc.
But despite all of that, it still sunk flat on the page. It still didn't sound right. It still wasn't fixed it, and I couldn't figure out why....
Until two nights ago.
I printed out my latest round of revisions and gave the story to my husband. He offered me his feedback and then we discussed it. As we talked, something clicked and I realized what was wrong. I had been spending the majority of my revision effort trying to make the unbelievably real (although very much real) things in a fake story actually sound like they could happen.
I was making excuses for coincidences. I was building a case for strange exceptions. I was ignoring what made the story good to begin with. By attempting to fictionalize it, I was standing behind a curtain with my hands and toes and head peaking beyond the edges. "I am real. I am here. Let me out," the veiled version of me was saying. And I was too focused on my mission to listen.
My story didn't need to be fictionalized or exaggerated or drawn out. It didn't need to be tidied up and I didn't need to make excuses for it.
I just needed to tell it. Honestly. In the form that best suited the purpose.
I just needed to let it be what it was.
How true is this about life? About ourselves? About every small thing we force fit into places it was never meant to fit?
The minute I went back and erased the falsities--the minute I accepted the truths--the seemingly insurmountable barriers, the unsalvageable sentences, the naive images, they all fell away. And while I have no idea whether or not this story will ever get published, I do know that I fixed the problem. I do know that it no longer sounds naive. And I do know--without a shadow of a doubt--that it was certainly worth the effort to save it.
In the midst of rusty reds, burnt oranges and golden yellows, it's the green leaves I can't stop thinking about. The unchanged ones--the ones holding on until the last minute--resistant to trendy shifts, draped in drab garb, waiting.
Waiting for others to have their moment first, for bare branches to open around them, for cooler winds to ignite their senses, for time to dangle longer, for the chance to move slowly, to think longer, to speak without all the noise, to observe, to learn, and to gather the courage to fly.
The rusty reds, the burnt oranges and the golden yellows get the attention. All sorts of people converge in the mountains to admire their peaking colors. Passengers gaze out their windows along northern highways, pre-schoolers tape fallen treasures on classroom walls.
But it's the green ones we really should watch.
The ones that teach us about patience.
The ones that remind us to be ourselves.
The ones that give us our last bit of hope--our last flare of color--before gray skies bleed through empty branches and blankets of snow cover the dark green blades of grass.
By Laura Moore
I battle two seemingly opposite personality traits on a daily basis.
A very real, living, breathing part of me is imaginative, creative and free-spirited, while an equally real part of me is driven, rigid and focused on production.
The creative side of me wants time to reflect, opportunities to play with ideas, and permission to be free from timelines and schedules. She wants to theorize and philosophize, imagine, ponder, brainstorm and create. But the task-master side of me wants efficiency, purpose and prolific products. She wants to make lists, check off items from that list, and be able to point to tangible, visible or readily discernible results.
Much like they are in the outer world, those two sides of me have been engaged in an epic internal battle for as long as I can recall. One side postures as superior; the other side rolls her eyes. One side creates something beautiful; the other side points to a sink full of dishes.
When strangers ask me to choose, I feel like a sell out. Type A often seems to be the most desirable response because it suggests that I am a hardworking girl of high ambition. But the intuitive, creative type B persona often feels more comfortable, like the outfit I want to persistently pull up and over my skin.
When I take the online tests, I get mixed results. Dr. Meyer Friedman's test
reveals a 4/10, barely landing me in Type B territory. He is the doctor who officially coined the phrases to help people determine whether or not they were at risk for heart disease, but he only asks 10 questions. This test modified by the Jenkins Activity Survey, asks 20 questions and scores me at a 262, securely placing me
in type A territory. And this one
, by PsychTests AIM Inc., asks 73 questions. Similar to the first test, my answers navigate me pretty darn close to center, but with this one, I lean a little more to the A side.
The results tell me what I already know: I am both feisty and reflective, competitive and collaborative, fast and slow, driven and imaginative. I am a talker and a listener, a planner and an impulsive responder, a striver and a helper. I am, as my friend Anna always says, in fifth gear or park. And because I am all of those things, I do not land squarely anywhere. When I read personality descriptors, I find myself spread between a lot of spaces. The only way I can choose a box is by compromising my truth. No one place feels decidedly me, so I often look for hybrid narratives. The Myers Briggs Test seems to offer more gray space than the Type A/Type B test, but even then, sometimes when I take it I'm a "P" and other times, I'm a "J." Sometimes I'm an "I" and sometimes I'm an "E." And generally speaking, I'm an "N" and an "F," but depending on my mood and the circumstances in my life when I answer the questions, I occasionally find out that on that particular day, I'm an "S" or a "T."
So when I read my results along side others, and I hear them say, "wow that is sooooo me," sometimes I feel lonely. Society has
trained all of us to find solace in easy-to-follow answers, clear-cut descriptors and identifiable
labels, and I suspect this is because crisp clarity is easier to
manage, easier to explain and easier to understand than chaos. Our mind works better in boxes, even if our hearts don't fit inside, and for that reason, we tend to tuck the nebulous, complicated things into the back left corner of life's little closet. But I know there are many other people, like me, who don't always fit into
labels. There are many other people who battle opposing forces. Who feel the compulsion to schedule and the desire to be free, who set measurable goals and get lost in lofty dreams, who call forth the artist in their free time, and the task master when they go to work. People who are sometimes happy to shoulder the pressure on the ball field
and sometimes happy to hide in a corner and read. People who don't
fit into any of the options we give them, and consequently find themselves with a foot in many different worlds.
And so today, I raise my coffee mug to the non-boxers. To the people who write their own rules. To the people with checklists and easels. To the people who smell the roses and walk like New Yorkers. To the people with pink hair and pearls. To the people who forge their own path, invent their own truth and skip to the beat of their own drum. You may not be able to determine whether or not your personality puts you at risk for heart disease, but on behalf of chaos lovers everywhere, I urge you to keep flaunting your sassy, un-boxable self.
By Laura Moore
Our dog is madly in love with the girl next door.
When he sees her, he makes noises I've never heard before.
"I think Finn's hurt," I said to my husband the first time I caught wind of his moan. It sounded unnatural, sort of like a saxophone in labor, and I was genuinely worried that a coyote hopped our fence and indulged him in a brawl. My husband came in from the other room and peeked into the backyard.
"He's running with the dog next door," he said, laughing. "I think Finn's fine."
Once our baby finished eating, I carried him to the back door and peeked out myself. Sure enough, there was our dog, scaling back and forth from one end of the fence to the other, slicing through branches smashed against the wooden posts, traipsing through flowers and thorns and sweet gum ball spikes. He didn't care what poked the pads of his feet, or prodded through his hair and pinched his skin. He wanted to run with Nina and so he ran, bounding through our yard, yelping and panting, pausing occasionally to slip his paw under the posts in an effort to reach the dog playing hard-to-get on the other side.
This happened a few times before I finally decided to invite our neighbor's son and his dog over for a play date. Finn's ardent quest for love just seemed too sweet to ignore, and I was hoping he would burn some energy running around with his new friend. My neighbor's son was equally as hopeful about the exercise, but admittedly--given the strange moaning emerging from Finn, and Nina's attempts to run away from the fence after a few trips up and down the wooden barrier--we were both a little nervous about how they'd play together.
Hoping for the best, he leashed his little lady and trekked across our front yard so he could walk through the side gate. Finn followed their progression, squealing in anticipation like a baby pig. When he saw her disappear from view, he ran to the other side of the house, and sat by the gate with perfect posture, his heart racing, as he awaited her arrival.
Once she crossed the threshold, she dropped her guard, and the two of them tussled immediately, tumbling through tomato plants, knocking down unripe spheres and loosened leaves. They rolled through patches of mud and bumped into the split rail fence around the patio, before finally making it to the grass, where they chased one another, running and pawing and panting and barking.
At one point, Nina rolled over onto her back, belly up, and instead of taunting her to keep playing like he does with every other dog, Finn rolled over with her, and the two of them rested there, side-by-side in the center of the yard, gazing up at the sky, fully exposed and defenseless. As sweet as it was, it only lasted a few moments before the two energetic adolescents eventually hopped up, lapped the water bowl a few times, and then proceeded to begin the chasing and tussling all over again.
Every day since that day, our dog has looked for Nina. On a daily basis, he runs to the fence, peers through the cracks, and barks a few times just in case she happens to be visiting her grandparents. On two or three occasions, he has serendipitously run outside at the same moment Nina has emerged for a bathroom break, and when that happens--when Finn finally catches sight of his love--he wails, sprinting up and down the fence with glee. Amused, my husband and I venture outside and invite her over, and the two of them light up the yard with flying shrubs, clumps of mud and belly rolls in the grass.
This has been going on for eight weeks--which according to my novice math skills is something like fourteen months in dog years--and the sweetness of their interaction never fails to delight me. Our dog looks absolutely foolish each time: out of breath, vulnerable, pathetic, even. But as he runs, moaning and cooing, I can't help but admire the purity of his pursuit. I can't help but smile at the fullness of his commitment to throw caution to the wind and broadcast his desire to the world.
He doesn't care who sees.
He doesn't worry if his efforts fail.
He doesn't mind scratches and bruises and thorns along the way.
He chases after his love with reckless abandon. He calls for her, cries for her, makes himself vulnerable for her, and as I watch him bound through the yard, I can't help but feel inspired by his shameless, raw pursuit of love. I can't help but hope to be exactly like him, figuratively of course.
See, far too often, the world narrative tells us to hold back, to be reserved, guarded, composed, patient and realistic. But when it comes to love, I think we need to be real. We need to surrender ourselves and be willing to look silly. We need to cast aside our pride, and disregard social games. We need to wade through weeds, triumph over thorns, burst through doors, chase after our hearts, and let ourselves get out of breath, surrounded by the swell of out-of-tune saxophones souring the wind.
We need to risk failing wildly, so we have the chance to love completely. And if we fall flat on our face, then we need to get up and move on. What we don't need to do is change, compromise who we are, proceed cautiously, expect less or behave according to some pre-scripted list of directives. We need to be ourselves, our vulnerable, messy, beautiful selves. Our run-out-the-back-door and trounce on spiky balls sort of selves. And if we are, then the people who are meant to be in our lives will eventually come over to play. They will eventually enjoy every minute of running around and tussling in our yards. They will eventually lie by our sides belly up to the sky, basking in sunshine and joy.
Happy anniversary, J.