A Lady’s Fine Bracelets: Part II

The following is a short story that I recently completed. I will be posting it in two parts for your reading convenience. The text was taken from my Werdsmith account, which is where I first published the story. I will also be posting the story to my Wattpad account. 

That evening she felt restless and decided to take a walk. Discreetly slipping out of the small but clean apartment, she breathed in the chilly, aromatic air of an October twilight in Manhattan. All around her were gaudy, flashing lights that vulgarly beckoned the eager masses into gaping jaws of exuberance and entertainment. “New Clara Bow premiere, next Friday ONLY!! Tickets almost sold out!” “Come witness the amazing Barnum and Bailey’s, on Coney Island October 31-December 21! Elephants, dancers, lions!! Fun for the whole family!!”

To escape the raucous screams of the signs, Maria strolled to a nearby park bench and sat down gracefully. As she looked around her she saw at least two men stop to admire her. Surely she was a delicious sight to behold, her pale green dress lightly flirting with the breeze, her deep blue eyes sparkling with warmth and romantic splendor, her slender arms bare in the rising moonlight. Pleased with the attention, she pulled a slim tube of lipstick and compact mirror out of a small, hand-beaded purse and delicately applied the crimson stain to her small mouth. Leaning back slightly, she admired herself in the mirror. The rouge was striking against her pale face and chocolate hair and made her look ravishing, more like a bewitching socialite than a naive, timid twenty-one year-old suffering from morning sickness and nighttime isolation.

It was only a facade.

Despite her beauty, every day was still filled with uncertainty–her only companion–and every night with silence–her only friend. Her husband would always be absent, her coming child always a nomad, and herself always brimming with the ache of a thousand unspoken wishes.

A tear slid down her soft cheek. Quickly brushing it away with one regal sweep of her hand, she suddenly noticed the bracelets softly clinking on her slim wrist. She gazed at the smooth texture, marveling at the apparent flawlessness of the carved jade. Such a pity to throw them away.

Hesitantly, she walked across the vast expanse of the park to a lake and came across a dainty wooden bridge. The stream beneath her gurgled in ecstasy and reflected diamonds into the night sky.

Closing her eyes, Maria took a deep breath and in one quick motion slid the fine bracelets off her wrist. As the bracelets fell into the stream they broke upon the rocks, the jade cracking into thirteen different fragments. These shards were all that remained of her luxurious gift. She stared at the fragments for a moment longer, watching the remaining pieces of her old life being swept away by its lover, the crystal clear stream.

All being done, Maria returned to the now chilly and dark apartment to pack her belongings. As she was on her own now, she would travel light, with only a few dresses, her toiletries, the latest Agatha Christie novel, a small hard-bound Bible, a gold-engraved jewelry box with her favorite brooches and earrings, an envelope filled with enough money for bus fare and hotel lodges, and her small handbag. Hastily she called a taxi and waited, looking around the softly-lit bedroom one last time.

The silk curtains were a rich wine color, lightly kissing the breeze and shimmering with delicate silver threads interwoven in the silky fabric. The burgundy bedspread, which had barely kept her warm on the coldest and bleakest of nights, was neatly folded over the mattress, all corners tucked in properly. Maria lightly stroked the velvet pillows one last time. They were the first gift to her from her husband on their wedding day, presented with a smile and a kiss and nothing more. Lost in thought, she stared at them endlessly, imprinting their texture in her mind along with the image of the shattered jade bracelets.

An impatient honk out the window brought her back to reality. Collecting her packed necessities, Maria slid a note under one of the pillows for her beloved and hastily ran out the door, driving into the unknown and uncertain future to escape an unknown and uncertain past.

To the west the moon sank slowly back into blissful oblivion, allowing her fairer sister to rise and warm the world with daily-renewed promises, hopes, and misgivings.

I sincerely hoped that you have enjoyed reading this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it! Constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated. I look forward to posting more of my short stories…and poems, of course!

A Lady’s Fine Bracelets: Part I

The following is a short story that I recently completed. I will be posting it in two parts for your reading convenience. The text was taken from my Werdsmith account, which is where I first published the story. I will also be posting the story to my Wattpad account. 

“Well, what do you think, my love?”

Maria Ambrosia Bendt gazed at the smooth jade bracelets lying before her on the ivory-carved vanity. Yes, they were quite beautiful, she conceded. The four bracelets–each a unique shade of green ranging from deep emerald to an almost yellow hue–were elegant, carved in one piece, and embedded with a small Chinese dragon with onyx eyes.

Her long, delicate fingers lightly brushed the jade, and she wondered why her beloved husband always felt obliged to buy her expensive gifts whenever he was about to go away. The amethyst necklace before an evening spent conversing with salesmen in Venice, the pair of ruby combs shortly before an expedition to Paris, the ivory vanity preceding a business excursion to Cairo. And now these beautiful bracelets, a last sign of his affection before being whisked off to Shanghai.

Oh, how foreign these gifts seemed to her! They certainly matched the strangeness of the places where her husband went! Despite money and status gained from her husband’s international affluence, she was still a stranger to the luxurious customs of her husband’s exotic clients.

Nonetheless, she smiled at her beloved and squeezed his hand. “They’re quite lovely, thank you.” Smiling, he kissed her on the top of her head, whispering, “I knew you would like them,” and slipped out of the bedroom.

Sighing, Maria lay down on her soft bed, leaned against the plush velvet pillows, and closed her eyes. It had been an exhausting two years of travel that consisted mostly of upscale parties and exotic concerts. With hardly any time to rest, she was beginning to worry about the health of the child within her.

Maria lay a pale hand across her stomach. Nearly two months along, and she still had not told her husband. Neither of them had initially wished for a baby, as work and recreation left nearly no time for child-rearing. Nonetheless, Maria desperately wished to keep the child no matter how unwanted he or she may be. She loved children and had always wanted to raise one of her own, a secret that she kept from her husband even now.

Yes, she would have to tell him someday. In a month or so her stomach would swell like a hot-air balloon, bursting from the life within. Only then would she tell him, only then.

Exciting New Update!

I have had chronic onset writer’s block for the longest time, and it has finally lifted. Now that I am writing again, I decided that I will add an exciting new feature to the blog: short stories!! The first one, “A Lady’s Fine Bracelets,” will be posted sometime this weekend or next weekend once I finish editing it.

I will also post the story to my Wattpad and Werdsmith accounts. Most likely the story will not be posted on all three websites on the same day, but I will try my best.

Follow me at wattpad.com/AnnaTanksley for all poetry (and an exclusive short story I wrote in tenth grade!) and werdsmith.com/prosetry for all short stories.

Keep writing, and have a good weekend!

Jane Eyre: Literature’s Favorite Introvert

I recently watched a film version of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (a most excellent adaptation too, I may add). This particular version was made in 2011 with Mia Wasikowska, a gaunt, petite actress whose understated acting style and mousy yet soulful face was perfect for the role. However, more fascinating than the movie itself–and the novel from which it was adapted–is the extraordinary soul that lies within the pages. Jane Eyre, a quiet, meek girl who barely speaks above a coarse whisper throughout most of the book (in my mind’s eye, at least), is nonetheless one of the strongest and most mature female characters ever to be wrought from the imagination. Ironically, she is also one of the most ordinary heroines ever to be written about.

For all of Jane Eyre’s ordinariness, there is something so extraordinarily peculiar about her that makes her one of the most enduring characters in classical literature. Or, rather, two peculiar things. One, unlike the majority of heroes and heroines in literature, she is not exceptional in any way. Two, she is a creature of shadows and lives in darkness, yet somehow manages to be filled with light and beauty.

What makes Jane so ordinary is not so much her plain looks or even her reserved personality. It is her apparent lack of any special powers or talents that would elevate her to a conventional heroine status. She is not strong, nor exceptionally clever (though her wits are sharp). She does not have any ambition, nor does she strive to defy society or break barriers on restrictive social conventions. If anything, she is an anti-feminist, a silent observer in a world on the brink of madness.

And yet, she is exceptionally strong-willed and independent, one who speaks softly but carries a big stick of mental acuity and astonishing sensitivity to the demonic side of human nature. What Jane lacks in power she makes up for in wisdom; her sharp mind and heart brimming with compassion compensates for her apparently unheroic nature. And this, in and of itself, makes her extraordinary.

Another factor that shapes her literary legacy is her residence amongst the shadows. As anyone who has read the book can testify, Jane is no stranger to suffering: her parents and uncle are dead, she was forced to endure a miserable childhood–first at her cruel aunt’s and cousin’s house, then at a pious and dehumanizing boarding school–and the only man she ever loved, the tortured and beautiful Rochester (imagine Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy rolled into one giant package with more formidable sideburns), turns out to be married to a mentally insane woman that he has kept locked away for over ten years. Despite this sorrow, Jane manages to remain unblemished and good. It is not through a sort of naive optimism or resigned cynicism that Jane endures, but rather through a sharpness of mind, a keen understanding of suffering and human darkness. This stark sensitivity is artfully disguised behind a mask of shy bookishness.

Sometimes the most powerful voices are the softest, the quietest souls the most important. Thus, Jane Eyre remains to this day the most wonderful introvert in literary history.

Hotel Lobby: An Original Poem

Little men

With glass eyes

Skitter about as mice do

 

Little women

With silk hats

Sip their coffee as queens do

 

Little children

With thrashed toys

Screech about as… well… children do

———-

Careful!

Do not disturb

The plastic hydrangeas!

 

Haste!

The cleaning lady

Will come soon, evacuate the children!

 

Patience!

The pool will be closed

Until further notice!

———-

If Mr. Prufrock could measure

Out his life in coffee spoons

I can measure mine in

Doorknobs

Elevator buttons

Polished floors

Soiled sheets

The silver buzz of telephones

 

As for me

My life is not worth measuring

Each suitcase

Every golden carriage

Taps a dull beat of

Nonchalant routine

 

My life checks in and out

With each guest

Here’s your key sir

The pool is closed ma’am

No we do not have a weight room

Yes the elevator is broken

 

The Loss of Our Comedy Captain

Note: I do not own the rights to the following poem below this original text. It is courtesy of The Poetry Foundation website and written by Walt Whitman.

The original intent of this post was to analyze the brilliant Walt Whitman poem “O Captain! My Captain!” in order to commemorate the loss of beloved actor Robin Williams, who died suddenly on Monday at the age of sixty-three. However, no ordinary prose can convey the devastation of the loss of such a great man.

Only poetry can portray this pain. Here is Walt Whitman’s full poem written shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and made iconic by the unforgettable Williams film “The Dead Poet Society”.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

 

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.

 

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
 
The original link to the poem can be found at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174742
No copyright infringement intended. All rights belong to author Walt Whitman and The Poetry Foundation.

 

Fifty Shades of Overrated: The Exagerrated Hype of Banned Books

With Banned Books Week declared a national holiday amongst librarians everywhere and the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey coming out soon, it is important to address a subject as controversial as the novel itself: banned books. Books that have been banned are often greatly overhyped, both by the general public and (sadly) educated scholars. Instead of being closely examined for their literary value and contribution to society’s enrichment, banned books are either paraded and propagandized under the banner of free speech or demonized as immoral and corrosive to the malleable minds of the masses.

We humans have a rather morbid attraction toward all things forbidden, and in more cases than not this has caused more harm than good. Do the names Adam and Eve ring a bell? The promotion and marketing of banned books plays off this allure, slyly crooning to the public, “This book has been banned in 49 COUNTRIES!!! Therefore, it MUST be good!”

Um, no. Not always.

Let’s face it: do people read Fifty Shades of Grey for its intellectual merit? Its eloquent imagery? Its three-dimensional character that morph continuously, yet remain timeless? No. This book’s fame is based entirely on its shock appeal. Women of all ages get a kick out of reading graphic, sadistic sex scenes and desperately wish they could have that sort of love life. Squealing and smirking over taboo subjects is easier than thinking, after all.

News flash: publishing one’s erotic fantasies for all the world to gawk over is not great literature. It could technically be considered a form of art, since it is an expression of feeling and the human experience. But that’s a whole other topic and irrelevant to the conversation.

To use a more classic (and classy) example, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s scandalous novel that portrayed the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, was an immediate sensation when it was first published. It was also immensely controversial and banned in the South, which nonetheless increased its popularity among the general public. While it is undeniable that Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘s contribution to society is extraordinary and significant as it spurred the abolitionist movement, the book itself is rather poorly written. Its literary value does not match its political legacy or mass sensationalism.

Yet, it is still required reading for many a weary high school student.

This goes to show that while banned books may be immensely popular and have phenomenal public appeal, their scandalous nature does not automatically guarantee their literary merit. The two factors of public appeal and intellectual value are not mutually exclusive either. There are many banned books that are also extraordinarily well-written, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Whenever one is considering reading a book that has been banned, it is important to examine the motives behind reading this particular book. Literary appreciation should be one’s foremost priority in analyzing great works of literature, not vulgar public appeal.

 

Edgar Allan Poe: Not Just a Creepy Goth Guy

Edgar Allan Poe is arguably the most eccentric, passionate, enigmatic, troubled, misunderstood, and perceptive American author of all time. His legacy today is far greater than it ever was in the past, yet the misconceptions surrounding his life, death, and work are still prevalent amongst the public.

The majority of people know Poe only for his poems and short stories–works such as “The Raven”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “Annabel Lee”, and “The Fall of the House of Usher”. While all of these works are phenomenal and truly some of the finest examples of Poe’s writing, there is far more to his work than one can find published in local libraries and high school textbooks.

Poe was also an essayist on philosophy, religion, and the sciences; a prominent literary theorist and critic (who even dared to attack Scarlet Letter author Nathaniel Hawthorne); and the inventor of modern mystery fiction. He is credited with writing the first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, in 1841, and both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephen King have praised his genius in the mystery and horror genre. He is also credited by scholars for writing the first science fiction story in 1835, “The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall”.

As one can clearly see, he’s more than just a creepy Goth guy with a flair for dramatic storytelling.

Poe’s true genius lies in both the sheer breadth and astonishing eloquence of his work. He was a scientist, artist, mathematician, intellectual, philosopher, poet, storyteller, lover, dreamer, genius, and madman all wrapped up in one. He never specialized in only poetry or only essays or only short stories. His fingers brushed every facet of literature, every aspect of the human experience, every hidden fear and dream and feeling. He understood the power of the human heart and mind, and this uncanny perceptiveness is what makes his writing so breathtakingly beautiful and at the same time painfully raw. Poe is a true master of prosetry. His unique style could even be labeled “Poesetry”. See what I did there? Oh, never mind.

So find a cozy, moth-eaten couch in an abandoned mansion about to collapse, crack open a cask of Amontillado, and read a good short story or poem by the poet laureate of Gothic literature!

 

Cupid and Eros: An Original Poem

Contrary to what many believe,

Cupid and Eros are not the same person.

There are significant differences

That must not be ignored.

 

Cupid is a playful, mischievous boy

Born to toy with other’s hearts

With his sharp arrows.

Ping! That was the pang of the heart.

Twang! Another victim taken;

His gleeful cackles are unheard

By the love-struck lunatic

Who sings to his infuriated lover.

 

Eros is a man;

Grown, and with passion in his heart

This is no mere child’s play.

His intense passion for Psyche is not shallow

But genuine

But plagued with lust

For Eros is an erotic fellow;

His passions are his doom.

Why L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz is Unusual Even by Today’s Standards

L. Frank Baum’s beloved classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is arguably one of the most imaginative, peculiar, and remarkable children’s’ book ever written, rivaling only Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in its pure imagination and eccentric characters. First published in 1900, it was certainly a novelty for the fairly conservative time period, but nonetheless an instant bestseller that has proven to be ageless and timeless.

The legacy of Oz is just as remarkable as the book itself; it has been adapted as a non-successful stage musical and an extraordinarily successful movie musical that has become a perennial favorite for all ages, be they five or one hundred and five. It has been psychoanalyzed to death and examined for hidden political messages (many scholars suggest the use of silver and gold in the novel is a subtle commentary on the Populist movement at the turn of the century). In modern times, it has spawned inspiration for numerous other books, movies, songs, and plays, the most popular fan fiction being Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which has also been adapted into an award-winning musical. It has been championed by feminists and members of the LGBTQ community for its strong female protagonist and portrayal of diversity.

Indeed, it is so idolized in pop culture that the quirks and peculiarities that make it so endearing in the first place are often overlooked.

It cannot be denied that Baum’s classic story of courage and compassion is very unorthodox in many senses. However, there is one remarkable trait that defines the entire novel and truly sets it apart from other literary works: the role of the female protagonist.

Now, female protagonists in literature are not uncommon; even very old, traditional sources of literature often feature a strong central female character, such as Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. What is remarkable is that Dorothy Gale is neither a frail damsel-in-distress typical of Grimm’s fairy tales, nor is she a hyper-masculinized, hyper-sexualized, gun-toting, leather-strapped, freakishly violent heroine that is sadly too common in most contemporary literature and film (Suzanne Collins, Joss Whedon, I’m looking at you).

Dorothy is an unusual protagonist because she is a child, an innocent little girl that is nonetheless an incredibly powerful central character. Her power lies not in being a squeamish princess or a toughened feminist, but rather in being a compassionate, caring young lady and an unassuming friend to misfits and outcasts. She certainly does not go out with a mission to be a hero, nor does she intend to kill anybody. Yet with a little help from her friends, her dog Toto, and the enigmatic Wizard of Oz, she manages to defeat a great source of evil without resorting to violence.

Dorothy herself is what makes Baum’s classic so unusual and extraordinary. She is not a stereotypical shrinking violet criticized by many contemporary feminists, nor is she the Scarlett Johanssen of young adult literature. Her weapons are love and friendship, not force and toughness.

Truly, it is incredibly rare to find such a protagonist as Dorothy Gale. Baum’s loving portrait of a girl whose strength lies in her heart and mind rather than in her body is one of the many reasons why The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a truly timeless tale.