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Rooted

Writing schedule: I will write for 1-2 hours on weekday afternoons after leaving my part-time job. My writing will be done in the library of my university. A quiet and easily accessible location for me since my part-time job is on campus as well. The library is a place where I’m surrounded by all the books I’ve read and loved over the years, and it’s an ideal place for reference checks and conducting research while also having a low number of distractions. I also enjoy writing at night so I will try to do this when the mood strikes and when I have time.

Words per day: My goal is to write 1,000 words of somewhat polished prose each weekday.

Working title: Rooted– a novel. A working title dealing with themes of home, family, leaving, identity, and the sense of belonging somewhere.

Genre: I foresee my project residing beneath the broad umbrella of ‘general fiction’

Protagonist: My protagonist’s name is Joan, but she prefers to go by the nickname Jo when she can get away with it (her mother refuses to call her by anything but her full given name). The book will touch on memories from Jo’s childhood and into adolescence, but the majority of the narrative will follow Jo when she is about 14-15 years old. Jo is a character I want to write about/for because she is constantly creating the sort of challenges for herself that can only be realized, addressed, and overcome by herself. Because of Jo’s nature, the narrative will have to take on the structure of a self-versus-self mode of storytelling. Jo has a difficult time controlling her emotions and has a tendency to think she knows more about life than she really does. On the other hand, Jo is immensely gifted in her skills of observation. She has a particular interest and fondness for nature and wild things, especially the sorts of plants and animals living on the landscape where she grew up. I, as the author, share these sorts of fascinations with Jo. Jo is also a meaningful character to me because, as she comes of age, she struggles with understanding her sexuality and finding an identity for herself. As a young LGBT person who came out in my early teens, a huge amount of my time was once spent reading and rereading library books that featured other young LGBT female characters. I hope writing my own version of these stories can be of some value to others in the same way so many books I read as a young person were so valuable to me.

 

Chapter 1: Origins (rough draft)

 

          When I came into the world, I was angry. My infant face, red blotched and wailing, turned from my mother the first time she held me. When she tried to nurse me, I pressed myself away and grunted, small jaws tense and mouth locked shut. Even as a flopping newborn, I moved my body in a way that suggested I couldn’t stand to be touched by doctors and nurses or even my parents. Mother told me all this, years later, her voice bitter and pointed. “You’ve fought against the world,” she said, “from the moment you entered it.”

          Mother wore her hair back in a tight bun and only ever took it down for bathing and sleep. She had an efficient way of moving, hardly pausing, always walking briskly toward another chore needing her attention. I was nothing like my mother. I walked into rooms only to realize I had no idea what I’d been looking for in the first place. I was slow to rise from bed each morning and cringed at the sounds of dishes clattering as Mother cooked and cleaned and reorganized the kitchen just after dawn.

          At a glance, it may have seemed like I took after Father, but that was wrong, too. Father was slight and silent, the most passive man ever to walk the earth. I was mouthy and irritable. I never felt the need to conceal my emotions and thoughts the way he did. Father spent as much of his time outside the house as he could. Mother detested this habit he had of disappearing. Over the years, it became the single greatest source of fuel for the many fights in our household.

          Mother always led the charges in fights with my father. She threw the weight of her body across the room—first leaning back on a counter, then dropping herself on the couch, only to rise and stand in the center of the living room, her nearly six-feet of height towering at the center of the house. And during all this time, her mouth never stopped moving. She seemed to have an inexhaustible bank of accusations and frustrations to draw from. Father would pick one spot to sit and wait out the storm of the fight; more often than not he set himself down in a small rocking chair beside the fire. He kept his eyes on the floor, only glancing up at my mother when she grew impatient and demanded that he look her in the eyes.

          The fights could be brutal, unrelenting. I found myself grateful, nearly every day, that we had no neighbors for miles and miles. On the other hand, it might have been good if someone happened to overhear the fighting, decided the years’ worth of yelling had finally become enough and tried to put a stop to it.

          The fighting could be violet, but it never became physical. I had at least that much to be thankful for. There seemed to be some invisible, uncrossable line stopping Mother from raising a hand against Father. And Father, normally not one to show any sort of physical affection, always managed to end fights in the same way. As Mother raged, her chest puffed, and her shoulders widened until she was crowding Father into his spot on the rocking chair. Her face grew close to his, still yelling, skin gone scarlet, lips popping inches from his mouth. Then, Father would reach out and take her gently by an elbow or the back of her neck. He pulled her to himself and held her until a heavy silence settled in the room like a quilt.

          I couldn’t imagine Father ever reaching out for me. He never took me into his arms or clasped my shoulder with the soft looking skin of his hands. He never seemed to look at me, always drawn into himself. I used to spy on him—watching his long fingers as they turned over the tissue-thin pages of dime novels he was always reading. The whisper of paper on paper barely audible. His fingertips touched the pages with such delicacy he might have been handling centuries old museum documents. If he knew I was watching him, he never let on. My whole childhood, he was a quiet apparition, looming at the edges of the household, doing whatever it was Mother asked him to and then retreating into a back room to sit alone with books or drink.

          I was the only child Mother ever carried to term, and a daughter at that. I was sure she never wanted me. She’d wanted a boy, or boys really. She would have been so happy with three or four sons, well-behaved and handsome. Instead, Mother had me. I was wild, always dirty, and unmanageable. When I turned eleven, I noticed Mother’s eyes lingering on my body. “You’re a woman,” she said, “about time you start acting like one.” But I was not a woman, I was a girl. I was angry at how my body was starting to betray me. I refused to see myself in mirrors and didn’t want anyone else to see me either. I stopped cutting my hair. I let the lank brown strands lengthen until a tangled sheet hung around my face and shoulders like a rotten veil. Mother wanted nothing more than to shave my head. She told me this so often I half expected to someday wake in the night and find her at the head of my bed, cutting my hair while I slept.

          Mother claimed I was angry at the world, but that wasn’t true. I was angry at her and Father for their intrusion into my private life, their interruption of the peace I built for myself inside my mind. I had no reason to fight against the world—quite the opposite, really. After fights with Mother, I escaped outside to bask in the presence of worldly things I loved. The porcelain chambers of snail shells gone bright white from exposure to a season’s elements. The jellied eggs of frogs massed at the edges of the pond, like plump beads of tapioca. The grating of ink-black crickets. The cool squish of water from loamy mud on our property.

          When it was late and I felt at peace beneath the darkening sky, Mother’s crashing through the front door and wrenching open of cabinets knocked everything off balance. The insects and frogs stopped calling, the field mice darting along the skirt of the house disappeared from the edges of my vision and dissolved into the night. I heard Mother calling my name from inside the house and made a decision not to move from my sitting place on the ground. She was home late from work, tired and looking to take a day’s worth of frustration out on Father or me. The sound of her blundering and yelling started something inside me—a heat that churned in my belly and forced itself up into my chest and face.

          I held my breath and imagined leaving—walking into the woods and climbing the tallest pine or boulder I could manage. And then, having made it to the highest vantage point I could, I would jump. Wings would burst forth from me and carry me off, silent like a huge hunting owl, weightless in the night. I’d fly until I couldn’t anymore, and it wouldn’t matter where I went. All I wanted was to get away from this place. Get away from Mother and Father. I couldn’t think with them always watching.

          Mother’s voice grew louder. She was calling, not only my name now, but Father’s as well. From behind me, a flood of yellow light spilled into the garden area where I sat. Mother must have realized the house was empty and gone outside in hopes someone would hear her. From her place on the porch, my hunched form would be easily visible; I could not delay returning for any longer. I picked my way back to the house, careful to watch where I placed my feet out of fear I’d step on a toad or wildflower hidden in the grass. She stood in the doorway, her form black and looming, backlit by the flickering ceiling light of the kitchen. She didn’t say anything as she watched me come. I tried to squeeze past her, hoping to dart into the house and upstairs to my room before she got started with me, but she grabbed me by the arm before I’d made it two steps inside.

          I froze and dared to look into her face, but the expression I found there wasn’t as angry as I’d been expecting. She looked exhausted. I could tell her patience was running thin, but she didn’t have enough fight left in her to make me worried. I let myself relax, for a moment, making a show of submitting myself to her. Then, in a single, hard motion, I yanked my arm from her grasp and ran.

          “Fuck, Joan! Get your ass back here,” she yelled. But I could tell she wasn’t coming after me. Her voice sounded far away.

          I shot up the stairs, moving so fast I felt like an animal, clambering on hands and knees. I closed myself inside my bedroom and leaned my back against the door so I could listen to whatever was happening downstairs. The quiet stretched long and uneasy. My ears were straining for the sound feet ascending stairs, but I was beginning to think she’d already forgotten about me. Father was the one she was really upset with—I was only collateral damage.

          The sound of glass breaking in another room was muffled by the walls so much it could almost have been mistaken for chimes. She was letting some delicate little objects crash onto the tiled kitchen floor at regular intervals. “Father’s whiskey glasses,” I thought to myself. Then, a louder, heavy sound—something wet. “There goes the whiskey.” I could almost laugh, the drama, the pettiness of the crime. But Mother knew exactly what she was doing. If anything was going to get a rise out of Father, this was it. It was so rare for him to let slip any show of emotion. Mother, on the other hand, couldn’t keep her true thoughts from showing on her face, even when a situation demanded subtlety.

          Several years ago, at the funeral for Mother’s cousin’s husband, Mr. Walker is all anyone’d ever called him, she’d made no effort to mask the distaste she had for the man. To be fair, no one had ever claimed he’d been a good man—wasting away nearly everything his family had in bets or at gambling tables. Leaving town for weeks at a time with no word to his wife about where he was going or how long he’d be gone. Everyone in our scattered community had known these things about Mr. Walker. They’d gossiped and judged from afar for years. Husbands came home to wives saying, “Saw Mr. Walker in town today.”

          The wife would wear a grim smile, knowing exactly what was coming but asking what husband had seen, playing along, anyway. “How’s he doing, then? I haven’t seen him around in forever seems like.”

          The husband would shake his head. “He was in a bad state, for sure. Didn’t even know his own name. A shame.” Then he’d clasp his wife on the shoulder. “Poor Cindy,” he’d say, referring to Mrs. Walker. “She’s been through so much lately. Think you two could get together some afternoon, invite Deb along too? Do a puzzle with her, or some crafts, whatever it is you want. It’s not right she’s left all by herself so often, don’t you think?”

          The wife would nod. “Sure Hun, I’ll give a ring sometime. That’s not a bad idea.” But the wife wouldn’t ring Cindy, and the husband knew that well, anyway. They’d go on like this for a few minutes, until one of them would say, “The whole situation is depressing, isn’t it? Let’s talk about something else now.” And the other would agree, change the subject, and let the Walkers slip easily from their mind until the next time Mr. Walker stumbled, blackout drunk and poor, into town.

          Mother wasn’t like the other wives in town. She would have relished a chance to submerge Mr. Walker’s head in the swift running currents of nearby Jasper River until his bubbling breath dwindled and ceased erupting from the water. At Mr. Walker’s funeral, Mother didn’t even think to keep the look of satisfaction from her face. And while I’m certain she wasn’t the only funeral goer who was happy to finally have him gone from the community, the others were shocked by her willingness to display these thoughts so openly. Later, they gossiped about Mother’s involvement in marital disputes between Mr. and Mrs. Walker. I overheard the things they were saying while at school—claims of sick, immoral behavior from the mouths of daughters who listened in on the closed-door whisperings of their parents.

          The rumors were flying around for weeks. And during all that time, my classmates made sure to keep their distance from me. I caught little groups of them talking behind their hands and staring at me from the corners of classrooms. It wasn’t pleasant, but I was used to being disliked, anyway. I tolerated the judgment until the scandal finally faded away. I knew the rumors weren’t true—Mother would never have allowed Mr. Walker to come within ten feet of her. I didn’t feel I could blame the wives and other kids for taking, either. Where we lived, nothing exciting ever happened. You had to make your own fun, any way you could, out of whatever opportunity presented itself.



(I'm still adding to this project, for now, until I feel like I've written enough to constitute a full chapter worth of information/events.)

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