Friday, May 13, 2011

Short Story

Since my last blog post, I have run into a few setbacks and will not be able to go to Africa this summer as I planned. However, there is always next summer and I am currently applying to as many jobs and internships as I can find to begin to save for the trip, even at the local diner here in Haledon, NJ. A year has now gone by since I graduated from Eastern University, and besides the hundred other jobs I must have sent applications by now, I have sent an application for a summer internship at Penguin Group and plan to apply for two jobs at W.W. Norton tomorrow. Meanwhile, I have taken up a short story that I began last year and plan to write another one after I finish it. Then I will send them both to Electric Literature, Crumpets & Tea, and any other literary journals I come across that I think may accept my submissions. If they all reject my stories, or if they accept them for publication, I will eventually try to self-publish them in a small book and sell copies to create at least a small source of income. I have not finished the first story, but do have an excerpt of it up on Facebook and hope to finish it tomorrow so I can start work on the second one soon. I'm posting the excerpt here:

Finally, the road ended at the edge of a shallow, man-made brook that flowed noiselessly in a straight line from their left to their right, and marked the edge of the town, beyond which was a small wood. Some weeping willows overhung the brook until their branches hung right down into the water to form natural curtains. With the first leaf buds of spring just in bloom, the willows looked to Iris like the curtains a relative of hers once made with long strings of beads that hung down to the floor. The willows obscured the further depths of the wood, and gave it a dark and mysterious appearance.
Joanne looked up at the wood, at the row of houses on their left, beyond which the brook flowed from an unknown source, and finally at the row of houses on their right, which hid the further progress of the brook. "I have never been to this part of town," she said. "I never even knew all these trees and this little river were here."
Iris reached into her pocket and pulled out the directions. "We're looking for number three hundred." They looked at the last house on the left, which had a red mailbox in the shape of an old-fashioned carriage with a gilt number 299 on it. Then they looked at the last house on the right. Its mailbox, which looked like a miniature luxury liner whose prow opened to receive the mail, had a navy blue 298 on it.
"There are no more addresses on this street," said John. "Did we take a wrong turn somewhere and end up on the wrong street?"
"Not likely," replied Iris with a frown. "We stopped at every turn to check the instructions. I put a check next to every street name Rosa wrote when we turned onto it. We'd have caught a wrong turn."
"Well, then she just sent us to a dead end with an address that doesn't exist," Joanne said cynically.
"Let's pull over to that shed over there and check the paper again," Iris suggested.
So they rode to the small building Iris had pointed out just outside the fence of house number 298, and dismounted their bikes as Iris read the directions out loud one by one. After each one, her friends affirmed that they had followed that direction. Finally Iris reached the last direction that led to the street where they stood, which strangely did not contain the address they sought.
"This doesn't make any sense," Joanne sighed.
"Why can't Ally borrow books from the public library like normal people?" asked John.
"Probably the same reason why she lives in a house that's way too big for her to afford," said Joanne. "Doesn't want to be caught mixing with the common folk."
"Oh come on," Iris said at once. "Her and Rosa have been nothing but nice to us since we met them."
"Okay, so they're not as creepy as I thought they were." Joanne admitted. "All I know is we've been biking uphill for ten minutes and it looks like it's going to rain before we've picked up those stupid books and we probably could have been done by now if that Rosa lady knew how to write directions." Joanne finished fuming, leaned her bicycle against the brick wall of the little building, and leaned against the door to sulk.
"We agreed to come with Iris, remember?" John reminded her.
Joanne impatiently kicked the door behind her with her heel and looked from John to Iris, and back to John. "Well, what do you guys suggest we do now?"
John was about to answer when they heard the noise of a door-knob turning behind Joanne, at which Joanne started and quickly moved to stand next to Iris as the door swung open. An old woman stood in the doorway, who looked at least as old as Ally with twice as many wrinkles, but her eyes looked as sharply at the three of them as though they did not know what age the rest of her body was, but scrutinized everything they came across with the same piercing gaze they directed at the three friends now. "Che cosa facciate?" she asked in a language none of them could understand. "Perche state vuoi qui?"
"Um, sorry we disturbed you," Iris said awkwardly. "We're lost, and we're trying to find a library, but not the public library." She faltered as the woman's gaze never wavered off her face and her stern look make Iris feel like she had done something wrong, even though she knew she had not.
"Maybe you can help us," said John. He took the directions from Iris and showed them to the woman, though neither Iris nor Joanne was sure she could read English. However, the old lady took the paper and they saw her raise her eyebrows as she read Rosa's neat cursive.
"Venite vuoi dal Casa Di Aquila?" she asked them.
Iris had at least understood "Di Aquila." "Yes, she said in relief."I work for Ally and Rosa Di Aquila, and we were just running one last errand for them when we got lost."
The lady nodded at Iris and turned around to go back inside. The friends looked at each other in confusion, not sure whether she had wanted Iris to follow her or all of them to go in. Iris glanced at the door and realized there were three patches in the upper center that were of a lighter shade of brown than the rest of the door, and they were in the shape of a number 3 and two 0s. "Guys, I think we found number 300," she said as she pointed to the door.
Joanne frowned as she widened her gaze to take in the whole building. "Doesn't look like any library I've ever seen," she said uncertainly.
"I'm not sure Rosa sent us to a good place," John agreed.
"Oh come on, you scaredy-cats," said Iris as she strode to the door. "After the little, old lady attacks us with her axe, you can say 'I told you so.'" She opened the door and stepped inside the building they had thought was a shed.
There was a single room, and it was so dark they could barely distinguish the bookshelves that rose almost to the ceiling from the random stacks of books that stood throughout the room and towered precariously, in such a way that they might have toppled over at the slightest nudge. They could see no sign of the strange librarian, which they now assumed she was, until they heard the door close behind them and turned to see her looking at them with the same stare as she had given them outside. She turned to Iris. "Porto i libri," she said.
"Huh? Sorry, I don't understand," Iris apologized.
"I libri," repeated the lady, a little louder. Then she said, "Books," and walked away through the forest of books until they could no longer see her or hear her footsteps. They realized the old woman meant to fetch the books that Aunt Ally had requested, so they waited in the gloom until she returned. Five minutes passed, and Iris and her friends began to feel uncomfortable in the small space, which was colder than the spring air outside. Apparently whoever ran the library did not bother to pay for heat, and Iris pulled her sleeves over her hands because she had stopped wearing gloves when the weather began to grow warmer. The only light came from four windows set in the wall behind them and the daylight did not extend very far into the library, so Iris wondered how the old lady could see which books were which in the dimness.
Five more minutes passed until Joanne could not stand the silence anymore and impatiently began to pace the floor. "Has she gone senile or something?" she asked in a whisper, for even though the librarian had gone ten minutes ago, they all had the same unpleasant thought; that those sharp eyes could still see them in the near-darkness, and the woman might hear anything they said.
No sooner had Joanne spoken than the old woman walked out from behind a tower of books behind her with barely a sound except her light footsteps. Joanne jumped just as she had outside when the librarian had opened the door, and sheepishly went to stand next to Iris again with a sheepish look on her face. Iris stepped forward to take the two books and checked to make sure she had all the titles on the list. She could not fathom how the small woman navigated the labyrinthine stacks that looked so haphazard and barely distinguishable from each other, nor how she could retrieve a single book without the upset of a hundred others, and she wanted to make sure the librarian had not just grabbed some random books to give her. The paper she had given the librarian lay on the topmost book and Iris referred to it as she inspected the books: Journey to the West by Darwin Teilhet and Thieves by Frederick Bausman. "Hai tu finito?" asked the old woman.
"Um, everything looks good," replied Iris uncertainly, although she had no clue what the woman had asked her.
"Bene." The librarian took the paper and walked away into the forest of books until they could no longer see her.
"We're done here," Iris said to her friends in a low voice, and they turned and left the little building. Iris placed the two books in the basket of her bicycle, and they finally mounted their bikes and rode back to the Di Aquila house.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Latest developments

In my last blog post two weeks ago, I outlined my plan to raise funds for a trip to Tanzania this summer to teach children English with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS). Ideally, I would have gone to my native homeland of Kenya but CCS does not have a program in that country, despite the fact that the founder Steve Rosenthal apparently had the idea to create CCS after he came from a trip to Kenya in 1995. Anyway, the other two options in Africa are Tanzania and South Africa and I chose  to go teach in Tanzania since it is closer to home for me, although I have not been "home" in a while. The plan for now is to start graduate school in the fall and so I have a few months to raise enough money to go on a volunteer trip and then go on said trip. At this point, at least I will have a solid base of volunteer experience on which to build further experience if or when I incur more debt from my graduate education. So this trip is really a life experiment to see if I fit the volunteer lifestyle and if I can do it long-term after next summer and after graduate school. I believe I can do as much good, if not more, as a volunteer in a needy area than in an American classroom or office where I would work just to make enough to last until the next paycheck. On that note, I have moved ahead in my job search with the aim of making enough to pay for myCCS program fees for this summer and I am happy to say I have made progress. Last week a received a call from I job I had applied to because they thought the background information in my resume matched their qualifications, and they called me in for an interview last Friday. There I met Christine and she interviewed me and said to come back this Friday for a whole work day to see how I fit into the job. And so I have nothing more to report for now except that I took the Jeopardy online test but do not think I did very well; I left a bunch of questions blank, and am really not holding my breath for a call to an audition. Meanwhile,  I have posted a YouTube video of what I want to do until I have another update:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Summer plans

I have been sitting at home and trying to find a job or even a volunteer stint for the past almost nine months without much success. My friends and family have offered numerous suggestions for possible plans of action for me and I have tried some of their ideas, but my fortunes have hardly changed and I am still jobless and mildly daunted. However, I recently found a volunteer program that places people in other countries where they work in native communities that do not have many resources, and the volunteers contribute their time and skills to improve those communities. The program is called Cross-Cultural Solutions and it started in 1995 and has locations in four continents that serve local communities. My goal is to volunteer with them to teach English in Africa over the summer until I start graduate school back here in Jersey. As helpful as everyone has tried to be over the past nine months, I cannot help but observe that in the time it takes to create a whole human life, my own life is as stagnant as it was more than four years ago when I had no idea what I was going to do after I graduate college. Suffice it to say I do not think the likelihood my life will go anywhere is very high unless I do something different than anything else I or anyone else has attempted for me. Job applications and resumes can only take me so far and thus far they have not helped change my employment situation in the least. Perhaps a volunteer stint might not land me a job, either, but at least I am doing something that puts me out in the world more than a constant job search can and I really hope I can go.
Before I can fly abroad, there is a fee I have to pay CCS to cover my expenses while I'm volunteering and so the native community does not have to pay for my room and board. One must wonder how I expect to pay my way there without a single job to provide me income and no other source of revenue. Right now there are several options open to me and I plan to try all of them until I have run out of options and have to quit altogether. The first and probably the most improbable choice is to take the test and go to the audition to be on the television show Jeopardy. I have tried this option before, even before I knew about Cross-Cultural Solutions and just wanted to earn a little cash during my high school and college years. In those days I took the online tests for the teen tournament and the college tournament respectively and failed both each time. This time I'm going to do the adult online test and hope to do infinitely better than I did in the other two tests and proceed oan audition, which will most likely take place in New York City. From the audition I am hoping against hope that I advance to the actual show and go to Los Angeles to participate in the game. Frankly, I am not sure whether the show provides transportation there and back or whether I have to pay for my own plane fare and hotel room, but right now the important thing is that I just do the test and try to land an audition.
If my plan to win Jeopardy does not succeed, then I have several other options courtesy of the Cross-Cultural Solutions website that I hope will bring in some funds for the trip. There is an idea to hold an event like a party, in which attendees can pay an admission fee of any amount of their choice to go towards the cost of the trip and the plane fare. Another idea is to find individual or corporate sponsors who will match the amount I raise or contribute however much they can. My church once helped a girl in my year go on a mission trip abroad to Scotland and may be willing to do the same for me.  I will update on here and on my other blogs as I come up with more ideas or if I decide to put one or more of these plans into action, and I will also update how much money I have raised as it comes in. The party idea seems very appealing right now! Whether I succeed or not, I'm looking forward to my quest to volunteer abroad and hope others will join me on my journey to raise enough funds to go to Africa. If you wish to receive updates as soon as I post them, feel free to follow me on Blogger.