Nantastrophe: A Short Story

I was recently looking at a picture my sister posted on Facebook of her picking strawberries with the two remarkably sweet girls she nannies for and I thought, “Wow, I wish I got paid to do that! Why am I not a nanny?” And that’s when the suppressed memory flooded back:

It was the summer after my freshman year of college. I was working a dead-end job for a much-loved American restaurant chain that had over-hired, thus resulting in precious few hours for me to work. Then, at the end of summer, I was presented with the opportunity to make a little extra cash to go toward my mounting (if only I knew then!) student loans. My Aunt and Uncle’s neighbors needed a stand-in nanny just for a few days since their normal nanny was a teacher and therefore had to go back to school early to prep. It was only going to be a few days with three kids: a girl at the age of five, a boy at the age of seven, and a girl at the age of nine. I could handle that, right? No big deal that I had zero confidence where caring for children was concerned. I was an adult after all!

So the first day rolled around. I pulled into the driveway at 7:30 AM, ready for a day of simply having some outdoor fun with a few kiddos. I knocked on the door and was ushered inside by a slightly frazzled mother, clearly in a rush to get going. She took me into the kitchen and instructed me that we have an hour of TV time in the morning, the mac and cheese is in the cupboard, and oh here’s twenty bucks to take the kids to the nearby water-park. Have fun!
She dashed out the door and left me to my fate.

One by one the children stumbled their way downstairs, giving me my first glimpse of what I would later discover were really tiny monsters cloaked in human skin just a wonderful batch of offspring.
They each had their morning routine down pat, sidling up to the kitchen table, pouring their cereal, and eying me with curious expressions. After introducing myself as their nanny for the next few days (cue the eye rolls because clearly it didn’t take a genius to figure that out), we settled down to watch TV.
At this point the clock read 7:40. I was ten minutes in. No one had died yet. My confidence was surging.
As I took a seat in the living room, I was surprised to find the five year old crawling into my lap. “How adorable,” I thought to myself, glad that she already felt so comfortable with me. That’s when I was reminded that five-year-olds have an attention span the size of a peanut. She started fidgeting on the seat, twisting and turning, throwing her body over the arm of the chair. As she dangled precariously off the edge of the seat I thought, “huh, I should probably help her back up so she doesn’t split her head open.” I bent over to ease her back up at the same moment she decided to launch her entire torso upright, the back of her small skull meeting my face with a dull “thunk.”

I blinked a few times, my eyes watering from the pain of the impact, and chastised myself for appearing to be on the verge of crying in the midst of three children looking to me for guidance and protection. (Such noble sentiments, I know.)
After a few minutes of staring at the television with the children, eyes still watering, the oldest turned to me and said, “Why does your eye look so weird?”
That is when I realized that perhaps the small child on my lap was capable of more harm than I gave her seemingly innocuous presence credit for.
“Um… I dunno. Maybe I should go check on it.”
“Yes, you should.” I realized to my chagrin that there had been a serious role reversal here. I had not been expecting that I would be the one in need of care. Alas, so it was.

I headed to the restroom, turned on the light, and was met with a face that looked only half familiar. My right eye was unfortunately swollen and black, lending a thug-like appearance to my normally perfectly respectable-looking face.
My first black eye. At the hands head of a five year old.
I looked again at the clock. I was only fifteen minutes in.

That was when I first realized that the next few days would not lend themselves to ordinary experiences. This would require grit and stamina as I had never known. This was survival.

The rest of the day was spent literally trying to keep my head above water. I lost both a headband and a pair of sunglasses to the deep clutches of the water park but I was too exhausted to care because I had three not-so-small children hanging off of my torso, clawing at every limb, throttling my neck like a tube of gogurt.
Apparently they didn’t believe in the notion that a body must be able to surface after three minutes of being continually held underwater. You’d think I would have been able to simply push them off, but it was three against one. I was outnumbered.
Due to the oxygen deficiency my brain had suffered for the past four hours, in conjunction with the pounding headache from my black eye, the rest of the day passed in a blur, leaving me comatose on my bed for the duration of the night.

The next day I showed up armed and ready, with harmless craft supplies that would not result in my almost being drowned. Thank goodness.
The mother whisked me into the house again, saying the kids loved me and, “why aren’t you taking off your sunglasses?” and “Oh dear, where did that black eye come from?” Upon my explanation, she simply nodded as though receiving serious injuries from her children was a regular occurrence, and scurried out the door, leaving me with a handful of cash to take the kids to Chucky Cheeses.
Chucky Cheeses went without incidence besides my getting lost in the unknown area for nearly an hour with three kids complaining in the back seat that it’s never taken them this long to get to Chucky Cheeses before. “We’re on an adventure,” I tried. When that didn’t work: “Bad fairies eat children that complain while their nanny is trying to navigate the winding landscape of Eagan’s patchwork of streets!”
Clearly my patience was wearing thin. Not that threats worked anyway. The kids never took me seriously – the disposable nanny that would only be with them for three days. I was like the substitute teacher of the nanny world.

When we got home, they insisted we go for a bike ride, with me riding the bike with the carrier for the five year old hitched on top. How difficult could that be? Very.
After wobbling along at half the pace of the two older children, the bike tilting dangerously toward the ground with every stroke of the pedal, I toppled onto the hard asphalt. Meaning that the five-year-old also toppled onto the hard asphalt. However, being the great, protective nanny that I am, I sacrificed my body under the bike so that the child would meet no harm.
Nonetheless, my confidence was now sucked down an endless void.
“Hey guys!” I called to the older kids who stopped, turned, looked at their fallen comrade with astonished faces, and sent me accusatory glares, “We’re turning around now!”
I walked the bike home.

Day three. Last day. Hallelujah. The entire day went flawlessly. We walked to a local tennis court and played tennis. Did crafts. Ate a picnic. All was well.
With one hour to go before my freedom!! duties with the children would regrettably be completed, the kids decided it would be fun to join the neighbor kids in their kiddy pool. Awesome. I didn’t have my swimsuit so I would simply be supervising their play.
The kids quickly dawned their suits and then splashed into the pool with the two neighbor kids, their father already outside supervising. A sense of relief washed over me. At least I wouldn’t be the only adult responsible for these children.

After five minutes or so, two more neighbor kids decided to hop in the pool. Ten minutes later, another joined and, a few minutes after that, a couple more crammed into the small pool. I looked around, perplexed, wondering just how many young children lived in this neighborhood and praying that no more came because a) their parents simply dropped them off with a wave and a “thanks for watching them for a while” and b) I was fairly certain the kiddy pool had more than reached maximum capacity.

The children had started growing bored with just splashing around in the shallow water filled with grass from the freshly cut suburban lawns their parents so nicely cultivated, and were demanding further means for entertainment. So naturally, the father decided it would be a great idea to bring out the hose. I nodded, thinking of fond memories of waving the hose around as a child, it’s slow stream of water creating a nice soggy foundation for my footing.
Only wait, the father came out with a fire-grade hose. A fire-grade hose?! Who is this man?! The grim reaper, that’s who. He proceeded to hand it to one of the children, wave at me to have fun, and quickly disappear inside the house so that I was now the only adult left supervising ten children armed with a hose that possessed the kind of power to put out ten foot flames.
Naturally, I was the ten-foot flame in need of putting out in this scenario. And fully clothed, no less, because the kids I was nannying for insisted that “it’s alright. She won’t mind.” (I know, I got played by a bunch of children. What a pushover. Blah blah blah – YOU try it sometime!)
So I spent the next half hour being continuously pummeled by a spray of water that felt like a line of sumo wrestlers were launching their bodies at me one by one. When finally the mother came home, I shut off the hose, shooed the children away, and dragged my dripping body to the front step of the house like a chastised dog, wringing water out along the way.

The children each dashed inside, running upstairs to dry off without even a “goodbye, thanks for being our personal hacky-sack for the past few days!” as the mother shelled out my pay for the day, thanked me, and sent me on my way.

Thus ensued my vow to henceforward avoid nannying as though my life depended on it … because I’m fairly certain that it did.

Green

Green is my latest song. It’s a fun, flitty little ditty on acoustic guitar. It’s the kind of song you can listen to when your mind wants to focus on nothing and everything.

You may notice throughout the song that I bring up a variety of colors. I did that because sometimes colors are the best way I think to describe a mood or a feeling. Colors evoke feelings much the same way that a certain strain on a violin might. At least, that’s how it is with me. :) And so I start in the green and end in the green because, (and this has actually been proven by research as well), the color green is the most serene. It’s the most peaceful. It’s right on the middle of the spectrum and our eyes LIKE that!

Anyway, I digress. The amusing part about this song for me, is that I wrote the first part of it being very literal to my own life – it was my musings over going from working in a greenhouse to working in an office. From there it just morphed into something far more figurative and light in nature. Interpret it how you may, I simply hope you enjoy!

Also, if anyone has any thoughts on other things in life that prove particularly potent in evoking emotion or thought (similar to the way that colors and music do), please leave a comment and let me know!

If you’d like to listen to “Green,” please just visit my Music page!

Acoustic EP EEK!

Oooohhh!! It just came in the mail and so, of course, I had to take a picture and put in on my blog ASAP.
My acoustic ep! I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t too keen on the idea of my face plastered right there on the cover but others kept telling me that as a solo artist it was appropriate, and so there I am. :)
Come to the Hat Trick Lounge on July 5th and snag one! Soon I will be selling them online.
Ta-ta for now!
Emily Kate acoustic EP

Upcoming Show!

Emily Kate Acoustic Performance

C’mon peeps! You know you want to be there. Yeah, yeah, I know – you say you have a lakeside view of fireworks to be at that night. Well let me tell you, this performance is going to make your Fourth of July weekend just that much better. The show is featuring female artists in the “pop” vein of music – so great! These lovely ladies are:

Lauren Piper – Lauren Piper is brand new to the music scene in the Twin Cities, performing songs on the piano and banjo that could be categorized as pop, alternative country, or folk. She also covers songs from these genres that include artists such as The Avett Brothers and Laura Marling. laurenpiper.bandcamp.com

Lizzy Herder – http://www.reverbnation.com/lizzyherder

Emily Kate – Twin Cities artist, Emily Kate, writes a blend of contemporary folk/pop songs and lyrically charged ballads. Her acoustic set includes a variety of original songs inspired by several different genres and personal experiences. http://emilykmuyskens.wordpress.com/music/

Jill Zimmerman – Jill Zimmerman has been playing original music across the state for the past 5 years. Her songwriting is influenced by a patchwork quilt of life experiences, newspaper clippings, overheard conversations, and fresh air. She sings these stories to an alternating accompaniment of guitar and piano. A sampling of her songs can be found here: soundcloud.com/jillzimmermanmusic

Can’t wait to see you there!!

Storytelling

You may notice, I changed my site title from the bland title of “Singer/Songwriter/Author/Actor” to a slightly more palatable title of “A Modern-day Storyteller.”
I felt that this was a more succinct summary of who I am/what I do. And no, I do not mean “storyteller” as synonymous with “liar” or “deceiver” (as you might find in a thesaurus). I mean storyteller as synonymous with “one who tells or creates stories,” because in all of my ventures, I tell stories.
When I write and sing songs, I am telling a story. When I act, I am telling a story. When I write novels, I am telling stories. I love stories and I believe that they have inherent importance that is often overlooked.

Stories inspire lives, comprise lives, and define lives.
I am proud to call myself a storyteller and hope I can live up to the title.

Below are a few quotes about stories I found inspiring enough to doodle into a notebook.
Cheers!
StoryQuotes

Facts for Fiction

Finding the facts doesn’t nullify fiction. It bolsters it and often provides authors with a launching pad to further their creativity.

I think that one of my favorite things about writing a novel is the research it motivates me to do. I love learning new things and in the process of writing my various stories I have done research on a handful of topics. For one story I did research concerning the types of proteins in the blood of various kinds of fish. For another I researched the types and characteristics of lightening. For still another I researched ancient Greek mythology concerning the legends of Greek gods.

I believe that a good story will challenge its authors to find new facts. Yes, I also believe that it is good and right for an author to write from his or her own personal experience. But when their imagination probes into topics outside of their typical purview of knowledge, that’s when things start getting really interesting. It lends credibility to the story when an author does their research and, in turn, it makes the characters and the scenario far more real and engaging.

So today my admonition for authors is to do your research and don’t be afraid to mix the facts with your fiction!

Making Every Part A Whole

I read an eye-opening blog post today that helped me realize that I was approaching my novels all wrong. A fairly disconcerting realization, but I am grateful for it nonetheless because it would have been a shame for me to continue in my writing ventures without realizing and correcting my flaws.

The author of the blog post addressed the issue of what makes a good book series. The main point I came away with is that an author should not attempt to stretch a story simply to create a series of books, and that every book, whether it is in a series or not, should be complete. By that I mean that whether it’s the first book in a series or the last, that single book should be a riveting story in and of itself.

For instance, look at the Harry Potter series. Each novel address a new, albeit connected, problem for Harry. In each seperate book we are introduced to the newest problem, we meet new characters, and we experience a full climax and conclusion to the issue. In the Chronicles of Narnia series, we experience the same thing, and often it will be in an entirely different setting! It’s a new story just with several old characters joining the new.

The key seems to be keeping each novel in a series whole in and of itself. If a reader can pick up book three in a seven book series and be just as drawn in to the story as if they had started with book one, it is a successful novel!

Unfortunately, I have been approaching my novels from the standpoint of writing one continuous story across three different books. This only leaves too much room for dead space and confusion. And so, I am revamping my novels. I am making a complete storyline and then, if at the end there is possibility for a second story to launch off the first, I will write a sequel or companion novel.

My goal is to make each book I write able to stand on it’s own. Huge thank you to Rachel Seigel’s thoughts in her “What Makes A Good Series?” blog post!
Challenge accepted. ☺

A Rewriter’s Challenge

Well, my friends, I have begun to notice a pattern in my rewriting process … for both of my working titles.

Step One: The Birth of The Brain Baby
It starts off with an idea. I’ll think of an element that could and should be added to the story. It’s just that extra little “zing!” that will make the story more interesting or more coherent or just plain more sensible.

Step Two: The Bombings
Once I have the idea all hashed out, I go to my manuscript. There, I start “bombing” the storyline wherever changes need to be made in order for my idea to worm its way in. For instance, in one of my novels, my idea had to start in the very first paragraph (*gulp*), meaning that the entire rest of the novel had to change. So, I went to the places where I knew the change had to be most obvious, and dropped in my brain baby in raw form.

Step Three: Coaxing and Meshing
After I have sufficiently made my story a choppy mess due to my newest idea, I comb back through it all and try to make it flow so that it seems natural. I don’t want my readers thinking, “oh, that idea must have been an afterthought.” Rather, I want the idea to be such an intricate part of the story that my reader can’t imagine the story without it.

Step Four: Repeat

That, my friends, is my personal process of rewriting. Funny how the smallest addition can take the entire storyline in an entirely new direction. It’s exhausting and daunting at times, but well worth it. ☺

Running Nowhere

I just had the reality-tilting experience of running on a treadmill on a cruise ship. Imagine grape-vining and moving forward instead of to the side. Or walking forward and moving to the side instead of ahead. Like I said, it’s reality-tilting material.I went somewhere, but it wasn’t because my legs pumped beneath me and it wasn’t in the direction I was facing and it wasn’t because I had made the conscious decision to move. It was the boat taking me on it’s predetermined course.

And that was when I started thinking about other ways my efforts at moving in one direction seem to be thwarted by others pulling at me from every other direction. This happens a lot with my career choice…or my lack of career choice, if you will. Everyone and their twelve-year-old child presents me with career possibilities that seem more prudent or understandable or responsible. Though I love a good possibility and I know that it’s all done with a good-natured sincerity, I know some of you can relate to frustration of being told that what you’re doing / the way you’re going, isn’t quite right.

I don’t think it’s wrong for me to want my legs to carry me in a direction other than where the boat is taking me.
Perhaps it is difficult for some people to understand why others would willingly choose the lifeboat over the main ship. Why someone would choose the method that requires more hard work for less momentum, less gain. Why they would take the lifeboat not because they are forced to for survival, but simply because they know there is more out there to be seen than just what is on the path that the mainstream takes us. There are hidden pockets of less-traveled marvels along the way that seem somehow sacred, begging to be explored by those that find them.

I’m not saying I belong in either camp – that of the life-boaters or that of the mainshippers, but it’s something to think about. I think that really I belong in both camps for different things and different reasons. Life is complex. It doesn’t break down neatly … and in the end I suppose we’re all in the same boat. (*cliché alert!*)

I know I’m getting heady with this grand metaphor, but it seemed all too fitting as I struggled through an existential crisis while running nowhere on a boat going somewhere.

So now I will no longer take this luxury of a life I have for granted and I will relax while the ship carries me away… if just for a little while. ;)

On Breaking and Entering: Nunneries

Nunty decided to skip both mass and a funeral this morning (is that even allowed?) to refurnish the nunnery common room. While she loped off to IKEA, I decided to venture around Stanley Park. I first roamed along the great sea wall of Vancouver before noting on one of the park’s helpful maps that one of the points of interest was “girl in a wetsuit.” I’m fairly certain that if you name ANYthing “girl in a wetsuit” it will become a point of interest – even if it’s really a fat man in a cloak of whale blubber…er…well I suppose that might attract attention too but you catch my drift, right?

Anyway, after finally finding this mysterious “girl in a wetsuit” (spoiler alert: it’s just a statue of a girl in a wetsuit. See picture below), I returned to the nunnery. 

Upon arrival, I quickly discovered that Nunty was still at IKEA and no other Sisters were around to let me in. I was locked out!

Now, being the resourceful person that I am, I immediately decided my best course of action would be to walk the perimeter of the nunnery and check for any windows that might’ve been left open. And oh! To my great joy, I discovered one window cracked open and, thanks to my late-night snooping of the night before in search of secret religious rooms that open by rubbing certain bricks in the wall (ahem), I knew that the window opened to a small, hidden washroom for the priests. Proud of this knowledge, I was prepared to land inside a toilet once I had successfully popped the screen off and wedged my body through the one foot by one foot space of the window. Good plan, right?

Well, it turns out that breaking and entering a nunnery is a lot harder than it looks, folks.

First of all, your conscience nags at you the entire time and you find yourself wonderin how much time you’ll have to spend in a confessional for breaking into a nunnery.

Secondly, many screens are screwed onto the frame of the window. Popping it off? Not so fast.

Thirdly, there are often watchful neighbors who have small children that stare at you from their treehouse while you wrestle with the screen muttering under your breath about how you just wanna get inside and make yourself a sandwich! All of these factors combine to make the entire situation less than ideal.

Fortunately, Nunty came home in the midst of my attempts, putting a swift end to my more than questionable behavior. She assured me that I won’t go to hell. Thank God for that!

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