"The way I write is who I am..." --Joan Didion
Follow me along this journey; wherein, I seek to be the Me that only I can be. As Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, "What I do is me--for that I came." My writing pays homage to that sentiment because no one else in the world can be the you that is you, the me that is me, and the collective sum of "we." What we do is us. That is our mission of LOVE--our purpose for being. For that, we came.
"A Smother of Time"
Can an emerging writer find redemption for a murdered classmate? I tried ever-so-diligently to get my long read about the death of a high school friend published. It was a challenging process that has taken about three years. But I believed in the power of story to soothe wounded souls. Coming Soon--Drunk Monkeys has selected to publish my creative nonfiction work entitled, "A Smother of Time." After I cut the story to below 5,000 words and continued submitting, I finally received an acceptance email from Drunk Monkeys. This monthly online magazine devoted to literature, film, and television, finally tapped my reporting for publication. At its core, this essay combines poetic elements, journalistic details, and evidence gleaned from court documents, intertwined with a creative nonfiction search for judicial harmony out of an incongruous plea deal. I incorporated information from newspaper articles and court documents to formulate the whole account. Yes, sources are listed to back up my written account. Stay tuned! In the meantime, check out more stories at https://www.drunkmonkeys.us/
Just Another Minute
In April of 2022, I had two micro-essays published in a book titled, Just Another Minute. Micro-essays (also called "flash nonfiction") capture a narrative in a limited space. For this book, essay guidelines restricted stories to 100-words. It's not an easy feat to complete a narrative arc in the space of 100 words, but I love the challenge! Because the book collection is published in India, I can state that I have been published internationally for the second time. WooHoo! If you're interested in purchasing a copy (all proceeds go to the publisher--not the authors), head to www.freespiritpublisher.com and click on Just Another Minute.
I'm not sure which one of my two micro-essays won, but I did receive a free copy of the book for winning the contest. YAY! Thank you, Free Spirit Publisher, for the free book!
"Full Circle" addresses the birth of my son and how life--inevitably--comes full circle.
"Hillbilly Justice" focuses on the death of a former student. His name is fictionalized, but the story is true.
This page is the tragic conclusion to "Hillbilly Justice." The premise of the title (and story) is often a discordant tune played out in the foothills of Appalachia.
Hare's Paw Literary Journal, Sept. Issue, 2021: What trip can a newly married couple take during a pandemic? My 795-word nonfiction flash essay explains the answer. Journey with me as I learn new life lessons on such a short trek.
Sad Girls Club Literary Blog, published March 2021: In this essay, I contemplate the question, “what constitutes home.” Through the course of life’s journey and wafting along the winds of time, discovery is found along the road of uncertainty. Although it has taken me many years traveling this road, through the vehicle of writing, I finally arrive. https://www.sadgirlsclublit.com/post/building-eden-traci-musick-shaffer
Ruminate Magazine "What Remains" Theme, Issue 58, Spring 2021 =
Creative Flash Nonfiction (Less than 300 Words)
Getting published in a female literary magazine makes my heart SWELL with gratitude. Thank you For Women Who Roar for sharing my thoughts on females and the last name dilemma when confronting marriage. --October 12, 2020
Follow my writing journey through a love affair with author Ray Bradbury. This essay was published by Fourth & Sycamore on April 10, 2019.
Link to online forum = Fourth and Sycamore – A literary journal of the Greenville Public Library (wordpress.com)
Most of the time, I have to write to figure out what I think. In this essay, I research and explore why my memory is so foggy and missing chunks from my life. If you aren't aware of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), read and learn more. Published by Fourth & Sycamore, November 21, 2019.
Link to online forum = Fourth and Sycamore – A literary journal of the Greenville Public Library (wordpress.com)
The Burn of Teenage Heartache
“Is your son dating anyone? I have a student who is quite pretty and smart, but she doesn’t have a date for the prom. She is extremely distraught.”
My cell phone pinged and lit up like a flare in the night sky. A friend, who teaches at a neighboring school district, woke me from a sweet slumber with a teenager’s urgent plea.
In a flash, I am shot backwards to 1988.
It is my senior year at South Point High School. This last year of high school, filled with the highs of academic and musical accomplishments, lingers like bitter medicine in my mouth. The laceration of senior prom overshadows my memory. As another prom season approaches, my scar from three decades ago throbs like a third-degree burn in this former nerd’s teenage soul. Rubbing across this once-upon-a-time wound, I am reminded of the night I lied and labeled it as a “good time.”
During senior English class, I recalled sailing through grammar review exercises. So intent on my work one day, I never saw the “note” appear. Navigating through the blue Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition textbook was my territory. I reigned as Grammar Queen Supreme. Warriner’s had nothing on me. I reveled in the grammar exercises that Mr. Wheeler, our teacher, piled on us. I was in the zone. When the spiral edging of perforated notebook paper magically appeared on my desk, I hadn’t even noticed.
“Adjective clause here. Adverb clause there. I am on a roll!” I whispered, championing myself through the sentences.
Burl leaned his Charlie Brown-sized head towards my desk and pointed with his pencil to the spiral edging wadded up next to my beloved Warriner’s. He sat two seats away from me and with wide eyes continued pointing.
I hadn’t even noticed the miniscule note on my desk. How could I? My focus centered on slaughtering those sentences and serving up some major clauses to feed to those independent ones. Why was my best guy friend interrupting my work here? I had my grammar groove going. I was slicing and dicing away! What did he want?
As I unrolled the spiral edging, I saw nothing.
“What?” I mouthed to him hoping not to get caught talking. Mr. Wheeler was not in the mood to be tested today. He made that clear at the beginning of class.
“Look!” Jeff mouthed again pointing his pencil towards the tiny paper in my hands.
When I looked again, I saw in the tiniest of handwriting: “Have you got a date for the prom?”
Are you kidding me? This guy, friend of mine, ranked as the smartest kid in our senior class, wrote, “Have you got?” Wasn’t he paying attention to these grammar exercises? Didn’t he know the proper form to that question was “Do you have a date for the prom?” Sheesh!
With the quick stroke of my pencil, I scribbled back: “I feel so stupid! I didn’t know this was a note! No, I do not have a date.” I enlarged the word “have” to stress the point that even though I wasn’t ranked #1 in our class, I knew how to write properly. Doubtful he even noticed, but my Grammar Queen tiara would not be tarnished by such sloppy style.
The sad truth remained: I had agonized for months about getting asked to the prom. In high school, I learned that acquiring academic knowledge wasn’t the only goal. I had also learned an important social reality: my book-loving, teacher’s pet, homework-always-completed, awkwardly-shy ways never snagged me a date to any dances. For last year’s junior prom, I begged a sophomore at church to go with me. I didn’t want to be the lone loser without a date. I even had to drive. The poor kid wasn’t old enough to have a driver’s license. With senior prom breathing down my anxiety-ridden neck, I was distraught that I would find myself once again begging—possibly even paying—someone to escort me to prom.
But now…facing the wadded up perforated note of an ill-phrased “have you got a date,” I felt a mountainous glacier of anxiety melt off my shoulders. Why not Burl? He’s my best “guy” friend in the world. I knew he had recently split with his longtime girlfriend. As friends, we had even watched a couple of movies together. So what if everyone jokingly called him by his middle name “Burl.” That didn’t make him a bad person. And maybe he did have a bulbous-like head much bigger than the rest of his body. No big deal! That bobble head of his was packed top-full of knowledge. I had witnessed him in action on the quiz team. And who really cared that he spoke with a thick, country boy accent and threw out occasional incorrect verb tenses? Most of the kids in my school did that, too. I was used to it.
So, plans were set. I had a prom date that I didn’t have to beg, cajole, or even pay into going. Senior life was good.
Or was it?
On the horizon loomed a scent I couldn’t quite put my finger on. What was it? My head said to me, “Be on guard,” but I pushed it aside. I had a date. That’s all that mattered.
On Friday, April 29, 1988, senior prom took place at the Marshall University Student Center, which was a short fifteen-minute drive from our tiny village of South Point, Ohio. I purchased a purple sequin and taffeta prom dress months earlier in hopes that I would have a date. Now that I was going with one of my best friends, my heart hammered with anticipation that this prom would be the best.
“No, you cannot tuck in the straps,” my pious father chided me. “The straps are meant to be worn, or you will not go,” he continued as I walked into the living room to get the mandatory family pre-dance pictures taken.
“Oh, my God,” I murmured to myself as I yanked out the spaghetti straps of my dress. “I can’t even look like the other girls.” I knew they would all be wearing strapless dresses.
I thought my father wanted me to forever remain in the Laura Ingalls Wilder stage dressing like Little House on the Prairie. Still, I had a date and would not let little dress straps ruin my night. In my idealized, romantic head, proms represented enchanted, magical evenings where girls got swept off their feet by their dates. Slow dances would happen where hearts would beat as one. Whirling through my naiveté dreams, I thought prom was Cinderella’s ball, and I wanted to WOW—even in my nerdy, spaghetti strap sort of way.
So off I went baring those spaghetti straps as Burl drove me to enchantment. But life has a way of reshaping naïve misshapen minds.
With Richard Marx’s “Endless Summer Nights” crooning as our prom theme, I stood breathless in the center of the university ballroom. It glimmered in candlelight. With emerald green and silver balloons carpeting the parquet dance floor, shimmering cardboard silhouettes of city scenes dotted the room’s landscape. The Dance Dimensions DJ pumped out the tunes of INXS, George Michael, Rick Astley, Michael Jackson, and Billy Ocean. For a moment, I stood and let the DJ’s multicolored dance lights wash over me. The warm bath glow stoked a fire in each cell of my soul. I felt radiant. I turned and hugged my best friends who had arrived. All four of us jumped and squealed with delight.
But…wait. What was missing in this dance scene? Air conditioning.
Why was it so blazing hot? Standing in that ballroom, I felt the heat smother me, and then a waterfall of wetness glided from my hairline down my face. Oh no! Hair and make-up emergency activated in an instant. I had jacked my hair to Jesus with one full can of Aqua Net, and now that effort would all be in vain. My 80’s poof quickly deteriorated into a sticky goo against my head.
As Billy Ocean cranked through the stereo speakers, “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car,” I be-bopped on the dance floor with my girlfriends. For every fast dance, my pre-prom angst of finding a date became a more distant memory. My golden girl friends and I could dance our hearts out without any dance partners.
But the first slow song brought out an issue that had never even occurred to me. What happened when a date reunited with his ex-girlfriend at the prom? Where was my slow dance partner? Oh yeah, I spied him playing kissy-face with his former but now present girlfriend on the dance floor.
Like a wounded soldier who has lost the battle, I slunk back to my table to watch all the couples dance their magical moment to Expose’s “Seasons Change.” Indeed, how fast seasons do change. My season of joy spiraled like a downed jet into a season of discontent. I was left sitting alone with my hair plastered to my head as the sequin top of my dress rubbed my boobs while the spaghetti straps slid down my shoulders. They seemed to remind me that I was the girl no one wanted as a date.
As I looked around the room, I was one of three sitting alone. Twirling the purple satin ribbons dangling from my nosegay, I spied the Ken and Barbie of my senior class nuzzling on the dancefloor. Their matching fake tans and Ultra Brite teeth glowed in the candlelight. I wondered what it was like to be in their dancing shoes? To be labeled the “pretty couple,” to always have a Friday night date, or to reign as the cheerleader dating the captain of the football team? I watched them and felt sorry for myself. Where was my Ken doll? Would I ever be the girl that someone pursued?
For every slow song played that night, my status remained the same: I sat alone picking at the sticky sequins rubbing me in all the wrong places. The smell of rejection billowed around me like the stench of methane. My sour face manifested defeat; it didn’t help my slow dance cause.
In the end, this social laceration cut me to the core and left me bleeding on the dance floor. The looming storm which once clouded my pre-prom thoughts had finally burst forth, raining down and washing away my Cinderella fantasy.
As I returned my friend’s cell phone message, I recalled being the once-distraught girl hoping, wishing for an enchanted prom. I know not having a date felt the same as walking around with malaria—like being an infection no one wants near. After rubbing this old wound once again, I resolved to help find this girl a date. In my senior scrapbook, I documented the 1988 prom as a “good time.” With a wry grin, I knew those two words were a lie.
Today, my good friend, Burl, describes himself as a “distinguished engineer” on social media. I knew his bulbous head would land him a great career. Although he didn’t marry his high school sweetheart, he did marry someone a few years younger than us.
And even though I still remember the third-degree burn of a terrible senior prom, my heart has since wrapped itself around Ken. Yes, every night I get to fall asleep in the arms of former Mr. Fake Tan and captain of the football team. In the end, I realize even a bad prom makes for a memory. More than thirty years have passed since this “burn.” Since then, I’ve come to learn that what matters most are grateful hearts burning for one another. Also, that “home” can be found in a loved one’s arms.
Who would have guessed back in 1988 that this nerd would one day became someone’s Barbie? Through my Ken doll, the burn of teenage heartache finds soothing relief.
"The Burn of Teenage Heartbreak" was originally written for ENG 532: Studies in Place and Setting. The assignment was to write a story appealing to the five senses. This work is literary nonfiction and was published by Turnpike Magazine for Issue No. 8, November 2019, page 22.
Link to complete issue = https://turnpikemagazine.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/turnpike-issue-no.-8-nov-24-7.pdf
Sunshine at Night
Faceless, bearded suits watch me…
I am their fantasy girl.
In six-inch platform heels, I shake and shimmy on the stage, exposing myself to a room full of strangers. I am in an altered state. I am not the me of myself. With spray-on tan, luminescent make-up, and orange body glitter all aglow, I am “Sunshine” in the flesh. All of my flesh…thrust into nameless, soul-less men as I take their money.
Little girl me once dreamed of being a star—not “Sunshine.”
But into the night, I dance…
Music pulsates. Thump. Thump. Thump booms the bass.
I project one image on the platform while other thoughts pummel my mind:
Pay rent, bills, tuition…
“Momma, I need new shoes.”
“Momma, why don’t we have a house like other kids?”
I’m living the American dream of want more, pay more, go further in debt. I live the world’s greatest lie: my life is controlled by fate.
Don’t slip. Don’t fall. Just Dance.
“Hey, Sunshine! Shake your sunbeams over here! In front of my face!”
“Oh, yeah, Baby! Bend over. Sit right here.”
I have four more hours on the clock.
“Here’s twenty for ya, my Sunshine!”
Time creeps its petty pace at night.
“Momma, can we buy this? I’m hungry.”
“Come here, Sunshine! You’re fucking beautiful. So fucking brilliant.”
Here I am. Voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in school.
Now, I am an empty shell of who I once was.
It was then, I dreamt of being a star.
Writer's Challenge = Write a fictional 250-word story on the theme of "Dreams." I took a 100-word story that I had written in ENG 532: Studies in Place and Setting and expanded it for this writing challenge. Although I'm a creative nonfiction writer, I enjoyed the challenge of pushing myself outside my writer's comfort zone. "Sunshine at Night" was selected for publication in Beyond Words Literary Magazine, Issue 4, June 2020. *Warning: Explicit Language.
Link to complete issue = https://www.flipsnack.com/bwmag/beyond-words-magazine-issue-4-june-2020/full-view.html
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Most of my life, I have struggled with an inflammatory bowel disease known as ulcerative colitis. I wrote this story years ago for another graduate level course. It got published by Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which is an online forum for those battling such diseases. Due to their formatting constraints, they edited it (more like chopped and diced it) into 1,000 characters. Not 1,000 words but characters. Anyway, here is the essay in its entirety. Published February 1, 2019
The University of Akron put out a writer's challenge about dealing with COVID-19. In this literary work, I contemplate the lessons the pandemic is possibly trying to teach. It was immediately accepted and published by RubberTop Review, Vol. 11, 2020.
*More literary work to come as manuscripts get published. Stay tuned and see my writing as it grows and develops.