Posted in Life, Random

The Pandemic Has Made Us Weird

I said hi to a mannequin last week.

This wasn’t one of those situations where you accidentally bump into a mannequin and instinctively say “Excuse me” before realizing it wasn’t a real person. No, I was a good fifteen feet from this mannequin when I glanced up and said, “Hi!” and smiled behind my double layer of masks. Looking back now, I’m not even sure it had a head. I just saw a human-shaped torso in a cute cardigan out of the corner of my eye and enthusiastically greeted it. This is when I realized I need to get out more.

The pandemic has made us weird. And for those of us who were already weird, the pandemic has made us noticeably weirder.

Take clothing choices, for example.

Our school used to have a “Pajama Day” a couple of times a year where students and staff came to school in their pjs. It was a fun day where everyone looked cute and comfy and silly. Ever since students came back to campus from virtual learning, many of them wear their pajamas every day. And I don’t mean cute, matching flannel outfits they picked out to wear to school. I mean old, faded pajamas that I truly believe they slept in the night before and are going to sleep in again. On the one hand, I don’t care. I’m just glad they’re at school and wearing a mask. It doesn’t matter to me that they’re also wearing ratty fleece SpongeBob SquarePants pants and a hoodie that says, “I paused my game to be here.” On the other hand, I worry that these kids will one day have to wear actual clothes to their future jobs, and I’m concerned they won’t know how to dress. On the third hand*, I sometimes wonder if there will be any jobs in the future where people have to wear something other than pajamas. **

* I told you, the pandemic has made us weird. It seems I am growing extra hands.

** I might be wearing pajamas right now as I write this at 2:00PM on a Sunday.

Our guest lists have changed in odd ways, too. In the past, we wanted to surround ourselves with the most interesting people, the ones who had the best stories to tell or exciting news to share. A few years ago, the perfect guest list for a dinner party would have included a successful doctor who could describe the details of saving a life, a teacher with hilarious anecdotes from his classroom, a journalist with tales from her intense field experience, and the friends who just returned from a trip around the world. These days, when deciding who to invite over for an intimate game night, the conversations are a little different.

“How about Name? He’s really nice.”
“Yeah, but he’s always going to concerts and volunteering at clinics. What about Name?”
“She’s a little strange. She never leaves her house, and she’s kind of a germophobe.”
“Exactly. Call her.” ***

*** By her, I might mean me. I am triple vaxed, obsessive about masking and handwashing and am tentatively available to hang out outdoors with you, provided the daily number of covid cases at my school is not alarmingly high the day before we’re scheduled to meet.

I don’t believe anyone is going to come through this pandemic without being altered in some way, and I am known to embrace weirdness, so it’s okay if you’re a slightly stranger version of yourself right now. You have a right to be. Go ahead and trade handshaking for elbow bumps, cut your own hair, and shout, “It’s just allergies!” every time you sneeze. It’s all good. But if you find yourself having a more than one word conversation with a mannequin or going to a job interview in your pajamas, it might be time for a gentle intervention.

Posted in Halloween, Writing

Darkness Follows, Then Laughter Follows After

Click to enlarge passage.

That’s how my short story, “Darkness Follows,” begins. With a drink and a memory and a knock at the door.

I first started this story in 2016 during a Writers’ League of Texas workshop. It was just a page of notes then, but it soon grew into a full story. I titled it “Knocking” and submitted it to a contest with the theme “Let Us In.” The story didn’t place, so I kept editing and kept submitting. I really wanted the piece to be published. I’d combined things I love (Halloween, trick-or-treating, family, creepiness) with something even darker than ghosts and goblins (regret, betrayal, loneliness), and I loved the gloomy atmosphere I’d created. I felt disappointed each time an editor passed on the submission, but every time I got it back out there and tried again. The story which eventually evolved into “Darkness Follows” earned eleven rejections before finally finding a home this year in Halloween Haunts, an anthology from Gravestone Press. I’m thrilled it’s finally seeing the light of day.

It’s funny though… I don’t think I could (or would) write this story today. 2021 me isn’t so interested in the gloomy stuff anymore. I’m focusing my creative energy in new directions, looking for the humorous side of things and trying for happier endings. The tales I’m writing these days are filled more with life than death. They’re more collaborative than cut-throat. Maybe I’m getting soft, or maybe there are just enough scary things in the world right now that I don’t feel the need to add more. Whatever the reason, I find that I’m more often trying to make myself laugh lately than make myself look fearfully over my shoulder.

That’s not to say that I’m not ecstatic to finally share “Darkness Follows” with the world. I still love it. A few of the lines I wrote still give me the shivers when I read them, and the story as a whole still drapes me with a heavy sense of melancholy, which is just what I was going for when I first shaped the idea. But if I’d written it today? I think it might have a different ending.

I haven’t received my copy of Halloween Haunts yet. Like you, I’ll have to be patient to see what spooks and spirits await in its pages next to the phantom I conjured. I look forward to reading the book, of course. After all, what are October nights for if not campfires and hammocks and ghost stories accompanied by cricket serenades? But the woman who curls up with this collection of ghouls is a different person than the one who created her ghoul in the first place. This October, I’ll enjoy my moments with the macabre, but then I plan to chase my horror with some hilarity. I suggest you do the same.

My Halloween decorations walk the line between spooky and silly.

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If you’d like to spook yourself this Halloween, pick up a copy of Halloween Haunts and read the rest of “Darkness Follows” and other creepy tales in paperback or e-book format.

If scary isn’t your thing, stay tuned for my next publication, “20 Signs Your Neighbor Might Be a Mummy,” coming soon from Daily Science Fiction. It will be free to read and promises more giggles than gasps.

Posted in Poetry

Conquest or Coincidence?

Today, at the Austin Poetry Society’s Online Annual Awards Celebration, my poem “Growing Faces” won first place in The Unexpected Award. I’m excited that this weird, somewhat creepy little poem will appear in the 2019-2020 volume of Best Austin Poetry and can’t wait to see it come out in print later this year.

In the meantime, I want to share my poem that was published in Best Austin Poetry 2017-2018. This poem won the APS November 2017 Monthly Contest in the “light verse” category. It’s about my very fat childhood cat, Muffin, pictured below.

Conquest or Coincidence?

A scratch at the door, a pitiful squeak,
the clumsy stumbling of four furry feet,
some panting, some pawing, and one muffled “mew,”
we all gather around and—can it be true?

The twenty-pound feline bounds through the door
and places his conquest onto the floor.
Proudly he sits in the awe-silenced house,
for Muffin, Great Muffin, has brought in a mouse!

We all praise his bravery, his courage, his gumption,
although, privately, it is our assumption
that the mouse that lay dead in our fat housecat’s claws
probably died of a natural cause.

© Carie Juettner, 2017

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