Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art

The chrome escalator wound up three floors. On the third floor, Tinseltown-inspired red carpet flowed forward, toward the hallway of smaller theaters. Life-size posters of the latest blockbusters and box-office bombs lined the walls: “Toy Story 4,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” “Men in Black International.”

Stanton and I had come to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s newest film. The last time we had seen a movie in a movie theater together was—shake your head if you must, friends—more than four years ago. Little kids, work, Saturday-morning soccer games, visits with family and friends…all good things, but movie-theater date night had tumbled toward the bottom of our list of priorities, right there with meticulous personal grooming. 😉

I shared all this with the bespectacled young woman at the ticket counter. “The next time we’re here, it will probably be four years later,” I added. She smiled politely, and slid our two admission tickets across the counter.

“You can’t help yourself, can you?” Stanton said, as we walked away hand in hand. The pervasive, ultra-buttery scent of movie-theater popcorn seemed to fall into step with us.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers,” I agreed. Then I gasped. “Maybe a title for a blog post?”

“Mel, no.” Stanton gestured around—just a regular day in our life. “This is not a blog post.”

Instantly, we looked at each other, eyes wide. Stanton smiled, sighed. “OK, that’s a good title.”

And it was, until Grace and Anna told me they liked “Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art” better.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers…”

I try to update this, my website, with new writing (in the form of blog posts) at least twice a month. I’m always working on longer pieces behind the scenes…er, screen. These pieces take more time, though: fiction such as short stories, nonfiction like corporate press releases. I want to keep my site as fresh as possible, which Stanton knows. Thus, he knows that I often “think in blog posts.” What a cool quote, cool launching pad for my next post.

I don’t want to exploit my life for my art. It’s a common dilemma among writers, musicians and artists of all kinds. Personal experiences spark creative turns in our professional work. An aha moment hits us, and we try to create something from it without debauching the beauty of our real world.

Of course, truth is stranger than fiction. No doubt. The conscientious writers among us, however, recognize that some stories aren’t ours to tell, no matter how much we camouflage the identifying details of our characters. (We also balk at starting family feuds, or being banished from friends’ speed dials.)

Sometimes, I wonder how many bestselling plots and million-dollar lyrics never saw the light of day (or pages of The New York Times Book Review or Billboard Hot 100).

There’s art, and there’s life.

Then there’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

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I’m not a film critic, so I won’t share an amateur-hour movie review here. All I’ll say is wow. Talk about conflating life and art—this quasi-historical, pop-culture fairy tale centers on Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders, with a twist…actually, several twists. Totally engaging plot, complicated yet relatable characters, and white-hot, feels-like-L.A. lighting.

And oh, yes…Brad Pitt. Wow again. Wow for both churning out a super-cool yet charming performance and—sigh—still looking mighty fine at age 55.

For our first Valentine’s Day together, back in college, Stanton gave me a “Fight Club” poster featuring Mr. Pitt in all his shirtless, prime-of-life glory—pretty super-cool and charming of Mr. Leddy himself, I’d thought. My college boyfriend turned standing Friday-night date knew I was a fan of the two-time Sexiest Man Alive, as well as “Fight Club.” (I’m not a rom-com girl, which often surprises people. Give me David Fincher, QT, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson any day…although, like everyone else, I do enjoy Nancy Meyers features for the interior design inspirations.)

Coincidentally, this past weekend I stumbled upon an old photo album from college. And there, in the album, was a picture of my very first, freshman-year dorm room. And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

That was 17 years ago, and it felt like yesterday.

Seventeen years. How did that happen?

And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

I believe very strongly in living in the present, making the most of the here and now. From time to time, though, I can be sentimental. I can have a moment of nostalgia.

I had a moment then, friends.

I flipped through a few more pictures. Smiled at the late-teen/early-20s faces of some wonderful college friends, who grew up to become wonderful life friends.

There was another picture, of myself with a good friend who passed away much too soon. He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

This person actually introduced Stanton to me, and meant a lot to us both individually and as a couple.

I held the picture out to Stanton. He looked, and gave me a little smile. Half happy (for the memory) and half sad (because we’d never again have more than that).

“We were all so young and happy,” I said.

“Yes.”

He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

The girls and I were at our town library three days in a row this week. It just kind of happened; there was no grand plan. One day, we returned an overdue DVD; another, we stopped by after playing at a nearby park (and stumbled upon an outdoor concert on the green, complete with complimentary popcorn and temporary tattoos for the kids).

The girls marveled at our good luck. We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The guitarist was strumming the chords to “Edelweiss,” from the classic motion picture “The Sound of Music,” and singing along, the lyrics coasting across the library green: “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

I said hello to a librarian I know, and mentioned that we often ended up at the library.

“It’s not a bad place to be,” she replied with a smile.

I smiled back. “Totally agree.” (I knew I’d put it in a blog post.)

Where do we end up? What are we doing? How does it all happen?

These can be hard questions, but at least one answer is easy: It all happens fast.

We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The girls go back to school after Labor Day. “Summer went fast,” Grace noted. “I remember the first day of summer vacation.”

Tell me about it, girl. I mean…I remember college. I remember my “Fight Club” poster; I remember 17 years ago.

Once upon a time, we were all so young and happy.

I’ve had some dark days, but overall, I am happy. And incredibly grateful. Not as young as I used to be, though.

I wrote much of this post freehand, old-school in a notebook with a pen, at a park this week, while the girls were playing. It was a picture-perfect summer day, and I did snap some memories. As I did, a quote crossed my mind, and it beautifully sums up the message I’d like to share today:

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” (Gerard Way)

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

Look, Mom: I Wrote a Story Too

I shut the top lid and press “on.” The old coffeemaker grumbles awake and begins brewing several cups of my favorite blend.

From the adjoining breakfast nook, my daughters are bickering—something about whose turn it is, or isn’t, to use a certain stamp. I poke my head around the corner. “Share, girls,” I say.

My older daughter crosses her arms. “I have been sharing,” Grace says. “She hasn’t.”

Rather than pleading her case, my younger daughter says, “Mommy! Hold me!”

I give Anna a hug and then settle her back beside her sister. “Girls,” I say, “there are a million things you can do in here. Color. Play with your Shopkins. Finish your cereal, maybe. Do something while I pack up your book bags.”

My 3-year-old frowns. “I don’t want to go to school today,” she says.

“You’ll have fun once you get there,” I reply.

She shakes her head. “No, I won’t. I want to stay with you, Mom.”

“I don’t,” Grace announces, for the record. “I want to go to school.”

My coffee better be ready soon. “Look,” I say. “Everyone has to go to school today, because Mom needs to write and Dad is working too. So…” I gesture to the crayons, construction paper and myriad amusements covering the table. “Please do something while I get your things ready for school.”

Anna sighs, but picks up a crayon. I return to the kitchen.

Story Image

For all I have to do to secure my writing time—the two different school drop-offs, snack and lunch preparation beforehand, the pleading (and, occasionally, yelling) for the girls to get along and remember to brush their teeth and, of course, find their shoes—I wonder if it’s even worth it. Especially considering that the majority of the writing I do now—essays submitted to literary magazines (and not always accepted), short fiction that I self-publish on Amazon, every post on my website here—is creative, a.k.a. not that lucrative.

The coffeemaker sputters to a stop. I pour myself a cup. Outside the window above the kitchen sink, the sun rises. The thought flickers across my mind, again: Is this even worth it? Or should I do something different?

“Mom. Look, Mom.”

Anna’s voice draws me back in. I turn; I look.

She’s smiling, proud. And she’s holding up a piece of blue construction paper, marked here and there with lines of crayon. “I wrote a story too,” she tells me.

I take in a breath. Then I smile; I kneel down. I look at the paper. “Wow,” I say. “You did.”

“Just like Mom,” Anna says. She drops her story at my feet, then runs off.

I pick up the paper—my daughter’s story. She wrote it because I write stories. She sees something of value, something worth mimicking, in storytelling. Just like when we visited the local firehouse for a field trip, and the girls spent the rest of the day pretending to be firefighters.

I hang her story up on the refrigerator, with Grace’s soccer-picture magnet from last season.

I could never not write creative nonfiction, or short fiction. I simply love telling stories, both those that are true and those I make up. It makes me happy when someone reads something I wrote, and lets me know it moved them in some way—made them laugh, or encouraged them during a difficult time.

And during difficult times in my life, writing has been healing to me. Either in helping me to make sense of my journey and to find meaning within the pain, or in escaping, for a moment, to a world of my own making. Often it’s easier to give fictional characters’ “Aha!” moments, rather than to stumble across our own.

I pick up the paper—my daughter’s story. She wrote it because I write stories. She sees something of value, something worth mimicking, in storytelling.

Originally, I submitted a version of this essay to a literary magazine I really like and read. Yesterday, the editor let me know it wasn’t a good fit for them right now. During dinner that evening, I shared with the girls what she said.

“What was your story called?” Grace asked.

I told her: “Look, Mom: I Wrote a Story Too.” (Based on a true story, as all good stories are. 😉 )

Grace smiled sympathetically. “Awww, that sounds cool, Mom.”

I smiled back. “Thanks, honey.”

Eventually, every creative type has a come-to-Jesus conversation with him- or herself. Is what I’m doing worthwhile?

I’ve been thinking about this, and the answer is—like many of the answers I arrive at—yes and no. Pros and cons for everything, shades of gray everywhere. But for sure, more “no” than “yes,” friends.

I want to contribute more financially meaningfully to our family’s life. E-book royalties and token payments for magazine pieces, while holding out hope for a big break à la Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney, don’t go very far toward summer camps and retirement savings.

Worth and value can be subjective, and are, but bottom lines don’t lie.

I’m excited, then, to dedicate more time to seeking out the kind of contract work I’ve done before, proposal editing and copywriting. I’m good at that stuff; I can do it. Fingers crossed, I can do it from home.

I’ll still do the creative writing I love, just more on the back burner.

Yet…Anna’s story still hangs on the fridge.

Kids…love…stories. We grow up, and we still…love…stories. We tell stories every day—from our quickest conversations with our neighbors, to our end-of-day heart-to-hearts with the ones who know and love us best.

I believe there is unity, and understanding, and love in storytelling. Deep down, we all might believe that.

That’s why I’ll never give up on it.

In the meantime…if you know anyone who could use some editing or writing help, send ‘em my way. 😉 ❤

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Enjoy My New Short Story, What Happens Next!

What Happens Next Book CoverI’m happy to share, friends, that my newest e-book is now published and available on Amazon.com! Please check out “What Happens Next,” and let me know what you think.

From the Amazon book description: “In 2016, author Melissa Leddy introduced us to imperfect yet relatable literature professor Tess Berry in her short fiction e-book ‘This Is Just a Story.’ Readers loved ‘This Is Just a Story,’ but when they reached the end, they all had the same question: ‘What happens next?’ Leddy brings Tess back in this sequel, to answer that very question.”

Writing this next chapter, so to speak, was a true labor of love, friends. I hope you enjoy reading “What Happens Next” as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you.