Progressive Alternative Writing Exercises: One Story, Several Versions


“joy is to write”

Nina cannot believe this woman she calls mother. This woman who not an hour ago showed her true self: a vulgar, disrespectful, judgmental, and careless woman. A woman that has no right to comment on who Nina dates and falls in love with. Who has no right to tell Nina what she can and cannot do.
Nina sits at the large family table, tears being fought from falling, ignoring the feast before her. She no longer has an appetite. She wants to tell her mother to “f#@% off!” But Nina does not. She stiffles her tears and pain and feelings. She will not let her mother ruin another holiday dinner. Nina is an adult and can date whomever she pleases.
She stares at her empty plate which waits to be used. Nina swallows hard trying not to think about what her mother said nearly an hour ago. Her mother speaks, “let us pray…” and her voice is tender and sweet, a phony voice. Nina shakes her head, that b/%#@! Forcing her chair from the table, Nina gets up and rushes out of the dining hall, “I can’t do this.”


With his long blonde hair, pulled straight back into an awkward ponytail, Bayley Hughes stood out when sitting amongst the Juarez family during “turkey-day” dinner. He found it odd that they still celebrated the very American holiday, even after living in England for six years now. The patriarch explained that it was a difficult tradition to break. Honestly, Bayley loved the idea: celebrating an American holiday in the heart of the former Imperial Colony Ruler. The irony was sweet. Sweeter than the chai appetizer they enjoyed about fifteen minutes before.
Bayley was uneasy, nonetheless. Sitting next to Nina, he knew something was wrong with her. After only a few weeks he already knew her nuances, taking notice of how her eyelids fluttered when she was frustrated, how her fingers twitched when comically amused, and how she would scrunch up her nose when upset. Sitting with her family should be a happy occassion, Bayley thought, yet Nina had her nose scrunched up.
He felt he should ask what was wrong but did not know if it was wise, so he set quietly, remaining attentive to her non-verbals. As Nina’s mother began to bless the food, Nina abruptly got up from the table and darted from the dining room saying, I can’t do this. Bayley hesitated, looking around the room to see if anyone would give chase. The family looked back to him. Nina’s father gave the deepest stare. “Um, I’ll see what’s wrong. Excuse me.”


Gregorino, the Juarez family patriarch, set at the dining table with a half twisted grin. Something bothered him but he did not want to reveal his ill disposition. He remained silent and focused on his daughter Nina. He always knew when she was bothered or upset, and tonight she was on the verge of complete meltdown. Tears and anger and pain was cemented in all her expressions. Yet he remained silent.
An hour ago she and her mother, his beloved wife of nearly thirty five years, had had a conversation about something. Honestly, it had been an argument. A ten-round bout for onlookers and fans. The women had locked themselves away in the shower room, away from young prying eyes and concerned parent and lover. The words weren’t as important as the tone and obvious gazes that must have occurred. The argument in whole had been most likely about the boy Nina brought home this time.
Gregorino always found it odd that Nina continued to search for love, though her family was filled to the brim with it. But again, if he were honest with himself he would have to say that the love they have always displayed has been more along the lines of “keeping up with the Joneses” and maintianing the facade of the “happy family” to all outsiders. No wonder Nina keeps seeking yet only finds disappointment.
The guy she brought home this time was named James. Or Hughes. Maybe Rick? No, it was definitely Sylar. Gregorino guesses it does not matter the name, since he may last only a month longer, at best. He was a nice enough guy. A blonde, but nice. Of course, Gregorino could see why Nina liked the fella: strong, chiseled, and dressed like he did not care what the world thought of him. These were all the things young people cared about these days. But the guy did seem genuine and respectable, so the family patriarch accepted the young man whose name escaped him.
“I can’t do this,” his daughter said as she suddenly stood and left the dining room. Right behind her was the guy, excusing himself for Nina’s benefit. Gregorino slowly stood up but was stopped by his beloved.
“No Greggy,” she said quietly yet with a firmness that should not be denied. “Let he go!”
The family patriarch looked at his wife, lips twisted and brow cavong, “what exactly did you say to her?”


The smell of turkey, ham, salmon, trout, cobbed corn, homemade mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, dressing, cranberry sauce and cranberries, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, plantains, raspberry muffins, corn muffins with blueberries, green bean casserole, roasted veggies, thyme, and rosemary fills the air yet I cannot taste any of it because Nina and ma just got into a big ole’ fight.
It had happened an hour ago actually. We all heard ma and Nina shouting. Back and forth like a constant buzzing of self destruction, and festering pride of regrets against youthful rebllious angst, stupidity, and lack of compassionate intuition. Blondilocks played the 360, respect points, with Redd as if he heard nothing. At first I thought he really didn’t hear them due to being so wrapped up in the game, but every time his name was said his ears perked. Made him look like a Tolkien elf.
Now, almost everyone sits around the dinner table with sourpuss faces. It’s ridiculous. I mean, seriously, who cares if she brought blondilocks over for holiday dinner? Better to ask, why does ma care? Every holiday Nina brings her current beaux to meet everyone. It is an inevitable “holiday gift” each season. There was the biker for New Year’s, the painter for Easter, a sculptor for St Patty’s, the absolute nerd during Memorial Day weekend, the one that nearly gave ma a heart attack back on the Fourth: a chick, and then the Scientologist for Halloween. Nina wants to show off how popular she is at the university. Why does that have to stop me from slapping down some toast and jam, fish, and dressing?
As I drool over the idea of stuffing that pecan pie and cobbed corn down my throat Nina jumps up from the table and runs out. She says something but the grumbling of my belly must have drowned it out. Her current guy goes after her, as he should; respect points for sure. Then dad tries to go as well but ma says something that halts his motivation to rescue his princess.
We all expect Nina to bring some weirdo around for holiday dinner. Yet, ma has to make a scene every time. She has to make her disapproval known. She does more damage than helping. Man, I wish dad would tell her to shut it and pass the blueberry corn muffins.


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