THE MYSTERY CLOSET

This April Fool’s day, I decided to transform a tiny, unremarkable closet in my house into what my kids and I have dubbed THE MYSTERY CLOSET. The challenge was to create it for under $20. My friends, the grand total was $19.30. Details below!

The ultimate goal for THE MYSTERY CLOSET was that it be a place for writing. While we each have a desk in our bedroom, and while there is an art project table in the kitchen, I felt there also needed to be a dedicated space for our household typewriter. It had been sitting on a buffet table in the dining room, but the height and location of the buffet meant you had to stand to type. The results were just a few sentences here and there. I theorized that if I lowered the height of the typewriter, and allowed space for a chair to be pulled up, it would result in longer stories. I was way right.

There were 2 major limitations to this project: size and budget. The closet is very tiny. A mere 12″ deep and 43″ across. Luckily, I had an old table in the attic that fit. There’s just enough space on the table for the typewriter and a metal basket with blank paper underneath. Scoot a chair over from the dining table, and you have yourself a desk!

Budget was the other concern. I solved it by using items already in the house – xmas ornaments, halloween decorations, hats from the costume bin, a red tassel I found in my nightstand, a rediscovered world map, a…uh…green glow-in-the-dark pig that oinks when you squeeze it, etc.

I papered the upper shelf with the world map, but the London Underground map you see on the back wall is actually wrapping paper from a local bookstore! I also bought a dozen postcards. The final purchase was a Magic 8 Ball mug, deeply discounted, from Target.

And for you eagle eyes who spotted Bill Cipher, the question mark Post-it note, and the 8 Ball…yes, we are huge Gravity Falls fans. Fun fact: the first sentence I left the kids on THE MYSTERY CLOSET typewriter was “Stan is not what he seems.” #teamwaddles

And speaking of ciphers, the new installation did include a coded message. I dropped 2 copies of the pigpen cipher in the metal basket, and left a Post-it message to the kids nearby:

The grand finale? This closet is wired with overhead LIGHTS! There’s no electrical outlet, so I used battery-operated LED string light stars from IKEA (a leftover xmas stocking stuffer). The battery box is taped to the interior door frame, within easy reach.

The London Underground wrapping paper cost $4.50, The Magic 8 Ball mug was $2.80, and the postcards cost $12. Project total: $19.30. Reaction from my kids? Priceless.

That morning, I didn’t say anything about the closet. I just waited until my daughter asked “Hey, where’s the typewriter?” A cryptic reply, a house-wide search, and the closet was soon discovered! They were soooo excited. Especially my 10 year-old son. I’m happy to report THE MYSTERY CLOSET has been in steady use by both kids ever since. The typewriter goes at all hours, which is truly music to this mom’s ears. Success!

Princeton Writes

From left to right: Princeton Writes Director John Wereen, Carla Zimowsk, Dana Sheridan, Dianne Spatafore, and Melissa Moss

Every year, for the past three years, Princeton University’s Princeton Writes program has sponsored a staff writing contest. Well, guys, uh…this year I won the contest! So please forgive a bit of horn tooting. I put blood, sweat, and more then a few tears into my entry, and I’m a proud essay mom.

The Princeton Writes program focuses on non-academic writing and clearness of communication. They offer classes, tutorials, writing retreats, and an annual essay contest in collaboration with the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Humanities Council. This year’s contest topic was to “describe an encounter or relationship that has given you a new perspective.” The results were truly moving.

All of us gathered at a reception earlier this month, and I was invited to read my essay out loud. Which was terrifying.

But the whole gang showed up to get me through. Full disclosure: they served wine and mini cannoli at the reception.

The links to the essays are below. We also recorded us reading them in a studio (very cool!). So if you scroll to the bottom of each page, you’ll find a sound file as well. If you’d like to read more about the authors, please see this article by Adrianne Daponte.

Princeton Writes Prize:

Dana Sheridan – She Still Hasn’t Told Me Her Name

Honorable Mentions:

Melissa B. Moss – Two Autumns
Dianne D. Spatafore – Untitled
Carla M. Zimowsk – Arkadas

I often feel like I’m writing in a void. Therefore, it’s incredibly encouraging and validating when someone likes and honors your work. I’d like to sincerely thank – from the bottom of my heart to the tips of my typing fingers – the Princeton Writes program for allowing writers a chance to channel and share their thoughts. Thank you so much.


Photos by David Kelly Crow

350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017It is with great pleasure that I announce the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest! Each writer was challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “The surface began to move.” Winners from each of our 3 age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore. Congratulations to this year’s talented authors!


IMPACT
By James Bertrand, age 10

Impact artwork by Aliisa LeeI checked the clock. 11:59. One more minute until I turned eleven. Beep. I sat up, bumping my head on the concrete wall above me. Groaning, I gingerly touched my forehead with my hand. Ouch, I thought. Dragging myself out of my bed, I thumped through the hallway and down the stairs. I didn’t think about the fact it was the middle of the night. I just crept through the ghostly rooms, silent. That silence was broken by an eerie creak when I stepped on a broken floorboard.

The pure blankness of everything was pretty creepy. I could see dust particles float and twirl in the slightly chilly air. I peered at the living room table. Then the surface began to move, pieces sliding and grinding away from each other. Then I remembered. Today was the meteor shower, right on my birthday. Traversing through the hall I found my presents. I was really tempted to open them right then and there, but I didn’t.

I stepped into the kitchen to find my phone lying on the counter, buzzing. I walked over to the island and I turned it on. I had tons of texts from my friends about my birthday and the comets. Then my phone beeped again. It was happening now! Climbing out the front door, I wondered how amazing this would actually be. As my feet touched down on the wet, soft grass, I heard sirens. Nothing unusual, I thought.

People were screaming and crying, sirens were blaring and my heartbeat sounded so loud, I thought people in China could hear it. I didn’t understand what everyone was so scared about until I glanced at the sky. Sure enough, there were meteors. A large white rock was hurtling across the sky, growing larger each second as it got closer to the ground. I didn’t have time to think when someone yelled “Brace for impact!” I dropped to the pavement and curled into a tight ball as bright light and the smell of smoke enveloped me.


Taken Literally artwork by Aliisa LeeTAKEN LITERALLY
By Jieruei Chang, age 12

Don’t fly into a rage, my father always said. I never knew he
meant it literally, until now. This is the story he told me.
One day, my father tripped over a rock.
“THAT ROCK!” He yelled, kicking it over and over.
At that instant, there was a blinding flash of light. The surface
began to move. He was lifted off the ground by an invisible pair
of wings, flew through the air and landed headfirst on a
deserted island.
“That rock,” he muttered.
As he brushed himself off, he noticed a sign that said,
“Welcome to Arage, where what you say is reality.”
As he looked around, a pack of hikers flew through the air and
landed in quick succession on top of him, still arguing when
they found themselves in a much hotter climate.
“How do we get out of here?”
“The only way is to swim.”
“Yeah, right,” another hiker responded with a sarcastic tone.
“As easy as falling off a log.”
The hiker fell off a log that had somehow appeared.
“Ow!” he said. “How’d it get here? I think I have a concussion now.”
“Quit that! There’s an elephant in the room! We have to get off
of this place called Arage!”
All of a sudden, they were in a room. An elephant appeared,
smashing through the door and waving its trunk in the air.
At that moment my father understood. “Whatever we say
actually happens.”
“So that means…”
“When the cat’s away the mice will play.”
Playful mice appeared. The elephant’s eyes nervously swept
side to side for a few moments before it crashed out the door,
making another hole in the process.
“Now that’s proof. I think I know what to do. We’re all in the
same boat on this, right?”
A boat appeared and they all were thrown onto it. “Well, let’s get out of here!”
And so they rowed through the night (and a knight for good measure) back to shore.
So hold your temper, or you really might fly into Arage – but at
least now you know what to do.


I CAN’T CONCENTRATE
By Abigail Reytblat, age 14

I Can't Concentrate artwork by Aliisa Lee“The surface began to move,” she says, and then stops reading.
“What?” she asks.
She’s annoyed. I can tell because of the way her eyebrow twitches, for just a moment, before she speaks.
“Nothing. I just coughed.”
She looks at me, for one, two, three moments, and then raises the textbook to her eyes again. “ The surface-”
“But,” I interrupt, “That sentence seems very cliche. I mean, it’s not descriptive at all. It’s redundant, actually. It’s already told us before what happens during an earthquake.”
She glares at me. She knows this game. It’s a dance I play, one that she hates. “Tam, it’s a history textbook. About an earthquake from 1906. No one cares if it’s well-written. All you have to do is read it.”
“I care. I think many other people would care about it more, too, if it was well-written.”
“Tam!”
I grin. She touches her glasses, compulsively, pushing them farther up on the bridge of her nose, so that for a moment her eyes are covered. “Fine. Do you want to read?”
“No, no. No, you keep on going. I’ll be quiet, I promise.”
“No, you won’t”
“No, I won’t be.”
“Tammie, this project is due tomorrow.”
I’m just saying that, perhaps, the author should have chosen her words more carefully.”
“No. Focus.”
“Focusing, Samantha, focusing.”
There is silence as she flips the pages, trying to find the right one. “The San Andreas Fault- what? ”
“Hmm? Nothing, nothing. Nothing at all.”
She starts the sentence over again “The San Andreas-” and now she’s the one who laughs. “Is it going to be like this all day?”
“Yup, pretty much. We should take a break.”
Her mattress creaks as she rises. “I’ll be back. Just getting some water. You want to come?”
“No,” I say, watching her. “No, I think I’ll stay here.”
In a moment, the sound of her footsteps have faded from the hall. I pick up the fallen textbook, running my hand over the tattered book jacket absentmindedly, before opening it- “The surface began to move.”
I’ve finished reading by the time she returns.


Artwork by Aliisa Lee