Footprints in the Hallway

The Website of C.L. Mannarino

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Describing Openness

It’s wanting to go out, until you actually get asked to do something, and then saying you’ll go anyway because didn’t you just want this?

When you’re out, it’s reminding yourself why you’re there, and not at home.

It’s reminding yourself that you wanted this, you whined about this, you longed for this.

It’s still not feeling fulfilled. It’s the voice in the back of your head whispering, “Let’s just get out, this was stupid, I hate doing this, and besides, this place is a dump.”

When you go to tell your friends you’re done, it’s the bright, excited smiles on their faces, and the bracing way they grab your arms to tell you how happy they are to see you, how much they missed you, and how it’s great to see you coming out with them.

It’s the soggy feeling of watching your plans to leave slip away, their foundations crumbling, no matter how hard your discomfort tries to hold them in place. It’s wondering what your words and fears would do to the happy smiles on your friends’ faces.

When you start to wonder, it’s the mean little voice in the back of your head whispering, “if they were really your friends, they wouldn’t have asked you to come out here in the first place. They’d know you better.”

As you start to look for your keys, it’s the heavy, leaden feeling you get when you realize you’re being a chump for walking away when you promised that young, sprightly part of yourself that you’d go out if you got asked. It’s the cotton-tongue feeling of knowing that sprightly version of yourself is probably ready to start crying in the bathroom, shutting the door behind itself and punishing you with silence for breaking its heart.

When you recognize this, it’s the slow way you put your keys back into your pocket. It’s the feeling you get where you know the sprightly version of yourself has lifted its head, daring to be hopeful. It’s the smile you plaster to your face as you join your group again, and focus on the conversation, instead of your own discomfort.

It’s the feeling you get when that plaster smile becomes real, and then grows into laughter, and then fades into tiredness. It’s the warmth you feel when, at the end of the day, you all get up, get your coats, and promise to do this again sometime.

When you walk out, it’s the resolve you feel that yes, you will do this again. This was fun.

Even when you know how much of a struggle it will be to motivate yourself out the door.

#ROW80 update: I’m back to writing 1,000 words a day. I was going to try for writing 2,000 words a day, to match my old NaNo schedule, but ouch. It’s been a while — a year and a half? — since I’ve done that.

A (big) part of this is the fact that I changed keyboards to reduce the pain in my wrists. Now, I’ve been working with this keyboard since last fall, and my hands don’t hurt nearly as much anymore, but I don’t use it at work. So whatever gains I make with practicing on it are tempered by 40 hours a day of not using it at all.

I’m getting way better, though. I can type about half my usual speed, which is improved from a quarter of my normal speed, and sometimes, if I’m not thinking about it, I can just get into the groove without slowing. I make plenty of mistakes, though. Slow and steady, and all that jazz.

The other part of not doing 2,000 words a day is that I’m more comfortable with the 1,000 words. If I have other ideas during the day, I’ll write more, but I’m not pushing it. Anything extra will get added in later. Those are my fun words. I think I can make some decent time on these stories at the pace I’m going.

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Describing Remorseful

When you get angry at someone for disagreeing with you, and you snap at them without thinking, it’s the feeling you’re left with after realizing you were wrong.

It’s the feeling you get while you’re pacing the room, running your hands through your hair, and over your face, trying to figure out what they think of you now, what they’d say if you admitted you were wrong, how long you should wait to say something, and how to make things right again.

When you ask your friends, it’s the heavy feeling that sinks your gut when they point out how out-of-line you were, and the pressure of knowing that you’re going to have to work twice as hard to make up for it.

It’s the terrifying blankness that comes over your mind when you’re coming up with apologies, and nothing seems to ring right. You just can’t get it to fit the situation without making things worse.

When you finally try to just apologize already, it’s the dodgy look they give you, and you realize that they’re no longer sure they can give you feedback when you ask for it.

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Describing Hesitant

When you enter a dirty bathroom, it’s the reluctance you have to touch the stall doors, or the sink knobs, or even use one of the toilets.

It’s the uncertain look you pass to your friends as you try to decide whether or not you need to use the bathroom that badly.

When you reconsider your plans, it’s the reminder that you won’t be at a bathroom again for another two hours while you drive back home.

It’s the way you cluster together, arms crossed, purses clenched to your side, as you rock on the balls of your feet and wait for someone to make a decision.

When your friend decides to brave it, it’s the hard click of her shoes across the grimy tiled floor. It’s the realization that her steps have to be loud, that they have to echo off these greenish walls, because otherwise, she won’t be brave enough to take care of what needs to be done.

It’s the slow peel of each friend from the cluster as you follow her lead, inching towards the other stalls, and poking the doors into place with the tips of your fingernails, all covered in toilet paper, so that you don’t catch whatever germs have been festering since the last time the place was cleaned — probably a year ago, at least. It’s the dance you do, laying toilet paper over the seat and trying not to sit even on that, while you try your best to hurry your bowels along.

When you’re done, it’s the mad scramble to leave the stall, regroup, and then shuffle out together, your hands reaching into purses for Wet Ones, and keys, and conversation about just how gross that was, and can you please never do that again? Can you just find another bathroom next time?

It’s not the relief that goes around your group on a single breath as you make your way back to the car, grateful to finally go home.

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Describing Embarrassed

When you’re making a presentation, it’s forgetting all your lines, and your materials, and becoming hot, and sweaty, and panicked while a group of bored, impatient, sympathetic, and tired faces wait for you to either begin, or walk away.

It’s seeing someone wave to you from across the room, and waving back, only for them to bypass you completely, having been looking for someone else.

When you follow someone with the vague notion that you’ve been walking with them the whole time, only to really look at them and realize that you lost the person you were with, and the person you’re following is wondering what the hell you’re doing.

It’s doing your best to impress a member of your family, and then one thing after another goes wrong in rapid succession.

When TSA pulls you out of line at the airport, it’s the tense, heated feeling of feeling like everyone is watching you, both from other waiting areas, and from the very line you were pulled out of.

It’s taking off with your bike, only for a stranger to come running over screaming at you, and the chilly realization that your bike was actually on the other end of the rack.

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Describing Terrified

It’s throwing up before a show and feeling like your guts have just all pooled on the floor.

When you run into a group of hardened, tough men at the mouth of a darkened alley, it’s the white-hot heat that seizes your throat, and collapses your chest, and erases your brain.

It’s fumbling fingers over sticky keyboard letters, desperate to form words that will announce your intentions to be considered for a job, or take someone on a date with whom you’ve been enamored for a long time, or let someone know that they’re about to be laid off, or to tell your family that you’re now a parent-to-be.

When you move into your own place for the first time, the very first night, it’s the cramping in your fingers that you don’t become aware of until you let go of the stack of blankets you’ve been clinging to, until you grow so tired that you collapse at dawn, finally saved by the sun from the bumps in the night.

It’s the drop in your stomach when the rope hoisting your grand piano up to your third floor apartment begins to fray, and snap, and with every thread of rope lost, your piano drops inches, and then feet, and you hold your breath, standing so still, in case one wrong move sends it slamming to the ground.

When you come home late at night, it’s finding your front door wide open, and all the lights on inside.

It’s taking a hike in the middle of the woods on your own during hunting season, and hearing a bullet whiz past your head to strike a tree farther up the path.

When you get pulled over, it’s the sweat clinging to your underarms, your upper lip, your forehead, the thoughts circling your mind: will I be arrested? will they hurt me if they think I’m not obeying? is this the end?


Describing Energetic

It’s the splash of fresh-squeezed orange juice in your glass on a Saturday morning after a restful sleep, with the sun shining through newly-cleaned windows.

It’s the leap and spin of a young ballet dancer breaking in their first pair of pointe shoes.

It is the sound of a kitten, gripping, climbing, and hopping over a baby gate to escape the confines of their play room, and explore the rest of the house.

It’s fast music on a highway, the windows down, the breeze crashing through your hair.

It’s a park full of children in shorts, scrambling backwards up the slide and the money bars, and making the kids around them shout with irritation.

It’s the adrenaline racing through your legs as you clamber up the side of a snow-covered hill, sled in hand, cheeks frosty from the biting wind, your mouth wide open to suck in breaths.

It’s the scream–you can’t help yourself–that wracks your throat when the roller coaster makes its first major drop. It’s your hands clenching the metal bar holding you to your seat, your fingers freezing with the wind, and burning from gripping on so tight.

It’s the fiery pop that explodes on your tongue when a peppercorn crushes between your teeth.

It’s the lazy spin of rainbow-colored clothes on the lines hanging between apartment buildings.

It’s a blast of cold water to your face when you need to wake up.

It’s the smell of new rains, and warming air, after a blistering winter.

Describing Inspiration

It is the flush of heat that comes over your cheeks in the middle of the day, probably during a boring class, or an overlong meeting, or a family reunion that couldn’t go more wrong.

It is the punch-drunk giggle you emit when a brilliant save arrives to pull you from possible disaster in a project.

It is the grinning little pixie that flops onto your shoulder to steer you down a new direction just when you can feel your whole grand plan coming together.

It is the Muse lounging in the corner of the room, reaching out to your work station and crumpling up all your ideas when you don’t think of something it likes.

It is the raunchy joke your otherwise uptight aunt lets slip at just the right time, and makes you think, “What else don’t I know about her?”

It is the trip to a dry-mouthed museum with the spot of brilliant, blisteringly hot and intense color at the back of the building, in one of the larger halls, that you just can’t tear your eyes away from.

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It is the thunderous song, the lilting song, the tender song, the tearful song, the hopeful song, that you just need to capture in some physical, tangible way, so that whenever someone sees your work, and hear the song alongside it, they’ll know the two have always belonged together.

It is the enormous dust bunny you uncovered a spider under a pile of junk you’ve been meaning to move, and now you just have to clean everything spotless before you can fall asleep.

It’s the frustration you feel when you know that something has to be done, but no one is doing anything about it, and you realize, as Ann Patchett did, “If I can form the sentence: ‘whose responsibility is it to…,’ then it must be my responsibility to do [insert whatever you think has to be done here].”

It is the first real plunge of your hands in the soil, on the first real day you chose to work outside, and the amazement you become overwhelmed with at the thought of how miraculous life is. It is the sudden, must-be-done-now desire to be a part of that–to flood your world with plants until the entire place is bright with sun-happy blooms.


Copyright © 2013 C.L. Mannarino
All rights reserved.

hair caught

The trees are people,

Their branches are limbs and

Their twigs and leaves,

Fingers and fingernails.

As the cold melts into the bones of the earth,

Their twisted root-feet rise from the ground,

Crashing through the chilly surface with a shower of dirt and

The drip of snowmelt.


Glancing up at the sky,

A young man,

His scarf pulled,


Around his neck,

Hands tucked in

Triangular jacket pockets.

A smile tugs at his lips.

A dimple shadows the corner of his mouth.

“My season,” he whispers, and

Even then,

His voice rumbles across the plains and valleys bordered by the trees.


Holding himself upright,

He crunches down the path,

His boots snapping ice-clad twigs underfoot.

From his left hand,

He drops a trail of silver sand.

From his right,

He sprinkles dove-down.

The leaves of flowers slice past the lingering snow

As pink noses and the trembling tips of soft, furry ears

Rise from deeply-sunken holes in the ground.



Copyright © 2013 C.L. Mannarino
All rights reserved.

The snow begins to


And soft rain


Across barren tree limbs,


To the rich, solid earth


Slush piles and patches of


Touch my hand in

Old age,

And fade into the

Low rising sun as

The winter of your time


I will touch your babe’s


When the child is


From its mothers


I will draw your babe’s


The way I drew yours,

And I will hold them


By side, while your


Lingers at my shoulder,


Stares up at me


Between soft, new folds


Skin, your legacy extended

In your grandchildren.


Copyright © 2013 C.L. Mannarino
All rights reserved.

An old woman sits on the northernmost bench of the park between two twisted, barren trees. She wears a long scarf around her neck and her coat falls down beyond her knees. Both match the line of her lowered brow and the chiseled, downward slant of her mouth.

On closer inspection, she appears younger than her presumed years, with flaxen hair and soft eyes. She catches you staring and offers a smile that hardly brings any color to her cheeks. You wonder if she notices the swollen sky, the buildings lined in jagged rows, and how the metal of the bench threatens frostbite to uncovered fingers at the merest brush of exposed skin.

“Shouldn’t you be inside?” she asks. Her words are clear and ring with assurance.

“I’m not cold,” you say, though your hands crawl into your pockets.

Her eyes glint and their softness turns into amusement. Now her smile lifts. She looks over her left shoulder, her nose to the wind. “Really? You will be.”

Almost on cue, the wind picks up, driving snowflakes with the touch of needles into your cheek. You duck and hustle away, keeping your shoulders hunched so that the snow can only collect on your back. The bus stop is only steps away. Inside, you give a hearty shudder and shed a layer of snow on the ground.

The woman stays on her bench, stretching her legs in front of her and sticking her hands deeper into her pockets. You don’t see anyone else approach her that day.

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