Hello, friends! (I can say that with certainty because only my friends read my blog. Love you guys! Smooches!) It's That Time Again, in which I produce more horrible creations that are also shirts and stickers. On that note, I have a Redbubble account now! Now, if you're an illegitimate clone of me (or just me), you can have all the stickers and throw pillows of fishdogs you've ever wanted. Click the little red dot on your right. I will now utilize a Very High Tech arrow emoticon to indicate the location of the aforementioned red dot.  ==> 

Also, I have a mailing list now! I read recently that RSS and blogs and social media are dead (we can dream) and that email marketing is kind of in right now. So, being the hip cat I am, I went ahead and got a mailing list. You should be on it! It's like being in a club! Clubs are cool, right? People like clubs? I'm going with that. 

So there you have it-- do as you must. I'll be waiting. Clawing at my keyboard, slamming F5 over and over, awaiting your arrival. No pressure. 
 
 
Being an animal-person before I am a person-person, I always notice animal bus patrons when I board. Sometimes it’s a homeless-looking person pushing an altered baby carriage full of scruffy Yorkshire terrier/Chihuahua/miniature pinscher mixes. Sometimes it’s just an apathetic-looking lab or medium-sized mutt sitting at their owner’s feet. The people who bring dogs on the bus are secretly my friends, because they probably can’t afford a car, but they make time for their dog/s. I always think the dog people are pretty cool, not only for having socialized dogs, but for having the guts to not feel reserved or hesitant for bringing a dog on a bus. “Why shouldn’t I bring my friend on the bus?” They strike me as reasonable people.

Except for this one guy.

He had a mop of blondish reddish hair stuffed under a black beanie hat and a two-sizes-too-large black raincoat. His dog was about a twelve-pound poodle mix, black and quiet. The man sat quietly, though somewhat coldly, in his seat. I passed him and took a seat towards the middle on the parallel window seats, as opposed to the perpendicular seats the dog man was sitting in. He was only about a row of seats away from the other set of parallel seating, reserved for elderly and wheelchair folks. This is important—bear with me.

Everything’s going well on this bus ride. I ate breakfast that day, so I was content, listening to my iPod and people watching. I like to see who comes on the bus, because let’s be honest, they’re the most interesting people at any given moment. The same was even more true that day, because a man heavy with coats came in, hobbling, hunched over and scruffy. But he had a nice face, the face of someone sound in mind and expressive in opinion. That’s just the feeling I got from him. His hunch, I realized as he turned around to plunk into one of the parallel seats in front, was smooth and black and panther-like. It was a black cat, yellow eyes, clinging to his shoulders and backpack. Looking like that was a perfectly reasonable place for a cat to be.

I smiled, and smiled, and smiled. I secretly hoped he’d see me smiling so he’d know I approve of his shoulder-cat ways. But I was kind of far down the bus, so he didn’t see me. He hesitated before sitting, and the cat caught on to his signal. It leapt down expertly onto the bus window ledge. I noticed then that the cat was attached to the guy’s jacket with a thin red leash. A woman in the row in front of dog man gave a small surprised, “Oh!” when the cat hit the windowsill. The man acted as if nothing had happened, sat down, and retrieved his cat from the windowsill and set it onto his lap.

A few bus stops passed. The dog man was leaned forward and had the cat man’s attention. I couldn’t see the dog man’s face, but the cat man’s face was becoming more and more furrowed. The conversation wasn’t pleasant—it was clearly not about the cat’s name, how long they had been a shoulder-cat, or anything of the ilk.

And honestly, there are gaps in my memory. But to my credit, it all happened so fast.

A black man with bad teeth stood up and moved between the cat man and dog man, he was intervening. At some point, their conversation had turned foul. The intervener had wide, challenging eyes and a commanding posture.

I paused my music.

“No, man, shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up! I don’t care what you have to say!” The intervener’s words powered over the rumble of the bus.

The thinner voice of the dog man replied in similar speech. Thoughtless cursing, empty threats. At least I hoped they were empty. I and many other bus patrons watched with quaking eyes. So far, the cat man and the dog man were still seated, the intervener was the only one standing.

My guess so far was that the dog man said some rude things to the cat man, who had every right to have his pet on the bus as the dog man, and the cat man hadn’t taken it well. Words exchanged, intervener didn’t like where it was going, and got involved.

But it didn’t simmer down. The intervener’s fire fueled them.

The cat man was sending his comebacks like ammunition, the dog man now escalating to gestures and threats. Threats like, “Mess you up so bad,” were tossed around. At this point, still empty. I prayed that they stayed empty. My heart felt like it was in my throat beating overtime. The dog man called the intervener something that I didn’t catch, but it sure caught him.

“I’m a what? I’m a what?!” He repeated, staring at the dog man, daring him. It had become personal. The dog man stuck a nerve. The N-word, maybe? Something else? It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case…

The dog man stood up and jerked in what looked like a punch, but it was false—no impact. I thought about the little dog snug under his other arm. At this point, the cat man had the police on the phone. His even voice lit up the bus, “Yeah I’d like to make a complaint please. About a guy on—on the 150 bus route, yeah. He’s disturbing everyone and getting violent—yes. Reddish hair. Black poodle dog. He’s—yes. Yes. He’s getting off now. He’s at the stop by… [Street name.] Yeah.”

The cat man stood up, collected his cat, and bustled around as if his anger urged him to fight. He held the phone away from his face and held his other arm close to him, as close as he could get to crossed arms, looking victimized. The cat just hung on as usual.

A little bit before the dog man left, a crisp-looking businessman had sat across from me and glanced at the situation and said with an eye-roll, “Drama.”

Throughout the whole event, the cat and dog remained composed and quiet. Even when their owners stood up, threw fake punches, or had a stranger yelling over them. They were more socialized than their owners, and they weren’t even the same species.

And people ask me why I’m more of an animal-person than person-person. 

 
 
It’s Thursday, and that means the critique is today. Critiques are generally categorized in my mind as “not a big deal” and something I can easily wing.
It’s only when I see the other student’s work that I start to feel my nauseous anxiety start to rise, like boiling water in my chest.
My inspiration board and fabric sample board combo is 20”x30” when it should be (per the requirements set by the instructor) 30”x40” and no smaller. Mistake number one. I pray and pray that another classmate will make the same mistake, but my eyes dart around the different boards with no hope. Everyone had nice, big boards. And to salt the wound, most of theirs are tidy, creatively organized, and generally less thrown-together. Unlike mine. Mistake number two. At this point I’m entirely certain that when I go up there to present, I’d be that student that everyone mutters about, saying, “Woops,” and, “Oh, here we go,” under their breath. Totally certain. There could be no other outcome in any scenario my brain produced. So, thanks to my brain, I’m nice and freakin’ nervous.
I’m slouching in my seat, plowing my hands over my face as if I could wipe away the feelings. The instructor, Michael, gives feedback to another student and he mentions that their sample board and their inspiration board have no cohesion, and that he can’t see how their inspirations led them to choose those samples. I had chosen my samples based on what looked easiest to do. So what did that say about my inspirations? That I aspire to be a lazy good for nothing, someone who doesn’t care if the edges of their inspiration images are peeling or their boards too small? I’m rotting away inside, my internal layers sloughing off like slimy onion skins.
And since the order of presenting is determined by attendance list, curse my early-in-the-alphabet surname, I’m up next. And I’m a husk. But when you hit bottom, the only place to go is up.
So I’m up at the front. I stand by my work in my cute-as-sin jacket (thank god for this jacket) and I give my very impromptu presentation.
I start out by saying, yeah, my boards are too small. But at least the fabric one is really layered…? (Oh my god, Maranda, you’re depressing. Honestly. There’s nothing you can do to fix this.)
The rest of the presentation goes by like a blur. I think I might have said something about being inspired by nature, the internal workings of living things like bones and musculature, and fantasy races and creatures, or something. You know how memories get when you’re panicked. Spotty, an unfinished jigsaw puzzle.
When Michael gives his feedback, he starts with, “First of all, look. You know your boards are too small,” there goes another layer, “I know your boards are too small… But never open a presentation with a spotlight on your own shortcomings. As an artist, you have to own your work and stand by it.”
Okay, I usually don’t do that, but anxiety talks for me sometimes. I choose not to mention that because it sounds like an excuse, so I just nod. He goes on to critique the board as usual. Nothing outrageously negative, nothing outrageously positive. He has it down to an art. He makes me feel actually good about my boards, when I, not minutes before, was seriously considering the possibility that spontaneous board combustion would be a blessing. I think, “Wow, this is going way better than I anticipated.” I don’t feel like crying, or melon-balling my eyes out, or forsaking my career as an artist, or anything. Like I thought I would.
So I take my seat next to James, an outrageously confident and charismatic, sharply-dressed guy, who leans in and whispers, “Good job!”
My mind catches a snag and I bumble around my, “Thank you.” That’s weird. I didn’t think my explanations were that good. And surely he didn’t mean the boards themselves…  
After a couple other presentations, it’s our ten minute break. I grab my wallet and practically tear out of the classroom. Not from fear or anxiety, but from hunger. (Typical Maranda behavior.)
Standing in line at Parnassus, the coffee nook in the basement, my nerves are further smoothed by the easygoing coffee shop and its assortment of organic and ethically-sourced snacks. Don’t ask me why. It just reminds me that there is some good in our world of Cheetos and Coke-a-Cola.
One of my classmates in front of me in line orders a 12 ounce hazelnut latte. I’m feeling dangerous, so I say, “That sounds good.”
He turns around. Tim’s a good foot or so taller than me, blonde Top-Ramen hair and a svelte aqua sweater vest. He gives a hesitation, which sparks my mind into a frenzy. (Oh man, why’d you say that? That was a private customer-to-barista conversation. You weirdo. Creeper. Way to go.) So my stupid mouth continued, “The latte.” As if he was confused as to what I said sounded good.
He makes a noncommittal, “Yeah,” turns around, but then swings to face me again and says, laden with sympathy, “I felt so bad for Laura.”
Which then cascades into a one-sided conversation about our classmate, Laura, whose speech impediment and lack of cohesive trains of thought rendered her presentation to goo.
So I order my food and latte and stand at the end of the counter with Tim. He’s the kind of outgoing person that stands slightly too close to other people while talking, which just makes me hate him for being so confident. I don’t understand confidence. Tim looks at me and says, “I liked your boards. I’m really excited to see what you do. Like, I wanna see some of your sketches.”
I might blush. Please don’t blush. I just spit out a, “Thank you,” and he continues.
With a laugh he says, “My board is just ball gowns.”
It’s my turn to shine. Hey, Tim, I can be outgoing, too! “Yeah, I saw yours. So elegant. Just… radiating elegance.” He’ll appreciate my word choice. He seems like the kind of guy who appreciates elegance. Probably.
He snatches his latte off the counter and says, not missing a beat, “Yeah. Dresses and ball gowns are like snapshots of important events in your life, you know? Coming of age, your prom, your wedding. I grew up with seven sisters and they always had beautiful dresses and I never got that.”
“Wow. That’s a lot of sisters. But I never thought of it as a snapshot, that’s actually really beautiful. I like that.” True words, not just small-talk, coming out of my mouth. It’s been known to happen.
In the valley of the conversation, another classmate ducks into the coffee shop.
“I liked your presentation,” she says to me, nothing but smiles.
Okay, this is too much. I’m practiced at it by now, so I say thank you without goofing on the rhythm.
Was I really too caught up shooting myself in the feet to realize that I had bulletproof shoes?
When we get back to the classroom after chatting about cultural appropriation and collective white-people guilt, me being a sideline member of the conversation as usual, another student passes me. I have no idea who she is, but she says, “Good job on the presentation.”
Are you kidding me, four people?! At that point I’m ready to scream, laugh, run out of the building, or hug everything in the vicinity. It’s a very confusing time. It’s hard for my brain to reset itself, to switch gears from Cripplingly Self-Depreciative and Certain to Fail to the flip-side of Maybe I Should be Proud. Even though my boards were too small, and the papers slightly curly. Even if I was nervous enough to die.
Of course, my brain hasn’t had enough with me, and it says to me, “Maybe they’re just saying that because they thing you need a confidence boost. You were pretty panicky and nervous looking. They’re just trying to be nice, they didn’t actually like your boards.”
Thanks, dick.
So I sit through the rest of the presentations, eating my spinach Caesar salad wrap, sipping my latte, choosing to believe that my presentation was pretty effing good. A surreal feeling of, “You did good, kid,” sweeps over me. I stand in the middle of it, glancing around awkwardly, wondering how to act.
So, in my stupor, I just sit back and enjoy it for once.
You did good, kid. Just accept it. 

 
 
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I made a thing!
So, BOUND TO ASHES is getting closer to being a final draft. Some might say that a final draft doesn't really exist, but we're using 'final' as loosely as we can. Anyway, I sent draft number six to my beta readers. (Hi, beta readers!) Just sitting back and waiting for their feedback, now. Resting on my laurels. Basking in my accomplishment. Because even if it's nowhere near being published, yet, it still feels good to have a written, re-written, and polished work under your belt. It's a good feeling. 
And I made a book cover, just to brush up on my graphic design skills*, and to finally have an image for my book. 

But there is no rest for the wicked, dear readers. I'm back to working on THE CHILDREN OF CADUCEUS, the sequel, right now. (You know, the book that I wrote in two months last year... it's got a sound story, but whoa, do the meaty bits need some TLC...) 

So that's what's been going on this past month. Besides the usual-- wedding plans, book reading, doodling, mentally preparing myself for school again, etc. 
Until next time. 

* 'skills' also used loosely
 
 
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I had a few thoughts today. 
(Yes, I know, thoughts-- the fabled mind activities written in lore!)
I was thumbing through my favorites folders when I came upon the Digger Omnibus Kickstarter, which was outrageously successful to no one's surprise. At the bottom, towards the end of the updates, were two videos of Ursula Vernon. I enjoyed them, but that's not the point of this-- point is, I got to thinking. (There we go with the thoughts thing again. I am on fire today.) I thought, Ursula Vernon was like me, once. In college, working on a degree, but on the side, doing what she really loves. For her I imagine it was art, and an anthropology degree. (I know these things because I'm an insatiable fangirl.) For me, an art degree and writing on the side. And I thought, Maybe she was as determined and dream-ridden as I am now. Maybe once, when she was a starry-eyed college student (ha, ha) she had dreams of being a published author. She probably had no idea that her webcomic would earn a Hugo award or have multiple successful works under her belt. 
And I thought, Maybe that's what my future will be like. 
I can only hope! And work hard, of course. 

As you may or probably may not know, I have two books under my belt-- both unpublished, one in its 6th draft, the other in its 1st (aww, lookit da widdle baby book!) I wrote the second book in last year's NaNoWriMo and haven't touched it or even read it since then. But recently, curiosity finally struck, and I started reading it. Not to proof or edit, just to read and remember. Most of the writing memories were fresh enough for me to think, Oh yeah, this part! I remember the inspirations and process of coming up with that! Those were the days!  Et cetera. But one part, one tiny scene, really stood out. 
It's inconsequential. It's cute. It involves killing machine spider-robots reprogrammed to be slightly-less-murderous, performing an awkward wave at one of the characters. And this scene made me laugh. A genuine, I-wasn't-expecting-something-this-funny-or-cute laugh. A laugh as if the writing belonged to another writer. I didn't remember writing the scene, but it was apparently good enough to register a genuine response. 
And then I started to cry. 
I hardly ever cry from happiness, but this was one of those times. Because my writing, even on the first draft, was good enough
I might be a 20-something college student working a retail job and pounding away on writing projects in my limited spare time, but someday, I'm going to be Ursula Vernon. Or, you know, the Maranda Cromwell version. That one tiny scene gave me affirmation that I can make it, and I have a lot of time to get there. 


 
 
I've been seriously pursuing writing for a few years. Over this time, I've fallen more and more in love with it. Yes, for the obvious reasons: it's satisfying to create something, I love designing characters, and reader reactions and feedback are solid gold. There is no better feeling than writing the last couple words of a 90,000 word manuscript. But let me tell you why I really love writing and why I continue to do it to this day. 
Typos. 
Yeah. They're usually annoying, right? But every once in a while you'll make a typo that you fall in love with. Like in my previous blog post, "Contain your excrement" is way funnier than "Contain your excitement." And it was totally by accident. A Freudian-esque slip of the fingers, if you will. 
Take this for instance. 
I'm writing a scene in which the main characters find themselves trapped, taken captive by an opposing force. They break out and take down a guard to demand the whereabouts of the rest of their company. The guard is pinned by unreal force-- a superhuman amount of pressure on his back, holding him down, he's sure he's going to die. The main characters almost get him to talk and are resorting to violence out of desperation. If the opposing force catches them, they're sure to get a bullet in the head. And me, on the other side of the keyboard, I go to type, "Jules moves past Ashton to talk to the guard." Or something to that effect. And you know what my hands do instead? "Jules moves pasta." Pasta. So her friends have a guard captive, crushing his ribs on the concrete floor, demanding that he expel his intel, when they turn around to see Jules holding a colander full of noodles. 
"What? I'm hungry." 

So there you have it. This is probably about 75% of why I keep writing.  Goofy typos and my mind running with it. 
We all gotta keep going somehow, right?
 
 
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When your whole life is a war,
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and more battles are fought against yourself than the enemy,
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and your own talents turn against you,
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it takes a certain type of courage to win.
 
 
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I am, by any measure of the word, a newbie. I'm only 22 years old for crying out loud. Aren't I too young to be having existential, "What do I want to do when I grow up" crises? I think so. Ideally, I'd be under the impression that I have my whole life in front of me to choose what I want out of it. But, me being me, I can't seem to think that way. I feel lost most of the times. And the times when I don't feel lost, when I have fleeting, beautiful visions of what my life should look like, I can do nothing to achieve it. I'm too bogged down with previous obligations. Pets, school, work, house, the works. I can trim the excess branches that are trying to grow in the wrong direction, but I'm afraid of change. Even though change will do me a world of good. 


This fact is underlined by last night. My mother's book club reviewed draft 2.5 (or something) of my book-in-progress, BOUND TO ASHES. I used to consider it a whole book, but now it's "book-in-progress," because of last night. 
Dawn, a dear friend of my whole life, said to me, "At first I was shaking in my boots (even though I was wearing Mary Janes) about giving you critique. I felt like I was either going to be the hatchet or the chainsaw." 



That, alone, tells you what went down. They suggested more of this, less of that, standard book review stuff. Then Dawn said at one point, "Everything up until chapter 6 is just back story. I think you should cut that off and start on chapter 6." 


W-what?! Chop off like a third of the book?! But... so much work... so many good scenes... To the book club, my book is an unfinished novel waiting to be finished. It's not the concrete building I have in my mind. I got so close to that building, got so familiar with the bricks and mortar and could trace the outlines of all the support beams, but I lost sight of the building as a whole. I failed to see the construction flaws and the exposed insulation. Metaphor aside, my whole world was shaken up after that meeting. Like rebuilding after an earthquake. The frame stands, but the bricks and concrete and drywall have fallen away because of builders who didn't know what they were doing. (Ok, the metaphor sticks, but shut up, I like metaphors.) 


After the earthquake, I surveyed the building's remains. I can still salvage parts. I can still scrounge up enough mortar to repair certain walls. But whole supports and ceilings have caved in, and those will have to be rebuilt from scratch. 

And you know... I plan on it. 


Because even though I sometimes think I can't dedicate enough time to my writing, I'm going to re-write my book until it's the best darn thing anyone's ever read.
Or close enough. Shoot for the moon, right?

 
 
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Welcome, friends, to my brain

I think when people like Sexton Burke write books like The Writer's Lab, they have certain expectations. "If I write this clever book full of writing prompts, readers will be inspired and they will create some interesting things." 
But I highly doubt that anyone, clever or not, is capable of anticipating what readers come up with. Namely, my response to the first prompt. 

The prompt in The Writer's Lab I chose to begin with was simple. Your name's letters rearranged into a new name: the name of your new character that you then have to describe and eventually write a scene about. 



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Being a visual thinker, I had to physically rearrange my letters. I came up with something awesome. 
Mad Craoll Rewnma. I pronounce it in my mind as CRAWL RUNE-ma. It uses every letter in my first and last name. And lo, it even came with a title. "Mad." Oh yes, I can work with this. 
So I did. Here is what I came up with. 

"Mad" Craoll Rewnma began life as a street urchin. That's about it. Not even she knew-- or cared-- where she came from. She started rough and finished rough. Long dead by a century now, Rewnma was well known in her time for having a penchant for thievery and occasionally dabbling in homicide. That was how it started. With her tangled mane of dark hair and freckled golden eyes, she was the picture of madness even before her defining adventure gave her the title "Mad". Like a jungle cat, she slunk around museums and scholarly establishments for the better part of 20 years, aging none. Then one day, she did it. Breaking into the Twixt, the realm between the living and the dead, is said to be impossible. Except for Rewnma. No one's sure how she did it, or for that matter, why. Some speculated that she wanted to find the lost souls of those she killed, just to "check up on them," because that was her style. Some thought she just wanted to prove that she was the sneakiest thief ever to set foot on the Three Lands. She baffled every prophet, bishop, sorcerer, and king. 
But as I floated into the Twixt, a bodiless soul myself, I found her. She was cutting away the souls that formed the walls and structures in the chaotic realm. I addressed her. Why was she doing this? Why was she setting the souls free of their containment? I thought you killed people, Mad Rewnma, not set their captured souls free! 
In reply, she grinned and said simply, "I don't relish taking away life, or giving it for that matter. I found that killing had lost its fun. I'm on to better things. You see, I'm really just in the business of mucking things up."
The souls floated away from us in silence, though their mouths were ajar in soundless screams. They faded out of the Twixt. 
And that, my friends, is how the Undead War of the Three Lands came to be. One woman. One madwoman. Mad Craoll Rewnma.

Alright, Sexton Burke, if you're reading this, I hope you're happy. My brain clamped over that prompt, tore it to shreds, and buried the remains in the backyard. Somehow I've created worlds, realms, thieves, and zombie outbreaks from one simple exercise. 
The brain is a marvelous creature, is it not? 
 
 
I'm coming out of printmaking class. I cross the street to the bus stop. My heart beats a little faster like it always does when anticipating the the great accordion-waisted metal creatures. I sit on the bench and pull out my headphones to lose myself in music. A little mini vacation from the busy city. Everything is always happening in the city. I can't keep track. 
My bus pulls up. 73X to downtown Seattle. If I get on this bus, it will take me to international district, which will take me to Kings Street, which will take me home. Precious home. 
I had lost my U-Pass card earlier in the week. Even though I got it replaced today, the bus pass feature won't be active until Wednesday. Today is Monday. I fumble in my pockets for bills and change. I wave the person in front of me to go ahead, she can cut me.

The bus shuts its doors and starts driving off.
My heart shrivels and I clench the money in my fist and wave with my other. "Wait, wait!" The bus stops. "Can I still get on...?" I say it in such a small voice I doubt even the people at the stop hear me. The driver opens the doors almost deliberately slowly. He stares at me. No words. Grey eyes. Vacant expression. "Sorry." I feed my money in and look down. His reluctant hand hovers over the pink transfer slip. "I don't need a transfer, that's fine." 
There are no seats except for the ones designated for disabled or elderly. 5/6 people do not fit either of those descriptions. One seat is open. I pass it and stand in the isle. The bus jerks and sways and I grip the bars and grimace every time I stumble. 

While the one-sided conversation plays on slow-motion repeat in my head, I maintain other imaginary conversations with strangers.  
"Why didn't you take that seat up front?" She is in her mid 30's and looks nice enough. 
I don't answer. Maybe I make noncomittal sounds and shrug it off. Don't cry. 
"There arent any seniors or cripples."
I stare straight ahead at nothing. 
"Why didn't you sit there if you hate standing so much? You can walk on the bus while it's moving, you know. It would be much easier. Then I can hold on to the bar, your hand will be out of my way."
"BE QUIET!" I scream. 
But I'm screaming it in my head, not to the woman next to me.

The bus continues. We go into a tunnel, stop, and a seat frees up. I take it. But I can't stop talking to people in my head. 
"This stop is Convention Center," the imaginary bus driver says, "anyone ELSE need off?" I feel his imaginary eyes bore through me in the rear view mirror. He is talking to me; singling me out among the other passengers for my slowness. In the pretend-scenario, I sniff angrily and cross my arms, like I'm tough and aloof. But what would have happened is I'd squeak a, "No thank you." I would avoid the stares of the other passengers and fend of the tingly-hot-water feeling of crying. I'm getting pretty good at that. 
I avoid eye contact the rest of the day. I try to think about school and what I need to study. But the only thing my mind goes back to is that bus driver's cold stare, and the woman who thinks I'm stupid for being scared of taking an empty seat. 
The strangers in my head are not nice people.