In today's story, Conventional, friends discuss ideas of beauty
Today's prompt was inspired by my recent book signing events, including one mini convention at a local comic book shop. Thinking about conventions spurred ideas of what it means to be conventional... or unconventional.
As always, today's story was free-written from the prompt with no planning and very little editing. It might be a little twisted, but no where near as dark as it could have been with that title and a farmyard setting! If you enjoy today's story, please share it with your friends and leave a review for Freely Written. Thank you!
If you enjoy today's story, please share it with your friends and leave a review for Freely Written. Thank you!
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 90 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Conventional.
If you’ve listened before, hopefully you’ve heard me mention that I primarily write novels and this podcast is more of a side hobby. This past weekend, I had two book signing events. One at a winery where I did a reading from my first novel as part of a donor celebration for the Loudoun Literacy Council, a local organization.
The other was at an event called Lot Con, which was held at Comic Logic, a local comic book shop. Lot Con is a growing mini convention held twice a year in the shop’s parking lot.
The thought of conventions led me to the idea that it’s strange how convention-goers are often seen as being unconventional in the mainstream. Whatever it means to be mainstream… and that led to using conventional as my writing prompt.
If this is your first time listening, here’s how this podcast works: I choose a word or phrase as a prompt—or use a suggestion from a friend or listener—then sit down and write whatever comes to mind, with no planning and very little editing. Finally, I share that free-written story with you!
Here is today’s story:
“He’s not handsome in the conventional sense.” Posey pushed her rainbow-framed glasses back in place and took a sip of her iced coffee before continuing. “But I can see the appeal.”
Bridget tilted her head, taking in Posey’s many piercings and bright pink hair. Neither of those style choices were unusual in their circle. In fact, not much was ever considered unusual among their friends. They self-identified as misfits. They welcomed anyone who shared their interests and was basically kind to others.
“What do you mean by conventional?” Bridget asked casually as she reached to adjust the hem of her skirt. They were sitting in the park on the edge of a wide fountain. Occasionally, the breeze carried droplets of water to hit the back of her neck and her bare shoulders.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Posey waved the question away. “It’s just a thing people say.”
“Do they?” Bridget didn’t want to harp on it, but she was curious. “Like, conventional meaning more basic or clean-cut or whatever? Or conventional like fitting in with our kind of vibe? And, like, would you say we’re conventional or are we unconventional?”
Posey sighed and nibbled the plastic lid of her cup before tipping back another sip. Bridget looked across the park. Some kids were playing on the swings while their adults watched from nearby benches. They all wore shorts and t-shirts. Several adults wore baseball hats, some with long ponytails pulled through the notch at the back.
“Like them,” Bridget said. “Are they conventional or unconventional?”
Posey snorted softly as she lowered her cup.
“It’s not about their style.” She sounded annoyed. “I just meant in the, you know, structural way. Like high cheekbones and a strong jaw.”
“Are men supposed to have high cheekbones?” Bridget tried to picture that, but she was never really sure what counted as high when it came to cheekbone placement.
“I don’t know. Maybe not high, but prominent or whatever.”
“Prominent.” Bridget tried to picture that instead. “Like, the bones stand out more?”
“I guess.” Shaking the ice in her near empty cup, Posey let her gaze drift across the park. Bridget thought she was done speaking until Posey added, “Maybe chiseled is better. Men are supposed to have chiseled features, conventionally. Not that any of that matters to me.”
Considering that, Bridget did remember hearing the phrase chiseled features before. But like high cheekbones, it didn’t mean that much to her. If anything, it made her think of the creepy puppets she’d watched an artist carve at Ren Faire last summer.
“I mean, I don’t agree with all that anyway,” Posey said firmly. “That was my point.”
“Oh, was it?” Bridget scanned her memory for Posey’s exact words. “Wait, which part? That he’s not conventionally handsome or that you think he’s appealing?”
Posey clutched her cup as tightly as she pressed her lips together. That was a sign she was pretty annoyed, but Bridget didn’t know why.
“It was just a thing I said, I didn’t mean it, okay? Forget the whole conventional thing.”
“Okay,” Bridget agreed uncertainly. She took a sip of her drink, then shook her head. “No, I don’t think I can let that go yet. Not the part about Jo’s boyfriend, but the whole what is conventional beauty. I mean, isn’t that, like, in the eye of the beholder?”
“Yeah, sure,” Posey agreed, after her heaviest sigh yet. “People are going to be attracted to whoever they’re attracted to, which is cool because there are lots of different people in the world and lots of different ways to look. But whatever we think, there are people who claim that there’s a set rule of beauty. That whole Golden Ratio thing.”
Bridget listened with rapt attention as Posey explained how some scientists had come up with measurements of people’s faces that were supposed to show their physical beauty and it was called the Golden Ratio.
Before she was finished, Bridget was already tapping on her phone.
“Ah, here it is! The Golden Ratio is roughly 1.62. It’s also called Phi or the Fibonacci number. Oh, like a nautilus shell. Cool.”
“Yeah, but it’s not real is what I was saying.” Posey’s attempt to walk back her explanation went unheard.
“There’s an app!” Bridget exclaimed. “We can download it and put in a picture of Colin. Do you have a picture of Colin?”
“No!” Posey snatched Bridget’s phone and turned it screen down against her thigh. “We’re not getting that app and I wouldn’t put in Colin’s picture even if we did. The whole Golden Ratio thing is horrible. It’s another way to elevate some people for nothing more than the way they look while making everyone else feel awful about themselves. We shouldn’t be saying there’s only one way to be beautiful.
Bridget eyed her phone, still held under Posey’s palm, and took a deep breath. She really wanted to point out that Posey was the one who had said Collin wasn’t conventionally handsome, but she didn’t.
This was another one of those moments in Bridget’s life where she thought she found a solid measurement for some social convention only to be thrown back into the murkiness of contradictory opinions.
She understood what Posey was saying about it not being fair to say one way to look was better than some other way to look. But no matter how much people said they didn’t want those rules of beauty, they still acted like they were there. That was the part that didn’t make sense.
After a long moment of silence, Posey handed back Bridget’s phone, which Bridget slid back into her messenger bag.
Trying to remember where the conversation went off the rails, Bridget asked, “So you do see why Jo likes Collin then?”
Posey covered her face with both hands and shook her head in frustration. She didn’t care anymore, so much that she would pay Bridget to change the subject.
“I think he’s nice.”
Posey lowered her hands, seeing the genuine confusion on her friend’s face and feeling her own annoyance melt away.
“He is nice,” Posey agreed, gently patting Bridget’s leg.
“Maybe that’s why Jo likes him?” Bridget suggested and Posey quickly agreed.
Bridget smiled and took another sip of her drink, watching the kids play happily on the swings.
Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed that story, please share it with your friends. You can also leave a review for Freely Written wherever you listen to podcasts, and I love to hear from listeners. You can find all my social media links on my website: SusanQuilty.com
My website also has information about all of my books and other projects. Please check it out and tell your friends! Your support is greatly appreciated. Links are in the show notes.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]