Sometimes you stumble across a literary landmine. Blown away. Can I be infused with this man’s sense of humor and word sense?
I’m trying to leave my novel alone for a few weeks so I can read it with “fresh” eyes and polish it. Again. This polishing will be the fourth draft on I Trespass. Since I’m not actively writing my novel, my schedule is different. Like: Who moved my cheese? Normally I pick up a thread where I left off the previous day, but in these waiting weeks I face a totally empty page each morning. Some days I even get writer’s block. For me that doesn’t mean the page stays empty; it’s just filled with pointless junk. Enter prompts. Oh, how I love thee, writing prompts! Today I found one here. It’s rules require me to slash my flash in half: 99 words to write a story involving riptides. (and prompted a bit of obnoxious rhyme)
Riptides: The idea of being pulled (or ripped) away from safety. Of losing control. Being abducted by water. The ocean has always filled me with a mixture of fear and wonder. You can’t stand next to that pounding, teeming, gargantuan force and think yourself important.
I finished my first attempt at 8:16AM with 145 words. Yikes. Time for the chain saw. Second draft: 117 words, 8:30AM. Third draft: 95 words, 8:37. You’d think I’d leave it alone. But no, I have four more words I can add back in. It’s on. Final, 8:49AM. 99 words, exactly. Bam. I hear Rocky music in my head. Ladies and gentleman, my story follows.
The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Life
Harper walked the beach. Her psychiatrist mandated daily exercise, and Harper’s mom considered it an encouraging sign. The shell basket always returned full of treasures. Mom didn’t notice the basket left with treasure as well: the contents of Harper’s bedroom. Her baby blanket, beloved stuffed animals, crayon drawings, trophies. Then medals, books, make-up. Finally, Harper tossed the contents of her dresser into the sea and reverently watched the riptide spirit her belongings away. The sea had just about everything. The next day Harper closed the door on her hollow room and went out.
“No basket today?” her mom asked.
Sherman Alexie is an American Indian. He’s also a writer. My Native American roots have given me an almost non-existent nose, high cheekbones, and a convenient dearth of body hair. Other than that, I don’t relate to his marginalized experience, except that it gripped me and made me fall in love with reading and writing all over again. Sometimes you read something so profoundly affecting, you want to grab your bull horn. Not having a cosmic bull horn, I satisfied myself by assigning it to my 5000 Words class.
In response to Alexie’s short story “Superman and Me,” I had my students write about their own reading journeys. I have to tell you, no aspect of the 5000 Words Class has been more enjoyable than these fine essays. They were a sort of education and a balm and an affirmation– all in one. There were recurring themes. When reading is made to be a warm, peaceful, safe, and lovely prospect, those feelings stick to us years later. Reading opens doors. Alexie explored that image brilliantly. So did my students.
My own story is similar to the ones I read. I was not an early reader. In fact I was in Title I, translated “not-getting-it.” We got to sit in a small semi-circle with an aide and get extra reading help while the other kids moved on? Read books? I don’t know. I remember my dad, my hero, reading Dick and Jane books with me, and I remember hating them with a white-hot hatred. They were so dumb. I basically languished in school until sixth grade when Mr. Stoisits devoted a portion of each week to “pleasure reading.” He’d stocked his room full of actually, no kidding, honest-to-goodness exciting books of every genre, and he let us choose.
It was the first time I enjoyed a book. I went through a door. And once I knew that door existed, I kept coming back. Sometimes the door was locked. Some books didn’t thrill me at first. Some, ok many confused me, but I wanted to rekindle that same delight of my first book-loving experience, so I kept at it. Eventually I met a book series I adored so much that I did not want it to end, ever. The words The end felt like a death. How could this author evoke such thick and horrible and wonderful and terrible emotion? How could words be more important than sleep?
I wrote a promise to myself. I vowed I would one day make people love characters the way I loved these. I remember writing it out like I was contracting with God. I may have written it on the inside cover. The book is lost, but my promise is not.
For his people, Sherman Alexie considers books as more than doors. They are life rafts and ramparts and square meals. They are the solution to everything. In a way I agree with him. The very best book, the Bible carried me to peace. Books are a way into minds we wouldn’t dare plumb, a way into minds we could care less about, but ought to. They are the only ancient boundary line of the human experience.
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one. – George R.R. Martin
Fear. I wish I could cut it from my soul with a scissors. I wish I could lay on a comfy couch, talk its existence into oblivion, then charge myself $100/hour. I’d collect my fees and go on a vacation to the beach.
I have an active imagination, so I fear things most people haven’t even thought of. Example: Swings and Things. Everybody else just dons the batting helmets. Me, I think What is the probability there’s lice in there? I mean, how many scraggly heads have been inside that thing today alone? And everybody knows you’re not supposed to share headgear…
How about door handles. Am I the only one who considers the millions of invisible germs crawling all over those suckers? Or speaking engagements. Truly. Frightening. Or posting my innermost thoughts for the world–
You get my point. But I try very hard not to let fear stop me from doing anything. I charge it. Get it over with. The hardest thing is the waiting. A hard thing looms on the horizon and I just want to compress time so I can face it and put it in the rear-view mirror.
My kids have to live with this philosophy. I homeschool them, which you’d think is inherently insulating. And in some ways, it is. Or it can be. Who hasn’t met the socially backward, jumper-wearing, yellow-toothed homeschooler who hasn’t seen a hairbrush since 1995? That’s what I’m working against. I can conjure up all sorts of uncomfortable hard, fearful, tearful, engagements where my little ones’ homeschoolness will be showing, oh yes, and in those fearful, tearful, weirdful moments when they want to crawl into a hole and die (or at least crawl back home into their fuzzy blankets where math problems are their only problems)– in that moment, they get a glorious chance to rise. Rise and face whatever “horror” I set in front of them. Today it was meeting the herd of cross country kids at the stadium, all of whom came from class while my guy stands outside the locked gate (an apt image, as it were) waiting to be let in. “I wish there was just one other homeschooler, so I wouldn’t have to be alone,” he says. Inside I sigh and understand completely. With my outside voice I tell him to embrace this because he’ll be stronger for it.
I’m not a tiger mom, contrary to the opinion of my family. But I am driven to certain opportunities: fearful, tearful, weirdful opportunities at which they can rise and overcome. God help us.
Child: “I hate this. Why do you force me to do x?”
Me: “To prepare you to face a world that doesn’t care about you, without me.”
We have not only the “right to write,” but the responsibility. What else is so permanent a snapshot of the mind, save writing? However, writing doesn’t pay the bills when we start out (and maybe never). Barring lottery winners, one must make a living. The tightrope is to figure out how to make a living on writing. I teach writing, which I LOVE. My hope is one day to make money punching away at these keys, lost in a world of my own creation.
I am basically an angry person.
To be clear when I say ‘angry’ I mean the buttoned-up version that’s woven into the tweed fabric of an Englishman of my age. I’d never actually show my anger, I couldn’t punch a face, complain in a restaurant or even wag an accusatory finger…no, I’m angry in the way that means I smile as my blood pressure rises and my chance of a heart attack increases year on year.
Anything can set me off. The national shame that is Brexit, the international injustice of Yemen, cats looking at me in a funny way….pretty much anything can be a trigger.
This week it was a twitter conversation (is that what you call a string of tweets) with the author Mary Carter last week (@mjcarterauthor).
She was saying that she resented having her writing branded as a frivolous hobby…. that she had been told to get…
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School started today, to my son’s horror. We’re finishing our history curriculum from last year because I went through K-12 never learning anything after WWII because we always ran out of school year before we ran out of boring textbook.
A History of US is one of my favorites because it’s a comprehensive, source-driven look at our past and not a boring textbook. Each day Gabe reads a few chapters and writes a paraphrase on his blog. Scroll down to his post. Did you know the bolded information? I didn’t.
There are many significant happenings, the details of which don’t transmit to Joe Public. In the case of my history ignorance, a textbook writer somewhere, sometime made the decision that the bolded piece of intel wasn’t worth the ink. I understand cuts must be made. But I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to trust someone, somewhere to filter my history for me. The way to bypass the textbook revisionist is to read as much source documentation as possible. And to believe: The man who tells the story is as important as the story itself.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by nuclear bombs. Both were destroyed because they were large, industrial cities that supported the Japanese war effort. Days before the bombing, pamphlets were dropped on Hiroshima to warn the citizens that the city would be destroyed, but nobody took it seriously. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed just 3 days apart. Somewhere between 129,000, and 226,000 people were killed in the two bombings combined. The pilots on the 509th Composite Group of the 313th Wing of the 21st Bombing Command of the 20th Air Force were chosen to do a secret mission. They practiced for it, but instead of practicing with huge amounts of missiles, they would practice with a single, medium sized weapon. Soon they were getting bored and even being taunted by other groups. They were taught to fear storms, especially electrical storms, and they never even knew why the whole time, but they still did it. When they flew over Hiroshima and they saw the bomb drop, at first it just looked like any ordinary bomb, but when it hit the city it made a huge explosion and a mushroom cloud. Three days later they did the same thing to Nagasaki, and the war ended. – Gabe, grade 7
What happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was terrible. I was always taught that. Lately, I’ve been told I should feel ashamed of my country’s actions: the decision to drop the bomb. That’s when I start getting uncomfortable, and you should too. There are so many atrocities through the ages that, were we to begin serving penance for the actions of people who lived and died long before us and in a world entirely different from ours– we open a can of Dune-sized worms. Do you feel it, opening? I do. We’re in the middle of a shift; it’s fashionable to measure antiquated actions with a ruler of modern philosophy.
Who am I, in 2017, to decide whether or Truman should have dropped the bomb in 1945?
Truman, for his part, thought he was bringing the war to a swift close. Taken in its time, the decision was the right one… and to judge the decisions of people in 1945 by the standards of 201 is not only ahistorical, it is pointless. Truman and his advisers made the only decision they could have made; indeed, considered in the context of World War II, it wasn’t really much of a decision at all (Tom Nichols).
The above quote is why, when we’re done with our history curriculum, we’ll read through every source document provided by A History of US, all organized into the last volume, #12. Then Gabe will read Hiroshima Diary, by Dr. Michihiko Hachiya, who survived the Hiroshima bombing, witnessed first-hand the devastation, and did his best to treat a formerly unknown condition: radiation poisoning.
able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities.
A fiction writer must be versatile, if only for the toggle between fantasy and reality. I once woke to the reality I was due to teach a class in ten minutes. What’s the big deal? I was an hour away from said class, still in my fuzzy pajamas. It was my leg of a carpool and in my zealous story plotting I quite forgot I was supposed to be dressed and prepped to go straight on to my teaching gig. NOT wearing pajamas.
What I’ve found is, when I make even a feeble attempt to bless someone, I am the one who walks away blessed. Such was my experience when I made the acquaintance of blogger Kelvin M. Knight. Here’s how it went: I decided to take fifteen minutes each morning to find and point out fellow writers whose work impacted me. This writing business is like a one-way pen pal relationship, so it’s nice to get a letter back once in a while. I decided to write some letters back.
One morning as I went to be that return letter, I opened my email and received the Versatile Blogger Award.
How appropriate is the image on Kelvin’s About page. You don’t have to read but a few sentences of any one of his posts to agree: Kelvin is all heart. Self-effacing and quietly joyful, he reminds me of a man version of Anne Lamott.
Kelvin writes: The Versatile Blogger Award was created to feature and recognize blogs that have unique content, high quality writing, and fantastic photos. As the Versatile Blogger Award states: Honor those bloggers who bring something special to your life whether every day or only now and then.
The rules for nomination are:
- Thank the person who nominated you.
- Nominate up to 15 bloggers for this award and inform them.
- Share seven facts about yourself.
- Put the logo of Versatile Blogger in your post, displaying these rules.
I even recognized some of the names on Kelvin’s nomination list, like Lynn Love, The Drabble, and Friday Fictioneers. Let me add my voice to his and say these are lovely people who contribute positively to the world, who use their gifts and take the time to encourage others to do the same.
So, seven little things about me:
- I first wanted to be a writer when I read Flowers in the Attic, which Stephen King judged as the putrid trash of the fiction world. This heartens me. My putrid trash may be someone’s favorite, may be a best-seller.
- For two decades I wrote only our family’s Christmas letter because I couldn’t be chill when my littles interrupted me with poopy diapers, playtime, and the rhythmic need for sustenance.
- My favorite book is the Bible because it changed my life.
- I homeschooled our four children. Presently down to one awesome student. 🙂
- When I was ten years old I dug up a friend’s dead cat (and since have used it in many a story).
- Watching my kids grow into beautiful people has been a chief joy of my life.
- Being on a cruise with my husband, being like the kids we were when we met, is another.
Now onto the fun. My nominations.
- Nancy Beach
- Cyndi Hilston
- Nthato Morakabi
- Robert C. Day
- Sara Codair
- Keith A. Kenel
- Sian Brighal
- Peggy Tustan
- Heather Stahley
- Ronel Janse van Vuuren
- Russel J. Fellows
Each person above has, in some way, been a pen pal to me on this writing journey. Each is versatile. More importantly, each is unique. I heard a moving quote last night in the most unexpected place: a Hollywood formula movie, Ghost in the Shell. Just goes to show you diamonds can be found in the mud. Here it is:
When we see our uniqueness as a virtue, only then will we have peace.