You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2012.

Embarrassment is so unfortunate. It strikes in moments when you know it shouldn’t, or when you’ve accepted it and moved on. It disagrees and sticks around, nagging you like a little brother. I never had a little brother, but I had a lot of embarrassment growing up and even now, and I’ll tell you one thing: I wish I’d had a younger brother instead.

I’m pretty sure embarrassment is why I can’t play with toys anymore. I should be embarrassed about saying that aloud, but I’m not. I wish I could play with toys still. I can’t–I don’t know how. I’m pretty sure embarrassment is the reason why, even if I’m by myself. Here I am, twenty-four years old, trying to make little toys talk to each other. Doesn’t work.

See? Embarrassment is silly. I’m not worried about you knowing I wish I still knew how to play with toys. But I’m embarrassed when it gets down to actually trying.

Here’s another example: I’m in Pittsburgh for the weekend. (I wish I could stay forever and ever but that’s a different story.) It’s a three hour drive from where I live. Within about 15 minutes I’m tired of driving.

So I thought, “This would be the perfect time to write!”

Wrong.

I wasn’t going to pull out pen and paper and try and scribble furiously as I’m navigating through the mountains on the turnpike. I’m not that stupid. But I have a voice recorder on my phone and, well,  what a perfect way to write a story! I can transcribe it later. I mean, when I’m typing out a story I usually think out the sentence in my head before ever typing it down. I do it a lot.

Let me tell you–it’s hard. Here I am, the only person in my car, and yet the minute I start talking at my phone I freeze. I got a few good sentences in and then start saying, “Haha, I can’t do this!”

This is where embarrassment is unfortunate. The voice recorder idea is genius. I could do it while walking the dog, while on the treadmill, while doing any number of things. And yet I can’t get over being embarrassed, even though no one is paying me any mind and even though you never have to hear the recording (only I do) and even though I could write so much more. It all comes from the same place–me.

So my goal for the trip back: Get. Over. The. Embarrassment.

That’s gonna be hard.

I won’t lie to you. I’m not a feminist or politically active or a speaker for social justice. I believe in a lot of things, and I’d like to believe that a lot of them are good, but I also tend to think nothing will change, so why bother?

It’s a great way to believe in the world at twenty-four.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my opinions or that the way of the world doesn’t get me down, sometimes. And one of those things is views on women, at least in the United States.

Every magazine I look at while standing in line to buy apples or a Reece’s bar (depending on my mood and the time of day and if Saturn aligns with Jupiter directly over my back porch–oh, wait, I don’t have a back porch) has a picture of a woman on it. And half of them are famous women, and half of them are famous women who lost ten pounds! can teach you her tricks! look sexy in bed!

Unfortunately, the magazines for young girls aren’t much better. I don’t know what the headlines say, but it’s more of the same thing, except rather than it being a thirty-five-year-old woman dressed in a stringy summer dress and enough makeup that you’d never recognize her with a clean face in the am, it’s young girls.

Did you hear me? Even a sixteen-year-old shouldn’t have to put on a clown face every morning. But they do.

It’s no wonder that girls as young as eight are worried about being fat. That mothers put their daughters on diets, that women kill themselves at the gym because, yeah, they fucked up and ate a pint of ice cream on a bad day. It’s no wonder that even confident women, somewhere along the way, will cater themselves to what society thinks makes them beautiful and better.

Women who are more attractive are more likely to be hired for a job position. Did you know that? Does it surprise you? Probably not.

I could even get into my own personal experiences with it. What made me think about it was the fact that in a moment of frustration, of being sad, among the good thoughts (I’ll go for a run, I’ll walk my dog, I’ll go to the gym, I’ll write) and the bad thoughts (where’s my ice cream?, I want a beer, someone turn on the TV, why don’t I smoke again?) was the worst of them all: If I could just get away right now, go to a bar in a dress that makes my legs look hot and my chest perky, and got hit on by one guy, I’d feel better.

You know what’s sad? It’s true. I’d feel better. And I’d be caught in less guilt than that pint of Half-Baked ice cream (which I didn’t eat, thank you very much). I don’t think of myself as an unconfident woman, either. I’m pretty happy, I don’t look like the bottom of a boot, and when I put my mind to something, I’m pretty damn smart.

But rather than even wanting approval for my ideas or my abilities to make me feel better (they’re nice to hear but easier to brush off), all I wanted was a sleezy comment and a superficial ego boost.

There’s something bad with the mentality there, and that thought shocked me.

Then I went back and thought about the very last two books I read.

The two girls were similar: they were more or less loners, with one friend or fewer, and the popular girls hated them. They hated their life until a boy came along, the populars learned a lesson (even if to just leave her alone), and finally she could move on.

Also surprising: they were pretty girls.

It’s starting to seem like 60% of books with a female protagonist are about a mildly above average attractive girl who has little to no social life until a boy comes along and everything changes. They also don’t seem to mind their solitude–in fact, they relish it and bear it like a burden of pride.

Even books that I love follow a similar principle, though I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on why (if you can’t touch someone without killing them, making friends would be reasonably hard).

So why does that have to be? Why is there the pretty girl with no life and then her hero? And don’t forget the Queen Bee–she’s beautiful and bitchy and she’ll run you over. Who doesn’t love her?

There you go. The state of our world in grocery stores, malls, and fiction novels.

Don’t be surprised when the next generation of girls are neurotic, unconfident women wearing clown makeup. That’s what we’ve been made to be.

Are you familiar with flash fiction? If not, I think you should be. Or maybe that’s because I’m biased.

There are no real rules for flash fiction. Well, there are, but it’s hard to standardize them. Some people view it as a piece that is 500 words or less. 200 words or less. 1000 words or less.

1000 words is my view of a good cutoff before you’ve very firmly stepped into the “short story” realm.

Vignettes are a little different. They’re short moments in the same way that flash fiction is, but flash fiction is very similar to the short story in that it has some sort of closure, even if it’s closure that the reader infers.

Either way, I like them both.

I normally write flash fiction, and short stories, as well. Flash fiction happens more often because it’s brief and in twenty minutes I’m done with an idea, and happy, and ready to edit once I’ve let it sit aside. But I like them both the same and I think they’re both underrated.

Vignettes… Really, I’m unsure. I like moments of anything. Of happiness, disconcert, horror. But I can’t tell you that I honestly understand the difference between a vignette and a piece of flash fiction. Just that they’re both quick moments, and that sometimes… I think there are pieces that ride a fine line between the two.

I have a new goal for myself, in the same way that I always have new goals for myself.

Have you ever been to the site oneword.com? If you haven’t, it’s wonderful. And simple. You’re given one word every day. You write for sixty seconds in response to that word and then you’re done. Of course, you can do this as many times as you want in a day, but I used to find it exhilarating. I used it all the time when I was in high school, and some when I was in college, and I probably have over 15,000 words of 60-second vignettes or stories. Some of them turned into longer stories.

I’m not necessarily using that site, though I might if I am starving for inspiration. But I want to do the same thing, every day. I want to write a moment. Any moment, whether from something I saw on the bus or some idea that passed through my mind. (My apologies–not everything that passes through my mind is happy.) They’re going to be unedited. There won’t be a time limit, but there will be a word limit. My goal is under 200 words. Two a day. Maybe they will be stories and maybe they will be character sketches or maybe they’ll just be words. They’re not perfect but they’re fun to write and I’ll post them every once in a while. Whether they’re good or bad or just something I did.

Of course, I’ll still be writing other things and if one of them turns into something more… who am I to stop it? But that’s why I want to use it, just to start something in the first place.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s nice to say that you have a muse, perhaps a beautiful woman with flowing hair and a soft voice and pouty lips; she sings the words and ideas to you like a lullaby. Maybe it’s a fat man with grease stains on his shirt, smoking a cigar and shouting until you get your fat ass out of bed and back to writing.

Whatever they look like, muses can come in handy.

But, here’s the problem with the way a few people view the muse: it’s thought of as that random spark of imagination, that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that says if you don’t get it out right now the world will never see those words. If there is no muse, no desire to write, writing is hard and nearly impossible, and whatever comes out will be trash, anyway, so why not wait till the muse comes knocking on your skull again?

False.

I’ll grant you that there are certain types of writing that benefit from the muse.

Poetry, for instance.

It’s so dependent on your words, that having that stroke of knowing just what to write helps. At least it does for me, because then I don’t forge ahead blindly and start to rhyme because there’s nothing better for me to do.

But you can still write without the muse, no matter your genre and style.

Writing, as much as anything else, is forming a habit. I’ve said this before, and I’m not saying I’m great at habits. I’ve broken a few recently, and then I brush the back of my pants off and start trucking. Again.

But it’s a habit. Sure, inspiration and stroke of genius helps. It gets the desire to be creative or to explore an idea moving. Unfortunately, that’s not something you can rely on.

You can rely on yourself and your ability to think things through and, sometimes, yes, force something out.

The muse is basically that habit you’ve formed, churning out more ideas because you need more, because it knows you want to sit and write and fill the page more, more, more

Have you ever said, “Oh, I used to write so much back then, but I had so many more ideas!” Did you ever think that your writing fueled those ideas? And those ideas generated more writing, until you had a cycle where it was all you could do to not sit scribbling everywhere you went, maybe even as you ordered food at the drive through. (When you’re in a frenzy, there’s no time for cooking!)

So here’s what I propose to you and myself: Just write.

The more you write, the easier it will become. It’s why after you get through those first, struggling 1000 words in a story, you can’t stop until the scene’s done or until you get to the next act or the new character or–wait, or until the story is over.

And if your argument is there’s nothing for you to write about, just think. Use anything. No, prompt books don’t always have the story your heart is crying to write, but when you start writing, maybe you’ll stumble on a different story you never thought of. They can help when you’ve dug yourself in a trench and are too frightened to poke your head out.

Go outside. People watch or see what nature’s up to when you’re flitting from work to home to work again. She’s a tricky lady and might give you inspiration. If you see an ice-covered sidewalk, put a woman in there. Maybe she’s young or maybe she has six toes. Maybe she trips and someone helps her, and they fall in love even though she has a mole on her upper lip. Maybe no one helps her and she lies there, back to the ground, knowing that this moment defines her life.

Those sound like they could be stories, right?

Better yet, when your muse stops by and you just can’t write in that moment, write it down. I have a journal just of ideas and license plate states and quotes. If I can’t write or can’t think of anything to write, I flip through there and try something on. If it doesn’t fit, I try until I’m exhausted, but at least I had a handful more words than before I started.

The muse is a fickle thing, and it’s really just you admitting defeat and deciding that’s not what you want to do today. The problem is that when you don’t write today because your muse didn’t stop by, you might not do it tomorrow, either, if inspiration doesn’t strike.

And just as luck can run out, I think inspiration can, too, and your muse might abandon you if you stop looking for them.

Follow me on twitter!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.