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Out on a limb like a monkey’s uncle

I just hit send on an email that was too long in the making. A real editor is going to take a look at one of my short stories, and it’s kind of terrifying. I’m sure it’s full of errors and clichés and poorly used idioms, despite my repeated attempts to edit them out. But I went out on limb and, though I held my breath when I did it, I clicked that button.

Perhaps there’s a comfort we feel when we hit a certain age and with that, a confidence to do something different and push our own boundaries. I’m inspired by people around me who do this.

I have a friend who is thinking of quitting her job and pouring herself full-time into her jewelry business. A past client opened a cute bottle shop in North Portland. My step-mom went back to school for her PhD when most people start to think about retiring. For all of us that “certain age” came at different decades in our lives.

The timing for me wasn’t right before now because of my own doing. My confidence was too low and my fear of rejection too high. I’d like to say that having kids inspired me to write, but really it was needing to have a moment to myself that did it. My husband and I now know that writing keeps me sane. I think it’s because I feel more confident about working and writing than I do about my parenting skills (more accurate to say skilz?). Probably because I’ve been doing the former two longer. See? Comfortable.

Despite my base reasons for starting to write, continuing to write does have an beneficial upside as a parent. It’s important for me to show my kids that finding a hobby and an outlet that makes them happy is an important part of their social and psychological development. Their eyes glaze over when I use those words, so I have to show them – By leaving them with their father for an evening and not letting them read what I wrote because they’re stories for grown-ups, thank-you-very-much.

So, maybe I have to keep working on showing them, just like I have to work on lots of things. At least at this point in my life I can do my best and have the confidence to know that it will be good enough. In fact, it might be really good. Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!

About those idioms: I’ve been kind of fascinated with them since I started writing again. Did you know that “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” dates from the Scopes trial about teaching evolution in school. And before that most people didn’t know or weren’t taught of evolution, despite Darwin’s best efforts. It’s things like this that will probably keep me too sidetracked to ever complete that novel.

A story in 36 minutes

Last Tuesday I went to the Mini Sledgehammer writing contest at Blackbird Wine on Fremont. It’s a writing contest that is put on by Indigo Editing here in Portland. We are given four prompts and have 36 minutes to write a story. Normally the shop is quiet except for the clicking of keys and scratching of paper, and when all is done everyone reads their creations. This time around the place was too loud with a wine tasting event – the gall of those people to drink wine at a wine shop!  – and both reading and judging were delayed.

I just found out I won!  Here is the story:

Prompts: Writer, Moving in, Vet’s office, “out of nowhere came” 

Simon, Ariel and the Cat.

When Ariel moved in with Simon she expected that he would be an eccentric roommate. He was a freelance writer, working on his second novel.

He paid for his little house with the advance from his first book. Not long after he closed on the house and got his keys he realized that the royalty checks weren’t as big as he imagined they would be. He decided to get a roommate.

Being a bit disorganized, combined with his focus on writing rather than living, he didn’t manage to unpack until Ariel decided to agree to live in his extra bedroom. Actually, she took the master bedroom. A caveat of living with him was that she was allowed to assume the largest bedroom and the adjoining bathroom. A princess needed her privacy, you know. And she was willing to pay a little extra for the privilege.

So Ariel’s moving day was Simon’s moving day. She unpacked quickly and efficiently, knowing that she would need to put her prickling feet up later. Some days the pins-and-needles were bad. Today they were worse.  

When she finally took a moment to lay back on her freshly made bed with the seafoam green duvet, she closed her eyes and hummed a little tune she knew from her childhood. She started to think of her father and the song trailed off. 

“Don’t stop,” Simon said from the doorway. “You have a beautiful voice.”

Ariel smiled and touched the base of her throat, but didn’t continue singing.

“Do you need any help unpacking?” Simon asked.

“I’m done,” Ariel said in her prim, high pitched voice. She swung her legs, both at once, off the bed. “Do you need any help?”

“Uh, I don’t – well, sure,” Simon said.

They unpacked the kitchen together, starting by throwing away all the pizza boxes and takeout containers that had accumulated over the past several weeks.

Ariel had been right about his eccentricism. Simon only owned a few plates, all mismatched. He enthusiastically told her about each of their stories as she put them in the cupboard. All told it took over an hour to clean up the kitchen and put away four plates.

They had moved on to the pans, pots and griddles in a large box in the middle of the room.

“Do you actually use these?” Ariel asked him.

“I love to cook, when I’m not writing,” Simon said. “You?”

“I never really had to cook for myself.”

“Oh,” Simon said, not really knowing what to make of that comment. “What do you like to do when you’re not,” Simon paused there, because he didn’t know what Ariel actually did. “Uh, in your free time.”

“I used to like to sing, but I don’t really any more. And I like to swim.”

“Oh, that’s good,” said Simon. “I’m not really into working out. Why don’t you sing anymore?”

“I used to sing with my sisters,” Ariel said, “It’s not actually much fun without them. And Eric got sick of it after a while.”

“That’s your ex?” Simon asked. He and Ariel had met through a mutual friend and had only met once before becoming roommates. They didn’t know a lot about each other.

“Yes,” Ariel said. “He turned out to be…not what I imagined.”

“I was married once, too,” Simon said. “She was a bitch.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ariel said. She turned prim again, uncomfortable with revealing her background. Out of nowhere came a cat that leapt up on the counter and stared at Ariel. “What’s that?” she said, startled. She was staring at the black and white cat, sitting on the counter.

“That’s Princess, my cat,” Simon said.

Ariel glared at the cat, who was still staring at Ariel, switching her tail back and forth, back and forth. The cat batted Simon’s arm away when he came toward her.

He held his arm and drew in a breath. “Damn! She is usually really sweet,” Simon said. She hissed at Ariel. “I’ve only ever seen her attack a goldfish. I don’t know what’s going on.”

A few minutes later, as they were waiting with the cat in the vet’s office, Simon said, “I don’t see why you had to hit her with a pan!”

“I’m sorry,” Ariel said, hoping she wouldn’t have to find a new place to live. “Cat’s just really freak me out.”

She peered down at the cat in the box on Simon’s lap. The cat stared back. Ariel considered it a victory that the cat looked away first.

[I’m taking the liberty of adding that last sentence now. I ran out of time to write it into my official entry, but I like it better now.]

I (sort of) WROTE (a rough draft of) A NOVEL (unfinished)!!

On a bit of a whim – which is how I tend to do most things – I decided at the end of October to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t like guessing at acronyms, that’s one for National Novel Writing Month. Admittedly, before October, I didn’t even know there was a NaNoWriMo. If you had asked me what it was, I may have even said “I don’t care,” and just walked away. Which is exactly what my husband did when I first asked him (he wasn’t trying to be mean, my timing was just really bad).

Anyway, the goal is to write the first draft of a novel, the equivalent of 50,000 words, in November. I started the month thinking that I would be happy with half of that. But now I’m at 50,248 words. I won!! And in NaNoWriMo terms that means getting access to this cool button!!

Okay, at least it’s not nothing.

The story isn’t done and it needs a lot of editing, but here’s an exerpt:
I spent the next couple of days in my room, by myself, allowing myself some self-pity, but I knew that it would be short-lived. I tried to call Peter a few times, but got the maid, who promptly hung up. Once I got his mother, who snorted before hanging up. I think I heard her say ‘trollop’ before she hung up. I heard the phone ring a few times, and I knew it was Peter. I think I found that I was glad when my mother or father hung up, as I was not prepared to have a conversation with him yet.

Did I mention the story isn’t done and needs a lot of editing? Keep in mind that the purpose was just to get the free-flowing words out on paper. And that there was some alone time and hanging up involved.

By the way: That husband who was grumpy at the top of this post? He spent a lot of evenings putting the kids to bed solo. Not always an easy task in our house. And he was amazingly supportive. He’s even started researching for me. He’s the coolest and I couldn’t have done it without him. Also, he’s never online and not on Facebook, so I can say things like this without him getting embarrassed.

Is December NaTerNoEdMo? (National Terrible Novel Editing Month?)

3 Minute Fiction

I finally submitted an entry for NPR’s 3 minute fiction contest. The rules are: 600 words or less, one charachter has to tell a joke and one has to cry. I had two entries, but could only submit one. Here’s the one that didn’t make the cut:

The Big Wheel                                    
“I might pass out,” I gasped.
“Don’t think about how high up we are,” James tried to reassure me. “What a beautiful view.”
James had been hesitant to go to Paris at first, not being much of a traveler. But I had dreamed of this trip, and any time he would suggest a city in the States my one word response was: “Paris.”
Finally we arrived. James was clearly in love.
I was shocked at the garbage, graffiti, panhandlers. Despite parts of it being beautiful, it was still a city with the same challenges we saw at home.
I tended to do this – to build up my expectations too high, and so I occasionally managed to create devastating disappointments for myself. I always thought the grass was greener elsewhere and didn’t seem to learn that lesson easily.

 

flickr/korakore

 

Despite my acute fear of heights, I let him talk me into going up in the Ferris wheel, La Grande Roué at Jardin de Tuileries, in an effort to renew the romantic mystique I could no longer find. But it was too late, the curtain had been pulled back.  
James began to tell jokes to distract me. “What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino?”
“Elephino,” I gulped. “New one, please.”
“Okay.” He thought for a moment, “What’s the quickest way to a man’s heart?”
“Don’t know.”
“Just smile. That’s how you won my heart.”
I rolled my eyes. “I was already fighting getting sick.”
He gave a weak grin and I realized guiltily that he was being earnest. “Any others?” I asked, trying to sound upbeat.
“What do you get when you cross a donkey and an onion?”
Just then the big wheel lurched to a halt. We were nearly at the top. I groaned as the car we were in swung like an autumn leaf threatening to part with its branch. I tried to focus on the Arc de Triomphe instead of failing bolts.  
“You know, it was only meant to stay up for a year.” During our stay James had developed a habit of conveying what we called factlets. This one was particularly ill-timed.
I must have turned white. “Not appreciated.” 90 feet below us other lucky riders were disembarking.
“I’m sorry!” He said “That was bad. I didn’t mean…” he trailed off.  
He put his arm around me through more stops and starts. Just the day before we had skipped the Eiffel Tower – James didn’t like the long line and I couldn’t face the spindly, looming frame. Now I was controlling my breathing, wishing to be earthbound, sad about Paris, mad that James insisted on this ride. I wiped the tears off the bridge of my nose.
 Out of the corner of my eye I saw James fumble with something in his pocket. Somehow I knew what it was as he held the little velvet box against his thigh. Not now, I thought. Maybe not ever.
“I feel like I’m going to be sick,” I said hurriedly, not giving him a chance to place it before me, pretending I hadn’t seen. “This is the worst idea,” referring not just to the ride.
We had finally reached the end. The attendant opened the door as James put the little box back in his pocket.

Let’s DO This Thing

For the record, let me just say that I think that people who Blog are crazy. They often share too much and are probably a little narcissistic. But there’s a “but.” I like to read them, it’s nice to see that others are as weird or normal or whatever as you, and it’s fun to write. And, maybe, I also find myself gazing at my reflection a little, too.

Not my lieteral reflection. It’s a little too uninteresting for my taste. I like a little bit of the exotic. But reflection in the dictionary’s “fixing of the thoughts on something” way. [I wanted to insert a pic of me looking reflective in a mirrored reflection. It was A) too silly and 2) Um, when did I get those sunspots?]

Last weekend I skipped my college reunion. Let’s just say it was my 10 year reunion. Just say. Instead I went with some girlfriends to the coast.We relaxed and drank fancy drinks and talked and had an impromptu dance party and talked more. (BTW, happy birthday Jen).

Arch Cape with the ladies

 

We weren’t there for any sort of retreat, but there were a few conversations that felt a little bit that way. We had a support group for floundering carreers. We had a kumbaya session on how we actually really like our husbands. I realize the cheeziness of it, but it was really nice. I left the weekend feeling really good about life and my place in the world.

As I was driving home I thought, no, reflected on this. I decided that I’m finally feeling inspired to actually write instead of talking about writing. So here it is. I have no idea who will read it, but it doesn’t really matter. I have friends who support me, kids who love me and a solid rock of a husband who both loves and supports me. I’m going to write whenever I can.

Then I got home and walked in to flopping, boneless, tantrumish kids. I realized that taxes were due and I hadn’t even started them. I was behind on paperwork for a couple of transactions for work. Ugh. What was I feeling just a moment ago? Inspired? Yeah, I’m having trouble locating that feeling again.

No, no, scratch that. The kids are fine, they just missed me. The taxes, after pulling my first all-nighter since the aforementioned college, are all done. The paperwork is fine thanks to my fabulous transaction coordinator. It’s all good.

Let’s DO this thing. I say this knowing that with so many projects I start out strong and energized and lose momentum a little too easily. I have some problems with follow-through. No, really I do.

So (for now) let’s DO this thing!