A Short Story of Improbability

Saving Galileo

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”  

– William Shakespeare

The café is crowded tonight but I have no patience for a crowd. Minutes will be lost in the long line for a Frappuccino, not to mention the relentless effort needed to secure even the smallest of tables-this will cost me precious writing time. A cold urine spot on my underwear rubs against my skin, adding to the increased frustration.

It amazes me how after a lifetime of daily practice I still can’t efficiently shake and squeeze the excess pee from my dick. A violent spasm takes over my right knee—my pressure valve. Perhaps I should just go back home and attempt to work through an eight-year-old’s constant demand for attention and the futile arguments of two teenage girls over phone time, nail polish, and all that’s trivial in the universe.

The words of my colleagues come to mind: “You are not a true writer until you have produced under the most deplorable conditions.” They’re quick to recite the words of the great Toni Morrison, who explained in an interview how she wrote around her baby’s vomit: “While I was writing he spit up orange juice on the manuscript, on the tablet that I was writing on and I distinctly remember writing around it because I thought I had this really perfect sentence that might not come back if I stopped and wiped up his puke.”

So, I resolve to abandon the romantic notion of a productive night to creamy Fraps, smooth jazz, and the comfort of unified chatter. Making my way through the customers, I head home determined to write around it…when I see Jake coming in. His left hand already in the air signaling for me to join him at a nice table near the windows that is freeing up. Confirming his invitation with a similar wave, I shout over a few heads to ask what he’s having.

“Tall Latte-no whipped cream!” He yells back taking off his coat and draping it over the chair.

Others have been waiting for more than fifteen minutes (their coffees turning cold) hovering over seated patrons, like hawks watching their pray from an elevated position. But not a minute through the double doors, Jake’s set up at one of the most sought after spots in the entire place. Lucky bastard.

Continue reading “A Short Story of Improbability”

Boss Bitches: Not a Lifestyle. Not a Trend. It’s who we ARE.

We are Boss Bitches. A force to be reckoned with. We’re the bad ass bitches who help you changing your tire. We play poker and enjoy cigars & cocktails before breakfast. We give to the needy and adopt too many strays.

We, Boss Bitches, speak at least two languages and respect (or at least accept) everyone’s opinions. We lift everyone up around us and deflect petty behavior. Inner strength, confident, and grit are our super powers. We look gorgeous in our own uniquely beautiful styles, and we are ALWAYS who we choose to be.

Like all Boss Bitches, we are capable, independent women, but not perfect. What some may consider our weaknesses, like addictions to shoes, caffeine, chocolate, or champagne, are just guilty pleasures we know we deserve. Most of all, real Boss Bitches live by one major rule of Boss Bitchdom: Never, ever, judge, question, or cross another Boss Bitch.

Is There Such a Thing As Imagination Exhaustion?

How do I know if I am suffering from IE (Imagination Exhaustion)?

I’m not sure how most people’s imaginations work. Not quite certain what sparks their creativity and other-worldly muses. It has been said that entertainers (from dancers, musicians, artists, writers and other creatives) tend to have an overactive imagination. Then, there’s the whole debate of right-brained versus left-brained people. Which is better, left or right? Verdict’s still out on that one, as it should be, because there is evidence to suggest each side has its pros and cons.

But right or left, imagination or muse, what I do know with certainty is I’m experience the birth of a new world (a world filled with characters and exotic backdrops and nail-bitting conflicts and plot twists) every time I blink.

There is a new story in every new smell, sight, sound, textured surface, and in every sweet or savory bite I take. There is a hidden hilltop vineyard mystery in every sip of Argentinian Malbec I have with dinner; An adventurous young woman traveling alone and navigating the  dynamic streets of Tangiers after sunset with every delicious bite of honey-soaked Baklava and gulp of sweet mint tea. The gentle Saturday breeze that sways the palm trees, takes me to a South Pacific shipwreck deep in the lush mangroves of New Caledonia where a crew of five will discovery who they truly are and what they are really capable of after being saved and nursed back to life by a people they assumed were savage cannibals.

The sad truth of it is, I am capable of filling volumes of encyclopedic-sized books with all the stories that traverse my brain, like the synaptic sparks that bounce back and forth and jump around spastically inside our gray matter all day long. Yet, when it comes to filling the blank pages to bring to life said stories with emotive, powerful prose, I am at a loss. The evidence? Simple. I have ventured thrice and succeeded thrice in completing three manuscripts – to the dozen or so stories I have started and abandoned, like discarded roadkill, unfinished and dismembered by the side of my long and frustrating witting path.

Is my struggle to complete so many fictional worlds, somehow connected to the fact that my brain, my imagination, is constantly being battered by an unstoppable storm of plot lines, heroes, villains, landscapes, conflicts and endings???

Do I have Imagination Exhaustion, or its less harmful cousin, Imagination Fatigue?

*Clinical/Medical Disclaimer: both Imagination Exhaustion and Imagination Fatigue or terms I have fictionalized/created for the purposes of this post. These are NOT actual medical conditions that I am aware of or have done any actual valid research on. If interested in these terms more seriously or if you are suffering from any unexplained side effects, please call your doctor immediately or seek help at your nearest emergency room.

From Writer to Scribe – Proof Handwriting Can = Creativity

I’ve been hearing the experts say that they all start by handwriting their stories before taking to the keyboard. Most of them confess to writing an average of 100 pages into a book before they switch over to their preferred tech.

They also say they always travel with small notes or their journals to be able to write down wayward thoughts, unexpected ideas or dialogue while eavesdropping.

I will admit, as much as I say I want to live the life of a writer, I confess with some shame that I do not employ these strategies or follow these solid fragments of writing wisdom.

I do keep journals with tons of ideas, story beginnings (more of them than I care to count) – but for the most part, the writing in my journals or notebooks happens while I am sitting in front of the laptop staring at the blank page.

This maybe why I have struggled with forward movement lately. This maybe why I have been story-hopping from one unfinished manuscript to the next – I’ve clearly lacked direction.

This morning, despite having decided I would sleep in during my Fall break from school, I popped out of bed at 8:11 a.m. and decided why not just stay up. I felt unusually awake and didn’t even feel a need to pump myself full of caffeine to start my writing day. I simply made the necessary stop at the bathroom, concluded my morning routine and headed – not to the laptop – but grabbed a brand new notebook I had bought at an office supply depot the previous day, I reached for the nearest pen (without scrutiny for type or color) and began the first sentence that had prompted my out of bed.

Once my hand leaned onto the soft white of the page and the sharpness of the pen’s tip scraped across the light blue lines of the college-ruled paper, something entirely different took over my hand, my brain and my direction. I found it difficult to stop or even slow down. My fingers struggling to keep up with the words pouring out and filling each page, one after another, after another. Not much care for word choice – something that too often paralyzes me when I am typing out a first draft – there was very little attention to structure in a conscious way. I trusted this character in my head that was guiding me through her story – I listened as she dictated and instead of the writer, I became her scribe. I stopped focusing all my efforts on being the storyteller – you see as the main storyteller I had to keep asking myself the tedious and often futile question: what would my character do next?

As a scribe, I was no longer in charge. She was and I wrote it. She felt and I say so. She pondered, questioned, lost herself in a stream of consciousness and I followed, writing it all down FOR HER, not for me. You see, this girl doesn’t care about style, structure, plot points, or adverbs, synonyms or beautiful prose – this girl has gone through something and she just wants to tell her story in the hopes that someone out there will listen, connect, learn and heal – perhaps in a way she never could.

And so, instead of heading to the keyboard, where I am instantly reminded that I am trying to be a writer, I will pull out her journal again and continue to trace the events of her story as she decides to lay them out for me; for us. I will try my hand at handwriting, like the experts the way Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman suggest we ought to.

Back to the Problem of…TOO MANY STORIES…12 to be exact…

(Reviving an old post because it is still very much my Achilles Heel)…Figuring out what to write can be quite messy and time-consuming when you have drawers and drawers & files, upon file folders of story ideas you’ve collected over the decades. I continue to  tell  myself I WILL commit to a project/idea and see it through to the end – hence the whole commitment thing – it’s about staying with it, persevering and not flaking out when 10 other story ideas come calling.

Still, I waver, I fail at this commitment thing. I think I am actually my own enabler – I have these cool, out-of-the-blue sparks of imagination and I allow them to hijack me away from my current project.

This act becomes a very convenient way to tell myself, “You’re still writing, brainstorming, plotting, whatever….you’re still engaged in that which they call the “writer’s life” right?

After all, you are breathing life into this tiny spark of an idea with every character sketch, every plot point and every metaphor you invent.

In short, I have become my own worst roadblock. I don’t suffer from “Writer’s Block” – instead I am perpetually infected with the “Me Block.” Instead of doing what the great Margaret Atwood advises me to do in the afternoons as I listen actively to her Masterclass (on repeat almost daily) – instead of sticking to it….instead of listening to her words: “A word, after a word, after a word, is powerful,” I digress.

For now, I will march onward with my sketches, and brainstorming and plotting and imagining…but at some point…if I am to be a writer, I will have to choose one of these lovelies and just write, one word after another (a la Atwood) until the entire manuscript is complete – until I type the MOST COVETED two words for any writer: THE END.

Can A New Endeavor Mean Returning To An Old ONE?

Not sure if this “getting stuck” between projects happens to many writers, but tonight I decided to stop wasting time with the mind-juggle that is the constant concern/question over which of the gazillion projects I have in progress I should tackle next? I have finally D E C I D E D – I heeded the wise warning of Joyce Carol Oats in her Masterclass session, where she reminded me that writers get a very necessary (albeit brief) boost of energy and satisfaction from finishing a first draft.

And so, my stubborn fantasy YA novel, which will not desist anyway, despite months of being trapped and  ignored in a writing folder labeled “Pending Projects” – has been LIBERATED! My protagonist is now officially out and free to roam the blank pages of my word document–feeling unencumbered as I tap on the quiet keys of my laptop and carve her a path to a (hopefully) satisfying ending; one in which she will discover a new self and forfeit the crown she has coveted, to its rightful heir. A draft I will no doubt edit and revise and edit and revise and edit and revise and edit…

When Is a Creative Writing Exercise a Potential Novel?

How does a writer know when their writing project has become more than just a creative exercise? Can the writer, who is so close to the work, ever be objective enough about his or her manuscript to know if this story or that plot line, is THE ONE? Aside from the help of a few beta readers, who, as we all know, harbor their own prejudices and preferences, are writers equipped to determine if our current projects have what it takes to make it?

I ask, in all honesty, because there is so much effort, time and tears devoted to the painstaking process of writing our novels, I find it necessary to explore the answers to these questions.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say with certainty, that working on the “wrong” story can be likened to being sucked into a black hole–a place in which you lose all sense of time, reality and awareness.

You give yourself over to a project you believed (once) had merit, only to surface months, or even years, later realizing you’ve made a costly mistake–that you’ve chosen to pour all your valuable time as a writer into a story that simply doesn’t work.

Whether it be that you’ve discovered you were writing in the wrong genre, or you know your plot line or characters have derailed in a way (no story ought to), in the end, the truth is that you’ve sunk your precious resources into something that will not produce positive results (except perhaps the learning experience of knowing–in the future–what not to do).

I don’t claim to have the answers. But, I know, as a teacher of seventeen years (who employs the Socratic Method), that it is crucial to ask the right questions, in an effort to explore our options.

  1. What signs might help writers identify he or she is working on the wrong project?
  2. Is there such a thing as a “wrong” project when all writing experiences teaches us something in the end?
  3. Can we trust completely in our beta readers to identify a viable and potential success story?
  4. Are writing groups a place to seek help from likeminded folks or are all writers from from a different cloth?
  5. Are there forums out there that share these types of experiences in order to warm others against pitfalls?
  6. Is it feasible to think a writer might be able to decide on a project and ever be certain of its merit and potential?
  7. Are all our writing efforts seeds we watch grow without knowing if they are weeds?

There are endless questions and, no doubt, endless answers to this issue. As I continue to learn from my writing experiences, I will continue to post the knowledge I acquire along the way. As I am still very very green (with only three solid years devoted the serious craft of creating fiction), I will end this post by predicting, I will be sharing lots more, as I have much to learn.

As We Return To Learning: What Should We Really Teach?

As anger and frustration continue to feed civil unrest throughout the streets of our nation, what is a teacher’s responsibility to the social structure of a broken “promise land” and its children?

 

Can we ever fully engage in the teaching of equations, equilaterals, and equivalents; all terms based on the root word EQUAL, while outside our classroom windows and within the walls of our very schools, inequality and injustice persist?

How do we continue to look the other way and ignore the numbers?

 

How do we blind ourselves to the undeniable data that states black and brown children (not criminals, not adults, not even young adults, but elementary school-aged children) are disproportionally suspended at alarmingly higher rates than their white counterparts? That less than 2% (and in some school, even less than 1%) of the literature covered includes people of color or black authors? How do we account for the constant, and all too common footnote, something as horrific as slavery has become in our school’s history books?

As a 20+ year veteran of the public school system (spanning the nation from Miami, to Philadelphia and most recently in Hawaii), I am ashamed of the current state of our curriculum. I have pushed to break the mold and fought against prescribed instruction to showcase black, brown and under-represented voices in my classroom for decades. I teach Anne Frank’s Diary side by side with The Freedom Writers Diary and the history of the atrocities of Holocaust alongside the history of the Civil Rights Movement in a “That Was Then, This Is Now” unit spanning decades of oppression and brutal inequality. And, that is great for my students whose core knowledge is broadened by greater truths beyond the pages of the whitewashed textbooks! But, one teacher is not enough. One hundred of us is not enough. A thousand doesn’t cut it either. We must have the difficult and honest conversations about the inequality within our own curricula and our learning materials, our units, or presentations and what narrative we choose to expose students to.

No teacher should sell a particular narrative that slants this way or that. Learning is not a partisan game (or a game of any kind for that matter). Teachers are luminaries. Not in a superpowers “luminary” kind of way, but in the true sense of the word, to shine a light on. We are meant to show students the truth (not just part of it). We can no longer afford to leave out the uncomfortable side of history from the learning process because it is challenging to address. It must be address and it is THEM, the students, who should be leading the conversation. Our job as teachers is to facility civil discourse and keep tabs on each student’s mastery of the subject matter, not to lead or inject discussions with our agendas, or poison their minds under the dishonest veil of “heritage.”

Let’s present students with the facts. Let them do the tough research. Let them discover the uncomfortable truths of life and of our country’s history….and then, let them speak. Listen. Let them listen to each other (and if you’re an English teacher like me, help them write a power persuasive paper that can be printed in a collection of student work which gives their voice ultimate power).

Am I Being Too Sensitive? Perhaps…but I’m a Writer Damn It!

I recently saw a post asking for reasons why a writer might reconsider submitting their manuscript to #PitchWars.

Here is what I answered, plus an additional explanation (beyond the Twitter word limit):

Sadly, I struggle with writing (I need support) But when I entered last year-I never heard back. I waited-wishing & hoping-eager for any criticism-I’m open to even the most critical critiques – anything would’ve been better than being left in the dark thinking, “I’m not worthy.”

I know it sounds like I’m committing the ultimate writing sin: doubting myself and my work.

But let us be truly honest. The fact is, that even the greatest writing legends, the Pulitzer Prize winners and the praise-worthy minds in literature of all time, at some point, were stricken by self-doubt. Many of those writers were supported by personal fans or loved ones who urged them along. While, others, the ones that got harsh criticism or ridicule, were fueled by the desire to “show them all” it could be done; that their writing could be good, even publishable.

So, what do these two writer-types have in common, you may ask. The answer in one word is: FEEDBACK. Whether they received tender words of encouragement or cruel rejection letters, the fact remains they get some sort of feedback to act on – to (perhaps even) guide them. The smallest piece of advice can mean a great deal to struggling writers.

In short, after slaving over my manuscript for years, when I finally decided on Pitchwars – after researching and reading over the editors’ pages for hours to ensure I was sending my story to the right person, so it would be the right fit (and what they were specifically looking for on their “wish list”) – I clicked the send button and sat back and waited…and waited…and waited. I was beyond excited to receive the email confirmation that they had received my submission and I waited…and I waited….and I waited. Their decision time came and went and I never heard back from anyone. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the thousands of submissions they must receive and the difficult task of getting back to everyone who submitted – but I guess I figured, if the eternally ultra-busy Harlequin publishing company can email me a form letter to explain their choice to reject my manuscript, I figured PitchWars could’ve too.

Therefore, this year, I’m not sure I have the courage to put my work out there again and have it go completely ignored. I would, if I knew I’d get at least  a single line that read: “We regret your mss is not a good fit for us.” But, the thought that I will get NOTHING back again is heartbreaking.

I am without resentment, and very happy for all the writers they help and have helped in the past get ready for their publishing showcase.  But maybe this year (in a year where I feel I cannot take any more defeat) I might stick to my inspirational sessions and rewatch the GREAT and incomparable Margaret Atwood in her very pragmatic Masterclass, and continue to bang away at the keys. In her own words, “A word, after a word, after a word is power.”

Or maybe, by Sept. 27, I might decide to resubmit and try and try again. After all, that is the business. IDK.