You Are Who You Are

I didn’t make any resolutions for 2017 (other than my Year of Austerity project, which I’d say was about 85 percent successful and has already been extended into year two) but the one goal that is always in the back of my mind is to write more and potentially make something of myself as a creative writer someday. Like tens of thousands of other wannabe writers out there, I have a gut feeling that I could be a very successful writer, but I’m not putting in the effort required to make that happen. However, over the last few years, I have been increasing the amount of writing I do, and 2017 turned out to be a quite prolific year. Here are my writing accomplishments that I feel proud of.

  • If you’ve been following me from the beginning, you might have noticed how much more I blogged this year compared to other years, especially last year. I’ve been more conscious about considering my experiences from a blogging perspective and getting my thoughts typed out. If nothing else, someday this blog will be a fun record of my life to look back on.
  • I filled three pen and paper notebooks with exercises and travel notes and random ideas that popped into my head during the day. I’ve kept a notebook in my purse or backpack and made more time on my adventures to write everything down. Doing so has helped me blog more because it’s kind of unbelievable how fast what you think are strong, meaningful thoughts fly out of your head and are lost forever unless you took note of them somewhere. I’ve also been more intentional about making time to brainstorm story ideas, which is easier to do when you always have a notebook with you.
  • I joined a critique group that meets monthly. Having a regular deadline and not wanting to waste an opportunity to get feedback on my work are huge motivators for me. I’ve written a few short stories and flash fiction pieces, like the Danielle stories I posted last week. I’ve also sketched out ideas for dozens more short stories that I haven’t put any significant work into yet.
  • Meeting someone who is on the same writing wavelength as me has also got me writing much more frequently. Ironman and I write together a few times each week, doing prompts before we call each other and reading them out loud, using them to generate new ideas or pull little tidbits of unique phrasing for reuse elsewhere. And most days when we don’t write together, I still do a prompt on my own to keep up the habit.

So even though I haven’t published anything yet (after all, I can’t publish anything if I don’t submit and I haven’t done that either), I’m happy with the progress I’ve made and I’m feeling good heading into 2018 about achieving even more. But exactly what more will look like remains to be seen. A fair amount of the writing I’ve done this year has been journaling, essays, and other introspective work, which has led to some interesting revelations about myself and my life circumstances. I have had several moments this year in which I threw down my pen in astonishment and said out loud, “Oh my God, that’s what was happening!”

One of those, which doesn’t really rise to the “pen-throwing-in-astonishment” level, is that I’m a pattern seeker. Grammar has always been a strong suit of mine and I’m a strong editor (though not always of my own work and I make no apologies for that). I can talk for days about the grammar of foreign languages that I can’t speak two words of. I’ve been freelancing as a standardized assessment question specialist for over eight years because I’m good with rubrics and rules and following specific requirements.

But somehow, I’ve never put together that I’ve been this way since childhood and I’ve always come up short on uniqueness. I’ve been down on myself at times over the past few years for not being more creative, thinking that I used to be so imaginative and inventive as a child, but the truth is, I never was. I enjoyed crafts immensely, but only ones in which I was following a pattern. I spent many evenings and weekends doing paint-by-number, latch hook, Spirograph, perler bead kits, and bake it sun catcher kits. I also enjoyed many other solitary pursuits that involved patterns: jigsaw puzzles and word games, for example.

The times I got creative, I was generally copying something I had done in school. One time we built dioramas in shoe boxes in art class, and then I went on a diorama kick, making a dozen of them. Yes, I made all kinds of them, but ultimately, I was copying that original pattern. I engaged in this obsessive copying with all kinds of art projects we did. As an adult taking part in those trendy paint-and-sip classes, I found myself irked by the people who didn’t follow the template. I might change a color or two, but I always made the painting we were supposed to make and I was disgusted by the people who went completely off the rails. I took some art classes and excelled at assignments that involved taking an existing work and modifying it somehow. But to make something completely out of my head has always been an impossible task.

Which brings me back to my writing. It’s obvious now why I struggle so much with creativity and finding a unique angle. Some parts of who I am are immutable. But I won’t allow this understanding of myself to be a deterrent. The creative writing muscle needs to be exercised and needs regular practice. I have come up with a few short story ideas this year that I believe are unparalleled in the great corpus of American writing. I’m proud of them and will likely give them another hard edit in the coming year and then start shopping them around. I’ll keep working on more ideas as well, and I’m willing to bet that I’ll have some pen-dropping moments with my fiction this coming year.

Flash Fiction: Danielle (Version 2)

Danielle dabbed her nose with the powder puff one last time and then stared at herself in the mirror. Every stroke of cosmetic and wisp of hair was expertly applied or fixed, thanks to many hours of practice and guidance from the pleasant accent of Laurraine, the former French model turned YouTube guru. A dark brown mascara lengthened her lashes, clump free. A light pink blush gave her whole face a healthy glow. A modest shade of lipstick made her thin lips stand out just the appropriate amount for an office environment, although if she wanted them to stay that way she would have to be more attentive to her habit of licking them. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, as it always was, except today it was higher up, on the crown of her head, and a small section was wrapped around the elastic to hide it and give the look a professional polish. She wore a sweater dress with a turtle neck, a fashion choice with a practical purpose.

That was it. She glanced at the clock. Right on time for the final preparation. She spun to the side and leaned down to take the suede heels out from beneath her vanity. They weren’t new – they were hand-me-downs from another internet mentor, Erica, who Danielle had met in a chat room and connected with immediately. Danielle had been practicing for the last few months with a pair of pumps she had bought from a thrift store, the only place she felt comfortable making such a purchase, but when the timeless soft, camel-brown heels arrived unexpectedly in the mail last week, she knew she couldn’t wear anything else for her first day. Those shoes were experienced at guiding women through this major life change. They had been a gift to Erica from her mentor, and now Erica was passing them on to her. Danielle believed that Erica had her new life all figured out. She had gone through the same fears and derision, both from those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand and from self-inflicted means. She had come out on top, happy, as Danielle believed she would be from this day forward.  Continue reading →

Flash Fiction: Danielle (Version 1)

Danielle dabbed her nose with the powder puff one last time and then stared at herself in the mirror. Everything was just as she had practiced one hundred times in the safety of her own bathroom, with extensive guidance from Miss Julie Rocket on YouTube. Her mascara doubled her lashes, without clumps. Her blush and highlighter made the apples of her cheeks shiny and bright and bubbly, even when her perfectly lined and glossed lips were not stretched into a full and genuine smile, though she expected they would be this whole night, despite her nerves. Her hair rose almost a foot off the crown of her head in a beehive any 1950s housewife would be envious of, and was anchored by an entire packet’s worth of bobby pins. A scarf printed with little anchors was prettily tied around her neck, a display of false modesty with a more practical purpose.

That was it. She was ready for her moment, except for one last thing. She swiveled her knees to the side of her chair and leaned down to take the clear lucite platform heels out from beneath the vanity. They weren’t new; they were hand-me-downs from Susabelle, who had been a mentor to Danielle during these last few months. Danielle had practiced at home with a different pair, but for her debut, she needed to wear these. These heels were experienced, not only on the stage but also in guiding the wearer through such an important transformation. Susabelle was such a professional that it was impossible to believe she had ever been anyone else, but she had, just like Danielle. She had gone through the same fears and the same derision, both self-inflicted and from those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand. But she had emerged from those initial dark months beautiful, successful, and happy, as Danielle believed she would be from this night forward.    Continue reading →

Brother Knows Best

Or at least my brother may have a better memory for the geographical history of our family vacations than I do. When I went to Idaho over the July 4th holiday, I believed that I had stepped foot into the one state I had never been to. But that might not have been true. While I was in Kansas last week for Thanksgiving, my brother and I were discussing the places we had been to in the Kansas City area as children…which according to him, were none. I distinctly remember being in Missouri and visiting the Jesse James house, but my brother says that never happened. According to him, we visited a bank in Minnesota that James had robbed.

Then I thought about it some more and realized yes, it’s quite possible that I never did make it to the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas quartet. Well, shoot. But if that’s true, at least Kansas and Missouri are now knocked off the list for real.

And I mean, I’ve really done Kansas. All the way from the border with Colorado 424 miles across I-70 to Kansas City and back. I left the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and took two days for the eastbound trip. My plan was to stop and see all the kitsch sites along the way, because there are many: a giant Van Gogh painting, truckhenge, world’s largest collection of the smallest versions of the largest things…need I go on? A collection of Americana perfect for the ultimate Heartland road trip. Continue reading →

Sanctuary 2.0: Gratitude

Ok, yes, it’s cliché to write about what you are thankful for on Thanksgiving. Several-years-ago-me would have rolled my eyes at the thought, just as I rolled my eyes at all things holiday related because of the commercialism and forced nature of it. I still despise the commercial side and don’t decorate or celebrate in any big way (because by the time Christmas rolls around we’ve been subject to decorations and holiday music for two goddamn months already in every store and on every street corner!), but I have adapted slightly and brought a little holiday spirit into my life in my own way.

Adult life goes by fast. I mean, remarkably fast. I look back on events that happened five years ago with certainty that they only happened a few months ago. Sometimes it takes literally months of planning and trial and error to finally get together with a friend for lunch because our schedules are so hectic and rapidly changing. And I still am unconvinced that 40 is just around the corner. So, the way I see it now, it’s nice to have a day on the calendar dedicated to giving your beloved some extra attention, to appreciating your parents, or to reveling in the fact that you are alive on this amazing planet for another year. It doesn’t have to be commercial at all. There doesn’t have to be a big sit-down dinner or a parade or a massive family picnic. It’s about taking a moment. And so, especially because my life satisfaction level is currently around 96%, today I’m taking a moment to write about what I am thankful for in my life. Continue reading →

Boulderites Aren’t Unique…And That’s Good!

I grew up on the east coast where people are aggressive, angry, and closed off. Then I lived in Russia for several years, where people are closed off, angry, and aggressive. And then I moved to Boulder. Boulder is a magic land. Boulderites sincerely welcome newbies into their friend group. They mean what they say and do what they promise. They are genuinely happy for the success of those around them and the fact that others are out enjoying nature and leisure time as much as possible. I’ve never been in another place where people always smile at each other as they pass by on the street or a trail and where strangers so frequently strike up conversations beyond small talk with one another. When I exit our magical borders, I kind of expect the whole rest of the world to be in a Mad Max state of affairs.

OK, that’s all a bit of an exaggeration, but my point is, I believe Boulder is an anomaly, so when I travel somewhere else and find people every bit as lovely as they are at home, I’m surprised…and thrilled! And this was my experience in Dallas. I recently spent 11 days in the city where big things happen and had a wonderful time. Everywhere I went people were friendly and open and pleasant, and I don’t only mean the people I was with. Shopkeepers, servers, bartenders, gas station attendants, and so many people I encountered seemed to be in a great mood, and that made my trip even better. Continue reading →

A Brief, Half-Assed, Unsuccessful Attempt at Being Vegan

I love meat. Bacon, medium-rare steak, charcuterie platters, Buffalo style chicken wings, those little cubes of ham in a salad bar, a big greasy cheeseburger, and anything and everything that comes from the ocean. I’ve tried horse, dog, tongue, bone marrow, monkey brain, chili powder coated grasshoppers, and most recently, snapping turtle. So why would I try being a vegan?

That’s a good question! I, much like you I suspect, have heard the spiels about animal abuse, environmental pollution, unsustainability, unsanitary food processing conditions, etc. over and over. They don’t convince me. That’s not the same as saying I don’t believe them. I do believe that most of what I hear about the negative consequences of our daily meat consumption is true, but those consequences simply aren’t enough to spur me into action. Continue reading →