REAL LIFE: Piss, Coffee, and Vomit

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Christ, but looking at this picture makes me feel ill. We may have to change blog names. Photo via unsplash.com, photographer Daniel Ruswick.

Hi there. You are, right now, wondering why there’s no Friday review up yet. Of course you are. You’re one of the five people who read my blog. Six, if I count Mom. Hi, Mom.

Well, let me tell you. I’ve got a review together. It’ll go up later. Today, for a limited time only, I want to vent about my morning. No, no, stick around. It’s funny. Horrible, but funny.

I woke up at six o’clock this morning, so I could bus into work (thirty five miles away from where I live and down an interstate highway. The Things We Do For Job.) and still somehow deposit my paycheck, which I needed right in the bankhole for rent-paying purposes. You can already guess from the past tense how this is going.

Before boarding my second bus of the day, I had a huge cup of coffee. Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

This bus is about an hour’s ride. Yes, you read that right. I am on a bus, on an interstate highway, for a solid fucking hour. In this case I was on it for longer, because traffic was blocked for about three exits. Just more fun, right?
Wait for it. Because on the middle of a highway, on a public fucking bus, in the middle of editing Little Bird, I get motion sick. This is what happens when you drink thirty ounces of coffee, eat nothing, and stare at a computer screen on a moving vehicle. Yes, I’m an idiot. Thank you, Aunt Tilly.

I held it in. For about an hour I curl up as tight as I can on a bus seat, recite Bene Gesserit mantras about fear being the mind killer, and bus-vomming the little death that brings total obliteration. Somehow, I make it. At which point, staggering off the bus, I do a three point turn and projectile vomit into a trash can by a bus station.

The bums were staring at me. The bums found this socially unacceptable. I spent about five dollars on a bottle of water and two of those little Colgate Wisp things, which until then I had always thought were completely useless, and which I now think are the prickly dwarf-toothbrushes of the GODS. I staggered on through the station and straight the fuck onto the next bus. At least it’s not likely to happen again, right?

Wrong. When you’re on a bus, and the street’s only about twenty feet wide, there is no horizon line to stare at.

I stop at the bank, stagger off this new bus. Dry heave into the geraniums in front of the building. Accrue some scathing looks from rich bitches in the parking lot wearing what looked like matching tennis bracelets. I stagger into the bank.
I didn’t cash my paycheck, however, because it was no longer in my purse.

I reached for my phone to call Definitely Not Dave. I wanted to at least make sure it was safe at home, and not in a vomit-colored pile at the bottom of a trash can in downtown Raleigh.

My phone wasn’t in there either.

Awesome.

The bus from the bank was very late. Did I mention that every bus I took today–every single fucking bus–was fifteen minutes late? So I can’t call in. I have to just show up ten minutes late for work. Which is unbelievably rude. And which I try never, ever to do. Because it’s unprofessional. And just plain rude. If people are counting on you to be somewhere on time, you should be there.

The good news is, I’m feeling better now. No more coffee for me for a long damn time. I called Definitely Not Dave from the shop, and my check and my phone are both sitting safely underneath right the hell where my purse was. And I have my card on me, so at least I’m not stranded in The Big Shitty with no money and no way to get home.

Am I an idiot? Yes. Most unreservedly yes. I should check my purse before I leave the house. But do I deserve this shit? No. I’m a nice person. Basically. More or less. Where it counts. Life, however, is not fair, and you never know when you’re going to wind up puking in front of a bus station.

Also, Mom, because I know you’re reading this and wondering: my bloodsugar is 137. I’m just fine, sugarwise. I blame the coffee and the writing.

BONUS: Just Write

BONUS: Just Write

I’m going to do something real unusual and get serious with you guys for a minute.

I have a day job, just like most of us do. I work forty hours a week. My travel time is between one to two hours either way. My ex boyfriend left me a while ago without a car and without any help on the rent. I’m a Type I diabetic, and in addition to all my other bills I pay about $150 a month for medical supplies. For a little while there, especially about a year ago, I was having a pretty bad time of it.

I don’t have it too hard. There are plenty–PLENTY–of people in this universe who have it a whole lot worse. There are people who can’t find work, or clean water, or who are in prison, or trapped in a totalitarian country, or who are in daily danger. But do I get frustrated? Yes. Do I go through entire days where I have maybe an hour to write? Hell yes.

But here’s why I’m telling you this. If you want to write–if you really want to–do it. For the love of Christ, quit talking about doing it and do it.

Since I was six or seven years old, I’ve known what I wanted to do. Books made a big difference in my childhood–were, at times, the best friends I had. And once I got old enough–once I realized I could put stories down on paper too–shit. That was pretty much it, for me.

I’m twenty-six now. This’ll be my first novel, self-published. I figure I stand to make about eighty bucks from it, if my extended family all decide to buy a copy too. I look forward to the single review I’ll get on Amazon from someone I don’t know personally. I hope it’s five stars.

But frankly? Even if it never happens–even if my book sits on that cute virtual shelf for twenty years with no love–I’ve still done what I wanted to do. Even if I get a slew of one star reviews and college writing majoresque people telling me it’s ‘derivative’ and ‘immature’ to write fantasy, fuck ’em. Because I did it. I wrote something that I–I–like. Something I’m proud of. Something funny, and dark, and strong, and with my heart written inside it.

This is success.

It might not sound like it. Honestly, there are times when it doesn’t even feel like it.

But it is.

So write, goddammit. If you’ve got five minutes, or five hours, or five thousand. If your life is going good or if it isn’t. If your grammar is awesome, if it sucks the big one, write.

Because the only way you will ever be happy with yourself–the only way you’ll ever be truly proud–is if you’ve written exactly what you wanted to write. Did you want to put an adverb in there? Go you. Put it in. Got a darling to kill? Only if you want to.

I see so much self-publishing advice out there, so much writing advice, so much information, some of it probably good. But in the end, the only thing you can do is what you know you have to do.

So don’t second guess yourself. Don’t listen too much to the experts. Take the five minutes of your cigarette break and write. Take the half hour you spend in your car waiting for the kids to get out of school and write. Say fuck you to your least important bills and buy something you can write on easily wherever you are. Keep it with you always, and always keep it charged.

When someone tells you you’re bad, don’t listen. When someone else tells you you’re good, don’t listen.

Write.

Have friends and family willing to help you out so you can write more? Good! These are awesome people. They may occasionally have to deal with not seeing you for a while. Because you’re writing.

Write until you’ve written down everything you have to say and then don’t write one word more.

Write until you feel like you’re a writer. Once this happens, it’s probably time to quit anyway.

Write until you’re happy.

Write until you’re satisfied.

It might never happen.

Just write.

WRITING WEDNESDAY:

WRITING WEDNESDAY: Circus Peanuts, Character Motives, and Clown Taint

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Today’s Writing Wednesday is about the candy circus peanuts. It is subtitled ‘Why I’m An Idiot’ because I just bought them. AGAIN.

There is a point to all this. Wait for it.

Every few years (once the shock from the last time has worn off) I purchase a pack of circus peanuts. You’d think I would’ve learned from last time, but no. I make excuses for it, such as: ‘the last batch was probably just stale’. Or: ‘well, I’d been drinking last time. Beer goggles, and whatnot.’ Or, most convincingly: ‘maybe I just shouldn’t have bought that brand.’

I do this because they’re just so damn adorable. And I am, if nothing else, a sucker for adorable things. I see them in a checkout line somewhere and I say: “aww, but look at ’em! They’re all orange. And marshmallowy. And they’re shaped like peanuts. Orange+marshmallows+peanuts = awesome, right? Right? Because how bad can a candy be? I mean, it’s candy.”

So I buy a pack, nestle them inside my black hole of a purse for later consumption. I go home: Definitely Not Dave isn’t back from work yet, so I stretch out. I read a book, write a bit, get some dinner started. And as the hours tick by, I realize: I’m pretty hungry. Out come the circus peanuts.

And here the farce begins.

The fact of the matter is, my dears, that circus peanuts taste like petrified clown taint.

I think they’re supposed to taste like bananas. This is, at least, what extensive Googling tells me. But if they do, it is a fake banana flavoring so strong, so offensive, that Miley Cyrus wouldn’t twerk it with a ten foot pole. It’s a fake banana flavoring that deserves to be taken in for questioning. And then, when it refuses to do anything but smell like fake bananas, it needs to have the shit waterboarded out of it.

(And this is without mentioning the texture on said circus peanuts. The lying sonofabitch box says ‘marshmallow’. What it means, I think, is ‘corpsefied marshmallow in the first stages of rigor mortis, dusted with a thin coating of floor wax.’ Biting into one of these is, I imagine, the same experience a vampire has when he’s aiming for the sleeping nubile young countess and accidentally sinks his fangs into her flo-foam mattress topper. And it’s just as disappointing.)

Obviously, I am displeased with my purchase. But why do I feel shame, and not anger? Why do I think, once DND gets home, I’ll totally lie and tell him I ate them, and pray he doesn’t check the garbage can in the kitchen?

You might’ve picked up on this earlier, but I buy them once every couple of years. Like an idiot child. I also keep buying colored pencils that aren’t Prismacolor (‘but they’re so damn cheap!’). I keep buying e-cigarettes (which, by the way, do absolutely nothing for quitting smoking. They just mean your smoking smells like unicorn farts, and you can do it in most public places). I keep buying dollar store trashbags. None of these things work, yet I keep buying them.

The sick, sad truth of it is: deep down, deep in my crusty spiny little heart, I am an optimist.

I believe people are mostly good. I believe companies manufacture things intending for them to work. I believe doctors really want you to get better (Big Pharma not so much, but that’s neither here nor there). If you’re a salesperson, I believe you have faith in what you sell. If you’re a waiter, and I ask you what’s good on the menu, I think you’re telling me what you think is good, and not what’s most expensive/will get rid of the most waste in the kitchen.

I don’t think these are remarkable things to believe, or particularly uncommon ones. Sure, most people might not give circus peanuts a second chance after the first one or two leave you clutching your stomach and cursing the Marshmallow Gods for abandoning you. After the first bag breaks when it’s half full of feather bedding and packing peanuts, most people might abandon dollar store trash bags.

But optimism is, by and large, what keeps us waking up. It’s what keeps us going to work, leaving voicemail messages on that old friend’s phone, what keeps us dating, going out to bars, voting in the next election. When you lose hope in a thing–when you give up on it–it ceases to become a topic of conversation. It ceases, in any way, to be interesting to you.

Okay, I told you about the circus peanuts mostly for shits and giggles. But I’m going to use it to prove a point here: people have hope. They have inordinately complicated daisy-chains of hopes. Little ones–next time I buy them, circus peanuts might magically not taste like clown taint–to personal ones–if I grow a goatee, maybe the cute girl at the bank who always takes my deposit will notice me–to potentially earth changing ones–if I donate five bucks to this fundamentalist sect, maybe they’ll finally have enough AK-47s to take over this corrupt government.

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles ’round the web lately citing conflict as the fundamental source of plot movement and character dynamic. I agree, in a way, but I think it goes deeper than just conflict. In order for there to be conflict, there has to be desire. And no, I don’t just mean sexy-type desire–though that can be a powerful decider. I mean motive. I mean all the little hopes and dreams that keep you from killing yourself.

Little hopes drive what you do. You take a left down 70 on your way to work in the morning because you hope there’ll be less traffic that way. You argue with your wife because you hope, deep down, that if you yell and stomp around enough she’ll see it your way (which she won’t, but, you know). You have sex later because you hope it’ll help you both get around the argument. You put off writing that quarterly report because you hope, if you sleep a little less, you can have time for sex just once, just fucking once in your adult life, on a weeknight.

Your kids stay up late, smiling, listening to the rhythmical thumping of headboard on wall, because they hope it’s the sound of your wife finally killing you. They haven’t seen you outside of a suit in five years, and they hate you for it.

The next morning your boss will possibly fire you, because he hoped that quarterly report wouldn’t be late, and you’ve disappointed that hope.

See where I’m going with this?

To be realistic, your characters have to have an interest in the outcome of events. Not just your main character–all of your characters. They have to say and do things with these hopes somewhere in their subconscious minds, at the very least. Their hopes are like icebergs–they clash, they grind, they drift down the canal without touching. But they do, my dears, interact.

You build the hopes and dreams of your characters just like you’ve built your own. If Jenny Jenowitz takes the stairs to an appointment 10 floors up, why does she choose to do that? Is she hoping it’ll help her stay in shape? Or maybe that, if her boss sees her panting on the way up, he’ll think she’s rushed to be there in time? Or maybe she’s just afraid of elevators.

If Jenny’s taking the stairs for ten fucking flights, everyone who isn’t a fellow clasutrophobe/marathon runner is going to wonder why. Or, to be more accurate–why has Jenny made this decision? It’s not an ordinary decision. If she’s doing it, there better be a reason. How does this decision fit into Jenny’s value system? What is she hoping will happen because she’s made this decision? And then–how does this hope and its outcomes fit into your story?

You can create a whole story from something like this, trust me. All you need to do is figure out what Jenny’s hoping will happen because she took the stairs and enmesh it with what a few other characters are hoping will happen that day. Here’s something you might do:

1) Jenny is a few minutes late for her quarterly evaluation, but she still chooses to wing the ten flights of fucking stairs up to it instead of taking the elevator. Why?

2) Because Jenny, who is seventy pounds overweight, is tired of the bullshit. She’s made a resolution, after her 406 lb. friend Carlos suffered heart failure at age twenty-eight in his bathtub alone, that she’s going to shed her extra pounds and make a new woman of herself. She does a pretty good job at work, knows she can afford the extra five minutes. She’s late, by the way, because she started crying in the parking lot this morning thinking about poor Carlos, and had to pause to fix her mascara. So she’s grief-stricken and determined. She is going, god dammit, to take those stairs. For Carlos. For herself.

3) Little does Jenny know that her boss, Mr. Teeter E. Tatum, is actually an alien monitor from Cygnus 38SA. The Cygnians have been observing the Sol system for roughly six thousand years, because of a very strange thing– viewed from the outside, the space containing the Sol system looks like an impenetrable black cube. Who built this cube, the Cygnians have been wondering. What purpose could they have had? Were the Earthlings actually extraordinarily clever, hiding a high level of technological sophistication in simple things like subway cars and banana flavored Twinkies? Or is the whole system some sort of preserve, kept hidden away inside the Block to escape the more prying minds of the galactic meta-civilization?

4) Mr. Tatum (whose name, in his own civilization, is Hrkwrkk Mrfzrkfldwr, hailed on all worlds as Least Pronouncable Name in the Galaxy) has been biding his time on Earth for about two thousand of those four thousand years. He thinks, due to recent evidence provided by another intergalactic monitor, he may have finally figured out what’s going on. Since his twelve o’clock appointment, Ms. Jenowitz, is running late (by the five thousand probosces of Sarl Sloth-God, he thinks, these humans are always so damn late!) he decides to activate his Krlxyx 5000 small-mass transmitter/ansible and contact his home planet to let them know what’s going on.

5) The machinery of this ansible, which, as it’s made from not so superior earth-parts, takes up a huge amount of space, is located in the building’s stairwell. Because nobody, nobody, ever takes the stairs. Damn. I mean, why would you want to get your work clothes all funky when there are like fifty elevators that work just fine? And the machinery has this truly unfortunate tendency to malfunction. Small mass transmitter, you see–small masses, in this case, being up to 200 lbs.

6) Jenny, who funnily enough hasn’t been eating that much since Carlos died, is down to 198.

You can take it from there. But you can see how these two characters–Jenny, by the way, would have to at some point introduce herself to an alien diplomat as ‘Jenny from the Block’–have made perfectly rational decisions, based on their own value systems and hopes, to make a perfectly unlikely thing happen. Mr. Tatum is a galactic monitor more than he is a VP of Unnecessary Marketing, so his main desire is to tell Cygnian society what’s up. Jenny just had an overweight friend die very young, so she takes the stairs. And from there, you can add more to the hopes n’ dreams daisy chain to make a whole fucking plot. Add some friction–maybe Mr. Tatum’s gone a little native, and he realizes the eventual Cygnian plan to destroy all humans doesn’t tie in very well with making projected sales on Dowdy Dude Deodorant in the fourth quarter. Or maybe poor Carlos, Jenny’s friend, actually was the other alien monitor. Maybe 406 lbs. is actually starvation weight for his species–finding that out would certainly fuck with Jenny.

Maybe Carlos died because he was attempting to assassinate Mr. Tatum, who Jenny now likes (maybe they’re dating as they try to save Sol system). What would Jenny do about that?

Does Jenny lose those 70 pounds? Or does she discover, along the way to Cygnus, that some things are more important? Maybe Mr. Tatum thinks she’s just the perfect weight. Maybe his culture considers the 5’6-5’7 ish, 200 lbs ish, human female demographic startlingly beautiful. Maybe there’s a niche market for human female porn stars of this demographic around Cygnus. Maybe Mr. Tatum, the dirty bastard, has been making some videos.

Long story short: people, even Cygnian galactic monitors, have motives. And these motives, these hopes, guide your plot. Because when someone is doing something strange, they’re hoping to get something out of it. And you can bet that whatever it is they get, well. It’s not going to be exactly what they hoped for.

That’s where optimism becomes plotsimism. Oh, God. Yes, I just said that. Kill me now.