Category Archives: writing

The Living Conduit

I have so many documents open for the purpose of reading, writing, or editing that I lost track of my own work in progress. As I closed out documents that I was done with, or done with at this time, my eyes fell on what appeared to be the end chapter words of a book, apparently having to do with androids:

“The original advertising company went the direction the food industry had gone: Lab humans were all natural and organic, made from the best ingredients, just like man. Then they took their cues from the medical community, using words such as bio-identical, endogenous, and molecularly adaptable. Then, in a nod to devolution, promo-sapienthen stardust. Finally, They’re real, yo.

I couldn’t place it. Whose book was this? (I edit a lot of scifi.) As my eyes swept upward, I realized the book was mine, and those were the last words I had written. It was a bizarre wake-up call. Writing styles are like fingerprints, and that is clearly mine. I’m not sure I like the words (come on, They’re real, yo?), but at least now I remember why they exist. They were the start of the next interview section, as the book takes place as a series of interviews between the billionaire who created the androids, known as Minäs, and his granddaughter. So there are two stories taking place, the granddaughter’s present-day story and the granddad’s story of how the world came to be as it was.

There is a lot to juggle in this book, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it was supposed to be humor. Still…They’re real, yo? Oh, brother. I need to become a better conduit for my own work.

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This Being an Addendum Rather than a Conclusion

I have finally come to the conclusion that I will never invent time travel or finish any story because my house doesn’t have a basement. Furthermore, I have come to the conclusion that, even if I burrowed out a basement below my house and axed any animus projections resembling Oso, I would still never invent time travel or finish any story, including the one about Oso and Julia. Despite my numerous attempts to create conclusions, I have failed to erect such a finished structure.

This reminds me of a creative writing/short story class I once took at UNM–oh, heck, why keep the professor anonymous? He was Gregory Martin. His class was memorable for multiple reasons, including his abilities as a memoirist. During one critique session, in which we were slicing and dicing a highly polished, but essentially lacking story by a young woman in class, I asked if this story could simply be considered finished. Perhaps it was time for the writer to move on to a new one. Professor Martin then waxed philosophic about how stories were never finished. This concept disturbed me to the point that my backbone straightened up for an argument with him. It became a face-off–the professor and I arguing over the silliness of an incomplete story which equated to an incomplete life, while the rest of the class fell silent and listened. At the time, I understood what he meant all too well. He was absolutely correct. But it’s crazy-making to never find satisfying endings.

Memoirists understand the world in a different way than you or I. Memoirists don’t like endings because endings signify death. In a sense, their best skill is time travel, and for the express purpose of never concluding anything. I am, you might suggest, projecting my own psychological workings onto an innocent professor of creative writing, who has, no doubt, forgotten the argument that left such an impact on me. I should probably cease and desist before digging my hole any deeper. I really need a basement, though. I need one in order to invent time travel and to finish something, anything, even if I have to fly backwards in time in order to do so. Forgive me, then, because I’m going to continue digging until I’m deep enough to begin climbing stairs that will take me back up to the world of the sky.

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Resolving Complexity in Dreams

I’m the type of person who complexifies everything. I’m jealous of those who can see clearly enough to grab onto simple truths and explanations. Because of my nature, I never could succeed in school. I couldn’t ever think of the simple answers, and so most of the time, when put on the spot, I shut down and didn’t say anything–which was better than the reverse. Trust me. When teachers want answers, they want the right ones, not some long drawn-out explanation that makes no sense to anybody but the person giving it. In case you’re wondering, I did succeed in college, where complexity is often tolerated.

What bothered me as a child was a lack of facts combined with a lack of complete understanding of those facts. Now that I’m an adult, I can search out the facts and attempt a mature comprehension of said facts. But this ability doesn’t make my life any simpler. On the contrary, I tend to find myself suffering crises daily that most people would laugh at or, at the very least, cause them to bug out their eyes at me and reach for their cell phones and stealthily dial the local mental health officials.

For example, I recently had a shampoo crisis. If you live in a small town as I do, you’ll know that the variety of shampoos available at a local supermarket is actually quite large. What you may not know is that they are all the same. They all smell toxic in a way that I don’t remember synthetic fragrances smelling in my youth. They smell so hideous that they trigger migraines and make me want to put a clothes pin over my nose while showering. Sometimes, they make feel woozy, and I’m constantly in dread of passing out in the tub.

If you think it’s any easier to find a pure, sweet-smelling organic shampoo, you’re wrong. Organic shampoos use synthetic fragrances, as well. Add to that the propensity of health nuts to add allergenic ingredients such as soy and wheat in their products, and I’m no closer to discovering a suitable choice.

You see, having too much information is not good for day-to-day living. Why do I have to know what all the chemical names mean on the product label? Why do I have to know that using essential oils on your skin every day is dangerous? Did you know that? Did you even care that lavender and tea tree and rosemary contain estrogen-mimicking compounds that will almost certainly trigger your PMS and do funny things to your male offspring?

Why do I care? Why can’t I just buy a bottle of Pantene and be done with it?

I would be fine if my nutty search for information and facts stopped at shampoo. But it doesn’t. Most days, I feel frozen by simple acts like shopping for food or cooking or reading the news or educating my children.

Good God above, I need simple answers. And if it weren’t for my dream life, I wouldn’t have enough simple answers to do what I love most–writing. Somebody commented once (I think it was Tana Adams) that she wished she could dream plots. But, you see, my subconscious literally has to dream plots, or I would never, ever know what I want to write, let alone what I should write.

I’m a complete basket case. Forgive me. I wish I could dream the chemical formula of a perfect shampoo because, yes, I’ve tried to make it at home more than once. I guess I don’t need shampoo as much as I need to write. I guess I don’t need to fling my head about while a Frenchman in a black turtleneck cries salon!  Nope. I need my own dream-scape person to yell, ¡Escriba ya!

p.s. I tend to dream in Spanish. If I explained that one to you, you’d really think me neurotic, so I dare not.

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Non Violators Need Not Apply

I’ve always wanted to write humor. In fact, I’ve written several partial comic novels and a few completed short comedies. Comedy doesn’t come naturally to me in the least. As a matter of fact, it’s something I analyze a little too much, which probably means I’ll never be a stand-up comedian. But then, it’s unlikely I’d ever be a stand-up anything–except maybe a stand-up citizen (oops, that might be a Malaprop). Because of my natural tendency to analyze humor, I found this wired.com article both enlightening and funny: One Professor’s Attempt to Explain Every Joke Ever. According to the article, psychology and marketing professor Peter McGraw has developed a simple theory to explain what makes jokes funny–benign violation. It’s a simplistic way of looking at humor, yet it explains why audiences find pies in the face, slipping on banana peels, and some “acceptable” racist or sexist jokes amusing. Actual violation hasn’t yet occurred; nobody has actually harmed the guy who got a pie in the face; nobody has actually beaten the tar out of a dumb blond or a Polack. What has occurred is a nonviolent violation of the norm, or a departure of what we expect because of our moral and rational views of the world.

I like clean, simple explanations. I long for them because they reduce the complexity of the world into tag lines, very much like jokes do. Clean explanations and punchlines are beautiful ways of looking at the world, and I lack the natural ability to do either. Simple ideas explain so much. For example, I now understand why my comedy critique partner doesn’t laugh at most of what I write. My humor is almost always based off of irony. From my perspective, ironies abound in the world, and I layer them on one by one when I’m attempting to write comedy. I find them funny–why don’t others? Why did my critique partner sit deadpan reading one of my comic novels, until he arrived at a scene in which the male protagonist lures the neighbor’s cat to his house w/ catnip? I didn’t find that scene funny. I used it only to show the lengths this character would go to to get his way. Why did my critique partner nearly fall off his chair? Ah, yes–the simple explanation–benign violation. Being the neighborhood kitty drug-pusher is a moral violation of the benign sort. If my protagonist had lured a little boy to his house w/ a spliff, the violation would no longer have fallen into the benign category.

However, the professor’s explanation doesn’t explain why a benign violation to one person might be a malicious violation to another. As a case in point, I don’t find blond jokes amusing. I find them denigrating, most likely because I’m a blond female who’s always lacked self-confidence. I grew up being called a dumb blond, and a part of me still believes it. You could tell me to lighten up, to laugh at life a little more. But it’s much harder to force laughter when the joke’s on me. In that sense, the theory changes into one of jokes and pranks and slapstick are funny because they’re not violating me. I’m not the one hurting. I’m not the one w/ pie in my face.

Going back to my comedy critique partner (yes, I do have one!), I understand now why he didn’t find my irony amusing. What I don’t understand is why some people laugh at my humor and others don’t. With beta readers, I’ve found it to be a fifty-fifty proposition. About half of my readers/friends/family will laugh, and the other half won’t get it. How does that fit into the benign violation theory? Does irony upset some people’s expected outcomes, while others expect the unexpected?

What do you think of the idea that comedy is funny because it violates social norms in benign ways? What do you find funny? Oh, wait, don’t tell me you laugh at blond jokes! Do you? Hit me with your best shot, then. I dare you.

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OMG! I Wish I Were Still Sixteen (not really)

I had never considered writing YA fiction until Nathan Bransford initiated his teen-diary-excerpt contest. As I read through the entries, I suddenly felt depressed and full of angst. I also experienced a fair amount of disbelief due to the sheer volume of entries that used school and teenage rebellion as their springboards into the psyche of teenage girls. I can’t imagine being a teenage girl and desiring to write about school in my diary. I also can’t imagine writing nasty things about my parents for these reasons: I had a reasonable relationship with my parents, but, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have wanted my mother to discover the nasty things I said about her; and trust me, mothers are quite handy at discovering even the secretest things.

Over the years, I’ve managed to hang onto only one of my teen journals, and I flipped through and discovered that, indeed, the topic of school never cropped up, and I rarely wrote anything about my parents. I hinted vaguely about love, but mostly I masked the real events of my life in poetic and fantastical language, so that, if discovered, the reader would think I lived an enchanting life. I have to add that I did a fair amount of name-dropping to make me look intelligent: I wrote about John Locke and Hemingway and quoted poetry by T.S. Eliot. I also wrote my own poetry–lyrical ditties with queer turns of expression. If you look up at the image, you will see the train I rode nearly every day in my junior and senior year, and where I did most of my writing.

I must admit that my journal inspired me to enter this contest. Instead of the usual WTFs and OMGs, I copied the overly poetic and slightly pretentious tone of my high school writing. And I found that I liked it. I could write an entire book in a similar manner. Maybe I will. For all that I’ve learned over the years from a creative writing degree and writing conferences and a critique group and various classes; for all that I’ve become a polished author who knows all the ‘rules’, I’ve lost my youthful charm. If I could combine the charm with the polish, I might write some winning fiction.

YA fiction just might be the way to invoke a youthful spirit back into my words!

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