Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tinkering

"If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere.”
-Vincent van Gogh

It has been an interesting week. While my husband is away, now in New Zealand and his time away adding up to about five weeks, I have been getting a little stir crazy. This is partly because I had an outpatient surgery on my ear to remove an ill-placed and "suspicious" mole (redhead problems and, yes, partly why I was drawn to the van Gogh quote). I have been rather irritated by nagging (but not horrible) pain and an inability to wear my hair up comfortably while it heals. 

Meanwhile, I was thrilled to find one of my most personal and intimate pieces of fiction (originally an essay that I decided to get a little more experimental with) was accepted into a notable magazine. More on that soon. And it looks like my first column will be coming out in Fiction Southeast in November (first and second, as it stands now). So the good with the bad. 

To occupy my mind and keep myself busy to distract myself from my ear, I've been doing some yard work. Some pretty shoddy yard work, so much so I don't want to post pics. Okay, here are some pics. I mean... even the one bundle of San Antonio-appropriate flowers I bought is dying after a matter of weeks. I started pouring mulch over dead grass and hoping for the best, and that hasn't worked out so well yet either. 

Perhaps, like most of my artistic ventures, it will eventually morph into something tolerable looking, or I'll just have to tinker forever and the phases will come and go. No matter, I love my backyard.  







Much as I continue to tinker in that wonderful mess you see above, so goes the same for the writing. Writers have to start and restart again. It's the nature of our art, and the trick (as I see it) is just getting started.

Instead of giving you a scenario for a writing prompt today, I thought I'd pick a line and say, "Go!" A friend of mine from undergrad, playwright Jennifer Roberts, suggested this practice one day a long time ago, wherein we would grab a favorite book, open to a random passage, point, write a sentence and say, "Go!" Then, we'd start the timers and write. Clear stories or nonsensical ramblings, it didn't matter. Sometimes we'd share our work, other times not. No pressure, just creation. So, here we go...  


It is hardly surprising that so many people lose their tempers with so many other people. 


-Shirley Jackson, "About Two Nice People"


Write this sentence down, then set the timer for 20 minutes and Go!

*If you have any ideas for the backyard, I'll all ears (well... kind of)


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Loosen up

Massage should be covered under everyone's preventative care plans. I truly believe this. That said, when I get a massage, which I try to do as often as finances allow to offset the time I'm hunched over a computer, the therapist always tells me I should come back more often or come back for a longer session next time or try cupping or try hot stones... This is probably part of the routine, the up-sell. But what's not part of the routine is the crunchy, stuck, tight muscles around my shoulders, which don't seem to loosen up, no matter who I go to. I breathe into the muscles deeply, take baths with salts and relaxing bubbles, meditate... nothing helps. More than a few times, I've heard, "Your muscles are the tightest I've seen on a person your size." I've also heard, "You're almost as bad as the bodybuilders that come in." Seeing as how I lift weights once a month, maybe, if I can get on the floor long enough to do a few 5 lb raises to strengthen my triceps before the dog starts walking on my face, the comparison isn't complimentary as much as worrisome. 

On the occasion I am able to get a massage, I always ask the therapist the same thing to divert attention from my stubborn muscles. "I bet you have stories, eh? What's your craziest?" Inevitably, there's an affirmative, and often a story. Herein is this week's prompt:

A massage therapist, male or female, is working on a client who doesn't follow protocol. What does the client do or say? How does the therapist react? Is there awkward small talk? Confrontation? Take it where it goes, and end with the client getting dressed, the therapist outside the door, waiting with a plastic cup of water.    

I'm going to work on my ergonomics and stretching routine this week. I wish you comfort. 
xo Jen

Monday, September 29, 2014

The air is delicious

My new townhouse is located directly behind both an Italian restaurant and a trendy cafe that, together, make my the air smell like a delicious mix of bread-y comfort foods, sugars and spices. My mouth waters every time I go outside. When I was a kid, our house was near a Wonder Bread factory, and every morning as I sat at the bus stop, I closed my eyes and inhaled the rich, soft air. No matter what I went through when I was younger, that smell was like a hug.

This brings me to a new prompt, inspired by the olfactory effect on our memories and sense of self. Have fun with it:

Character X is in an argument with Character Y. Character X is just about to take the argument too far when a smell overcomes both characters. It can be a horrible smell, the burning of plastic or fresh spray of a skunk. Or, it can be a comforting smell, someone barbecuing or a perfume that calls to mind someone now gone. The two characters assign different memories and emotions to the same smell. In the time it takes for them to pause, their worlds are shaken. They return to the argument, but everything has changed.

Have a great week! I'll be posting again soon. In the meantime, I think I'll get something to eat.    

Friday, September 12, 2014

In a hundred years

I'm enamored with Margaret Atwood and always have been. One of my favorite books, Robber Bride, makes my ultra-short list of regular rereads. It is not her most popular book, but the complex story she delivers in a digestible and often-humorous form strikes a cord with this reader. Her work appeals to a sense of living, both in life and beyond it, so it warmed my heart to hear of her participation in the Future Library Project. If you haven't read about it, check it out here. Atwood's future-thinking work is the perfect addition to a library of content that will be unavailable until 2114. To me, this is what writing is about--it's about transcending our experience and exploring it.

As for my own work, here's a new short story. It's on transference and what it means to let go of those you look to for definition, especially when those people are family. Read it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Kobo. I'm moving this weekend, so I'll keep it short (Take my advice: Never move. Never, never!).

Here's your new writing prompt. I came up with this one after a strange incident in my old neighborhood. Have fun with it.

Write a story about a character who is doing something routine (e.g., taking a walk, taking out the trash) when a dog begins to chase him/her. The character runs off-course and continues to run until s/he is in an area of town never before explored. It could be as surreal or normal a place as you'd like, but tell the story of running into something new after running away... Go!

Enjoy your week!

xo Jen


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Solitude in a crowded space

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”  —Mark Twain
 
 
The right word makes all the difference because there is always a right word, even though there may be many synonyms. I believe this to be true, and I know a lot of words (that happens to us readers), but sometimes that perfect word doesn't come readily. Sometimes lately, however, I have to go back to a piece dozens of times before that right word comes. I noticed this more in recent years, and it could be just that I am a more conscientious writer. But I can't help but wonder if this is, in fact, a result of knowing more than I used to. 
 
I first heard about the Internet of Things a year ago, but I didn't really care to understand it. Recently,  however, it seems to come up a lot, and now that I know what I do, I can't stop thinking about it. This concept is basically that any device can be connected to any other device, assuming both are connected to an internet source. This means the amount of connected data is so vast that its value is diluted, creating a problem for those looking to answer specific questions from unique connected devices. This is probably not the best definition. Wiki may do it better, but the basic concept is that if we have access to too much at one time, we become overwhelmed and have trouble assigning value to a thing.
 
I feel like much of our lives - being on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram, while also streaming TV and chatting via work computer systems that have completely different rules and protocol than home systems, and playing games, even worrying about identity theft as we enter our credit card numbers into an online service while knowing that hackers are capable of pretty much watching our every move - is a balance between wanting to be heard and wanting to be left alone. It seems very few people don't want at least a little of both, and the way to accomplish that is to streamline what we do. Cut the social media to the bare bones and set time/day limits to use so as to, I don't know, live a little.
 
This is a topic I plan to explore more in a forthcoming blog post, possibly a blog post for Fiction Southeast, but I can't help but think about it as I pack my stuff, preparing for a move, as I realize how many physical objects are being replaced by fewer but more connected objects.
 
This is my prompt for the week (it's connected and a little more abstract than usual):
 
Write about a person who is lonely for whatever reason and reaches out online. Eventually, said person is so connected that he or she loses track of his/her individuality. But write about this person from either another character's POV or from a third-person POV. Write about this person's life as her/his identity fades and fragments, and decide if there is a solution that eventually brings solidification. Maybe this is a good thing, maybe not.   
 

I think this will be a particularly challenging one. I think I'll pack another box before I try it. :)

Have a beautiful weekend, all! And if you're in the states, enjoy the extra day.

xo Jen



Sunday, August 24, 2014

A few things I think I know about moving

We’re moving! Chris and I found a place that has a big backyard and just enough room for us, and we’re finally getting out of the mega-complex apartment living. No more creaky footsteps at 2 a.m., no more hearing the neighbor burp and cough and groan from the bathroom, and no more parking wars. We’ll have our own spot! Can you feel my excitement? Cause it’s there. Big time.

Though we’ll still be renting, this is a big move for us, and the quality of life factor will go from about 2 to about 8, assuming there are no angry ghosts or secret mold issues in this place that we haven’t realized. In preparation for our big move, I’ve learned a few things and I thought I’d share. Here they are:
  •  If you have a bunch of books to sell to Half-price or another such place, take them in installments. They will give you the exact same amount for two boxes (at least around here) as they will one.
  • Double-check the donation box for things you actually want to keep before handing it over. It’s really embarrassing to say, oh, actually, can I have that one dress back?
  • The unpacked boxes from the last move probably don’t need to move with you because they’ll probably remain unpacked. Unload the unneeded.
  • Try to get a lot done on the weekends and not continuously ask your boss to leave early during lay-off season.
  • Research the best set-top boxes and streaming for Internet and cable (there’s a lot of value variance).
  • If you write, still make time to write, even though you have less than half of half of the time you used to.

I’ll have more later, I’m sure. So. Much. Work. To. Do.

I have a writing prompt this week. A quick aside: I try to write to all these, too, so if you ever come up with something you'd like to share, let me know. I'd love to read it, and if you'd like, post it.

And... here it is...

A middle-aged character just moved and is shopping for the first time at the new neighborhood grocery. S/he’s loving it—just look at that organic section!—until s/he begins to feel as though s/he’s being followed. S/he imagines s/he’s being paranoid, jokes with the person offering samples of cheese, and hears someone laugh from behind. When s/he turns around, someone is there from a past the character thought s/he’d left behind.  

I wish you all a wonderful week. I have a few weeks yet till I move, but I’ll post pics soon. 


xo Jen

Monday, August 11, 2014

Uncertain

Life is uncertainty. That's a given. (Get it?)

I returned from Nebraska after a brief but great visit with my father and step-mom, and I feel renewed. To be completely honest, I didn't feel so great before I left. I felt numb a lot of the time, going through the motions. Not depressed, not sad. Just not much of anything. I explained this to a few folks, and they said it was likely burnout. Judging from the fact that the trip helped so much, I think they were on to something. I came back to some tough news, potentially scary news, but instead of feeling panic and instead of feeling nothing, I just felt okay. Some time to write: that's the cure.    

Below is a poem I wrote for and in honor of the Art Farm, a residency like no other. I recommend it to the hardest-core of hardcore writers (badasses only). Below that is some lit news and a short prompt. I wish you all a wonderful week.

BEING the FARM

We arrive, carry art on our backs or balance it on our heads
like books as we walk slow, sleepy circles in order to reach
the straight line time dances around, just ahead, and we

live in heat, for wind, with an ailing raccoon whose pupils
have narrowed with sunlight and the flies that clean their legs on our
swatters as they eye our compost—the mound of decay that gives life.

We work, painting walls, digging trenches, burying waste,
watching the leaking water with worried eyes and grubby
hands that, together, have raised a substantial roof; and we

wander, meeting those in town who know those
near town, who know those mothers and fathers of those
in surrounding towns, who know—all of them—Ed; therefore, us.

We live without time, find our way home, think back, send treasure maps,
reconnect and feel our roots pulling us back toward shared grounds where
Arctic winds, warmed by the reach to Nebraska, embrace and kiss corn 

as we remember walking the silky rows, beneath an expanse of blue and above
dust and clay that is thrust up by truck wheels and embedded beneath our skin as we
wave each other on by, growing smaller in reflective mirrors but no less a part of the farm. 


Here is a prompt based on my time at the Art Farm:

Write about excess. A character whose life is over-filled with stuff is forced to live without. How does s/he change? There is a lot of potential here to use humor.  

Literary news: New fiction is forthcoming in Per Contra (read the current issue for some great work!) and elsewhere. More soon... 

xo Jen