Filed under: autobiography, books, Confidence, creative non-fiction, essays, Journaling, poetry, short stories, Uncategorized, writing
I’ve been crafting stories almost as long as I can remember. First they were just simple make-believe stories mostly about a strong, warrior princess (dressed more like sleeping beauty than Xena) often fighting dinosaurs or monsters. There were set characters my friends could be, but I had no problem playing alone and just filling in all the missing voices and fighting trees with dried pigweed stalks.
What got me to start putting stories on paper was a school project in second grade. We were asked to write and draw our own, 4-page version of “Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” While I don’t remember the contents of that project, I did have a very important realization: I could make my own books!! And I did.. many of them involved cats and utilized the various cat stickers I had on hand as well as my own drawings. Most of them were a great deal longer than 4 pages. That summer I wrote and illustrated a picture book in which a dragon saves a princess from having to rule a kingdom and enlists her help in essentially controlling the weather. Why that is less pressure for her, I’m not sure. But dragon!!
I don’t remember much about writing from third grade, but I do remember really falling in love with reading. We had a required 15 minute reading block, a fair selection of books in the room readily available, and an incentive program for time spent reading at home. It was also the first time I got so lost in a book that someone had to touch me to get my attention, because the teacher saying reading time is over and calling my name just didn’t cut it. The book was “Black Beauty”, and my desk-mate helpfully kicked my shin.
After my mom’s illness and subsequent coma, and just before fourth grade, I began writing without the pictures. The first story was brief- it was as much of a re-occurring dream as I could remember. Then I moved on to a second story, in which people and aliens were warring, and both had traveled time to get magical weaponry because why not. I wrote it by hand in it’s own notebook. One day when I couldn’t find it, I discovered it in the bathroom where my dad had apparently been reading it. He was impressed, but told me the alien name “Zortang” sounded too much like orange drink.
It was around this time I decided I definitely wanted to be a writer when I grew up.
In fifth grade I remember being really excited about having an assignment to write a story, but was frustrated by the deadline (because I was trying to write a book, not a short story) and ended up tying everything together really quickly without much escalation to the climax. It was about an archaeologist settling a long-fought depute between ghosts in an ancient Egyptian pyramid. We were required to read it out loud to the whole class. I remember feeling my face get redder and redder as I told my story. Afterwards, most of the class of roughly 25 was staring at me with open mouths. I was the only one no one clapped for. To this day I like to say I’m not sure if the shock was because the story was so good or because of my color-changing performance, but I’m pretty sure it was because I became a cherry while I read.
Sixth grade was the first time I was introduced to the concept of writing poetry beyond haikus. The form of poetry that left the biggest impression on me was narrative because my teacher thought I had copied it or somehow cheated, and he ended up calling my Dad about my poem. In the end, my teacher “gave me the benefit of the doubt.”While I did use the basic structure of an existing narrative poem, the content was my own. His continued doubt of it being the work of kid was one of the highest praises I probably could have ever received. That same year grandma gave me her typewriter to type out my finished drafts. I was excited by the concept, but I was a terrible typist, so my typed copies weren’t much easier to read than my hand-writing.
In winter of Seventh grade, my grandparents, aunt, and uncle pooled money to get me an iMac and printer for Christmas with a Groiler Multimedia Encyclopedia on disk and an accompanying Encyclopedia of Science fiction disk that seriously expanded my reading list. Since I had no Internet connection, writing, researching. gaming, digital art, listening to music and customizing the system were about all I could do with it.
With this new bit of equipment, I set out to seriously write a novel. It was an ambitious project. I forced myself to write for at least an hour and half after school everyday, after that I was free to do whatever. My dad mandated the t.v. off when he went to bed, but I was allowed to stay up late as long as I got up in time for school. So, after 11pm or so I would have either books or my computer, and I would frequently chose to continue writing. If I got stuck, I would either move on to another part of the story or start a new one entirely. I never wrote outlines, so I would be entertaining myself as I went along. Around this time I also started sending in novel queries to publishers whose editors were likely confused by the strange font usage.
By the time I was in 8th grade, I had finished writing a science fiction novel I strongly disliked. I scrapped it, but kept several characters from it and tried again in a different format. The resultant “fantasy book” actually made me proud even though I knew it had some issues. Encouraged, I plugged away on it and concepts for sequels to it the entire year. The best part was, I could work on it in class and not get in trouble because I’d look like I was intently taking notes!
My freshman year in high school, I asked the teachers I found the most approachable to critique my fiction writing. The first teachers were my freshman English teacher and my freshman social studies teacher. Each graciously read through a single spaced 100 page-long “fantasy book.” The former circled and underlined what he felt was working, and the latter gave me no notes, but told me she enjoyed it. When asked, her biggest criticism was that she found it hard to follow as I frequently shifted viewpoints.
After my freshman English teacher exposed me to Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man,” (and my Dad allowed me to watch the movie “Heavy Metal”) I was inspired to write a book of short stories as well as voraciously read anything else attached to Bradbury’s name. “’Write a short story every week [for a year]. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row,” Bradbury advised in a 2001 symposium. While I didn’t write one every week, I did write more than twenty short stories (as well as working on a sequel to the aforementioned “book”)
My sophomore English teacher went out of her way to individually challenge each of us. She had a set of vocabulary words, she’d have us tick off if we knew. Then, one at a time, she’d have us come to a little room away from the rest of the class and ask what they meant. If it was confirmed that you knew that word, she’d pull out the dictionary and give you replacement words. While I can’t say I was really a fan of her Reader’s Digest assignments, they were better and more practical than book assignments, and she did have us write 2 short stories incorporating specific excerpts from Reader’s Digest stories which prevented me from taking the lazy way out and turning in a short story I’d already written.
I brought some of my favorite short stories to my sophomore speech teacher. At first, she would write one, cleverly-worded compliment of the story before giving it back to me. (Incidentally, in her her class I wore foundation like armor so no one would be distracted by my face becoming a tomato. Worked like a charm.) After I’d given her a couple of them, I feel like she tested me to see how well I’d receive criticism on a story that was essentially Romeo and Juliet in space. I remember she left more notes than usual, some good and this time, some critical. I remember she specifically picked at the word “hammock” to describe the bed in a sleeping quarter. I felt like there were more obvious points to pick at in the story, for instance: all the characters other than the two main characters were pretty 2-D When I talked to her, she said she was just trying to get me to think of more alien terms to remind the audience that none of the characters were human. I asked why she wasn’t more critical.
“I wanted you to keep writing,” she told me.
“ I have to” I replied. She gave me a sort of squinting look I didn’t really understand at the time, but I would recall it my senior year when I received my first real critique.
By my junior year, I’d written 3 (in retrospect needlessly complex)fantasy novels the last of which poked its foot into science fiction. Some of my past teachers were nice enough to read the whole trilogy.I did school paper that year, and was allowed to leave study hall to come to the journalism/yearbook Mac lab. The official story was that I was working on stories for the paper, and sometimes that was true, but other times I was reading blogs, posting on forums, and sharing my writing. I’m sure my supervising teacher was fully aware as I always used the same machine and wasn’t smart enough to delete the history.
My senior English teacher asked us to write a children’s book. I really liked being pulled back to picture books. I wrote a simple story which contained a nod to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and involved a really dumb teenager because I concluded I couldn’t draw children. She also had us write a good number of essays, some of which I let leak into my fiction at home.
That same year, I decided to enter a fantasy fiction writing contest at Wayne State college. I started with the concept of an urban fairy tale, but with notes of the classic format. Unlike everything else I’d ever submitted to magazines, contests, or publishers, I decided to have a couple teachers look at it before I sent it off. I gave one copy to my sophomore speech teacher/drama coach, and one to my senior English teacher.
My speech teacher basically put a gold star on the story. She felt my writing had come a long way… also she probably enjoyed that it had an almost happy ending for a change. My senior English teacher critiqued the first sentence in particular and the repetitive adjective usage. I asked her what she felt might be better, and then decided “Deep,deep, deep in the forest” really just set the atmosphere I wanted, and I submitted it without making that correction.
To my surprise, I won the high school division of the contest. My senior English teacher responded very sedately, but the speech teacher snuck the news into the school announcements. My foundation kept my peers from knowing I was beet red when they turned to look at me. After reality sunk in and I got $30 for my efforts crafting the story, I thought about the critique I received; and I understood not all criticism would necessarily be helpful. This really helped me prepare for what was awaiting me at my first writer’s workshop.
To be continued…
Filed under: doubt, emotions, Gardening, love, poetry, Uncategorized, writing
A sestina, written early in the relationship with the king of vacillant winds and discarded dreams.
It was my birthday when we met,
and I was first enveloped in your smoke.
We wandered, my skin burning, in the garden.
your friend trailed behind, embodying my doubts.
Compared to the maelstrom of my thoughts,
I barely said a word.
Perhaps I have way with words,
but only in subversive meetings
with myself where my thoughts
are suffocated in smoke
What do you care to grow in your garden?
Are you even a proper gardener?
Carefully choose your words
and silences. My doubts
are hungry and eager to meet
the man behind the smoke
usurping my productive thoughts.
Should I share the thoughts
I’ve etched into my garden
sand? Will they dissipate like the smoke
from your cigarettes and the words
from your mouth when our lips meet?
Can you cripple my doubt
or am I right in doubting
your capacity to calm my thoughts?
When you and my id have finally met,
will you still want our infested garden?
Will you cull it with your words
or gas it in a pesticide smoke?
I can tolerate the smoke.
I can breath in poisons and exhale the doubts
and come up with clever wording
for my thoughts,
but I let noxious weeds flourish in the garden.
They grow so tall our eyes cannot meet.
Words unspoken each meeting
planted this doubt in the garden…
and smoke does not slow the infestation of thoughts.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Helped with a photoshoot for the Gateway of Chaos yesterday. Here’s a sneak gif
Filed under: Uncategorized
created with original art and gimp photo editor
Filed under: Uncategorized
Today the news reported that the body of an old friend of mine was found in a storage unit. Police arrested her husband for second degree murder. This essay is for both her and myself. Kelsey, (you’ll always be Ro to me), I’m sorry I was blind.
The first time I met her, she was the new girl in my high school art class. I saw a girl sitting alone. I knew what it was like to be the girl sitting alone, so I suggested that my friend and I sit with her. She said to call her Ro (a shortening of her last name) because she hated that so many other girls were named Kelsey. Later, she admitted that she wasn’t sure what to think of me at first; I was in the habit of always wearing baggy black band t-shirts and what other kids described as a black “smoking jacket” because of the two front pockets while she usually opted for more fashion-forward clothing.
We grew closer through sharing our art with each other and providing both support and competition. At my dad’s house, in my old room, there is still a pencil sketch by her that is both a mountain range and a group of monks huddled in their robes. We often talked on the phone for hours, venting about our broken families and divulging our teenage exploits. She was the only peer I trusted to take flattering pictures.
After high school, she spent a year or so nannying in both Connecticut and Montana. I heard from her almost every night by telephone and was often jealous of her bravery. She moved back to Nebraska the following summer, and I slept over so often that I practically lived in her apartment. One of the highlights was painting a giant canvas with our friend Kelly, then painting each other, and then visiting Walmart to be gawked at.
She moved to Cater Lake a bit after school started again and often hung out at the dormitories with myself and my friends. She was magnetic. I watched her draw in all sorts of people and befriend them. She was always the life, and often the hostess of the party.
I missed her when she moved to Lincoln, but we kept in touch by phone. She told me about meeting Mike (he went by his middle name) not long after the move. She said that he was hitting on her, but she wasn’t so sure about him. He was persistent though, and eventually she decided she would date him despite his questionable past. I’m not sure how long they were dating before they moved in together, but they were already living together when I first managed to visit her. She told me about plans regain custody of his daughter despite his stint in prison, and about how she was glad to help him get his life back together. Around the same time, she told me that he had a history of being abusive but it was okay because she knew “what makes Mr. Happy turn into Mr. Fist.”
I said nothing. The conversation didn’t go any further in that direction. I want to excuse myself, to say that I trusted her to handle herself, but the truth is I simply didn’t want to cause conflict. I should have said something after that… asked more questions… She had given me an opening, and I just put on a blindfold and shrugged it off.
When she and Mike were engaged, she initially asked me to be a bride’s maid. However, as the date approached, she told me that she was choosing an older friend who didn’t like me to be a bridesmaid instead. I didn’t even receive an invitation. A bit bitter, I allowed space to grow between us. However, when we did talk, she said things like, “I’m becoming domestic and the scary part is I kinda like it!”
I visited once after she and Mike moved into their house. We went shopping at a cute little bohemian place, and I recorded some terrible footage of a tea party rally for a digital media class project. I remember Mike sitting in the recliner. He didn’t acknowledge my presence. I didn’t think much of it, gave her hugs, and went on my merry way. That was the last time I saw her. It must have been 6 years ago.
We talked a bit after that, but I became pretty wrapped up in my own life drama for several years during which I hardly spoke to any of my friends who weren’t within Omaha city limits. When we did talk on the phone, I was Miss Doom and Gloom. It was probably 3 years ago the last time we spoke and I don’t remember once asking about her.
The first tattoo she got was Latin script reading: “Femina Potens,” meaning powerful woman. It suited her well. Today, I’m reflecting on what it means to be a powerful woman, and how I’ve come up short, especially in regards to my friendship with Ro. A powerful woman would have been more attentive, more protective, and more forgiving.
I think my first tattoo might be a latin phrase too. I’m thinking “manere curiosus” which is Latin for stay curious. Curiosus also means attentive, and careful in addition to inquisitive. It should serve to remind me to be more present so that my hindsight doesn’t bother me as much in the future.
My best wishes to Kelsey’s family and friends in this dark time