The Power of a Single Word

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It’s late.  I should probably be in bed.  However, I ended up talking politics (online) with a former student.  He knows who he is…  Anyway…here’s my wacky take:

It’s election season here in the USA, and there’s a lot of talk about the -isms.  Capitalism.  Heroism.  Judaism.  Communism.   Pokemonism.

But no one seems to talk about Americanism.

Not all Americans are Christians, but much of our country’s founders were.  Thus, there is a large percentage of Christian-oriented language in our early political documents.  While “Americanism” is on nary a page of those documents, I firmly believe we as a nation subscribe to this lesser-known -ism.

Observe:

An Americanismist is probably inclined to donate a buck or so to the wounded veteran sitting in a wheelchair outside a Wal-Mart.  To us, that seems like a obvious choice.  We think, “I’ve come to this shit-hole store to buy something.  I have money.  This guy can’t walk anymore because he put his life on the line X amount of years ago to protect what I believe to be my freedom, so…yeah!  Here’s a buck!”

Someone who follows Americanism also thinks it’s nice to have a firm structure above him or her at the time of sleeping.  That roof could be made of torn umbrella pieces, crystal, or something in between.  We tend to prefer to reside in some type of living space that covers us.  Gosh.  How many times has anyone reading this learned of a family or friend who has suffered through some type of accident or damage to one’s abode?  Here, we think, “Your house burned down?  That’s terrible!  What can we do?  Would you like to stay at our house?  Can I take your kids to school?  I know your insurance is pretty good, but we’d like to help you out because, you know, you’re my uncle.”

Example three:  Americanismists are pretty touchy about education.  While I can’t possibly gauge what all readers do while engaging in social media interactions, I can wager that the following occurs quite frequently:  Parents discuss teachers’ methodology (positively or negatively).  Teachers discuss parents’ involvement or lack thereof.  Students’ discuss their parents’ and teachers’ ability to constantly piss them off.  Politicians or political strategists discuss the importance of mainstreaming, inclusion, individual educational plans (IEPs), schools’ performance grades, schools’ performance scores, schools’ accreditation, schools’ budgetary states, etc.  Every damn one of these Americanismists want kids to not only go to school, but to be educated to the point where they can  a) contribute in some way to society, and b) move out.  For this example we say things like this to young people:

“Boy, school wasn’t like that in my day, but I guess times change, huh?”

‘When you’re older you’ll understand how important it is for you to graduate.”

“I work hard so you have opportunities I didn’t have.”

“Please, for the love of God, put down that phone and listen to me!”

So…a while back a few of those “founding” guys thought that our new country ought to have some type of basic educational system for every child.  In their infinite senselessness (ahem), they further thought that said education should not come at a huge cost that would leave some young people out of those schools.  Make it free, they said.  They’ll be like an investment toward the next generation.  We can teach them all how to read, write, understand trapezoids and protons, and they’ll strengthen our local-, state-, and federal work force to a higher point YEAR AFTER YEAR!  (I’m paraphrasing, of course…)

That’s why, in 2016, it’s pretty much illegal for a public school to turn away a student who wishes to enroll.  It’s Americanism.  It’s because we care about one another.

Which, if you think about it, is a societal thing.

We are also quite social.  We attend social gatherings such as church, PTA meetings, AA meetings, and even ice cream socials (if you went to my elementary school).

At these social events, we talk to one another, ask about each other’s families and work.  We engage in what is commonly known as “respectful behavior” and “common sense.”  We support fundraisers.  We buy lemonade from the neighborhood kids every summer.  I mean…come on.  We’re not against being social, right?  We’re not anti-social.  Right?

We can’t wait to hang out.

We can’t wait to leave work and see our families and friends.

We can’t wait for our lunch break at work to have some time to socialize.

We love to be social—in person and online.

But are we SOCIALISTS?

Hell no.

Wait….what?

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A New Poem

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What I Think About as I Spread Cream Cheese on My Bagel

 

Ayn Rand

Rand Paul

Paul Ryan

Paul George

George Eliot

T. S. Eliot

Spread Spread Spread

 

(I so very rarely post this type of spontaneous junk)

 

 

 

UWT #2 – “Buttering the Bread”

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Years ago, my creative writing instructor gave a short lecture during a workshop about this concept.  He may or may not have called it “Buttering the Bread” but that’s what I’ve called it for years.  Consider this type of storytelling and consider the point in it where you lose interest.

Tom got hungry, so he went downstairs for breakfast.  He normally ate toast, so he decided to open the breadbox, remove the Wonder bread, untwist the tie, and withdraw two flimsy slices.  Customarily, he re-tied the bread and returned it to its resting spot within the fly-free confines of the box.  Taking two steps east, he placed each slice in the toaster and pressed the lever with no more or no less authority than any other day.  He watched as the wired inside his dorm-room toaster heated to a bursting orange and sizzling red state.  Just when he could not wait any longer, the toast appeared innocently.  Tom took the butter from the refrigerator.  It was cold and hard to spread.  He’d learned from his grandmother that he could heat his knife quickly by holding it under hot running water.  It worked again, and he padded each slice with a unhealthy square of the stuff everyone calls butter but is actually margarine.  Tom had a big day ahead since it was his first interview, and he wanted to make sure he did not leave the house hungry.

—or—

Tom made some toast as he always does and thought about his interview.

Granted, the first one is considerably longer, but is it good writing?  Is it significant to the events of the story?  Is the author adding anything worthwhile?  Does it seem, perhaps, that he is just padding his word count total?

No.  No.  No.  Yes.

Don’t butter the bread.  Get to it and move forward.

UWT #1 – Opening with Description

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UWT stands for Unsolicited Writing Tips.  I’ll be providing my own advice for fiction (and some non-fiction, perhaps) writing that I also give to my college students  This could very well be another one of my projects that never gets off the ground, or it could become my real motivation for writing anything.  I’m currently reading a student’s work.  She’s committed a short-story writing sin in my book.  The entire first paragraph is an onslaught of descriptive words and images about the central character (age, height, hair color, hobby, etc.).  This seems rushed and unnecessary.  So, here’s what I’m going to do.  Since it’s uncouth to share any student’s actual writing without his/her permission, I’m only going to copy-paste my comment and suggestion.

In short, my first UWT is to flesh out your characters over time.  Let them have time to breathe.  Let your reader have time to learn and piece them in the same way you constructed them.

——

Comment after reading paragraph 1:

This type of opening covers some basics, but it’s still very bland. Being “about” an age or height is inexact. It prevents the reader from creating a crisp picture.

Compare your first paragraph to this one.

Ericka, a slender sixteen year old girl, preferred grazing alone through garage sales over oohing with ditzy classmates over brand-name purses.

Here, I’ve identified the age and touched on her preference to be alone, as well as her affinity for rummage sales. Let some of the other physical details out more slowly as well. You’re creating a movie in the head of your reader. Don’t let it become one page from a coloring book.

WCamp NaNo #2 (7/(6 and 7)/16)

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[more fiction/story ideas slowly coming to fruition]

So, my life changed on a Saturday morning at my friend Keely’s house.  Her parents are the kind of parents who like to get up early on weekends and show up in the kitchen wearing sweatsuits and those watches that gauge all of the steps you take in a day.  They eat grapefruit and her dad sneaks decaf coffee, I’m told.  I stayed with Keely because, well, my folks are fucking insane and I couldn’t handle another Friday Fiasco while huddled in my room with my shitty PS2 and VCR—yes, they actually still exist–and listen to their bullshit about bills and childcare and cleaning responsibilities.  Nope.  Had to go.  Keely is quickly becoming my best friend, but I’m not a hundred percent she’s feeling the same way.   We have geometry and band together.  She likes football players and I listen to music she’s never heard of.  But we’re getting there.

They had like three opened boxes of brand-name cereal–the stuff my mom never buys because the store brand, she says, tastes just the same for a lot less.  I’ll understand when I’m older, she says every time we go–most of the time I don’t even say anything.  Maybe I’m rolling my eyes or something, but she feels she has to defend every purchase every week while my kid sister Bailey and I stand there avoiding embarrassment.  Mom hates that I’m a teenager, but I try not to make shopping too challenging.  We’ve been going without dad my whole life.  At least, I don’t remember him ever being around us while she’s ripping up expired coupons or asking some poor bastard kid if they have any more of the nearly expired meat in the back.

Keely’s parents are the anti-myparents.  They kiss in front of us.  They exercise at the same time–together.  Before I really knew Keely, I used to see these two out running around our neighborhood at like crazy hours.  6 in the morning when I still hadn’t fallen asleep and at dusk when Mom’s struggling with Bailey to stay in her day-bed.  They never yell.  Not at each other.  Definitely not at Keely.  The have a cat that shits everywhere except the litter box but they’re never pissed about it.  One or the other just takes care of it and zips up for a brisk morning walk, I guess.

But that morning, I learned something that was almost devastating.  I mean, it was devastating to me, but I kept my cool and didn’t say anything about it in front of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence.  I sat at the table and was scrolling through the same stuff I’d seen just hours earlier before I actually fell asleep, when I tasted something different.  I know there’s probably no way to back this up medically, but you’ll have to trust me.  Trust and teenage girl don’t usually coincide, I know, but hear me out.  I detected a different taste.  The cereal really did taste similar to the crap Mom buys, but it wasn’t just that knock-off flavor I missed.  It was more of how I felt about an hour later.

I felt kinda shitty and pissed off.  Keely’s cat seemed to be all up in my face everywhere I sat.  Her parents stupid-ass sweaty workout gear was annoying me because it was piled on the floor by the hallway closet.  Keely herself kept asking me what I wanted to do and I just wanted to fucking rip her head off and tell her to leave me alone.

It was her cereal.

Really, it was because her cereal hadn’t been laced with whatever the fuck my mom’s been sneaking into my food for who knows how long.

At least, that’s what my school therapist figured out a few weeks ago.  I’ve been an ADHD kid for years, but I just fucking found out at my pseudo-best-friend’s house last month.

 

Camp NaNo #1 (7/6/16)

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He’d heard her say the words.  She’d repeated herself after a long pause as a few other students strolled by.  The electric glow of the generic vending machine reflected from her glasses when she had started talking, but his eyes dropped to her mismatched socks before her sentence was complete.  Twice she’d told him and all he could focus on were two socks–one yellow, the other perhaps a fuchsia.  It bothered him that he didn’t immediately know how to spell fuchsia.  When she asked if he was okay and if he heard her, his gaze rose a bit and found some new delight.  It wasn’t her hair.  Nor did the earrings he’d bought her arrest his attention.

He was being let go by his first fuck and he could only focus on the Braille script on the men’s room sign behind her right shoulder.  Perhaps this meant that being suddenly single and only a year into college was not going to be as disastrous as he’d thought.

They were that couple well past the beginning stage.  The ones who call each other MCM and WCW week after week.  The ones who quote shitty amateur poets’ words they found on Pinterest.  The ones who create insanely long hashtags that we must assume are inside jokes that a grand total of each other gets.  Senior year in high school they had matching shirts made at the spring carnival.

One time, I saw them both go into the girls’ locker room about ten minutes before gym class ended.  He came out just seconds before old Mr. Tipton stormed in after we once again disappointed him with our immaturity and lack of respect.  They say she miscarried just weeks before prom, but those types of rumors swarm high schools like ours.

So yes.  I was one of the passersby that fateful Braille day.  I passed once and neither said anything to me.  They hadn’t really much all year.  College is so funny that way sometimes.  It’s so crowded constantly around campus that the people you see who went to your high school seem to just meld into the mix.  You know it’s them, but since you don’t really talk much (then or now) it’s like you’re seeing their Doppelganger and you just want to move on with your day.

So I’d passed by them and could feel something was up.  Human interaction is so consistent in that regard, isn’t it?  Two people I don’t really give a fuck about are breaking up, and even though I didn’t hear all the words she’d said, I’d realized he was getting shit-canned.  Right there outside the commons during finals week.  I suppose it was a dick move to circle back, pretend to peruse the vending machine for something then stroll away, but I had an opportunity and I took it by God.

So I saw what he saw–the Braille–and shuffled away.  I had my earphones on, but I do that most of the time even though the cord is stuck into just my pocket so I don’t have to fucking deal with any bullshit from people around campus during this time.  Finals week sucks.  Everybody knows it.  Hell, the teachers probably hate it just as much.  We all just want to go on vacation, but these tests or whatever projects have to be completed in order to justify them handing us certification of some sort.  I’m over it.  And I’m over every other person from my classes sharing their stressfests.

In a way, I felt a little bad for the guy.  He was getting dumped by a very (physically, at least) attractive girl.  She was one of those girls who you knew didn’t have a lot of girlfriends.

(more to come….maybe)

Camp NaNoWriMo – July 2016

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A friend, his friend, and I are participating in Camp Nanowrimo, which is similar in nature to the full-blown November madness of Nanowrimo—National Novel Writing Month.  (By the way, the annual event is not restricted to the US, so it’s a bit of a misnomer.)  Anyway, even though I’m in the middle of a career change, a relocation, being on online instructor, waiting tables, and being a dad when I can, I’m going to try to write a little bit.

My modest 12,500 monthly word count is going to focus on stuff I’ve put down in my notebook.  I carry this bad boy with me almost everywhere I go.  I happen to be one of those freaks who will suddenly jot something down if it seems at least mildly story-worthy.  These will all be raw ideas that will need refinement.  My goal for the month was to get off my non-writing keester/derriere/bottom and get something out in a readable format.

Finally, I don’t really anticipate a lot of feedback from any of my readers.  It’s always welcome, but I don’t want anyone to feel obligated.  This writing is for my soul.

So…the next post will be the first item I find in my notebook that I think could eventually turn into something.