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Silent No More

I’m a white woman, and here’s my opinion that literally no one asked for.

Hi, I am actually half white, but I pass as white. I refer to myself as a “white person” because that’s how society views me.

Throughout my adult life, I have tried to remain as silent as possible about racial issues. The reason for that is (1) I have struggled with a learned helplessness thing; (2) I believed that if I was a vocal person and made some kind of awful blunder, I would be forever dismissed as a phony and a hypocrite; (3) I believed that my speaking out was useless because people didn’t respect my opinions anyway.

I’ll be honest. I don’t want to apply labels like “ally” or anti-racist” to myself. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the most progressive education in my formative years. I don’t necessarily think that people who call themselves those things are disingenuous, but I can conceive it devolving into a “white savior” complex. Or maybe I am just an asshole. I can’t tell anymore.

So I don’t like the labels, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing I can do. If I keep silent because I am afraid of not saying the right thing, I will say nothing at all. If I don’t act because I am afraid it won’t be enough, I will do nothing at all. I just don’t want to be afraid anymore.

I want to shut up and listen. I want to be better. When it really counts, I want to have the courage to stand up for what’s right.

Law enforcement violence against People of Color is real. Racism is real. It may seem like nothing is getting better. I don’t have the answers, but I hope that as a society we will become more conscious, present, and better-equipped to bring about lasting change.

Uncategorized, Writing Tips

Get to the Why: Tips for Authentically Discovering Your Characters and Their World

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The best stories will tell strive to answer the following question: why? You can who, what, where, and when all day long, but without the why to tie it all together, you don’t have much. It may be abstract, or it not be the answer we’re looking for as readers, but there it is. Of course, some stories are so po-mo and disjointed that you could argue that the why is that there is no why. But even if you’re writing that kind of story, you may still want to strive for the why, just for fun. Here’s how.

Just kidding. We all know the why is elusive. I can’t tell you how to find it. But here are some fun exercises to start:

  1. Pretend that you’re a character in your story. Now, you have a gun pointed at your head, and your assailant is asking you to write a joke on a sticky note. It doesn’t need to be a joke that you think is funny. But your character should think it’s funny. Or, your character should think that their would-be-killer thinks it’s funny. So meta. Also, you can take as much time as you need because you don’t actually have a gun pointed at your head. Sorry if this exercise is triggering (I seriously did not intend that pun), but I just wanted to make writing seem high-stakes.
  2. When you’re feeling uninspired, do some research. Learn about the places your story takes place in, read a book your character would read, or Google something obscure related to a character’s day job. Call it research, self-improvement, or… the Dunning-Kruger effect? It’s probably going to help down the line.
  3. Embrace false starts. Today, you may be congratulating yourself for finally starting your project. Tomorrow, you may delete every word you’ve written. Don’t do that. Instead, play the devil’s advocate for your work, no matter how bad you think it is. What, specifically, about the work is “bad?” Does it need to be shortened or lengthened? Is there too much or too little context for certain events? Is the dialogue boring? Does it parrot common stereotypes? Answers to these questions are always helpful when you’re thinking about what directions you do want to go in. And ask yourself another question: is there anything I can salvage, repurpose, or re-invent?

I hope that trying these exercises and finding other ways to fully engage with your work will improve your writing. My final piece of advice: have some fun. If there’s a subject you want to try, a style you want to emulate, a crazy idea you had in the shower that you want to bring to life, then DO IT. This is supposed to be a blast. We’re writing fiction, not trying to find the cure for cancer. There’s simply no reason to hold back.

Photo by Ash Valiente from Pexels

 

Uncategorized, Writing Tips

How To Write Amazing Short Fiction: 10 Steps for Success

photo of man holding paper
Photo by Mikechie Esparagoza on Pexels.com

Hello! Quick “about me.” I haven’t blogged in over a year, but you can feel free to look at my archives at your leisure, where you’ll find my hilarious and uncomfortably ambitious travel writings. In my defense, I was twenty-one. Since then, I’ve finished up law school, lined up a couple short stories for publication, and embarked on my very own business venture (more on that later). I’ve learned a lot lately, and I want to share it with anyone else who’s starting out and may want some guidance.

  1. Get a notebook. Dust off your spiral-bound notebooks, legal pads, and composition books. Or make notes on your phone. Write down every idea you have throughout the day, no matter how half-baked it seems. It goes without saying: if you have a day job, try to be discreet 😉 The idea may be useless, or it may be the kernel of truth that grows into your next masterpiece. Cram the wheat with the chaff into that notebook, and sort it out later!
  2. Write in the morning, or before bed, when your subconscious mind is more active. From Toni Morrison to Hemingway, countless great writers swear by their early morning sessions, and there’s good reason for it. You can be creatively engaged at any time of day, but from my experience, the best stuff often comes in the morning, with no effort. As you sleep, your subconscious mind creates connections between seemingly unrelated things, and that’s where you get intuitive and emotionally resonant fiction.
  3. Don’t give up. Not all writers are able to create quality, consistent output. Unless you need the income from your writing, don’t sweat it. Trust your instincts and plough forward. Your next breakthrough is right around the corner.
  4. Nail down tone and voice. You simply can’t successfully launch a story without having tone and voice figured out. This is probably the most difficult part of the process, and potentially the most satisfying. There is no easy way out, but you can start by drilling down into your character’s life experience and personality, which is especially helpful if you’re doing first-person. Pretend that you’re answering security questions for your character. What was the make and model of her first car? Start there and get more personal. This may seem silly, but do it anyway. And if you’re stuck, look to novels, movies, or songs for inspiration.
  5. Character sketch. This goes hand-in-hand with Step 4. Come up with some backstories, the better if they’re long, and a little melodramatic won’t hurt. Think about the character’s weaknesses and predict breaking points. While your backstories may not appear in your finished product at all, writing them out will help you distill the character’s most important experiences. Of course, you may choose to not have any flashbacks in your story, as I have done before, but knowing a character’s past will inform the actions they take in your narrative.
  6. Outline Plot. I suck at outlining. As you can probably guess, I do character-driven pieces, and yes, I shoot from the hip and entertain wild delusions of literary grandeur. I take this pretty far sometimes. I once wrote a story that began and ended with the narrator driving to school in the morning. Was I proud of myself? Kind of. Could the story have been better if I took an outline seriously? Most definitely. Are you more of a Kafka or a Stephen King? Doesn’t matter. There’s probably something you can do to make your outlining process more thorough and thoughtful. I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what not to do, which is: not outlining.
  7. Edit early and edit often. Some writers will disagree with this. They will suggest getting down your all thoughts before you go into critique mode. But here’s the thing. The sooner you catch obvious mistakes, the less likely it is they’ll end up in your final copy. At the same time, try to be conservative. If you really don’t like it, delete it. But if you’re not sure, highlight it and decide another time.
  8. Keep it short. For a newbie writer trying to get published for the first time, this is probably the single best piece of advice I can give. The word limit for many submissions and contests is 5,000. Under 3,000 is gold.
  9. Read it out loud. You can probably get away with not reading narration out loud, but why? Read the whole thing out loud several times, especially dialogue. Pretend it’s a movie script and you’re an actor trying out for the part. If the phrasing is awkward, just change it.
  10. Get feedback. If you’re excited about the project, chances are you’ll have lively conversations about it with friends, family, and coworkers. Exploit that. Sort of. And if you’re looking for some more spice in your editing life, post it on Critique Circle where strangers can roast it with zero repercussions. If this makes you scared because you’re a snowflake INFP writer, I totally get it, but don’t let that stop you. Respect the feedback and think about the feedback. It will make you better. Know in the end that it’s your story and no one else’s. For now 😉

 

travel, Uncategorized

From Point A to Point B and the Lower East Side

LAX makes me think of palm trees. And purple and blue geometric shapes. I know that makes me a fool.

Suffice it to say, I still have some silly, romantical ideas about what it means to travel. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to believe that it was only one year ago that I was leaving the country for the first time since I was a child to go to London with my classmates. Who was that girl who watched breathlessly out the windows during the descent into Heathrow, admiring the view of the buildings from thousands of feet above and all the way down to the greenery by the runway? And who was that girl who obsessed for weeks over some nerd in the tube who had looked at her in a certain way? Who walked around the city in high heels until her feet bled and whose friends ordered her gin and tonic at bars, even though she could have gotten one herself? I feel as though I hardly know her.

The trip to JFK was fairly uneventful. Probably for that very reason, the anxiety crept up on me when I got on the plane. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding until we finally got up in the air. Really, it’s always the anticipation that kills me.

Then, when I got to the hotel by the airport in Jamaica Queens past 2 AM, the first thing I did was a bunch of frantic Google searches on the tap water because I was super thirsty on account of the humidity, fresh out, and of course it was an ungodly hour so I couldn’t buy any. I’m one of those assholes who gets persnickety about drinking water. It was hard to sleep that night because my heart was pounding because I needed sleep. Quite the vicious circle. Nonetheless, when I sprang out of bed at 9 AM, fully awake, my hormones in sync somehow with the local time, I was ready to put the weird night past me and get out into the city!

I dropped off my bags at the Ludlow, which was to be my real hotel. I regrouped with some yogurt and headed out to the Tenement Museum.

I did one tour at the Museum, which was called “Hard Times.” We went inside a tenement that had been preserved and converted into a museum. This tenement had been built in the late nineteenth century and was occupied until the 1930’s, when it was condemned. You might think that a tenement would be completely shabby, but not this one. The inside was dark and hot and depressing, but there were some nice touches, like the moldings, wall art, ornate archways and things in the hallways. Nonetheless, the place would have been super crowded with twenty-two families plus two business operating in the basement level, if I remember correctly. We went inside the kitchen where quaint old containers of starch and other relics were placed about, along with a dining table and ironing board. The daughter of the family who had lived there during the Great Depression recreated the setup of their old family kitchen. She had many fond childhood memories of gathering with her family for meals and playing board games with her father there, in spite of the fact that it all took place during the Depression and there was an old cottage cheese box from the government relief organization they had at that time to prove it.

The whole time the tour was going on, I felt a little faint, but not to the point of seeing colors or anything like that. Definitely some travel exhaustion. It was really hot in there, and I had nothing to drink and nothing to fan myself with. I kept imagining myself passing out in front of all of those people. Somehow, I persisted through the tour, more out of pride than anything else. I just didn’t want to be that girl who couldn’t last five minutes in the tenement. I suppose it could have been worse. At least there were some open windows and a couple fans so you would get a waft of fresh air every now and again. Boy, I still felt terrible though, but I’m proud of myself for sticking it out to the bitter end. Anxiety be damned. I think that’s really the theme of this whole trip. I should get that on a t-shirt.

I officially checked into the Ludlow after the tour. So far, I could not be more pleased. The staff is very friendly and my room is out of this world. I’ve got these rich Moroccan bed posts, what appears to be marble countertops, cool retro brass fixtures, and some arm chairs and a table that evoke some mid-century Hollywood glamor. It all just works for me.

I hiked up to Mickey Likes It Ice Cream in East Village and wandered around Tompkins Square Park eating my double-scoop Pink Floyd. Which is strawberry and pieces of cheesecake. It suited me just fine. There was some kind of event going on there. People were lying in the grass sunbathing, in bathing suits often. Just all in one area. I thought there was live music, but I could find no band so it was just a sunbathing party of some kind. Puzzling.

I ate a very strange early dinner at Speedy Romeo’s. They asked me if I wanted to sit at the bar, and I said yes for some reason. So I got to listen to the waitresses gossiping. I don’t know if it made me feel less alone or if it had kind of the opposite effect. But the pizza made up for it. I liked that the thin crust was burned in the woodfire oven. I liked the Parmesan and all these other rich cheeses, cheeses that I’ve never even heard of but that reminded me of Delice de Bourgogne from Trader Joe’s with that kind of truffly taste. And I liked the little thin slices of garlic. It makes me think of one of those gangster movies… was it The Godfather or Goodfellas? That scene where they’re slicing the garlic really thin with a razor blade. That gets to me.

So, that was my day.

Sometimes, I still wonder why I’m here all alone, even though this is exactly what I wanted, and I can see many advantages to it. Sure, I’ve got my slogan. But is this trip really going to make me a better writer or a better person? Will I be purified eventually by the condensation water from air conditioners that keeps falling on me? Who’s to say.

Oddly enough, when I was taking this picture, there was a man nearby yelling and cussing into his iPhone earbud mic about social media. He was attracting some attention. Then again, it was nothing out of the ordinary. It’s always more reassuring when you see someone yelling and cussing with the earbuds hanging down versus the earbuds not hanging down. Without challenging the tacit assumptions about human behavior behind that judgment… well it was just an interesting juxtaposition. At one point, he said something like, “that’s just a reality you created.” Actually, it sounded even more profound than that. What can I say? Crazy or not, he’s right about that.

Uncategorized

The check engine light within

“Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

-Anonymous

This morning, right after I filled up the gas tank, I turned on my car and it did a weird little half-start and the check engine light glowered at me. “Wonderful,” I thought, “I’m so glad I had the transmission serviced recently.” I debated with myself about whether to go home and complain to my daddy or take my chances and complete the drive to work.

As I left, I became convinced that there was something wrong with the car. “There’s more slack than usual in the gas pedal,” I mused. “Something’s not right.”

I pulled over and decided to  re-start the thing. I was so nervous that I turned the engine off without putting it in park first.

Well, I got going again. I was on the freeway, watching the tachometer like a hawk and listening for weird noises. That was about as methodical as I could get about the whole thing, considering that my knowledge of the internal combustion engine and whatnot is severely lacking. Everything seemed normal enough, and then the light just went off by itself about thirty minutes later.

I’d say there’s a possibility that there was never anything mechanically wrong with the car in the first place. It being a newer car built in 2012, it has all these fancy computers. Maybe it’s too smart for its own good.

Why did I tell you this boring story about something that has happened to a lot of people? I guess because it got me thinking about sci-fi stuff and my friend, the sympathetic nervous system. And the line between perception and reality that may or may not exist, depending on whom you ask.

I guess my car and I were meant for each other because I’ve got an overactive check engine light too. At the slightest provocation, I can create worlds of terror out of bad memories while anxiety punches me in the stomach so hard I can’t breathe and depression holds down my arms and legs in its own vague, ghosty way so that I hardly notice it on account of the punching. And then, I open my eyes after the pain settles, and nothing is there. Everything is eerily normal.

And Stella’s car glides merrily along the freeway.

 

 

 

 

 

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“To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect” AND More on Best 5 Monday Reads — PsiHub

Hello and welcome back to another edition of Best 5 Reads! I hope you enjoyed your weekend and had enough time to recharge yourself for a busy week ahead. 1) To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect Much of modern life, though seeming to promote connectivity, has had the opposite effect of fostering social isolation […]

via “To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect” AND More on Best 5 Monday Reads — PsiHub

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The Second Novel Slump

“You got a ways to go
There’s so much to know
Got a ways to go
Too much to know”

~The Feelies, “Too Much”

My first novel, for all intents and purposes, was “The Eastward Exodus,” a raw, ambitious, contemporary work about a neurotic high school girl who wants to go to NYU and be a playwright. Forget that jive about the apocalypse I did once; the family saga dripping with melodrama; and the political thriller I wrote in high school, titled, earnestly, “Dark Horse.” If “Dark Horse” is even deserving of analogy, it was something like the savage, mutant love child of 1984 and that good ole Robert Redford flick The Candidate. No offense to savage, mutant love children.

My second novel (for all intents and purposes) is presently marinading in my mind, as it should be, for a very long time.

I’d be lying if I said that that makes me happy. It really doesn’t. I hardly know who I am when I’m not fleeing from social interaction, holed up someplace writing a book. I suppose that’s one reason why I’m blogging again. I can’t just keep silent until I have something spectacularly relevant to share with the world, as tasteful and prudent as that may seem.

I’d also be lying if I said that this trip I’m taking to New York isn’t sort of an attempt to jumpstart my second novel. The beginning of the novel is the most important part, as probably any writer would attest to. If those stakes aren’t sizzling at the beginning, when will they be? When you get all tangled up in your own plot twists and run out of clever pop culture references at around 30k words?

The trip may do the trick, or it may not. Certainly, it will help me as a writer in some way somewhere down the road. Yet, it’s doubtful that I’ll be like, “Eureka! Now I know exactly how to start my second novel that sets out to chart the course of history from the perspective of a parasite, filtered through a story about an autistic girl, a synesthete law student, and a pack of cigarettes with a lifetime warranty.”

Yep, I don’t really see that happening. You can’t plan an epiphany like that. It’s even pretty hard to plan a trip. I feel like I’m wanting to saturate myself with stuff about New York (a crash course in American history and architecture would not be out of place), but it doesn’t seem like I’ll ever know enough to put everything in context, and, what’s more, it’s not like I actually know what’s going to happen to me there. Nor do I want to know; that’s kind of the point, not knowing.

And so, why don’t I just spill something onto a page and see what happens? The reason is that every good thing I’ve ever written was etched onto my soul long before it touched paper (as cheesy as that sounds), and so far, this isn’t. I’m certain that anything I would write at this point would be half-baked and painful to read, and I respect myself too much as a writer to even expose my laptop to such a shameful display.

Listen, you know you’ve got writer’s block when the best working title you can come up with for your second novel is: “Luridly, Leena Lights Up.” A part of me (the rational part) despises this sorry excuse for a title, which begins with a weird adverb and only goes downhill from there. And another part of me is like, “well, it’s self-aware, and it does rather nicely undercut the pretentiousness of the title of your first novel, ‘The Eastward Exodus of Julie Ashbury.'” True as that may be… it really is a piece of shit title, and until I can get my brain waves out of murky territory they must be wading in, it probably isn’t even safe for me to be writing.

 

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On Traveling Alone

I’ve never really travelled alone before. In the literal sense I have, but not in the sense of being by myself in a different place for any extended period of time.

When I was in London for study abroad last summer, I declined a trip to Cambridge with my companions to nurse my under-the-weather feeling and hopefully get some antitrust law reading done. As it turned out, I didn’t get much reading done, and I started getting restless once I realized that I didn’t have a cold after all. My work ethic in those early days of the trip was all but nonexistent. I decided that a lunch break was in order. I took the tube to Brixton. I’m certain that I’d never heard of Brixton before arriving in London, besides from that song, “The Guns of Brixton.” That was really all the encouragement I needed.

As I emerged from the Underground, I was greeted by the sound of steel drums coming from the street above. I suppose I did what any self-aware white girl would have done in that situation. I went to a movie theater bar to have an eggs Benedict. I witnessed what appeared to be some kind of bizarre racial tension boiling over in the streets. I wandered the outdoor market, bought two mangoes out of homesickness, and perused a record store. Then I found myself at this festival in a park eating chocolate Digestive crackers I got from the nearby Sainsbury and drinking terrible beer until I felt bored and guilty about not doing my antitrust reading. IMG_0170
Honestly, it wasn’t a bad afternoon. I felt like I was engaging with my environment in a way that I wouldn’t have if I had gone with someone else. Dull as it got towards the end, I had the vague realization that this could work. could work on my own.

Well, I’ve booked my flight, my hotel, a ticket to an off-broadway play, I’ve told people at work, sort of… and I’m going to New York.

I’ve been waiting to go for years. I was devastated when my eighth grade class went, without me (my mom didn’t think I was old enough to go at the time). Crushed when my plans were derailed once again the summer before I started law school (I’d even done my homework on New York pizza).

It’s like life is trying to get in the way of my travel plans once again. I’ve been feeling very tired lately and having nighttime panic attacks intense and frequent enough to tickle my hypochondriac sensibilities. Not to mention that I sort of freaked out on a ferris wheel a couple weeks ago (have I, at the age of 21, developed a fear of heights?!). And salty food has not been treating me so good lately, which is not cool because this is supposed to be my pizza odyssey.

Well, I guess all my neurotic stuff can take a walk, because I’m still going. Next month may not be the best time, but it’s the time. I suppose if there is a place to learn rugged individualism, it’s New York.

And then there’s the traveling alone for fun stigma. This is the least of my worries. You can’t have individualism without self-reliance. And I’m simply not going to wait around for people to validate my experiences.

So, that’s all for now. Let’s see if I chicken out between now and then.