Writing Wednesdays #6

I want to write a song called “You Don’t Get to Know Me”, so I Googled “How to Write a Song and I’m going to try to write a song tonight from this article that I found. Why this article and not another? This one popped up first. Yay, research.

So, I know the title and the article says that the most popular structure for a song is verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge (whatever that is), chorus. It also says that you should have questions about the title and to answer a question in each verse and one in the chorus.  Here’s what I have so far:

Verse
What are you?

Chorus
Who are you?

Verse
When are you?

Chorus
Who are you?

Bridge
Where are you?

Chorus
Who are you?

Yeah, I went with the reporter questions. I may switch out one of the verses with “why” or “how” if one of the other ones doesn’t work out. Okay, Step 5 is to “find the melody”, whatever that means, and to “choose the lines you like best for your chorus”. I haven’t written any lines. I guess I’ll do that now. Okay, I don’t know how to do that. Back to Google.

Okay, that wasn’t helpful either. I’m going to write a poem instead, and call it a song. Hold on, be right back…

You Don’t Get to Know Me

Verse
Like a bird without wings,
A cricket that never sings,
A lion with no teeth,
A daffodil among the heath.

Chorus
You don’t get to know me,
You don’t get to know me,
I know some of you,
But you don’t get to know me.

Verse
Always three steps ahead,
Or seven steps behind,
I spent a decade in my bed,
The next one in my mind,

Chorus
You don’t get to know me,
You don’t get to know me,
I know some of you,
But you don’t get to know me.

Bridge
See me by the tree planning the spree,
I steal your lordly Chablis, I am beastly,
An absentminded amputee bumble bee,
Can’t you, can’t you, stop waiting for me,

Chorus
You don’t get to know me,
You don’t get to know me,
I know some of you,
But you don’t get to know me.

Okay, there you go. I had to look up what a bridge was supposed to be and that’s as close as I can get. I don’t really know anything about music, but this would probably make a decent four-chord song. 🙂

I should probably address the fact that I haven’t updated this blog in almost a month.

Writing Wednesdays #5

I have written two plays, each of the 5+ years ago, but who is counting? I want to use my website as a portfolio of my writing, and I actually like my plays, so I asked a playwright friend of mine (thank you Los Angeles) to read them over and give me some tips on making them actually seem like real plays.

It did take me about a month to actually send them and only did it after I woke up to this gentle nudge in FB Messenger:

WHERE THE FUCK ARE THESE PLAYS I’M SUPPOSED TO READ?!

Anyway, I sent them to him on Sunday, and yesterday, he said that he wants to meet and chat about them over coffee. So, that’s nervewracking. I could probably wouldn’t need all of my fingers and toes to count all of the people in my life, even people that I consider to be good friends, who have ever read anything I’ve written outside of a long-ass Facebook post.

In other writing news, there is none!

Writing Wednesdays #4

Full disclosure: I’m writing this on Saturday. Yeah, been having a rough week. I’ve been writing down old, terrible memories all week, and that was kind of a draining process. I am trying to write without the expectation that anyone will ever read them, but of course, that’s nearly impossible. Still, I’ve managed to write more rawly about this stuff than I have previously.

I think that writing about stuff is supposed to be cathartic but I’m not honestly sure if it is. Going back to those moments may be a mistake. Right now, I’m trying to write about when I was accidentally mean to a cat for five years and it’s such a humiliating story and definitely doesn’t put me in a light that I generally like people to see me in.

Also, you know that feeling like a million tiny mice running around the inside of your skin with their pokey little claws? That’s how I’m feeling a lot. I wonder if this is how Oscar Wilde felt writing The Picture of Dorian Gray. That story is very honest, and I think, at least a little bit autobiographical. How much damage do we do to each other and the world at large, that is unintentional?

Anyway, I was barrelling along with the story about the prophecy girl and her best friend, the unicorn, and that stopped a couple of weeks ago. I was also writing about a mute detective and haven’t been able to bring myself back to that. I hung out with my friend Robin and we did writing exercises but that felt forced and I wasn’t really into it.

Being creative is basically opening yourself up to the universe and letting whatever wants to, flow through you. It’s the ultimate in vulnerability, and I am currently struggling with that. I think, when it gets dark, my instinct is to curl up, like a porcupine, and wait until the cloud over my head has stopped hailing down icy shards of bad memories and self-hatred. That’s an instinct that makes sense, right?

I know that sometimes the answer to that is to open up, let whatever happens, happen. But I also know that that has backfired. Maybe during these times, it’s okay to emotionally hibernate until I feel functional again. The problem is that during these times I think that I’ll never be an author because I’ll never get my shit together enough to have any kind of consistency. I can go for years without writing anything creative.

That behavior isn’t going to give me the career that I want, and I desperately want to leave my job, which only adds more pressure for me to be writing the thing that’s going to rescue me from a life of accidentally crushing the hopes and dreams of people who don’t know better than to hope and dream in a world like this.

Alright, that’s another dark one. Here’s a gif of three kitty amigos:

I don’t have all of the answers, okay? Sometimes I think I do, and then I wait 30 seconds until the crippling doubt seizes up all of my muscles again…(By the way, Dan Fogelberg explains this human condition perfectly in his song, Part of the Plan.)

Writing Wednesdays #3

I don’t want to jinx it but I wrote last night, for about an hour, probably. I knew I wanted to write, but I approached it like a baby deer; slowly, with good intentions. The main story I’m working on is a fantasy novel about a girl, a prophecy, and her best friend, a unicorn. I’m at the part where she finally faces down the villain, and it’s great. The last time I worked on it, four days ago, it was going well. But now that I’m nearing the end of that story, which marks the need for editing and revision, I’ve slowed down on the writing.

I started writing a story I started a long time ago about a detective who has to clear a man who didn’t kill his first two wives. I started working on this one probably about a week-and-a-half ago, partly because I felt the depression coming on, which reminded me of this mute character I had. Depression steals voices, so I knew that I could relate to Anne (the detective) better than Janie (the prophecy girl) because Janie is ready to fight and Anne has no voice.

Anyway, last night, I took a shower, meditating on Anne and the characters in that story, hoping I’d have that moment in which a scene is revealed and just needs to be written down. And it did! And it was fun to write. This is the story I mentioned a few days ago, in which I was high and re-read what I wrote and realized that it was kind of not good writing. I don’t care if it’s not good writing. I love the story and I love the characters and I love that it’s so different from the other story I’m writing.

I’m home early from work because we did a teambuilding thing today at work that started in the morning. I’m tired but I hope that I can trick myself into writing again. The teambuilding was pretty cool. I was late because I couldn’t remember if it started at 9:30 or 10 so I found the original invitation which said “10” so I got there at 10, and it had been changed to 9:30. So that was a bad way to start but then we did improv, which should have made it worse, but it was actually fun.

Then we went bowling. I would like to state for posterity that I got higher scores than both Barb and Dave (by like two points) so that I can look back at this in 10 years and wonder why it mattered. I don’t actually know, today, why, just that it seemed important at the time. It was interesting to watch how differently people reacted to doing well or not. Some people were able to shrug it off, some stopped having fun, but most didn’t really care about the scores that much. I bowled a lot of gutters and hit one spare. So when I say I scored better than Barb and Dave, I’m not saying I did well. But I had fun.

The best ad-lib of the day, and there were a few, was when Barb and Dave were up at the same time and somebody said something like, “You’re going to come together.” Barb turned around and said, “That hasn’t happened in years,” which was met with typical junior high “oohs”. Then she punctuated her statement by bowling a spare, to loud cheering. Dave didn’t say anything, he just bowled his only strike of the day to thunderous applause. Honestly, I never want to know anything about my boss’ sex lives, but that was pretty great timing.

I probably learned a lot about myself that will help with writing (that is the only reason I do anything), but I haven’t had a chance to process it all yet. But my favorite of the improv exercises was the one in which we each had to tell a story. I assigned Nick a unicorn that found out that he wasn’t the last unicorn and went on a journey to find the only other unicorn in the world. Nick assigned me a bearded lady with the circus who was actually a millionaire.

Nick’s story was set in modern times. He was in Spain and he heard there was another unicorn somewhere in Canada. He turned his noses up at regular horses and described himself as “colorful”. And then, because of his loneliness, he ended up addicted to heroin. That was the last part, and I was cracking up as Gillian called time.

For my turn, I had some pretty good details in my story, but my favorite part was when my entire family died and left me rich, but I was under contract with the ringmaster, and I said, “And you can’t just buy out a contract, right?” which made Nick laugh. So that was fun. I actually might just try that one with Robin, or just by myself. See how many ridiculous details I can get out in one minute. I came up with one writing doodle, so that’s another one I can do.

I think the biggest thing that I got out of today was during one of the first games, which was a story round — everyone says one word in the story. Dave was trying to work in the word, “lawnmower” and got frustrated when he got “the” twice in a row. (At some point, we ended up entering a banker.) Anyway, Gillian said playing the game with an agenda; trying to get to a specific word or trying to steer a story, even knowing you only get one in ten words to participate, is about control.

My inclination was the exact opposite. I only wanted “the” or “it” or “had” or “a”. I didn’t want to steer the story in any direction, which is odd because I’m all about stories. But that game is more about how we show up in the world. I wanted to be the least noticeable part of the story. I remember that inclination from the last time I played that game during the comedy intensive three years ago. I was thinking about that before I even got to work, how little responsibility I’ve ever actually signed up for.

Anyway, I’m constantly evolving. I’ve been trying to find a way out of this promotion ever since they gave it to me, but I’ve learned and grown a lot over the past year, so who knows? I hate the accountability that comes from doing things, but if I’m honest, I want to do things, so I think I have to get accustomed to that discomfort.

Oh, and Auditions were particularly good today. Like, the best I can remember seeing.

Writing Wednesdays #2

Whew! Writing, right? Yikes. Someone posted a list of things not to do, yesterday, in the writing group I’m a part of and one of the rules was to never use alliteration. And I was like, what? Why? Anyway, I like alliteration and I will NEVER stop using it.

Rules about writing aren’t real rules, anyway. There are no rules to art. There are guidelines, structures, formats, but there are no rules. If something isn’t working, you can go through the list of “don’ts” and see if one of the “don’ts” is messing with your flow, but if your writing is working, you don’t need to fix it.

I just finished a 6-month editing internship at a publishing company. My entire job was to read full manuscripts and write a summary and notes for each chapter. At the end of the day, it wasn’t “rules” that people broke that made certain passages, pages, or chapters unreadable, it was any time that the author tried rush or be too clever — and yes, during those times, some of the rules were broken.

I read 10 full manuscripts ranging from 80k to over 100k. Every author broke rules but did it without disrupting the overall flow of the story. Every author broke rules and it did interrupt the flow. Every author broke rules and made the story better. Writing is an evolutionary artform. We’re constantly changing it, improving it. Why do we try to adhere to rigid, immediately dated rules that only serve to make us judge our writing, rather than enjoy it?

I don’t get high very often, mostly because coming down off of marijuana really bums me out. It numbs my pleasure center for several days (or, I guess, more accurately, it stops triggering my pleasure center and I go back to my normal levels, which feels like so much less). But on Saturday, I came home, and I just could not face being sober for another second. So I ate part of an edible that my friend gave me. And then I tried to write. I’ve never written high because I’ve always been afraid that it would make me more creative and a better writer and then I would get to the point where I couldn’t write UNLESS I was high.

Fortunately, I had the exact opposite experience. I re-read something I had written the day before and recognized how purple-ish the writing was. I was too high to be embarrassed but I did think it was funny that I hadn’t realized how not “good” the writing was until I was high. And, maybe I would have, eventually. I always like what I write when I write it and then later get to the point where I can see the flaws and try to fix it.

But, after I sobered up, I thought, so what? Maybe the writing is a little purple-y. Maybe it’s bad. Maybe my story is dumb and I shouldn’t bother writing it. But then I remembered all the dumb stories that I’ve ever read that could be torn to shreds for their bad writing but that still managed to transport me to different worlds, allowed me to live in different bodies, and learn something new about what it means to be human. So, in the end, it doesn’t matter what rules we follow, break, or destroy completely. In the end, if the writing serves the story, that’s all that matters.

Also, I like my dumb story, so there, high me.

Writing Wednesdays #1

Okay, so only a few of my friends actually know this, but I’ve been working on a book. It’s a middle grade fantasy novel about a girl and her best friend, a unicorn. Non-fiction, obviously. Here is a photo I took: 

I think I came up with this story idea in 2004 or 2005. My files only go back as far as 2009, though. Anyway, the point is that writing is a quick and easy endeavor. Seriously, though, I started writing this for real in July of 2017 and then for some reason on December 13th, started writing it for real.

I have tried to talk myself into some sort of regular writing schedule before, but the writing was a chore, something that I did because I was trying to reach a word count, trying desperately to prove to myself that I was a “real” writer. Over the past four years, I’ve gotten in touch with my voice, who I am, and what I have to say. I’m also mildly convinced that I have a tumor and have like two weeks left to live. I’ve felt that way for a while.

I deal with depression, too (see last post if you don’t believe me), so although I want to die, like multiple times a day, I don’t want to die without having written at least one book. It’s been my only real dream since before I could read. I always knew that I was a writer, and the only part of dying that makes me sad is the idea that I’ll never get to tell the stories that I’ve been trying to tell for a decade. I know I’m supposed to say I’ll miss my family and friends, but I’ll be dead. I won’t be able to miss anyone. I also won’t be around to care if they miss me, so that part doesn’t really affect me much. I just don’t want to be murdered and I don’t want to die of suicide.

But I digress. The point is, thinking that I’m going to die in two weeks (from today, always from today) combined with my new ability to express myself have given me the push I needed to start writing again. I always wanted being a writer to be like it was in movies — I’d sit down at a typewriter and instantly be transported to another world. It’d be like reading, but better because I’d be controlling the story. Over the years, I’d have moments of that, but so few that I grew frustrated. I got angry at myself for not being able to make the writing experience like that. I got angry at movie writers who would lie to would-be writers and make us think that writing was that easy.

And it’s not. Even though the writing is smoother now, and I get lost in it more, there are still hiccups, still doubts that crowd my mind, especially right before I start writing for the day. But there is a magic to it, and I think that the last four years of working at a comedy club has taught me that magic. The magic comes from being in the moment with my words. I’ve watched, honestly, countless shows, countless comedians do countless jokes.

Comedians often get embarrassed when they do a joke they think I’ve heard before. This makes me laugh for two reasons: one, because I have face blindness and if I have no idea who you are, sometimes hearing a joke you’ve done before helps me remember who you are. And two, because I LIKE watching people do the same jokes over and over (unless I hate that joke). A good joke lives in the moment, never to be told the same way again. They say that you can never cross the same river twice, and I feel the same way about telling jokes. The comedian grows and changes, the audience changes, the joke gets tighter, more tags get added, etc.

If you could Groundhog Day a joke and have the comedian tell the same joke to the same audience a split second later, and then another split second later, and then another split second later, the joke would never be the same, any of those times. The differences would be subtle, but even the amount of time the audience has been sitting in the room affects the reaction. Where the servers are in the room, who gets up to go to the bathroom are factors, too. As soon as one audience member checks out, thinking about the bathroom instead of the joke, the air in the room changes. Stand-up is a very fiddly artform.

My host tonight told me that he made 37 mistakes during the show that he’s going to obsess over and get perfectly next time. I hope he’s joking because, really, imperfection is where the poignancy and beauty of stand-up live. Vulnerability is the absence of structure, and it is the key to not just good comedy, but good art. That’s why people talk about “being in the moment” all the time with stand-up because there is no great stand-up who has ever lived who has performed their bits, completely or even minutely detached from what they’re saying. Urgency is the key to amazing stand-up, not saying your “lines” perfectly.

Similarly, when I’m writing now, I don’t worry about getting the words and sentences perfect. I’m less concerned with writing impressively. I understand poetry, to some degree. I understand the rules for writing well. But I don’t care anymore because I’ve spent four years watching people mess up their own jokes and still manage to connect to the audience perfectly.

So when I’m writing, I keep in mind that even though the words are for someone else later, they’re also for me, now. And when I remember that, the experience of writing takes me from this world to another one, and it feels like how I always thought writing should.

Blogging While Humaning

I’d love to have prepared something special for my first real blog post. I did a quick Google search and there were a lot of “not to-do” articles that I didn’t click on, but I did see one piece of advice that said, “share your expertise”. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m not an expert on anything but I am proficient in a lot of things:

  • sadness
  • anxiety
  • face blindness
  • Dan Fogelberg
  • writing
  • drawing
  • stand-up comedy

That’s seven things! So I’m going to dedicate one day of the week to each of these things and give the best tips I have for all of these subjects. If I become proficient at anything else,  I may have to change the format at some point, but we’ll start with these. Because this is my first official blog, I’m going to do the first week in one post and give a tip for each subject, so that you can judge from one post if I have any credibility on these subjects.

Minstrel Monday
Dan Fogelberg Fact: Dan Fogelberg had a boat named the Minstrel, therefore, Mondays have been nicknamed Minstrel Mondays!

Testy Tuesday
Okay, I couldn’t think of a word for anxiety that started with a “t” so we’re going with Testy Tuesdays. A tip for dealing with anxiety: Anxiety is about feeling out of control, so the best way to combat that is to pull your focus into what you can control, even if it’s something small. Write a one-page story (it doesn’t have to be good), draw a thing (it doesn’t have to be good), pick up your socks off the floor (leave the empty water bottles). If you’re focused on what you CAN do, you’re not focused on what you CAN’T control.

Writing Wednesday
This one was easy to name. This is something I did for my writing, recently:  I joined a Facebook writing group. It’s going well so far. Yes, there is the temptation to just play on the page instead of write. However, being able to see and talk to people for whom writing is also super important is very helpful.

Drawing Thursday
Yeah, I totally gave up on the alliteration for this one. A tip for drawing: start out crappy at it and get better by doing it crappily a lot. It’ll get gradually less crappy and before you know it, it’s actually kind of good.

Face-Blindness Friday
Again easy to name! Face blindness is called “prosopagnosia” and it is defined as, “Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces…Depending upon the degree of impairment, some people with prosopagnosia may only have difficulty recognizing a familiar face; others will be unable to discriminate between unknown faces, while still others may not even be able to distinguish a face as being different from an object.”* Tip for Dealing with a Face Blind Person: if you’ve met someone a few times and they still don’t recognize you, it may not be a lack of respect, it could be a neurological condition, so don’t get all butt hurt, just introduce yourself again.

Sadness Saturday
Ooh, my favorite! Honestly, I could make this every day, but what a bummer of a blog that would be. A tip for dealing with sadness: Google “I am sad” and see what pops up. Generally, it’s kittens. I like to Google my sadness away because it reminds me that it’s part of being human. Everyone deals with sadness, I am not a freak for feeling sad sometimes.

Stand-Up Sunday
The perfect follow-up to Sadness Saturday. I work at a comedy club, so I’ll probably spend Sundays reflecting on something I learned or saw that week, or a joke I heard, or something that pissed me off. This week, the Wednesday audition was really nice. We had like, four first timers (comedians new to the club) but in general, it was a low turnout, and mostly regulars. But before the audition, I asked David Dorward if he’d do one of my favorite bits. I requested one of my favorite Kimberly Clark bits from her, too, and then spent more time chatting with the few people who showed up than I usually do.

Usually, at auditions, the regulars get up and use it as an open mic with mixed results. But on Wednesday, David was one of our first regulars up, and he brought it. Kimberly did too, and so did all of our regulars. I think there were two things that happened yesterday: one, I showed an interest in the comics, rather than just checking them in, which made them feel special before they even got on stage. And second, even the comedians I didn’t chat with were jazzed and inspired by David and Kimberly and they all did their best, too.

David and Kimberly are two of my favorite comedians who drop by auditions regularly, and they always do well, but I think that going in knowing that they were not just watched but seen and heard, really helped. It COULD have backfired, and I won’t be doing that a lot, but my requests were spontaneous and genuine, and they responded to that. I think we all got to remind each other that we all love stand-up, which oddly enough, sometimes gets lost in the grinds and gears of comedy as a business.

* https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Prosopagnosia-Information-Page