Reality TV Bites (aka: Stick to the Script)

Facing reality just isn’t my thing.

I have no clue who the Kardashians are, or why I would want to keep up with them. I don’t know what The Voice sounds like. And no, I have never watched a single episode of The Bachelor.

It’s one of those sad realities that makes it challenging to jump into conversations with other women. At my work, many of the men seem to stand around the water cooler, discussing basketball or guns. Many of the women seem to either gossip about real-life people, or real-life reality shows.

Me? I stay in my cubicle, doing work.

When people find out what a reality-show virgin I am, the shocked reactions are always the same. “What? You’ve never seen [fill-in-the-blank cooking show battle]? You didn’t watch that amazing stunt on America’s Most Talented Circus Performers? You didn’t see the train wrecked lives of those poor kids on Teen Mom, Season 3? You really missed out.”

To be fair, I have seen some reality shows. Back when they were a newfangled concept, I checked out MTV’s The Real World. I caught the early seasons of Survivor and The Amazing Race. I even watched Kelly beat Justin after Simon Cowell dashed the hopes of hundreds of recording artist wannabes. I have also seen The Truman Show a half dozen times. So I know what reality shows are all about. But I also know that many of these shows are staged, with produced events to spice up the shows, and turn them into a larger-than-life version of reality. So really, it would be accurate to call them unreality shows.

Although they can be somewhat entertaining, I reject reality TV shows for one sole reason: lack of writers. Call it nuts, but I happen to value good writing. You take some interesting characters, weave them into a fascinating plot, toss in some witty humor and carefully-crafted drama, then tie it all together with a satisfying ending. Voila! You have just created a story. And story is what it’s all about. A romance story. A suspenseful story. A horror story. Something to keep me on my toes, intrigued, involved in the lives of the characters. But not just an slapped-together slice of life from some ordinary wealthy person and their first-world problems. Reality shows are like the IKEA of TV programs. A true story is a work of art, taking the realities of life, then reproducing them in an extraordinary way.

Who needs reality when you can put on Olivia Pope’s white hat for an hour, or leap from an airplane into an enemy state with Sidney Bristow, or save countless lives with Meredith Gray? Why watch real-life people battle over who can build a fancier cupcake, when you can watch imaginary characters transform into superheroes, evil dictators, spaceship captains, or time-travelers? Stick to the script!

Don’t we already get enough reality in our everyday lives? We survive. We do our jobs and try not to get fired. We are dance moms and soccer dads. We try to contribute the winningest dish to the potluck. We have people following us around with cameras (Oh wait…is that just me?). Reality is enough of a reality. You can keep those other so-called realities on some other channel. I’d rather watch a story.

Advertisements

Party Girl (a Short Story)

Did you catch a glimpse of those three guys, as I was walking down the street?

“Hey, Party Girl!” called the tall one in the baseball cap. “Come and party with us!”

So of course I did. My heels clicked against the pavement as I sashayed up the walkway. “You guys ready?” I asked.

What? Did you think I should have kept walking? Did you expect me to say no? Then clearly, you don’t know who I am.

I’m Party Girl.

And let’s face it, a party’s just not a party without me there.

Like this party. An ordinary Friday night crowd of tense faces, drowning in Taylor Swift pop at the bottom of a plastic red Solo cup. Pathetic. But those three guys knew what was up. The minute they sensed my presence, they invited me in. Like any good partygoer should do.

And just like that, everything changed.

It’s like Disney magic sparkles floated in the room after me. Suddenly, the music began to pump, and faces came to life.

“Let’s get this party started!” I said. I popped the cork of a frosty bottle of champagne (what, like you don’t carry your own champagne to parties?) and dowsed myself in the bubbly rain. “Whooooooot!” I cheered.

All around me, voices echoed my cries. The music turned up a couple of notches, and soon, there wasn’t a single person sitting. We jumped and twisted and gyrated our hips to the music, lost in the release.

That’s how it usually goes.

But one night, things got a little out of hand. Sometimes that happens. I don’t know why the party spirit hits some peeps just a little too hard, you know what I mean? Like, the high they get isn’t enough, so they have to throw dangerous crap into the mix. Illegal drugs. Stupid stunts. When this kind of thing happens, I usually take off so that no one can blame me when someone gets hurt.

But that time, I was too slow.

There was an underage kid at the party. A skinny, hungry little thing who wasn’t ready for liquor. Especially the amount of liquor they got him to guzzle down, like he was a car, and they controlled the gas pump.

“Stop it!” I said, trying to push the kid toward the front door. “Let him go home.”

But they wouldn’t stop. They pushed and pushed. Then, next thing you know, the kid was out, flat against the discolored carpet, surrounded by the discarded booze of the partygoers who’d fled the scene. In the spotlight of whirling red and blue lights, the remaining fingers pointed at me.

So the officer did the unthinkable. He fastened cold handcuffs around my wrists and locked me away.

“No more Party Girl,” he said with a sneer.

I waited until he walked away. Then I smiled.

The very next night, while I was lying on a lumpy mattress in my cell, a party began. No, not where I was. Somewhere across town. I could feel the vibrations in my bones.

Somewhere, in an ordinary house, a group got together to let off steam. Someone opened the front door, and in walked a boy wearing bright red sneakers and a grin as bright as the daylight. “Let’s get this party started!” he cried, then pulled out a frosty bottle of champagne (I’m telling you, it’s a thing).

And all around him, the party came to life.

The next night, same thing. Only it was a girl with high ponytails and dance moves like Britney.

Then the officers let me go. Because it finally occurred to them that, no matter how hard they tried to lock me up, you can’t stop Party Girl. Anytime a group of peeps is gathered together, Party Girl will be there, too. I am that guy turning up the stereo volume. I am that girl dragging you into the circle to dance. I am the shine in your glow necklace, the beat in your dance tunes, the cherry floating in your drink.

A party without me just isn’t a party.

So open the door and invite me in.

Are you ready?

Party Girl

Duende and Honey (a poem)

Duende and Honey

music headphones listen

Today I give you music.

Melodies

to make your spirit

rise

and

 sink

Harmonies like feathers stroking fur

rains pelting earth under glowing sun

stars streaking against inky blackness

I give you the old songs

that curl around you

warm

like mother’s blanket

honeyed tea

to soothe your weary soul

I give you drumbeats

tapping

pounding

thrumming

dancing with your heart

I give you fingers stroking strings

playing shivers

along your spine

and lyrics

golden poetry

to shine in your darkest places

duende

to stoke forgotten fires

words to cure

words to lift

words that sail across this vast sea that

divides us

and whispers my name

Mix the Batter (aka: The NaNoWriMo Commandments)

Tick, tick, tick…

Hear that sound? No, it’s not a bomb. Not exactly. It’s the sound of the NaNoWriMo countdown clock.

Brace Yourself NaNoWriMo is Coming

If you are not a novel writer, then you’re probably scratching your head right now, wondering if NaNoWriMo is some rare tropical disease, or an exotic food dish. But for those of us steeped in the writerly world, we know that NaNoWriMo means one thing: Panic.

Preptober is almost over! Only four days left until it begins! Aaaaaaaccckkk! I’m not done with character development! I’m not done worldbuilding! My favorite pen is out of ink! I still don’t have a plot! Aaaaaaacckkk!!

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is an annual challenge in which fiction writers everywhere attempt to do the insane — write an entire novel in one month. That’s right. A minimum of 50,000 words in 30 days. You do the math. My novel-planning brain is too exhausted. So exhausted, in fact, that I will now spam the rest of this post with silly memes as I share the NaNoWriMo Commandments.

50,000 words minimum writing

The NaNoWriMo Commandments

1. Thou shalt become a Plotter, not a Pantster. I know full well how fun it can be to fly by the seat of you pants and just write, write, write without bothering to plan. But if you attempt to do this during NaNoWriMo, you are almost guaranteed to fail. If you don’t have a notebook filled with character descriptions, plot outlines, and worldbuilding details, I have just one question: What are you thinking? You’ve only got four days left! Get thee to a search engine and lookup How to Plot a Novel. Having a plan is essential to success.

Glinda the Good Wtch Pantser or Plotter

2. Thou shalt carry a notebook at all times. Or a tablet. Or a laptop. Whatever tool you need to take notes or tack on a few paragraphs during the spare moments of your day. This is especally true for those of us who have a day job or children.

3. Thou shalt stay off social media! I will probably end up breaking this one. Twitter is irresistible, and sometimes my ceative mind needs to take a little break. But if it is late at night, and you’re scrolling though Facebook or Tumblr, and are still 800 words short of your daily word count quota, then it’s time to question your priorities.

Writing not Facebooking

4. Thou shalt have no other writing before your novel. Yes, this includes blogs. Also, poems, short stories, flash fiction, and anything else that saps your creative juices. For the entire month of November, you only get to write your novel. What does that mean for our blog readers? Well, hopefully they’re cool with reblogs, reposts, and blogs that contain little more than a meme or a music video, because that’s what they’re getting.

Plotting the story

5. Thou shalt prepare your workspace. A clean desk. Your favorite mug for coffee or tea. Maybe a nice room where you can lock your cats away for a couple of hours, since cats are notorious at taking over computer keyboards when writers are trying to write.

6. No editing your novel! I mean it. We novel writers know that our first draft is not a cake. It’s only the batter. Mix your ingredients well, but don’t let the rawness bother you. There will be plenty of time to bake it into something delicious after it’s complete. After NaNoWriMo.

Confused

That’s it. Your six commandments for a successful NaNoWriMo month. What? Did you thinking I was giving you ten commandments? Are you kidding? There are only four days left of Preptober. I have plotting to do! Tick, tick, tick…

Where’s the Story? (aka: A Flash Flood of Flash Fiction)

First, let me make one thing clear. Not all flashes are bad. Some flashes are even good, in fact. Flash drives, for instance, help us to protect our sensitive data. The Flash, I’ve been told, is a pretty fast superhero. And let’s not forget my favorite flash of all: Flash Beagle.

 

But some kinds of flashes earn a thumbs-down. These are brief, destructive flashes that appear, unwanted, leaving destruction in their wake. Flash floods. Hot flashes. Flashes of lightning. And now, the latest trend to takeover the blogosphere: Flash Fiction.

No, I am not a big fan of flash fiction.

What I am a fan of is fiction. Well-written fiction. Convincing fiction that has all of the requisite elements for a good story. An interesting beginning. Compelling characters. An actual plot, climax, resolution. And, of course, a satisfying ending.

Short stories can often accomplish this, if the writer is clever enough. I have read some wonderful short stories by authors great and small, who manage to weave a web of intrigue with a clear beginning, middle, and end in 5,000 words or less. But my personal preference is novels. Give me the thick, juicy, unabridged version of the story. Let me become absorbed in the story, swimming in the delicious stew of words and action. Let me escape to that other world, lose track of days as I drift through the pages. Let me fall in love with the characters as they grow, and learn, and change.

Just don’t give me flash fiction.

The premise of flash fiction is not new. Take a complete story. Now tell it in 1,000 words or less. Or try writing in Dribbles and Drabbles of less than 500 or less than 100 words. Shortest of all? Micro fiction, told in 6 word sentences. For example: Her expensive lingerie collected dust afterwards.

“Oh, how moving!” One blog reader may comment. “So thought-provoking!” Comments another. But I grit my teeth, frustrated. What is so thought-provoking? Why are we calling “stories” what we once called an opening line? Why have so many non-writers jumped on the flash fiction bandwagon, turning the world of blogging into one enormous slush pile?

Yes, flash fiction can serve as a way to strengthen one’s writing skills. And once in a blue moon, I come across some that features high quality writing. But most of the flash fiction, micro-fiction, and other Twitterature I have come across on the internet are junk. Sure, they sometimes have a stand-out character, or a beginning that makes me want to read a little more. But then…nothing. The story never builds. The characters never grow. There is a shadow of a plot, or a unique idea, but the writer, either due to laziness or lack of skill, doesn’t bother to develop it.

Sometimes, I’m tempted to pull on my Miss Snark high heels and walk all over these so-called stories. “Who is this character?” I would ask. “Why did she buy the expensive lingerie? What happened to make her stop wearing it?” In other words — WHERE’S THE STORY? Is this a kind of journal exercise? Am I supposed to take the idea and write my own damned story?

Forget it. I am so done. I shall go and stick my nose where it belongs — between the pages of a nice, long novel.

I can only hope that flash fiction blogging is nothing more than a flash in the pan.

Snags in the Plan (aka: Sew-Sew Sewing)

   Like most people, I have a list of things that I’m pretty good at, and a list of things that Im not. For example, I’m pretty good that cooking tasty, nutritious meals for my kids and me. I’m also good at writing, daily exercise, and spending long periods of time in my cave, in total silence, with zero social interaction.

However, I’m pretty bad at a few things, too. Human relationships, for one. Doing push-ups (unless you count “girl” push-ups). I also suck at remembering to put those reusable shopping bags in my car so that I can actually take them to the supermarket. And now, I shall have to add sewing to that list.

I know, I know. What?! You’re no good at sewing? You are a disgrace to former SAHM/homemakers everywhere! We are revoking your card.

Throughout the years, I have tried all sorts of handicrafts. After all, the ability to make things by hand traditionally defined the worthiness of a woman. Ok, so I couldn’t care less about that part. But handicrafts are also supposed to be a simple way to relax, with scientifically proven benefits of reducing stress and anxiety. I got really into scrapbooking and rubber stamping back when everyone was obsessed with throwing Scrapping parties and trading supplies at potlucks. I also really enjoyed quilting, and still occasionally make beaded jewelry. Those crafts were good, and fun. I can feel the stress and anxiety melting away as I slide tiny beads onto a string, or paste photos onto pretty patterned papers.

But sewing? Forget it.

This year, I fell in love with a Halloween costume. Even worse, it is a Halloween costume that is not being sold in stores anywhere. But the more I thought about it, the more obsessed I became. I simply had to wear it to the company Halloween costume party this year! No problem, I thought. They sell the pattern at my local fabric store. I can simply sew the costume.

I am now convinced that my sewing machine has magic powers. One of those is the power to induce amnesia in me whenever I store the machine away in the closet for a couple of years. I forget how things went the last time I attempted to sew. I forget about the snagged thread, the broken needles, and jammed bobbins. I forget about how the finished product often looks like a Kindergarten crayon drawing version of whatever I was trying to sew. This time was no exception. I dusted off the machine, added a little lubricating oil, and plunged right in, as optimistic as always.

A few minutes in, I realized that vinyl lettering is very, very hard to cut. A few minutes later, I realized that the fine print was telling me that I had to sew darts in the bodice. Huh? What are darts?

Two days, and several How to Sew Darts videos later, I learned that my machine hates to sew stretchy fabric. It tends to retaliate by snagging every ten seconds.

One day after that, I held up the bodice to my new costume, complete with darts, shiny vinyl lettering, and two sleeve openings, sewn shut. One hour later, and I was a bonafide expert in using a seam ripper.

There are still two weeks remaining before Halloween. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to start sewing the skirt by then. Maybe I can win a prize for “Most Effort.” Next year, please remind me to buy a costume at the store, like normal humans do.

More Than a Moment (aka: Overcoming our Shadow Selves)

 There is a bleakness that exists within the human spirit. It is something so terrible, that none of us like to acknowledge its existence. A cold, terrible nothingness that creeps inside us. The shadow side of our human nature.

The woman who badmouths people behind their backs says, “At least I’m not as bad as the one who mistreats other people outright.”

The man who mistreats other people outright says, “At least I’m not as bad as people who abuse pets.”

The woman who abuses pets says, “I’m not as bad as people who physically hurt other people.”

The man who beats his wife and children says, “At least I’m not as bad as a murderer.”

The man who murders one person says, “I’m not as bad as the man who murders multiple people.”

And we shrug our shoulders at our “lesser” badness, and feel better. If just for the moment.

We have only two real ways to keep the shadows from overtaking us. We give in in bits and pieces, accepting the part rather than the whole. Every time we make a choice to willingly harm another person, we are choosing to walk in the shadows. We choose to cheat, to skirt around the rule of law. We dangle temptation on a string. We aim our bitter self-hatred toward others, forcing our whipping boy to endure the fury and pain we feel for ourselves. We lash out at the weak in our cowardice, then laugh as they fall.

Because it makes us feel better. If just for the moment.

It trades our helpessness for power, if just for the moment. It hides the shadows, that terrible, creeping emptiness, in our darkness. But only for the moment.

But there is another way to keep it from overtaking us.

We fight.

We do not take the route of the cowardly, who give up and give in to their shadow self. Instead, we fill our lives with as much purpose and light as we can carry. We make the difficult choice to reach into the mire with both hands and help our fellow human beings. We share our bounty with those who have less. We seek out those who have become invisible, and we see them. We offer kindness and forgiveness, even to those who aim to do us wrong. We love.

And it does more than just make us feel better. It makes us better.

We fight the shadows with light, because light is the only weapon that can defeat them. It is not an easy route. We are all faced with moments of weakness, when it would be easier to give in. To slander. To do harm. To spread lies. To punish the weak simply because they are weaker to us. But to give in is to feed the shadows, until the emptiness grows and grows inside us.

I challenge you to examine your own spirit. What feeds you? What do you turn to to get you through the day? What lifts you, and breathes life into you? What gives you pause, and fills you with those moments when everything feels right, and you are in love with being alive? Are you fueled by your shadow self, seeking temporary ways to feel better? Or are you motivated by the light, seeking excellence, focused on becoming better?