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.

Advertisements

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?

 

The Lady with the Chalk (aka: Heroes All Around Us)

Yesterday, my teens and I watched Unbreakable, a 2000 film by M. Night Shyamalan. It was such a good movie. Super, you might even say. Afterward, I couldn’t help but ask my kids, “How would you feel if you learned that one of your parents was actually a superhero?”

My 13 year-old replies, “If I found out that Dad was a superhero, then I’d be shocked. Like, what the heck? But if I found out that Mom was a superhero, then I’d be like, oh. Okay.” He shrugs. No big revelation there. My daughter nods in agreement.

This has been a long-running theme in our family. You see, no matter how much I try to dissuade them, my teens are convinced that I am either a). A superhero in disguise, b). A CIA operative, just like Sydney Bristow; or c). a super hacker. Or possibly a combination of all three.

“Please,” I say each time the topic comes up. “I am just an ordinary, cookie-baking mom who works in a cubicle at a tax agency.”

“Su-u-ure,” one of my kids will answer. “Perfect cover.”

I’m not sure what led my kids to believe that I am somthing greater than I appear to be. Maybe it’s my hopelessly INTJ prsonality. Maybe it’s my ability to run very fast (though nowhere near the prerequisite superhero speeds displayed by the Flash). Or maybe it’s my steady lack of close friendships. Superheroes know how difficult it can be to form attachments while keeping their true identities a secret.

It is flattering that my kids think so highly of me, I guess. But I would prefer that they look arond them to honor the real heroes that walk among us. No, not cape-wearing comic-book characters with extraordinary superpowers to fight gainst supervillains. I’m talking about the real people who help humankind with their courage, altuism, and sense of duty. Police officers, firefighters, soldiers. Teachers, surgeons, and even regular people, from time to time. The heroes who save lives, offer hope to those who have lost hope, pick up the lost and set them on the right path.

Not long ago, I encoutered one such real-life hero in my own neighborhood. While out for a run one day, I came across something that made me stop in my tracks. A large, colorful chalk design had transformed a section of the sidewalk into a work of art. “You are needed here and now,” the message read. My heart soared with the positive impact of those simple words. As I continued to run, that day and in days to come, I came across more of these beautiful, uplifting messages, as did my daughter, as did other people in our neighborhood. They brightened our day each time. They filled our sails with wind.

And then, one day, we happened to spot the woman who was responsible. She wasn’t wearing a cape or a super suit. She was an ordinary human being, anyone’s neighbor from Anywheretown. She probably didn’t even realize that the offerings she had left had such an enormous impact on the people in our neighborhood. In fact, she seemed surprised, and perhaps a little timid as I thanked her for making such a difference.

Can you imagine what our world would look like if each one of us strove to become a hero in our own small way? No, not a superhero. We don’t need X-Ray vision or Iron Man suits or the ability to fly to save lives, or to make someone’s life better. Maybe all we need is to care a little deeper. To show our compassion for those who are less than ourselves, rather than our disdain. To use the gifts we have been given to do good, rather than to do harm. To offer someone a genuine smile and encouraging words to give them a positive boost. Maybe all we need to save each other, to be something greater than we are, is a piece of chalk and the willingness to make the world a better place for the people around us.

 

#HashtagGames (aka: Social Media Without the Social)

Ready everyone? It’s time to play a hashtag game! Today’s challenge: #RejectedHeroSidekicks .

No, I am not kidding. That is an actual trending hashtag on Twitter today. Here are a couple of my favorite contributions:

For those of you who are like me and prefer your social media without much of the social part, participating in #Hashtag games can be a lot of fun, and a pressure-free way to interact with strangers around the globe.

These games seem to pop up randomly, and spread like wildfire around the Twitterverse until they appear in the list of top trending tweets. They sometimes originate with organized hashtag game groups, like the now retired @midnight, or @TheHashtagGame. Other times, they begin with a celebrity comedian, or even ordinary folks who managed to kindle a hashtag fire while bored at work one day.

Most #Hashtag games are simple, and easy to jump into. For example, #FriendsTVin5Words drew all sorts of Friends TV show fans out of their shells, and was so fun to play.

Another good one was #MakeaMovieSmarter:

Some #hashtags seem to get recycled from time to time, such as #RuinaBandWithOneLetter or #AddBacontoaMovie . And once in a blue moon, you get an esoteric #Hashtag game that requires you to be very clever, or maybe have a college degree to play. My favorites? #Doublewise (Best #Hashtag ever!!) and #LessAmbitiousCriterion (Most of you are probably scratching your heads right now. WTH is Criterion?).

Why play #Hashtag Games? Well, for starters, it’s a great way to express your creativity. Or, for the less-creative, to push yourself to think creatively for the amusement of others. Secondly, you can get a good laugh from hashtagging. There is a world of clever, creative people out there who are just dying to share their humor with you. Besides, science has proven that laughter can reduce stress and improve your quality of life. It also makes the workday go by a little faster. Not that I’m advocating playing Twitter games during the workday.

Anyway, ready to stretch your imagination? Let’s go tag some hashes!

Kool-aid or Red Pills? (Aka: The Fountain of Youth, Revisited)

“If you could live forever, would you want to?”

Taken by surprise at the stranger’s question, I didn’t stop to think. I blurted out the usual socially-acceptable response. “No, I don’t think so. It’s difficult to imagine surviving beyond the deaths of my children and future grandchildren.” (Well, to be honest, this conversation took place during a Spanish language meetup. So what I responded was more like, “No lo pienso. Es difícil imaginar sobreviviendo mas allá que los muertos de mis hijos y nietos y todos.”)

But later, I pondered over the question. I also discussed it with my two younger kids, who, like me, love deep discussions about theoretical topics. And here is what I concluded:

Yes. I would like to live forever. As an extremely curious individual, I would love to be able to observe as the world changes over time. How will people dress in two hundred years? What sort of transportation will there be in half a century? Where will we live? What medical breakthroughs will there be? Will everyone eventually go vegan, or supplement their diets with insects instead of red meat? Will we finally colonize Mars or find intelligent life on other planets? Will Yellowstone ever erupt, filling the air with ash and plunging the planet into an instant ice age?

Inquiring minds want to know.

But if I am to drink of the fountain of youth, I have a few limits and prerequisites:

1. If I have to pull a Voldemort and create horcruxes in order to live forever, then I’m out. Huh-uh. A big, fat No-Way-José. I don’t want the snake eyes or the evil attitude.

2. Ditto for selling my soul to the devil. Renting it for awhle may be acceptable, depending on the terms of contract.

3. If the elixir of life contains the blood of young children, then I will also have to pass. Because ew. I’d prefer Kool-aid. Or like, a red pill.

4. I want to remain at my current age. If my body will continue to age and decay for the next couple hundred years, well, then that could get old. Even if I don’t. 

It’s interesting that this topic came up, since I just celebrated my 42nd birthday a few days ago. I don’t mind being middle aged. At least, not so far. I still feel like I did when I was 20. I still dance like I did when I was 20. I’m still just as flexible, can run just as fast, turn cartwheels just as well, and can still show off on roller skates. I even wear the same clothing size as I did back then. (Yes, I still own exactly one article of clothing — an expensive silk peignoir that I bought just before my 21st birthday, and it still fits well). Yes, my metabolism has slowed down a little. I have more softness around the middle. And I have (gasp!) exactly one gray hair on my head. But other than that, little has changed.

Who knows? Maybe I already stopped aging, just like Adeline, and Tuck, and Peter Pan. Maybe I already hold the key to eternal youth.


Or maybe I am just as human as everyone else, and will eventually have to come to terms with my own mortality. 

In that case, the best I can hope for, in terms of living forever beyond the misty veil of time, is to write. Perhaps I will someday pen stories that will be passed from generation to generation. Then my name and my work may continue long after I’m gone. As for those I love, well, many of you I have already written. Your faces, your quirks, the way you laugh, the way your eyes crinkle when you laugh, the way you chew the corner of your lip without realizing it, the way you walk, the lilt in your voice, the way your mouth curls when you speak, the words you say — I will capture those with my stalker writer skills of observation and memory. I will breath you to life with my fingers, and in this way, you will live forever, too.

Yes, I know. I’d rather drink from the fountain of eternal youth, too. But this is the best I can offer.


MUSIC ON MY MIND:

PoetBastille

Forever YoungAlphaville

Wonder Woman Wannabes (aka: My Comic Convention Geek-out List)

Deep dark secret reveal time.

I have never been to a Comic-Con.

I know. #GeekFail. Especially since I live in California, home of the Granddaddy of all Comic Conventions, in addition to a few assorted mini-Cons. Not to mention that about 85% of the nation’s geek population is clustered in a hub just south of San Francisco. But no; I have yet to don my cape of justice and face the masses.

Once in a while, I find myself wondering if the time has finally come to empty my savings account (aka: jar full of pennies) and purchase my very first ticket to a comic convention. Unfortunately, after calculating the cost of a ticket, plus travel expenses, plus geekdom souvenirs, said jar full of pennies always turns out to be a few pennies too short. But one day, it will happen. And here is how my dream Comic Convention is going to go down:

  • People will want to take selfies with me. Because I will not attend a comic convention as Tiare. Instead, I will cosplay as Storm. Or Seven of Nine. Or possibly Wonder Woman, but then I’ll probably be lost in a sea of Wonder Woman wannabes (say that three times fast). Of course, many of these conventions last several days, so maybe I can dress as all three. And I can hide my shy, introverted self behind the personas of three remarkable, badass superheroes for a few days.

    • I will jive with my tribe. There is a Geekdom out there for everyone. As for me, I look forward to the chance to talk Harry Potter facts with some fellow Ravenclaws, or speculate about the burgeoning ship between Wonder Woman and Superman (what!). I refuse, however, to enter into a debate about DC vs. Marvel comics. Sorry guys, my level of geekology is simply not high enough for that. The only comic books I actually read growing up were Archie comics. Unless you count the Foxtrot comic strip collections. Do those count?

Foxtrot Comic Strip costumes

  • I will get to listen in on some awesome panels about current and upcoming coolness. Game of Thrones! Star Trek: Discovery! A Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot, with Sarah Michelle Gellar as the Watcher! (one can dream) I would especially love if said coolness included a panel discussion about the upcoming Ready Player One film. I know, I know, it may not live up to the book. But then, very few films manage to achieve that, right?

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 24: (L-R) Actors Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins, Mark Sheppard, and Samantha Smith attend the “Supernatural” Special Video Presentation And Q&A during Comic-Con International 2016 at San Diego Convention Center on July 24, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

  • I will get the opportunity to meet at least one Geekdom superstar. Hopefully, one whose movies/TV Show/books I’m already familiar with.
  • I will go home with some great souvenirs, like a Time Turner necklace, a working Star Trek communicator badge, and a couple of cute t-shirts. Oh, and any of the following action figures: Seven of Nine, Harry Potter and Voldemort, Daenerys and Jon Snow and a dragon, and Jason Fox, from Foxtrot (seriously, does Foxtrot count as a geekdom?).

There you have it. My future Comic Convention wish list. Maybe I should start saving quarters instead of pennies, so that I can manage to save up the gazillion dollars it will take to attend one. Anyone got a niffler you can spare?

By the way guys, Eventbrite is a great resource to get tickets to Comic Con or post your own event.