Pearls (a Short Story)

PEARLS

string-of-pearls

“You burned the toast again.” Stuart made clicking noises with his tongue.

Ruby shot him a scornful look. “I didn’t burn the toast,” she said, setting his plate on the table. “That cheap toaster you bought burned the toast.” She poured more coffee into his favorite mug – the red one with the picture of the hula girl he’d brought home from their trip to Hawaii eight years ago. Now it had a small chip on the rim, a minor defect, like a blemished tooth. Her fingers itched to throw it away, but she knew Stuart would notice its absence.

With a heavy sigh, she sat across from him and fished the soggy teabag out of her cup. “Anything interesting in the news today?”

Stuart folded his newspaper and set it aside. “The usual overblown political circus and a workplace shooting somewhere in Colorado.” He scooped his eggs onto the unburnt center of his toast and bit into it. “The community section mentioned something about that women’s circle again. The Purple People, or something.” He chuckled.

Ruby frowned. “You know perfectly well that they call themselves the Pearls.” The Purple Pearls were like a cult, always trying to recruit people to come down to the community center for Tuesday craft days and Thursday reading groups, and who knew what else. But Ruby had no intention of knotting a purple bandanna around her neck and going on outings with those women, who were always cooing and chirping like a flock of city pigeons.

“Yeah, well turns out that those Pearl girls are planning to take a big trip. Guess where to?”

“Where?”

“Fiji. Isn’t that something?” he added, when Ruby folded her arms and glared at him. “You and me have been talking for years about flying down to Fiji.”

“That’s different.”

“Different how? It’s the same Fiji. Pristine beaches. Crystal clear water, coconut trees. Paradise!”

“But I’d rather go with you.”

“I’ll be here when you get back. You can bring me a new mug.” He held up the chipped red one. “You don’t want to miss your chance. Think about sinking your toes into that white sand. Think of that warm tropical breeze.”

“But I’m not one of them. Those Pearls.”

“You could be. You already know a couple of those women. And that one with the sparkly earrings—”

“Pam.”

Stuart nods. “Yeah, Pam. She isn’t going to stop trying until you give in and join them.”

“I don’t have time for them.” Ruby stood and began briskly scraping their plates into the trash. “I’ve got to finish crocheting that blanket for Sadie’s baby.”

“You could crochet with the Pearls,” said Stuart, “while talking about your Fiji plans. Come on, sweetheart,” he coaxed, softer, when Ruby didn’t respond. “What’s that I keep saying? Come on, now.”

Ruby gripped the edge of the counter and stared down into the abyss of the sink drain. “Don’t fear death,” she started.

“Speak up!”

“Don’t fear death, fear the unlived life.” It was a quote from Tuck Everlasting, a book they’d taken turns reading aloud years ago, Ruby curled into Stuart’s lap on the soft brown sofa after they’d put the kids to bed. Fear the unlived life. Those words had wormed their way into Stuart’s very being. Suddenly fearful that he hadn’t been living life hard enough, well enough, bravely enough, he’d adopted a new favorite word. Yes. Ride a bicycle across three states? Yes. Read fifty books in a year? Yes. Give up his Saturdays to mentor young men at the job training center? Yes, yes, yes. No wonder they hadn’t had time to travel to Fiji together.

And what about Ruby? Was she living an unlived life? She thought of all the years of raising kids with Stuart. Driving Sadie and Laura to school, to tap classes, to birthday parties. Years filled with Christmases and summer barbecues and family trips to the mountains. Years of bandaging scraped knees and cleaning up after pets and sewing costumes for the annual spring play. When the girls were older, Ruby had taken a part-time job as an office clerk, which later turned into a full-time job, which lasted all the way to retirement. She and Stuart had retired on the same day. They’d planned it that way. And after retirement, Stuart had gone right on saying yes to everything and everyone. Everyone but her. Until recently, she’d had to wait her turn for moments with Stuart. She hated to admit it, hated the selfishness of it, but she was glad that now, he was here all the time. Here just for her.

“Doesn’t Pam live pretty close to where you’re going today?” asked Stuart.

Ruby gripped the counter even tighter and swayed on her feet. She’d almost forgotten she had to go. Almost. “Yeah.”

“Then here’s your chance. Ring her doorbell. Say hello. Tell her your bags are already packed for Fiji.”

“My bags aren’t packed.” She turned around to look at him, mouth twisted.

“You could get them packed in two minutes. What would you need for Fiji, anyway? Besides a swimsuit.”

“I don’t have a swimsuit that fits.” Not anymore, now that she’d lost so much weight. “Guess I could get one, though.”

“Now you’re talking.” Stuart’s grin made his eyes light up, made the whole kitchen light up. Ruby almost felt like grinning, too. “What time is Sadie supposed to pick you up?”

Before Ruby could even glance at the big wooden clock, the front doorbell rang. And rang. And rang, three long chimes and a series of short chimes. Sadie must have let the boys ring the bell, she figured, hurrying to the living room. Sure enough, when she threw open the front door, both her grandsons stood there, wearing grins that looked so much like Stuart’s, her heart squeezed tight for a moment, like someone was wringing out all the blood.

Sadie’s face fell when she saw Ruby. “Mom! You’re not even ready to go yet!”

Ruby glanced down at her stained lavender house robe, then placed a hand on her thinning cloud of white hair. “Guess I’ll just go like this,” she mumbled.

“You can’t go like that!” Sadie sounded dismayed. “It’s…it’s disrespectful!”

Ruby scowled, then headed off to pull on some real clothes to appease her daughter. “I’ll see you later,” she told Stuart as she breezed through the kitchen again.

Stuart winked, then waved his arms like a hula dancer. Ridiculous. She pursed her lips. Did they even have hula dancers in Fiji?

Sadie said nothing about Ruby’s too-baggy attire this time. In fact, her words were syrupy sweet as she drove them across town, talking about the boys’ activities and Halloween costume plans in that kitten-gentle voice people used with small children. It dug under Ruby’s skin like a tick, but she just clenched her teeth and stared out the window, picturing pristine beaches and coconut trees. She really could do it. She could fly to Fiji with the girls, maybe sip some kind of tangy, coconutty rum drink under a strip of the bluest sky. She could bring home a mug for Stuart, and maybe a new toaster so his toast wouldn’t get burned. This time, she did laugh aloud.

“Mother, are you even listening to me?” asked Sadie, her voice tinged with irritation.

“Yes,” said Ruby.

Then they were there, pulling into the parking lot. Damn the parking lot, thought Ruby as they trudged across the asphalt. Damn the tall iron bars they passed through. Damn the perfect grass, as green and manicured as a golf course. She wanted to turn and run back to the car, drive it back home, where Stuart was waiting.

“Are you ready?” asked Sadie. She was carrying a bouquet of flowers, just like a bride. Splashy, yellow flowers. Purple flowers. Tiny sprigs of white flowers. She placed them in Ruby’s empty hands. Ruby imagined herself walking barefoot across a beach, long veil flowing behind her, and Stuart in a suit with the pant legs rolled up, standing ankle-deep in the crystal blue waters.

“Hello Ruby.” Pam was here, too. Not on the beach, but here in the green grass, that damned purple bandanna knotted around her neck. Two other women stood beside her. More Pearls. “I asked Sadie if we could join you today, and she said yes.”

Yes yes yes.

Ruby’s head began throbbing. She took tiny steps forward, Sadie supporting one elbow, Pam holding the other. Fiji, she told herself in a stern voice. Think of Fiji.

“These anniversaries can be hard,” Pam was saying. “We Pearls like to support each other. All of these ladies know just what you’re going through.”

Ruby didn’t answer. She was frozen on the spot, staring down at the slab of stone jutting up from the grass.  Her blood had gone cold, like the coffee in Stuart’s chipped red mug.

“One year ago today.” Pam said this like one might say it’s raining outside, or there’s a sale at Penney’s, or we’re out of milk. “I always did like that quote.” She tilted her head to one side, squinting at the stone slab. “Don’t fear death, fear the unlived life. Wonder who said that?”

“Babbitt.” Ruby cleared her throat, tried again. “Natalie Babbitt. It’s from a book. Tuck Everlasting.”

“Well now.” Pam’s dark eyes burned into Ruby’s. “I hope that you’ll come to our next meeting and tell the Pearls some more about this book. We’re planning a big trip together, you know. To Fiji.”

“Yes.” Ruby nodded. There. She’d said it. Yes.

“So you’ll be there?”

“Yes.” Ruby laid the flowers at the foot of the grave, then turned to go. In her fingers, she clutched a single flower she’d separated from the rest. It was purple, like the Pearls. She was never going to join them, she knew. Never going to wear their stupid bandanna or attend their meetings. They might eat up all her time, then she wouldn’t have any left to spend with Stuart.

Tonight, she decided, she would cook pork chops, his favorite dinner. And she would place the flower next to his plate.

“That’s the color of my new bathing suit,” she’d tell him.

“So you’re going to go to Fiji after all?”

“That’s right,” she’d say. “You and me. So pack your bags. We’ve waited long enough.”

 

 

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Oh No! Overdues! (aka: Public Libraries)

overduestamp1

Overdues! Auugghh!

I’m kicking myself. I mean honestly, I have no excuse. Our family lives within walking distance of the public library. Kind of a long walk, but still. The library even has these convenient drive-up book drops for lazy peeps who can’t be bothered to park and walk a few hundred feet to return their books.

No excuse. And yet…

There is just something about libraries. Returning my checked-out materials on time has been a lifelong struggle. No exaggerating. Somewhere on one of our family’s packed bookshelves, I’m pretty sure there are a couple of books that were due to the El Sobrante Public Library in 1985.

I can’t begin to imagine how high those fines must be by now. *Shudders*

Other than the overdues issue, the public library has been one of the richest parts of my life. When I was a kid, I used to spend long, leisurely summer days in the children’s room, nose glued to a book. Or making sock puppets in the craft room. Or watching family movies on the little projection screen. Or any other special events they had on the schedule. I adored the summer reading program and took great pride in filling up my bingo grid with all the books I’d read while other kids were busy watching TV or playing with friends.

library books

With the public library, there was nothing I couldn’t obsess over. When I was obsessed with learning foreign languages in 4th grade, I checked out every existing library book for learning Spanish, Italian, German, French, and Japanese. (It’s very hard to learn Japanese from a book, by the way). When I was obsessed with learning how to cook, I discovered a world of colorful cookbooks. Same goes for crafts. Same goes for obsessions with sci-fi, supernatural stories, and books about kids getting kidnapped or hooked on drugs or sent off to summer camp. I even went through a phase of checking out record albums, so I could learn a zillion new folk songs to drive my family crazy.

Finiculi-finicula, Finiculi-finiculaaaaaa!

overdue fines Charlie Brown

But as easy as it was to check out materials, as simple as it was to flip through the card catalogue to find the right Dewey Decimal code, it was really, really hard to return my checked-out books on time. I blamed it on my lack of consistent transportation to the library in those days, which required a long bike ride, or a trip on the back of my stepdad’s motorcycle. In later years, I attributed my constant string of overdues to the books themselves, and their pesky tendency to hide among the hundreds of books in our family’s library, or in dark, hard-to-reach places, like deep under the bed, among spare socks and loose coins.

But I know the truth.

The reason why it is so challenging to turn in library books on time, and why it’s so easy to lose them, is because they do not belong to us.

Think about it. You spend a portion of your hard-earned money to purchase your own shiny new Thing. Then you are far more likely to take care of that Thing. To nurture it. To look after it. To keep it in a safe place, so that it won’t get lost or destroyed. Why? Because it’s yours. You value the things that you feel a sense of ownership for. Or at least, you should. But library books? Those are just worn-out things that belong to everyone and no one. And so, we become careless. We fold down the pages instead of using bookmarks. We read them in the bath, not fearing water damage. We use them as makeshift coasters, or frisbees. (Okay, maybe not frisbees).

Because they don’t belong to us, we don’t cherish them.

Isn’t it kind of the same with people? We tend not to cherish the people who are outside of the little circles we build. We tend not to value the opinions of others. We tend to forget about the feelings of other people. We absorb what we want from people, then we carelessly turn away, leaving them worse than they were when we found them.

Lucky for me, I managed to scrape together my overdue library books and turn them in with a less-than-$10 late fine. Only a small fraction of some of my prior overdue fines. I paid the fees, and get to start again with a clean slate, because that’s how it works with books. People are a lot more complicated. Our carelessness can do irreparable damage. No late fee can mend the human spirit. Only love can do that.

kindness

Like library books, we don’t have ownership of other human beings. We only get to check them out — sometimes for a lifetime, and sometimes for just a little while. But while they are in our care, we can treat them with all the care of our most valuable treasures. There is no one who is worthy of less than that.

Disneyland Tessering (and other Magical Things)

I know. There is bug splat all over my car. It’s pretty grody to look at, and I’m sure the next-door neighbors are frowning at my carport. But I’m not ready to wash it off. Not yet.

My two youngest teens and I just got back from a week-long vacation. It started as a plan to spend Ski Week (aka Presidents’ Week) in Southern California, touring colleges. Yes, it’s true. Teen #2, my 16yo former gymnast, is a junior in high school already. Sensing our time together at home slipping away, I suggested we make this college tour trip super-fun. “How about we spend a day at Disneyland?” I said. *Insert shrieks of enthusiasm from the kids*. In the end, our plans included one of my daughter’s friends, and extended to two days on our favorite sunny SoCal beach, followed by two days in the Happiest Place on Earth.

So off we went, road-tripping through our state, plugging our noses as we passed “Cow-alinga,” admiring the miles of golden hills and farms, and even being surprised by a snowstorm as we drove through the Grapevine. Seriously. Snow, in Southern Cali. So cool, right? That was the beginning of the magic.

The next big Magical Thing was the beach. The amazing blueness of the sky and surf, and the empty golden sands, like the beach was open just for us. (Okay fine, it was freezing cold, an the other beachgoers were probably gathered indoors somewhere with a heater. But still).

Magical Thing #3 was the poke restaurant we discovered, which had macaron ice cream sandwiches. They exist, guys. They exist. And you have not lived until you have tasted one.

Then came the biggest Magical Thing of all. No, it wasn’t getting pictures with both Mickey and Minne Mouse without even waiting in line (though that was pretty rad, too). No, it wasn’t the part where Star Tours was better than ever, and Soarin’ Around the World was better than ever, and Radiator Springs Racers was our favorite new ride and well worth the wait. Nor was it seeing the Black Panther drive by, or meeting Captain America, who was fresh out of lectures, but had a funny story to share about his friend, Thor.

No, the most Magical Thing happened when we just happened to be strolling past the castle on Thursday afternoon. A woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if our family would like to participate in a photo shoot to advertise the new A Wrinkle in Time film, which is coming out next month.

Would we! My son and I had already read the book and can’t wait until the movie is released. So naturally, we said yes. I signed a couple of wavers, then they handed us free t-shirts and directed us to a roped-off area, where we waited with about one hundred other Disneygoers. “Have your phones ready,” the woman advised me. I wondered why.

And then…it happened. The crowd around us erupted into huge cheers. Then they stepped up onto a podium a few feet in front of me — Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, and the Queen herself, Oprah Winfrey. *Insert Screams*

Ohmigod! I was so starstruck, I forgot about the cameras snapping photos of us. Only the top of my head, and my hand, holding up my cell phone made it into the official shot (just to the right of Reese Witherspoon). But who cares? My kids and I got to be part of a very cool, very magical movie promotion along with some of the most talented and famous actresses ever. Eeeeeek! The entire experience took our level of Disney magic to a whole new level. In fact, I think we may have tessered right out of the park and straight to Neverland for a while. I’m still kind of floating there, as the pixie dust hasn’t yet worn off. How did we get so incredibly lucky?

Somehow, we managed to return home safely, though still in a daze of wonder, high on Disney Magic. There are still suitcases to be unpacked. And there’s my car, covered in road trip bug splat, in need of a wash. But that doesn’t even bug me right now. I want to savor this magic, as all magic moments in life are meant to be savored, treasured, and remembered during the times when life seems to have lost its shine. We all need a little magic, sometimes, to remind us why this wonderful, beautiful life we have is so very worth living. May you have your next magic moment soon.

Letters I Will Never Send (aka: Life in the Desert)

2017 Goals

Well, I did it. On the very last day of 2017, I have managed to accomplished the one and only tangible goal I set for the year. What was that goal, you ask? It was to read 55 books. Yay, me!

I know. Big whoop.

That is exactly how I feel about meeting my goal. Meh. Whatevs. Had I failed, had I only managed to read 54 books, or even 40 — gasp — would it have made any difference? No, not at all. 55 was just some random number I came up with in order to participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. It was fun, I guess, to see if I could do it, but also kind of pointless. Who cares whether I read 55 books? What matters more is whether I read anything of value, anything noteworthy, anything lasting.

Reflections & Lessons Learned

I didn’t set any other goals during 2017. Most of my life was about maintenance. Maintain my consistent good efforts in my career. Maintain my weight. Maintain my regular fitness routine. Maintain my family and home.

I also had unwritten, less-defined social goals. Go out of my way to talk more with people at my workplace. Attend one or two meetup events per month in order to get to know other people, and maybe try a few new social things. The idea was to break out of this social desert I’ve been existing in for the past 6-7 years. Maybe even make a friend or two.

But then I did something really stupid. Something that took an incredible amount of courage to try, but was still stupid. I gave dating a try. After all, I had been divorced for a few years. I’m still fairly young and attractive, a great person, and fairly interesting, so why not?

Unfortunately, it went too well. I spent the summer dating the man of my dreams. He was ideal for me, in every possible way. We had so much in common and got along beautifully. We were even compatible in bed — something I had assumed would not happen in my lifetime. But Mr. Right did not feel that I was right for him, and he moved on. I can’t blame him for that. He has every right to seek the woman who is right for him.

And that was the end of the dating experiment. Because after you’ve met your ideal partner, well, there’s nowhere else to go but downhill, into Settlesville. I already spent 17 years being unhappily married to someone I had settled for. I have zero interest in repeating that history.

What did I learn from that failure? I learned that I can’t handle losing friends. Because that is what he had become to me. Strip away the romantic stuff, the kissing and flirting and sex, which I can live happily without, and we had developed such a good friendship. And then…nothing. Another abandoned friendship. The inevitable fate of every single close friendship I have ever formed. And as usual, not my decision.

The pain of losing a close friend is the sharpest, most intense pain I have ever experienced. It hurts worse than natural childbirth. It is harder than divorce. It is as deep as grief. The only solution that makes sense to me, the only way to keep it from happening yet again, is to never form close friendships with anyone ever again. Not in a romantic or platonic sense. The end result, the rejection and abandonment, is far too high a price to pay.

Luckily, I have had many years to practice being my own good friend. I’m pretty good company, I must say. I’m interesting, and kind, and funny, and I have great taste in food, music, and movies. Not to mention books. This year, I plan to take myself out on more solo hikes, to a concert or two, and maybe, just maybe to a live sporting event. All activities that I have been avoiding, saving up to do when I finally have a person or two to share my life with. Well, no more. I have waited long enough.

I still very much miss the people I once called my good friends. I think about them often. I still miss Mr. Right, too. I write to him weekly — letters about my life, wondering about his, sharing jokes I know he’d laugh at, all the things I wish I could share with him. Letters I will never send. Letters I pretend he’ll read, because the only way I know how to cope with the leaving is to pretend that they have all stayed in my life. That they are still my friends. That they still care.

2018 Goals

I have no idea what my goals are. I have no current actual, tangible goals. I have ideas, like traveling with my kids, volunteering in my community, writing stories, and paying off debts I inherited in the divorce. There’s also the usual maintenance stuff. But until I have written these down along with a clear objective and a timeline, I hesitate to call them goals.

I have no more relationship goals or dreams of any kind.

Hey, I know! Maybe this year, I’ll set a goal of reading 75 books. Why not? I have the free time. And just think of all of those books waiting to be read. And if I fail? Well, then I end the year with a few less literary notches on my belt. No pain, no big loss. I’ll drink to that — Cheers!

Everybody Bakes Chocolate Chip Cookies (aka: Editing)

You have just baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

There they rest, golden-brown and delicious, cooling on the counter. Your plan? To give them away — no wait, to sell them for money. But there is a problem.

Everybody bakes chocolate chip cookies.

unoriginal_chocolate_chip_cookies

True, not everyone’s cookies are alike. Some scrap them together with cheap or artificial ingredients. Others drop hunks of pre-made dough onto a cookie sheet and call it a day. And some get it right, following the recipe and adding the perfect measurements of flour, brown sugar, vanilla, and egg. But still.

Everybody bakes chocolate chip cookies.

And if fifty sellers of chocolate chip cookies showed up at your door one day, as they do every day, whose would you buy? Only the best of the best. The true standouts in the bunch. Also, they probably wouldn’t be chocolate chip cookies.

So now that you have worked so long on baking your perfect batch of cookies, what can you do to improve your chances of selling them? Start by cutting out the good parts. Oh come on, everyone knows that the good part of a chocolate chip cookie is the chocolate chips. Take them all out and set them aside.

Done? Good. Now grab a rolling pin, and crush  all the leftover crumbs into tinier crumbs. Next, scoop up two-thirds of those tiny crumbs, and throw them in the trash. You heard right — the trash. As for the remaining crumbs, wet your fingers, and mush them all together into a ball. Pack it tight, like a snowball. Now stand across the kitchen, aim, and toss it toward the trash, too.

There.

All that remains is chocolate chips. The good parts. The yummy, gooey, mouth-watering parts. Place every last chip into a saucepan, turn on the heat, and stir until melted. Pour the melted chocolate into a silicone bowl, and place it in the freezer. Now go and read, or watch TV, or play computer games or whatever. In a few hours, come back and remove the bowl from the freezer, then peel away the silicone.

You have just made a giant chocolate chip.

What? It doesn’t even resemble your original batch of chocolate chip cookies? Good. Because everybody makes chocolate chip cookies. But when it comes down to it, the cookies are overrated. It’s the chocolate that everyone really wants to eat.

chocolate_is_the_best_part

This is why I have not been blogging much lately. You see, I have finished baking a lovely batch of chocolate chip cookies. Only I like to call it a novel. And I’ve been putting lots of work into digging out the “chocolate chips” — the delicious, wonderful parts that everyone will want to read. When at last I have torn apart the original batch (aka: first draft) and turned the whole thing into a mouth-watering written masterpiece, then maybe, just maybe, I will be ready to send it to the cookie critics — um, I mean, editors.

editing_the_novel

It’s getting there. But my kitchen is a mess, and I keep mistaking those dull, dreaded cookie crumbs for true pieces of chocolate. (I once was a member of two critique groups whose purpose was to discern between the two). It takes a lot of work to bake it just right. But I refuse to give up and send the editors yet another Tollhouse batch of words to toss in the slush pile.

Editors love chocolate chips. But they are sick of cookies.

editors in the slushpile

Paper Lives and Paper People (aka: Misimagination)

  “You had been a paper boy to me all these years – two dimensions as a character on the page and two different, but still flat, dimensions as a person. But that night, you turned out to be real.” (~ Margo Roth Spiegelman; Paper Towns, by John Green)

paper town map

One of the books that I recently finished during my summer reading spree was Paper Towns, by John Green. Although I found the story itself to be, well, mediocre, the author managed to strike a few surprising chords that still echo within me.

From the very beginning, I thought I knew the story. Troubled teen, Margo Roth Spiegelman, makes impulsive choices to gain attention from others. Disillusioned with life in what she describes as a “paper town,” she runs away. The main character, Quentin Jacobsen, who is in love with Margo almost to the point of obsession, disrupts his own life to follow the clues Margo left behind, determined to find her.

Aha, I think. Now I understand the theme of this story, and the meaning of Paper Towns.

“All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters.” (~ Margo Roth Spiegelman; Paper Towns, by John Green)

where is Margo Roth But I am wrong. Just as Quentin discovers that he doesn’t really know Margo Roth Spiegelman, I discover that I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg in regards to this story’s theme. Margo Roth Spiegelman is more than just a metaphor – she is a real-life girl. And guess what? Paper Towns are a real-life thing (which both exist and yet do not really exist).

But that’s not all. As the story continues to unfold, I learn yet another concept of paper people from paper towns. They are the people who we create of the people who actually exist. Everyone takes the stories that they had heard of Margo and uses those stories to form a “paper,” 2-dimensional version of her. Likewise, Margo uses her memories of friendship with Quentin to create a 2-dimensional, fictional version of him.

misimagined How often do we do this? How often do we read celebrity gossip or see flashes of these celebrities in the media, then use those to tiny snapshots to determine who they are? How often do we take in tiny bits of information about the people around us, then assemble those ideas into a shallow, incomplete version of a person?

Do we shake off our complacency, like Quentin, and make an effort to get to know the real life human being before us? Or do we content ourselves with the fake, 2-dimensional, paper image of that person which we have created in our own imaginations? How real do we allow other people to become? Are we disappointed when the real-life person fails to live up to the false paper image in our minds?

Kalliope, Where Are You? (aka: How to Treat Writer’s Block)

question marksSYMPTOMS: The words won’t come. The clock ticks, the shadows shrink and stretch again, and somewhere, a spider scuttles across the ceiling. But still, the words won’t come. I lift my fingers to the keyboard, pause, then let them drop to my lap. A scream builds inside my chest. Words, they are only words – type something, type anything! Dmkvnekfnienomknjsaono12i34cn8. UGH! In frustration, I throw back my head and cry out to the muses, Kalliope, where are you?!?

DIAGNOSIS:  Writer’s Block

Snoopy Guide to Writing Life

TREATMENT:

  1. Take slow, deep, calming breaths. Resist the urge to throw your laptop across the room. This is counterproductive.
  1. Go for a run. Ride a bike. Exercise gets the blood flowing, possibly even to your empty brain.
  1. Write something else. Sometimes, taking a break from the novel to write something from a different genre may stimulate creativity and give you a fresh sense of perspective. Try a poem, a persuasive essay, or a shallow, humorous blog post.
  1. Step away from the computer screen and get out into the world. Observe and talk to people. Yes, real, live people. Other people can be interesting and inspiring. Thought: In order to create art that imitates life, one must actually live and observe life.
  1. Get some sleep. Yes, we writers tend to think that the muse only comes to whisper in our ears during the wee hours of the night. But the truth is, inspiration can come at any time, and we are better prepared to receive it when well-rested.
  1. Read books. Most good writers were inspired by reading the works of other good writers. Read for pleasure. Read to learn new techniques. Read something outside of your genre comfort zone. Fill your brain with great words, and maybe then, your own words will begin to flow.
  1. Revel in the Shitty First Draft. Your first draft does not need to be perfect. I repeat – your first draft does not need to be perfect. Aim for perfection, and you will go nowhere fast. So what if your character is unlikeable? So what if the dialogue is crap? So what if you have written 5,000 worthless words that no one would want to read? This is a first draft, for goodness’ sake! Write the whole novel, even if it sucks. It is during the editing process that your real story will arise.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life 

wrong muse