Hold the Hoity-Toity Accusations


I don’t think I’ve ever tried to pretend to be something I’m not or considered myself above anyone. I grew up in a textbook middle-class family in the ’70s and ’80s in our one-story, brick, ranch-style house. My brother and I weren’t handed everything, but we had more than our parents — the son of two mill workers and the daughter of a shirt factory seamstress and former gas station owner.

I suppose seeing our parents’ families kept me grounded, but my parents wanted me to do more and be more, so they sent me to college. I was the first to graduate with a four-year degree on either side of the family, but it didn’t make me feel any more special. My mother and father both went to some sort of school after getting their high school diploma.

Actually, my grandmother graduated from high school during the 1940s — when many parents pulled their kids out of school to work the fields. I think that’s more awesome. So me going to college? Pfffft… that was just sort of expected.

All that considered, knowing that people think I act like I’m above them bugs me. I know it shouldn’t, but it does. On Saturday night, I was at a bar with Cinlach for one of his friend’s 40th birthday. We’re usually not bar people; Cinlach’s dad had a fondness for alcohol and weed, so we usually don’t gravitate anywhere that resembles a place where his dad might hang out. He lives by WWMDD? “What would my dad do?” And then he does the opposite.

Not an accurate representation of how they served their beer. It came in plastic, Solo-esque cups (not red ones, either)

Not an accurate representation of how they served their beer. It came in plastic, Solo-esque cups, not red ones either. (Okay, that’s a little snooty…)

The party attendees were not our usual crowd either — lots of cigarettes, lots of tattoos, lots of drunken yelling. I probably sound like I’m passing judgement, but I’m really not. To each his or her own, just don’t expect me to jump right in the middle of it all.

I suppose one of the female guests thought I was supposed to be livelier during this soirée, because I kept getting this stare down as if to say, “You are not better than me, bitch.” And I thought to myself, Really? You’re gonna single me out when you’ve got all your people right here? Just because I wasn’t talking to anyone there (Hello? The only people I knew were my husband and the birthday dude.) or puffing away on a cigarette or doing shots I apparently thought myself better than the other patrons.

I did go to the bar and order two drinks throughout the evening, but I asked for Firefly vodka — which is apparently a snooty liquor because I got similar looks from the bartenders.

I didn’t tell Cinlach about it because I knew his reaction: “Well, f*ck ’em…” And on the one hand I do feel that way, but on the other, I know my upbringing, and I know I don’t consider myself “above my raisin'” — mainly because the universe has a way of creating a great equalizer. For me, that equalizer comes in the form of tripping over my own feet and breaking an ankle or splitting a toilet tank in two at dark-thirty in the morning.

I’m not above drinking a beer if I like the taste of it. I accompanied my cousin last year when she got her second tattoo. Cigarette smoke cruds up my sinuses and scratches my throat, so I do try to avoid that. While I like to wear makeup when I go out, I’m not afraid to hit the grocery store on Saturday morning with a fresh face (something my mother blames on that women’s college education).

Most of all, I’m not above unladylike gestures — and that includes waving a middle finger in the air to anyone who insists on accusing me being all hoity-toity with a stupid stare down.

Because I will flip that bird with a sweet southern smile — and that’s not something I learned from my mother.

The Occasional Writer



As part of my quest to live up to my 2013 word, finish, I did a sort of self-diagnosis. The good news is my problem is not life-threatening  (probably only because I didn’t check WebMD). The bad news is I’ve probably gone about this writing stuff the wrong way.

According to Dorothea Brande, anyway. In her 1934 book, Becoming a Writer, she says that there are four main difficulties writers could face before they can benefit from “technical instruction in story writing.”

She goes on to talk about what a writer in this situation does, and on first reading this passage I thought, Holy crap, was this woman looking in a crystal ball at me? If so, that’s pretty creepy.

[H]e believes that accepted authors have some magic, or at the very lowest, some trade secret, which, if he is alert and attentive, he may surprise. He suspects, further, that the teacher who offers his services knows that magic, and may drop a word about it which will prove an Open Sesame to him. In the hope of hearing it, or surprising it, he will sit doggedly through a series of instructions in story types and plot forming, and technical problems which have no relation to his own dilemma. He will buy or borrow every book with “fiction” in the title; he will read any symposium by authors in which they tell their methods of work.

I thought about what I’ve done over the past couple of years — looking for conferences and workshops to attend and buying books on writing — and wondered, Is this my problem?

And the first chapter said, “Yes, you’re an idiot.” Brande describes the four writer difficulties:

  1. The Difficulty of Writing at All
  2. The “One Book Author”
  3. The Uneven Writer
  4. The Occasional Writer (yours truly)

What hit home was her description of the writers as ones “who can, at wearisomely long intervals, write with great effectiveness” and then experience long dry spells of no writing.

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! How many times have I gone from active to inactive on this blog alone? More than I would like to count, that’s for sure.

Her reasons for this difficulty also hit me upside the head:

Often it is the result of such ideals of perfection as can hardly bear the light of day. Sometimes, but rarely, a kind of touchy vanity is at work. which will not risk any rebuff and so will not allow anything to be undertaken which is not assured in advance of acceptance.

“Ideals of perfection” party of one! That flaw of mine not finishing things smacked right on the nose. I don’t doubt the “touchy vanity” either. Hello? I prattle on thinking my plight is interesting to complete strangers who visit this blog.

I have enjoyed going to those writing conferences and workshops and reading those books, but I have also realized over the past year or so that I seem to already know what they are going to say. Sure, I love the atmosphere and camaraderie of the events, but the tips and techniques start to sound the same — probably because of this:

Almost everyone who buys books on fiction writing, or takes classes in the art of the short story, suffers from one or another of these troubles, and until they have been overcome he is able to get very little benefit from the technical training which will be so valuable to him later. Occasionally writers are stimulated enough by the classroom atmosphere to turn out stories during the course; but they stop writing the moment that stimulus is withdrawn.

Well, when you put it that way… Okey doke!

So while I don’t plan on giving up the conference/workshop circuit entirely, I do plan on NOT buying anymore books on writing. Instead, I’m referring to ones I already have in order to accomplish Brande’s suggested plan: “first considering the main difficulties which you will meet [Done!], then embarking on simple, stringently self-enforced, exercises to overcome those difficulties.”

I take that second part to be a nice way of saying, “Get your ass in the chair and write, dammit.”

I’ll be consulting Brande’s Becoming a Writer and One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft by Susan Tiberghien. There might be two others, but I’ll get to them as I need them.

More thoughts and results from exercises to come. Stay tuned…

Friday Fictioneers 2013: Week Two


copyright-roger-cohenThe Audition

(Mainstream/literary fiction)

“I didn’t know Goodwill sold instruments,” Josh said and snickered as he wiped down his bass.

The girl ignored him.

“You have some wicked dings in it,” Josh said.

She leaned the bass away from his outstretched hand, “I’d rather you not touch it.”

The girl made her way to the front chair and draped herself around the bass’s exterior. Her left fingers blurred as her right hand glided like a feather on the wind. For two minutes, Josh marveled at how instead of her playing the bass, the instrument played her.

He knew he would miss first chair again this year.

(According to WordPress’ word count, it’s 100 exactly!)

Wordless Wednesday: Watchcat


Wordless Wednesday: Watchcat

Pleasantly Plump

"I'm not fat! I'm big boned!"

“I’m not fat! I’m big boned!”

“I think Carla is a good friend,” Surrena said, patting my leg. I gave a timid smile at her thoughtfulness… and then she continued, “And she’s not fat; she’s pleasantly plump.”

My fourth-grade classmates giggled and guffawed at her unintentionally backhanded compliment. Mrs. Nesmith had meant well — sitting us all in a circle and giving us the exercise to say something nice about the person on our left — but Surrena, bless her heart, had no way of knowing the class would still consider her statement as confirmation that I was overweight.

The pediatrician also confirmed it at every yearly physical: “She’s ten pounds overweight.” I got teased and ostracized for it — not a malicious, daily torment, but I would hear the occasional snide comment, see the up-and-down-then-disgusted look from the popular girls, or get chosen last for a team at recess or in PE. Carrying around ten extra pounds in childhood turned into carrying twenty extra pounds as a teenager — all at a time when kids weren’t nearly as big (weight-wise) as they are now. So my chubby self was in the minority.

Middle school was better than those fourth and fifth grade years, and high school was better than middle school. But I never really lost all the weight. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I believed that if I lost the weight, I was admitting that I agreed with all those who teased and shunned me.

I tell you about this experience because of this girl — who had the audacity to post a photo of her “grotesque” self online. The comments on the HLN article range from “good for you” to “you are hideous.”

With every article that goes up talking about weight issues, the comments section becomes inundated with people who say that fat people are just lazy. (As an aside, I truly believe that the establishment of a comment section on news sites is one of the worst things to happen to journalism in the internet age — a bunch of alpha gorillas beating their chests, hurling insults with horrible spelling and grammar, incapable of being civil or convincing other readers to change their minds. I wish every news site would dump them.)

In fact, compared to the articles I’ve read on addiction, those who are considered obese have been the only ones who are called lazy. No one tells a heroin addict to get his lazy ass off the couch and go to rehab. I’ve never seen someone tell an alcoholic that all she needs to do is just quit drinking.

I’m not saying that obesity is always a food addiction, but I do believe it’s possible to be addicted to food. Look at eating disorders. No one calls anorexics or bullemics names because they can’t magically stop starving themselves or binging and purging, yet many people just can’t believe that someone who is overweight just might have some mental issues that keep him or her from achieving a healthy weight.

And there’s another issue: “healthy weight.” So many people consider the BMI the authoritative measurement, but I know muscular people who are considered obese according to the BMI. Even in my case, I’m considered very obese by the BMI, but when I had a body fat composition test last year, I was just barely obese.

I’m not advocating the “fat acceptance” movement because I realize that being obese isn’t healthy; however, if  you hate your body, you’re not inclined to take care of it. So hearing people tell overweight and obese people to “put down the fried chicken and get their ass off the couch” is not acceptable motivation. Losing weight for revenge is as mentally unhealthy as keeping the extra weight is physically unhealthy.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a plate of powdered donut pancake surprise calling my name…

(Yes, I’m kidding…)

Dialogue Writing Prompt: Innuendo


Quotation MarksFrom Sarah Selecky: “Write a scene that uses the following piece of dialogue — ‘What will you do without it?'”

“What will you do without it?”


“But you’re gonna have some serious withdrawals. I mean, I know dudes who’ve gone without it for a long time and just start jones-ing for it so bad they fall off the deep end.”

“That’s not going to happen to me.”

“That’s what they said, man. You’re not even gonna do it solo. That’s just not natural.”

“It’s boring doing it by myself.”

“You’re crazy, man, effin’ crazy.”

“Please, you’re the one who’s crazy — won’t even do it with people. You always do it by yourself.”

“That’s because I can do it a lot better without someone griping at me I’m doing something wrong — unless you’re with me.”

“Dude, that doesn’t sound right.”

“Well, I can’t help it! You’re the one who’s the master!”

“Not anymore.”

It’s a tragedy, man. How am I going to tell the guild you’ve left World of Warcraft?”

“I’m sure you’ll find a way.”

Photo Prompt: Fireworks (Mainstream Fiction)


file000642086474Nana described first seeing Papa at the town’s Independence Day celebration as he held a lit Roman candle shooting bursts of color into the night sky.

“He had these dark curls that just shined every time something was set off,” she used to say, “and every different color that went up in the air lit up a different color in those hazel eyes.”

Seventy-two years to the day of that first meeting, we huddled around Nana’s ICU bed with the TV on the Capitol’s Fourth of July celebration. Beeping machines struggled to keep up with the thundering percussion and booming fireworks, but Nana’s eyes glistened with reflections of red, white, and blue. I knew she saw him — standing in the middle of the road, Roman candle in hand, mischievous grin on his face.

When the TV spectacle finished, she closed her eyes and went to meet him once more.

Editing a flash fiction piece to 100 words is hard. I started out with about 230 and cut it down to about 150. Perhaps as more time passes I can do more with it.

Luckily, Friday Fictioneers doesn’t find fault with entries that are shorter or longer than 100 words. 🙂