*Compose a list of familiar phrases

…or phrases that have stayed in your mind for a long time – from songs, from poems, from conversation.

I was a bit uneasy when the paper that I pulled out of the jar was folded over more than twice. In the overflowing, experiment-filled jar that sits on my desk, threatening to administer numerous papercuts, I chose the paper knowing that I couldn’t just put it back in the jar and pick another. What does Mayer have for me today? I held my breath and unfolded.

Huh, not too bad.

Many phrases and lyrics dominate my everyday speech. I run with a crowd who quotes films accurately word-for-word and in perfect context. If someone stutters, inevitably you’ll hear a “T-t-t-t-today, Junior!” During a night out, if someone has hit the sauce too hard, you might recognize a Fear and Loathing reference. I’ve often wondered how it is that I can remember such random lines from films but yet long division still eludes me. Rene Descartes wrote “It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.” So if it is my mind’s ambition to remember and utilize seemingly useless quotes in moments of humor, I may as well accept it. Here is what I was able to organically compile in 24 hours:

We live this shit.

Chocolate baby.

What’s good, what’s poppin,’ what’s crackin,’ what it is, how you livin,’ what’s happenin.’?

Rural jurors.

Right here, right now.

The dude abides.

Bum-bum-bumblebee, bumblebee tuna.

A beautiful girl can make you dizzy…

Nothing changes but the seasons.

Do it for the fat lady.

Curiouser and curiouser…

Stick that in your back pocket.

Hello? I’ll be right there.

Follow that car!

Do you want me to fight for you?

Maybe it’s a sign.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul…

Always begin right where you are and work out from there.

Warm sarcophagus.

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

Here’s what’s happening in your neck of the woods.

Vatican crackdown.

Nothing gold can stay.

As I reviewed this compilation to publish on the blog, I was intrigued by the varied origins of the phrases. Rap songs, Salinger, news headlines, film quotes, commercial jingles, etc. Some of the phrases are very personal. Most are pop culture references, lines of poetry, and original prose that I hope to integrate in my own writing. For example, I came up with warm sarcophagus years ago and haven’t yet managed a way to weave it into fiction.

Chocolate baby arose from a story that I heard from a co-worker. Being a younger grandmother, she asked her toddler grand-daughter what she wanted for Christmas. The child simply answered “Chocolate baby.” Everyone in the family scratched their heads wondering what this could mean. A baby-shaped morsel of chocolate? A doll that’s not white, but of color? The family went with the latter and the child was pleased; the doll is affectionately known as “Chocolate baby.”

Do it for the fat lady is the particular quote from my favorite book Franny and Zooey that I could easily recall. The novel single-handedly changed how I viewed the world as a high school senior, as I instantly identified with Franny Glass. To this day, I wish that I could develop characters as Salinger did in his novels: highly complex, philosophical, and self-deprecating.

When I began to concentrate too hard on what phrases to write down, I stopped. I also kept them in the sequence in which they were recalled. I read Vatican breakdown scrolling across the bottom of the television screen during a news broadcast. I laughed and said “Perfect band name!” I wrote it down. This might be a useful list to refer back to during my writing. I have recently realized that I enjoy writing dialogue for my characters in the fiction that I write, so if I can use one of these phrases, this experiment may be a success.

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*Write on a piece of paper…

… where something is already printed or written.

While trying to brainstorm a plot for a short story, I decided to pick an experiment. Perhaps this tiny sliver of paper could act as a fortune, as if it were pulled out of a plastic package containing small fragments of a Chinese fortune cookie.

But no, no inspiration here.

This is one of the experiments that I usually wouldn’t mind tossing aside. What’s the point? It’s incredibly easy to fulfill these requirements! However, my recent plunge into short fiction writing has left me with little to no time for extensive writing experiment. So I welcome this one.

I actually couldn’t help but think that I’ve already somewhat completed this task. I recently revived an old Moleskine notebook for keeping my calendar. I needed to find a large planner for my day job and couldn’t decide on one suitable enough for the notes that I take, as well as musings and ideas I like to write down. When I was going through old documents and receipts around tax time, I stumbled upon the notebook. I purchased it over a year ago, hoping that I could commit to writing something (anything!) every day. I wrote consistently at work, late at night, or while sitting in a waiting room. After the first few months though, I unfortunately put it aside. I looked through the first several pages. I immediately snapped it shut. I had begun using this book as a pseudo-diary, writing my most direct and truthful emotions and statements about what was going on in my life. Looking back on those old feelings was supremely difficult. I took a binder clip and isolated those pages from where I would begin my calendar. Reclaimed time.

In a way, clipping those pages shut was a huge metaphor for me: I was making room for the future, for new experiences and events to look forward to. Those memories weren’t entirely forgotten; if I ever felt nostalgic for that time in my life, I could always open those pages and look back. Perhaps, when I’m ready, I may even go back and write over those ancient passages, as if eliminating falsehoods with discovered truths. But for now, with marker and ruler, I designed a day-by-day calendar for the next few months. Already I’ve outlined plans for work functions, birthdays, appointments, and a vacation. I use the subsequent pages for mapping out stories, planning said vacation, and weighing the pros and cons of moving out West (eventually).  I’m sure that someone who perused this notebook would think that I was a schizophrenic with terrible handwriting but I don’t see that happening.

Aggressive Submission

I did forgo the writing experiment for this past week only because I wrote and submitted my first piece of fiction since college. I will include a link to said piece only after describing the torment and frustration that went into constructing a fictional story.

On Friday, March 1st, a group called Shut up and Write created a posting asking for submissions. The posting popped up on my reddit because of the writing factor. When I took a closer look at the unofficial mission statement of the group, I realized that it embodied the very idea that reignited this blog:

[shut up and write] is a reaction to this, a safe haven for writers who are actually interested in producing writing rather than excuses. Now, keep in mind SU&W doesn’t exist to get you writing if you are ‘stuck’. You’re on your own with that. There is a very low tolerance for ‘stuck’ writers here, mainly because pulling out a keyboard and wiggling your fingers is not actually all that hard.

Quite simply, no excuses for not writing.

This was not exactly a contest, but those who would submit had exactly twenty-four hours after the prompt was displayed (March 2nd) to write and include a link to their writing on the group’s page. There were only a few rules: follow the assigned prompt, write between 1000 – 1500 words, and convert the document as a Google Doc to be viewed publicly by the group’s moderators, as well as other writers in the community. There was no prize but the moderators would choose a few of the submissions to read and critique on their podcast, which would take place an hour after the posting closed. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.

What was the prompt, you ask? Write a story that involves owls. You can have an owlish theme, or an owlish character, or an actual owl. Just make sure the owlishness is actually an important element in the story and not just tossed in in a cheap way like “and then an owl walked past.” That would be lame. You wouldn’t want to be lame, would you?

I got started immediately. In fact, I began writing that Friday afternoon while still at work. Owls, owls. That mysterious winged bird that could turn its head around without moving its body.

What kind of wizardry causes this?! I wrote my first paragraph and then began my research. Should I describe a person as having owl-like features? Maybe large, globular eyes that penetrate the soul and beg your attention?

My research led me to find the Great Horned Owl. To broaden my search criteria (because my drawing board was indeed blank) I simply Googled “owls.” The second search result brought up The Great Horned Owl; I clicked and shined on. This particular owl was native to North America and particularly fond of Ohio. When I read that, I instantly time-traveled (in my mind) to Girl Scout summer camp. When I was eight or nine, I went to camp with my Girl Scout troop to trek in the woods and make homemade ice cream and s’mores. During one afternoon’s nature hike, our camp guide inundated us with various kinds of calls, one being the Barred Owl.

Who cooks for you? Who cooks for youall?” I vividly recall walking through the woods, wearing a baseball cap and fanny pack, hooting through cupped hands, thinking that my call would lure an owl to perch on my shoulder, as if to say “You have been chosen.”

Then I had a thought: I could write about the physical owl and weave the description into a much larger plot. I decided to go with this.

When I arrived home from work, I wrote for two more hours. I enjoy writing about people so that’s what I did. In hindsight though, I do think that I get so involved with the characters that it’s almost impossible to be objective anymore, especially when it comes to ending a story. All of my stories in college had lackluster endings. I usually waited far too long to write the ending, therefore tossing away the meticulous pacing and specific details that I had labored over so carefully just so that I could turn in the required amount of pages and words. I hated myself for doing it; if I was writing fiction, I needed more time. I recall Zadie Smith writing about her style versus every other writer’s style. Mine was like hers: I needed to write half of a story, throw it in a drawer, only to open that drawer months, maybe years later and revise it with fresh eyes.

I slept soundly Friday night, knowing that I would have plenty of time the next day to complete the ending and add any finishing touches. I woke up at 9 a.m. and wrote up until 12:57 a.m., when I submitted the story.

What happened?! I thought to myself. How did I submit a story minutes before the deadline and still feel so dissatisfied? I closed my laptop and left to meet up with my sister for a movie. While driving to her house I was overcome with a sudden feeling of dread.

I forgot something. But what? I went through the story in my head, sulking about its hurried ending. And then I realized my mistake. When I got to my sister’s, I used my iPhone to log out of reddit and attempted to view my story, converted to a Google Doc, as a guest. I couldn’t:  I had forgotten to change the settings so that my story was public.

Shit.

I honestly can’t be too mad because a couple of lessons were learned here. I don’t feel as if I wasted my time because I managed to crank out a work of fiction in twenty-four hours. Bitchin.’ Also, I need to take a deep breath sometimes, close my eyes, and exhale. Hopefully in doing this, simply this, I can look at what I’m working on from a different angle and see its flaws; for example, what view the document is in so that other human beings might be able to read what six hours of writing garners.

So here is the story. Untitled