*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

*Eliminate material systematically

… from a piece of your own writing until it is “ultimately” reduced, or, read or write it backwards, line by line or word by word.

This might be fun, I thought. I considered the lyrics of my favorite songs- maybe I could reverse the order of the words to make it a different song! I once created a villanelle using Al Green lyrics for a poetry assignment. It seemed interesting, but I felt as if I wasn’t being entirely honest with myself, since I wasn’t using my own writing for the experiment.

Combing through the files on my current USB, I found a piece that I started a month ago and haven’t returned to. It’s a narrative about my last creative class in college: fiction writing.

===========================

I might see some, but I shared Lester Bang’s philosophy from the film Almost Famous: “You’ll meet them all again on the long journey to the middle.” Many of my favorite poets had tried their hands at being architects, lawyers, teachers, but could not resist the call to write and publish. My favorite writers in history had meager educations or studied something different entirely; they certainly didn’t have a Masters or Doctorate in Creative Writing. But I also knew, at an early age, that there were bills to be paid and my parents weren’t footing them.  Many were going on to grad school, which I didn’t understand at the time. Back to the lecture at hand: sitting in desks encircling our professor, we each shared our aspirations.

Writing was my altar where I worshipped. Writers who could write about and define even just one image or sensation without being too wordy were immortal in my eyes. I could easily understand why so much depends on a red wheel barrow, giving William Carlos Williams a seat at my imagined “Last Supper” gathering of poets and writers. I was infatuated with poetry written by the likes of Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle. My earlier classes in my college career were my favorite: British literature, modern and contemporary poetry, Creative non-fiction, and even the English composition that most freshmen loathed. (It should be known that the professor also opened the discussion with a lengthy synopsis about that week’s episode of “24.”) The professor praised his writing each class, lecturing longingly about the descriptions he used to depict crashing helicopters and races against time. There was a guy who fancied himself to be the next James Patterson or Dan Brown, writing in the realm of thrilling action plots with complicated men as main characters. The course was the concluding link in my Creative Writing major requirements as it was for most of the students who were set to graduate that spring. For the discussion in our last meeting, my professor (whose name I can’t even recall and probably won’t be able to) asked each person in the group to say what he or she had planned for after the semester.

I, along with twenty other of my colleagues, trudged through the snow all winter for that class and honestly, we all looked haggard. I don’t know, maybe I was just fed up with school, tired from partying before graduation, perhaps a culmination of the two. I had been in a Fiction Writing course for my final semester at Miami University of Ohio and my overall take on the experience was indifferent.

I remember the last day of my last writing class in college.

Experiment with writing in a group: Part II

Two days of collaborative writing has garnered a pretty decent story! When I initiated this experiment, I really had no idea how the story would form. I was probably most surprised by who came out of the woodwork to write. Those who were the most hesitate or self-conscious really added some great images. I didn’t impart very many rules at all; even when I asked for one sentence some digressed, but I allowed it for the sake of time. A lot of people also asked me if I wanted serious submissions; I reiterated “No rules.” Serious writing would have been great, but curiosity definitely got the best of me and I knew that controlling the creative process in this outlet wouldn’t allow the writing to be as organic as I wanted.

Here is the final story in paragraph form and without the identities of  the writers. Thank you all so very much and enjoy your published work, to be permanently printed in the interwebs for future generations to gaze upon!

Dangerous Imagination

She occasionally thought of how hilarious people were. People like Benny Hill, Charlie Chaplin, and Jeff Foxworthy were the first people to come to mind. Especially when they think no one is looking, as they sing at the top of their lungs, while driving down the highway! This made for an interesting predicament, since she was driving down the pacific coast highway, mind wandering all the while. With the convertible top down and wind in her hair, she gazed towards the horizon into the seemingly endless ocean. How long had it been since she’d had a moment like this? She hasn’t had a moment like this since she was a small child. She had to grow up fast when she was just a little girl. Exactly 1061 days; she knew this due to her obsessive compulsive disorder.

Her childhood reverie/nightmare shattered as her attention was drawn to the ghastly sight forming in front of her on the highway. They might have been human once, before the merciless sun and salty sea air carved new features no one should ever have to look at. The mob of zombie sea pirates blocking the road moaned loudly as they took notice of her bright red convertible. She floored the accelerator and the tires squealed as she hurdled towards the horde of advancing zombie sea pirates, who made no attempt to avoid the roaring convertible. But alas, it was only a flashback from her days as a hippie when she regularly consumed excessive amounts of LSD. Instead, she found herself hurtling the tiny topless red car towards the picket line of underpaid highway workers who had staged a blockade along all five lanes of the highway to protest their unfair wages, she snapped back to reality just feet from the sign-holding workers…

Later, picking kneecaps out of her bumper at the carwash, she realized that she would need help hiding from the cops and Fernando was the only man she could trust. Fernando was a circus mime and she knew he was the only man quiet enough to keep the whole incident from the fuzz. She broke Fernando from his imaginary box and they ran into the night. For a few quiet moments, it seemed that she could escape; not only from her past as an LSD-riddled, hippie goat-herder, but also from the mass vehicular devastation she had caused earlier that day. But then she noticed one of the picket signs slightly lacerated her femoral artery during the crash. Fernando used his neck tie to slow the bleeding. With her wounds attended to, she decided it was time for a trip to Las Vegas.

It was in this moment that Fernando began to enthusiastically mime his way up an imaginary staircase. For in the imaginary box whence he sprung, he had been confined for so long that his penis was wrinkled, if not crushed entirely. He thinks to himself “I will not need to swoon the ladies with my enormous package but my stunning good looks are all I need. Plus I can build a campfire and wield a sword.”

With the sun setting, the night grew cold. Fernando put his skills to use by constructing an imaginary campfire. She had become intrigued by Fernando and couldn’t help but wonder, just how badly his penis had been mangled… She wouldn’t have to imagine for long how a night with Fernando would end. While he had been retrieving imaginary firewood, she was attacked and bitten by a wandering zombie sea pirate. She gazed upon his face for the last time, planning on satiating her appetite with Fernando’s brains.

*Experiment with writing in a group…

…collaborative work: a group writing individually off of each other’s work over a long period of time in the same room; a group contributing to the same work, sentence by sentence or line by line; one writer being fed information and ideas while the other writes…

All right, people. I’m tired of y’all being spectators, voyeurs of my passage into the enigmatic unknown that is writing. To the three or four people who regularly peruse my blog, thank you infinitely for your loyalty from the bottom of my heart. For this exercise to succeed, I must go beyond WordPress. I thought about this prompt for quite a while and reflected on how social media has changed even since I was taking university courses. I may have even completed this kind of exercise in a class, passing around a single sheet of paper with my colleagues until a narrative assembled, with characters and a plot. Can you imagine, collaborative writing in real time, face to face?

I thought about the venues where I could employ this exercise. Reddit would be a fantastic option, especially in the Writing subreddit. But I decided instantly that the most interesting choice was facebook. I believe that this would be the best place to collaborate because of the traffic of status-updaters and lurkers who populate the site. My friend’s list is substantial and eclectic, possibly welcoming a diverse reaction if initiated correctly. Instead of posting artistic photos of restaurant food, add a sentence to my status! Put aside the memes for a second and write! I believe that in just two days, a pretty decent piece of collaborative writing could be created.

What should the first sentence be? I’m going to take a note from Ernest Hemingway, who once stated that one way to get past writer’s block was to write a “true sentence.”

 

Contribute: look for Meg E. Falk on facebook

Story for my Sister

I haven’t chosen a prompt for today, but I am going to share something that I wrote for my sister. My lovely Emily, who is due to give birth to her first child (and my first niece!) on March 11, asked me to host her baby shower that took place a couple of weeks ago. Where parties are concerned, I tend to avoid the predictable games and monotonous conversations. This baby shower is the second event that I’ve hosted for her and I have to say, it is no easy task to create original activities for all of the guests to enjoy at a moderately quick pace, so as to wrap up in less than two hours.

While my idea wasn’t wildly original, I did write all of what follows this prologue. I had a lot of fun writing it and even more fun reading. Four prizes were given out to guests and when they heard the words “left” or “right,” they had to pass the prize in that direction to the person next to them. While you read it yourself, try to imagine walking around a crowded, finished basement, trying to articulate the words of the piece while guests both young and old interrupt and ask questions. The best part? Emily could barely keep up with the game because she was concentrating so hard to hear everything that I had written.

Emily and Hannah’s Story

Position the group in a circle and randomly hand out prizes to attendees. While the story is being read, attendees will have to concentrate and really listen to the words. When they hear “Left” or “Right,” the prize must be passed to the next person in that direction. Whoever is left holding the prize at the end of the story gets to keep it!

Emily and David married in Key West, Florida in June 2011. It was a joyous occasion with family and friends. Most people left Ohio by plane and some drove for hours to be right by the couples’ side. Although it seems just yesterday, Emily and David have been married for right around a year and half and their family is soon to grow larger. Last summer, they announced that a baby will share the Neiheisel name.

As girls, we might have enjoyed playing pretend, swaddling Cabbage Patch dolls in blankets and onesies, but those habits did not get left in the past. Emily has always wanted a family. It seems obvious to me that she’s been honing her maternal instincts and skills from childhood. When the news spread about her pregnancy, everyone knew that it was just the right time.

As magical as the gift of childbirth is, Emily’s mind was never left in the clouds. Any mother will tell you that pregnancy can be grueling from the very beginning right up until the day the child is born. If Emily felt sluggish or sick, she never showed it, as she was always leaving a conversation with a glowing smile on her face. She must have known that every measure she was taking and every decision she was making was right for her and her baby. Perhaps the most important was choosing the right name for her baby girl. Although Emily probably considered others first, there was only one name left that couldn’t be more perfect: Hannah Morgan.

I believe we can all agree that Emily chose the right man to be a husband and father. David has been Emily and Hannah’s right-hand man, providing comfort and support since the very beginning of this journey. Like every father, he may have been holding out for a baby boy, but the news of a girl is still great news for a father. David’s protective nature and sense of humor are the right virtues to have when you’re raising a daughter. One can only imagine how he will greet Hannah’s future dates at the door; if he doesn’t approve, the poor guy might be left out on the porch.

Knowing my sister, this occasion will always be remembered as a special one in her child’s history. Even after she has left the party, she will remember all of your hopeful wishes and heartfelt messages for her and Hannah.

Thank you!