“So I can wish for anything at all, and it’ll appear? That’s crazy. Where’s the hidden camera, chica?”
The jaundiced girl shrugged, tapping one sandaled toe on the pavement and looking anywhere but at the fat man in the too-tight Adidas jacket. “You gonna wish for somethin’, or what?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
A dead stare was her only response, and he began to fidget.
“Fine, OK. Let’s test this shit. I’m hungry. How about you magic me up some food.” He licked his lips. “A cake. A big fuckin’ cake.”
The effect was instantaneous, like a switch being flipped. One moment the cracked parking-lot asphalt was devoid of frilly, multi-tiered cake behemoths, and the next minute it wasn’t. There was a queer popping sound that he felt more than heard as the cake appeared, displacing a wandering cockroach. The fat man took a step backward. Beneath his shock, a distant thought: had the insect vanished, or simply become embedded in a layer of cake and fruit filling?
“Jesus,” he said.
“Whatever,” said the yellow girl. She sat down on the curb. The fat man could see up the sides of her too-short shorts. She didn’t smile, but the glistening points of her small, white teeth showed whenever she snapped her gum.
“If it doesn’t taste good, do I get a refund?”
Again, silence. He began to sweat. Taking a couple waddling steps forward, he reached out a tentative hand toward the cake and, deciding it wouldn’t bite, plunged a couple of plump fingers into the top. A lump of pale sponge came away in his hand and he brought it to his nose, sniffing it.
Snap, went the yellow girl’s gum.
“I wish I knew this was safe to eat,” said the fat man.
Pop. A sheet of paper appeared midair and fluttered to the ground. The fat man shuddered. He snatched up the paper and looked at the long list of ingredients printed there in a webby hand. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Raspberry jam. His stomach gurgled.
“Sounds legit, I guess.”
The yellow girl crossed and re-crossed her legs. Her gum snapped.
“I wish for a fork,” he said.
The sky blushed as the sun slipped below its horizon. The fat man continued to eat. His appreciative sounds had subsided into businesslike grunts as he methodically demolished each fluffy tier. Only when he reached the last layer pasted onto the filthy parking lot surface did he set down his fork, leaving the rest as a tithe to passing scavengers. He rose up on unsteady legs and let out an enormous belch.
“You done?” asked the yellow girl. One corner of her lip curled up, exposing more glistening, sharpened teeth.
“Y-yeah, I guess so.” He held his stomach.
“Good,” she said, and pushed up from the curb with eerie grace. Her mouth split in a wide, pointy grimace; her jaw unhinged. “Now I get my wish.”
I have a shitton* of homework to do, so it’s time for some good ol’ procrastinatory** blogging. Tuesday’s class focused on using randomly assigned elements written by other students to make flash fiction. You can do a similar exercise by yourself.
Step 1: Place
Write or steal (from a handy book, perhaps, or flip through Pinterest) a detailed setting with usable objects lying about. It’s important to do this part first, since it’s the least random-friendly of the two elements. Write a paragraph or two to set the scene: how does this location look/smell/feel? What’s in it, how is it arranged, what’s the lighting situation? Air quality? Give the location an atmosphere and include at least three items that can be used as inventory. DON’T include any people.
Step 2: Person
Use a name generator. I like this one because it’s adjustable for country & includes lots of utterly unnecessary detail. Love me some of that superfluous shit.
Now give this person a description. Some elements may be really hokey or clash with your generated name. It’s not a big deal. Work with what you get, or cycle through and pick whatever the hell you like. Rocket science, this is not.
Again, write a paragraph or two about the character as a person. Where are they from? How were they raised? What are their fears and motivations? What’s their dearest wish?
It’s worth noting that these two basic elements–character and place–should be at least somewhat randomly selected. You need them to be random for the exercise to hold. If you just pick a place where you think your new character SHOULD be, or vice versa, you’re not really stretching yourself.
Step 3: FICTION MOTHERFUCKER, DO YOU WRITE IT
Now that you’ve got a fictional character and a setting, it’s time to write. You might tell how this character came to be in this place, or what they’re doing there. Consider the character’s motivations and fears. This story can be as short or long as you like, but I recommend no more than a half-hour or 500 words’ worth of work. Writing quickly is a challenge, but the more you practice doing so, the easier it will be. Get more words for your writing buck, man. It’s good for you.
SO. Go forth and write, if you’re of a mind. I’d love to see what comes of it, so do please post or link your results in the comments. Sharing is caring!
(*I like the “shitton” spelling because it’s Frenchy-looking and makes a very satisfying sound when you pronounce it as such. Shee-TOHN!)
(**Word fact: “procrastinatory” is actually a word, according to the interwebs. Cool.)
I have a creative writing class this term, hooray! So far it’s been interesting to learn the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction. The book we’re using is expensive but really good, if you find yourself with wads of money to throw around, here’s an excerpt with the author’s name and title. Every week we practice what we’ve learned in our readings–themes, setting, characterization etc–by writing flash fiction. Um, yay? Seriously, a class where I get to write fiction for my grade is mind-boggling.
Anyway. Here’s something I’ve been working on.
They say time isn’t linear at all, that all events are unique and happening at once, and the appearance of a logical flow between them is an illusion. I know this is true, because I revisit you every day of my life.
“Hey, sugar. Found an old check in the file cabinet. Were you ever planning to cash it?”
I stiffened and snatched the slip of paper out of Bo’s hand. Too late, I composed myself.
“What’s that look? The devil write it to you or something?” Bo’s expression sobered when he saw my face and the haste with which I stuffed the check into my back pocket. “Might call whoever, get you a new one.”
“No.” My fingers sought the tiny divot at the edge of my scalp and swept over it. Even now I can’t remember which came first, the habit or the dent.
Bo gently took my hand away from its worrying and held it, pulling me into a backwards embrace-slash-restraining hold, his chin resting on the top of my head. Just a few layers of frayed denim separated his body from my check. I squirmed away.
“I don’t need your touchy-feely bullshit right now.” My back pocket felt like it was on fire. “And stay out of my papers.”
“Jesus, Ell?” He sounded hurt. The check now felt heavier than it had any right to be. I didn’t respond, and I didn’t look up. If I looked up, I’d have to stay. I needed air.
I woke up in Atlanta with a hangover and a cheap, scratchy motel coverlet over my face. My first thought was that this must be how time travelers felt, gross and reeling with carsickness, unsure of what day it is; my second thought was of the check. I swiped my pocket, but it wasn’t there. The muscles in my chest tightened for a moment and I felt like I might puke after all, then I remembered stowing it somewhere for safekeeping the night before. I checked the usual spots. Behind the mirror, taped under a dresser drawer or the underside of the sink, plastic-wrapped and stowed in the toilet tank. It was difficult to remember the last place I’d put it—my brain felt plastic-wrapped. Finally I found what I was looking for, wedged between the pages of the Gideon Bible.
I always told myself I’d get rid of it. I had fantasies where I’d shred it, burn it, piss on the ashes, and throw it in a river so it couldn’t keep popping up anymore. But I never did any of that. When I mustered the courage to return home, the check came with me.
At every pit stop, I reevaluated the security of its hiding place. Would it be safe there? Could I easily find it again? Would someone else find it before I did? I changed it each time, just to be sure. Time travelers can’t be too careful, I thought, and snorted quietly at my own joke. Back at our place, heart kicking, I fumbled with keys until Bo opened the door. He just stood there looking at me, an absurdly sorrowful look spread across the width of his face. The check was warm inside my sock.
“I’m sorry, Bo,” I said, and meant it. “You’d be right to hate me for running off.”
“Ellie. I could never hate you.” His arms were around me again, evidence of his forgiveness, Exhibit A in the case of his love for me. He was not my first husband or my last, but he was by far the most demonstrative. I neither appreciated nor deserved him, probably. “I was worried sick,” he said into my hair, and held me until even my socks no longer felt safe.
That house never held a good hiding place again, though god knows I tried. And Bo never stopped snooping. I could see in the way his eyes flicked over my mail, how they seemed drawn to the ugly metal file cabinet I now kept locked, that he no longer trusted me. Every innocent “what’ve you been up to?” was a pointed accusation that put me on the defensive and distanced me further from him. After a time, I gave him back his ring. He didn’t want to take it, said it was mine to keep. I told him no.
“It’s yours, you paid for it,” I said, and dropped it into the breast pocket of his old flannel shirt with fingers that were careful not to touch any more than they had to. My old car, packed and running, waited to take me to parts unknown; under the visor the check also waited, for a suitable time to be found. “Life’s too long for keepsakes.”
You may or may not know I’ve been taking a creative writing class this term, a poetry workshop/appreciation class rolled into one. Each week we read a book of poems by a contemporary poet; 8 times out of 10, we’ve been able to conference with that poet on Skype during class. It’s sort of like having a personal poetry reading combined with an open Q&A. How cool is that? Writing weekly responses to each book–basically a critical literary review–has been the biggest challenge of my (admittedly short) college career, but it’s also educational and, in a weird way, sort of fun.
This frenzy of poetry appreciation has coincided with a renewed interest in tea. My best homegirl Claire hooked me up with a big box of loose-leaf samples, and soon I followed her lead in joining Steepster, a nice, friendly community of tea-drinkers. It was intimidating to write tasting notes whenever I tried a new tea, but Claire and the tea-people were encouraging. I began to train my palate. Soon I was tasting not just “tea” in the generic sense, but a variety of many subtle and intriguing flavors: squash, mushroom, smoke, leather, grass, grape leaves, rice, raisin, and roses, to name a few.
Tonight, as I searched for the right words to describe the experience of an exceptional new tea blend, it dawned on me that tea and poetry aren’t altogether different. Both rely on the purity of their components. Both are compositions, though one is more for the mouth than for the head and heart. And even when their quality is indisputably high, the tea and poems you really love are always a matter of personal taste rather than what’s Right or Wrong.
And now, a dramatic reading of my latest rhyming epic!
P.S. I managed not to make a single “not my cup of tea” pun. You have no idea how difficult that was for me. You’re welcome.
9:01 Throw chiming smartphone on floor. Go back to sleep.
9:16 Goddam phone make noise again. Why! Bladder grown to size of pumpkin. Go back to sleep.
9:31 Ow ow ow my kidneys WHY PHONE NOT SHUT THE FUCK UP
9:31:02 Throw phone across room.
9:32 Zombie walk to bathroom.
9:33 Zombie walk to coffee pot.
9:38 Think about essay due tomorrow.
9:38:15 OH MY GOD what a beautiful day it is outside
9:39 Consider going out to work on yard.
9:39:01 Stare at small wizard screen instead. Ha ha look at the colors! Love magic wizard screen.
9:42-12:42 COMPUTER COMPUTER COMPUTER COMPUTER COMPUTER COMPUTER YAAAAY
12:43 FOOD NOW. Hey, is that a piece of pie? Whose pie is this? Can I eat it? Too late, it is eated.
12:46 Organize shoes.
12:48 Buy new video game. Install complete in: 4634w73 hours. W? *brain explodes*
12:49 Pour brains back into head through ear hole.
12:50 Check Twitter.
12:51 Complain about something on Twitter.
12:52 Discover own boring-ness. Vow to stop tweeting lest followers die of boredom. Boring, yes; murderer, no.
12:53 Tweet about being boring. Universe threatens to staple mouth shut/fingers together in retaliation; agree to just shut up about it already. Universe withdraws threat.
12:54 Ingest fourteenth cup of coffee. Use resulting vibrations to wash and wax car in six seconds.
12:59 Hey, that essay is still due tomorrow.
12:59:08 Check bank balance.
1:00 Check bank balance again.
1:01 Check Paypal balance.
1:02 Check credit card balance.
1:03 Run outside, vomit in bushes.
1:27 Install complete in: 26z54 hours. Convinced install timer is running backwards. Throw pencils at passers-by.
1:31 Contemplate meaning of life.
1:32 Eat cheese.
2:15 Cheese nap.
4:37 WHY PHONE RING.
4:38 Yell at the nice(?) phone survey man.
4:43 Trip over bedroom rug, barely make it to bathroom.
4:47 Coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee
4:52 Essay? What essay? OH THAT ESSAY.
4:53 Hello again, magic wizard screen! Install complete in: 15b2 hours, you say? Fuck you too!
4:55 Why yes, I will have a gin and tonic with dinner.
5:49 Ekshcuse me, shir, have you sheen my pantsh?
10:31 Wake up on couch. Notice drool stain. Try to remember something important, but can’t quite put finger on it…
10:34 Check oven, check iron, check washing machine. No dice.
10:39 Brush teeth. Floss. Fluoride rinse. OH FUCK, ESSAY DUE TOMORROW. Fluoride spit-take.
10:35 Sprint to computer, type like madman for 4 hours straight.
2:35 Complete essay in disturbing state of sobriety. Fall asleep on keyboard while waiting for printer.
9:01 AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGH PHONE WHY LOUD MAKING
9:09 Finally find mysterious chiming phone device.
9:10 Smash smartphone into million pieces.
9:11 Go back to sleep until time for class.
10:19 Realize at school parking lot that essay is still in printing tray…at home.[This story is based on events. In certain cases incidents, characters and timelines have been changed for drunken purposes. Certain students may have written this blog post as an excuse to put off an essay due four hours from now.]
Someday I’ll be tired of fart jokes and “your mom”
And “that’s what she said,” and crime-solving TV shows;
I won’t get tired of sweets, per se,
Though the same ones every day
Would certainly get old.
Someday I’ll be grown up and cranky all the time
(Oh wait…too late)
And I might start to be fond of my mustache
(We’ve been together so long, why not be friends?)
Someday I might tire of words.
But someday it ain’t, and anyway
There’ll be other things to do if I don’t write,
And people to wonder at,
And cookies to eat.
Maybe I will be
You may or may not know that my husband and I decided to activate our veteran’s education benefits (G.I. Bill) this year so we can work on our degrees. Right now we’re reviewing algebra concepts so we’re not completely blindsided our first week in class…which starts this coming Monday. Six days until everyone finds out just how little I know about math! Yay! (I’m not worried about prepping for Writing 121, though maybe I should be, given the amount of spew in this post alone.)
In celebration of all this imminent book-learnin’, I’d like to share three of my current favorite free websites for schoolin’ on the internets**. The internet is chock-full of great ideas and information, not just the toxic sludge that is every controversial comments section ever. As my friend Renshank says, “HOLY SHIT LEARNING IS FREE ON THE INTERNET.” At least, I think I remember him saying that. It sounds like something he would say. You can get a pretty goddam excellent quality of education for free if you know where to look and don’t care whether you get a piece of paper for learning a thing. (Pieces of paper are fancy. So are those crowns you get down at the Burger King. Do you want to learn, or don’t you?)
**I should note that I’m not being paid to say nice things about anyone or anything. 1) If Google ads were switched on, this blog would generate roughly two cents of ad revenue per decade and 2) good lord you could not pay me enough to be nice about anything I don’t want to be nice about. People are made of butts and I hate them. Except for you, of course. You’re only, what, 12% butt? Yeah, that sounds right. Anyway. I’m not nice. So if I say good things about a website, it’s because I like/admire it and find it useful, entertaining, etc.
Sophia.org teaches a diverse number of subjects using short videos submitted by actual teachers to explain concepts, then gives a short quiz after each one to make sure you understand. There are several different videos available for each concept, so if you don’t get it on the first try, another teacher might explain it in a way that clicks. I’m currently using their Pathways learning system to review Algebra 1 so that when class starts and I’m pummeled to within an inch of my life with variables and formulas, I don’t wish for death. You know, more than I usually do. Like whenever I am not drinking coffee, or whenever I am awake.
Duolingo is another great free education tool out there. I’ve been using it off and on to brush up on all the Spanish language skills I’ve lost since high school and it’s actually sorta fun. It plays a bit like a game, which is nice, and you get nominal rewards like points and medals for completing modules. It’s a social platform to some extent, so you can follow and compete with your friends. If you have any. (I hear it’s nice.)
Last but not least, a contender rises from the murky depths of Youtube to bring you excellent beading how-tos: Beadaholique, admittedly a commercial interest that would really love to sell you some of the supplies they use in their videos, has a metric fuckton of great videos that give you the basic tools to make almost every kind of beaded object you can conceive of. I single them out among the hundreds of other beading instructors on Youtube because they’re prolific and the videos are clear and easy to see, even on the fine details (which are sort of important in beading). If you wanted to make, say, a beaded beer cozy, you could just fire up one or two of Beadaholique’s videos and get to work. (This, for example, would show you how to make a nice base; sew it to a giant zippered beaded tube sleeve. Ta-da, beer bling.) Not that it wouldn’t be hard, but at least you can learn enough from the videos to practice, putting you well on your way to making something you’d be proud to see featured on Regretsy (NSFL).
To recap: Sophia, Duolingo and Beadaholique’s Youtube videos are all excellent resources for learning a wide variety of subjects. Now that I’ve wasted my morning writing this post i.e. procrastinating, I can get back to studying for class. If I missed your favorite free learning site, please share; I need all the help I can get.