Writer’s Block

Little girls often dream of being ballerinas when they grow up. I was hooked the first time I saw the Sugarplum Fairy glitter her way across The Nutcracker stage. Since we lived in the suburbs of San Francisco, my mom even looked into enrolling me in the San Francisco Ballet School but realized the transportation issues alone were ridiculous not to mention the cost was prohibitive–as in we’d never eat again. Still, I danced for over 20 years. I had a teacher who at one point offered to go to New York with me to help me learn the audition process. (It’s okay if you don’t believe me. More than likely you’ve seen me struggle with sitting safely.)

I loved dancing, still do. I was pretty good, and with more work and dedication maybe a life performing would have been possible. But one thing kept me from pursuing a career on Broadway–fear of rejection. When starting a new venture, I really do believe in my heart that the position or honor I seek is within my grasp. I never start playing what I can’t win. (And yet I lose ALL the time.) I guess I’ve seen too many movies where the quiet, intelligent girl with mousey brown hair snags the handsome quarterback and lands the lead in the school play to complete the fairy tale.

Anyway, for me, dancing was not an ideal career. I’m assuming I’d be told I wasn’t good enough more often than not as is pretty standard. The song, “Dance 10, Looks 3” from A Chorus Line kind of opened my eyes to my future. I feel like I would have given up on that passion after each failed audition, my worth as a person sinking lower and lower.

It’s a strange journey in my head. I assume I’m awesome until someone says I’m not quite, and then I assume I should abandon the endeavor forever and crawl into a hole and cease to be me.

And that’s where I am with my writing. I get so inspired! People say nice things! I’m happy with my work! JK Rowling didn’t publish Harry Potter until after age 40! I have great tools and tips from the writing conferences I’ve attended!

But I’ve never had large-scale success. My short-story posts thus far have received little praise on the one site I used to enter them. I can’t get past the first chapter of my Poland book. I haven’t written in six months. And then, oh God, and then this:

“Allison Cane perched on her toes, poised to flee. Her target was in sight – well, not really, it was dark. She could hear the footsteps of her target though, and that was close enough.”

This is the opening to an assignment one of my old students wrote. She was 13. My first reaction was that it was better than any story intro I’ve done. My second thought was that I should erase writer from any and all biographical info I have on the internets. Because hyperbole is my middle name.

And then I read the passage again. It’s good, not perfect though. It has style, but still needs sprucing up and tightening. (That’s a technical term used by editors. It means this is long, and I’m not interested in reading it all. Make me interested.)

Oh God, maybe I should just be an editor. But then how does one get started doing that? I’d love to help bloggers edit their work, but no one would want me to. I mean, I have no experience, and my own writing sucks…..

You see?

Oh, just my son, writing a book, mocking my ineptitude.

Oh, just my son, writing a book, mocking my ineptitude.

 

I Don’t Understand (Stream of Consciousness Sunday)

I’m once again linking up to my friend Jana’s blog. Our task? Set a timer and write for five minutes without editing or censoring. Our topic? I don’t understand…

I don’t understand how I have two little boys all of a sudden. I mean, I know how I got kids. It’s a timeless tale of doctors and stirrups and no shame. But what I mean is that I don’t understand how my babies are now big kids.

This weekend they started T-ball. My sons can now hold a bat. In fact, they own bats and regulation t-balls. We spent the whole afternoon after practice getting geared up. Thank God they didn’t have to buy cups.

These boys also have super hero sheets and a real Star Wars love. They can roam the playground with me at a greater distance. I still hover, but it’s with less anxiety and stress.

Friday night we had dinner with our group of friends and their kids. We set the kids at one table, and we grown-ups took the other. We are finally getting to the point where the kids can play, and we can actually have a conversation or play cards with few interruptions.

But still, I don’t really understand how this happened. It boggles the mind.

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Lost

Hey! I’m writing again when I said I wouldn’t because I was kind of dared to do it. And because this story has been in my head for months. It’s a fiction piece for the YeahWrite Speakeasy. Enjoy!

The magic was all in the finishing touches. It wasn’t enough to circle a word or two here and there, place a checkmark in the margin. No, to make it look legitimate, the essay had to look like it had taken a long time to grade. The pages had to be creased repeatedly at the staple. It needed food stains.

Tonight she was even more rushed with the essays. It was time to write something worth selling. Her main problem had been the old adage, “Write what you know.” How could she make a novel out of her job of glorified babysitting? Ms. Cooke needed more excitement.

She chugged her second beer and turned on the computer. She headed to the personals section of Craig’s List. She had spent the last three weeks trying to find a story idea in the desperate messages there. She wanted something exciting that she herself didn’t have. But all she found were beginnings of maybes and more writing for her to edit and correct, evidence of other terrible English teachers. She decided the only way to get a story out of it was to answer an ad.

However, she only found ads that made her sad, not inclined to answer. Tonight was her last go at it. She read the first five new posts for the day and saw the usual dejected pleas. But then she opened the sixth one.

“My wife has hidden my car somewhere, and I need it for work tomorrow.”

Her nervous energy turned to adrenaline-fueled confidence. She couldn’t reply to the ad fast enough.

“How can I help?”

She hit send and tried to think of what might happen next. But either the beer or the Twilight novels had dulled her imagination. Why was this man thinking Craig’s List was his best option? Was his wife dangerous? Couldn’t he take the bus? How would she help?

In less than five minutes, the ad’s author sent her a reply. Her hand hovered over the mouse; she suddenly wasn’t sure if she should go further. Maybe she could just use that one line to get started.

“Oh, Thank God. Can you meet me in 20 mins?”

Now she was on full alert. The man would abduct her and steal her car, though probably not to go to work. Being a teacher was fine. Eventually her students would be more interesting, and she’d have literary gold.

“Are you insane? I don’t know you. I’m not meeting you anywhere.”

She stepped away from the computer and paced her living room. What was she thinking? Craig’s List for adventure? Death and dismemberment had been in play all along.

“Gah, I’m sorry. I’m desperate. I assumed anyone who answered the ad would be ready to act. It’s 8pm, and I am running out of time to get my car and what’s inside. I’m sorry to bother you.”

He wasn’t just wanting his car; he needed what was inside. Fast. That was interesting. Crap. She was getting sucked in to his trap. But, on the other hand, what kind of criminal apologized and used words like, ‘gah’?

“Okay, surely you can see why I’d be hesitant? Can you tell me what happened? Why did your wife hide your car?”

A conversation was the way to go here. Surely the other lonely losers did that before putting themselves at the mercy of a weirdo.

“It’s a long story, and, like I said, I don’t have much time. What I need is someone who can help me decipher the clue quickly. Are you smart?”

“Well, I’m answering a Craig’s List ad from a guy who lost his car; do I seem smart?”

“Look, are you going to help me or not?”

“You have to tell me what you need in the car.”

“It’s nothing illegal. It’s nothing weird. It’s just embarrassing.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s for my job, and I don’t like telling people my profession. They criticize it.”

“Do you want your stuff?”

“Yes! Listen, my wife said the car was where Jack Shepard met Kate to beg her to return to the island. There are zero words in that sentence that help me.”

Okay, this guy was a weirdo. Who didn’t recognize the characters from Lost? Ms. Cooke could practically rewrite that scene from memory.

“I know where it is. But, I still want to know what’s inside.”

“Just tell me!!”

“No, I just want to make sure I’m helping someone who deserves it.”

“Trust me. No one deserves what’s in that car. It’s awful.”

Now she had to know. It seemed like this guy was in a worse state than she was.

“I’m not trying to be mean. I’m trying to be less nervous about what I’m doing. I feel like I’m part of a crime now.”

“It’s not a crime; I promise.”

“Then tell me.”

“Fine. I’m a seventh-grade English teacher. I left my classes’ essays in my car, and grades are due in two days. I haven’t graded a single paper because I know they will be awful. My wife is sick of my whining and procrastination, so she acted out. There. Commence to telling me how pitiful my job is. Tell me that I am nothing but a glorified babysitter. Tell me, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Yes I have a novel I’d like to get published, so I can quit. But no, I guess I’m not a good writer if it’s been rejected 13 times. I’m stuck as a teacher.”

Ms. Cooke raised her shaking hand from the mouse. She reached around to the power switch and flipped it. She gathered her graded papers and shoved them in her tote bag. Then she backed into her tiny bedroom, threw the tote on the chair next to her bed, and perched on the edge. After several still moments which didn’t even rumple the plain white sheets on her twin bed, she turned off the lamp and let the dark cover her.