1,000 words or less

Today I had the great privilege to attend a virtual writing session with the great Veronica Montes, author of Benedicta Takes Wing and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction. Ms. Monsters opened the class with a quick introduction and then an overview on flash fiction. I always find flash fiction to be difficult; I love words- the more, the merrier. So it’s always a challenge when I have to write with a word count restriction. In this case, flash fiction is usually 1,000 words or less and it must be a full story, meaning a beginning, middle and end– and with an arc.

Our first prompt was to write one sentence that tells a character, setting and conflict. We had 10 minutes to write. Here is one sentence I wrote:

In the bathroom, Joyce saw a thin strand of blond hair tangled in her husband’s hair brush, even though everyone in the family had dark hair. 

Our second prompt was to take a character from any of our sentences and write more about the character. This time we had to take three consecutive letters or numbers and write no more than three sentences that explains why each letter or number is significant to the character.

This was our example:

This is what I wrote:

1 is the number of abortions Joyce had. Even though it was 20 years ago, she could still remember the crushed velvet curtains hanging in the waiting room and the surgeon saying “sweet dreams” before the anesthesia kicked in.  

2 is the number of times she made the dean’s list in college. To celebrate, she got her right nipple pierced. To this day, she still can’t drive with a seat belt over her chest without getting aroused. 

3 is the number of times she performed CPR on someone. Once on a student in the middle of her class. The second one to a man who collapsed at the gas station. The third one was her father, who she never was able to resuscitate. 

I definitely need more practice with writing flash fiction, but I’m thankful for the experience today with Ms. Montes and I look forward to improving in the craft. 

Special thanks for PAWA for hosting!

Mama Said Knock You Out

Just like anything important in your life, if you let it fall to the wayside, it’s even harder to come back. Admittedly, I have done that with my writing. As I sit here at my desk, typing these very words, I don’t feel the confidence I once felt during the “glory days”–when I was unemployed and dedicated most of my time towards writing.

But all that drastically changed when I returned to my job a few months ago. Rather than enrolling in classes about short stores, I enroll  in classes about being a better teacher. I write lesson plans rather than short stories, and I attend  parent teacher conferences, not literary events. I wish I could say no to these commitments,  but it’s not that easy. One, they are professionally mandatory and two, I love my job. So, naturally it’s difficult for me to scale back.

Yet, I know that if I continue to perform this unbalancing act, I’ll continue to ignore a part of my life that is important to me, and  eventually, in a matter of time,  I’ll be filled with resentment. As a teacher, I’ve learned that it takes drastic effort to see drastic change, which reminds me of one of my favorite rappers, LL Cool J, and  his song, “Mama Said Knock you Out.” In his first line he states,  “Don’t  Call it a Comeback, I’ve been here for years.”  The story behind the opening line has left me with a lasting impression. Supposedly, during a time when LL’s popularity and success were waning and he was having difficulty with the direction in  his writing, it was his grandmother who encouraged him to “knock out” his insecurities and critics. She simply told him to believe in himself and use his time off from music as a motivator. LL wisely took the advice from his grandmother which lead to the birth of  an award winning song, eventually earning him a Grammy. Had it not been for his wise grandmother and time away from his craft, I doubt if the creation of the song we know so well well today would’ve ever been created. Like LL, sometimes we have to step away and hear some tough love to bring us back to our calling.

Today marks the 6th of November, and usually this time of the year is a special time for writers. It’s NaNoWriMo–national writing book month, when individuals pledge to write a 50,000 word novel in 3o days. It’s also NaBloPomo– National bloggers post month– when bloggers post a blog every day of November. If followed with fidelity, these challenges are supposed to encourage writers to elevate their craft of writing and encourage a daily routine. But I see them as LL’s grandmother giving me the encouragement I need in a time where I’ve lost my direction and need help to refocus.

It’s going to be a busy month–besides work, I’m applying for grad school, planning a trip to the Philippines, studying for the GRE, and writing  a book or 30 posts in the month of November are commitments I won’t be able to invest in.  Yet, like I stated earlier, sometimes we need drastic change in order to see drastic results.  In the case of LL Cool J, the drastic advice and hiatus led him to one of greatest songs ever recognized in hip hop music.

Today, despite the odds against me, I pledge to participate in NaNoWriMo, which means I’ll have to write a book in the month of November. It won’t be an easy feat; challenges already lay ahead; for example, I’m six days into the month and I haven’t written anything, which means I’ve lost a lot of valuable time. Yet, I  just have to take the advice of LL’s grandmother– if I continue to feed into the negativity and excuses and allow time to slip away, I won’t be knocking out anyone, including my skeptical self.

So wish me luck, it’s November 6 and the only thing I have written is the title of the book: ‘otherland. If I count the title, then my word count is one. 49,999 words left and 24 days to go. Time to knock it out.

 

 

 

No Filter

I was recently at my mom’s house looking through old family albums. Most of the albums were showing their age, perforated pages breaking, adhesiveness from the glue weakened. Although the photos were discolored, faded and washed out, there was something about being able to touch the pictures, rubbing my finger on the wax and plastic that hit a sentimental chord. No, I was not reminiscing about the people and places in the photos. Instead, I was mourning the photo albums, thinking and wondering about the future of them. I tried to recall the last time I saw someone use a camera, develop film and place pictures in a photo album. I couldn’t help but question if years from now would albums be obsolete, in the same way Poloroid cameras are no longer sold, stamps are declining in sales and Twinkies are off the shelves. It saddened me to think that albums could have the same ill fate as these once valuable commodities.

Maybe it’s because I consider myself a neo luddite—for many years, I refused to purchase a Smart phone, reasoning that my flip phone had the necessary functions that I needed. I owned a typewriter rather than a laptop, and I’m certain that I’m one of the rare people who used a rotary phone as a land line, in the 21st century. Maybe it’s because I’m aging and I refuse to go with the modern times or maybe it’s because I’m too lazy to learn something new. I’d like to think that, at best, I‘m a true romantic– fantasizing about the day when someone will send me a love letter in the mail as opposed to an email or text message. The thrill of typing my next poem on my Underwood typewriter and hearing the ring when I have reached the margin enthralls me much more than the actual sound of my ring tone.The Nintendo 64 on which I play Street Fighter, the Atari joystick I use to play Ms. Pac Man, or on the wooden Tricky Triangle I solve puzzles,these old school games elicit more emotion and satisfaction from me than playing with the latest piece of modern technology.

However, I’m not entirely opposed to all things contemporary. There is definitely a need for technology, especially for our progressive, modern lives. For instance, the concern of being lost is completely resolved thanks to Tom Tom,Garmin or even Siri. We can navigate from point A to B easily, within a blink of an eye, and never have to worry about getting lost and pulling into a gas station to ask for directions. Also, there’s no need to ever go to a library when there’s Nook or ipad. Anyone can read anywhere at any time and, conveniently, people from all over the world can download any book within seconds and purchase the latest copy of their favorite novel without ever setting foot in a bookstore. Or how about being able to communicate with anyone in the world? A person doesn’t need to open his mouth in order to converse. He can send a “like” or “thumbs up” to anyone with a profile and immediately let them know that he approves of what theyre doing, where they’re going, who they’re with, and also what they’re eating. Technology is so vast, robust and encompassing that there is virtually nothing that we can’t do. And this great sense of satisfaction and capability builds a strong and thriving community that has the world, literally, in their fingertips. I mean, the accolades of technology just goes on and on.

But I wonder, in the midst of all these technological advancements, have we forgotten the simplicities of life where we relied on the human capacity rather than the capacity of a computer? For example, what is more impressive than an assured woman knowing her surroundings, with a keen sense of direction, who can easily look up at the sun and know, confidently, which direction is north, south, east or west? Or the person who goes into a book store and purchases a hard back copy of their favorite book, turning actual pages and being able to write or make notes and feel the texture of words of the pages and cover; or being able to smell an old library book and wonder about the homes and hands in which this book was held. That can never be mimicked in any Kindle or Ereader. But most of all, we sometimes forget the power behind good old fashion human interaction. What ever happened to simply picking up the phone and listening to someone’s voice and hearing their reaction to a joke or even a simple “hello”.

Perhaps I’m more of a traditionalist than I want to admit. Perhaps I’m holding on to a past life that has no place in modern times. Perhaps I’m just crazy. But when I’m out with my friends, and everyone is on their phone “checking in” or when conversations are being replaced with texts that end and begin with LOL, that is where I draw the line. There’s a raging fire inside of me that flames every now and then when I know that a copious number of dinners are taking place with people interacting behind cell phones and updating how many “likes” they‘ve acquired on their check in have  or a society communicating in abbreviated messages such as BRB and ❤ and #nofilter.

But I know technology advances year after year, day after day, and minute after minute. Gone are the days of singing telegrams, A tracks and ghetto blasters. There’s nothing I can do about the race for modern revelation nor that I would want to. But my only wish is that as we move forward into new modern terrain that we still remember the things that genuinely define us. And we don’t forget that the human capability is smarter, stronger and more complex than the capability of any mega gig.And we don’t underestimate that the simple and daily exchanges amongst people of a smile, pat on the back or nod will always be more favored than a “like” button or a virtual “thumbs up”. Finally, it’s okay to get lost every now and then because when we rely on our own instincts to guide us, intuition will eventually direct us safely to where we need to go.

Most of all, it would be reassuring to know that years from now, when I’m am old and gray, just like my Underwood typewriter that functions but is past it’s prime, it would be comforting to be amongst people that still hold a strong value in books, paper and library cards. And despite all the ingenious technology that will eventually ensue, I’d like to know that I will live in an innovative world where there will be sentimental love letters in the mail, romantic books on the shelves and maybe, possibly, if I’m lucky, memorable pictures in photo albums.