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To be clear, I had NO intention of writing this month. NONE. (As it were, in the usual fashion, today is November 20th.) There was relief, really, about not having the pressure that comes with closing out a month here at 100words (perhaps you saw me limping over the finish line last month).
But here I sit, brought back by an odd mixture of nostalgia, anger, beer, and deja vu.
You see, DEAR READER, I'm not done. (In fact, I don't think I ever really got started.)
Strap in and hold on to your pussy, I'm coming and Hell's coming with me.
This is a story that I've been holding on to, because I didn't feel like it was my story to tell.
In 2010, I loved someone very much. We did, in reality, do everything too much. We drank too much, we fell too hard (we crashed too spectacularly). Time with him only slowed twice; once Iíve already written about, the second I will tell you now.
In one of our many evening spent inebriated, he sat on the couch, me behind him doing I know not what. We were talking, or watching tv, or giggling. I was running my fingers through his hair, I think, when I remembered a childhood memory.
Make a fist. Knock a few times on someoneís head. Slowly open the fist, lightly, slowlyÖ tell them youíve just cracked an egg on their head. Watch Terry from Second Grade go pale, as he frantically ruffles his Jonathan Brandis butt-cut. There is no egg. You run away, laughing. Another school yard prank successfully executed. ďTell me how you did it!Ē your friends say. Dust off your shoulder, and with some degree of smugness, say, ďThe trick is to open your hand slow, very slow, because itís supposed to be egg yolk dripping down, dummies.Ē
This time, I say, hold still I want to do something. My hand, already hovering over his buzzed hair, makes a fist, and knocks twice. I slowly open my fingers (SLOWLY, because thatís the trick), and drag my fingers, lightly down the back of his neck. ďI just cracked an egg on your head,Ē I say, and with exaggeration, ďEWWWW!Ē I wait for him to catch up to my laugh.
Things get hazy here. I donít know if he starts to cry at this point, but if at any time in your life a military man cries after what you said, you done fucked up.
I donít recall if the story was told haltingly, or with choked back tears, or with straightforward stoicism. I donít want to write an untruth here, not with this story. But this is what he said: It was boy scouts, he was under 10. He went into the bathroom during a troop excursion, and the scout leader followed him in. After a nonchalant exchanged, he was convinced, under the promise of a ďcool trickĒ, to lay face down on the bathroom floor. ďIím going to crack an egg on you!Ē the scout leader says.
The leader lays on top of him; he, still face down on the cold ceramic floor. He, also prone, begins pumping his body against him, quickly, very quickly. Between his legs. They are clothed, but before long he feels the slow, hot spread of the yolk down his backside.
Maybe the scout leader says, haha, cool trick huh? Or maybe he says, donít tell anyone . Or maybe he says, see you outside. I do not know. But this man I loved tells me, he didnít know quite what happened, but that he didnít feel well after that, and that heís never told anyone this story.
I also do not know what I ended up saying. But I also know that it wasnít the end of the story. He continues: In high school, a male pursued me. Heíd come on to me, he said. Was it something about me?
Itís not your fault, I say, reverting to the platitudes of an old movie. I drunk, I am dumbfounded, I am inadequate. Breathlessly inadequate.
It came to a head, you know, he says. We were at a gas station one night, and there was another advance too far. I dropped my pants and screamed. IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT?
I donít remember much of anything after that. I knew only that I was a mere alcohol dilettante. I liked to drink a lot and then claim some sort of romantic version of Hemingway alcoholism; I drank to lubricate, but he drank to obliterate.
The only time Iíve told this story was to a friend of mine, over cheese puffs and prosecco, and it felt wrong then, like a betrayal. Years later, it still feels not-right, but I cannot hold on to it any longer; it is not my burden, it is not his burden, it is now everyone's burden.
The most spectacular part of House of Cards (a modern classic), is when Claire, wife of equally and toxically ambitious Congressman Frank Underwood, hands a homeless man a $20 bill, only to be presented, the next day, by the same man, the same $20 bill tightly wrapped into an origami swan. It had been a number of years since high school Lit where I and my friends would commandeer and entire class waxing philosophic about potential literary interpretations of required reading list author du jour. I recognized that this meant something big, but a decade-aught later I couldnít make that leap myself.
So I Googled it, and the internet consensus is that the Swan represents Claire, as someone so tightly wound, so perfectly folded as it obscure the origin. Iím not saying Iím the borderline sociopathic Claire Underwood, but I can relate to the origami swan. Iíve folded a lot of myself into a neatly and intricately configuration, right angles and sharp corners serving the overall purpose of an infallible and flawless faÁade. Fuck, that whole sentence proves my point. Out with the $100 words, in with the raw and uncultivated. I wanna fuck shit up.
So why am I here this month? Other than the fact the November seems to be a kind month for me and the muses, Iím here because the only upside to all this political turmoil is to create. Something raw, something magical, something absurd. Iím not asking you, DEAR READER, to disengage, to float away, or to follow my other Piscean fish upstream, Iím asking you to go so far in (And my only way, way out is to go/ So far in/), Iím just asking you to write something real this month. Or next. (Why/ does/ it always end up like this)
When I was in grade school there was a class activity called "World". The children were divided into groups, each group tasked with creating their own country. The countries were given their own resources, but the amount of resources varied (some were agriculture heavy but lacked liquid capital; others were technologically adept but relied on agriculture countries for food). Resources were assigned points, and points could be used to barter. Points could also be earned by each member in the group by creating "culture and media"; a newspaper of your home country could earn you few or many depending on its complexity.
(I remember creating a tabloid for my world, the cover depicting a show-down between Bart Simpson and Bill Cosby. The teacher, who was the decider-of-points, finding it humorous and well-crafted, assigned my country a large number of points, for which I have fictional patriotic pride to this day.) We made flags, propaganda, trash talked other countries, made alliances, made culture, made art, made music and anthems.
The activity went on for weeks, with each team world building its resources.
It was then that the game entered the third act. We were to use the accumulated points for "War".
The end-game was to be the country that took over the most countries. The war was fought with points, and went something like this:
Country A (via the "President" in consultation with his/her cabinet): I have 300 agricultural points, I want to use 250 on Country B that I know is has no strong agricultural program.
Country B: Jessica made a really rad farm diorama that got us 500 points, so I will take your 250 and you have too few left over points to contest this.
Country C: We have only 100 agriculture points, but now we can decimate Country A.
This goes on a few rounds, with points fought and won, with entire economies collapsed.
But only a few rounds. You see, it was painfully obvious that one country was too easy a target. It also was obvious that the strongest countries, having been left to fight themselves, would emerge with no clear winner, and with every country's points decimated.
It was decided that the three strongest countries would form an alliance with the sole purpose of taking down and absorbing the fourth. So we did, to great fanfare. No one had a solo victory, but at least we didn't lose, we told ourselves.
We were only in third grade.
The heart palpitations are back, and since my new motto is roughly "the only way out is through", I lay on the couch letting it pound, almost willing it to pound harder. Get it over with, I say. Is this all you got? I provoke. It doesn't react, and just pounds away, steady, but hard. I eventually fall asleep, and figure it's my small victory, but upon waking it's back. I teeter between active antagonism and passive, dejected acceptance. The heart doesn't care about either method, but goddamn my brain is running circles around it.
I discovered the ability to "check out" library ebooks through a nifty app (via local library card). I've read more books in the past three weeks than I have all year. Things providing me with cognitive dissonance:
1. Vehement--and likely unwarranted and reactionary--dislike of electronic books over physical books. I cave because I read in bed/in the dark, and the back light of my phone is more convenient than maneuvering a flashlight under my chin.
2. I "wishlist" a number of high brow, award winning books I've always wanted to read. I instead gravitate to celebrity memoirs.
I've made the grievous error of taking a hearty nap within hours of a reasonable bedtime. But with the days colder, and shorter, and overcast, it's around 5pm when my body says it's time to curl up under a faux fur blanket in front of a faux fireplace and have a very real hibernation. My dog, of the tiny and shivering variety, cajoles me at every turn to head to bed. He's clearly using me for body warmth, but I like to think he just wants to be with his beloved pack leader.
I eschewed family holiday plans with a lie. I say I have other plans. I find this ironic as my whole purpose for uprooting myself yet again and moving back to my home state was allegedly to be closer to family. But this year, I feel the pull of my introversion combined with a post-election saltiness and a generalized midlife existential crisis, and instead opt to stay in. I think what I want to do is get drunk, bake, and write a 100words batch all in one day (as had become my tradition when shipwrecked), but instead I mainline Rick and Morty with the shades drawn.
Which brings us to today (today being metaphorical, naturally, and not literal). I had big plans for November; after swearing off writing (a nearly daily adventure), I find that the only way I can rage against the machine is to write. (Isn't that one of the basic functions of Art?)
But I sit in front of the word box here with a dry mouth and a wandering, undisciplined mind. It's easy enough to construct a lovely, intricate sentence with 10-dollar words sprinkled about. It's a bit trickier to put sentences together for a coherent narrative, let along an entertaining and poignant one.
What I am saying is, I can rock a semi-colon like a motherfucker; storytelling, on the other hand, is a much harder feat.
I tell my friends winding, pointless stories. When I realize that it's not going anywhere, I abruptly end it with "and then I found five dollars", which is an internet phrase I stumbled upon years back, a pat phrase used to round out story to make it more interesting. I use it as a sheepish concession that the story isn't going to go anywhere. I've done this enough that now I just literally say "five dollars".
The solitary writing class I took in college required reading a "fiction writing how to" book. From what I recall, it was decent, less text-book and more colloquial. The only other thing I recall was the constant mentioning of creating a "crucible" for your characters in order to create conflict.
It took me a scary amount of time to admit to myself that I had no idea what a crucible was, and that the actual definition had me picturing the cast of Gilligan's Island in a tiny ceramic bowl.
("cru-ci-ble, noun, a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures.")
Now, nevermind that fact that I had considered myself pretty well-read, and also nevermind the fact that I WAS A CHEMISTRY MAJOR. Somehow this word had never crossed my lexicon.
The metaphorical crucible was supposed to be a situation, or even physical location, where your characters were stuck, and exposed to increasingly stressful influences. This creates conflict, which fuels plot.
Gilligan's Island was one of the examples, where those on a three hour tour are detoured to an island with the constant promise of rescue, but never followed thorough.
(Fun fact, the Harlem Globetrotters made it to and from the island.)
And this is where I'm dying to draw the subtle ("subtle") parallel between the crucible in fiction writing, and the fact that
we're all in a crucible now, all of us, red or blue.
But that's what a lazy, $5 storytelling writer would do.
INT. RO'S LVING ROOM - NIGHT
The glow of the faux fire place illuminates the dark room; its radiant heat permeates the room. RO sits on her couch with a laptop. She looks at the timestamp at the top corner of the screen. It's 9:38 pm.
RO: Fuck, I still have 7 more days to write.
RO continues to type half-heartedly. A strand of hair falls over her face and she exhales deeply, exasperated, in an attempt to move the hair.
RO (V.O): You might be wondering why I'm using a shitty cliche. Well, that's because I'm a shitty writer. But enough about me, let's write a screenplay!
INT. RO'S LIVING ROOM - THE FOLLOWING NIGHT
RO continues tapping on keyboard, not unlike the "Keyboard Cat" from the early days of the internet.
RO: (to self) SELF, let's do this. (V.O) You might be wondering why I'm still trying to write.
RO (CON'T V.O): Well, I'm going to write the best, most poignant screenplay one collegiate creative writing class in 2001 can buy!
CUT TO: Shot of RO's computer. WORD is open, with one line of text at the top; this is the screenplay title. It reads: THE WICKED HOT CRUCIBLE WE'RE ALL LIVING IN RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THAT'S A METAPHOR FOR THE CURRENT POLITICAL CLIMATE AND NOW WE'RE ALL STUCK ON THIS FUCKING ISLAND TOGETHER WHILE THE SMARTEST PERSON HERE TRIES TO FASHION A RADIO OUT OF A COCONUT AND THE RICH PEOPLE JUST SIT BACK AND LISTEN TO STOCK MARKET UPDATES.
(CON'T) RO sits back and presses her fingers together, brow furrowed. After a PAUSE, she leans forward again to add another line to the title. ANGLE ON: the computer screen. RO types:
ALSO, THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS STOP BY!!!!!1!!!!!
RO, satisfied with the title, dusts her hands off.
RO: And that's the end of that chapter.
RO sits awkwardly as the camera focus remains on her. The longer the shot, the more uncomfortable the scene. There's no sound other thank the crackling of the fake fire place and the intermittent snores of her dog, DOG. It is akin to modern day crickets.
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READER'S CLUB GUIDE TO RO NOVEMBER 2016
1. At the beginning of the month, Ro tells an intense story uncharacteristic to her usual style. Do you think this was done intentionally to highlight how sexual assault affects survivors, and the ripple effect it has on loved ones and communities at large? Or do you have another, probably incorrect, interpretation?
2. Midway through the month, Ro tells an anecdotal story about a childhood lesson. Do you think she intentionally told this story to juxtapose the innocence of childhood against the darker urges of mankind? Or do you have another opinion, probably parroted from Breitbart?
3. Ro spent a number of entries discussing the function of the "Crucible", both as a component of compelling story telling, but also as a metaphor for the current political climate. Do you think it serves as metaphor for the current political climate, or were you, too, distracted by the mental image of the cast of Gilligan's Island hanging out in a tiny ceramic bowl?
4. What direction will Ro head in the upcoming year? Using examples from past batches, explain whether or not you expect Ro to keep writing, and if so, predict the ratio of self-indulgence to actual literary value.
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