micromanaging travel people stories.

I have not edited or revised my story Emmaline. I don't know why; maybe it's the cheesy ending. Maybe it's the fact I can't get out of my day job until 5:00 pm at the earliest. Which is about an hour and a half better than last year--maybe next year I'll be able to leave by 4:00. Big plans, small steps.

I am writing right now: sitting at a computer, typing. Which means I *could* be revising Emmaline instead of typing randomly into the silent blogosphere. It is on my to-do list for today (revising Emmaline--typing randomly into the silent blogosphere was not). Along with meal menu planning, grocery store shopping, laundry and folding two baskets of laundry that have been sitting in my closet for 4 months. No, seriously. Four months, because laundry has been too much for me to handle (what hasn't been? Please add cleaning the kitchen, dusting, vacuuming, and toilets to this list. Of these five, toilets are the worst. I'm very tempted to go back to outhouses, and please know I type that with a very grave, serious face. Outhouses were a smelly but brilliant concept, and really only undoable in the dead of winter during a blizzard, which is when chamber pots came in handy) (I would not be able to handle chamber pots, by the way).

Really, I'm just here to write so I can keep my writing muscles conditioned, so if you have something to do (i.e., laundry to fold and put away, toilets to clean), may I gently urge you to click off this web page, shut down your computer, and go do it? Nothing worthwhile is about to happen here, and also I'm not feeling creative today so I really just have another list of random thoughts to share:

1-I can't imagine anything better in Life than people watching. Have you tried it? I like to watch people and try to figure out how they got from point A (babyhood) to point B (wherever I am watching them). Why does that old lady have a full arm sleeve of tattoos? When did she get them and why? Why is that lovely young couple sitting at the table across from me just staring sadly at their plates, not saying a word to each other? What happened? Where is that lady without pants on going with that big animal trap cage and long white blanket? Oh, there she is again! Where did the trap and blanket go? And where did she get the big maroon umbrella from? What just happened? Are the animals okay?!?

Story is everywhere.

I recently discovered this Facebook page: humans of new york. I think every city should have one (actually, there may be copy cat versions of this page for different cities worldwide all over Facebook, and I've just been too lazy to look for them). So many stories, and so many sweet human beings. And sad ones. It's my suspicion that even our most hardened criminals may have some sweet, sad life stories to tell. Even my 4 year old, who hasn't lived on the planet for long at all, has at least 4 sweet, sad life stories to tell (and she will tell them all to you, if you promise to take her on an outing to the park or somewhere).

2-I would like to take a trip. A Big Trip. I have never traveled outside the USA (Bahamas and Mexico don't count; they are too close), and I think it's incredibly important to travel outside of our confines and cultural comfort zones. Americans in particular, because we're such a huge country with so many travel-within-the-USA options--if you think about it, we really have a lot here: deserts, mountains (both rocky and green), beaches (tropical and rocky), many different kinds of forests, swamps, frozen tundra...I could go on. And we have 50 different states, each with their own sub-culture and personality. You could spend a lifetime just getting to know and see America.

But the planet is so vast, with so many different ways of life that are drastically different from the over-arcing common one we share here, and I would like to go see it; I think Minnesota would be a vastly different experience than what I'm used to here in Georgia, yet I wouldn't really be stretching my cultural comfort zone by going to Minnesota, would I? I could find a Starbucks there. And about 100 Wal-Marts, too (sadly).

I would like to visit somewhere in the world that has no idea what a Wal-Mart is. Or at least sit in a coffee shop in Mumbai and do some people watching. Or try to figure out someone's story in a restaurant in Italy. Or wonder about pants-less people wandering the streets of Argentina carrying animal traps around. Because I think humans all over the world are very similar at our core, but the why's may be vastly different, and I like that. Also, one of my big writer dreams is to write irreverent, off beat travel articles and I can't exactly do that if I just stick to one country (or, I suppose I can, but then I'm not stretching my cultural comfort zones and that's my point).

So, in typical insulated American style, of course I've decided to dip my toes into the world oceans by starting in the UK. They speak English there (mostly--sometimes I do need subtitles, and maybe a slang dictionary reference), and of course they have Prince Harry (thank you thank you, England!). My great great grandmother came from Wales, and I'd like to go there. And Scotland, because maybe I'll run into Gerard Butler or James McAvoy, and of course they have men in kilts there. Sometimes. And Ireland makes the best cheese and butter and stout beer ever.

What I'm saying is I'd like to stretch my cultural comfort zones, but in baby steps. I think Europe is a good place to start and then I'll be ready to stretch big and wide, with the intentions to end big--somewhere ancient and dangerous, like the the pyramids of Egypt. I hear it's dangerous in that part of the world now, and my prayer for them is that they are able to sort themselves out and my prayer for us is that we let them do that without forcing unsolicited advice or help onto them, because usually when America tries to sort other countries out without asking, "Hey, would you guys like a little help?" and then respecting them if they say, "Thanks, but no. We'd like to do it ourselves," they seem to end up hating us and it turns into just a big ol' mess and eventually some terrorist group forms and does something atrocious. In fact, I'm sure one reason the Middle East has to sort themselves out right now is because of our inability to not micromanage.

3-Micromanagers. Why? WHY??? I think if you feel the need to micromanage things or people, you've already lost the war. Forget the battle: you're drunk on power, and it's cost you the war. You're drunk, go home.

I need to fold and put away laundry and add food to the house (we have no food). And grade papers. Go deal with Emmaline's cheesy ending. Figure out how to budget for a trip overseas. Go find some interesting people to wonder about.

I'm so busy, yet I waste so much time. I should hire a micromanager to fix me, shouldn't I?


a list of random writerly thoughts

1-I have finished the story of Emmaline (including one crap ending, because I needed to wrap that thing up). If anyone reading this would like to be a beta (test) reader for it, let me know--it's completely unedited, and god knows when I'll find time to edit/revise it. But I'd love any kind of (constructive) feedback.

2-I discovered Michael Erard today. He's an author, journalist, and linguist. He also wrote an interesting article once for the New York Times about escaping your own shadow when you write. Two things about this article:

(1) I loved this quote: "I'm a dancer who walks for a living." (Aren't we all, Michael? Aren't we all?) (Maybe not all of us--I think Charlie Sheen may just have discovered the magic to dancing through life for a living.)

(2) Structural priming/Syntactic persistence: you repeat patterns you've read or said earlier in your own writing (and, I guess, talking since we're dealing with language here). Basically: don't read or write anything you don't want to repeat later in your own writing. Turn off the Web (Michael! What?!?!) No email, no twitter, no facebook, no blogs, no books, no essays, no newspaper articles, no nothin'. Before you write. Because it'll pattern up in your brain, and your brain will want to write stuff like it just saw on that one friend's Facebook status update in your newsfeed and that friend can't spell for shite, so don't do it! Do Not Do It.

Which I think is (a) good, sound advice, (b) really hard to do, and (c) I'm going to try it, but poop, Michael Erard, do you understand how frickin' HARD this will be for me and my addictive personality to come to grips with? Man.

Please note: Michael Erard has an open invitation to any summer barbeque at my house from now until infinity. He sounds much smarter than Charlie Sheen, and--just going off from what I perused briefly on his website--I like him. We could smack mosquitoes off our arms and legs and talk story well into the evening, gorging on ribs and smoked chicken legs. (I hope he's not a vegan.)

(3) Jason Isaacs. I discovered him much earlier than today, and have written at length about my embarrassing lust tremendously innocent and very pure admiration for him. He's not a linguist, but he is a very good actor and just seems to be an all around very nice, decent human being. Who maybe needs a personal assistant willing to sort socks and screen calls and cook dinner for him? (I'm just grasping here--what do actors of stage and screen have their personal assistants do? Is there a school for it? And could a 4 year old indignant girl tag along for much of it? And, more importantly, would Jason Isaacs leave me alone long enough each day for me to write blog articles into the silent Internet atmosphere and maybe craft a crap story here or there?)

Anyway, I digress. One of the reasons I am most drawn to this man (besides the British accent and wolf-like blue eyes) is that, in many interviews, he talks a lot about storytelling, and people who worry about storytelling are exactly the kinds of people I like to invite over for barbeques and sit on my back porch with, getting eaten up by mosquitoes, talking shop. He talks about what good storytelling is and isn't, and that makes me want to clean his toilets for him and I hate toilet cleaning.

Here, according to Mr. Isaacs (via my summarization and interpretation of several interviews I've watched or read) is what good storytelling is:

(1) You start with a "what if?" question and go from there.

(2) In the process, you spend much of your time building character, and you build character by attempting to figure out what makes people tick: what makes people fall in/out of love? what makes people hate? why do good people do bad things and vice versa? etc etc.

So here's my thing about this:  I have a lot of "what if?" questions, and it sounds like that's a good start. My personal irony is that I'm asked--all damn day long--a lot of "what if?" questions by people under the age of 10 (including one under the age of 5) who craft stories much the same way crazed monkeys like to throw feces at each other, which means me hearing any phrase starting with the words "what if..." is sure to make my right eye start twitching wildly.

Although, now that I've written all that, I suppose I should and could do a writing craft lesson on using your "what if?" questions as a spring board to write a really good personal narrative. "What if we're just in the bathroom doing our business and a big 5th grader comes in and starts throwing toilet paper at our heads?" (actual "what if?" question I recently received) would make an excellent premise for a really interesting coming of age story, I bet.

(4) My fifth metatarsal. It's still broken, but I'm allowed to walk on it in regular shoes. I go back in a few days for some (hopefully) final x-rays. It slightly aches if I'm on it too long, but it doesn't hurt, and I'm told it may never really heal. Even so, I'll be able to walk, hop, run, etc on it because it's pretty solid and not going anywhere. If it starts hurting, I'll probably have to have a pin put in it. I'm fine with this, and just joyous to have both feet back on the ground and the use of both hands while upright again. I will never, ever take walking for granted again. I will never, ever climb a fence again...okay, maybe if it's the Apocalypse and there's fresh, clean water on the other side of a fence. But other than that, no! I have softly closed the chapter on my climbing fences dreams. Sometimes dreams must die.

(5) School has begun again. I am tired. I am tired, exhausted, knackered, wasted, drained, fagged, faint, fatigued, empty, played out, petered out, pooped, run down, haggard, overtaxed, tuckered, done in and done for, worn out, and really really droopy. Sundays are sad, and Mondays are so so hard. I am, at this point, one of those people who works to live for the weekend. Jason Isaacs had something to say about that, too, in this video I saw on YouTube, and I felt wistful and not a little bit jealous of him at the end of it.

We'd talk about that, too, on my back porch while eating barbeque. I'd ask for his advice on how to find a vocation that is what you love (particularly one in the arts, which are notoriously hard to break into and make a decent wage at), and then we'd ask Michael Erard for his thoughts as well, and also to please pass the citronella spray.