Category Archives: Ramble

I Know Things


I had a student ask me to fill out a psychiatrist’s evaluation for her. (Psychologist? I know they’re not the same but it’s not the point of the story, so we’re moving on.) Feedback on her performance in class, that kind of thing.

So I sent it in, and the next time she came in to class, she had this shocked look on her face. I had apparently marked that she has feelings of guilt and blames herself for things that are out of her control. This was shocking to her. “I never told you about that,” she said. “How did you know?”

Well, for one thing, isn’t that part of the human condition?

And for another, kiddo, you’ve been my student for three years now … of course I know some things about you. (For better and for worse!)

We have this disconnect with the people in our lives, and students — and all young people, really, but students especially — have this pressure to be this better version of themselves. It’s weird, I guess, when they learn that the mask can’t stay on all the time, no matter how hard they try.

It reminds me of when I was in school, the first time I saw one of my teachers out “in the wild” at the grocery store. It’s so jarring to see a person out of the context you build around them. I mean, of course they’re a real person who has to shop at stores … but you never think of them in that way. You don’t see the real person, you don’t consider them in that way.

But they’re real.

And I couldn’t possibly know this thing about her, but I did.

Makes you wonder what people know about *you* that you don’t go around telling them.


The Importance of Something


Writing advice!

It’s mostly garbage. It’s almost always situational. What works for one may not work for another. These things are known.

But I want to remind myself, and all of us involved in these creative endeavors, of one of my favorite aphorisms: “Inspiration exists, but it has to catch you working.”

Inspiration!

It’s this wonderful, terrible, magic, not-magic thing. In that it feels like magic, but somehow it only seems to show its face when you’re already working. The work creates the inspiration, and then the fleeting sparks of inspiration set the work on fire.

If you’re not putting words on the page (or paint on the canvas or whatever choose-your-metaphor), then the words have nowhere to go even if your brain has one of those legendary waves. And the best way to push through a problem in your story is often to just keep writing, keep giving the characters something to do, keep flinging their bodies against the wall until you pile up enough pieces to step over.

And that’s true! Grinding away at your story is the only way to get through it.

But the funny thing is, inspiration doesn’t care what you’re working on. Inspiration strikes when it strikes and it says what it says and it says no more, and it won’t be forced and it won’t be guided.

And the funny thing is, sometimes it strikes in ways that are not immediately useful. Case-in-point: today I’m grinding out edits for my superhero story and bang, crash, the lightning flashes and provides me with the answer to a problem that had my other story thoroughly and entirely mud-stuck. And because I was sitting at the computer anyway, working on the first story, it was easy for me to tab over, write out some notes on the other idea so it didn’t flitter away into the screaming chasm of my inadequate brain to be forgot forever, and get back to what I needed to be working on.

Which is to say that when you’re not feeling the inspiration, you have to work on something Do something, anything to keep the juices flowing and the soil fertile, because you have no way to know when the lightning is going to strike.
But you darn sure want to be ready when it does.


COVID Kroger Karen


Okay, so the title only works when spoken aloud. The alliteration is lost in print.

Wife and I went to get vaccinated last week. I had some guilt about it, because we’ve actually had COVID already, and shouldn’t that make us immune at least for a while, and wouldn’t other people therefore need it more than us? But after being reassured that if you’re eligible, the thing to do is to get vaccinated no matter what, we went ahead and signed up.

And at a Kroger pharmacy, no less.

I do not love Kroger, but I shop there nine times out of ten because they generally have the best prices of grocery stores in my area. Plus I know their layout and I’m a creature of habit, blah blah blah… but I have never used their pharmacy, because I have seen how the store as a whole works, which is not inspiring for me when I consider who I want processing our pharmaceutical needs. (They are not super-efficient, is what I’m saying.)

Nonetheless, they were the closest and quickest appointment, so off to the Kenny Rogers we went.

And …. there was a line. Like a long line. But we were instructed to fill out paperwork and wait. Our wait would ultimately only be about 20 minutes, and we’d be out of there in under 45, so not bad on the whole. But that’s not what this story is about.

This story is about the COVID Kroger Karen, who enters the story just before we received our jabs.

We are sitting in the waiting area when she walks up, and delivers the line that I know is gonna lead to a good time: “Is there a manager I can speak to?”

And she says it, you know, louder than she needs to, because she’s getting ready to put on a show, and she wants her audience.

Well, the manager is giving vaccinations right now, so she’s going to have to wait, and to my surprise, she does. She begins doing what she’ll do for the next fifteen minutes, which is linger near the pharmacy, talk too loudly on her phone about how she has to wait, and sigh in exasperation as she fires off text messages and, presumably, disgruntled Facebook posts.

We get jabbed. We come out. CKK is still waiting, to my surprise, not making a scene. Our vaccinator wants us to linger for about 15 minutes to make sure we don’t have any adverse reaction. This is not a problem for me, because I want to see what CKK is gonna do, but nothing is happening, so I wander the aisles with my wife for a few.

By the time we’re back, she’s in full Karen meltdown. She’s standing at the counter, jabbing her finger angrily at the plastic divider between herself and the manager (who just a few minutes ago was pumping vaccine into my arm). Raising her voice to ludicrous levels.

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY YOU CAN’T JUST FILL IT.”

The pharmacy is backlogged on all orders right now because we are prioritizing the COVID vaccination effort.

“I JUST CAME FROM MY DOCTOR AND HE ASSURED ME IT WOULD BE READY.”

There is always a delay, and if you had called ahead, we could have told you there would be more of a delay.

“THIS IS JUST RIDICULOUS.”

Apologies.

“WELL HOW LONG IS IT GONNA TAKE.”

All orders are delayed by at least 24 hours right now because of the COVID vaccination effort, as I told you before.

And on and on, and around and around. There’s more. Lots more. The same basket of phrases gets passed back and forth between them like cards in a game of Go Fish.

In defense of CKK, I’d feel some kind of way if I were in her situation, too. Coming out to pick up a prescription only to find it’s not ready is one of the more frustrating things on the 1st-World-Problems Bingo Card, so on the one hand, I get it.

On the other hand? *Waves hands vaguely around* We are in a pandemic, after all, and y’know, if the vaccination effort is taking precedence over your monthly refill? I think we have to have some understanding, here.

But not CKK. Having made no headway with the manager (as she was never going to), she throws her hands up in exasperation. Whirls around, not to leave, but to continue her performance. I have been studiously staring at my phone while this has been going on, pretending to text so I can giggle under my breath as she loses her mind. She doesn’t catch me laughing, but I do make the mistake of glancing up —

And we lock eyes.

Oh, no.

I immediately avert right back to my phone, but it’s too late. She saw me. She walks toward me. Performatively announces, “I have never been treated like this. I just can’t believe it.”

I am studiously staring at a text message from my wife from over a week ago. This is a very important message, I hope my posture communicates. I haven’t been paying attention to you at all. In fact, I didn’t even hear you. In furtherance of fact, I don’t hear you now. All I know and all I see is this message from my wife. From over a week ago.

It’s not working. She comes right up to me. “Can you believe this? I can’t believe they’re doing this to me.”

She’s loud. She’s angry. She wants sympathy, and she has come to the driest of wells for a drink. I have no sympathy for this woman. She represents everything I hate in entitled, angry Older White People.

But because I’m a polite southern boy, I *almost* give it to her. I *almost* make the barest of head shakes, the tiniest of shoulder shrugs, I *almost* mutter knowingly, “whattayagonnado?” But I can’t make myself do it. I can’t offer her any comfort when she’s carrying on this way. I’m a parent. We do not negotiate with terrorists.

I steadfastly ignore her, hoping she’ll walk away, but she won’t. I instead offer her my favorite mantra when somebody is complaining: “Life is pain.”

Life Is Pain Highness GIFs | Tenor

I say it without looking up. Without smiling. I don’t mean it as a joke, or to mock her. It’s all I have for her in this moment.

She steps back. Squints at me. “What?”

Maybe she didn’t hear. Maybe she doesn’t understand. Maybe I’m just a colossal a-hole, more of an a-hole than she is in this moment. I don’t know. But it’s all I have for her. I offer it again, this time looking her in the eye and shrugging. “Life is pain.”

She scowls at me but doesn’t say anything. She stalks off to go be angry somewhere else, anywhere else, away from this absolutely unhelpful bald dude in his Star Wars hoodie quoting Princess Bride philosophy at her which she probably doesn’t even get, the rube.

It’s quiet. People go about their business.

I have discovered the cure for Karens, and the cure is ruthless existential candor.


Impromptu Geology


I had to step out of the classroom for a moment today, and when I came back in, there was a cluster of students gathered at the front of the room.

Any teacher knows that when students crowd in like that, there are likely shenanigans afoot, so I hopped over to break up whatever it was and discovered….

Rocks.

One of my students had brought in her rock collection, and the other kids were delicately, respectfully, excitedly passing them around. Quartzes, opals, tiger’s eye, amethyst, and a healthy smattering of geodes and fossils. They murmured and thrilled with excited questions and exclamations.

These are not elementary kids. These were high schoolers. Not jockeying to get the best picture for the ‘Gram, not taunting each other over their “dumb rocks.” Just literally passing rocks around with childlike wonder.

I typed “childlike wonder” before I remembered the phrase was redundant. We’re talking about high school children, after all.

Sometimes the simple things really are the most delightful.


Beta is Better


You need space from your work if you want to perfect it.

I know this, because I am only the tiniest bit obsessive about my work and I can still spend hours and days fine-tuning paragraphs and pages and finding new things to fix far beyond the time when the fine-tuning is actually improving the situation.

This is a problem, and it’s not a thing you can simply “turn off”. While you’re in the thick of it — editing, in my case, or whatever your chosen discipline does to self-correct errors in the first drafts — you can’t detach.

You reach that point where you have to let the thing sit for a while. Let it mellow. Let the dust settle. And if possible, have somebody who isn’t you have a look at it in the meantime.

Coming back to my novel after letting it lie for a month? The edits are coming fast and … well, I won’t say easy (because editing is never easy). But paired with notes from a couple of faithful readers whose input I believe in, the editing process feels about 90% less painful than when last I left it back in January.

Moral of the story: let your project rest for a little while.

And get some beta readers.


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