What Happens When You Go Viral: On Wanting to Give Up

What Happens When You Go Viral: On Wanting to Give Up

Found this post on Freshly Pressed – and will read her blog more closely soon!

Such Small Hands

I recently found out that the hit count on my Relevant article back in June was over 1.6 million. The editor told me it was the second-biggest traffic day in the history of their website. That’s mind-boggling to me.

If you had asked me a year ago what I thought it would mean to have a piece get that much exposure, I would have assumed it would be my big break. That it would boost my blog, lead to freelance opportunities, help connect me to the right people. That it would be my open door into the world of professional writing and publishing. That it would bring me validation and satisfaction. It would reassure me that what I’m doing here isn’t pointless and that my story matters.

Do you want to know the truth?

It hasn’t done any of those things. For a few weeks I received a lot of…

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One Syllable Flash Fiction

This is fun and challenging, taken from What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter:

Write a short story using words of only one syllable.

Sometimes I need a kick in my WP pants. Yesterday’s pantoum was a kick. This single syllable exercise is a good kick. I decided to write a story idea I thought of last week: an art student pays someone to complete his portfolio. When I get an idea like that I try not to make the whole story in my mind. I need to keep a lot unanswered or the writing is forced, boring. I turned this idea over for a few days. This morning I decided to write it with the above constraint: single syllable words.

There is a lot you cannot say when you’re only allowed a monosyllabic vocabulary. My story changed. I couldn’t elaborate some things. I wanted to say she can’t draw people. Two syllables. Nix.

I’m going to keep working on this. It’s tough. It feels a bit like working your way up to fifty push-ups just to say you can. (I can’t. I wish).

Here you go:

I go to the same beach each day. I take my pad and pens in a tote bag and sit on the same bench and draw the same stretch of sand. I didn’t plan this when I came in June. It was too hot but I walked to the beach each day when I woke, to draw and think. I sweat a lot. My hand slips on the page. My days smudge. But it gets me out of the flat.

I try to make the shape of the sand new. The sea and sky too. I try to see what is new from last time I sat on the bench.

I don’t draw men, their wives or kids. I don’t draw packs of boys on bikes. I don’t draw the man there to fish, up to his thigh in the gulf, a whip arc of line lost on the flat sky. I leave white space where they should be, ghosts on my page.

One day a kid comes up to me and asks can he see that. I tilt my pad so he can see. He looks from the sketch to what’s in front of us. You’re good, he says. I am, but don’t say.

I am very good at this sand, most of the time. I could show him work that didn’t turn out but don’t.

You sell this?

I squint up at him, shake my head. No.

Well, would you? I’d take this. He lifts the top page. Or this.

I don’t know, I say.

I’ll give you ten.

For this?

Yeah.

I think. It’s mine. Each page a day here. I have two more pads at home, full. I can’t, I say.

He gets mad. More then, he says. I don’t care. How much?

I write down a five, a zero. I can’t breathe. A rich friend said price high, you got to think that way. The kid shrugs, counts out the bills. I tear the page and give it to him. He folds it in half, then in half once more. I want it back.

Can you draw fruit? If I come here next week, can you have fruit done? Same price.

I nod. He leaves with my day. I draw it all, two hours off now. The ghosts find new spots. I add red and orange, burn the sand.

Things I Say To My Kids: Pantoum

I am a long-winded parent. I’ve talked (at length!) about this with a few other parent friends. When I “no” is enough, I launch into reasons why. When the infuriating “because” will do, I explain. My kids glaze; they give a rote “yes” when I ask if they understand. Do I care if they understand why? Not usually. I just want them to quit throwing sand.

Anyway. Sometimes I make a list of things I say to my kids. What gets repeated. It’s a snapshot of our particular parent-child dynamic for the week (month, year). The phrases change. “Go back to bed” used to get a lot of play time but since our bedtime routine is settled now, not so much. But other phrases stick. The following is a just-for-fun pantoum of oft-repeated things I say to my kids.

Also, I Love You

Hey, come here
I said no
Because you could get hurt
Be careful

I said no
Be kind
Be careful
Have fun

Be kind
Mean what you say
Have fun
Okay, go

Mean what you say
Because you could get hurt
Okay, go
Hey, come here

And, to play with how it looks on the page, cutting stanza breaks:

Also, I Love You

Hey, come here
I said no
Because you could get hurt
Be careful
I said no
Be kind
Be careful
Have fun
Be kind
Mean what you say
Have fun
Okay, go
Mean what you say
Because you could get hurt
Okay, go
Hey, come here

What I’ll Write When I Have Time To Write

Like, maybe this Wednesday, right?

The following ideas are showing up in my WP again and again:

Unplugging
Being Still
Being Present
Regret
Grief

I can’t tackle them all at once, but one topic I am so so close to drafting is

Unplugging

yet I am a little (lot) afraid I’ll just turn it into a giant righteous rant with a load of qualifiers and an end admission of hypocrisy. I do think we are all a little (lot) too plugged in to our devices. I think we’ve made so much noise in this world, it’s difficult to hear our clear thoughts, listen to God and find quiet. While I’d love a wilderness run, I don’t have a wilderness nearby. But I do have off switches and silence settings.

We find a measure of comfort and dullness in excessive refreshes: social media, news cycle, bite-size entertainment. I do not think I have anything newly critical to add to the technology/unplugging conversation except to lay out my own interaction with media.

That may be worth nearly nothing.

Even so. I believe our individual, specific stories matter. So write your relationship with technology. Write what you’re plugged in to. Write what you want to unplug. Actually unplug and write that experience. A twenty-four hour novelty. Go!

I Judged A Writing Exercise By Its Name, But Tried It Anyway

I love The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell. The book offers a range of exercises that compliment my other favorite poetry text, Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem by Wendy Bishop. While I have my favorite go-to prompts from each book, I like to find something new each time I teach poetry writing. I do this mostly for myself. I don’t want to get bored midway through a poetry writing unit. I want to have fun.

My copy of The Practice of Poetry (I think of it as PoP) is flagged with sticky notes. Some notes are even labeled: GOOD, SUPER GOOD, DIFFICULT BUT FUN!! No label on page 111 though. Page 111 is Linnea Johnson’s exercise called “Personal Universe Deck.”

For years I flipped right past that one. The name! The name! When I think “Personal Universe Deck,” I picture a swirling purple sky and multiple moons over a surrealist desert scape. I really don’t like the name. I spent last week trying to think why Linnea Johnson decided to call her writing exercise that. I have an idea. But first, her exercise (some paraphrase by me, modifications noted after):

 

Make a list of 100 words:

16 words each of the five senses
The words must suggest taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing. For instance, frozen might suggest touch to you; birdsong might suggest hearing.

10 words of motion
The words must mean, suggest, motion to you. They do not necessarily need to be verbs. Baby could be a motion word to someone.

3 abstractions
Like love or truth or freedom.

7 anything else
Names, days of the week, any word with meaning to you which does not fit into the other categories

All words on the list, in the deck must
1. have significance to/for you
2. be specific; that is, the word must not be “bird” but “robin”
3. sound good to your ear

Use no adverbs. Use no plurals.

My modification: 10 for each sense for a total of 70 words.

 

Linnea Johnson herself modified the exercise from a 1975 workshop with Anita Skeen. I only know that because she says so in her short PoP chapter.

Here’s what we can do with our Personal Universe Decks. (Every time I type that title I think Do NOT mess up the vowel):

We can make skeletons of poems
We can mine for wild, unlikely images or expressions
We can use colored paper and make patterns and hope the words offer something, anything
We can pull one card out and say it describes us perfectly
Or make someone else choose their word (A student did that in my class. I drew “police” from his words)
We can use a single word as a WP prompt
We can toss them in the air like confetti

And we can make a new list of 70 or 100 words again in another couple of months because our lives – our personal universes, if you will – tend to shift! So maybe the words I listed in October aren’t mine in January. I think that’s the draw of this exercise: it’s versatile and can sketch an unexpected outline of our current personal universe.