Of the Icebox

Words about stuff and sometimes things

Should fiction writers ‘write what they know’? — August 7, 2019

Should fiction writers ‘write what they know’?

There’s a common saying that writers like to tell one another, ‘write what you know.’ While this once meant something like, ‘don’t write a mystery novel if you’re the world’s leading expert on the history of chocolate unless your mystery novel includes a plotline about chocolate,’ it seems like it’s been taken a complicated (and literal) turn as of late with writers asking themselves, and each other, if it’s acceptable to write about experiences that they have never had.

If you’re not sure the context around this and you’re interested in reading more, these are some of the articles that have shaped my thinking on this topic:

On one level, we all acknowledge that fiction writers write fiction, right (tongue twister)? No one is saying that all fiction needs to become memoir. I also don’t think anyone believes you have to be a man to write believable male characters in your novel or, vice versa, you must be a woman to write female characters (except the die hards following @men_write_women). And I’m almost certain that even fewer people think you have to be, say, an immortal human to write about vampires.

Even though representations of women in male-authored novels have been, at times, appalling and showed a lack of understanding and possibly contributed to some degree of misogyny, I still don’t think we should ban men from giving it a try. For one, it’s the closest a man has ever gotten to wanting to know what it’s like to be a woman. And, more importantly, in the parallel universe where we take fiction to this n’th degree of separation, fiction doesn’t just become repressive and weird–fiction dies.

So we agree that men and women can write stories about each other, right? And that mere mortals can write books about immortals, right? I hope so. Otherwise, we need to start crowdsourcing letters to Nicolas Cage to encourage him to save Science Fiction. I predict he’ll do the job in 500 years when he has the self-satisfaction of knowing that none of us are alive to acknowledge he’s fulfilled our collective request.

But what about race? Can white authors write about non-white characters?

And what about sexual orientation? Can straight authors write LBGTQ+ characters? Can gender-binary authors write about non-binary characters?

And if they are allowed, must those characters be relegated to secondary roles? That is, could a straight, white author write about a black, gay protagonist? To me, this is when the conversation becomes much more complicated.

Consider the repercussions of a world in which we start stripping our fiction novels of everyone whose experience we haven’t lived or can’t perfectly depict. I don’t think we benefit from having sterilized, segregated literature: novels with all white characters, novels with all male characters, and novels with all straight characters. I’d like to see literature become more integrated, not less.

I, for one, don’t want to be afraid to write something that’s outside of my comfort zone. I don’t want to be driven into silence by fear of a bad response or missing the mark. I want to take risks and take solace in knowing that no reader in the history of reading ever died from being offended.

Maybe you’re thinking that, as a writer, sometimes we’re going to get it right and sometimes we’re going to get it wrong and we just have to accept that and apologize when we get it wrong. But writing, in my estimation, shouldn’t be about getting it right or getting it wrong. We’re not creating manifestos. (I certainly hope we aren’t, at least.) And writers shouldn’t have to apologize for depicting a character differently than the reader wanted it to be depicted.

Now, more than ever, given how connected writers are to their readers, writing presents an opportunity to exchange ideas. I’d like to propose that it’s possible, now, for writing to be an exercise in mutual learning instead of 1-sided preaching or teaching. I’d like to propose that YA readers don’t need a moral in their stories. That they can draw conclusions divergent from the protagonists without demanding that books be removed from shelves. To choose to write in this day and age is to choose to engage in a lifelong conversation with the reader and to hope that, at the end, we’ll all have achieved that magical place of symbiotic union I like to call a conversation.

Living in a world where sensitivity readers and trigger-warning happy college students demand changes to content is not conducive to a conversation. It’s a moral reprimand that shuts down all conversation. I sincerely believe the sensitivity readers of today want to build a better world (unless they’re actually secret Russian bots) but my Fahrenheit 451 senses are tingling at their methods.

If readers want to reshape the story, I encourage them to do what writers of all generations have done before them that wanted to reshape the conversation–pick up the pen, don’t burn the book.

Here’s hoping for all the places we’ll never reach. — July 14, 2019

Here’s hoping for all the places we’ll never reach.

I had a dream. Not the MLK Jr. kind of dream. One of those ephemeral, all-in-the-head video reels that plays out while we sleep. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember the dream. All I could remember was this specific longing to move to Wyoming.

If I was a fatalist or the type of person that believed in destiny, I’d have thought this was a sign. But I’m not that person. I haven’t been for years now.

I’ve never lived in Wyoming. Never in my life wanted to live in Wyoming but there it was, buried deep as if I had belonged once, in a previous life, to those golden, rolling hills set against those impossible mountains. I wanted to be swallowed by the endless skies and belong to the empty streets of some town that knows it’ll never amount to much.

And I saw, or longed for, or envisioned, or made up a place where you and me and that baby we’ve been promising to each other for a few years now all existed together and we were happy.

“Let’s do it,” you said when I told you about my misplaced longing.

You’re supposed to be the rational one. I’m supposed to be the dreamer. And now I find myself dismantling my own longing just to fill the role I expected you to play.

“But you’d single-handedly double the Asian population of Wyoming.”

“Sounds kind of charming and noble.”

“We wouldn’t have anything to do up there.”

“You could write.”

“In the winter, the wind rolls through the foothills with such force it tears shingles off the roofs of perfectly good houses.”

“We’ll get a house with a tin roof.”

“You really want to do this?”

And you smirk and I melt and we both know we’ll never move to Wyoming but now we share a misplaced dream. And just like our misplaced child, it binds something between us.

The problem with being directionless — July 12, 2019

The problem with being directionless

If you look at the date of my last post you might have thought this blog (or this blogger) had died. It’s been a long time, friends. I’ve spent much of the last few months consulting my Magic 8 Ball (Google), on important topics such as, ‘Is blogging dead?’ and ‘Does anyone read blogs anymore?’ and ‘Has Instagram replaced WordPress and Blogger?’

The answer to all of these questions, if you’re wondering, is as follows:

I’ve decided I might as well put aside my many doubts regarding if I’m wasting my time and what lies beyond the right swipe and start blogging again. I mean, really, so my cousin took me to prom. It doesn’t mean anything deeper.

In short, I’ve spent the last few months making much ado about nothing. If people are still reading blogs, some of them might eventually see this and if not, time will put my Google questions (and these words) to rest.

Another problem, for me at least, was that I had never clearly defined what this blog was intended to be and I thought that I had to. The first lesson in telling stories always includes limiting complexity. Complications are plot but complexity is confusing and disorienting.

Am I a lifestyle blog, a humor blog, a poetry blog, a rambling and wacky anecdote blog, a blog about dogs, a blog about food, a blog about binge-watching Japanese reality TV shows until both of our hearts are fluttering like teenage girls? The answer to this?

There’s another problem to take care of.

By being someone that is sometimes melancholic, sometimes funny, sometimes nonsensical (aka: human), I didn’t have a ‘brand’. I couldn’t market myself. And this, we are raised to believe in the blogosphere and social media-laden world, is what we must do if we ever want our words to be read. I couldn’t sell myself and mother always said ‘you have to sell yourself to make money, dear.’ Sorry, mom. You should have given me a bigger a$$.

Not to droll on indefinitely but I’ve decided to post what I want to post from now on and not worry if it doesn’t make sense or if it complicates my ‘brand’. Because let’s be real, I never had one to begin with. I had barely even begun when I had an identity crisis. I’ve decided to be more open about who I am and what I’m trying to do with my writing.

So here’s a start. A lot has changed in the last few months. I’ve moved back to the US from Australia and am now residing in Florida because I’ve gotta swing that vote, b!tches.

I’ve made the decision to focus on writing full-time. A decision, by the way, which I waffle on every other day like I’m Chick-fil-a trying to figure out my stance on being a corporate member of the 21st century.

Anyways, I’ve decided to try writing instead of pursuing yet another admin job that takes away from me being able to finish that next, mediocre American novel I’ve been working on for years. I’ve saved up a bit of money from my last over-committed job to be able to try this whole ‘living-the-dream like a Millennial’ thing (for a few months, at least). After that, I suppose I’ll have to revert to eating $0.50 ramen instead of $14 hipster ramen from the local chef who studied how to boil the perfect noodle in Tokyo for 3 years before being allowed to touch an egg.

In short, I guess you could say I’ve fought a lot of self-doubts and fear to get to the place where I could publish this post and consider eating $0.50 ramen again. I’m still fighting them.

I’m not sure what you will get when you follow this blog but I’m committed to posting regularly and will tell you when I’m spiraling into my next identity crisis so that you can take the necessary precautions and abandon ship before it’s too late.

I’m also not sure what I’m trying to sell to you but you can be sure that I’m trying to sell you something. Hopefully it’s the truth. Hopefully it’s my life, my reflections, my struggles and musings. And hopefully that’s enough to distract you, even if just for a few minutes, from the self-doubts and fears that are weighing you down. Because there’s only enough server space on this blog for one of our self-doubts and, goddammit, they’re going to be mine! And, also, hopefully all of this will be enough to pay my bills cause a gal in Florida needs A/C.

I want to be fearless, friends. I want to finish that novel I’ve been working on, then burying in the Cloud because I decided it wasn’t good enough to release to the world. I want to finish those spec scripts and submit applications for writing fellowships. I want to submit short stories for publication and make a real effort towards making this writing thing work because it’s the only thing I’ve ever truly loved (sorry husband and dog, hyperbole demands harsh truths be established). Maybe I’ll even apply for MFA programs despite the many warnings against following this course.

Honestly, I don’t know anything about the writing world that I want to be a part of and that scares me because I’ve already jumped off this bridge expecting to soar on the wings of my millennial optimism. Flotation device was not included. I guess it’s time to learn how to swim.

Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to meet a few people along the river that will be kind enough to teach me how to backstroke instead of doggy paddle. Maybe that person will be you. If it is, I humbly thank you in advance for your guidance and assure you there were no sexual connotations intended in that metaphor.

Onward and upwards, friends. As my hero says, Together We Can. That was either spoken by Michelle Obama or the Disney machine.

The Oxford Comma Debate — June 13, 2018

The Oxford Comma Debate

Unless you’re Cindy Knoke, you might be wondering why I’m dedicating a whole post to Oxford commas and subjecting you to the onslaughts of my full-blown philosophical panic attack about this relatively minor conundrum of the English language which occupies a significant portion of my non-productive hours. There’s a very good reason for this which I will likely fail to address. But onwards and upwards, as they say.

If you have read my About page, you will know that I have confessed to having the occasional philosophical panic attack over coffee-shop bloggers [editor’s interjection: Stop trying to guilt me into buying organic, free-trade, naturally decaffeinated early gray and lay off the sea salt hair spray already–if I want a latte full of fatty milk that belongs to the slaughtered calf I ate for dinner last night, I’m gonna pay my $5 and have it, gosh dang it], and Santa Claus [I can’t even talk about this one or it’ll make me so hot and bothered I’ll never get to the point of this post], and, you guessed it, Oxford commas.

What is the Oxford Comma?

Whether you have a hazy idea of what the Oxford comma is and need a quick refresher or are as intimately familiar with this hairy language mole as I am, I strongly encourage you to resist the urge to pull out a dictionary or conduct a Google search and just sit back and take my word for it. I am, after all, the resident Oxford comma expert on this blog and while you are here, the rest of the contextual world doesn’t exist.

Side Note: The Oxford comma is not to be confused with the Oxford coma, a deep-seated fear that gripped the heart of the English nation for 3 1/2 years in the 1950’s and led to this guys commitment to practice contemplative non-blinking.

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Let’s stop evading and define this melanoma, shall we?

Stage 1. Defining the growth.

The Oxford comma is when you have 3 or more items in a list, and you decide instead of letting the final conjunction (usually the word ‘and’) stand in place of a comma as is its entire reason for existing, you’re going to go ahead and add a comma anyway just for the heck of it.

Some will try to argue that it’s not just for the heck of it. It’s actually for clarity. I would argue that clarity is overrated. Some will also argue that if you have need of an Oxford comma, your sentence is already weak and you should rewrite it rather than trying to ‘rescue’ it with the Oxford comma. I would argue that I don’t believe in eradicating weak sentences, just as I don’t believe in eradicating weak children. You may choose designer babies but my writing is all natural and edit-proof, just as God intended.

Stage 2. Research the Prognosis.

You can read some fabulous examples (and more fabulous comments) on this Grammarly article. These lovely tidbits talk about Lady Gaga & Humpty Dumpty’s love child. Then an all out war breaks out in the comments section which starts with slanderous claims of one person being a terrible writer for asking a ‘proper use’ question and another person being accused of being a ‘grammar nazi’ (ahem…my spellcheck says that’s grammar Nazi, friend) for asserting a strong preference for the Oxford comma. It ends with the collective smelling of cheese and grass, as all good wars do.

I had prepared an example but I’ve lost all motivation to go on. The war was long. The cheese was aged. It was a good example too. It was about the size of the fourth dimension, ballerinas and Brad Pitt’s penis.

Or was it about the size of the fourth dimension, ballerinas, and Brad Pitt’s penis? You see here, I trust, the confusion I’ve created.

Was I talking about the size of ballerinas and the size of Brad Pitt’s penis in addition to the size of the fourth dimension? Or perhaps I was talking about Brad Pitt’s penis in relation to ballerinas, a separate topic of conversation entirely from the size of the fourth dimension. All distinct possibilities, friends. How many topics of conversation were there? Was it 2, 3, even 4? Was it as limitless as the dimensions we’re surrounded by? The world will never know.

Stage 3. Understand the origins.

Maybe you think this whole debate is an elaborate hazing ritual started by these dancing Oxford boys because it’s no longer enough for the elite to haze themselves. They must now haze all of us too.

source

And maybe if you’re not bound by a style guide at school or work, it ultimately just comes down to personal style. But if it is just personal style, which is more stylish? Because let’s face it, I need to be ‘on trend’ if I’m going to be successful at this writing thing.

Stage 4. Embrace your inevitable fate.

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On the one hand, I could be loose like an American poet who embraces, nay delights in, the grey area of interpretation between the size of the fourth dimension, ballerinas and Brad Pitt’s penis. Heck, in this world, my ambiguous reference to Brad Pitt’s penis in relation to ballerinas shrinking waistline and the invisible fourth dimension was more than intentional. It was art.

On the other hand, maybe you care about context. Maybe you think that clarity must always win. Maybe you drink tea with your pinky up and insist on using an Oxford comma even when it isn’t necessary for clarity, just to make a point.

Maybe we will never agree with one another on this point (the we I refer to being the two severed halves of myself). Maybe I will continue to waffle between embracing and rejecting the Oxford comma for all my days, spreading mass confusion and being judged for my failure to master any individual style throughout all my writing. Because we all know mastering is just another word for ownership and I don’t want to own the Oxford comma.

End Stage. Stopping treatment.

I hope now that we’ve come to the end, if nothing else, I’ve successfully passed on my philosophical panic attack to you. I ask that you take up the torch and extinguish my fire because I’m tired of carrying it. It’s time for me to #Brexit from this conversation. Until next time.

When happiness is a tree, you feed it to your children — June 3, 2018

When happiness is a tree, you feed it to your children

One day, you’ll realize that you’re not born with an allotted amount of happiness, that you can keep stretching it, keep growing it, keep pushing the limits of conceivable joy until you understand.

When you realize that the price of happiness is patience, you’ll plant a tree to watch it grow. You’ll count the rings, the branches; one year, you’ll even try to count the leaves. You’ll see limbs overtaken by tiny insects. You’ll see the tree expel a branch to save the trunk. You’ll climb up, sit beneath, walk around the seasons and at some point, after 30 years, you’ll realize deep in your bones the appeal of cyclical timelines. You’ll love every season, even the barren Winter because you could use a rest and the tree grants you permission.

You’ll dance when you learn the roots are growing into your foundation. You’ll cry when the doors start sticking. You’ll stand dumbstruck when a lightening storm breaks a branch over the roof of your car. Even more dumbstruck when your kid drives into the tree — a learner’s mistake—leaving behind a barely perceptible tilt that it never cared to correct. But still, you trust it to support your grandchildren through stories so wild your ageing mind struggles to jump from myth to myth. You trust it remain patient enough not to collapse into your house until you’re done using it.

And at last you’ve learned the secret to happiness, you’ve earned the right to claim it. So when your daughter decides to throw her failed attempts away, you drive her to the arboretum and you tell her that lasting happiness is never stumbled upon, it’s been built out of all the days you waited, out of all the days you sat in the driveway and decided to return. And when she rolls her eyes and curls against the door, you get out, buy an oak tree and tie it to the roof. One day, she’ll understand.

Destinations made of tin — June 1, 2018

Destinations made of tin

I watched as words strangled. I listened as nights buried. I walked every route back to you but I was always a visitor. Forget the journey, it’s the destination I’m afraid of.

When they say it’s not about the destination, they’re trying to tell you that if there is such a thing as destination, they have never found it. They’re trying to tell you that you will spend your life walking, that stopping to take in the scenery sometimes includes building a house, that building a house sometimes includes pacing empty halls.

To house your sorrows, I have walked. To escape my own, I have built a house from dreams that hardened into corrugated tin sheets. Not my own, these dreams. Not yours either.

 

Don’t Call Her No Tramp — May 29, 2018

Don’t Call Her No Tramp

In appreciation of bad-ass women who sometimes have to wear big-ass British hats.

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The indomitable, incomparable Ms Betty Davis. I don’t introduce her (despite what that past sentence may indicate) because a woman like this introduces herself.

betty_davis-revised1

I have a new standard to decide if my life decisions are worthy. I simply think, “Would I shock Betty Davis?”

If the answer is no, I go back to the drawing board. If the answer is yes, I check with the hubby just to make sure I’m not about to do something that he would leave me for, then I proceed.

All of which is to say, I’m the proud owner of this garden as of 2 minutes ago (thanks Etsy):

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#BAMF (had to Google that just to make sure it meant what I thought it meant. Urban Dictionary says yes.)

 

When I am silent — May 20, 2018

When I am silent

And you ask me where I am,

There is a red umbrella and a green raincoat and a naked sky and I walk inside these boots that never understood breaking in as a process and I keep asking myself if I am too full or too empty but I can’t ever tell.

And you ask me where I am,

There is a ball of letters and a history of abusive suffixes and I mention your name sometimes as a swear word and sometimes in sentimental revelation and I keep asking myself if you are too good or not good enough but I never have been certain.

And you ask me where I am,

There is a fuck you for anyone who claims they have figured me out and a fuck me for anyone who has and future disdain for a past self that required impulse purchases and self-help books to understand happiness and I keep asking myself if I have become a stagnant pool of grievances or if I have just begun to heal but I never can tell.

And you ask me where I am,

There is a small glass of tea and a large puddle of sugared love and my mind is dancing on the barstools because the tables were unsteady and I keep asking myself if others think I am strong or if they think I am insecure or if they don’t think towards me at all but I’ll never know for certain.

When I am silent and you ask me where I am, I smile politely as though you are a stranger, I grip your hand as though you are a confidant and I look away as though I belong to myself. It’s all very civil.

 

Tips for Proper Plant Care — May 5, 2018

Tips for Proper Plant Care

When you speak to the plant you must tell it that happiness is optional, that it can’t expect to bloom all the time, that one of these days you’re going to leave or it’s going to die or you’ll knock it over on the way out the door and it won’t be able to stand up again. And you won’t even know the damage you’ve caused until you come home that night.

When you speak to the plant, you must tell it that love is like the sun, you can never get enough until you’ve had it. And then you’ve had it and you aren’t certain if you’re melting from too much light or too little love. You ask the plant if it can tell the difference between a heat lamp that’s ten feet away and a ten million degree flaming ball of plasma that’s ninety-three million miles away. It might want to tell you that it’s actually 92,960,000 miles away and it’s that forty-thousand miles that makes a difference but it won’t.

When you speak to the plant, you must tell it that you’ve never been able to keep one alive, that you’ve buried two but mostly you toss them out when they start to rot or dry, or some variation of improper care starts to make itself manifest.

When you speak to the plant, you can’t expect that oxygen will be enough, that any words will do. You can’t expect that it will grow legs and walk away when you share a  story that causes root-shriveling agony. You can’t blame yourself for running out of words, for collecting large reserves of anger, for huddling in the far corner with a book and allowing the plant to suffer the wrath of your silence.

When you speak to the plant, you must remember where life started, that it was not in your arms, that you are not a caregiver, a life-sustainer. You are, have always been the steady, and your plant is just passing through.

Something you should know about the gypsy spirit — May 2, 2018
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