Friday, January 18, 2013

It's Like First Grade All Over Again

I have come to the conclusion, after two seconds of research in my archives, that January is a slow blogging month. Let's be honest, my blog is only as interesting as my life is; and, continuing with the pattern of honesty, my life isn't all that interesting in January. I drink a lot of tea, and start planning my Bachelor Monday menu on Thursdays (I'm thinking I need to make up my own recipe for Cottage Pie, since I can't find one I like; this may be my ideal opportunity to experiment with some gravies). Other than that, I'm cleaning out closets, getting ready for some traveling, and I always somehow end up checking out my I-need-to-see-what-they're-about bands during this time of year (I resisted We The Kings for years, and now I'm kicking myself [but I did that with The Maine, too; mind you, I had a feeling I'd like The Maine based solely on their connection to Fearless Records, and it was more a question of "do I have the time to start flailing about records and YouTube videos?", rather than timing in itself]). At the moment, I'm also reading Who Am I by Pete Townshend, since we're going to be seeing the Quadrophenia tour in twenty-seven days...

Let's not forget that whole college thing I do sometimes, too. I have finally gotten to a point in my degree where I need electives; I immediately signed up for the creative writing course taught by the teacher I had for Freshman Composition I. (You remember, when I had to deal with Mr. Do-Its. Yeah.) Though the folks in his class needed to acquire some basic skills commonly used in the English language, the teacher and I got on famously: he liked my work and ballsy attitude, and I liked that he appreciated my efforts in both regards. I talked him up to the people at my in-person class so much (and about how I made over 100% in his class), they used their gutter-tarnished little minds to imply that I hadn't earned the grade in an above-board fashion. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I told them it was an online class, and that I had never met him in person! After that, they wouldn't talk to me.

The incident reminded me of first grade. We were all evaluated on reading and comprehension at the beginning of term; each child was individually tested, and, because I have an unusual last name, I was the last little nipper to be checked. I walked from Ms. Ellis's classroom to the cafeteria/auditorium, where some sort of High Expert On Childhood Literacy sat behind the red curtain, waiting to point out all of my failures. I nervously opened my book about beluga whales, and began to read aloud, just as the Mighty One has asked. I remember turning to page seven, when Her Excellency told me to stop; I closed the book, convinced that I would have to go to "stupid school" because of my mental block against following directions.
"You don't need to finish," she said, "you can go back to class."
Convinced I had done something wrong, or had somehow overlooked the major point of the assignment, I hurried my tiny little feet through the empty hall, and back into the home room. Sneers of "you weren't gone very long" rang from several identical-sounding, youthful voices. I tried not to think about the incident further, and ignored the situation until the evaluations came back. All of the children were split into groups, and told which groups would do what. That is, all of the children except me. Ms. Ellis told me to wait until she had dealt with the others before talking to me. It was an agonizing fifteen minutes, mentally preparing myself for the shame of being thrown out of first grade, and sent to stupid school. When she finally got around to telling me why I had been singled out, she said that I wasn't to be sorted into a group, but that I had to read by myself; I was allowed full, unaccompanied library trips, and complete access to the computer labs. Fifteen years later, I realize that they simply left me to my own devices so they could focus on kids who weren't as advanced as I was. What I wonder about now, though, is why no one ever questioned a random six year old roaming the halls in the afternoons -- I made at least three trips between the classroom, the library, and the computer room daily, no questions asked. This special treatment caused a backlash from my classmates, causing them to completely ostracize me from any and all activities, until they figured out they could use my reading and spelling skills to their advantage. Kids started looming near me, asking what words were, or how to spell them.
How do you spell "quarter"?

As the first week of college classes began on Monday, I took the liberty of looking ahead to a few of the writing assignments; to my surprise, some of them are pretty much like the writing prompts I use as personal exercises. Unfortunately for me, though, this class also relies on the peer review process. I don't like people to tell me how to create, period. Maybe it's my inner control freak, or that I don't believe there's a right or wrong way to make things; it is also possible that I just don't like to be told what to do, especially by people who don't understand where I'm coming from when they can't grasp a concept that falls into my writers-and-iceburgs analogy. Let me work in peace; long jump, short pier. (To put it another way, they need to take what I have presented from whatever inspiration I had, and like it, those ungrateful little snots.) In other words, I don't respect their opinions. There. I said it. I cannot respect the passing thoughts written down for a grade by the people who have already submitted their assignment. In said assignment, we are supposed to introduce ourselves to the class in the form of an obituary that might actually appear in a newspaper. So far, there is the first female president, a drunkard, a semi-normal middle aged guy who didn't quite seem to understand the concept, and a guy claiming to be from the planet Nebula. They haven't used proper English (syntax, or semantics), and, generally, make little to no sense.

I figured that, if those people can see my fictitious obituary, you, dear reader, can see it, too. Names changed, et al.

Archibald Heatherington Nastyface
Died 2100

Wordsmith Archibald Heatherington Nastyface -- better known by her pseudonym, P. E. Burroughs -- died Tuesday afternoon at the age of 108. Early reports claim the writer was suffering from complications related to an incident earlier in the month in which she bet the neighborhood children that she could outrun the latest smart car by, as the tragedy was explained in the police report, "turning the speed on [her] motor scooter up to 11." Speaking to the first reporters on the scene at the time of the accident, Burnham Cavenaugh, aged ten, described what he witnessed in detail. "She started to pick up speed, and she looked like she was really going to outrace the car," he explains, "but she started to get cocky about it, and she got run over when she tried to do a figure eight between the driver's headlights."

Though biographers had eagerly attempted to document her remarkably mysterious life, Nastyface refused to authorize a biography, or agree to numerous proposed contracts to write her story in her own words. In the wake of her untimely death, only one clue remains at the fore of the collective mind of the public domain as to Nastyface's private affairs: her final interview, conducted at age 96, in 2088. General opinion appears to be that the public holds little stock in rehashed soundbites from an interview given twelve years ago when asking the numerous questions still waiting to be -- now posthumously -- answered by this modern enigma. The unauthorized biographers, however, regard the interview as the most accurate source of information the public has ever been granted access to.

What little we know regarding her life, we learned in the '88 interview, which originally aired on the final season of "Did I Sign A Release For You To Film This?", the popular hidden camera investigative series. Set to montages of Nastyface in her garden, her art studio, and her gourmet kitchen with double ovens, she weaves a somewhat spotty recollection of her early life, which began in 1991 in a dusty Texas town. She turned to writing as a creative outlet at age nine, and developed a writing style uniquely her own; in the '88 interview, she credits her self-described "flow" to a lack of outside opinion, claiming that the majority of her writings from the first decade of the 21st century were never read by anyone but herself.

Between bouts of insomnia, she wrote her most beloved series, "Sometimes, I Imagine...", a collection of poems written between 2014 and 2016. It is because of this series that readers worldwide have raised questions; the pieces themselves were confusingly explained by one reviewer as "immensely descriptive, yet nonsensically vague." Though reception to her erratic style was highly favorable, shortly after publication of the collection in 2017, Nastyface withdrew from her rapidly expanding public life, and secretly published the remainder of her printed works under her now famous pseudonym. The scheme to escape prying inquiries from her readership worked for 70 years before she was discovered, causing a national frenzy. As news of Nastyface's identity spread, she reentered the New York Times Best Seller list for the first time since her anthology,
Collected Works: Can't You Find Something Better To Collect?, was released six decades earlier.

When prompted to answer simple questions regarding her life in the infamous 2088 interview, she merely replied, "I was married, I had some kids, but I had more dogs than anything." Talking about her creative process, she said, "I type because I like it. Luckily for me, words follow, and I usually like them, too." As she was pressed to discuss her early life, she said, "I did pretty much the same drivel I do now. I write, I cook, I garden, I travel, I try to create art, I like to discover new music, and I still like my dogs better than I like your probing questions, young man." Unauthorized biographers concur that the most quoted soundbite from the interview describes Nastyface best: when asked about her reclusive habits, she responded, "some folks said I was neurotic, and downright paranoid. Every darn time, I'd tell 'em that I just needed a quiet place to write, and a strong cup of tea."

Though the final words about herself add to her cryptic legend, readers rightfully assumed that Nastyface fell silent in the wake of post-interview offers for Lifetime Original Moves based on her life. It has only come to light in the wake of Nastyface's death that she kept all of her material written after the '88 interview in a secret vault beneath her Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, property. Could this newly discovered treasure trove answer any of the questions readers have pondered for decades? Heckle and Schmeckle Publishing is currently in talks with Nastyface's estate to publish the material. Providing the publishers win their case against Lilly, the toy fox terrier to which the entire estate was bequeathed, they hope to begin releasing the manuscripts sometime before 2105.

Do you know how difficult it is to write you own obituary at age twenty-one? It was awesome. Apparently, the teacher thought so, too. I found this attached to it this morning:

Well done, Nastyface. You certainly demonstrate your ability to work within the conventions of a specific kind of rhetorical mode, yet you were able to break conventions nicely with some clever and subtle humorous touches. In particular, I enjoyed Collected Works: Can't You Find Something Better To Collect?.

I look forward to reading (and commenting on) your work in this class.

I figured he was just glad to have me back in one of his classes, considering he liked my previous material. It was the first comment made by the teacher, and none of the students had yet responded to any posts. This act, however, has prompted a small revolt; not only are people not even touching my submission, but the act prompted a class-wide email this afternoon, containing this excerpt:

As for my feedback, the frequency of it, and the extent of it, I usually give the class time to speak first. So, if after a few days from a writing deadline I still have not responded to your work, just know that I am giving everyone else an opportunity to go first. And for these obituaries, I will not be commenting much. Mainly, I just want to get to know each of you in terms of style and substance.

Oops. My awesomeness started another small mutiny. It's like first grade all over again.

So, that's part of why my blog has been quiet. Put simply, my life has been quiet, too. This fact is further illustrated by how easily entertained I am by this angle of happenstance...

Even my picture a day blog thing is slightly boring. I don't know how long people are going to want to look at my concert tickets and cookery experiments, but that's what they're getting, dammit. I mean, if people don't like tasteful angles of my Hummingbird Pancakes with Cream Cheese Anglaise, it's just because they haven't tried their pancake-y, fruity amazingness.
No pancakes for you!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Blog

OK, so some things escalated quickly last night. No, not because of the gloriousness of 2013; it all started with an email -- well, actually, a phone call, but the email is more Internet tangible, if that makes sense:

From: Seester
Subject: Project 365

So I am thinking of doing a project 365..,
Care to do it with me?

I have since learned that it consists of taking/posting a photograph for every day of the year. Every. Day. By the time I was able to get to a computer, she had sent me a list of daily prompts, and the URL for our joint blog account -- I, quite literally, only had to show up to the place, which was named, decorated, and has little doo-dads and clicky-thingies that I don't even know what they do.

Let's consider this "Honesty Hour": most of the time, I'm not even wearing pants, OK (as I was Monday morning quarterbacking my Meet and Greet experience, I realized that this was a topic I could have acceptably exhausted, and failed to)? And I'm now taking a photograph every day, to share on the Internet, of my boring life? I couldn't say no when I was asked; my sister and I so rarely do anything together, and I can't even remember the last time we attempted to. After all, we live in different towns, with twelve years difference in our ages: she's a mother of two incredibly young children, and I'm a college student with peculiar habits. By all accounts, the odds aren't really in our favor.

It's five minutes to two in the morning; I'm propped up in my cozy little bed, electric blanket on low, my Writing Playlist set to "Time: Shortest", while Lilly makes a nest out of the flannel. As Tom Higgenson talks me through the night -- much like any other night, really, if I think about it -- I'm wondering how this is even going to work. My blogging style is somewhat unreliable; I usually only blog if I have something to say. In that vein, I usually use different writing styles, photographs, songs, and video clips to get my point across. Even my private writing style is unpredictable: my creative output correlates directly with whether I have some spark of inspiration (last night, I wrote a wordplay based on a billboard in a photograph someone posted on their blog -- the billboard wasn't even a substantial part of the image, and was mostly blurry, but I felt it was my personal duty to play with the concept).

My playlist has switched to material I've used to write with for ages; I've used it in my creative process since 2008, so I've seen a lot of phases with it. Back in '08, I was practically addicted to the Pictures, Poetry & Prose blog. Every day, a new photograph was posted, along with a suggested prompt for what to write about on that day. I didn't always like the picture, but I used the images and prompts to write what I used to call Snippets; I later found out it is referred to as micro-fiction (this is still what I'm most comfortable writing, actually). From one image, a hundred images would spring from my imagination: characters I cared about, gave names to -- I loved one so much that I extended his story considerably, and it remains my only finished short story (he is also my favorite character, incidentally). When the PP&P blog ended, I looked for other alternatives for my exercises; using just a prompt; just a picture; a list of words. Gradually, lack of regular participation discouraged the folks in charge of those blogs, and they slowly trickled to an end. Only recently, I have found a plethora of new resources with the PP&P format, and I have been so very tickled with them.

I keep asking myself, "if you can do it with words, why don't you think you can do it with pictures? Hell, a picture's worth a thousand words, right?" It's now 2:39, the playlist is taking me back to a highway in Austin, and I've been sitting here trying to place my finger on what feels so wrong about this endeavor. It has finally hit me: I've never been good with non-fiction. Making things up has been the chief pleasure in my life, ever since I can remember -- the other kids never wanted to play make-believe games with me, because I was so particular. The first time I attempted to write for pleasure, I was nine years old; I wanted to write something wonderful, but, because of my love of biographies, I was determined that it had to be like the Little House series. I grew tired of that project within about forty-five minutes, and opted to write about scientists that brought a mummy back to life with chemically altered tissue donations (I seem to remember a red convertible in the story, but I cannot for the life of me remember what that had to do with anything). All fiction. Even my photography has been an experiment in semi-fictional storytelling. Whereas I don't believe in editing a photo after the shutter has gone off, I do take a great deal of time to consider angles, lighting, and focus to eliminate the things I find undesirable: humans, buildings, cars, poles, pathways, general human contact with anything. I take pride in the fact that I can stand in a crowded place, and make it look like I was there by myself (mind you, I'm sometimes waiting for several minutes to get the right opportunity for the shot). It's not uncommon to hear me muttering "get out of my frame, dumbass", while I squint into my viewfinder, and squish my nose against the camera body.

So, when dealing with non-fiction, where can I take it? My non-fiction is rather boring. Most days, I drink copious amounts of tea, and occupy myself with college courses, or occasional housework. My nights are usually spent writing until delusion causes me to realize the beginnings of sunrise. I've been looking at the list of photo prompts for January, wondering how I can possibly fill some of them: sun; through; grow. "Meet Me In California" is reminding me of how our elderly neighbor once saw me helping my mother unload groceries from the car, and how she asked me if I was home on vacation from school. Where can a girl like that fit "sun" into photography? How am I to interpret "through"? What represents "grow" in January, anyway? I've never been able to think in pictures, and to imagine showing my life instead of typing it, like I do on this blog, is intimidating.

"Losing Myself" is reminding me that I had similar concerns back in 2008, when this very blog was created (2008 was a frickin' weird year). I didn't think I would ever find anything to talk about, and I wondered how it would work itself out in the first place. Who would read it? More importantly, why would they read it? Now, here I sit, pounding somewhat harshly on a keyboard that endures such regular abuse, and thinking about the screen I saw prior to clicking the orange "New Post" button. For four years, that screen has said "Turret Full Of Ravens", with the various administrative buttons; now, a blog with a title I'm still not sure I understand is on top of it -- I'm so bad at numbers that I've tried, quite literally, to say 535,600 four different ways -- crating a list. I have this new list up in another tab, and have been occasionally looking at it.
It's glaring at me, almost daring me to do something with it. "No posts. Start blogging!" I don't even know how far these dual administrative powers go; after all, I've never had to share my blog with anybody.

I'm not saying I won't do it; I'm not even saying it might not be fun, or something I'll come to enjoy. At this point, it seems like quite the undertaking. Not to mention that I've been through the beginning stages of blogging before, and I'm about to do it again. I'll have to find my footing in uncomfortable territory; for example, do we add captions to these pictures? Do we introduce words, or let the photographs speak for themselves?

I suppose I'll spend most of the day looking for an answer to the innocuous "TODAY" prompt gracing the tippy-top of our agreed upon list. If anyone would like to watch us attempt this crazy thing, please feel free to visit the communal blog. I don't know if there's some kind of subscription box kind of thing, or what would happen if you became a "member", but I'll ask about the layout details later (would you be notified of new posts by becoming a "follower"? I'll admit, I've been blogging for four years, and I don't have any idea how it works -- I write, and get page views, and that's all I know). Hell, I don't know if she's even going to have comments enabled (I don't, but that's because people in my Outernet life are always so quick with their opinions on everything I say that I don't especially want to be interrupted on the Internet, too), if she'll want us to use tags (again, how?), or to write "About Me" pages (since there are three of us participating in the project, she might).

New year, new blog. Imagine that.

Is It A Subscription Box, Or Something More Sinister? (It's A Subscription Box. Maybe.)