Posts Tagged ‘essay’

Hand-Me-Downs

Posted: September 11, 2014 by writingsprint in Slice of Life
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zebra station wagon

My favorite hand-me-down was my older brother’s car. I bought it from him in 1991, after I came home from college. At the time I could barely stomach handing him the money: his car was a 1986 Chevy Cavalier wagon, a car that would guarantee that I wouldn’t be getting laid anywhere near it. I think that was why my mom and dad encouraged him to sell it to me.

I’ll tell you what, though: that car had personality. I’ll never forget the first time I drove it. I was on my way to the beer distributor to get a case of MGD. Someone pulled up alongside me in a Camaro wearing sunglasses with slicked-back hair. He revved his engine twice. I just waved at him. He stared me down, hit the gas when the light turned green, then something in his engine blew out and he rolled to a stop in the middle of the intersection. I made to the other side before he did. I pet my dashboard and said, “Attaboy.”

I swear, it liked me after that. Every time a car crept into my blind spot, I knew it was there before I looked. It was like the car was telling me. Rental cars didn’t give me the same luck. Even though it was a lightweight, the only skidding I ever did on ice was in an empty parking lot.

The first bumper sticker said “what if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about?” followed by “kill your television” and “do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.” I took it on road trips to the Jersey shore and the Poconos. The cargo space was big enough for skis, a surfboard, or one bike if you wrestled with it for a few minutes. I drove it all the way to California when I moved to LA. There’s a picture of me leaning on the hood with the world’s largest ball of twine in the background. After that trip, I might add, I finally did get laid in that car.

It took me ten years before I needed a major repair. The catalytic converter went. For about a week it sounded like I had popcorn popping in my muffler.

I finally gave it up for auction in 2002, when it became old enough to drive. By then the upholstery was held up with enough thumbtacks to look like the night sky over Lake Winnipesaukee. To my knowledge my old buddy is still rolling somewhere in Tijuana. Vaya con Dios, my friend.

I really did own a Chevy Cavalier station wagon for my first car. Most of the rest is a tall tale, inspired by the daily prompt “hand-me-downs.”

Photo credit: “Zebra Chevrolet Cavalier station wagon” by dave_7 at Flickr
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Day Two: And This Is My Strong Event?

Posted: August 5, 2014 by writingsprint in Triathlon
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training

^ What they said ^

I went for a 30-minute jog today. The good news is that I made it farther than I expected I would. Call it motivation. The bad news is that I’m still woefully out of shape. I putt-putted my way for I don’t know what distance. I didn’t stop, which was my main, moral goal. It sank in: I’m going to be swimming 250 yards, then biking until my legs are jelly, and then jogging three miles on top of that. (Yay?) Those hills looked much longer on the way back than they did on the way out. But I didn’t stop. Like I said with the swimming yesterday: I’ll take it.

My right hip doesn’t seem to want to get in the game. Part of it might be a touch of scoliosis from using an exercise ball for a desk chair for the better part of a year. It improved the heck out of my posture, but over time I think I favored using my left leg to hold myself still, and my right leg just sat there. Part of it involves some personal history. Let’s just say this experience is going to be soul cleansing. It’ll be good for me, but man, it is not fun right now.

Later I biked at the gym for 30 minutes, too. I tried to keep it light but I got fired up chasing the pace biker on the monitor. I tell myself I’m not competitive. Maybe it’s only against humans. I need to get my bike tuned up and get on the road for real.

P.S.: I also need new headphones—for the gym, not the road. The package said “sports” headphones, but it turns out that’s because the cords are short, made to be reaching into an armband rather than your pocket. Not a tragedy. I’ll add it to the training “to do” list.

Photo credit: American Council on Exercise
Used without permission

Time for Sacrifice

Posted: August 4, 2014 by writingsprint in My two cents, Triathlon
Tags: , , , ,

(Hey, that’s a good title for a book. Write that one down…)

Two days ago I received an announcement from my local YMCA that they’re holding a sprint triathlon at the end of September. Doing a tri has been on my bucket list ever since I helped a friend of mine train for one back in 2005. I would have done it by now, but life intervened: overtime. Getting married. Moving. Plantar fasciitis. Writing. Getting yoga certification.

All good reasons to get sidetracked, but the time has come. It’s one thing to see an opportunity. It’s another to have fate smack you in the face with one. The race is happening less than thirty minutes away from my house, and the swim leg is only 250 yards. Even out of shape and a few years removed from regular swim workouts, I should be able to handle that.

All that’s the good news. The bad news is that I have a very busy job, and I only have two months to get from the couch to the starting line. As I see it, I need to get my ass up early in the morning every morning between now and race day and whip my butt into shape. (I’m not helping myself any by staying up until 10:30 to make a blog post.)

This morning I did my first training swim. Here’s how it went:

250 yards freestyle: I made it! It wasn’t pretty, but I made it! I flipped over and kicked on my back for about ten yards near the end because my breathing technique has never been as good as I wanted it to be. Otherwise I did “fine.” The time doesn’t even matter to me. I’m glad I was able to finish! In case you really want to know, it was seven minutes and change.

I was shocked by how much yoga helps! All that body awareness is improving my reach and balance. My body feels lighter in the water than it ever has before. I think it’s because I have less tension sitting in my body.

250 yards kickboard: Ugh. Can I doing something besides kick for a while? That would be no, young man. Your kick is the only thing that keeps you from dropping like a rock when you’re trying to breathe during freestyle as it is. Make friends with the kickboard. Sleep with it under your pillow.

200 yards pull buoy: It should have been 250 yards but I was so discombobulated by it that I lost count. These things are just weird. My legs flip back and forth like I’m a six-foot tadpole. And what’s with that knot in my back? There’s a muscle between my right shoulder blade and my spine that doesn’t want to relax. It’s keeping me from stretching as far on the right as I do on the left. My swim teacher used to tell me, “I wish I could cut off your right arm and give you two lefts. Your left is perfect. Your right just doesn’t want to stretch.”

150 yards breaststroke: I was rounding out my 30 minutes at this point. Take it easy and work some other muscles.

As I changed in the locker room, I saw that finding my way to the gym and getting squared away at the front desk took me longer than planned. I didn’t have time to get my bike workout in. I still considered the day a win. I got my ass out of bed at 5 a.m. and succeeded in getting a good start in my hardest event. I’ll take it.

When opportunity hits you like this, go with it.

The Musical Symbols of Language

Posted: June 29, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay
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interrobang

Interrobangs for everyone!

This post was inspired by the Daily Prompt “By the Dots.”

I admit it. I love punctuation. I use single quotes inside double quotes, unless I’m editing British English. I put periods inside parentheses when they contain an entire sentence. I know that en dashes set off ranges of numbers (like 5–6), em dashes set off explanatory statements—like this one—and hyphens are used for so much else that I tacked the Chicago Manual of Style’s hyphenation guide to the corkboard on my desk.

And inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s blistering admonition against using semicolons, I’ve cut back on using them as much as I can. I think his choice of words was bloody cruel—I don’t have anything against transvestites or hermaphrodites—but I get the point. The purpose of a semicolon is to break up two sentences that are joined into a single sentence, where a conjunction has been left out. The writer didn’t just ramble from one sentence to two; they didn’t own up to it by using a conjunction. What a wimp!

I used to work with an editor who thought our team members were “comma crazy.” She would zealously cut out half of them from their presentations. Only a few crept back in. Either they thought she was right, or they didn’t feel strongly enough about their pauses to argue over it. My own personal quirk is not to end sentence bullet points with periods if I can help it. Usually, bullet points are only sentence fragments. If they aren’t full sentences, they don’t get a period. This sometimes gets trumped by the rule that all the bullet points in a sequence should be consistent. If one of the bastards gets a period, they all do.

God, I hope my coworkers don’t find out I have that rule. If they do, some of them will come up with fragment lists with one complete sentence in each, just to make me go back and put periods in.

There’s a certain beauty to properly-used hyphens, commas and periods. Punctuation are the symbols in the music of language. They tell the reader when to pause—when to jump—and when they can forget the next statement (even if it’s very interesting) without losing the meaning of the sentence. Most of us enjoy music without ever thinking about the notes, measures, and all the other symbols that going into pulling those wonderful sounds together. The best punctuation does its job without your knowing it was there.

For my fellow lovers of punctuation, here are 13 more punctuation marks for you to have fun with! Interrobangs for everyone!

Photo credit: Uncyclopedia
Photo is unmodified
Used without permission

The Writer in the Cage

Posted: June 15, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay, Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

A great piece by Allyson Everard on how we grow as writers. Put your time in and make those stories. You’re getting better. A publisher can’t tell you how to love the written word.

Bloodstone Sci Fi

DBanner51

I see it around the Internet, in blogs and on forums, I see the writing spirit in so many of us. I see the wings unfolding and the head lifting high, so eager, so ready – in the heart, at least – to fly.

I see the raw talent, some of it rough as yet, but I can see the spark of energy that comes in a choice of words or a play of action – energy that will one day grow into something formidable and become the driving force of something very substantial and wholly unstoppable. The writer is born and is very aware.

I see some polished talent, too, the progress further along. A string of words that captures a scene most vibrantly, or a decision to include something small and human that so many overlook – the spread of a hand against a wall, the dust and…

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The Book Blogger Test

Posted: June 13, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay, My two cents
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books-that-is-exactly-how-they-workA fun little survey about books and you. Special thanks to Jodie Llewellyn for posting this on her blog and Brin Guivera, from whom Jodie found it in the first place.

What are your top three book pet hates?

1. Information dumps. I appreciate all the research that you did and all the planning that you did, Mr. or Ms. Author, but only tell as me as much as I need, when I need it. Take me away from the action with a page of exposition and all I’ll do is skip past it.

2. Characters who are idiots. I can live with characters undone by their egos, but even then, they should have good ideas that are undone by better ideas.

3. Rambling plots. That’s why I never started reading some fantasy series, when other readers told me that they just wouldn’t end. I’ll read a long series if I know that the author has an end game, but if they’re just picking my pocket to sell books, that’s disrespecting me as a reader.

Describe your perfect reading spot.

My favorite, ever, was sitting on a porch back in college, in a house at the top of a hill where I could watch the sun set. I sat there every night, reading and writing until the sun went down.

Tell us three book confessions.

Three? I have no idea. You already know that I write fan fictions, which means I’m a sucker for good stuff that other people write. Let’s see…

Here’s a good one. The first story that I ever wrote was a fan fiction about the original miniseries V. I put myself into the story, of course. I was so afraid that someone would read it that I threw out each page as I wrote it.

The first young adult book I ever read was Henry Reed’s Journey, and to this day I don’t know whether my sense of humor was already there or whether I adopted Henry’s as I read the book.

I’m a book hoarder. Letting me walk into a book store with cash is a very dangerous thing. I probably have thirty books waiting to be read.

When was the last time you cried during a book?

I haven’t when I’ve read them. I cried while writing this scene a few months ago.

How many books are on your bedside table?

One. There are four or five on my Kindle app, too.

What is your favourite snack to eat while you’re reading?

I don’t snack while reading. I usually read right before bed.

Name three books you would recommend to everyone

Fahrenheit 451. My favorite book of all time. It’s intense, passionate, vivid, mind-blowing, sincere, and close to the heart. You’ll want to read or write after it’s done.

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. A delight. You’ll remember how it feels to be a child who believes in magic — which is even more rich than being an adult who believes in magic.

The Old Man and the Sea. An intimate portrayal a man as he faces himself and nature. I like to imagine that Hemingway had a close friend like the old man and wanted to write a story that was a love note to their friendship. I’m not even a Hemingway fan — I didn’t like A Farewell to Arms — but I love this book.

Show us a picture of your favourite bookshelf on your bookcase.

Here you go.

bookcase

From left to right:
Shadow of a Dark Queen by Raymond E. Feist
Timeline by Michael Crichton
Spooky Maryland by S.E. Schlosser
Agatha H. and the Airship City by Phil and Katja Foglio
Haunts by Stephen Jones
Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat
Secret Go the Wolves by R.D. Lawrence
The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z by Max Brooks
The Last Apocalypse and Warriors of God by James Reston
Life in a Medieval City by Joseph and Frances Gies
The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Paranormal by David Borgensicht and Ben H. Winters
The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose by Glen Cook
V by A.C. Crispin
Death Star by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back sketchbooks by Joe Johnston
The Art of Star Wars by Jonathan Bresman
Anomaly by Skip Brittenham and Brian Haberlin
The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Superstitions by The Diagram Group

Write how much books mean to you in just three words.

Living other lives.

What is your biggest reading secret?

I want to read more poetry. This is new, and I haven’t had a chance to move on it yet with all the other reading I need to catch up on. Poets capture passion and life in a tiny space of words. I would love to write moments that make readers’ eyes pop.

Because prose makes an impression, but it doesn’t sound as good as this!


“Books: that is exactly how they work” used without permission.

Writing in Water

Posted: June 6, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay
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Bruce Lee
From the Daily Prompt “Dream Teacher“: You can choose any person from history to teach you any topic you want. Who’s your teacher, and what do they teach you?

I would ask Bruce Lee to be my writing coach. Lee was a pioneer in martial arts, developing a “style of no style” in Jeet Kune Do, which philosophically is a forerunner to today’s mixed martial arts. His approach to martial arts was holistic, emphasizing technique, physical fitness, mental and spiritual preparation, and even nutrition. His philosophy of life emphasized shedding what was unnecessary and perfecting what was important. My favorite Lee quote is, of course, the “be water” quote, one of the most profound expressions of the value of mental flexibility I’ve ever read:

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. 



Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

I work on letting my thoughts flow when I do yoga, so that I can do it in my everyday life. The ability to consciously unwrap your brain and let your thoughts flow has had profound benefits on my writing.

As a writing teacher, I think Lee would combine prose, poetry, song, any form of verbal expression. He would emphasize grammar and language as solid foundations, then play with them as our writing became more advanced. We would study and borrow the best from other languages, especially completely different languages like Asian and African styles, to break down the subtle barriers in our minds formed by our speech. Lee would break down barriers and shatter expectations, developing completely new styles of writing that reached out to all forms of creativity.

Photo credit: Bruce Lee by “Chris Zielecki” at Flickr
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Fighting for my characters!

Posted: June 6, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay
Tags: , , , , , ,

This is a fantastic article on the best kind of research there is — real life. It also shows what real combat is like. It’s not what you think.

Bloodstone Sci Fi

B18

Fight scenes are tricky to write. It’s hard to pack clear description into few words and keep that sense of speed and surprise one gets in a real fight – It helps if you know what you are doing.

I really didn’t want to write: “She bounced him off the wall.” I wanted to write how she bounced him off the wall.

In order to find out, I enrolled in a self-defense class that was supposed to last ten weeks. I figured that would give me a feel for it. It not only gave me a feel for it, it gave me real hunger to learn more.

It turned out my instructor taught defense skills to several police constabularies in England and in Wales, and I ended up the only non-police officer permitted into those classes, clocking up an extra 18 months of training before returning home to Australia, where I…

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Be a Man. Stand Up for Women.

Posted: May 26, 2014 by writingsprint in My two cents
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candleThis candle’s for the victims of the UCSB shootings. For those who don’t know, seven people were killed and thirteen were wounded on May 24th at the University of California, Santa Barbara, when a young man by the name of Elliot Rodgers went on a rampage because he felt rejected by women. I’m horrified and ashamed as a man to say that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. In 2009, a man by the name of George Sodini entered a gym in Pittsburgh, fired 36 shots, and killed three and wounded nine, because he felt rejected by women.

I started to talk about this here yesterday but decided not to because this is a fiction blog, and “it’s not the place for it.” I was wrong. This is precisely the place for it. One, I write essays as well as fiction. Two, anyone light a candle, and anyone can say a few words, at any time, when the time comes for us to stop and help each other. We need to act in those moments.

Violence against women is never acceptable. Never. Women should be respected for who they are, their quality of their character, the merits of their achievements, and value they bring to a work place or any place. To men who feel rejected, I say look in the mirror. To men who feel women are coddled or already have it easy, I say fuck you, get your head out your ass and open your eyes, starting with a look in the mirror.

Cultural change begins at the top. Guys, like it or not, we were born into a position of privilege. It’s a man’s world. We hold all the cards, and we hold almost all of the positions of economic and social power in this country, and the world. We’re paid more and we get more. It’s wrong. Change won’t happen until we decide it does.

I call on every man reading this post to start by making an affirmative statement on their own blogs, Facebook pages, or Twitter feeds that they stand for women and against violence against women. Then I call on them to change one thing in their lives to help make this change in the world. Call out guys who snicker at women in the workplace. Donate twenty bucks to a charity that supports women. Support healthy role models for women, and be a good role model for men. For the guys who really want to kick ass, let’s do one thing a month, no matter how small.

It all starts with respect. I spent most of my teens and early twenties dateless. I was a shy, stuttering, nerdy nobody. In college, I completely gave up on dating, and decided I would be “just friends” instead. Know what happened? By being real and getting to know them as people rather than chasing them for dates, I probably became “just friends” every girl I knew within a year. I thought I was Mr. Nice Guy, but even I had been doing something wrong.

It all starts with respect. It’s not enough just to give it. When we see something wrong, we need to act. Let’s start taking action today.

For an excellent essay on the social/cultural aspects of this issue, read Chuck Wendig’s fantastic article, “Not All Men, But Still Too Many Men.”


Photo credit: “Simple Candle Light” by Adam Foster at Flickr
Photo was adjusted for scale but is otherwise unmodified
Shared under Creative Commons license

Love, Like and Lust

Posted: March 27, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay
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cute coupleIt occurred to me that have a successful relationship there are three things that you need to have with them: you need to love them, you need to like them, and you need lust after them.

Now, the Beatles said that all you need is love. There’s merit to that. I would say that love, caring, is the most important of the three. If you don’t care about someone, you’re not going to like them, and you’re going to have a very cold sexual connection that isn’t any more fun than a porno magazine.

Liking someone means that you could hang out with them. It helps to have similar interests. It’s even better if your partner has different interests from you, that you normally wouldn’t be caught dead trying, but which you try because you’re with them. My wife hasn’t been to a comic book convention yet, but I think one of these years she may go with me. I normally wouldn’t have tried sushi, but just last week I did, because she enjoys it.

Lust gets a bad rep, and in my devout years growing up I would have kept my distance from it. I learned. A friend of mine once said to me, your brain is a three-pound organ in a 150-pound body. There’s more to you than your mind. We crave physical affection, and feeling sexy is a healthy part of who we are. The problem is it gets wrapped around media and expectations and outright bullshit. Accept your body and smile at the person you see in the mirror. That’s what sexy feels like. Find what you like and be passionate about it. That’s even sexier than how you look. If you love someone and like someone, they will become the sexiest person in your world. Listen to music that makes you feel good. Give your partner’s butt a squeeze when they’re not expecting it—as long as they’re not handling power tools or something, let’s be real. Dance when there’s no reason to. Some people say that’s romance, not lust. Not if you’re dancing the right way, it isn’t.

Check in with your partner and see how they’re doing, just because. Hang out in the ways that you both like doing, whether it’s grabbing a burger or heckling the evening news. And do things that your parents said you shouldn’t do, because, well, they were doing them too.