Tag Archives: nonfiction

Let’s Get Shrill

What year is it???

No one told me that having a baby would mean having less time for myself and getting less sleep!  I assumed babies were like those tiny dogs that you carry around in your designer purse as a fashion statement.

Baby in bag

MS Paint for the win!

Okay, so I just read this book.  It’s called Shrill, and it’s written by Lindy West.  Go.  Buy.  It.

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This book is for every woman who has ever felt the need to apologize for being a feminist or to explain that being a feminist does not mean hating men or to lie about thinking of themselves as a feminist to avoid judgment.  The fact that many women (myself included) feel that feminism is a bad word IS PROOF THAT WE NEED FEMINISM.  Guess who propagates the idea that feminists are monsters and Nazis?  It starts with M and rhymes with Flen.

Anyway, Shrill is pretty good.  I fell in love almost immediately because Lindy West states all the things I have thought in the past, and she does so much more elegantly (fart jokes aside).  She is a Word Wizard TM.

For example, she, too, thinks it’s strange that we ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  As West states in the opening of her book, asking this question is the equivalent of saying, “‘Hello, child.  As I have run out of compliments to pay you on your doodling, can you tell me what sort of niche you plan to carve out for yourself in the howling existential morass of uncertainty known as the future?'” (1).

I, too, hate that question.  That question tells children, “You can only be one thing ever.  Choose one interest and stick with it.  Pursuing two things is for Communists.”  If someone had forced me to stick with one thing, I would not be a self-proclaimed blogger-author-English-teacher-jewelry-maker-glass-blower-calligraphy-artist-Japanese-and-Spanish-student.  In other words, my life would be supremely boring.

I want to train my son to say something clever whenever he gets asked this question.  Like, “What don’t I want to be?”

Eternal

Lindy West’s thoughts on The Trump and Trump supporters also mirror my own.  At first I didn’t want to get political on this blog, but then I realized if I’m offending Trump supporters then I’m probably doing something right.  Pardon my French, but fuck that guy.

I expected this election to be bad.  I know from experience that shrill bitches get punished.  I did not anticipate that millions of Americans would be so repulsed by the hubris of female ambition that they would elect a self-professed sexual predator with zero qualifications and fewer scruples. (West viii-ix)

Just a warning that the book does get into some pretty heavy stuff.  Abortion, periods, rape.  But it’s so necessary to read.  Even if you don’t agree with everything she says, it is important to absorb her perspective.  At least bask in the glow of her words because she’s so damn eloquent.

I’d like to end by telling a story involving my best friend and best-friend-in-law who are smarter than me in every way.  A few years back, there was a popular song on the radio by Lukas Graham called “Seven Years.”  There was a lyric in this song that rubbed me the wrong way.

I’m still learning about life|My woman brought children for me

My woman.  For me.  Brought children for me.  My woman brought children for me. My.  Woman.

It buzzed around in my brain until I had to ask Liz and Martyn, “Should I be offended by this?  Or am I just being overly sensitive?”

Liz looked at me and said, “The fact that you are asking permission to be offended is proof that feminism needs to exist.”

She and Martyn talked me through it until I realized that feminism is still controlled by men, and we need to change that.

In short, women need to be shrill.  We need to be opinionated.  We need to be feminists.

Read Shrill.

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Sharing without Caring

Well I’m a working woman now!

Ok…so I’m an interning woman.

It’s still fun, though!  I’m not going to say where I’m interning, but I will say that I’m getting to read a lot of query letters and sample manuscripts, and I’ve learned a lot.  One thing I learned I will now share with you here.

A lot of books that come through are nonfiction, though this advice can apply to fiction as well.  What these nonfiction writers often do is provide a lot of information about their life, or the life of someone close to them, without giving the reader a reason to care.  And I understand why this mistake is made.  I mean, you know your life is interesting.  You know that the time you found a cure for skin cancer while rescuing a beached whale is the most important moment of your life.  And you know that this story is very important, and should be shared with the world.

The only problem is that the readers don’t know.  They don’t know what’s happened, and even reading the synopsis on the back of the book isn’t going to captivate them for very long if they’re not given a reason to care.  There are exceptions to every rule of course, but for the most part, even nonfiction stories of whale saving/cancer curing need to have more to them than just that one event.  They have to have good writing, sure, but I like to see a full story.  I wrote before about making a timeline for the various events in a story, and that only works if your book has more than one event to put on the timeline.  What kind of person were you before you saved the whale?  How did you change after the whale was saved?  What’s your whole story?  Give me that, and I’ll care much more about the big events in your life.  I’ll begin to understand for myself why they’re important, instead of having to take your word for it.

I can tell that I’m on to something here, because I have read some really good nonfiction since I started work last Tuesday, and I’ve read some nonfiction with a lot of potential to be good, that really just couldn’t keep my interest.  That’s the difference you want to make.  And, as I said, it applies to fiction, too.  You’ve got to give your reader some context as to why they’re reading.

Because if you saved a whale, but made a habit of drowning kittens in your youth, that’s something I want to know.

Word of the Day: Captivate (v) – to attract and hold the attention or interest of, as by beauty or excellence; enchant

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The Zebras have Landed

I was bored yesterday, so I decided to try and write that short story I promised you.  I opened up a Word document, typed the title at the top of the page – Extracurricular Activities for Zebras – and then proceeded to stare at the blank screen.  I stared for a while, tried to type something, hated it, tried to revise, and hated that, too.  Then I decided it might be interesting to make the story about the conversation that led to me getting that fantastic title.  That idea seemed nice, and it sort of evolved from there.  The finished result was a work of Creative Nonfiction, and I’m actually very happy with it.  So today’s post is that short story.  No cartoons or witticisms today.  So, without further ado, I give you my short story:

Extracurricular Activities for Zebras

Fellow students asked me why I left sunny Los Angeles for Syracuse, New York.  My response was always the same – Because I wanted to see snow for the first time.  And this would shock them, and we’d get to discussing other things, and they’d never figure out I was lying.  I’d seen snow before.  Once, my dad took me and my siblings skiing.  But the snow there was manufactured.  Snow machines.  But we did drive up to the mountains once, and that snow was real.  It just wasn’t fresh.  I’d never seen snow falling, never lived in a place where snow was considered normal.  So I lied, but it wasn’t a really big or malicious lie.  It just simplified things.

My mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  When I was younger, I replied with things like “veterinarian” and “doctor,” because I liked animals and…I don’t remember my reasons for wanting to be a doctor.  Mom told me that I might have trouble with that, since both vets and doctors have to see blood.  I’d forgotten that detail.  Being a very squeamish person, I knew I’d never be able to go down either of those career paths.

What surprised me in middle school, and then high school, was that I was still tempted to add “when I grow up” to the end of any sentence that began, “I want to be a…”  And then I wondered when exactly we can be considered grownups.  When is it okay to stop saying “when I grow up” and acknowledge that you already have?  I assumed it would happen when I actually got the career I was hoping for, and then I could say, “Now I am a _____.  Now I am grown up.”  But when you’re sixteen and saying “when I grow up,” well, that just doesn’t sound right.  Except, if you don’t say it, then the sentence feels incomplete somehow, so I stumbled over the words.  “I want to be a teacher when I – well, not when I grow up.  Just when I get older, I guess.”

My college applications asked me what my hobbies were outside of the classroom.  I told the truth: I played the clarinet, rode horses, sketched, wrote stories.  But that still left a lot of blank space, like I wasn’t fulfilling their expectations.  What more could I say?  My life was consumed by school.  When I wasn’t in school, I was doing homework.  When I wasn’t doing homework, I was too tired to do anything else.

My stepmom asked me why I feared blue eyes.  I was baffled.  Didn’t everybody?  No?  Huh.  I had no answer for her.  To this day, I have trouble looking people in the eye, and it’s even worse if the other person’s eyes are blue.  But at least I know the reason now.  After pondering the question, I had this little jolt of memory.

I remembered the first place where I took riding lessons.  No, that’s not true.  It was technically the second.  When I was very little, my mom signed me up for pony riding classes.  So I remembered the second place where I rode.  This place was really messed up, though I didn’t realize it until after I left.  They had a horse camp there over the summer, and I was a junior counselor.  I was about thirteen.  Another girl, a counselor who was sixteen, told me to put away a bag of apples.  I forgot.  The campers had gone home, and the junior counselors were hanging out in the tack shed.  Then I remembered the apples, and rushed to find the bag.  But it was gone.  Thinking I had been helped out by some anonymous do-gooder, I prepared to go back to what I was doing.

But then that sixteen-year-old, my superior, came rushing out of the office, screaming my name, the bag of apples dangling from her hand.  She was furious that someone else had had to do the task she’d set to me.  She started taking apples out of the bag, and one by one, she threw them at me.  I could see that she was holding herself back, so that the throws weren’t too powerful, but apples are hard.  One of them hit my chest.  It still hurt, even if she wasn’t throwing them that hard.  That wasn’t the worst part, though.  Another counselor – twenty years old with clear blue eyes – stood behind her, encouraging her.  When there were no more apples left in the bag, the sixteen-year-old ordered me to clean them up, and then stormed off.  I cried as I dropped the broken, dirty apples into the horses’ feed buckets.

That ranch, it was bad.  Besides the twenty-year-old counselor, there were two grown women who owned and ran the ranch together.  They both wore sunglasses all the time, but if you got in trouble with them – and you did, on a regular basis – they called you over and took those sunglasses off to stare you straight in the eye.  Both these women had icy blue eyes.  Years later, sitting in my stepmom’s armchair, I figured out why I feared blue eyes.

I tell a lot of people about the apple incident.  It’s a funny story, if you take out the pain and humiliation, as I do when I retell it.  I think I need to laugh about it, because if I’m laughing at them, then I’ve won.

My friend asked me why people major in Philosophy.  I told him I didn’t know.  He told me to answer the question anyway.  How could I answer something I didn’t know?  I said, “Because if 2+7=9, then Jupiter is in alignment with Venus, which provides an extracurricular activity for zebras, that directly affects butterflies which land on the eyelashes of certain college students and cause them to major in Philosophy.”  And he replied, “I hate it when 2+7=9.”  And I said, “I know, right?  No wonder I didn’t major in Philosophy.”

(End story)

There you go.  I hope you liked it.  You might have noticed that the majoring in Philosophy thing came directly from this blog (Read the post titled “They Say” if you haven’t already), so now you’re in on the origins of the story.  Doesn’t that make you feel special?  It should.  That’s all for now.

Word of the Day: Reminisce (v) – to recall past experiences, events, etc.

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