“Eff” The Police

When I told my mother that my friends and I were going to go sit in a graveyard and read classic literature, she said “Over my dead body.”

I laughed. She didn’t.

But after assuring her that it was a harmless activity (and that Dante was best read by candlelight next to a tombstone), she gave me her blessing. The questionable legality of the activity seemed unimportant, at the time.

There just so happened to be the perfect graveyard setting just about a mile or so away from one of my high school friend’s house, out in the backwoods of our tiny town. It was his idea, as he and some college friends from down south had done the same thing during the semester. We sat together, each taking a turn with a dusty volume – Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, others – filling the summer air with the almost unintelligible sounds of Middle English and the flowery prose of literature’s legendary greats. We defied logic and managed to turn the Canterbury Tales into a rap as our laughter bounced off the gravestones.

For the second round, about a week after the first, I drove to my friend’s house straight from work. I hungrily shoved my hand into the jumbo bag of Martin’s popcorn someone had brought for the occasion. There were about twelve of us. One friend carried the heavy books in a drawstring bag, someone else took a bag of candles (for ambiance). I brought the popcorn along with me – after eight hours of folding men’s khakis, I needed that popcorn. We prepared a handful of excuses if we happened to run into any figures of authority – for instance, “We’re a prayer circle” or “It’s a séance.”

If there had been the option for it when we elected senior superlatives, I would have been the hands-down winner of “most easily frightened.” The first time we ventured to the graveyard, arms laden with Shakespeare and Milton, a friend of mine decided it would be funny to hide behind a gravestone and jump out during the prologue of Paradise Lost. So I made sure I walked between two other friends as we trekked down the cornfield-lined road toward the sleepy graveyard. The rural outskirts of my hometown at night are unsettling to walk through, especially when the fog starts to come in. Even the chirping crickets seem to signal doom. It’s the perfect setting for a B+ horror film. And I’d never do anything like this now, because I watch far too many episodes of Forensic Files and other true crime shows.

The church was soon within view. We were almost there. And then someone spotted it. The unmistakable blue, white, and yellow cruiser with ‘YAPD’ stamped on the side. Sitting like a predator right in the church parking lot, just waiting for the whiff of something suspicious.

“Cop!”

My heart was thundering against my ribs as we abruptly turned around and started heading back up the road. I looked back over my shoulder and saw the cruiser crawl away into the night. We were safe.

…Until another cruiser came ambling up the road.

One friend summed it up nicely. “Well, shit.”

The female cop pulled the car up beside us, rolled down her window, and smirked at us. “Where are you kids going?”

“…Up the street.” We pointed.

“And where are you coming from?”

“…Down the street.” We pointed again.

Somehow, that mediocre explanation satisfied the cop and she just told us to be careful, before she drove away down the gravel road. I relaxed, and we hurried up the street, desperately seeking salvation. We were three houses away on my friend’s street when two cruisers rolled up to us. The man in the lead car had a different air about him. The iron-grey mustache on his face indicated importance.

As the burly cop roused himself from the squad car, I sincerely thought we were going to get charged with something. I was going to have a big blemish on my permanent record. But what were the charges going to be? Literary sacrilege? Crimes against fictional characters? Conspiracy to entertain the deceased? I didn’t know – all I could do was clutch the bag of popcorn like a salty, buttered teddy bear. As though, if I were carted off to jail that exact moment, the popcorn would valiantly save me. I mentally prepared an escape plan – settling on ‘throw popcorn at cop and run for the cornfield,’ though I highly doubted my trembling limbs would have listened to that mental command. I inwardly begged, “Please don’t ask about my popcorn. Please don’t ask about my popcorn.”

“Who’s the oldest?” The cop asked. That is the only time in my life I have ever been grateful that I am the youngest out of my immediate group of friends.

Our oldest friend stepped up to bat. The cop asked some routine questions, took down his contact info, and explained to us that so many cops were prowling the normally-dormant streets because there had recently been a string of car and house burglaries in the area, so we should head back home for the night and avoid getting into any trouble. They didn’t search our bags or ask any other questions. He just advised us to go home. And with that sage warning, he got back in his car and headed off down the road, the second car following suit, off to hunt for ne’er-do-wells.

We were at the mailbox of my friend’s house – so, so close to sanctuary – when the last cop car came into view. “Hey, did someone talk to you kids already?” The cop hollered from his car.

“YES!” My friends chimed in perfect unison. I just squeaked. I lose my voice around figures of authority.

The last cop drove away, but one friend couldn’t resist jumping into the middle of the street, his middle fingers pointed toward the stars, shouting “FUCK THE POLICE!!!” as the red brake lights faded in the distance. Some of my friends laughed, clapping him on the back as though he’d done something ground-breaking. I rolled my eyes and wondered where that bravado was when the frighteningly muscular cop was within earshot. It’s easy to have courage when the beast is facing away from you.

We gave up on our quest, moods spoiled, and just sat on the hoods of our cars in and discussed the unexpected events of the evening. The consensus seemed to be that the cops should have minded their own business instead of ruining our fun, and that we weren’t doing anything wrong. I bit my tongue. Because the way I saw it, we were a troupe of college kids carrying a bag full of books, a bag of candles, three flashlights, a bag of popcorn, and giggling like five year olds as we strolled down a dark back road on the outskirts of town at midnight. We might as well have been carrying a big neon sign that said, “LOOK, WE’RE SUSPICIOUS.” But who am I to be a wet blanket?

I couldn’t tell my friends that they were being ridiculous – nor could I just go along with the ‘fuck the police’ sentiment. All I could do was sit cross-legged on the hood of my Subaru, lean against the windshield, and keep my mouth shut, the bag of popcorn sitting forlornly by my front tire.

We should have told them ‘It’s a séance.’

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

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Yawp!

Back in college, in order to complete my English major I had to take what is known as a Major Authors course – a class focused on the works of one or two major authors. Admittedly, I first had my eye on a Poe and Hawthorne course, but the timing for that class didn’t work for my schedule, so I found myself in a Walt Whitman course with a professor who had a profoundly positive influence on my academic career. In short, that class was the highlight of my college experience.

If you’re not familiar with Walt Whitman’s poetry, well… you should be. I now have a well-loved copy of Leaves of Grass in my possession and it’s one of my favorites. Anyway, after that class I also took a creative writing course with the same professor, and my time learning about ol’ Uncle Walt directly inspired one of my final poems for that class, which is below:

 

Yawp!

Walt Whitman could stand on rooftops
and he could sound his barbaric ‘Yawp!’ to the world.

I have stood on rooftops, but the most I have ever managed,
is a decidedly anticlimactic ‘squeak.’

Walt Whitman marveled at the splendor of a noiseless, patient spider
while I crushed their silken threads with a boot.

Walt Whitman made a promise to California,
but I have never seen those distant, golden shores.

Walt Whitman could hear America singing,
but it’s a tune I’ve never been able to carry.

Walt Whitman sang the song of the open road, a call to all the world,
I have stared down empty highways, fearful of where they lead.

I am no Walt Whitman.
But someday, I should like to lay in leaves of grass
beneath a splendid, silent sun
and the song of myself will take shape
and I will come out from behind this mask
set sail upon that sea of time
and while I am roaming in thought,
I will find that all is truth.

The world should take good notice
of men like Walt Whitman.
And the world should hope to see
many poets to come
who heard his song of the universal,
and learned well his lessons
and they shall sound a carol of words
to the kosmos.

 

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Writing Techniques: Out of Order

It’s almost safe to say that no writer writes exactly the same way – it’s a unique process for most. Some folks must have absolute silence, some prefer total isolation, others can be productive in a busy coffee shop whilst other patrons are slurping lattes and chatting with friends. It’s all up to the writer.

And how a person writes vastly differs as well.

When I was writing I’m With You, I wrote the first draft entirely in order until around chapters 13-15 range (can’t remember the specific chapter), then I got stuck. I tried to slog through it, but couldn’t figure out exactly how to puzzle out that segment, so I just moved on to what became chapters 17-19. I had a better idea of where I wanted that portion of the store to go and what I hoped to achieve with it, since it’s a fairly contained section of the narrative. Thus, it was easier for me to draft.

I used to think I had to write in a strictly linear pattern – point A to point B to point C and so on – so when I hit a roadblock, I’d just… stop. Several bouts of frustration and stress later, I’d manage to get momentum going again, but it didn’t occur to me until around my college years that I could write out of order. I could go from point A to point J if I wanted. It doesn’t matter, so long as you can seamlessly link the parts together after they’re all done.

That realization – though simple for some, it was a groundbreaking revelation for me – actually first came to me while writing essays for college. English majors have to write a lot of essays. A crap ton, one might say. And the bane of many college writers is the intro paragraph, which contains the dreaded thesis statement. I used to sit and stare at my computer for ages, trying to think of a compelling intro with a powerful hook, as the cursor blinked mockingly at me from an empty document. To be fair, I’ve encountered many other students and writers who also thought that you had to do the intro first. How else would you know what to write, if you haven’t yet set it up?

I learned, by my senior year, that, as long as I had at least some idea of what I was going to write about, I could just skip the intro, write out the rest of my essay, and then hope motivation and momentum carry me enough to pump out an intro by the time the rest of it is done. Or, if sudden inspiration happened to strike, I could go back and write it out at any point. There are no rules dictating the order in which you write an essay, or a narrative, or any piece of creative work.

By my last couple of semesters, my drafts starting looking like this:

487009_4395092474564_234789100_n

For the record, I do still believe that intro paragraphs can die in a hole. As you can see, the start of this draft is ugly, my thesis ends with “something something something,” and I haven’t even got a title.

But here is the final version, which came together as I was writing the rest of the essay:

final scor.PNG

A bit wordy, but it gets the job done. Your thesis and intro can take shape during the development of the body paragraphs. A lot of the time, I would have no idea how to word my thesis, but I knew what I was trying to prove… and working through the meat of the essay helped me find the right words.

For my current MS, I got stuck on a particular chapter for months – but I didn’t dwell on it very long. I didn’t forget about it entirely, of course, but when I felt hopelessly stuck and had no idea what to write next, I just moved on and kept chugging away at the other sections of the story, the ones I did have a clear path for. Ultimately, I worked past the roadblock and got the chapter done. So, if your writing patterns and habits seem a little unorthodox, don’t let others tell you that your style is out of order. Sometimes, being out of order is exactly what a writer needs.

~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Surviving Rock Science

When I was in my final year of college, I had to take a lab science. It was a requirement foisted upon me, not a choice.

I’d thought that I dodged it, because I took an online astronomy class with a “lab” over the summer of my second year, but my university saw through that thinly-veiled attempt to avoid being forced into cooperative classwork and my astronomy credit went toward my non-lab science requirement instead. Total injustice, but whatever. I sucked it up.

I opted for Geology. Mainly because it seemed like the least intense class (science is my weakest subject besides the dreaded beast known as MATH,) and also because it was the only lab that worked with the rest of my schedule. When I walked into the classroom on the first day of the semester, I took the seat closest to the door and prayed that somehow, I would survive the semester with my GPA intact.

As the rest of the class filtered in, I realized that I was doomed. I knew nobody. But everyone else seemed to know each other. This was common for me, as an out-of-state, antisocial, party-hating student living alone off-campus, and it had never really bothered me.

But this class was a lab. Involving lab partners. Which meant that I was going to have to talk to somebody.

The HORROR.

We didn’t do an actual lab for about a week. And then, it came time to pair off. It’s a ritual that’s practiced from grade school all the way through the echelons of higher education, where the strong survive and the weak limp along like a lame gazelle. But for me, it never got easier over the years, due to a toxic combination of crippling shyness and natural resting “bitchface.” It’s the same reason why I always sat alone on the bus from grades 9-12. The other kids were scared of me, and I’m afraid of people.

The professor handed out our lab packets and told us to find a partner. In the time it took me to blink, literally EVERYONE had already paired up with someone, and they were busily working on their packets. Laughing, making bad rock puns, and generally being normal college kids forced to take the class even though their life will never involve terms like gneiss, pumice, or pahoehoe lava ever again.

Everyone had paired up… except me and the other guy at my table. He was on his phone 50% of the time during class and put his bookbag on the seat between us like I had an infectious disease. It was obvious that we were going to be stuck together, but regardless, we both opened up our packets and proceeded to completely ignore one another for about ten minutes and fill it out ourselves.I don’t remember which of us spoke to the other first, but it was definitely out of necessity.

And thus began the strangest partnership in the history of rock science.

I didn’t know his name until our third lab together, and I’m not altogether sure he ever learned mine. I don’t know/remember what his major was. He was pretty rude to me at times, and I wasn’t exactly a shining example of class and charm (not that I ever am). The only thing we agreed on was trying to trick our professor into giving us answers, which never worked, but he often pointed us in the right direction if I whined enough. He still texted 50% of the time. I complained incessantly about not understanding how to read topographic maps. We developed a weird partnership, where we were constantly sarcastic to one another, each thought that we were the smart one, and did not interact unless it was totally required. If we saw one another outside of class we didn’t acknowledge each other.

One time, he was absent for a lab and when my professor asked me where he was, I shrugged and said, “I dunno.” I imagine his reaction was similar for the lab that I missed a couple of weeks later. We weren’t facebook friends and didn’t exchange phone numbers. I didn’t know his last name until graduation, and that’s only because it was in the program. We did not speak about our personal lives or anything that did not involve rocks. After a while, we more or less got along, though we were still 100% sarcastic to one another and I’m 90% sure he thought I was a complete idiot, which is fine. I graduated Summa Cum Laude and he didn’t. I’m sure that was a shock for him (If you’re reading this, Former Lab Partner, then HAHA) but I never found out his reaction because we never spoke after our last lab, and parted ways without a goodbye.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never see him again, and I’m not devastated about it.  If for some bizarre reason I do see him again, our conversation will go something like this:

“Hey remember when we were lab partners in rock science?”

“Yeah.”

“Me too.”

End of conversation. We were lab partners. That was literally it. Strictly business. Strictly rocks. I don’t even remember what he looks like.

But do you know the craziest thing about it? We were one of the the best sets of partners in the entire class.

The only lab we did “poorly” on was the most difficult lab in the entire unit, and we still did better than a majority of the other groups, if not all of them. We got all A’s except for that one, which earned a B. If we didn’t have the best grades in the class, it was only because of individual test scores. I know that I finished the class with an A, and I imagine that he did, too. Despite not being friends, and not even really getting along, we found a weird middle ground and managed to make it work. As much as I hate to admit it, I wouldn’t have gotten an A in rock science without him. I think our professor was equal parts impressed and perplexed by us.

So the moral of the story?

Being paired with a random person in a class isn’t the end of the world, even if you are antisocial and have perma-bitchface, and your partner can’t keep his face away from his phone for two minutes. You too, can survive. And it might just end up going better than expected.