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Blaugust 26: Misusing Writing Prompts

Fiction Prompt (from Poets & Writers)
You know that weird notion that sometimes surfaces when you meet new people–that feeling that you already know them, but can’t remember why or how? Write a scene for a story about two people who both experience the same déjà vu upon meeting, with a plot driven by their need to figure out how they know each other. Use this opportunity to add an element of magical realism to your story. Perhaps they were married in a past life, or maybe they met in a dream. Once they solve the puzzle, how does this impact their lives going forward? Do they even believe the answer, or do they agree it’s too far-fetched?

This reminds me of a story I wanted to write. A story about love and dreams and reality. I was going to have the main couple meet in a dream–except, instead of A dream, they would keep meeting in dreams, and the dreams would vary a lot as dreams do. I was going to have them be birds one time.

Fairly recently I read a summary of a new book that had a much too similar premise to this. Of course what I thought was, I waited to long and now it’s too late. Someone else did it, so I shouldn’t even bother.

Now, I haven’t read this book so I don’t know the details of the plot. And it’s safe to say that this book is not exactly the same as the book I would write. It does seem close enough, though, that it makes me wonder. Because, see, I would much prefer to put writing out there that is unique. I dread the idea of someone reading a book I wrote and thinking, “I could have written that.” I don’t see the point in writing if I’m only doing what has already been done.

Maybe it’s not possible to do something as different as that without becoming China Mieville. The details of his worlds are quite fascinating… but the next person to write like him is just going to be seen as “copying.” Because when you’re THAT different, no one else can just happen to go there.


(Please don’t ask me what the gif has to do with the post… because the answer is nothing.)



Life Tips from The No-Recipe Life

I don’t have the answers. Perhaps you read that sentence and decided this wasn’t worth reading and clicked away. If so, you were in the wrong place anyway. Or maybe you just said “Ok, and…” because no one really has the answers. I don’t think “the answers” is a thing that really exists. I don’t even have good advice about those significant things you can do to improve your life. I have no idea what that stuff is all about. Most of that type of advice is crap: it either doesn’t work in the long term, or is too vague to implement, or only works for people in some circumstances. No, forget about that.

I have found, though, that certain small things can help you in life if you make the effort. Sometimes, that requires only a few seconds of your time. It couldn’t be easier. (Another lie!)

1. Turn off autoplay on Netflix. When you’re watching a show on Netflix, the next episode plays automatically when one ends. That was nice of them! Except no, it wasn’t. It’s just a trick that keeps you mindlessly using their site longer and can keep you from productive tasks. But there’s hope!

Go into the “Your Account” section, scroll down and find “Playback Settings.” Then you can uncheck the autoplay option. The screen you get at the end of an episode is exactly the same, only it won’t start the next episode until you click play. Continuous watching is still incredibly easy, but that extra step also makes it easier to step away from the screen. You’re welcome.

2. Walk faster. If you already walk fast, you can skip this one–but judging by my experience of constantly being stuck behind slow people whenever I walk down the street, chances are you don’t walk that fast. You’ll most likely only shave seconds, maybe a few minutes if you walk far, off your trip, but add it all up and you’ll have enough time to watch that extra episode of Mad Men that didn’t play automatically.

I was thinking about this just recently. If I walked slower, it probably would NOT be the case that walking is often more efficient than taking the bus or train in some circumstances. This was just after I got stuck behind two people who were barely moving at all. If I broke my foot I’d have been walking faster than they were. Luckily there was enough space to pass them after only a few seconds, but I had to come to a complete stop first, which is even more frustrating when it’s this cold out. So please everyone, just think of the people who are stuck behind you and walk a little faster.

3. Don’t assume anyone’s holding the door for you. When you’re out somewhere, anywhere, and you’re exiting or entering a building/room behind someone, I have news for you: getting through that door is YOUR responsibility, not theirs. Granted, if someone sees you and actively closes the door in your face, that’s certainly rude, but you probably won’t encounter too many of those. Half of them are probably unintentional–they were already closing the door, saw you, and didn’t register it well enough to adjust their actions. It happens. People aren’t perfect. If someone fails to hold the door open for you, no matter how close behind them you are, that is not rude. That’s just someone going about their business, thinking about where they’re going, instead of where they just were. I guarantee we all do it. You can’t assume that person knows you’re trying to get through the door right behind them. They can’t read your mind, and, like I said, they might not be in the habit of keeping tabs on who’s behind them. Maybe that person doesn’t pay hyper-attention to everything strangers they pass are doing.

Now, if you’re walking with someone, and that person doesn’t hold the door open for you, well, that might be a bit rude. But you still shouldn’t expect it, because at the end of the day, if you want to use a door, you might have to open it yourself. End. Of. Story.

4. Have at least one When-in-Doubt book. I’ve just made up this term, but you may very well be familiar with my meaning. This refers to a book that you can read at any time, no matter how many times you’ve read it before. Preferably it will be something small enough to easily carry around with you. Even if you have an ereader, and you can carry around hundreds of books on your one little device, you could still use at least one when-in-doubt book. It can function as a sort of layover when you can’t quite decide which book to read next, or it can be a comfort. I don’t actually have one yet, because I just came up with this tip, but I’ll probably choose something by Virginia Woolf.

I also recommend having When-in-Doubt music. This can be a song, or an album, or an artist–or even a Pandora or Rdio station, I suppose. It’s something you can turn on no and enjoy no matter what mood you’re listening to or what else you’re doing. If you want some music on, it comes to the rescue. I know it can be very hard to choose, but if you think about it I bet you’ll come up with something. Mine is Jeff Buckley. There is never a time I’ve thought “No, I just can’t listen to that right now.” His music works just a well for in-depth listening as it does for background music while I’m editing, and that is not an easy accomplishment.

5. Eat well. Food is so essential. It’s 100% necessary to live, until they invent those futuristic meal-in-a-pill tablets that we’ll eventually all be eating (god I hope not). Beyond that, it’s a social experience, a sensual experience, and a luxury. When I say that you should eat well, I don’t mean eat healthy. I don’t mean don’t eat healthy.

Eat healthy food. Eat delicious food. Eat decadent food. Obviously, know your body and respect its limits regarding allergies, stomach sensitivity, and how full you can handle being. But don’t worry so much. Eat the things you want. Indulge. It’s true that you only get one body, and so you should treat it well, but shouldn’t that include your tastebuds? Not to mention the chemical reaction in your brain when you eat sugars–a far less dangerous high than most of the drugs out there. So I hear.

I feel like I’m going to be misunderstood as telling you to pig out. I’m definitely not saying that. Knowing how to balance the stuff your body NEEDS with the stuff it WANTS is key to my definition of eating well, so if you’re going to take any of my advice about food, take this one thing.

Monday Madness: F*ck! I’m in My Twenties.

This is the title of a book I got for Christmas. Yes, it was on my wishlist. Because I am in my twenties. And it’s kind of weird.

The book actually has that asterisk. I guess you’re not allowed to actually write “fuck” on a book cover, because Go the F*ck to Sleep had the same thing. CENSORSHIP. PROTECT US FROM THE DIRTY WORDS PLEASE, BECAUSE THEY’RE THE REAL PROBLEM AROUND HERE!!!

You might not be surprised to hear that things have been a little bit crazy lately. Between the holidays and visiting family, the emotional mess I became in the few weeks before the holidays (for no reason, really), the unusual work schedule, and the weather (it turns out I actually hate winter, so, yeah), I feel like I haven’t had a chance to really relax pretty much since Thanksgiving.

That’s all about how I spend my time, though. I need to figure out how to manage time and money effectively. Less procrastination. In my last year of college I resolved to do my homework as soon as possible and never put it off. That didn’t happen, of course, but I think I finished everything at least the day before it was due. Unfortunately, I have no actual deadlines to work with now…

I would really like to spend January on vacation. I don’t mean out of town, away on some tropical island somewhere–although I guess that would be nice too. I was actually thinking staycation. Because all I want to do right now is nurse my creativity. I want to read all these books I’ve had around, many for over a year now, and absorb the literature and the art. I also want to re-read Memoirs of Hadrian and The Waves, both fantastic books I’ve only read once. I need to finish Pride and Prejudice, finally, and read at least some of the entries from History of the World in 100 Objects. I got it as a present a long time ago, because I claimed to want it very very much, and I haven’t actually read a single word of it.

And then I want to delve into the stories in my head. There are so many, and they’re tired of being unseen. It’s like my productivity as a writer is a frozen river; it’s flowing, but I just can’t get to it through this layer of ice.

That ice is day-to-day life. It’s an 8-hour work day plus an hour of commute at each end. It’s forcing myself out of bed in the morning when I’m still so tired, and trying to get through the morning quickly enough that I’ll get to work on time (sometimes…). It’s those evenings when you get home and make dinner, and do the dishes, and then take a shower, and then you pretty much only have time to go to bed.

Because I spend way more time complaining about all this stuff than actually taking steps to improve my life, I feel the need to make a certain point here: this stuff is a lot easier for some people. Plenty of people wake up on time (even if they don’t enjoy it) and they go through their work day and they get home and are productive in their free time. I suspect that these people are well-adjusted ones who had mostly happy adolescences and were never lonely or excluded, because they were “normal.”

I am not one of those people. For me, the idea of coming home after work and cleaning and writing and doing the things I want to do that would make life nicer in general is at times quite impossible. Making some kind of sandwich melt in the toaster oven and then watching shows on hulu for three hours always seems so much simpler and more attainable of a goal.

But I’ve got Resolutions this year! (One of them is making the updates to this blog I talked about in an earlier post.) I’m thinking of them as Non-New Year’s Resolutions, because I don’t think New Year’s Resolutions actually work. I’m planning to make a youtube video about it and posting it early in January… I’ll link it, so keep an eye out if you’re interested. In a nutshell, my resolutions are about getting off my ass and actually trying to do the things I want to do. But it’s more particular than that.

With a reluctant sigh, I guess I should get back to that “life” now and get something done…

Rambling through Boston: Brattle Book Shop

Recently, I decided to check one of many endeavors off of my “like-to-do” list (not a bucket list, as for me that would be comprised of things that would be a little harder to accomplish), and I hopped on a train to downtown Boston to explore the Brattle Book Shop.

Brattle Book Shop is a used bookstore just a stone’s throw from Boston Common. It’s been around since 1825. Seriously. You can get more info at the link above.

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The first thing you’ll notice about Brattle is the outdoor section of the bookstore. In the alley next to the building, shelves line the walls to the right and left. Luckily it was a sunny, somewhat mild day when I decided to venture there, so I was able to browse these books for a little while. The books on the left side shelves are all $3; the other side, $5.

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I didn’t take the time to scour every title. I rarely have the patience for that. I just scanned a good number of shelves until I had found a few books I wanted to buy. There was quite a range of books, from totally obscure titles that could only interest a niche audience to very popular books, like volumes of Harry Potter and James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Toward the back of the outdoor area, they also had this stack of cool painted doors, all book-themed designs. I’m not entirely certain what they use them for, but I’m guessing they use them to close up the shelves when the store is closed, and maybe during the winter. I snapped a picture for reference. I’m sure there are many better pictures out there, but here you go…

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Here are the books I picked up:

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The first one I spotted was the Marguerite Yourcenar book. Granted, I had no idea who Mishima was, even though he was[is] very well-known (as Wikipedia told me), but I read Memoirs of Hadrian in college, and as a result have dubbed Yourcenar one of my favorite writers. I just had to get it. Tove Jansson was a name I remembered seeing quite a bit when I was working at the Harvard Coop. The Summer Book seemed like it would be the perfect thing to read in the coming months, so I snatched that one up. The last title is an illustrated edition of The Three Musketeers from the ’50s. It’s not valuable or anything, or it would have been in the rare book room instead of the $3 wall. As you might have guessed, it’s an abridged version. it just seemed like a fun thing to own, and I thought the illustrations were pretty cool.

I decided three books was a good amount. I stepped inside to pay, first having a quick look around the inside of the store. I didn’t take too much time inside, but I can say that they had a very wide selection, on shelves reaching up to the ceiling. Fiction was on the first floor, along with a few other categories. Scholarly books were mostly on the second floor. The rare book room was also on the second floor. I didn’t check it out this time around, I think I was just to nervous at the prospect of being in a room with so many valuable books. I did have a glance over the huge posters they had stuck all over the wall leading up to the second floor showing some of the rare books they  had sold and the prices they’d gone for. I think the least expensive one was $250. They even once had a first edition Cat in the Hat. Cool.

I would recommend this store to anyone who might be looking for rare books (to buy or not), and to anyone who enjoys weeding through shelves to find something unexpected, unfamiliar, a discovery for your home library. It’s definitely a worthwhile book-lover’s outing. In addition, it’s surrounded by many restaurants as well as being very close to the Boston Common. You could get a book, then grab a sandwich or something, head on over to the grass and settle in for a picnic with your new literary find. Hell, that sounds lovely. I think I’m going to do it sometime this summer.

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