NaNoWriMo is like 16 days away, you guys.

I met with my writer’s group on Saturday. I know, it’s hard to believe that I was able to do anything after Friday night’s rager with Nyquil and tomato soup. But I did. I rolled out of bed, didn’t shower, put on what has become my weekend uniform (leggings, comfy shirt, afghan-looking sweater, thick socks, legwarmers), and went to the cafe to meet with my group.

We usually start the two- sometimes three-hour meeting by going around and saying what we’re reading, then going off on random tangents about books, authors, genres, or tv shows. Eventually we start the discussion of any work submitted for discussion/workshopping. I submitted a character sketch titled “Ruby”. I claimed it was flash fiction, but the only action that occurred was her carving a linoleum block, so I suppose as far as conflict goes, it was pretty dull. I got some good ideas for expanding on the character and have since started toying around with a few character exercises where I put Ruby in different scenarios to see how she reacts.

I know that’s a little strange – trying to see how this character I made up reacts to conflict. But really, what else is fiction but trying to figure out the people in our heads?

Anyway, we ended up talking about National Novel Writing Month. It seems like a great endeavor, really. Writing a novel in a month? How awesome would that be? The point is to write 50,000 words in a month, which amounts to about 1,600 words a day. Not too bad, right? Of course not, until you get in the thick of it.

Or so I’m told.

I would love to say that I’ll be participating this year, but I know I won’t be. I’m starting a new job that is training-intensive, working overtime, working out, maintaining a blog, trying to have a social life, AND reading Infinite Jest. Just where am I suppose to find time to write 1,600 words every day? I’m sure I would be able to find the time if I really wanted to do it, but I don’t. Maybe next year.

Anyway, the whole reason I’m writing this post is because I think you should all follow Fake NaNoWriMo Tips on Twitter, especially if you’re a writer who isn’t participating in NaNoWriMo. I suppose it could provide some comic relief if you are participating, but let’s be real. You’re not.

Also, while you’re at it, you can follow me on Twitter for some Everything is Blooming microblogs.

I couldn’t think of a picture that would go well with the post, so here’s a grainy picture of me in a miniature bowler hat at the Christmas party my friends and I had last weekend.

Yes, you read that correctly. We had a Christmas party.

If you’re interested, find out more about National Novel Writing Month here. I’m told you can register and find (support?) groups in your area.

To 21-year old Ashley, Love 24-year old Ashley

I started writing a post last night, but then I remembered the vice presidential debate was on, so I felt obligated to watch it. I watched for about ten minutes before I figured I had enough of Joe Biden’s goofy grin and Paul Ryan’s kindergarten hair. Then I decided to read my xanga. You know, like a sane, self-actualized person would do.

I would post a link to my old xanga, but I’d rather not invite further embarrassment.

I read a lot of posts from my 20-21ish years. My middle years of college, when I was dating Jon. Here I thought I had lost a big chunk of time because I couldn’t find (or remember) any journals from that time. But I did actually journal. On my xanga.

This is not shameless twitter self-promotion

That pretty much sums it up.

Since I can’t go back in time and slap myself across the face, I decided to write notes to myself. Because 21-year old me reading these notes is more plausible than 24-year old me slapping 21-year old me.

Also, I’m on nyquil. Well, not nyquil. Generic nyquil that I took from my dad. I’m not drinking it recreationally, you prudes. I’m sick. I’m on my couch in sweatpants with Netflix (Mike Birbiglia’s special) playing in the background.

Yeah, Ashley. I guess that’s one way to spend a Friday night.

I thought of a few of these things at work while I was impressing my new coworkers with the volume of my snot-expulsion, but most of them I’m coming up with off the top of my head. Yeah, I’m just riffing, people. I’m funny. Why don’t you follow me on twitter? Retweet me or something.

Anyway.

Taking out the nose ring you got the second week of college does not make you mature. It just makes you employable. 

You don’t have to put up with that asshole boyfriend. Seriously. Just dump his ass. What do you see in him? He constantly makes you feel inadequate and insecure. Don’t be a moron and mistake constant inner dissonance for passion. It’s not passion – it’s letting someone treat you like garbage. So stop that, seriously. And don’t tell me everything was sunshine and roses, because I have proof, in all of your PRIVATE and PROTECTED posts on xanga, that you were frequently miserable. Yeah. You documented that shit. And thanks for that, it’ll make writing about about that period a hell of a lot easier. 

You know how you really like Sutter Home’s white zin? You’ll get sick of it. Yeah. I know. It’s really unbelievable, but eventually you’ll get to a point where you walk past the $5 bottles and go to the (shock!) $8 and $9 bottles, and you’ll have much better evenings. 

Stop bingeing on Radiohead. “Why is Thom Yorke so good?!” you ask. Because he has unnecessary letters in both of his names, that’s why. And he’s not that great. He’s okay. You’re really moved by some of his songs (I know, I know, How to Disappear Completely brings you to a weird sort of teary nausea), but it will pass and you’ll find there is better music out there, so don’t go around preaching the Radiohead gospel. 

Save a pack of cherry cloves for me, will ya? Eventually Barack Obama will be president and you’ll blame him without knowing if he’s actually responsible for making the flavored ones illegal. You’ll still be able to buy the black ones, but you’ll never really like those, even if you try to tell yourself clove cigarettes are to cigarettes the way chai is to coffee. 

On that note, save your damn money. Seriously. Don’t spend all that extra loan money. You don’t need a Nintendo DS and you certainly don’t need to buy the 007 game just because the character sort of looks like Daniel Craig. You’ll never get past the second level, either. You’re just not a gamer. You know what you really need? A CAR. I cannot stress this enough. YOU NEED A DECENT CAR. 

Take advantage of those cute writers in  your English classes. I don’t mean like rape them, just get out of your shell and say hi. What is the guy gonna do? Seriously. He’ll probably talk and compliment your work, then you can have him over to drink some white zin because you’re a classy broad. 

Actually do your homework. Study. Learn things. Don’t just breeze through college. Really experience it and take advantage of EVERYTHING on campus, including the planetarium. 

Good job working out. Seriously. You were dedicated for a while there. You’ve inspired me to get back to the gym. 

Stop eating bagels.

In the near future, you’ll have a professor tell the class, “You will never be prettier or skinnier than you are right now.” I know, he stole it from Gossip Girl (which is an entirely different issue), but he’s right. At least as far as I can tell. You’ll gain a little of that weight back and your skin will start do weird things like be irritated for no apparent reason (the inside of your left elbow will itch, inexplicably, ALL THE TIME, and your eyelids are sometimes dry and red), and you’ll feel like your body is falling apart at 24. Hopefully 28-year old us will be able to shed some light on this. 

You should somehow display that one letter from your friend when he told you “Love hard. Dance with grace. And don’t forget about the little black dresses.” Interpret it however you wish, instead of being constantly aware of the fact that you’d feel more confident in an LBD than in your sloppy barista uniform (lol, I still can’t believe you worked at a coffee shop that had uniforms) the university makes you wear. 

I’m starting to lose concentration (because I had to be really focused to write this post) and I’ve spent the last two minutes yawning, so I’m going to call it a night.

Edit: After (very briefly) reviewing this before publishing, I just want to note that it took me several tries to spell “presidential” before the little red zigzag disappeared. Also, it’s kind of weird that there are two ps in disappeared. Not sure why I called you guys prudes in the nyquil paragraph. Am I calling you prudes for being shocked by the idea of drinking nyquil recreationally? Because that insinuates that I drink nyquil recreationally, and I don’t. I said “seriously” a lot. Don’t really care.

Welcome to my bed-desk.

Before I got out of bed this morning, I felt like creating something. This often happens on Saturday mornings. I open my eyes and I have a craving to write something beautiful and insightful in a way that challenges things I previously held true to my heart. I want to edit old manuscripts. I want to turn all of my literary lists into lilting essays with just the right blend of story and musing.

So what do I do? I get out of bed. I make coffee. I make breakfast. I take my computer to the patio. I decide to see what’s going on in the blogosphere where I read and comment on twenty different blogs. Then I become distracted and end up not even touching my blog, my manuscripts, my literary lists, or a blank document.

I wanted to avoid distraction this morning, so I just reheated coffee from yesterday morning (classy, I know), made myself a bowl of oatmeal, and got back into bed. So far it’s going quite well. I’ve written three new paragraphs.

My bed is getting so much action this morning, you guys.

Now four.

Last night I went to a double feature with my friend Leo, who is an aspiring movie critic (check out his blog here). We saw The Master and Sleepwalk with Me. Both movies were great in their own right. The Master was a two-hour epic that was apparently an allegory for Scientology. I wasn’t aware of that while watching it. I saw that it was about a man returning from WWII, struggling with post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, and a tendency to drink paint thinner, who meets a charismatic man who with an adoring and wife (played by Amy Adams) and cultish following. He also enjoys making the vet walk back and forth touching a wall and window (didn’t really understand that part). It was a fascinating movie and I kept watching, waiting for some crumb of insight to fall, something that would enlighten me and give me direction and a new mantra. But it never happened. It was a great movie. But I wasn’t really sure why.

Yes. The music was great (the incidental violin solos throughout the movie made me want to pick my own up and regain my vibrato). The shots were beautiful and often breathtaking. The characters were compelling (though I was often distracted by the way Joaquin Phoenix made his skeleton look like it was made from wire clothes hangers). The story was twisted and combined with just enough dramatic tension and sexual undertones to keep me engaged. All of these combined to make a fantastic film. But at the end, I was still left thinking “What the fuck was that?”

I don’t know a ton about movies, but I’m pretty sure all the movies that critics rave about are the same films that leave me scratching my head, wondering what I just spent the last two hours watching.

But I’m not a movie watcher, and I admit that freely. Most of my ex-boyfriends will vouch that I can barely make it through any movie without falling asleep, so the fact that I saw two movies in a single night is absurd. But we traveled about two hours to Madison to the Sundance theater, a place that would  probably make even a Madagascar movie seem charmingly pretentious. It was a great experience.

I loved Sleepwalk with Me. It was charming. It was endearing. It was just what I had hoped for when I saw the previews weeks earlier. I have a very special place in my heart for Mike Birbiglia. He’s my favorite comedian. I have an adoring sort of possession over anything he does because I’ve watched his comedy progress, deepen, and become more honest from Two Drink Mike to Sleepwalk with Me.

Sleepwalk with Me is the story of the disintegration of a romantic relationship, a burgeoning comedy career (which, incidentally, made me sort of want to be a comedian), and a sleep disorder. It was sad and beautiful in a way that made me feel like he was a close friend who kept knowingly making bad choices. The movie is based on Mike’s story that aired on This American Life and The Moth (both excellent podcasts, subscribe NOW), was developed into a full comedy album and book. I’m sure he’s sick of the story, but it doesn’t make it any less compelling.

I’m not really sure what else to say about it other than you should really go watch the movie. If it’s not playing in your city, it’s worth a two-hour drive to the nearest independent theater.  Also, how could you not love a guy who wrestles with Ira Glass?

Anyway, I’m going to get to work on some serious writing. I apologize that my posts have been somewhat lacking in the last week or two. My life has been uneventful, uninspiring, and underwhelming. Just know that I’m working on it.

Returning the Ring

As I discussed in an earlier post, I have mixed feelings about autobiographical fiction. The following is very, very much based in reality. I wrote it about two years ago as an autobiographical fiction assignment for my personal narrative class. I suppose I could tell you what parts are fictional, but that would take away all the mystery and fun, wouldn’t it?

By the way, any feedback and comments are appreciated.

_____

I left my car running in the driveway. The exhaust coughed as I walked to his front door with a plastic bag. It was sometime before seven and Scott was sure to be in bed for at least another four hours.

Good morning, love. I hope you have a wonderful day!

My day was already planned. Feeling sorry for myself after a night of little sleep, I had called in sick to work. The idea of spending eight hours typing useless data and making numbed small talk with women in surrounding cubicles was just too much. After graciously returning Scott’s belongings, I would stop into the coffee shop and get a quad-shot iced americano that, between the sickly bitter espresso and obnoxious amount of ice, would eventually give me a headache. That headache would later be dulled with a half bottle of vodka and fruit juice while I got bikini baked.

Don’t let David hit on you anymore, otherwise Imma have to go down to Ohio to beat his ass. 

His junk had to go. A cello concerto scribbled on a stack of staff paper, a Russian textbook I had borrowed, pit-stained undershirts I had begged him to bleach, and a six pack of Leinie’s Red. I walked up to the front porch and dropped it all into a heap. I dug into my pocket for the last item – a ring of his grandmother’s.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxxo

The tiny pile insulted me. After a year, this was all I had to show. Scott wasn’t the nesting type, apparently. Not with me anyway. He never said sweet things to me. I figured he just had the quiet kind of affection. So of course it was a little surprising to see that he was willing to send adorations via text to a girl who lived three states away.

I’m going to rehearsal now, but I’ll be thinking of you the whole time. xoxo

I wanted the revenge to be grand. I wanted him humiliated. Everything I could think of seemed so typical: Spraying painting “cheater” across the front of his house. Salting the lawn. Sprinkling sugar in his gas tank. Putting his name and number in the craigslist casual encounters. Signing him up for subscriptions to eight different fetish magazines. Slamming an axe into the hood of his car. Buying a billboard and listing his indiscretions. I wanted to do it all though. I wanted to make his life as difficult as possible.

I wanted him to burn with shame the way I had when I had seen the text messages the night before. Scanning his inbox, I found he told this “Belle” that he loved her more times in the previous five hours than he had in eleven months with me. The worst part was that the texts were burned into my memory and kept playing on repeat like a short film.

I love you, Belle. 

I put the ring between my teeth and reached to tear pages out of the Russian textbook and shred his concerto. I ripped the t-shirts in half while considering what to do with the ring. I could toss it in the lawn and let the lawn mower jam up next time he mowed. I could somehow melt it down into the shape of a dog turd and send it with a friendly note.

I wanted that ring to be destroyed. He had left the other things with me without a thought. He had copies of the concerto on his computer. The textbook was two editions old, and he neither remembered nor cared about the vocabulary and verbs. I cracked open a beer and tipped it upside down, soaking the pile.

Next door, a neighbor was unraveling a hose to water his flowers. He watched while I smiled, waved, and reached for another bottle. I poured all six onto his things.

It started to feel good. Almost as good as I had felt the night before, slapping him across the face.

I wish I could be there to hold you as you fell asleep tonight. 

But this ring was more than all of that. It was still resting between my front teeth and saliva, no longer held back by tight lips, was beginning to creep out of the corners. He had given it to me two months earlier, on the morning of an audition. We had spent the better part of a year at universities two hours apart and I had decided to transfer to his university. I told my friends I was transferring to save money, but I really did it to be closer to Scott. He had encouraged me, saying it was obvious that music was in my soul and that I should study with the violin professor at his university.

“Literature doesn’t suit you,” he told me. “But it’s obvious that music is your real passion.”

Flattered by his apparent ability to realize things about myself that I didn’t, I prepared an audition to complete my minor. He had done his best to convince me to change degrees altogether, but I wasn’t willing to dedicate four more years to a bachelor’s degree. While my fingers were callusing and my neck developed a persistent red mark from my violin, Scott encouraged me and told me he was looking forward to playing in the orchestra with me.

On the morning of the audition, I was running through the second movement of the Haydn concerto in a moist practice room when he had knocked on the door, an americano in one hand and the other in his pocket. “Morning, love,” he said. “How’s it going?”

“I’m nervous. I can’t get the double stops right in the cadenza,” I said, taking the americano from his hand. “I mean, I can get them right half the time, but the other half sounds like crap.”

“You have nothing to worry about,” Scott said, kissing my forehead. He sat down on the piano bench. “You’re going to get in no problem. Half the violinists here suck anyway. Play a little for me.”

I took a drink from the americano, ignoring how it burnt my tongue and focusing instead on the tensions in my body. My left shoulder had a knot. My wrists were sore. The spot on my neck felt raw. My fingers were sweaty and rigid. The caffeine I was sucking down wasn’t going to help me feel any less shaky. I handed the drink to Scott and picked up my violin. While I played, Scott watched. I got through the cadenza perfectly. When I finished, he stood up and kissed me again.

“I’m proud of you, Ashley,” he told me, hugging me. “Like I said before, you’re going to do just fine. There’s no reason to stress.”

“I know, I just haven’t done this in a while.”

“I want to give you something,” Scott said. He reached into his pocket, retrieved the ring, and pressed it into my hand. “It’s for luck.”

“Thank you,” I said, looking at it. A think silver band with small dots framing a smooth center. It made me think of a zipper. I slid it over my right ring finger, not wanting him to think I thought it signified an engagement or promise.

“It used to be my grandmother’s. It’s really not worth anything, but I wanted you to have it,” he said. “I found it in my dresser the other day.”

“Thank you,” I said, a little amazed he had given me a family ring. “It’s really nice of you.”

His jaw got tight and he suddenly looked like he regretted giving it to me. “It’s not like…you know, a ring ring.” he said. “It’s not an heirloom or anything, just something my grandfather made for my grandma and I somehow got a hold of it.”

“Don’t worry, I know. An engagement ring would have to have a big ol’ diamond, anyway,” I joked, sensing his discomfort.

I still think he’s an asshole.

I took the ring out of my mouth and looked at it. Slimy with my spit, it shined a bit more than usual. It was ugly. I had recognized that the moment he gave it to me. Since it was too big for any of my fingers, I had put it on a chain of beads and occasionally wore them around my neck. He had given it to me halfheartedly so I wore it halfheartedly. Maybe it was his last ditch effort to commit to me. By giving me a tangible sign of commitment – even if it was a worthless piece of family jewelry – maybe he felt like he would have to fully commit to me. Maybe it was a peace offering when I didn’t realize there was a conflict. Maybe it was a pathetic attempt at making up for what I was about to find in a few weeks. Whatever it was, it didn’t make much sense.

I remembered his face the night before, when he came into the room, seeing me with his phone my hand. Shocked. Eyes and mouth gaping. Taking a second and hoping the worst hadn’t happened, he swallowed and asked, “Did I miss a call?”

“No, but who the fuck is ‘Belle My Dearest’?”

Suddenly I realized the emptiness in my stomach. I blinked hard and dropped the ring on the pile. I took the empty bottles, placed each neatly in the cardboard caddy, and crowned the weepy mound.