#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 13: RIP Stan Lee, or A pause for Excelsior

We all knew it was coming. Unlike his characters, Stan Lee was going to fade away eventually.

Yesterday we said goodbye to the man who created the entities that inspired a lot of us to build our own worlds and imagine our own heroes. And he did so in a way that was motivating, inspiring and — perhaps most of all — inclusive.

I’ll admit that I’m one of those late-comer geeks who got heavily into the comic book scene once the zeitgeist said it was OK. (Harry Potter was far more my thing.) But once I discovered this magical world that was Stan Lee’s Marvel comics creations — starting with Iron Man and stretching both forwards as the MCU unfolded and backward as I discovered his original work — I put him in the pantheon of great creators, not just of the 20th century but of all of literature.

I’m not afraid to say that Stan Lee is the Shakespeare of this epoch. Think about it: His numerous characters are canonical to our society, and their stories often convey greater meaning than what’s simply written on the page. They seek truth and justice, but are inherantly flawed, and those flaws are what make them relateable and likeable to us. They might have superhuman powers, but they’re still human under all of it. 

Obviously Stan Lee and Shakespeare aren’t the only ones who figured out this magical formula for timeless, applicable characters. But they are in a limited class as far as how many they were able to create, how many iterations those characters have been able to endure, and how they’ve entered our common language. “To be, or not to be” is right up there with “Don’t hulk out on me.” 

(OK, maybe not. But wouldn’t it be great if it was?)

Last year he released this message to fans, and it has stuck with me since I first saw it:

“(Our) stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or color of their skin,” he says. “The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance and bigotry.” 

The message of inclusion is right up there with my own credo to make my work for everyone and representative of anyone. I wrote a whole book with a character who could be cast with any actor, regardless of ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or age — the point being to make it so anyone could see themselves in the narrator’s place. While Stan Lee’s characters were more concrete, being drawn on a page, he preached the message to the end that anyone should be allowed to connect with them, enjoy them, and share that passion with others. 

To me, Stan Lee’s breadth of creativity is enough to immortalize him in our minds’ hall of  Great Literary Figures. But his insistance that everyone be allowed to adore and adopt that work is what makes him one of the greatest figures, period. 

Excelsior!

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#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 12: Amanda Palmer talks at TED

I get into TED Talk ruts when I’m procrastinating, and one of my favorites to hear over and over again is Amanda Palmer’s discussion on the art of asking. It’s about putting yourself out there, shamelessly and fearlessly exploring your creativity, and allowing others to join you.

A lot of her talk has to do with letting rather than requiring people to contribute monetarily to the arts — music in particular — and that’s a hard one to apply to writing when I see authors of both bestselling and unknown books plea with their followers to stop bootlegging their work. But the meat of her presentation is that when you open your arms and let people enjoy and sometimes participate in the act of creativity, chances are they’ll say yes.

It took me a while to be comfortable starting a creative writing blog. I used to write about media issues and journalism, feminism and racism, professional life and personal achievements. That seemed safe because I was often just expounding my opinion, and (as Weezer says) if you don’t like it, you can shove it. But putting creative writing pieces online for anyone and everyone to come across was dangerous, because if people didn’t like it, it wasn’t necessarily because they were wrong: It was, in my mind at least, because the work I had published was bad.

A year and a half later, I’m realizing that’s not the case. This reader-writer community doesn’t go out of its way to shit on something by an unknown, unpublished writer. Instead, every time I get pinged because someone liked a post I put up on Convincing the Muse, I want to put just a few more words on the page. It’s encouraging, and it’s community.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 11: Scene of the Write at Rootstock

For my birthday this year, the Man with Time on His Arm gave me a chef’s notebook that lies flat and has waterproof stone pages that are perforated and half-lined, half-blank. I carry it everywhere with me — just like I have my past, far less high-line Moleskines — but I’m naturally more inclined to use it. 

When I’m waiting for someone at a restaurant, come up with something during work, or face the 15-minute Lyft ride between my apartment and the Man with Time on His Arm, I reflexively take it out of my bag. Sometimes there’s not even an idea in my head, but I know I want to get something on the page, which is why I describe my surroundings.

That’s why I’m introducing this new category, Scene of the Write, for whenever I find myself in a place that is more like a character than a setting. Here’s one from August:

The bar was like a time machine. No, a snow globe. No, a capsule — a perfect linoleum-floored diorama with John Lennon’s solo career on audio display, courtesy of the vinyl record player hidden somewhere. It had to be vinyl. Anything else would be like a crucifix hanging in an arcade: Totally out of place.

The arm chairs were no longer stuffed, just reupholstered over and over again until the chintz, velour, suede, corduroy, tweed and polyester layered themselves into padding. They surrounded a table that was too low for their regal height and rickety despite the folded menus acting as a shim beneath one of its feet.

I inhaled the smell of decades of sloshed wine and overfilled pint glasses that had soaked into the wood of the bar and ornate tables. And shoe polish! There was a hint of shoe polish under it all, though the source was unclear. Both the patrons and staff walked around in dull brown Birkenstocks and faded Puma sneakers that let them imagine they were still in high school, just old enough to drink and stay out on a weeknight. Maybe the shoe polish smell was my own imagination at play. I’m not even sure if I know what shoe polish smells like, come to think of it.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 10: Meet Foster Updike

Foster Updike was a tall man, had been a tall teenager and a short kid. The summer between freshman and sophomore year in high school, he had shot up six inches. The pain in his legs had been agony, but the way the girls and some of the boys looked at him that September was worth the sleepless nights, throbbing shins and, perhaps most excruciating of all, endless department store shopping to with his mom to buy new pants and shoes.

Perhaps it was his height that made him impervious to the 27-year scotch Pru had put in the monogrammed silver flask she had given him last Christmas. Not liking the taste of it — it made his mouth dry and smokey, like he had French-kissed a peat brick — he had left it in the bottom drawer of his desk. Tonight, however, had called for a celebration, and he gladly offered it up to his triumphant boss.

“You know what I like about you, Foster Up-Updike?” Pru hiccuped as she examined the flask now back in her hand.

He took it back from her but didn’t drink.

“Your name starts with an F and a U,” she said, drawing out the last vowel sound. “It’s like your parents knew you’d be too polite to tell people to fuck off, so they wanted your initials to do it for you.”

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 9: The Hitman’s Son

Countless children’s stories told the tales of sons and daughters overcoming their parents’ sins. A robber’s son catches a thief. A killer’s daughter saves a life. Everyone learns to love the little hero or heroine, and the past holds no impact. That wasn’t the case for young Hamish.

At 10 Hamish and his mother learned of his father’s side-job as a hitman for the mob. At 10 and a half, he watched her leave on a crisp autumn day. The sun was so blinding that he could barely see the car pull out of the driveway, but the important thing was that he wasn’t in the passenger seat. His uncle said he looked too much like his father, and that was why she didn’t want to take him with her. He was like the ugly t-shirt no one buys at the airport gift shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma because it would remind them too much of having to spend time in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

And so Hamish stayed with his father for two years before the feds caught up to him, and then was transferred to his high school janitor uncle three hundred miles away. His mother still wouldn’t talk to him, or even see him.

The same went for his schoolmates when they learned of his dark past. Unlike all the heroes in the books who have two or three close allies, he had none. Eventually, he became accustomed to being alone. Then college came.

Hamish made the same move that most 18-year-olds make at the time they leave home for the unknown of university life. He reinvented himself, armed with a new suit purchased for him by his uncle and a stack of 1960s sci-fi fiction.

And that’s where his story begins.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 8: Enough

She was seized by the lung-squeezing, heart-exploding dread that all the things they said made her enough — brains, charm, humor, ambition, fiscal responsibility — were inedible fondant frosting on an otherwise dry and tasteless cake.

This wasn’t a fear of not being enough for the task at hand, but of being simply the wrong person for it. And no supplementing or sacrificing on her part would change that.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 7: Better ideas persist

As I work on Nobody’s Hero this National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been pulling from material I have already written. (Don’t worry, I’m not counting any of it in my 50,000 goal.) It’s funny how some darlings you love become obsolete when a better idea comes along. Take this piece I discovered — and essentially rewrote — on Monday:

“The Mornays knew how to show up in style, with Darin in bespoke Tom Ford and Lilah in a crimson evening gown that strategically hugged in some places and flowed in others — Dior had won her business for this year’s gala. Around her neck glistened a spectacular diamond necklace that was so heavy it had once almost caused a cracked collarbone. But Lilah contended the twice-weekly pilates and calcium supplements she was taking had solved that problem.

“Meanwhile, Pru fidgeted in an emerald satin dress with an attached translucent cape. It was overly dramatic and not at all her style, but it was the only gown Dior had in their Centropolis storefront that would hide the bruises from her last night out fighting crime. Her mother had raised an eyebrow, made a politically insensitive allusion to the Muslim community’s dress code, and eventually thrown her hands up with an admission that ‘It’s your money and your body, so dress how you want.'”

Since deciding that Pru’s gala ensemble would be a high-tech hostess coat developed by Foster, the Q to Pru’s James Bond, the final paragraph not only describes the wrong clothing but also robs me of being able to paint a maddening but funny scene of when Pru’s Dior-draped mother sees her daughter role up in pants to an old-school charity gala. And let’s face it — it’s always better to show, not tell. 

Better ideas persist!