#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 20: Splendiferous

Lester Ranovich hated working the custodial dayshift — not based on the work, which was easier than nightshift cleaning, but because of the way the fancy people at the fancy 111 East building would either be over-friendly or pretend he didn’t exist. The latter was what he preferred, honestly. He knew that none of these designer suit-clad desk jockeys were remotely interested in how his weekend was or how he was doing.  

Sometimes he liked to play a game to see if they were paying attention. “How are you?” he’d ask. “Fine, you?” they would always fire back. Always replying to a question with the same question and hoping they’d get the same answer back, “Fine,” and then move on. But this was when he’d get tricky. His granddaughter had just gotten a dictionary for her birthday, and every night after dinner they’d pore over it looking for a word for the next day that they would each have to use in conversation. She was 10. He was nearing 63. Both took immense joy from the challenge.

Today’s word: “Splendiferous: extraordinarily or showily impressive.” 

So whenever anyone asked how he was doing, he would answer with “Splendiferous.” Depending on the word, he either came off as the harbinger of morbidity or just a crazy old loon.  

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#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 19: An artist known as Epsom

The sculpture garden had exactly seven lifesize clay statues, donated to the gala by a nephew of one of the board of directors. His name was Matthew Gimley Solomon IV — a curse of a name handed down from grandfather to father to son to grandson — but the underground art world knew him better as Epsom. It was a little science joke he had created when he learned his initials, MgSO4, were also the formula for magnesium sulfate, better known as epsom salts.

It wasn’t that his work for the Gladstone Gala sculpture garden was particularly good. All seven statues were of humanoid creatures — an angel, a demon, a little girl, a little boy, a sorcerer, an archer, and an oracle carved from stone and each possessing a single rusted-metal feature — and while they demonstrated his talent for sculpture, they didn’t showcase any of the creative spirit he put into his other work, which was too avant-garde for this crowd. The board wanted to show open-mindedness by spotlighting the work of a one-name artist but not alienate their more traditional — and generous — donors, so while they allowed Epsom to go by his art name, they asked that he refrain from his usual melting-wax statues of screaming refugee children or towering spires made of tarnished wristwatches with broken glass faces.  

Matthew Gimley Solomon IV had put up a fight for appearances sake before publicly acknowledging that in the spirit of hope and healing, he would be creating something “new and fresh for the gala that aligned with the foundation’s values and hope for a better world.” What he really did was go into the old storage unit he rented for unwanted work and taken a feather duster to a seven-piece collection he completed in his second year at art school. Some repairs should have been made to the metal embellishments, as a couple pieces had submitted to time and rust to loosen from their clay holds, but Epsom couldn’t be bothered. A bitter taste flooded his mouth as he remembered how the professor had given him a passing grade with a neon yellow post-it note that read “Great technique, but no heart.” On the upside, those five words had inspired him to make his work all heart, with very little technique. On the downside, that approach had gotten him kicked out of the school. 

Epsom had refused to attend the gala, insisting that he had another appearance priorly arranged. He was present for the installation of his seven clay-and-metal creatures but left under the cover of a hoodie and jogging pants before the guests had arrived. The only appearance he had to make that night was a date with a former Calvin Klein underwear model at his penthouse where there was always a bottle of Moet in the fridge and box of condoms in the nightstand drawer. 

So he had no idea that his mediocre art school project was about to become the focal point of a vigilante-villain showdown.  

#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 3: How to escape monotony through a skyscraper window

Jennifer and Felix were never in love. There was a time when Jennifer was slightly enamored and even more desperate enough to think she’d just grab and kiss him so she could say she had locked lips with a boy who wasn’t doing it on a dare. She was 15 at the time.

But almost 15 years later, both Jennifer and Felix were sure they would have a relationship very much like the one described by Albert Brooks in Broadcast News; they’d have dinner once in a while, get hot for each other on occasion but never act on it, and go on with their separate lives. He was living the monotonous life of an already-retired Hollywood stunt man living in a quaint Missouri town, and she was surviving day-to-day chained to a desk.

Until she wasn’t anymore.

Jennifer’s boss kept talking, but her mind wasn’t listening. She just looked at the pictures on the walls. Him with his kids. Him with his wife. Him with the president of the company. Him with the president of the country. He really thought he was a big fucking deal.

She had pictures, too. Her with friends from college, whom she never talked to anymore or even cared about enough to read their social media updates. She didn’t know why she kept those pictures up, except to remind others that at one point, she was a likable person — a popular person, in fact — who went by Jenni and sketched incredibly lifelike roses on all her notebooks. But since college, nothing had changed for her, apart from her demeanor. All the ugly she bottled up hadn’t magically drained out of her upon graduation, and she still suffered the constant feeling she was letting a professor (or boss) down, the constant need for sexual and alcoholic satisfaction, the constant lack of sexual and alcoholic satisfaction.

Maybe it was the fact nothing about her had changed that pissed her off the most and made her so irritable. Nothing made her happy anymore; even a promotion and raise would irk her because it meant that someone couldn’t see through her outer good-worker appearance to understand her underneath. They either couldn’t or wouldn’t. The first was frustrating; the second hurtful.

So maybe all the pent-up frustration that she still hadn’t gotten out, even after her rampage through the office, was what made it not just unsurprising but also welcome when Felix crashed through the boss’ door, grabbed her arm and dragged her to and through the 29th-story window.

#NaNoWriMo Day 1: Giraffe through Jell-O

Pru climbed the marble stairs to the lobby, flashed her badge at the gate scanner, and headed to the elevator bank. Any time she had to come to this building, she took full advantage of the sound of her stiletto heels click-clacking across the marble floor.

“Remember, making it look easy makes you look more talented,” her mother had said about wearing heels, playing guitar and cooking a perfect soufflé. “Glide, don’t clomp.”

In the 111 East lobby, she walked heel-to-toe quick and fast, with giant strides that made her look like a giraffe trying to wade through Jell-o. She didn’t care how it looked: it was the sound that she loved and that made people scatter out of her way.

Writespiration: Love thy characters (via @angiecthomas)

I should be editing the full manuscript of my book, Omaha, before sending it out to my beta reader book club, but I’m not. At first I thought my procrastination was out of exhaustion — I dedicated the entire month of November and first week of December 2017 to it, and since then have burned out on it. It happens.

But then I read this tweet from The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas:

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This was the second time I had seen her refer to the love she has for Bri — even going so far as to say she likes her more than The Hate U Give‘s main character, Starr. I remember feeling that way about some of the characters I wrote back when I was penning books while pretending to be taking notes in freshman year of high school. But with Omaha, I can’t say the same.

The fact is, none of my characters evoke my love. Or any feeling, for that matter. Omaha, Plunder, Varsity and Flax are like the people I hung out with in middle school: Now that the obligation to stick with them is over, they bore me and I have little to say to them (or make them say to each other, as the case of writing has it). It’s not a tangible feeling like hate or dislike, but one of indifference, which is possibly even worse because it means I have to build emotion from scratch instead of just tweak it from one thing to another. Unlike when I used to write in high school, no amount of dream casting has helped — though I’ll admit it’s a nice diversion envisioning Samira Wiley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephanie Beatriz and Lin-Manuel Miranda armed to the teeth with skill-enhancing microchips in their brains and running around post-exodus Chicago streets.

So thanks to Thomas, I’m going back to my draft to see where I became numb to these characters and figure out ways to fall back in terrible, conflicted love with them. How can I expect readers to feel something for them if their own creator is indifferent?

Poem: “Perfectly Imperfect with a Bottle of Singapore Lager”

During one of our imaginary conversations
She called me “perfect”
And I laughed so hard that the Singapore lager
(which I ordered because it had a tiger on the bottle)
Foamed up in the back of my throat
And made me choke on the joke.

Perfect? I suppose I am.
Perfectly imperfect.
Perfect in the way pi is perfect
Because it makes no sense
On purpose
But still has a purpose.

I’m a manic pixie dream girl
Who is mentally stable,
Weighs 150 pounds,
Can’t fly,
Doesn’t like The Smiths,
Zonks out in the backseat during your road trip to find yourself,
Finds nightmares more worth her time than dreams,
And despises that after earning a degree and two promotions
Is still called “girl” in common colloquialism.

As I pass by good opportunities
I wave at them
With the same lolling wrist-roll
As royalty regarding subjects out a foggy car window
Just before the cavalcade careens off a cliff.

I choreograph zombie chases
To Stevie Wonder hits
While I walk to work.

I wait for text messages that never come
But refuse to make the first move
Because I’m stubborn
(but not really),
Because I like being chased
(but only by people I want chasing me),
And mostly because I’m terrified of appearing too aggressive
(even though I am).

My neighbors know my real-time reactions
To reruns of Designing Women
Not because the walls are that thin
But because I’m that loud
In my passion for Annie Potts.

It took me an inexcusable amount of time
To learn that Britney Spears wasn’t the original artist
Behind “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
And I felt betrayed by my elders
When I finally found out.

I expect too much and not enough all at once.

(I stole that last line from a Fall Out Boy song.)

I write poems that suck
Paragraphs that suck
Short stories that suck
And then post them online
And anxiously await comments that say they suck,
That say they don’t,
And that try to sell me all-natural male enhancement hormones.

The smell of Jack Daniels makes me gag
Because it reminds me of fumbling hands, slippery tongues and blurry faces
Encountered during dim nights in college,
And also the death of Janis Joplin.

I fall in love too fast
Because I imagine conversations with people
That make our relationship seem stronger than it is,
That make them seem more interested in me than they are,
That make me seem more perfectly imperfect than I am.
Like this one, right now.