Red Ink

Once upon a time, many moons ago, a chipper young college grad set off to teach English in South Korea. The experience that followed was one of the most draining, worldview-shattering years of her life, flipping her values upside down and forcing her to tap into reserves of energy she didn’t know she possessed. And it all started during training. Only it wasn’t really training – it was more like one of those reality shows where you have to impress the judges, and if you don’t, you’re SOL in a foreign country trying to find a way to get yourself home. Oh, and you didn’t know this until the first day.

So that was fun.

But this is about red ink. In Korean culture, we were told during training, you aren’t supposed to write anyone’s name in red ink – it’s bad luck. So with the company’s values being what they were, we were encouraged to write the names of our misbehaving students in red ink on the board to really shake them up. I never did this, because frankly that’s kind of fucked up. And while I occasionally use a red pen for journaling purposes, I stick to blue or green for editing. I told a writing group member once that I find it less threatening. He laughed, but you try handing someone a page covered in red ink and watch the face they make.

For the most part, I like the writing group I meet up with. It’s a little chaotic, like lots of things in my life are, but it makes for good company. I do wish we were a little more organized – group exercises would be fun, and a little more productive than 2+ hours of kvetching about what a pain writing can be. It’s up to members whether or not they’d like to share something with the group. So at the meeting  before last, I decided it was time to make good on one of my goals for the year: have a novel chapter completed by the end of March. I handed out copies of what I’d written thus far and patiently waited for the next meeting to roll around.

I got one copy back.

It was a little disappointing, but hey, it was something. Eventually, my writing buddy posted some comments to the Google Doc. So did one of my podcast collaborators. And finally, I had feedback to work with. It was no less intimidating than red ink. It takes a lot to share such a big part of yourself with other people, knowing that they’ll find you lacking in some way or another. But unless you’re willing to take the risk, how can you get any better? With the feedback I received, I’m on my way to making my goal. One chapter down, the rest of a novel to go. You have to start somewhere. For me, becoming part of my local writing community is a big step in the right direction. Who’s afraid of a little red ink?

Bright Sides

The weather has cooled down in South Texas, at least for the time being. Taking advantage of another WordPress prompt to try to be productive. 2016 has been something of a horror show. As excited as I am that the podcast has come to fruition, it’s hard to find things to get excited about. Enthusiasm is in rare supply these days. I’m not entering 2017 with a lot of optimism thus far. But there are a few things I’m looking forward to, little nuggets of gold on the B side that is my life.

In a few months I’ll be heading to a certain Wizarding World of wonder with some good friends, which I’m pretty pleased about. I’ve begun assembling a suitably Ravenclaw (because what other house would I belong to?) wardrobe, hoping that the Great Floridian Gods see fit to grace us with some decent weather.

Also pending friendly climes is my first camping trip in April. I’ve never done anything but pitch a tent in the backyard and head inside when the mosquitoes got bitey, so this is going to be an entirely new experience with a crowd I’m still sort of getting to know. It’s either going to be great, or a disaster. Crossing my fingers for the former.

My younger sister is graduating from high school, and she’s already been accepted to some good universities. We’re planning to take a Sister Trip to celebrate the event. While it’s looking like we’ll have to downgrade from International Shenanigans to something stateside, I’m still excited for us to spend time together.

I’ve found a couple local writing groups that I’m going to enjoy meeting with throughout the year. While attendance has apparently waxed and waned as folks move or find themselves too busy with life, I feel like we’ve got a great crowd together. And I’m going to be taking a Creative Writing course, which will hopefully inspire me to be further productive and provide me with some valued feedback.

And with luck, I’ll be visiting friends in Atlanta again later in the year – if not for DragonCon and cosplay fun, at least for the eating of pie and good food. And that’s never a bad thing.

For now, I content myself with my everyday work of librarian’ing and acting as designated cat-warmer. It’s been a hell of a year, but I’m hoping everyone can find something to look forward to with a new beginning. And if you haven’t – make it happen. Change starts with you, right?

Lucky Ducks

There’s a joke my mother likes to tell. Two women who went to school together as girls are reunited, and the first woman talks about how wonderful her life has been. She went to college, met a great guy, made lots of money, and traveled the world. The second woman responds to each milestone with a “Well, isn’t that nice!” When asked what she’s been up to, the second woman answers that she went to charm school. When the first woman asks her what she learned there, she responds “I learned to say ‘Well, isn’t that nice!’ instead of ‘Fuck you!'”

What I mean to say is, fortune seems to smile on some people. I’m one of those brain-dead consumer-types who eagerly devours lifestyle blogs and Youtube vlogs featuring the everyday doings of people I’ll never meet in person. I tell myself that my fascination comes from my identity as a storyteller. I like watching others’ stories unfold. And they really can be fascinating. Yes, watching Jenna Marbles roll around with her dogs and go to Target is fascinating. Fight me.

Point is, we all have a sort of idealized life. We all envy those who have apparently achieved it. I was the kind of kid who couldn’t bring herself to say “yes” when someone asked her if she wanted a soda for fear of seeming rude. Now that I’ve gotten my various neuroses mostly under control, I find myself facing a new set of hurdles.

In May, I’ll be 30 years old. And I’m only just acknowledging my idealized life. I’d like to be a content creator. Or rather, I’d like to support myself as a content creator. Anyone can make stuff. I make stuff. I’m making this blog post right now. I play a role in making the Alexandria Archives podcast. I make fiction, I make pictures, I make stupid tweets that only my closest friends understand well enough to laugh at. But with bills and a career I’m only just finding myself entrenched in, it’s a little late to play the starving artist card.

So that’s where I stand. I feel envious of those people who doggedly pursued their dreams for years and are finally making headway, because I feel so far behind. I don’t know where to start. Except I have started, sort of, haven’t I? And that’s something.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to make a living doing what I love. Maybe it’ll forever remain a hobby. But I certainly don’t intend to stop, not now. It’s definitely too late for that. So I plan to plod along, saying “Isn’t that nice?” and (mostly) meaning it. I’m going to envy the lucky ducks, then I’m going to bust my ass to catch up. Because I make shit. It’s what I do. And that makes me lucky enough.

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Lonely Proofreader Seeking Manuscripts

As you might have gathered, I write. I like to write. I especially enjoy being paid to write.

Perhaps even more than writing, I enjoy editing. I’m my harshest critic, which is perhaps why I like editing the works of others – I’m motivated to provide constrictive criticism.

Currently, my rates are as follows:

Proofreading – $3/page

Copy/content editing – $4/page

Practically a steal! Know someone in need of these services? Point them my way. I have a BA in English Literature, an MLIS specializing in special libraries and information centers, and can provide references and proof of qualifications if necessary.

Eerie

Samhain marks for (some) Wiccans the end of the year. It’s a time of reflection and introspection, thinking back on time past. For me, it lends well to today’s daily prompt.

As a kid, I loved all things spooky. Ghosts, goblins, ghouls, you name it. Halloween was (and is) my favorite holiday. I lived for trick or treating in our Miami Shores neighborhood, looked forward to the block party that took place every year. I don’t know if they do it anymore. And a lot of kids won’t know what it’s like to go door to door in their costumes, begging for treats. It makes me a bit sad if I think about it too much. But another thing I always liked was being scared.

Not too scared, mind you. Just scared enough. No real fear of danger, no disgust at some gory scene. I mean real, mild fear. That tingling sense that something wrong is going on.  A story with an unexpected twist, or an answer you’ll never get – or worse yet, one you could never have imagined. Forget about shock scares, things popping out and shouting “BOO!” in dark places. There’s something about knowing that things are not quite right that makes your skin crawl and your blood run cold. And more often than not, these experiences of real fear come hand in hand with the mundane.

Recently I found myself thinking back to my old tutor’s home. As a kid, I struggled with math. It wasn’t so much that I found it particularly difficult as it was that I just didn’t like it. So the point of tutoring was basically to have someone sitting over my shoulder, watching me do my dreaded homework with a little kindly guidance. There was a narrow little room that branched off of my tutor’s kitchen, and that was where we worked. Often it was three of us: Myself, my friend Lisette, and her younger sister Yvette. I can’t remember my tutor’s name, but I remember her endless patience. She was always kind to me even when I was being difficult. Her family had lived not far from my father’s in Matanzas. It was funny how that worked out. In any case, to the right of my usual seat was a door, and in that door was a window that looked out into the walkway that led around the house from the front yard to the back. There was a gate as well, and occasionally my tutor’s husband passed to and fro while doing yardwork.

The day came when I was at work alone and I saw someone walk past the window from the corner of my eye. I saw them clearly enough that I could make out the color of their hair, dark, and the color of their shirt. It was my tutor’s husband, I assumed, and got back to work. A moment later, someone else passed by the door. Unusual, I thought at last, because I hadn’t heard the gate open or close after them. A blonde, this time, in a blue shirt. By the time the third “someone” passed by, I was curious.

“Someone’s in your yard,” I remember telling my teacher, who looked at me in surprise and said the words that seemed so normal at the time:

“You see them, too?”

There was no one in the yard. She opened the door to show me. The gate was shut, and locked. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, she’d tell me, but not so common that she felt the need to scare any of the kids with it. I don’t remember much of the lesson that passed, only that my tutor told my father of what happened afterwards and reassured me once more that it was nothing to be afraid of. In hindsight, I don’t think I was afraid. I think I felt cheated. I’d always wanted to see “something.” For my thirteenth birthday we went ghost hunting, for Cthulhu’s sake. And when the moment came it just flitted past, with nothing more than that tingling sense of unease. It’s a memory that comes back at odd moments – when I’m sitting in my car, commiserating with my sister over her schoolwork, or when I’m spending a quiet Halloween at home watching Youtube videos.

It’s a funny kind of feeling, the kind it’s so hard to capture in writing. It comes on you all at once, or it builds and builds until you’re full of it and you had no idea it was coming. Spooky Halloween fun is well and good, but it’s the real stuff – the strange, the eerie, the wrong – that sticks with people. I’d like to think I’ll learn how to manage it someday. Maybe it’ll even come easily to me. But I know all I can do is practice and wait. There’s no use waiting for it, after all.

Because that’s the thing about fear – you’re never ready for it.

Banned

Another day, another daily prompt!

“I’m with the Banned”

As a librarian, I see all kinds of trendy marketing slogans crop up around the idea of banned books. This year, my library’s display for Banned Books week featured a mock pyre of comic books and YA lit, a selection of challenged reads hidden under paper lunch bags, and a book cart loaded down with illicit material literally begging to be checked out. By the end of the celebrations, the cart was cleared out.

Funnily enough, despite 13 years of religious schooling, I never had anyone attempt to censor my reading material. My father bought me the Dark Materials trilogy when I was in middle school, and my Catholic high school assigned A Clockwork Orange, Fahrenheit 451, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, etc. I think their approach was largely pragmatic – kids are going to be exposed to this stuff anyway, the last we can do is prepare them for it. Also, looking back on it now, we had some bomb faculty. I mean, some of these people should’ve been teaching doctoral programs. Immigrants, many of them, they instead found themselves dealing with a bunch of fresh-faced little cretins who had no idea what it was to sacrifice everything they had in the desperate hope of freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom to live.

My parents are Cuban immigrants. I was raised in the expat community in South Florida, where people left the island to live down the street from families they’d lived down the street from all their lives. Others still were parted from relatives they would never see again. Experiences varied wildly from one household to the next. While my clan escaped largely intact, my childhood music teacher would bear the scars left by torture for the rest of her life. They made her watch as her first husband was executed by firing squad.

My father was something of a smartass. At 13 he was the kind of kid who might have benefited from reverse psychology – if he was told not to do something, he did it immediately, and with great enthusiasm. This applied to reading banned books. The following story is something of a family legend, told and retold over the years until it attained a life of its own. Probably some of it is a little untrue. We’re Cuban, after all – we embellish, elaborate, entertain. At 13, my father entered a bookstore and asked for a banned book. The title is irrelevant. In this case, no one remembers it. What ensued was un griteria, a confused conflagration of sound and activity in which apparently the bookseller attempted to detain my father, who put up a fuss, luring in a crowd. Should the police be summoned, to arrest a dumb kid? Did he really want to summon the police, a man in the crowd asked, or were the bookseller’s intentions more sinister? Lucky for my father that a family friend was present, and silver-tongued enough to convince the crowd that the man was some kind of deviant. The crowd turned on him, and in the confusion my father escaped. In the aftermath, it would occur to my beloved grandmother that Miami was nice that time of year.

I like to tell people that I would not exist if it weren’t for a banned book. It’s a great disappointment to me that I’ll never know what the book was. Now I’m a librarian. It’s my job to fight censorship, and to object to the restriction of free and ready access of information – while respecting copyright, of course. I write, I read, I donate to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. My existence is something of an irony.

Some weeks ago, I saw one of the most beautiful photographs I’d ever laid eyes on. Featured in an article on Banned Books week, it was taken by Valentietokyo on dA and I saved it to share with my tattoo artist when I went in for my last piece.  In the photo, a book rests open in someone’s hand. The book is on fire, vibrant flames and dark ash spiraling up into the sky as smoke swirls around them. We’ll be starting on the piece in December or January depending on how things work out, and I couldn’t  be more excited. For me, that picture was about more than censorship – while the photographer’s intentions were a little hazy, the response to the image testified to what I’ve always  believed: you can’t ban an idea, even if you try to destroy it.

Someone will always be with the Banned.

 

 

Conception

Another day, another daily prompt from the kind folks at wordpress.

And it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this post is, yet again, about the Alexandria Archives podcast.

Hey, the mommy bloggers get to blog about their children – why can’t I blog about mine? And it’s a special week for the Archives. For one thing, we were accepted to the Google Play store, which means we can be downloaded properly by Android users! Huzzah! It was a timely development, seeing as we went ahead and dropped our Halloween special early. My baby is officially two whole episodes old. I feel like such a proud…creator? I guess if this was anything like a mommy blog, I’d be more of a Dr. Frankenstein.

The Alexandria Archives was born from scraps of material shamelessly pilfered from projects coddled, then abandoned over the years. In its very earliest days it was just the Kings Library in a story I started back in undergrad, almost ten years ago now. Wow, I feel old. Alexandria University as an institution came tumbling along not long after, like Jaime Lannister clinging to Cersei’s ankle, only less gross and murderous. It’s carried me through two years of NaNoWriMo and countless nights spent scowling over a mug of lukewarm coffee. It’s the idea that wouldn’t be, but wouldn’t let me be.

I’m a novelist at heart, I say unironically, as if I’ve ever published a novel. Completed one, certainly, more than one! But I’m terrible at revising my own work. Which is to say, I tear it to shreds and bury it out back before anyone notices. This is getting a little gruesome, isn’t it? I write horror for a reason, folks. But the fact is, while I still hold out hope for finishing the AU novels (yes, novelS) someday, I had a story that needed to be told. It’s fitting that it became our secondary tagline – Have You Got a Story to Tell? – because we all did.

I had AU. Aaron had his beloved comic characters. And Uri is apparently a never-ending fount of ideas, each burning brighter than the last. Putting our ideas together into something admittedly monstrous but pleasantly functional was a means of survival. And wouldn’t you know, it worked? For all that the road to “Service Call” dragged, limping all the while, we got there. “House Painting on Halloween” came along nearly twice as quickly. I’d like to believe eventually we’ll have the formula locked down. Whether or not we achieve any real success or a solid listener base, we’ll have something we can point to without hesitation and say “We made this.” Piecing the building blocks of our ideas into something new and wonderful will become second nature.

But that’s a story that’s yet to be told, isn’t it?

 

Hotel room

There’s something about hotels. 

I’ve never understood it exactly. I enjoy them about as much as I enjoy train rides, which is to say “a lot.” It’s sort of a transient state of existing. You’re en route, temporarily displaced, in a state of flux – it’s hard for me to describe. You’re a visitor, an outsider who slips into a strange new setting and moves about it like they belong there. But you don’t. This isn’t your Place. 

The everyday sights and experiences of the person waiting at the crosswalk beside you are totally different, but there’s no way for them to know that. 

Can you tell I put too much thought into this? I say so because for the first time in a long time, I’m sitting in a hotel room and drawing a blank. It’s only my first night, but it troubles me that no fresh ideas are coming. I’m not even feeling very inspired on old ideas. This isn’t exactly a pleasure trip – I’m here for work. But I feel oddly cheated regardless. 

Tomorrow is a new day. Maybe something will come to me then. 

Until that spark of inspiration arrives, I carry my notebook and pen close and plan to take a train ride. 

Clumsy

In response to today’s Daily Prompt.

Blogging three days in a row? This is…not going to be typical. But when I saw the prompt was “Clumsy,” it felt a little serendipitous. Namely because I’ve been listening to Our Lady Peace’s album “Clumsy” on repeat all week.

throw away the radio suitcase
that keeps you awake
hide the telephone in case

It was “Happiness…Is Not a Fish You Can Catch” that I knew best, as it came out when I was in middle school and beginning to develop my own taste in music. But I remember the local rock station, long-gone 94.9 Zeta, frequently played Superman is Dead. I can’t recall exactly when I first heard the titular track off Clumsy, but after 2000 I largely forgot about OLP altogether.

you realize that sometimes you’re not okay
you level off you level off you level off

It would be nearly 10 years before I’d listen to them again. Straight out of undergrad I was leaving for South Korea to embark on a soul-sucking year of teaching English at a hagwon. I didn’t know it then, but while I’d learn a lot about myself in that time, it would probably be one of the worst years of my life. A friend who probably knows my own interests better than I do put together a massive playlist for me to listen to, including a couple OLP albums.

but its not all right now
you need to understand
there’s nothing strange about this
you need to know your friends 

I listened to Angels Losing Sleep not stop en route to Korea. I listened to it on the subway system in Seoul to and from training in the mornings, my nose buried in Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I listened to it late at night in Dunkin Donuts, cautiously sniffing a special edition lentil donut as I desperately tried to cram in everything I’d need to know about teaching young kids as a woefully-unprepared 20-something fresh out of school.

There’s a lot about that year that blurs together. I can remember cold mornings navigating the busy shijang near my place, trying to make it to the bank in time to wire money home before I had to be at the job I hated. I remember late night tearful calls home, desperate for the sound of a friendly voice. I was sick all the time. I managed to convince myself that my students all hated me, and that they were plotting against me – and incidentally one of them was, in ways that had a tendency to backfire hilariously. But I wasn’t laughing, then. Honestly, I just cried a lot. So by the time my beloved abuela, my favorite person in the world, died less than two weeks before I was due to return to the US, I was mostly cried-out.

I’ll be waving my hand watching you
drown
watching you scream
quiet or loud

For better or for worse, that year changed me. It forced me to dredge up reserves of energy I didn’t even know I possessed. It made me learn to be loud, when I was used to keeping my head low and avoiding eye contact. And at long last, I had no choice but to admit that something was seriously wrong with me. I’d denied it for as long as I could remember, accepting the shortcomings my family laid out as excuses for my behavior. I was ill-tempered, unfriendly. I wasn’t social enough. I just liked to sleep a lot because I was lazy. I was a slob. Whatever my accomplishments, wherever I went, whatever I did, none of it could erase those “flaws.”

maybe you should sleep
maybe you just need a friend
as clumsy as you’ve been
there’s no one laughing
you will be safe in here

Mental illness is not a thing that polite Cuban families talk about. It’s whispered about in quiet kitchen conversations, behind closed doors, and with a furtive glance. Be careful con el Fulanito – he has the bipolar, they’d say. The bipolar – like it was the leprosy, or the ebola, something dangerous and contagious and life-ruining. Even after I returned home, it would be years before I finally got myself the help I needed. The diagnosis shouldn’t have come as a surprise – it was the bipolar, of course. BPII, to be precise. And, it turned out, actually pretty manageable. It took close to a year of experimenting with different antidepressants and at last the addition of a mild mood stabilizer, but the day came when I suddenly realized I was surrounded by trash. All the detritus of my misery and horrific guilt at being myself had piled up on the floor of my apartment, stacked unbalanced on my coffee table, and grew scummy and gross on my office desk.

Throw away this very old shoelace
that tripped you again
try and shrug it off shrug it off shrug it off
it’s only skin now

It took a lot of elbow grease and the help of a hired cleaning crew, but at last the junk that had been crowding me was cleared  off. Gone, but not forgotten. Some of it is still in my back yard. I pick it up a bag or a box at a time and carry it out to the building dumpster to dispose of – a regular reminder of what could come, what could happen again. One of these days, the bags and boxes will all be gone. It’s possible that the solutions I’ve found won’t work forever – that I’ll have to go through the whole process all over again. It’s a terrifying thought.

I’m watching you and…I’ll be waving my hand
Watching you drown
Watching you scream
No one’s around

I’m not “fixed.” I never will be. This is what the rest of my life will be like, trying to stay one step ahead of the game. All it takes is a series of missteps to undo it all. A little bit of clumsiness and the facade of stability could all come crumbling down again around my ears. I could very well wake up again late one night, one with my couch, old pizza boxes stacked up beside me and empty beer mugs covering the side table.

I’ll be waving my hand
Watching you drown
Watching you scream
Quiet or loud

But whatever my family would like to think, I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by pretending. The time came for me to see things as they were and face them head on. For now, I’m the victor. I’ll always be a little clumsy – things will always be a little  bad. That’s life for everyone, I’d like to think. I take my meds every morning. I try to get enough sleep. I find people I can trust, people who bring me joy, and I do the best I can to do the same for them. Some of us are just a little more clumsy than others.

And maybe you should sleep
And maybe you just need
A friend as clumsy as you’ve been
There’s no one laughing
You will be safe in here
You will be safe in here
You will be safe in here
In here

Keeping Promises

In response to today’s Daily Prompt, Promises.

Confession: I’m a serial blog starter. I’ve gone through more than I can count over the course of my Internet career. Angelfire, Livejournal, Blogspot, WordPress, I’ve done them all. Usually I can make it a good couple months before time and interest peter out. Setting deadlines for myself just isn’t something I’m good at. I might be my harshest editor,  but I’m my most forgiving agent – “Well, you were supposed to write that night, but there was pizza and a scary movie to watch, so I’ll let this one slide.”

Previously, blogging was more of an outlet for me. A way of venting without worrying about one of my parents flipping through my journals, an activity my mother harbored no misgivings about. I typed away with little thought to the words I was putting on screen. I was just part of a big network of friends all sharing their every thought and feeling with the great wide world. Things were different when it was just about entertainment, or an emotional outlet. Then I started thinking about it as a task.

First, I tried to blog my way through my academic career and early professional forays. I think I managed four posts on grad school activities, and two or three at most on my work ventures before that attempt fell by the wayside. After I moved to my current city, I meant to document my acclimation to my new home, with the odd book or product review. My schedule was erratic at best in those early days – I alternated between being overwhelmingly busy and wanting nothing to do but vegetate on my couch. I developed some serious health issues that were draining to deal with. In short, my state of mind wasn’t exactly conducive to staying on a schedule. I couldn’t even keep the promises I was making to myself, never mind to my blog, and any audience real or imagined.

The Alexandria Archives presented me with an interesting opportunity…and a conundrum. I like writing. I like to believe I write well. But what I’d REALLY like is to write on a schedule – to keep a promise to myself, at last. But the fact is, I’m bad at that. What I’m much better at is keeping promises to other people. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing, but obligations bring with them a dogged, crushing guilt when they aren’t met. And after years of selling myself short, I figured it was time to really put myself out there – to share my work, and maybe even make some profit from it. I got my first paid writing gig a month ago, and was over the moon. And for the first time in a long time, I found myself really, REALLY enjoying what I was working on.

Collaborating with the guys has been…well, to be frank, at times it’s been like pulling teeth. Without anesthetic. Also the dentist has been drinking, and he and his assistant are no longer speaking. But mostly it’s been fun. And writing as part of a team has been a whole new experience. Like it or not, there’s a schedule to be met, and we have to keep each other on task. The first episode took weeks to record and produce. The second, days. It’s now in post-production, and it looks like we’re going to make our broadcast date with time to spare. Because we made a promise to each other, and to listeners real and imagined. It’s a promise we renew every time we finish a script, or a short, or volunteer to think of something clever to post to social media.

I hope we can keep making these promises, and meeting them.