microfiction, Writing, Writing challenge

Microfiction: Birth, Ichor,Top 40

Danny watched as the egg began to crack in his hand. He had never seen something being born before, and the fact that it was happening in the center of his palm, the shell splintering slowly, the peeping from within becoming more frantic with the discovery of life…it made his eyes fill with tears.

Nothing else mattered in the world except for this tiny messy thing looking up at him like he was God.

“Go ahead,” his mother said, once the thing had fluffed itself to yellow cotton-candy consistency. “Give it back.”

It was the first time he said “no.”

“I’ve been poisoned,” she said to her sister as they sat on the porch, watching the tendrils of black infection creep up her pale arms.

“Does it hurt?”

“Naw,” she lied, each breath burning in her lungs.

“Is there an antidote?”

“If there is, I don’t know how to get it.” Blood was beginning to seep into her vision, casting a reddish glow on the little girl holding her hand so tightly and starting to cry.

“Tell me about your pony toys,” she said, picking up a pink filly in trembling fingers.

“That one is Twinkle-Butt.”

“Good name.”

I hate this song, Thomas thought before the car shattered around him. There was no slow motion to the destruction. This wasn’t a television show. He was just driving one second, and the next, glass had cut neat lines into his forehead and his airbag appeared like a grenade-powered cloud.

Stillness. And a wet dripping, from his nose and his mouth.

Pain and broken bones, and now he couldn’t move his arm to change the channel. In murky half-consciousness the voices of people outside were knocking and pulling at his door, and he said to them, “Pop music fucking sucks.”

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Self Dare, Uncategorized

Ouch (On Being Bad)

It’s been a while since I’ve been bad at something.

Normally, when interviewing for jobs or discussing things that I want to try out, I usually boast that I can learn most things after watching it once or twice. That’s how I learned felting. That’s how I learned karate. That’s how I’ve picked up on sketching techniques, so long as I’ve been focused.

Don’t get me wrong, that has not meant that I’ve mastered these things after once or twice, but I can at least pass.

Right now, I’m learning to play the ukulele.

My fingers hurt.

I’m stumbling over the inch between a C and a C7.

I can’t strum. I’ve even bought felt picks so I can focus on the chords (which I’m not good at — see prior point).

I want to play because I know I can sing. Now there’s something I can do. I’ve always been able to sing, through no real effort other than maybe some choir practice when I was a kiddo. It just comes out of me. But this? It’s really damn hard, guys.

I’m not giving up, but it’s hard to keep from getting discouraged when you see something that you think you should be able to do but can’t. Why is that? Why are we always afraid of being bad at something? It’s not like I’ve signed up for a one-person uke tour or anything. The only people who have heard me play are my dad and my husband. And yet every time I pick Lilo up (yes, I named it) I’m like, “Okay, I’m ready to be perfect.”

Slowly, I’m trying to learn to let go of that.

You’re never going to be perfect starting out. Sometimes you’ll feel good. Sometimes you’ll feel like you can see how it will eventually be something really awesome. And sometimes, your fingers will hurt. It’s just a part of the process.

What’s the last thing you tried that you wanted to be good at? How have you overcome the discouragement? I’d love to hear about it!

Fiction, Fifteen Minute Fiction, Writing

15 Minute Fiction: Acoustic Starscape

Rita’s first ship was called the Blackbird. It was a simple name with little pomp or circumstance, and it fit the freighter for what it was: modest on the outside but smooth and perfect as it cut its way through space.

What she never talked about was that the name didn’t come from the Earth animal, but a song that her father sang when she was younger. “Blackbird fly. Into the light of the dark, black night.” He played it on an ancient instrument made from wood and string, his weathered hands somehow turning the box into something magical and mysterious, that emitted a melody that trailed into her dreams each night.

When her father died, Rita took the instrument on board her ship. Several times, custodian bots would try to take it out with the craft’s garbage. “Don’t touch that!” she screamed, and they would turn their round servos at her, curious as toddlers. “Not that,” she said, quieter, shameful. “Everything else can go.” Nothing else mattered.

She tried to play it on more than one occasion, pushing her fingers into the metal bits in the wood, running the back of her nails down the strings. They let out a dull intonation at that, as if in affront to her blasphemy. When she accidentally broke one of the lines, she stopped picking it up except to let it sit in her lap.

“Hey, is that a guitar?” When she was at a drop, Rita turned to find an older woman pointing at her father’s whimsical box. Her face was long, old, as worn as the canyons on a desert planet. “May I?” she asked, reaching out her hands as if asking to hold a newborn.

Rita wasn’t sure why she didn’t deny the woman her request. But she wanted to see what she would do with it. Would she actually know how to handle it? Would she pretend it was something other than what it was? It didn’t matter. She picked it up – the priceless gift that the woman called ‘guitar’ – and placed it in her bony hands.

The old woman pulled the string back into its spot – “Just slipped out. Ain’t broken yet. You’ll want to be careful,” she said – and then she strummed, three times, in three notes. And then, her fingers moved like they were dancing across the thing, plucking and pressing and creating a song, a song for joy, a song for glee.

“Teach me,” Rita whispered, the tears spilling down her cheeks.

And she did. She showed her until Rita’s fingers tingled painfully, until the three suns had aligned and dropped to the horizon.

“Come with me.”

“No,” the woman said.

“I still don’t know how to use it. Not like you.”

“You know enough,” the woman said, as she collected her box from the cargo bay of the Blackbird. “No one can teach you all the songs that have passed through the universe. Write some of your own.”

How to Adult, inspiration, Self Dare, Uncategorized

Sing Us a Song (And Get Things Done)

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Recently, I have found that music has been my saving grace, so far as my productivity/creativity/sustainability has been going. The importance of my life having a great and appropriate soundtrack has been crucial, and I want to share some tips because you all deserve to have a swelling orchestra on your side, too. Or Nirvana. Nirvana has been working really well for me.

  • Decide how much you are willing to pay for it, and do your research: you don’t have to break the bank to get streaming music from the magical world of the Internet. There are plenty of free options, but you’ll have to stomach the commercials every now and then (more frequently when you decide to skip a song). Recently, I’ve been exploring the Google Play Radio, because you not only have the choice of customizing a radio station by a song/artist, but there are also a lot of stations by activity, genre, etc. Some are pretty damn specific. There’s also Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Prime (that one pays for itself with the shipping and Kindle lending library), so on.
  • Get the right stuff for the right time of day: I try not to listen to mellow stuff in the morning, because it makes me want to go back to bed. This inevitably leads to one of my ‘dubstep’ stations. Likewise, at night, I usually want something chill, like a movie soundtrack. I’ve also been taking a strong look at how certain types of music impact different kinds of tasks. If I’m reading or doing something text heavy, I avoid stuff with complex lyrics that my mind will get hung up in. In fact, the more I need to focus, the more I go to something without any vocals at all – which doesn’t have to be baroque, by the way.
  • What am I making and what does it sound like: when I’m writing, using music in a smart way can actually really add a dimension to my characters and scenarios. Is it a face-off between the hero and the villain? Anime soundtrack! Is it a romantic moment between lovers? Cue the REO Speedwagon! Is it an actually serious moment between lovers? Maybe opt for some Andrea Bocelli.

Life can be busy. Times can be tough. Don’t do it in silence. I dare you.

How to Have a Day Job

How Cat Mihos Has a Day Job

howtohaveadayjoblogo cat

Good evening! Hope everyone is feeling awesome. I am very, very excited to introduce a new segment to How to Have a Day Job, in which I interview people who have tread the line between living passionately and paying the bills.

My first virtual guest today is Cat Mihos. I had the extremely amazing honor of meeting Cat when she visited Pittsburgh in January for Tatter East/Glitter West, an event held at my favorite local bookstore, Rickert & Beagle. She and the bookstore’s owner, Chris Rickert, sold prints, crochet dolls, jewelry and much, much more.

Even if you don’t know Cat personally (your loss, she rocks), you have probably seen images from a website she runs over on Neverwear.net — a home to many pieces of art bearing the writing of Neil Gaiman. Did I mention that he’s part of her day job?

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What is your current career? This what you love doing that, if asked, you would say, “Oh, I am a ____.” Do you have a day job that supports your career?

I am, first and foremost, a writer. In my “day jobs”, I work with author Neil Gaiman, and he has shone a light on much of the writer’s life for me. I am very lucky.

My other “day job” is a touring production coordinator, where I am paid to travel with different bands and get paid to see the world while listening to great live music. Lucky stars on repeat.

What is the worst job you ever had? How did you get through it?

The absolute lowest low of my touring career was working the Woodstock ’99 festival.

It was my first experience at touring on that level, and things went very wrong at a top organization level. The crowd set several trailers on fire. Some of the protesting was brought about because of the high price of basic needs, such as water, among other things. You really shouldn’t put a huge number of people into a space and tell them they can’t bring their own water, but over-charge etc. The lines at the pop-up ATMs were horrendous. The amount of waste in catering struck my heart; they would throw the food away rather than give it out. I saw this giant catering company turn away a group of Tibetan monks, while throwing away food as they watched. Witnessing that level of karmic disservice dropped my spirits to their lowest.

The silver lining was that I feel I can do any job now with a strong spirit and now would challenge that in attempt to make changes. I was just a dumb kitten then.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice when you first started working, what would it be?

Good question! I would be less hesitant in my actions, less fearful of doing the wrong thing. “Fortune favors the bold” is a true statement. As Neil says, “Make beautiful mistakes.” Also I would have counseled my younger self to be less worried about asking for help. People inherently want to help one another. Speak up!

What would you say has been your master tool for getting through difficult times when working? Is there something that is your go-to tactic for dealing with best-of-times-worst-of-times scenarios?

There is something about a certain level of self confidence that gets me through anything. Hold your head up when you walk into a new situation and remember that everyone started somewhere, even the masters. Don’t let fear hold you back. Be interesting and engaging. Stay in the present. I used to hide in books (ok, still can do) and now I try to interact with my surroundings as much as possible. “Be where you are” is one of my main mottoes.

With where you are now and what you are doing with your life presently, what is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from working day jobs? Is there a skill that you’ve picked up from a work environment that you would not have otherwise?

Hmmmm. A little synopsis of my touring day, we roll into a new city and set up a show, do the show and then pack up and head to the next town. The days can be 20+ hours long, you need the local team of whichever venue you are in to want to help you, so you have to be patient. It is important to be clear and direct with your needs. After a long load out and a shower in the venue dressing rooms, which are usually locker rooms of some sort,  you are on a bus with your co-workers, so you are in close quarters with the people you have just spent those long man hours with.

Live kindly, be thoughtful, let anger be your last resort. My skill is survival in all things, but with kindness.

Are you interested in being interviewed for How to Have a Day Job? Comment below or shoot me an email with a brief description of what you love to do and what you do in the off hours!

Art, Personal, Writing

Freakin’ Weekend

This weekend I drove from Pittsburgh to Annandale-on-Hudson to Maryland and back to Pittsburgh.

In Northern PA, I passed alternating signs for rabies clinics and llama farms.

I stopped in Scranton to go to the Mall in Steamtown, hoping for an interesting small-town experience that would make me think of one of my favorite shows. Not so much. But it’s a story, and that is what counts.

I saw Neil Gaiman talk to Laurie Anderson about art and personal experience and creativity. I talked to people from Bard College, and I was struck by their kindness and their welcoming campus. The talk ended with a question I had submitted for Q&A; I had asked for Neil and Laurie to talk about their creative processes. I was expecting something about their day-to-day creativity, but instead listened as Laurie talked about her next project, how it was born out of tragedy, and how she was trying to push for legislation that would help soldiers decompress after active service. It was amazing and moving and very, very real.

In DC, I saw Amanda Palmer laugh and cry and sing about how fucking scary it is to face life. I didn’t get a chance to tell her how much I get scared of becoming boring, too. I didn’t get to tell her how much it meant for me to hear her admit that she was terrified of what lay ahead. I didn’t get to tell her how grateful I was for her music, for her experience, for her strength. I just told her that she was going to be an amazing mother. And she smiled tiredly and said, “I’m going to try.”

I stayed with my amazing aunt who I feel closer and closer to every time I see her. I drove home in beautiful, glorious spring.

It was amazing. I’m so happily exhausted.