Friday, February 29, 2008

Such a Girl

I hate road salt. Hate following snowplows that spray it directly at my car's undercarriage. Hate that it turns my parkway lawn into brown florist's moss. My husband and I are more likely to risk a fall than sprinkle salt on our sidewalk.

Then again, I didn't know it came in pretty colors...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Six-Word Memoirs

It’s said that Ernest Hemingway wrote the shortest story ever:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

In 2006, the storytelling website SMITH Magazine challenged people to do the same with memoir. Now, editors Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith have compiled nearly a thousand of the best into Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.

While some resemble epitaphs (It was worth it, I think - by Annette Laitinen), most, like Hemingway, say enough in six words to evoke a full narrative arc (After Harvard, had baby with crackhead - Robin Templeton).

There are stories of vulnerability:
I was born some assembly required. - Eric Jordan
Quiet guy; please pay closer attention. - Jonathan Lesser
Can my words have footnotes, please? - Amy Harbottle

…and misfit:
Right brain working left brain job. - Dave Terry
Type A personality. Type B capability. - Keith Lang
Fact-checker by day, liar by night. - Andy Young

…of humor and joy:
Four children in four decades; whew! - Loretta Serrano
The day just kept getting better. - Jeff Cranmer

…and heat:
Brought it to a boil, often. - Mario Batali
Asked to quiet down; spoke louder. - Wendy Lee
Asked and answered, asshole, next question. - Joe Lockhart

…and cleverness:
Palindromic novels fall apart halfway through. - Chuck Clark
EDITOR. Get it? - Kate Hamill

The compilation is not only entertaining, it's inspiring. You can’t help but consider your own memoir, even while you mind-write some of these into full-length fiction.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Very Wet Snow

What I learned while shoveling snow today:

1) trying to clear a sidewalk of standing water is as futile as trying to shovel a lake empty;

2) all it takes to sound like Monica Seles is to lift a shovel-full of this stuff; and

3) when you hear the rumble of a 10-ton snowplow barreling down the road toward you (and spraying a 20-foot arc of slush across lawns, sidewalks, and sides of houses along its way) ... the driver will slow appreciably if he sees you freak, throw down your shovel, and run for cover.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Call to Order

Go ahead -- anthropomorphize.

Take the dysfunctional drama that lies beneath the calm facade of meetings at your workplace...

...and bring it to life in this group of bird-brains.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Younger, Prettier?

Once upon a time, there was a settled, committed couple. They’d been together for years and had twice become Mom and Dad to sets of triplets (triplets!). Incredibly, they seemed to be on their way to another set again this spring.

Then a younger woman showed up at their house and started hanging around. Mom alternately tried to befriend her and get rid of her, turning at times to vicious behavior. Then, suddenly, it was Mom who was gone -- out of the house and away from the young ones, who immediately regressed. Next thing anyone knew, there’s Dad and the new girl, taking up together.

I hear your response: "Such a cliched story! Give me something surprising."

Well, would it help to remove the personification -- to realize that the story’s characters aren’t human but rather American bald eagles? Their unfolding drama surprised everyone who watched the Norfolk Botanical Garden’s Eagle Nest-cam over the past week.

Scientists are already hoping for new eggs from the new couple this season. I’m a scientist too, but I need a little more time to remove the last traces of personification before I wish those birds my best.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I hear an engine idling on the street below. I hate that our house seems to be the perfect spot to pull over to the side of the road and take care of business. Sales reps stop to look through big binders on the passenger seat. Cautious moms make cell-phone calls.

When the low rumble continues, I look out a window. Ack! -- a FedEx truck. They require a signature for delivery and here I’ve been, working upstairs, out of range of the doorbell. I race downstairs, hoping to get the driver’s attention before he leaves the arrange-for-redelivery slip and zooms off. I throw open the front door.

The truck is still there! But there’s no package, no slip; I check again. Then I stand at the door and notice the driver’s seat is empty. He must still be in the back, looking for my package. He appears at the door of his truck, a Gatorade bottle in hand. He leans out the door and tosses a few ounces of pale liquid across my parkway.



That pisses me off and I stand behind the storm door, hands on hips and scowling, hoping he’ll notice my disapproval before he drives off. Instead, he hops out of the truck and carries a large box up my sidewalk.

I open the door. “Thanks,” I say neutrally.

“You are so welcome!” he says, and he winks, and I let him win me over.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Prompt Yourself #3

I’ve collected writing prompts by flipping through TV channels, but today’s come from my answers to someone’s query: What book titles are complete sentences?

Consider the titles below as a dialogue. The “hard work” -- crafting the words -- is done! Now just play with transitions until the conversation flows…

A Complaint is a Gift
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Are Your Lights On?
Does Anything Eat Wasps?
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
I Could Tell You Stories
I Feel Bad About My Neck
I Like You
I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This
Me Talk Pretty One Day
Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf
No One Belongs Here More Than You
Ron Carlson Writes a Story
Something Happened
The Devil Wears Prada
There Are No Children Here
This is Your Brain on Music
We Are All Welcome Here
What Einstein Told His Cook
When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull up a Chair
You Are a Dog
You’re Lucky You’re Funny

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lesson Learned

I studied Spanish for two years back in high school, and remember the exhilarating moment when I caught myself thinking in Spanish.

I've studied writing for longer than that now, but felt the same exhilaration this afternoon when I noticed that the snow was sticking like whipped marshmallow to the east side of everything.