Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Prompt for This Week's Emoji Fiction Friday

I'm back for another week of Emoji Fiction Friday! We had one entry last week, but I heard from a number of folks who wanted to participate but hadn't gotten themselves together in time to do it. 

So here's your next chance! 

As a reminder: 

Here's how it works.

I "send" you a list of emojis. Since we're playing this over the interwebs, I'll post them here on Tuesday or Wednesday morning. Then you make up a story using the emojis as your inspiration. You post that story by Thursday at 5:00 pm either (a) in the comments here or (b) on your own blog and share the link to it in the comments on this post. Try to keep it under 800 words so I have time to read it!

On Friday, I'll post my own story and I'll pick one from the comments to highlight.

No prizes.

If you're feeling shy, post yours anonymously. But I guarantee you that writing emoji fiction will make you laugh and take your mind off your troubles for at least 15 minutes. 

Get to it!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Emoji Fiction Friday!!

I see that you guys were feeling a little shy about Emoji Fiction Friday. I totally get it.

We only had one entry, but that's alright. After you see mine and what our brave soul submitted, I know you'll want to do it next week!

Here's the story from "Sarah":

Stroke, two, three, four; Inhale; stroke, two, there, four.

It had been years, but the familiar smell of chlorine enveloped him like an old friend. His arms cut through the placid water like butter. Muscle memory is an amazing thing, he thought to himself, as his arms arched over his head, water cascading back into the pool. Ever since med school started, his days in the pool became fewer and farther between. This was what he wanted. He had worked hard to get here. The nights of studying, missing parties, working two or three jobs to afford his dream, all had been building up to this point.

But the money. It always seemed to come down to money. The threatening monthly letters, the bold red print, scolding him for not taking action sooner. How could he have known what Patrick would do? When he co-signed the small business loan for Patrick’s bake shop, he thought they were forever. 14 months later, when the business failed and Patrick spiraled into depression, Michael wasn't thinking about his signature on the bank papers. 

Maybe this was why he had stopped swimming, he thought. The busy schedule was a convenient excuse, but maybe what he had been avoiding was the time to think. The what ifs always harder to digest than the what was. 


Michael made his way back to the locker room to take a shower before heading to campus. He had put Patrick back in the recesses of his mind- as far back as he could, to prevent more unwanted memories from returning. 


The 1998 Honda Civic crawled into the student lot on campus. He was late, not that anyone would notice today. He found room 118 in Hammond Hall, and slipped into place, nervously twisting the ring on his right hand. The ring he and Patrick bought on their trip to Thailand, celebrating their 2 year anniversary. Patrick. 

No. Not today. This is my day, Michael thought. I worked hard for this, I earned this. 

“Michael Edward Davis, Jr” the loudspeaker bellowed, snapping Michael back into reality. He climbed the stage to collect his diploma to the sounds of proud family and friends clapping. 

What a touching little glance into the loss of a relationship - fabulous imagery at the beginning and I loved her creativity with the use of the lock emoji as the locker room. This line was my absolute favorite: "The what ifs always harder to digest than the what was." Aside from being pleasing to the ear, it's such a true statement!

And here's mine (also, I totally broke my own rule because this is 916 words! whoops!):

Also - can I say how crazy it is that we both ended up writing stories about gay guys??

Eric looked out at the room and straightened his tie before bringing the microphone up to his mouth. "I still remember the day I met this crazy surfer boy like it was yesterday." He smiled at Keith and grabbed his hand. 

* * *

"Dude. Dude. Dude." 

Eric tried to open his eyes, but it felt like there were little anvils sitting on top of them.

"Hey man, can you hear me?"

"Yes," he croaked out.

"What? Can you hear me, man?"

He concentrated on his mouth. "Yes, I can - "

"Oh dude, that's awesome. The paramedics are on their way."

Eric tried again to open his eyes. Who was this guy? How many times could someone say dude?

"What happened?" Eric's mouth was moving a little better now, thankfully, and he was starting to open his eyes.

"Oh man, dude, it was epic. You were up on the board, and the wave was coming, and you totally road the shit out of that thing. But then it just rammed you - I didn't know it was comin' that hard. You hit your head on your board, dude. It was crazy."

The guy was waving his arms around, acting out all the different movements as he talked. He had shoulder length, tangled, brown hair and looked like he'd spent ever single hour of his life in the sun. 

Eric suddenly remembered - surf lessons. He'd been taking surf lessons. Wait. He'd been taking them with that hunky surf instructor - where was that guy?

He pressed his hands against the sand and tried to push himself up, but his head was so heavy it felt like his neck couldn't hold it. 

"Woah, dude. Woah. Wait for the paramedics."

"Where's...? Where's....?" He'd laid back against the sand. He couldn't remember the guy's name?

"Where's who? Who are you looking for, dude?"

Eric closed his eyes and tried to remember the guy's name. 


"Another surfer? It was just you and me, man. And you were killing it, man. Killing it." 

Eric opened his eyes as the guy leaning over him ran his hands through the tangled hair and the sun gleamed on his bare chest.

Oh. This was the guy.

* * * 

"Of course, even though there was no question he was gorgeous, I was a little ridiculous back then." He looked around at the crowd and noticed a few nods from his friends. 

"I was so into money and making it to the top of the ladder - I thought I was going to make partner that year, and I didn't want anything to get in the way. I could hardly see a good thing in front of me. In fact, as a few of you will remember, I tried to run away from this particular good thing." He squeezed Keith's hand. 

* * * 

"I can't just move to California, Keith. I'm not a surfer dude. I can't just be all 'this is so awesome, man. Dude, life is good.' I have a real job with real responsibilities. People are counting on me." Eric looked right past Keith at his suitcase when he was saying it. He knew it was harsh, but he also knew it was what he had to do if he wanted that partnership. 

That partnership was the key to unlocking everything he'd ever wanted. He wouldn't have to kowtow to all those asses on the 8th floor anymore. He'd be the one in charge. He'd finally be able to pay his parents back for bailing him out when he couldn't pay his student loans. There wouldn't be anything hanging over his head anymore. He'd be free. 

The little fling with Keith had been fun - flying back and forth between Malibu and New York was a blast. And yes, they'd had some amazing late night talks and he felt passionate and understood and wanted in a way he never had before. But he was never supposed to end up with a surf instructor. Not for good. You don't move across the country for a surf instructor. A professor? An accountant? An architect? Yes. Maybe even a teacher or a carpenter or something. But a surf instructor?

He grabbed his suitcase. "I'm sorry," he muttered as he walked out.

Back at the office, he couldn't focus. He sat at his desk with papers strewn all around him, and all he could think about was Keith, about the way he made him laugh, the time they spent the whole night on the beach watching the stars, the things Keith had told him about how surfing made him feel and what it was like to watch a person ride a wave for the first time. He shook his head and looked back at the papers, but all the words ran together. 

* * * 

"Getting on that plane and coming back out here was the best decision I ever made. Well, second after choosing this guy for my surf instructor." He nudged Keith with his shoulder. "He did almost kill me with a surfboard, but I suspect that was just a ploy so he would have a reason to give me mouth to mouth."

The crowd laughed and clapped, and someone started clinking a glass. "Kiss kiss kiss!" they all cheered. 

Eric wrapped his arm around Keith and laid one on him. 

Then he leaned around and whispered in his ear, "Hey dude, thanks for becoming my husband."

"Back at ya, man."

Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll join us next week. As you can see, there's no right or wrong way to do this. It's just a fun opportunity to play around with words and pictures. I think of it as the ultimate "yes, and" exercise, like in improv. You start writing, and when you come to the next emoji, you have to say "yes, and" incorporate it into the story. And maybe next time we'll do titles.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Introducing Emoji Fiction Friday!

My friend Lauren and I have been playing this game that had rapidly become one of my favorite pastimes.

If you're a writer or if you'd like to be a writer or if you think you could never write anything creative or if you think writers have superpowers and that's how they make stories, then this is for you. 

Yes. I'm bringing our game to the masses - if the masses mean the 50 people who are going to read this post. 

Here's how it works.

I "send" you a list of emojis. Since we're playing this over the interwebs, I'll post them here on Wednesday morning. Then you make up a story using the emojis as your inspiration. You post that story by Thursday at 5:00 pm either (a) in the comments here or (b) on your own blog and share the link to it in the comments on this post.

On Friday, I'll post my own story and I'll pick one from the comments to highlight.

No prizes.

It's just for fun because I'm a total writing geek, and it's the most delightful writing exercise I've ever encountered. Case in point: recent stories from my friend have included a piece of petrified poo named Peter and a motherless tomboy in the Sonoran Desert. And I wrote a story complete with boob jokes. There's no limit here!  (Except, there's a little bit of a limit. Keep it under 800 words so I have time to read it!)

If you're feeling shy, post yours anonymously. But I guarantee you that writing emoji fiction will make you laugh and take your mind off your troubles for at least 15 minutes. 

Without further ado, here is the prompt for Friday:

Get to it!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Making My Tribe

"Where there was good food there were usually good people. I learned that early on. I also learned that making food for other people was something I was good at. It gave me a sense of peace and belonging. When I made food, I made a tribe."  Kim Severson, Spoon Fed

This weekend at my wife's firm's holiday party, I stationed myself next to the chilled shrimp, slathered cocktail sauce on a plate and got down to business. Between shrimp and what I would describe as gourmet pepperoni, I ate almost a full meal before we sat down for dinner. Shrimp is one of my favorite foods, and I don't eat it at home because we keep a somewhat kosher kitchen, meaning no shellfish, no pork, and no meals that include both dairy and meat (though I sometimes have both if it's just me).

The negotiations that surrounded our moving in together almost six years ago were tense, not because we weren't both sure that we wanted to take that step but because we struggled to figure out how to make the "food stuff" work. We come from completely different worlds on that front.

I grew up in Georgia with parents from South Louisiana, which meant that my fried chicken and biscuits were mingled with sausage-filled red beans and rice, jambalaya, seafood gumbo, shrimp stew, and - my absolute favorite - crawfish etouffee.

Not only that - I came from a clean-your-plate, eat-what-your-mama-cooked house. No one had allergies, or ethical food considerations, and I was allowed only a small number of food dislikes. I was expected to eat the food put in front of me.

My wife, on the other hand, grew up just outside Philadelphia in a strictly kosher house. She didn't eat out at restaurants. She checked every food box for the kosher symbol. Add to that the fact that she was diagnosed lactose intolerant when she was 11 and a myriad of food intolerances shortly after we started dating, and we were looking at a pretty challenging landscape for compromise.

If we hadn't each made a little movement since our childhoods, I'm not sure we would have had a chance. But by the time we met, I had dabbled in vegetarianism and was focused on eating sustainably-raised meat. My wife now ate out at restaurants and ate non-kosher foods, though not non-kosher animals (aka, no pork, etc).

Naturally, she wanted a kitchen without pork or shellfish and with separate dishes for meat and dairy - the type of kitchen she grew up with. And I wanted a kitchen with cheeseburgers on the grill and pots of shellfish-laden etouffee simmering on the stove - the type of kitchen I grew up with. It wasn't just that I felt that I was, in the food arena, perhaps becoming Jewish by default (something I was not prepared to do). It was that so many of the warm and cozy memories of my childhood involved a food item that would not be permissible in a kosher kitchen. And even the "kosher lite" kitchen we were discussing wouldn't welcome a shrimp cocktail. But of course, the alternate was true for my wife.

We ultimately took the plunge with a set of parameters we both felt we could accept. They've morphed over time along with all our other interfaith issues, but we thankfully always come back to the same place - we want to be together enough to expand, to grow the box of our lives big enough to include elements of both of our traditions. We'd rather be doing that messy work with each other than not.  At this point, I'd say we've both given up a fair amount.

But we've gained so, so much.

Those occasions where I find a way to share my family's food traditions with her are such a gift, whether it's making something kosher-friendly or dairy-free or without refined grains and sugars (which wreak havoc on her system). When we subbed out buttermilk for soymilk in the fried chicken, when we found the perfect chicken andouille sausage for my mom's sausage and chicken gumbo, and last week when I realized I could make one of my favorite holiday treats - chocolate haystacks - with her special dairy-free, sugar-free chocolate chips, salted almonds, and gluten-free pretzels. In those moments, I am creating our own new traditions - ones that are a mix of her and a mix of me.

It may sound silly, but as we stand in the kitchen crunching away on these modified chocolate nibbles or sit across from each other chowing down on bowls of chicken and sausage gumbo, I remember the words we said when we slipped our rings on each other's fingers.

I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine. 

This is where I belong.
This is my tribe.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Invisibility: The Internet's Greatest Gift?

Here's a question for you:

Why does anyone blog?

Put more specifically, why does a person with no celebrity status ever think that people (aside from their parents and closest friends) will want to stop by the little corner of the internet they've set up to share photos of their living room or their garden or their summer vacation, to explain their thoughts on common core or marathon techniques or the minimum wage or homeschooling or the particular merits of a neutral color scheme in the living room (spoiler alert: it lets you change your look seasonally at low cost with accessories in "pops of color!")?

It sounds ridiculous.

And yet perhaps one of the most fascinating phenomena of this particular moment in time is that, apparently, the person who believes that people care enough to follow their little story is not crazy. Folks will follow. Some point to the social media frenzy as a narcissistic tragedy of modern culture. Perhaps there are elements of truth there. But it's not the whole story.

What seems both more apparent and less traumatic is the complete fascination that we have with each others lives. If internet behavior is to be believed at all, people do want to know what you did over the weekend. They'd like to see pictures and read about your mishap with the dishwasher. They want to sign on to Facebook and hear about how potty training your toddler is going. They want to know who you're planning to vote for in the upcoming election, what type of shampoo you just switched to, what articles you're reading, why you've decided to stop eating gluten, and how you made that quilted table runner.

Not everyone, of course. Some will scroll through or will jump off a page after a quick scan of the photos, but a shockingly large number of people - more than most folks could rally on a street corner with a flyer that promised "Come see photos of this stranger's holiday decorations!" - are showing up to read the stories, from the short twitter versions to the multi-scroll blog post versions, of people they don't even know.

* * *

In an episode of This American Life, John Hodgman asks people whether they'd rather have the ability to fly or the ability to make themselves invisible. Through the responses, a picture emerges of the people who choose to fly as bold and guileless and the people who choose to be invisible as ashamed perverts (who want to watch other people have sex) or thieves (who want to steal clothes or sneak into movie theaters without getting caught). As someone who instantly chose the invisibility cloak, I questioned this outcome.

There is no doubt why I want to be invisible - to spy on other people's lives. In fact, for weeks after hearing the episode, I caught myself in moments of fantasy where I had the power to stand hidden in someone else's living room and watch them have dinner with their spouse.

I'm not denying the sneakiness factor, but spying is such a sinister word - what I'm really talking about is an intense curiosity about other people. How do they behave when they're alone washing the dishes? What do they talk about with their spouse at night after the kids are in bed? What makes them cry or dance around the kitchen? And perhaps, yes, what is it like when they have sex?

Of course, there's no doubt some self-comparison in it: Does she eat spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar after a bad day too? Does that couple also fight about drawers left open in the kitchen? Does he talk to himself in the mirror? Are they like me? Am I normal? How much the same are we? How much different?

* * *

The internet - for better or for worse - is a giant invisibility cloak. Slip it on and cruise around other people's lives unannounced. See what they had for dinner last night, what made them cry, what they're fighting about, and even what turns them on if you want. They've put it out there for all to see, but chances are, they're not thinking about you showing up. They don't even know who you are.

Much has been written about how the anonymity of the internet turns people into the worst versions of themselves, and there are truly deplorable instances out there. But the vast majority of internet perusal appears to be of the invisible sort. We "like" a birth announcement, retweet a funny joke about our favorite tv show, comment on our best friend's blog. But for the most part, we scroll through unannounced. We lurk. We stand silently in someone else's living room and satisfy our curiosity.

And maybe that's not a bad thing.

In all the fear of anonymity and the "selfie culture" and the concern about a tragedy of narcissism, the incredible gift of invisibility gets forgotten. Perhaps curiosity killed the cat, but it's also responsible for the majority of human progress. It is by being curious that we learn. And here, on the internet, we can satisfy that curiosity without being perverts or thieves. We don't have to sneak into someone's house under cover of dark to find out if they're pacing back and forth, paralyzed with fear about the zombie apocalypse.

Nope. They have kindly invited us in by sharing their entire zombie apocalypse strategy (minus the exact location of their safe house, of course). People share their stories of depression, and we find comfort in the knowledge that someone else's brain works like ours or we realize that the way we've been telling our friend that it'll all get better hasn't been helping, or we file it away in the back of our mind and remember it one day when our ten year old says he wants to die. A woman posts on Facebook about her kid's struggle at school, and we give our coworker a break the next morning when she's cranky because we remember that she had to get two children into their clothes with lunches packed and onto a school bus before we were out of our pajamas.

Someone posts about their mother's death and we include them in our prayers that night (after we call our moms). We read tweets from gay people if we're straight, black people if we're white, disabled people if we're able bodied, people who have mental illness, people who have kids when we don't, and we get a glimpse. We get perspective. We get knowledge. If we're having a good day, hopefully we say a quiet thank you to them for sharing their lives so we can learn from them.

Our curiosity is our connector. It's what gives us the desire to learn. And social media is curiosity's workhorse.

Through Twitter, I travel to Iraq, the Gaza Strip, a gluten-free kitchen, the bed of a depressed author, the streets of Ferguson, the writers room of my favorite tv show, the hallway of a high school, the desk of a jewelry maker. And I go many of those places with not just a media-approved story. I go there with a regular person whispering 140 characters into my ear about their opinion or their experience, what they think is funny or sad or poignant or unacceptable. And every one broadens my understanding of the human experience - even the ones that make my jaw clench.

Every one helps me better understand what it means to be a person muddling through this confusing landscape.

On my best days, they allow me to see the world through someone else's perspective. On my worst days, they confirm that there are others out their grappling with similar demons.

I started here with the aim of sharing why I stopped blogging a year ago and why I'm thinking about blogging again. But I couldn't get that question out of my mind - why do we share at all? This is my answer.

This is me, taking off my invisibility cloak, walking into your living room and giving you a big juicy kiss on the cheek.

Thank you for the photos of your child in their Halloween costume, for all the Facebook posts about how much you hate your job (though I hope you aren't friends with your boss or coworkers on there), for the tweets about your morning coffee habit, for the blogs about your home renovation, for the posts calling for prayers and assistance, for the times you told us what you had for dinner, who you voted for, how you fell in love, how you fell out of love, why you started meditating, how to build a compost bin, what you believe (or don't) about God, why you homeschool, how to make your grandmother's cornbread, and on and on and on.

Thank you for letting us in.
Thank you for your stories.

I have some I'd like to share too.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Writing in November

I wrote these words last November, just a little over a year ago, and then they sat in my list of drafts. 

My hands have been busy this November – a constant tension between writing and knitting.  The cold weather hits, and all I want is to curl up on the couch with a ball of yarn in my lap and click my needles together.  Except I also want to write a novel, and NaNoWriMo has called to me for a second year.  I try to balance a bit.  Some writing, some knitting.  I get into a flow with one and forget the other.  Then I switch.  It’s yin and yang –calming, exciting, calming, exciting.

This month I feel enormous gratitude for both of them, for the feel of yarn as it runs across my hand, a fresh scarf wrapped around my neck, for making words come out of the mouths of characters I create, for the luxury of precious minutes at my computer to live in my imaginary world. 

I didn't meet my NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words. I only made it to 20,000, and I can't even remember now what stood in the way. Certainly not knitting, unless I bundle the piles of yarn into the category of All Things Not Writing. 

Life, I suppose. The ups and downs, and all the events and feelings that pulled me away from the page. I did some writing - some on the novel, some on some short stories, a little journaling here and there. But for the most part, in the last year, I have found myself drawn more toward knitting and reading and watching television - things that calm me and pull me out of myself rather than the thing that turns my attention toward my own mind. 

Even with fiction, when I am writing about worlds that are not my own, there is still a turning inward, the way I rely on my own imagination and consciousness to create something interesting on the page. I must be alive, alert, engaged. 

I've heard people talk about the loss of their faith, the hole that it leaves and the panic about not being able to get it back again. Not wanting to write has felt a little like that to me. Obviously I'm not a prolific author who makes my living by the written word, but writing has been, for as long as I remember, a place of discovery. Sometimes it has been the only way I have found to truly express myself to others, but more often it is the key to expressing my own feelings to me.  

In the last year, sitting down to write, I felt empty.  The words on the page seemed detached from me, and it was scary. 

With snow on the ground and hibernation in the air, I don't know if I'm back or why, but there's a tingling - a desire for my pen and my keyboard - that I missed. I'm afraid to put too much pressure on it. I have this sense that if I chase it, I'll find that it has flown away. 

Instead, I'm trying to take nice slow breaths and approach it gently, with the hopes that when I look again, it will be there sitting quietly on my shoulder. 

Friday, November 15, 2013


I keep wanting to talk to you guys.  I keep thinking of things to tell you, ways to share what is in my heart, how I spend my days, the things I love and the things that hurt me.  The science is right (of course).  A body at rest stays at rest.  Inertia is incredible. 

The longer I don’t write here, the harder it is to come back to these pages.  They feel foreign.  The act of publishing becomes filled with meaning, as if the words must be particularly special now to warrant so long an absence. 

What if I don’t live up to it?

What if my words are just words after a long absence?  No more brilliant or filled with epiphanies than any other words on these pages?

Fear is such a bully – so comfortable stepping into the driver’s seat and taking the wheel whether you asked or not.  Fear will pick the whole route for you if you don’t shove it out the door and slide over.
* * *

Hey guys.

I’m here.  Living day to day.  Some are good.  Some are bad.  Most are a mix, and I’m practicing practicing practicing - like scales on the piano - gratitude.  Sometimes I forget.  I’m late for work, and the house is a disaster, and there are still boxes, and another person tells me my job is ruining their life, and I am overwhelmed.  And I don’t want to practice anymore.  I want to scream and cry and eat ice cream and cheese puffs and feel miserably, inconsolably sorry for myself.  And then it starts to flurry and I catch a downy woodpecker nibbling on the suet my dad hung outside my kitchen window and my wife’s chin fits perfectly in the curve of my neck.  And then I remember. 

These are my days. 

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