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Champion of Crap Sports

As the days grow warmer and the school year nears its end, my mind is cast back to that old tradition known as Field Day, in which the athletic kids got to show off and the un-athletic kids were forced to submit themselves to torture and embarrassment.

I fell somewhere in the middle. I did okay, say, tossing a baseball. And though the relay and the long-distance running were banes to me, I was a pretty good sprinter. The 100-meter dash was no problem.

The one thing I did particularly well, though, at Field Day: Frisbee. I always won the ribbon for Frisbee. Toss it to that cone? Sure. Get it all the way down the field? Okay. I’m not sure why or how, but I’m a natural with a Frisbee.

Other strange things I proved good at over my years in physical education? Bowling. Jump rope (won an award for going the longest time in that one). Badminton. Croquet. Table tennis. Air hockey. Weight lifting. Pinball.

And yet I suck at foosball. Actual tennis? Nope. Or actual hockey? Decidedly not. Racquetball or squash? Nuh-uh.

I’m an indifferent swimmer; I enjoy it, but don’t take it seriously enough to do it especially well. Can’t dive, either. I’m no good on the field in soccer (“football” to my overseas friends), but make an okay goalie.

But I was useless with the typical American sports:

  • Softball/baseball—I would duck when someone pitched to me and couldn’t catch well enough to field.
  • [American] football—my coaches didn’t even bother; they just let me walk the track while everyone else played.
  • Basketball—not coordinated enough; I couldn’t keep myself from traveling.
  • Volleyball—I don’t even know what. Just a disaster all around.

I try not to feel too bad about all that now. It’s easy to feel like a failure when you’re only good at the weird, little things. But you know, there are a lot of football and basketball and baseball players. Not so many great Frisbee folks, though. I’m just in a select, exclusive sort of group is all.

Flash Fiction to be Published

We’re just two weeks away from Flash Fiction Day, and I’ve had three flash fic pieces accepted to Daily Flash 2013: 365 Days of Flash Fiction, forthcoming from Pill Hill Press. I used to write flash fiction (we called it “sudden fiction” back then, and I guess some people still do) quite a lot, then dropped off about a decade ago because there was so little market for it. Still, I found it an interesting way to tell a story. Kind of the fiction equivalent of a movie trailer. You get a sense of the whole, looming tale without seeing [reading] all of it.

Now, it seems, flash fiction is quite the thing. I wouldn’t say it’s “in” as a trend, but it has a following, and a fair number of writers dabble in it, some even far preferring to write flash than long, tedious stories. For me it’s more that some stories need a lot of telling, and some only need a little. It’s the difference between an appetizer and an entrée.

Anyway, on the heels of some rejections, I’m pretty happy to have some work accepted. Maybe I’ll try flash fiction more often.

INFJ vs INTP

I’m reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and of course it’s made me question whether I’m actually an introvert or a shy extrovert or . . . So, it having been a number of years since I’d last taken a Myers-Briggs type personality test, I found a few free ones online and tried them out.

Most of my results were pretty consistent. I’m high Introvert, moderate iNtuitive, moderate Feeling, and low Judging (INFJ). This personality type is called “Counselor” by Keirsey, and I’d say the profile there is pretty accurate. I was a peer counselor in high school, for one thing. And I do have it in me to discern others’ feelings; I’m very sensitive to the overall mood of a person, or a room full of people.

However, a couple other versions of the test gave me INTP, or “Architect,” and that also seems on target. Still introverted, still intuitive, but thinking and perceptive. I am a logical person, and it’s true I have a strong dislike for people who blow a lot of nonsense at me. I see through it pretty quickly and immediately discount the person once I realize they’re trying to put something over. It’s why I’m able to work in the entertainment industry. I simply don’t have it in me to be star-struck.

In both cases, however, I was surprised to see that these types of people—both Counselors and Architects—are considered difficult to get to know. I often lament the fact that others don’t seem to know me well because, in my mind, they seemingly don’t find me worth the effort to get to know. I do try to be approachable. And people who have come to know me (there’s only a handful who could honestly claim to) have told me they were scared of me at first (!) but find me very warm once I open up. Hmm. This is probably because I’m never likely to approach people; I wait for them to come to me. The ones who are intrigued enough come ’round eventually. But I guess two shy people might never meet unless someone introduces them to one another.

Anyway, I ran both personality types by friends and family, and they said both were true. Those who’ve known me in a more personal way leaned toward INFJ, and those who know me in a business-like or educational setting said, “Oh, yes!” to INTP.

I’m not even half done with Quiet, but it’s given me a new way to look at the way I act and react in the world around me, and it’s given me some insight into my friends and family, too. The challenge in being ourselves is often that our internal needs and desires clash with external demands. Finding balance is the key.

A Tisket, A Tasket

Today is May Day, also known as Beltane, or Walpurgis, or by any number of other names. It’s one of my favorite sub-holidays because it brings warm weather and sun and flowers. When I was a child, our town had an annual May Fair. Artisans would set up tents and booths to sell their wares, and there would be games and food and music and a May Pole, and we would go to greet one another and enjoy that singular sense of community. I almost always ended up buying a garland of flowers for my hair.

There is an old tradition of May Baskets, not much observed any longer, wherein someone would leave a basket of flowers and treats on a doorstep, ring the bell, and run away. The object was to catch the person, and if you succeeded, kiss them. Call it an old homage to spring fever, the adolescence of the year, and all old fertility rites—in any case, great fun.

So in the spirit of the season, this year I leave a basket of words and thoughts on your doorstep to consider. It’s hardly fair, I realize, since you are unable to catch me from here. Though I suppose if you were enterprising enough, you could come find me.

You, who are like a magpie of a man, gathering the shiny bits and pieces of others whom you admire and making their words and affectations your own . . . I don’t think you do it out of malice, no, and maybe it comes so naturally, this mimicry, that you don’t always realize you are doing it. But you are sensitive enough, and deep enough, to be able to look within yourself and know the truth at the heart of the matter. You do these things, appropriate these gestures, in part out of honest esteem for those from whom you steal, but also because you want very much to fit in and to be liked, and maybe just a little because it feels safer to use others’ words and actions instead of your own. Every one of these little trinkets that you gather from the pockets of friends, acquaintances, coworkers, adds to the shell you build for yourself, something for you to hide in. Even now, reading this, you might feel exposed and vulnerable.

But here are the roses I give you: I love you anyway. And so do they. And were you ever to summon the strength and courage to step out of the shade of their shadows, you would be welcomed with open hearts and arms. You have much to offer on your own terms, and in your own words. Remember that you are friendly, and likable, and capable of more than superficial conversation. You might spend your days with other people’s words in your mouth, but to be heard you will need to speak for yourself. You fear being overlooked yet hide in plain sight.
Don’t be afraid to show yourself. Inside and out. Because you are loved. Inside and out.

Chasing Victory

I plan to have the Nike of Samothrace in my garden.

Let me see if I can explain this without sounding like a complete and utter nerd . . . Well, no, I can’t. So I’ll just own up. When I was a child—we’re talking ages 7 through about 11—my idea of fun during the summer break was to choose a topic and research it extensively at the local library. I would check out stacks and stacks of books on whatever subject I’d chosen, and I’d keep notebooks of information until, at the end of the summer, I would write a lengthy report. These reports were not just reiterations of what I’d learned, though; I sprinkled them with my own ideas about the matter at hand. And sometimes I’d also write stories.

You see, my love of writing in any and all forms began very early.

So the Nike of Samothrace came up one summer when I was studying ancient Greek and Roman culture and mythology. Now, I’ve always loved classical history (minored in it as an undergrad), and I’ve always loved angels (because I think they’re pretty—not cherubs, though, which I find irritating). And to a seven-year-old girl, the Nike of Samothrace, though headless, embodies an ethereal beauty. So while I loved many of the ancient statues I witnessed in all those books, the Nike held a special place in my heart. Angel + Goddess, it occupied the sweet spot in the Venn Diagram of my soul. (Yes, I really did just say that. I am a nerd.)

That might have been enough, but then my summer sitter (the woman who watched me during the summer while my parents worked) took her church youth group, all high schoolers, on a tour of UT Austin, and since she couldn’t just ditch me, I got to go too. The campus made quite an impact on me, but I was especially wowed by the Harry Ransom Center. They had a Gutenberg Bible, for one thing. And also: a plaster cast of the Nike of Samothrace.

When I saw that, I vowed I would attend UT. (And, yes, I did. After being accepted at places like Oberlin and UCLA, I still went to UT. When I get something in my head, folks, I don’t let go easily.)

When I was 22, I visited the Louvre for the first time, and I only had one item on my agenda. The Mona Lisa? Bah. My goal was to see the Nike of Samothrace. And when I got to that staircase . . . Well, I almost wept, I was so happy to see her.

So now we’ve come to the point where I admit I’ve always dreamed of the kind of yard and garden where I can have benches and statues. And that will become a reality for me at the end of May. So I’ve been looking at websites featuring various fountains and statues and bistro sets, &c. And I found one that has a Nike of Samothrace. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before to have her for my very own. But now that I’ve realized I can, I’m determined to, as they say in the ads, just do it.

I only hope a headless, winged woman in the yard doesn’t frighten the kids.

No, But Thanks For Asking

A friend of mine in Massachusetts found this graffiti in her neighborhood and thought of me:

I’m actually flattered.

And a lot of people have been asking how excited I am about Sherlock on PBS a week from tonight. The first episode of Series 2 (or “Season 2” in the States) is “A Scandal in Belgravia,” which Holmes fans might correctly surmise is an adaptation of Doyle’s “Scandal in Bohemia.” The truth is, I don’t even plan to watch it. I’ve seen it three times already, and I like it less every time. Law of diminishing returns, perhaps, though it’s only when I really think about the episode that it bothers me.

I’ve written before about the mindless gush of fandom, how people who like a show are primed to adore all new episodes (especially something like Sherlock, which spoons said episodes out in such small quantities, people will eat them up regardless of how good or bad they taste). These fans don’t stop to think too hard about what they’re seeing; they’re so determined to like it. They have, in fact, already decided they like it, even before they see it. And anyone who says the show is less than perfect must simply be a stupid, horrible person.

Well, I know I’m not stupid, and I hope I’m not horrible. But I do like to think these things over, and even when I like a show—and I’d count Sherlock as a favorite—I try to be thoughtful and objective about it. Nothing is perfect, after all. So even when much of a show is very, very good, there can be things that are not so wonderful. But I won’t go into all of that here, since I did it before, starting with my original thoughts after the premiere last December. And going on from there (search “Scandal” in the box or click on “Sherlock” on the sidebar cloud and you’ll find all my commentary).

Now, over the next couple subsequent Sundays “Hounds of Baskerville” and “The Reichenbach Fall” will air. These episodes, which I have also seen multiple times, are decidedly better.

So in short: no, I’m not excited about “Scandal in Belgravia,” though I will watch the other two episodes again. (I’ve written about them, too, but had fewer issues.) In general, while I liked Series 2, I found it slightly less strong than the first. Probably because quality is hard to consistently maintain, even in the short seasons afforded here. When you set the bar so high from the outset, you can really only go down, even if a little.

I realize, of course, I’m in the minority. Mine is the lone voice shouting in the wilderness. The fans won’t want to hear it, and the people who don’t watch won’t care. Ah well. I’ve been unpopular in my opinions before (cf. “Ever the Same” by Rob Thomas. Jesus, people, seriously). I can live with that. I could not live with blindly accepting what’s fed me. I guess I’m a picky eater.

_____________________

To be clear, I’m not saying people shouldn’t watch Sherlock—certainly, they should. I’m only suggesting viewers consider, after processing their initial, gut reactions, they also think about the narrative itself, and then eventually look at everything through a cultural media lens. Of course, not everyone wants to put that much work into their television viewing. That’s kind of the point of television. But if you’re watching something as cerebral as Sherlock, you should probably expect to exercise your brain a bit.

M & Mr. King

Neil Gaiman has posted the raw draft of an interview he did of Stephen King, the polished version of which appeared in UK Sunday Times a few weeks ago (while I was in London, in fact, though I never picked up a copy, so I’m glad Neil posted this).

Which gives me, in turn, the perfect excuse to write about the time I encountered Mr. King in the Borders at Downtown Crossing in Boston, back when there was a Borders in Downtown Crossing, or anywhere for that matter. I think it was a game day (that’s the Red Sox for those not in the know), which would explain why “Uncle Stevie” was in town. I was just browsing; we lived on Beacon Hill and haunted Downtown Crossing when we had nothing better to do. The place was pretty empty. I spotted Mr. King in the stacks—he was taller than I expected, though then again, I really didn’t expect to see him in person, like, ever, much less in the Borders—and, after catching his eye, gave him the universal “Are you . . .?” questioning look. He gave me a little nod, which might’ve been resignation, and I left him alone. Maybe because he was really tall (though not as tall as my grandfather, but nearly), but I like to tell myself I did it because I’m not the kind of person who goes around bothering people in bookstores. Even if they are, themselves, famous authors.

Go read the interview in any case. I agree with King that I “find” my stories, and that often, as I’m writing them, they start to fit together in ways I never imagined at the outset. I’m excavating, discovering, as much as my readers do. Maybe that’s craft, but I don’t try to put any label on it. I take it like I would take a gift and thank whatever is in the cosmos handing it to me.

Also like King, I’m not happy if I don’t write. If I go a couple days without writing, not only do I suffer for it, but everyone around me does, too. I’m not pleasant to be around if I haven’t been allowed to release that pressure.

I’ll never be as prolific as King, and horror isn’t my genre, either . . . I like to read his books, though. I remember sneaking them off my father’s bookshelf, slipping a similar-sized book into the space. But my dad is no fool, and he keeps his shelves neat and alphabetized; he worked out pretty quickly that something wasn’t right. And then said to me: “Just don’t let your mother find out you’re reading that stuff.”

On a good day, I’ll get the six pages King writes about. Some days I’m struggling just for three. I try to make three my minimum, but the point is to write a little every day, no matter how little.

Lastly, I share King’s fondness for John D. McDonald. And that one is courtesy of my mother, who introduced me to Travis McGee after I’d exhausted the public library’s stash of Agatha Christie.

It’s childish, though, to compare, and ridiculous too. King is, well, King. And I’m just me. But I’ll keep writing anyway. If only to spare my family.

Home Is . . .

. . . Where the Heart Is. So they say. It’s cliché, but what really gets me is that I don’t think anyone really thinks about the meaning of this phrase. Home is where you want to be, and it’s whom you want to be with at any given moment. Because these are where your heart are, the deep seat of your feelings.

Think about it this way: if you’re sitting around wishing you were on a sunny beach somewhere . . . That’s where your heart is, as well as your mind. I don’t mean any passing wish, mind you; I mean a real longing for a place. That keen, piercing feeling you get when you think of somewhere you want to be, right then.

And it’s true of people, too. That acute sensation of wishing someone you love were there with you. Because home can be a place, and it can be a person—even more than one, a whole family, a group of friends—and it can change. Day to day, hour by hour, those feelings either linger or they’re fleeting. But whether the yearning lasts a minute or a day or a month or your entire life . . . That’s home. That place. That person. Where your heart is in that moment.

Home is where the heart is. But where is your heart right now?

The Notebook

No, not Nicholas Sparks. I’ve never read any of his books, or seen any movies based on his books, and I probably never will. This is partly due to an interview of him I once read . . . I’m not even sure I finished the whole article because I found him terribly self-satisfied and irritating. And so, no matter how great a writer he might be (and I guess I’ll never know for certain), if I ever tried to read or watch anything of his, I’d only be thinking what a douche he is as a human being.

My notebook is (or was, rather) one I kept in high school. Not spiral, but one of those taped spines with the perforated pages. Red. And in it I wrote an ongoing story—it never had a title, I don’t think— about a young man named Mark Aaron Bradford. It was a sort of soap opera, I realize now. Mark left his small home town and abusive home to make his way in the world. He got taken in by a friendly Christian family, and the teenage daughter got a crush on him. Meanwhile, having found work as an office assistant, he ended up being sexually harassed by his boss, a woman named Carole . . . There was a lot of the typical angst that teenagers like to put in their writings.

Anyway, this story ended up being somewhat popular in certain circles, and every time I wrote a new installment, the notebook would get passed around to various interested parties. It was read surreptitiously under desks during lectures, or at study hall, lunch hour, library time. Eventually the notebook would make its way back to me, and I would write the next “episode” and the rounds would begin again.

Near the end of my senior year, I knew I would have to wrap things up, and so I gave Mark the only possible ending these kinds of stories can have. Soap operas and angst lend themselves to a particular brand of violence, and so of course Mark committed suicide. A lot of my readers were really mad about that, but there was simply no way to write a happy ending. I suppose I could have left it open, had him go off yet again to someplace new, but I felt the need for a decisive finale.

I’m sure I have this notebook somewhere, though I’ve no idea where it might be. I’d be curious to read it again. My writing as a teen was not very good; I hadn’t yet put in enough hours of working at it to have smoothed the edges and flattened the bumps. But I wonder if I couldn’t take Mark’s story and do better with it now.

Then again, some things are better left alone. Dead and buried.

Unless, of course, I wanted to pitch an idea for a new soap opera?

Cupid’s Arrow

I am in love. With a person I’ve only seen once, from across a room, but there you have it: the strange nature of Cupid’s arrow sent sailing through the cosmos, cutting the thick air and landing firmly in the heart.

There is the strange sensation of knowing a person you have never met, like the rocking of a ship gives one vertigo . . . At a glance I am absolutely sure I know this man intimately without ever having spoken to him.

And the wound from the marksman’s shot leaves my heart exposed, even as my chest closes up and prevents me from being able to breathe. I am slowly bleeding to death, but no one notices.

I slap a bandage on the injury and continue on as if my world has not changed, though there is sure to be a scar.