Nineties Kid at Every Day Fiction

Okay, so maybe I’m still blogging here a little. It’s only because of this announcement:

My flash fiction piece “Nineties Kid” appears today at Every Day Fiction.

Happy New Year everyone and it’s an honour to be the last story of 2017, despite how dreadful this year has been. Raise a glass to 2018; live long, prosper… all of that!


also posted at ashleighrajala.com 

This blog has spawned and spread out!

This blog has packed up and moved spawned and spread out!

Find me now at ashleighrajala.com, especially if you’re into writing tips and advice and progress reports. Please find me there and follow!

It’s something of a departure for me to leave behind this mess of irreverence in place of something clean and professional, but alas. (Picture me straightening my half-Windsor as I say that.)

I might still pop in occasionally, as circumstances permit, but, in truth, a lot of this was predicated on the fact that I haven’t really had all that much to blog about besides writing, so I thought making a proper writing blog made the most sense.

I used to blog a lot about family and work and travel, but now my family is kinda off-limits as they’ve sprouted a new generation; my work is much larger than me and difficult to speak about in a humourous / critical way; and we just haven’t been travelling as much because… well, mortgages and stuff. There is so little free time that most of my writing energy goes to actual, honest-to-god writing.

I guess this is what your thirties look like. I do have pictures to post of a Disneyland trip with the whole gang, so that might be fun. That was back in August so I might be able to mine a few posts from that nonsense.

It’s rather sad to leave behind a blog with 2000+ followers and realize that the new one currently has 2. Help me please. Once again: ashleighrajala.com

the shapes of stories

I noticed this post was sitting in my drafts folder with nothing more than a heading. It’s been sitting there nearly a year. Who knows what the hell I was thinking when I came up with that title.

If the past is a foreign country, one’s past self is a stranger. Or least someone you went to school with a long time ago and now no longer have anything in common with except for a lingering adolescent love of first gen punk rock.

I digress.

What was that post supposed to be about? The shapes of stories? What can that mean?

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It was Vonnegut. Of course. How could I forget.

Borrowing from this general idea, if mapped in two dimensions, there are five story shapes:

  • Up to Down – Tragedy
  • Up to Down to Up Again – Comedy
  • Down to Up – Boring Biopic
  • Down to Up to Down Again – Oscar-Award Winning Biopic
  • Flatline – Vonnegut says Hamlet, but I think a lot of us can generally agree that shit is pretty fucking tragic.

Why did I think this was worth blogging about a year ago? I can’t remember.

Why do I think it’s worth blogging about now?

So I can make a stupid joke at the expense of biopics. That’s about it.

waking from my writing coma

So I’ve just finished a draft (final?) of something and the feeling is always like finally arriving at your hotel after an incredibly long, grueling, farcical series of misadventures.

It’s over. It’s done. You’re not dreaming.

There’s a tired, weighted sigh of relief… the feeling that holy-shit-I-really-need-a-drink

But what to do now?! (Besides opening the mini-bar, obvs.) The possibilities are overwhelming in their lack of limitations.

And hence: hours of vacant (drunken) staring. Then the abyss stares  back.

It’s kinda like time travel. Or like waking up from a coma.

You try to get in touch with people who have likely forgot you existed. (Hi, guys!)

Maybe, just maybe, you start blogging again.

 

my three dads

There is a line in a movie that I am not ashamed to admit I have seen way too many times* which goes:

“Typical isn’t it? You wait twenty years for a dad and then three come along at once.”
I feel a little like this right now. I’ve had several months of plugging away at a project with all the diligence of an AP English student (which is to say, very little diligence, but we fake it well), and now everything has kind of exploded in my face.

There is a line in a movie that I am not ashamed to admit I have seen way too many times* which goes:

“Typical isn’t it? You wait twenty years for a dad and then three come along at once.”

I feel a little like this right now. I’ve had several months of plugging away at a project with all the diligence of an AP English student (which is to say, very little diligence, but we fake it well), and now everything has kind of exploded in my face.

I titled this post ‘my three dads’ because there were three things that immediately jumped to mind, but then I’ve remembered a few more. It’s more like my three dads, plus a couple step-dads, and then that one creepy uncle.

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So, of the original three, I’ve got the three huge projects I’ve been working on /  brainstorming. I’ve basically been in genre fiction mode for quite a while now, which seems to put to bed (without supper!) my whole would-I-rather-write-genre-or-literary-fiction?

There are three novel-length things I’ve been picking through currently, and these are the aforementioned three dads. But let’s just be clear, there is nothing paternalistic about this other a fervent desire to make them proud of me.

By this weird token, I have another first draft of a complete novel waiting for a second draft. Which is to say, a re-write. Call it a step-dad. It lives in my house, but we have a stilted, awkward relationship. Perhaps we can make it work.

(I am also ignored the one complete literary novel, which I have basically chosen to abandon.)

I guess this brings me to the other step-dad and the creepy uncle. Perhaps creepy uncle is too harsh, but what else do you really call a podcast?

Yes. Podcast. And not just one!

Tomorrow, I’ll be recording with several friends, the topic of which shall remain a mystery, while sometime in March, I will join a Riverdale podcast for one episode to espouse my expertise on Archie Out of Context. By expertise, I mean, I have the blog. That’s it. All the expertise.

But nevertheless, I am excited. After months of slow drudgery and toil, everything happens all at once.

It’s given me a nice push so let’s wait and see about the follow-through….


*Mamma Mia! I was raised on ABBA and I have no shame. But, come on, what other films have such a plot that could in any way engender a line such as the one quoted above? Maybe that long-forgotten Michael Keaton classic Multiplicity if you somehow combined it with that other long-forgotten Michael Keaton classic Mr. Mom? Oh that we lived in such a world.

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– the Talmud

accepting my slytherinness

I didn’t join Pottermore for the longest time. My relationship with Harry Potter was intense, but troubled. It oscillated between shameless joy and celebration to cheek-biting scrutiny and critique.

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In one past life, I’d enthusiastically dressed up in costume and painted signs, windows, and children’s faces for the midnight releases at the bookstore. In another, I’d spent two semesters engrossed in academic study as I wrote a dissertation critiquing Rowling’s implicit versus explicit ideologies. (Seems pointless now. Ten years later and Tumblr has my thesis covered.)

Anyway, I finally joined Pottermore and had myself sorted. This seemed a needless formality. I was Ravenclaw. I knew it. I had always known it. I was a Ravenclaw, just like I was a Donatello and a Miranda and a George Harrison. There was no reason to doubt it.

In fact, since childhood, a very significant portion of my self-identification stemmed from this very assumption.

But no.

Lo, I am a Slytherin.

I stared at the screen in shock for several moments and then I told Husband, dismayed.

He replied: “J.K. Rowling wrote that, right? That means it’s canon. That’s, like, the definition of canon.”

I texted Dr. Roommate. If anyone had insight, it was a medical doctor / my former roommate. Her text back read: “That makes sense.”

What. What, what, WHAT.

How the hell did that make sense?

But the longer I thought about it, layers and layers of self-perception began to peel away. I began to look at not what I did, but why I did.

What had made me think I was Ravenclaw to begin with? Well, I was a bit of a swot and I loved to learn. But did I care about knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself?

I was forced to admit not really.

Rather, I realized that I am aware just how much knowledge there was in the world and I want it all. I want to know everything. I don’t learn something and think “Cute. Add that to the collection,” I think, “How can I use that?”

Even when I was a kid, more than learning things, I wanted to be seen as the “Smart Kid.” It was the one thing that came really easy to me and so that is what I focused on.

I had never thought it possible to be Slytherin because I never saw myself as ambitious. I had always viewed ambition on a macro scale. It was the determination to succeed and the willingness to go to any lengths to achieve that success.

That wasn’t me at all. I stuck with a job I settled with. I give up on things way too easily. When something is hard, I back away. Something in my mind simply shuts to it. I avoid, avoid, avoid.

But once I realized that ambition can also work on a micro scale, then it all snapped into place. Anyone who has ever worked with me in any capacity will realized just how over-the-top organized and perfection-driven I am with something I care about. I’m shrewd. And resourceful. And cunning? At times.

Suddenly, it made sense. It totally fucking did. I was never a Ravenclaw. I was a Slytherin and always had been.

There is a reason I quickly give up on things. It’s not laziness, it’s pragmatism. As soon as I think I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t want to do it at all.

When school got hard to manage, I closed down. I skipped class, I curled up until it went away. When film-making got too frustrating, I stopped doing it. There was something so deeply unsettling about watching dailies and realizing there were imperfections I was never going to be able to correct. I couldn’t handle that.

Perhaps that was why I retreated into writing. That, I could control completely.

And perhaps that is why I sit on so many drafts. If I don’t know how to make it perfect, I can’t let it go. And I can’t let it be anything less than perfect. I’m determined.

I’m a Slytherin.

Christ, I really am.

kurt vonnegut’s eight rules for writing fiction

kurt_vonnegut__jr__by_siglarkEight rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Source: Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.

travel and the art of mental maintenance: VIII. Broken Down Somewhere in Belgium

This is part of a series I have been working on. The Introduction is here.

I can’t remember how it was I found out that the bus had broken down. What I definitely remember is that it was extremely cold.

The bus breaking down did come several hours into a long bus trip from London. From there, we went across on a ferry from Dover to France and into Belgium. From here, the intent was to pass into Germany and then head all the way down to Munich.

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Tess and the Bullshit Bus

And those several hours came after a morning of scrambling to check out of hostel in London, have my wallet stolen, cancel my credit cards, call home to have them get a new debit card from my bank and have it forwarded to a future hotel, and then get to Victoria Station to meet our bus.

If I recall, we barely made it.

Once on the bus, we got our rundown on the Oktoberfest tour from the over-enthusiastic tour guide. All of it can be summarized by the cheekily declared: “There’s a fifty quid penalty for anyone who chunders on the bus.”

It was in the first hour that we met our (as the kids call it these days) squad for the week, Sally and Tess from Australia. They too were up for binge-drinking and risque behaviour but also appreciated the value of quiet-time and slumber.

Many others on the bus did not. Many brought milk crates of beer on board.

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Here I am, reluctantly enjoying said beer.

 

Look how horribly tired I am.

The day presumably passed on with strained social behaviour and blurred views of cows in fields.

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Blurred Cows. New band name. I call it.

And I must have fallen asleep. And that must have been when the bus broke down somewhere in the middle of Belgium.

We were in the middle of a truck stop and the bus was so utterly fucked that the heating didn’t even work. We dug out our sleeping bags and huddled up inside of them for warmth. It was all very tragic and miserable. In our privileged naivete, we probably thought this was what it was like during the war.

This was the entirety of our Belgian impressions. Aside from the cows, of course.

After a while, dawn broke and the diner above the service station opened.

We ambled into there to try to get some sleep.

I recall a stiff neck from diner booths maladapted to sleeping. As the day outside warmed up, we moved outside, legs stiff and wobbly. The other displaced bus partiers were lingering around, splayed across the narrow patch of grass between bus stalls.

broken-down-3
It was like someone had pulled the fire alarm at a rave. Only in the day.

Eventually a new bus arrived. Whether it came all the way from England, I have no idea. But that might account for the Greek epic-style wait.

All I remember is it was night by the time we got to the camp site and all Bri and I did was climb into a flimsy little tent with all the clothes we had layered up over top of each other like Michelin Men, and shivered.

As it turns out, camping in Munich in late September can be a blissfully chilly experience….

“Every day takes figuring out all over again how to f***ing live.”

The above quote comes from the marvellous Deadwood, out of the mouth of the marvellous Calamity Jane.

And I’m really feeling it right now.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted much of anything. Life is like that. Peaks and valleys. Hills and troughs. I feel like this is a lesson I’ve figured out before. Subsequently forgotten. And then had to learn all over again.

I was remembering how elated I was a year ago, nine months ago, six months ago. I was in a huge writing groove. I was feeling especially prolific. I thought I’d finally figured it out.

I’ve been writing. A lot.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve neglected this blog… and a variety of other social (media) endeavours. I thought I’d finally learned the way around the block. I’d finally mastered the steps and now I was ready to dance (a cliched, but apt metaphor).

I worked. I worked and worked. I worked really hard.

But it didn’t work. And I didn’t realize it until I thought it was done and I took a look at the first page and went nope. I just knew it wasn’t right.

And then I felt like bashing my head against a wall because I knew something was wrong with it, but I had absolutely no idea what. I’d done everything right, I told myself. I learned my lessons. I figured out what I had to do and I did it. And I worked really fucking hard at it.

But it still wasn’t right.

This made no sense to me. How was I still failing at this novel that I have been turning over and over for five years now? I’d written other things that came out perfect the moment I vomited them onto the page.

Why was this one not working?!

Maybe it was fundamentally flawed somehow. Maybe it was the great impossible thing. Maybe I should just abandon it completely.

I thought of this as well, and it just as easily could have been the title of this post instead: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.” (ST: TNG)

But I couldn’t drop this project. Other projects I’ve abandoned, yes, but this one is like a child. I would be like Dumbledore dropping baby Harry off at the Dursleys… but only after realizing he’s a squib and deciding that it’s probably best to sever all ties completely.

Anyway. This all caught me at a rough time.

Januarys are usually brutal, to be sure, but it’s been especially so as of late. I’ve been down a rabbit hole.

A rabbit hole is how I come to think of my mental isolation, the feeling of being more or less trapped in my own mind, like an invisible barrier keeps me alone with my own thoughts and other human beings are difficult to connect with.

A rabbit hole… a euphemistic trick perhaps, allowing me to frame in a palatable way what is probably some form of depression, anxiety, seasonal affectiveness disorder, some combination of the above, or something else altogether.

A rabbit hole can also happen when I am very deeply entrenched in writing something. The two very often coincide, but they are markedly different. The former is characterized by negativity and the latter by positivity.

The two coincide, but writing does not make me depressed. Rather, writing is often an outlet helping me cope. Writing is how I climb out of the rabbit hole. It is how I work through things.

I’ve found that something pushes me down a rabbit hole, but, like Alice, everything I encounter down there is some surreal version of things that have subconsciously been plaguing me for ages. Weeks, months, years, my whole life even.

Writing turns these surreal things over and lets me examine them. Sometimes it doesn’t help, but sometimes I can exorcise old ghosts. So, in a way, even though these rabbit holes are dark and difficult, I need them. They are a valuable part of who I am. They let me focus. They push me to work my way out.

But this recent rabbit hole – and I say this having just clawed my way out – was a doozy. Something pushed me down a rabbit hole in October (nothing too severe, but work stress and uncertainty, which always brings up a lot of anxiety), and there I lingered through the Christmas season, forcing myself through. It was okay; I was writing a lot. I could still see the thin circle of sky above.

And then, thinking I had just clawed my way out, I read that first page of a finished draft and thought nope.

And then Grandma died.

That almost sounds like a punchline. And perhaps I need it to be.

My grandmother had been dying of Alzheimer’s for over ten years. Alzheimer’s is strange because it does funny things to the grieving process. It takes someone aways from you long before they are physically gone. You can hear their voice and look in their eyes, but they don’t look back and see you.

I don’t want to go into details about my grandma yet, at least not now. I already spoke about her at the funeral, and that was the closest I could come with words for a while. I’m not good at putting frustrations and grief into literal words. I need to put it into a story. That’s what stories are for, after all. Grief and everything grief can represent.

Stress about work and money is one thing. Fear for the future is rational.

But grief is something entirely different. Grief is fear for the past. And that is irrational. It’s already over, isn’t it? We can’t change it.

But we can change it. And we do. We change it everything a memory slips or shifts. Every time a photograph passes into new hands. Every time a story gets another layer of embellishment.

We don’t just grieve for those dead, we grieve for the past we shared with them. We grieve for the time we can’t revisit. What does it feel like to know that your childhood is gone forever? How immense is that weight?

Grief is different every time. There’s no pattern we can fall back on. We figure it out all over again every time we go through it.

That was what I clawed my way out of this rabbit hole learning: if I want to grieve, if I want to write, I have to figure it out all over again every time. There’s no one learning process to this. There’s no end date or final exam. It all shifts beneath us. What works one day won’t work the next.

Every day takes figuring out all over again how to fucking live.