Writing 101-8: What They Said

Go to a public location and make a detailed report of what you see. The twist of the day? Write the post without adverbs.

I think I shall have any idea of myself as a writer revoked by admitting that I am not sure what an adverb is. At least not entirely so, and yes I know that entirely is in fact one, but I’m not actually into the piece yet.

To try and help my non-grammar-knowing self out, I turned to the usual source of all things online: Wikipedia. I guess we will discover together whether or not I’ve actually learned anything from that article.

Unable to see what individuals are doing, of course, I call what I do “people listening”. Being good at this serves as part of my strategy for capturing what is happening around me, and I hope will lead to the creation of my novel someday.

SIDENOTE: It’s hard not to use adverbs as I write! I think I describe most things with them.

I sit in a Chapel Hill Starbucks, as is usual. The place is bustling: I can hear the folks across the aisle from me discussing the nature of an upcoming project, and others are running by with enough force to make my seat shake.

The floor is wooden, giving it an older-fashioned feel that I find great for writing. Music plays in the PA system, and baristas call out orders. I wonder if there are any eyes on me, and think I feel a presence just behind my chair. If you are watching this screen, identify yourself.

I have just gone to get my hearing aid fixed, learning that they would charge me $218 to make the repairs. Ouch! This means that I am at present not as able to hear what is happening around me as usual. I enjoy listening to people though, and picking up snippets of conversation that don’t make much sense when taken out of context.

And I guess that’s all I have for this exercise. How did I do? How many adverbs did you catch, other than the ones I’ve already noted. I know I’m kind of doing the challenge out of order, but I want to take entries that inspire me to put something first, then I may come back around to the ones about which I need to think harder for content.

Writing 101-5: Rejection

You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter. Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

I see it. The tear-stained envelope for which you’ve worked all of your life.

I feel it. The anguish that creeps into your voice everytime you ask mom again “did it come?”

I hear it. The great and grating sadness you already feel as you anticipate that, sure enough, you have come up short.

“We regret to inform you, but…”

I don’t know what mom intended to say. She’d have to tell you at some point, right? I sure wish I could go back to unknowing, but I do promise I’ll be here to console you.

I understand the weight of disappointment. But don’t worry, there are opportunities as good as or better than that which was lost. That school don’t know what they missed anyway. We still love you.

Writing 101-4: Trust

Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.

Over the last few months, I’m really making an effort to become less of an antisocial and hopefully more of a prosocial person. I figured one of the first areas I needed to work on in accomplishing this is to decrease my level of sself-centeredness. I don’t think, at least I hope, I’m not a horrible person. But I can admit to a tendency toward having a hard time seeing things beyond my perspective. I think this shortcoming, if not at least brought down a few notches, will mean that I will not get close to many if anyone.

So, I met someone in this neighborhood, a seemingly nice individual who had been spending time chatting with me and buttering me up as I sat outside. This person comes from a different, more aggressive region of the country, and as such may have been more primed to noticed my attempts at kindness and position herself to take advantage of them.

Remember how I wrote in a recent entry about the difficulties inherent in a blind person really trusting another in extracting cash from an ATM? Well, I certainly have more fotter to worry after this incident.

She asked me if she could borrow $20, because she had some emergency payment or other to make.

“Sure,” I said: “we can just run up to this gas station and I can get some cash I need as well.”

So, we did that. I had told her repeatedly that I could check the statement, and would feel wary if her stated amount differed even slightly from what I heard when calling in. Unfortunately, when I checked, it appeared that she had indeed taken out an extra $10. Not much, of course, but then that’s how someone who wishes to get away with such a thing would operate.

But wait, there’s more! Shortly after she tottered off to make her purchase, she returned saying that she’d lost the money I’d just given her and needed it replaced. Clearly I wasn’t silly enough to fall into this trap.

“Well I’m sorry,” I replied “but I can’t help you with that. Plus, I indicated that my trust in this sort of endeavor is very fragile and could not easily be restored if shattered.”

She continued to beg, becoming more insistent until I had to tell her that if she didn’t leave me be immediately I was going to have to call the law. Finally, she relented.

I know what anyone who reads this will say. “O, how gullible you are.” “You just can’t be that way with people!” And perhaps they would be correct. But it is and always has been hard for me not to initially believe that a person will be as good as her word. I’m not sure if this ability is completely lost as a result of the noted occurrence, but it’s pretty doggon close! I might be kind of stupid sometimes, but my stupidity meter can only be pushed so far before it breaks.

I was just trying to be helpful, as one who has fallen on hard times myself and been helped by people who were willing to lend a hand to me as well. I sure hope I’ve never come across as trying to take advantage of their generosity though, and think that if I ever do I should be called on it as anyone else should.

Writing 101-3: Off Da Top!

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

Hmmm, I’m not entirely sure about three important songs. I would say though that it isn’;t a stretch to think that all of my favorite stuff came during the best musical decade ever, the 1990s. And one of my favorite things about the Internet is that it allows me to live in that decade continuously, the same way that adults listened to their oldies stations as I grew up.

I can think of at least one song that defined my life for a stretch: In The Still of the Night, by Boyz II Men. This is because its random singing led my two cousins and I to create a singing group. Remember that concept? I don’t think many of those exist these days, as most are solo artists. But, I suspect that history will bring it back in eventually.

I’d told this story in my other blog, the one that has since met its end, on the day Soul Train’s Don Cornelius passed. Perhaps it’s appropriate to try capturing it again on the day we lose another major music icon: Casey Kasem. If you didn’t grow up listening to his distinct voice deal out the top 40 songs of each week, well you missed a treat. I always looked forward to either his countdowns or Walt Babylove on the R&B side, which he did until deciding to emphasize gospel more.

Anyway, back to the formation of our little group. My cousins and I had just completed a rousing game of basketball with an adult, one of my cousin’s fathers in fact. How appropriate for Father’s Day? We then piled into his car to go and find some delicious, refreshing ice cream, probably at Dairy Queen.

Said song came onto the radio, and for some reason we don’t entirely recall we just began singing it. My youngest cousin took the lead vocal, I sang bass and my other cousin did the “shoo-wops”.

“Hey, that was fun!” we said once the song concluded.

It really surprised me that I was even able to do this. All of my life, I’d been told by many that I couldn’t really sing, or play instruments, (have tried to learn the piano from time to time and had gotten decent at the trumpet when in elementary band) so I’d largely become discouraged from even trying. My cousins told me more than once to stick with it though, and working with some fantastic choral instructors and singing in a couple church choirs, I began to expand my range.

RELATED: Sang With The Choir!

Due to our group’s origins, my dad suggested that we should’ve called ourselves the Backseat Boys. Lawsuit, anyone? We instead went with the name Off Da Top, because of course we wrote songs off da top of our heads! My Aunt chided us for the less-than-professional spelling, but hey why can’t we have a little fun. Like Musiq. Or Xscape.

Over the years, we continued to develop. Naturally, many of our initial favorites were Boyz II Men tunes. I especially remember singing It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday onboard the Catawba Queen as we cruised Lake Norman while at a summer camp sponsored by the Metrolina Association for the Blind (MAB). The restaurant area was staffed by college-age women, and one each came to rub on our backs as we sang. I nearly lost the ability to stay on the correct notes. Haha. They also shut down the PA music, so that everyone onboard could hear.

There was another time at a Raleigh ice skating rink. My cousins and I weren’t particularly big fans of this recreational activity, so we sat at the table with drinks in front of us and worked on Chi’s Baby I’m Yours. We’d made an error, and as we stopped to retry that spot we suddenly heard a loud burst of clapping. There had appeared a rather large contingent of young women, traveling with some kind of youth center. They opted to join us in singing Kirk Franklin’s Stomp. The preacher and leader of God’s Property? I think many members of that group came from Charlotte’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, our family’s original home church.

Our dream, like anyone who would have been doing such a thing, was to achieve stardom. I think in retrospect that it is quite fortunate we did not, as we had no idea what that would have actually entailed. The great memories we do have though, like winning a talent show at UNC Charlotte, performing to an incredibly excited congregation at First Missionary Baptist in Southern Pines with our own rendition of We Shall Overcome in celebration of Black History Month, and the like may in fact never be surpassed.

Even as my disorder continues to take away my hearing and make singing more of a chore than a joy, I will always continue to enjoy music. So, if I’m a bit flat or sharp or slightly off rhythm, try not to be too harsh! Off Da Top hasn’t performed in many years, but we have floated the idea of giving it a shot again someday. Who knows.

What about you? Can you sing, at least as we define it? Heck, to me anyone who sings just to feel that passion flow is good enough in my book.

Writing 101-2: Expanding Presence

If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?

Ok, I’ll take this post sort of literally, because I am not as good at waxing poetic as perhaps I’d like to be. It is an interesting concept.

First, I never cease to be amazed at how large the universe really is. Heck, how large even the solar system even is. Millions of miles separate us from our nearest planet, and thousands of years lie between us and the nearest star at any speed we could currently travel. I’ve just read somewhere that the fastest moving object in human history was one of the Pioneer space crafts, clocking an incredible 52000 miles per hour. This may have been eclipsed by the Voyager craft, but I’m not sure.

I do often wish we could at least move at the speed of light, and survive touching down on another planet’s surface. Ah, to walk around on Mars. Or feel the steamy impossibility of Venus. And I thought it was cold? How about Neptune, or the recently demoted Pluto. I’d not feel much of any sun from that distance.

Ultimately, I’d like to achieve this concept of hyperspace that most science fiction writers employ to get their characters across vast interstellar distances. It’d be humanity’s next great chance to explore an area thought to be far beyond itself, and one in which we are not sure where or if other life exists. It is hard for me to believe though that in a sky filled with more stars than there are grains of sand down here, that something or someone else isn’t out there.

And if not? Well, I’ll start a colony on one of those far away worlds in which we’ll try to get it right. A utopia where war is not permitted, a place where we agree to settle disputes through peaceful, diplomatic discussion. And of course, a place where the sun always shines! Join me?

Writing 101-1 Unlock The Mind

To get started, let’s loosen up. Let’s unlock the mind. Today, take twenty minutes to free write. And don’t think about what you’ll write. Just write.

I’m taking on this challenge, having been inspired by the great Amy Juicebox. I think it technically has some sort of actual time limit, but I’m starting way later than most and don’t really care.

Why am I doing this? Well, because I feel myself entering a slightly dangerous period of my life where I could really get so bogged down by the day-to-day minutiae of surviving my current employment that it becomes my permanent employment. And we all know I can’t have that! So, bear with me as I perhaps make false starts and maybe have some posts that are a little lower-quality than I’d like. I just want to get myself back to writing, and to that motivation that looked like it was going to carry me somewhere at this time last year.

So the object of today’s post is to just keep pressing buttons for 20 minutes. Hmmm, what to talk about.

I’ve set the timer on my iPhone, actually set it for 22 minutes to give myself enough time to load Pandora and the jazz music I now have streaming.

I loaded a station by a jazz artist named Jimmy Scott who, according to an NPR reporter, died today. She states that he’s a man, but the songs I’ve heard thus far that are attributed to him have been sang by a woman. I suppose he plays an instrument or something, though. In any event, it’s nice sounding stuff.

This follows on the heels of my reading Heidi Durrow’s book The Girl Who Fell from the sky, a poignant examination of the challenges that sadly still exist when conducting relationships that involve individuals of different races. Told from the perspective of the mother, her daughter, one of her previous lovers, a bystander who happened to witness the tragedy, and a couple others; it chronicles an unfolding event that the reader isn’t able to fully conceptualize until the book ends.

The mother is from Denmark, and she is employed in Chicago as the story begins. We learn of what happened to her through her journal. Once the event happens, the daughter Rachel is sent off to Portland to live with her grandma. Here, she grows from a 8 or 9-year-old child to a high school teen.

I love that the grandma, as well as one of Rachel’s Aunt’s lover’s daughters, speak in dialect. It helps to add character to the story.

The reason I mentioned it in connection to the music though is that Durrow has Rachel get introduced to another blues great, Etta James. This caused me to create a Pandora station of her too, which I’ve been rocking out to for the last week or so. I’d heard of her via an NPR profile when she passed, but hadn’t really checked out any of her stuff.

And yeah I know that was probably not the best book review I’ve ever written, but I’m not allowing myself to stop and pretty it up. I’d recommend grabbing a copy of the book anyhow. And, Durrow’s putting on something called the Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles tomorrow. I wish I could go, as it sounds interesting.

Four minutes left! What else to say? If you stroll in from somewhere else as a result of this post, please feel free to read some of my other stuff as well. I think it’ll be more interesting. I like doing the occasional book review, as well as talking about disability-related issues, music, and of course travel. Though I don’t really get to do as much of the latter as I’d like these days.

Taking a trip to Las Vegas and the convention of the American Council of the Blind in 29 days though! I’m already bummed that I chose to stay only through that Wednesday, having to leave on an early 9:30 flight, because I will miss the presentation of the NLS narrator, usually my favorite part. But such is the way that west to east air travel works: I’ll lose so much time coming back that I couldn’t afford to depart later in the day than that.

So, nice to meet you? Say hi, drop your email in the subscribe box, and help me keep this thing going! Thanks, and have a great weekend.