Monday, August 27, 2012

Writing Classes

For the past few years I've been taking one-night classes at StoryStudio, a great place that offers writing classes. I've also gone to a couple "write-a-thons", where for twelve bucks I can eat snacks and work on my manuscripts in the company of other writers. I'd like to take one of StoryStudio's longer writing workshops, but those cost more money that I don't have.

I've mentioned before that my first experience with a writing class was less than favorable. I took a workshop in college, and one of my classmates accused me of plagiarizing my story in front of the whole class, which I definitely did NOT do. The irony was that another classmate had actually plagiarized her story by copying an entire chapter from a popular novel. (I was apparently the only one who caught it, but unfortunately it was long after the class ended. To this day I wish I could confront that plagiarist for what she did.) I didn't like that class, not only because that other classmate had humiliated me in front of everyone else, but also because several of the other students were unkind in their criticism. The stories I wrote weren't very good, but there's a difference between constructive criticism and brutal honesty. 

But fortunately, it's not like that at all in the StoryStudio classes I've taken. The instructors and the other students have been very encouraging, and I've enjoyed the writing exercises. One of my favorite classes was called "Quickies", where we learned to write flash fiction (very short stories). Another favorite class was taught by a former staff member for The New Yorker, who told us what it was like to work for the magazine and gave us submission tips.

It made me think about other things that I wish writing classes would cover, but I've never had the nerve to voice my suggestions. Here are a few of them.

1. How to deal with your jealousy of other more successful writers in ways that do not include writing their names in the stalls of public bathrooms.

2. How to stop procrastinating so much, because it can drive you to watch episodes of Jersey Shore. The problem with that is that some of your characters may end up talking, looking, partying, and falling down in public like Snooki.

3. Why writing parodies like 50 Shades of Tie-Dye may not be the best idea.

4. Ideas for what to do when you take a break from writing that do not include watching episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians or Mob Wives.

5. Ideas for good songs to write to, because the problem with writing to the music of people like Britney and Lady Gaga is that your characters may end up wearing weird clothes, being married for only fifty-five hours, or breaking out into synchronized dance moves.

6. How to deal with distractions like noisy neighbors in ways that do not include sending them "YOU SUCK" messages on Twitter.

7. How to balance writing and your daily responsibilities, so that you don't end up tripping over piles of dirty laundry or eating candy for dinner.

8. How to write in cafes without whapping Wi-Fi freeloaders in the face with your notebook.

9. Good day jobs for writers that do not make you want to primal scream at the end of each workday.

10. How to deal with writer's block so that you don't feel tempted to give up on writing and audition for a reality show, because then you might become friends with the Kardashians or the Mob Wives.

What about you? Have you ever taken any writing classes? What do you think of writing classes in general?

Here's a funny clip of Ellen DeGeneres reading excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey:


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Concert Wallflower

I went to two concerts this past week. The first one was for a singer-songwriter named Meiko, who I've blogged about before. Meiko's concert was held at Lincoln Hall, which is half bar, half concert hall. Tickets were only fifteen dollars apiece. It was great because I was able to get a seat in the balcony, and I had a perfect view of the stage. During the concert, I felt a little self-conscious, because most of the other people there were with dates or friends, and I was alone. Most people I know don't like my taste in music, ever since I went through my boy band phase when I was a teenager and I can still name that Britney Spears song in three notes.

(Side note: A few days later, I told one person about the concert, and the first question she asked was, "Who'd you go with?" She thought it was weird that I went by myself. But the truth is, I like going to stuff like concerts, museums, and bookstores on my own, because then I can decide where I want to go, how long to stay, and what to do.)

After the concert, I stood in a long line and got Meiko's autograph and my picture taken with her. I was too shy to say much to her, but she was very nice. (I'd post my picture with her on this blog, but then people would know who I am and what I look like. Not to mention I'm not very photogenic. I'm always afraid that people will look at my picture and think, Hmm. Are they doing a remake of the movie Gremlins?)

The second one was held at North Halsted Market Days, which is a summer festival that is held every year in Lakeview, my favorite neighborhood in Chicago. Lakeview is also known as Boystown, and it's the one place in Chicago where guys always look at my face rather than my chest when they talk to me.

When I walked through the festivals, I saw a bunch of muscular, shirtless guys dancing around in tight shorts. I couldn't help thinking of that line from Coleridge's poem, "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink," because all those guys were gay. 

The band Karmin performed in the second concert. It was a lot more crowded than Meiko's concert, probably because Karmin is more well-known and Market Days is a popular festival. I had to stand in a crowd of people the whole time, and during the concert I came up with a few things that I wish I could have said to my fellow concert-goers:

1. Don't smoke during an outdoor concert. Maybe you don't mind getting lung cancer, but I'd like to live long enough to see aliens take over the world, or at least long enough to see all the reality shows get cancelled.
During the concert, several people were smoking. Since it was so crowded, that meant everybody else had to breathe in the cigarette smoke, which is why I thought it was inconsiderate of the smokers to light up. It's like, I like onions, but I'm not going to eat a bunch of onion rings and breathe them on everyone. I felt tempted to pour my can of soda (I was one of the only people not drinking beer) over the cigarettes of the people smoking, but then I got an image of newspaper headlines saying something like: NEUROTIC WORKAHOLIC ATTACKS SMOKERS WITH SODA, CAUSES RIOT. So I figured I shouldn't do it.

2. The singers are not going to go out with you. During the concert, several of the guys kept calling out to the male half of the band, a keyboard player named Nick. The guys kept yelling, "Take your shirt off!" A girl nearby said, "He's straight." (He's also engaged to the female half of the band, a singer/rapper named Amy.) The guys all replied, "It doesn't matter."

It made me think of Meiko's concert, where several of the guys tried to hit on Meiko. When she was talking between songs, one of the guys kept yelling out, "I'll take you out for a beer!" I couldn't help wondering if any of those come-ons ever worked.

3. Don't sit on your friend's shoulders. Whenever I go to a movie, I am often struck by the Big Head Curse, meaning I often get stuck sitting behind someone with an enormous head. Most of the people at the concert were guys, and most of them were taller than me. That would have been okay, except one guy standing in front of me sat on top of his friend's shoulders for half the concert, so that it was difficult for me to see the band. I thought about asking him to get down or pushing him down to the ground if he said no, but then I saw those news headlines again: NEUROTIC WORKAHOLIC GOES ON RAMPAGE, CAUSES RIOT.

During Karmin's concert, several people started dancing around me. I can dance in the classes at my gym, but that's only because we're all doing the same dance moves. But when everyone started dancing at the concert, I felt like I was frozen. I was one of the only people who was just standing there. I wanted to dance, because it looked like fun and I liked the music. And a couple of the gay guys kept trying to dance with me, because they were nice. But I just smiled and stood there. I've never been very good in social situations like that. I always just feel awkward.

I can't help wondering if that awkwardness stems from the fact that I'm shy around people I don't know, or if it's one of the things about being an adult. When I was a kid, I didn't care if anyone heard me singing at the top of my lungs, and if I felt like dancing, I did it. But now that I am an adult, I can't help worrying about how people would look at me and what they would say. I know I shouldn't care, and most of the time I don't. After all, if I did care that much about what people thought, I'd wear makeup and dresses, drink alcohol, and go to bars and clubs instead of bookstores and coffeehouses. But I think that as far as dancing in public goes, I still have to work up the courage. Maybe next time.

What about you? Do you ever feel self-conscious in social situations like that? Do you think that people should abide by certain concert etiquette, and if so, what kinds of rules would you come up with?

And in honor of the musicians, here's the video for Karmin's hit single, "Brokenhearted":

Here's the video for Meiko's new song, "Leave the Lights On".

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What Not to Tweet

I have to admit that I have not been watching the Olympics, though I do admire the athletes for their strength, talents, and dedication to their sports. I have been reading several articles about athletes who have gotten in trouble, particularly the ones who were punished for what they wrote on social networking sites. A few athletes have actually been sent home because of offensive, racist Tweets that they posted.

I don't feel too sorry for those people, because they should have known better. Now all that hard work and effort that they put into competing in the Olympics has gone to waste, not to mention they may be remembered for their negative Tweets, not their accomplishments. 

It did make me think about how Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites have gotten people into trouble a lot in recent years. People have lost their jobs or even their relationships because of what they posted online.

I also made up some of my own Tweets that I imagined that the Olympic athletes might post online, if they were going to be really honest:

No applause...just send endorsements.

If there's no "I" in "team", then how come I'm the only one standing up on the podium?

Do you think if my mom started talking about my one-night stands like Ryan Lochte's mom did about his, maybe I'd get a bunch of publicity too?

You WISH you looked this good in a Speedo.

What's up with all these news stories about the athletes hooking up in Olympic Village? And why did no one tell me while I was playing Angry Birds?

Since I'm famous now, does that mean I get to start dating supermodels?

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful...and because I can run faster than you.

Now watch me laugh as I run away.

I'd like to thank my parents, my coach, and all the fans for supporting me, especially the good-looking fans who should call me.

Bronze is NOT the new gold.

Here are also some Tweets that I might put up if I was going to be really honest about my job:

Why is it that the students' cell phones always wake them up when they're in class, but my telling them to "WAKE UP! THIS IS NOT NAPTIME!" rarely does?

Now I understand why so many of my teachers were always so moody.

Once upon a time, people actually survived without texting. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true.

Thinking about doing your homework while you are hanging out with your friends is not the same thing as actually DOING your homework.

I think that teachers should get paid for the workshops on teaching that our department makes us go to, and we should get bonuses for doing those lame "ice breakers".

FYI? Ice breakers do not make those workshops more fun.

You know what would make the day more fun? Letting us go home, so that we can do stuff we want to do, like watch reruns of The Mentalist or play Angry Birds.

But even though I'd like to have a Twitter page, I don't have one because a) it seems like it'd be too time-consuming and b) I'm afraid I might get in trouble if someone took offense (and there's always the chance that that could happen, because in this country of lawsuits, somebody's always offended by something) to what I posted online. But I might still have a Twitter page eventually. I'll just have to be really careful about what I write. 

Don't get me wrong. Freedom of speech is definitely important. But I think that some people have taken that too far. It's one thing to express your opinion. We don't all have to agree with each other. But it's another thing to deliberately use your words to harm (or threaten to harm) other people. I believe that people should be held accountable for their actions and their words.

What do you think? Do you think that people like the Olympians (as well as people like us) should be punished for questionable things that they write online, or not?