Criticism and Writing


I read all day, every day, and I see a lot of different styles. Some writers big words and long sentences. Others seem to prefer simple language. I don't think many people would argue that it's easier to spot inconsistencies, incorrect word choices, and awkward phrasing in someone else's work than your own, and I (if I do say so myself) am pretty good at spotting those places that need work. I love having the chance to offer my fair share of constructive criticism.

Often, however, I forget that constructive criticism is easier to give than take, and when given my own batch, I must be gracious enough to practice what I preach.

I love words and stories, and I love how the underlying tone of a book can be subtle or beautiful or sad, romantic, angry, or any other of a seemingly endless list of emotions. And all of this from twenty-six simple letters.

Every so often I feel the urge to write a story. With characters and a plot, climax, resolution...the works. But every time I pick up my pen or open Microsoft Word, nothing happens. I can't write a single word that isn't horribly cheesy and/or cliche. Most likely both, because cheesiness usually is so because it came from a cliche.

So instead I surf the Internet awhile longer before picking up my current outside-of-work read, wondering just how on earth an author ever put so many words on paper at once to create an intelligible, interesting story.

Last week at work, a few of us participated in a creative writing exercise, where we had to create a character and put him/her in a situation and introduce the beginnings of story. I sat quietly, stupidly staring at the blank sheet of paper in my hand while everyone around me scribbled away. Why couldn't I think of a single thing to write? Just pick a name, I told myself. Any name will do. Okay, fine. Moving on. How old is your character? 80, I wrote. No, scratch that. 17. No, 56. 5. Wow. I wouldn't make it five minutes alone in a cabin with only a typewriter and a pencil. I'd be out of paper and out of my mind by the end of the day.

Male or female? Male. No, female. Male. Female. Yes, female.
A thirteen-year-old girl.
Name: Carmen.
She's skinny and tomboyish. Pale face.
Good job. You're describing every other thirteen-year-old. Boooring.
I don't care, I told my rude self. I courageously poised my pen and slowly began writing. I find it exciting and yet horribly terrifying to know that when armed with a pen and paper, I can make anything happen. 

Below is the result of the creative writing exercise, not because I think I'm super awesome, and not because I think I've written something brilliant, but more because I just wanted to share. Constructive criticism not encouraged. (I'm joking, I think.)

"Wait!" Carmen lifted her head from the pavement and saw the yellow bus pulling away from the corner. She angrily swiped at the lone tear sneaking toward her chin and spit into her palm, using the moisture to rub blood from the cut on her knee.

She quickly gathered the spilled contents of her backpack--two wide-ruled notebooks, one black pen, two #2 pencils, an eight-grade geometry textbook, a pair of gym shoes, and a paper bag lunch--and jumped to her feet, wincing as she straightened her leg.

Hugged her open backpack to her chest with one arm, Carmen waved her other and took off in pursuit of her only mode of transportation. If she missed the bus, she'd be late to school for the third day in a row. One more tardy to first period, and she would be docked a full letter grade. And then she'd have to tell her mother.

The Word Is Out


I am training for a half-marathon.

For the past few months I've been scared to tell anyone for fear that race day will come and go, and I will not have been there, having become slowly overcome by the daunting task of 13.1 miles and ultimately deciding to stay home and eat ice cream instead.

But two weeks ago I paid my entry fee and registered online and marked October 10, 2010, on my calendar. Wichita, Kansas, is where I will be, doing something I have put on my to-do list for the past three years, only to discover that I'm too lazy to actually train. But not this year. This year I was inspired.

So I started running.

It's hot in Oklahoma, and running these past months has been hard. Despite the advice from numerous running guides to not have a time goal for a first race, I can't help but secretly set a goal for myself. Not to merely finish, but to do it in good time. At least, a good time for me.

And so the doubt sets in. The agonizing thought that come race day, I won't be able to find my pace. That my car has inaccurately clocked out mileage, and what I thought was four miles was actually two, and I've been training at a ridiculously slow pace.

No, that's ridiculous. Four miles is four miles. Likewise, 13.1 is 13.1, which I will feel every step of come October.

I must not fail. I shall not fail.

But that's a long freaking way.

Cataracts, Dead Bodies, and Robots: Why I'm Crazy


I sit at a desk all day, reading books on the computer. This worries me. About every hour or so I’ll suddenly realize I’m too close to my computer screen. Freak out ensues over the fact that for some reason (I’m inclined to blame gravity) I’ve slowly become sucked in over the last half hour, and now I’m just inches away from cataracts.

Incidentally, up until about a month ago, every time I went to the eye doctor I told him my family had a history of cataracts. Come to find out through a very confusing conversation with my mother, no one in my family has ever had cataracts.

I think I’m still going to tell them I have a history of cataracts just so they give me some extra-special attention.

I think about the bodies. You know, the dead bodies being buried in the ground every day. And how they’re being stacked one on top of the other. What happens when they can’t fit any more down there, in the ground? Forget large potholes. Soon we’ll have to maneuver our cars around stacks of bodies. But I suppose by that time we’ll be flying robot cars, so I suppose this fear is unnecessary.

I also worry, as does any conscientious American, about the environment. Trees and garbage and (the worst of it all) sewage. I mean, where does it all go? I’ll tell you where it goes…back in our drinking water. Thus the reason I use a filter, which, incidentally, I haven’t switched out in over a year. So I suppose the use of my filter is now irrelevant. But it makes me feel better.

I try to be a good tree hugger and not use plastic bottles. But recently I found out that Nalgenes have something bad in them that leaks into the water and will inevitably poison me and lead to an untimely death. What the heck? Is nothing safe?

No, don’t answer that.

I type all day, so of course I worry about getting carpal tunnel. I’ve gone on Web MD at least fifty times to check the symptoms. I have none of them, but my family has a history of it. (They don’t really…I think.)

My spine is deteriorating because I sit in a chair all day. So I try and stand every once in a while, only to realize that due to the flat shoes I’m wearing, my arches are flattening out.  

I could go on, but I don’t want to bore (or frighten) you with my insane musings. Of course, they would be insane if they weren’t true. Which they are (true, that is, or at least based on truth), so I suppose they’re worth noting if for no other reason than to highlight the fact that I’m clearly just a little crazy.

But seriously, I do have a legit fear of snakes and a fear of going blind, which I think would be worse than being deaf. Because at least I could see a snake coming at me—a fact that is more likely in Oklahoma than Illinois.

Oh, and did I mention robots? They terrify me. And space. It's endless and dark and...scary. There are black holes and stuff floating around and exploding. And have I mentioned that it's dark?

So basically my worst nightmare would involve me, in space, being sucked into a black hole alongside a robot snake. Having to maneuver around stacks of dead bodies. While slowly going blind.

I wish I were kidding. 

365 Days Later


I really don't mean to write so many posts about my airplane loving, southern-accented, handy, Oklahoma boyfriend. I've never wanted to be one of those girls who might as well be walking around wearing a huge sign that says, "I'm with him" with an arrow pointing to my left. Or, rather, right. (My left side is my good side.)

But sometimes it's what I'm thinking about, which is the case right now, because yesterday was our one-year anniversary. (For our "how we met" story, read this.)

I've never had one of those...a one-year anniversary, I mean. And honestly, it was just as satisfying and romantic as I would have hoped. We dressed up and went to a fancy dinner at a place downtown where the hostess was too syrupy and the food was expensive, and when we walked in we were asked, "Do you have reservations?" To which we said no and proceeded to wait for half an hour even though the dining room was almost completely empty. But once we got a table we were there for at least two hours, people watching and talking and taking pictures. Once I dropped my knife on my plate, and it clattered loudly. I'm sure someone, somewhere, raised an eyebrow at me.

We ordered fried asparagus as an appetizer, and after eating it Jordan proceeded to say, "That was good! It didn't taste like asparagus at all! I wonder if my pee will still smell." (If you're confused, read this post. You might still be confused, but at least you'll have more context.)

On the plate with the asparagus was half a lemon wrapped in yellow netting and tied with a green ribbon. I didn't know what it was at first and grabbed it and began trying to untie the knot to open our "present." Luckily, Jordan realized my mistake and informed me that inside the netting was a lemon, and I was just supposed to squeeze it through the netting. That way, I wouldn't get seeds on my food. Man that was close! I could have really embarrassed myself.

After dinner we walked around Bricktown by the river for about five minutes until we started horribly sweating. I'm actually surprised we made it that long before calling it quits.

On the way home, Jordan remembered that his boss, Jeff, had decided to take his three small boys to a water park today, and Jordan would be working on his own. He asked me if it would be okay to stop by Jeff's house and pick up a few important electrical things like a ladder and some screw bolts or widgets or...something. I'm not really sure what he called them.

Jeff's house is always crazy, due to there being three boys (all with names starting with W) under the age of seven. So when we arrived, we were instantly greeted by the youngest, Wyatt, who was naked except for white underwear with trains on it. At least, I think they were trains. (It's rude to stare at people's underwear.)

Somehow we ended up staying there for over an hour playing Rock Band--me on bass, Jordan on guitar, Jeff's wife, Becky, on drums, and Weston and Walker switching off singing vocals. By the time we left it was almost 10:30.

(Btw, much to my own shame, I found out that am terrible at Rock Band! In my defense, however, let it be known that it is not easy to play fake guitar while wearing a strapless dress.)

Anyway, Jordan drove me home, and when we pulled into my apartment parking lot, he backed in a spot, turned off the engine, and said, "I'm going to walk you to your door."

It was sweet and cute and very gentlemanly of him.

On the way up the stairs, a black cat jumped in front of us, which was scary for several reasons I won't go into now, and Jordan was attacked by a huge, mutant fly. (I'll let you take what you will from these events. Good thing I'm not superstitious.)

I let myself in and was just setting my alarm clock when I heard my phone ringing. Who would be calling me now?

"Aww, it's Jordan," I said when I saw his name appear on the screen. I figured he was just calling to say how much fun he had and to wish me one last goodnight.

"Hey!" I said.
"Guess what?"
"I don't know...What?"
"My pee does smell."

Oh, that boy I love. Crazy full of useless and otherwise completely unnecessary information. That boy to whom the phrase "too much information" has absolutely no meaning.

I laughed myself to sleep last night.

It was quite a happy anniversary indeed.

Soccer, Boys, and Aggression


Last night I laced up my black Adidas soccer cleats, hiked up my navy blue soccer socks, and pulled on a T-shirt and running shorts. No, I wasn't picking out an early Halloween costume. I was getting ready for my first outdoor soccer game since my junior year of college.

I originally decided to join the soccer team when a school-wide e-mail from the girls' soccer coach appeared in my inbox. It basically said that there was a small turnout for the team that year, and he encouraged anyone who was at all interested in playing for the 2005-2006 season to contact him.

I'd never even so much as kicked a soccer ball before, so you can see why the idea of being on a college soccer team was not the most brilliant idea on my part. But I had just started my sophomore year at Greenville College, and I was bored.

Apparently double majoring in English and religion and working on campus and being in the honors program and also joining the tennis team wasn't work enough. I’m not really sure what’s wrong with me.

Looking back, I'm now convinced some evil senior was getting a good laugh while he or she controlled a voodoo doll of me. Okay, not really. I don't believe in that stuff. But something weird was going on. I was pondering this as I walked into the locker room and demanded to speak with Coach Mac.

"I got your e-mail." I stood up straighter and tightened my ponytail. "I’m interested in joining the soccer team."
"Okay." He looked me up and down and gave me an I-don't-know-if-you-know-what-you're-getting-yourself-into look. "Have you ever played soccer before?"
"Not really...okay no."
"Well, that's fine. Are you a runner?”
“Not really.”
“Do you know any rules?"
He sighed and raised his right eyebrow at me. "Do you even know how many people are on the field at a time?"

I was beginning to question my sanity, which was immediately followed by the wish that this sanity-questioning thing had started before I found the coach and starting babbling like an idiot. Or, rather, not babbling, since I actually hadn’t said more than five words since my initial, foolhardy declaration.

"I guess we'll have to get to work, then. See you on Monday. Oh, and get some cleats."

I’ll cut a really long story short and not tell you about how I almost died running sprints or how many times the ball rolled between my legs or how every day I embarrassed myself with my sad attempt at juggling. By juggling, I mean dropping the ball on my foot and kicking it up in the air. That sort of juggling. While everyone else was busy being athletic and cool and counting to ten thousand, I was trying to bounce it on my foot twice consecutively. Twice. (My great triumph the summer of 2006 was practicing every day for weeks and getting up to 30 juggles. Sadly, I’m now back to two, three if I’m super lucky and there's no wind or noise.)

But my failure is not the point. Okay, it sort of is the point. Because that soccer season, I struggled. Oddly enough, however, I also had the best time of my life. I fell in love…with running into people, getting yellow cards, and unleashing the built-up aggression from my insane competitiveness. Turns out, kicking the crap out of a soccer ball is really, really fun.

Another plus? Soccer helped develop one of my favorite things: leg muscles.

So by the time November of 2005 rolled around, I was tan, fit, toned...and sitting on the bench. No matter what it might sound like, I wasn’t good at anything besides knocking girls over. I didn’t score a single goal the entire season, except once during a practice game, after which I immediately burst into tears. It was so exciting and exhilarating and wonderful and horribly embarrassing. It was a practice game, for crying out loud! At least I didn’t rip off my shirt and run around screaming like some sort of Mia Hamm copycat.

This skill came in handy when I played soccer last night (the skill of knocking people over, not stripping and crying). A few of Jordan’s friends from his baseball team wanted to play, and he invited me along, after promising me that his friend’s wife, Becca, would be there too. We pulled up to the field at 7:00 p.m., and soon after I saw six guys jump out of their cars, grab their water bottles, and start jogging toward the field.

“Guess Becca’s not here,” Jordan said. He looked sideways at me.
“Forget it, then. I’m not playing.”
“What? Why?"
“I don’t want to be the only girl!”
“Are you kiddin’? What do you have to worry about? You’re taken, and the rest of those guys are married.”
“Uh, I know that. I just don’t want to play with boys! I’m scared of boys!” (Yes, I know that was a ridiculous thing to say. Yes, I know that sounds stupid. And no, I’m not making this up. I really did say that.)

“Scared of boys? Are you kiddin’ me? You’re comin’.” With that, he hopped out of his truck and started walking toward the field, where the other guys were busy pushing the goals farther apart while two of them practiced kicking goals.

I sighed and started after him, hating myself for being so lame. But there’s just something about cute, athletic boys that intimidates me. Boyfriend or not. At least now that I’ve got a boyfriend I don’t have to worry about them liking me or vice versa, but I still don’t want to look stupid.

Turns out, I’m still not good with my feet. I can’t really kick it very far, and I don’t do trick dribbling. But the graceful art of slamming into people hasn’t left me yet. I think they thought that because I was a girl, I would be picking at my nails or giggling or something, but after that first hit, they knew I was serious.

It was really fun, and by the time the game started, I was over my strange and unexplainable fear of the male sex and just wanted to run into somebody.

We spent two hours running and kicking and laughing, and I'm super sore today. But it was worth it.

I only played soccer for two college seasons--my sophomore and junior years--but they were some of my favorite memories. Soccer socks and dirty cleats. Ace bandages and icy hot. That's when people started calling me by my last name and when my legs looked really good.

Which is what Jordan told me when he was driving me home after sun set and it was too dark to play.

All I could do was smile. Soccer socks do wonders for your legs. Although I doubt their magic will be as powerful in thirty years. But I'd rather not think about that right now. I'm just happy to be able to hit people. Boys, for that matter.

What a great night.