Yeah! You Twine That Algae!

Most of the time, the story of how a story is made is boring. The Great Story Birthing often takes one of the two following forms:

  1. The Hollywood Version: I, THE GENIUS, shout EUREKA! while I’m in the middle of a shower, abandon the tub for my study and a pad of paper, and, shower still running, pen an entire story in one sitting.
  2. The More Often Version: I, THE GENIUS, shout EUREKA! while I’m in the middle of my shower, abandon the tub for my study and a pad of paper, remember that I most often write on a laptop, eagerly tap out five brilliant lines, go eat a slice of an entire box of pizza, forget about the story, return to it a week later, try again, hate myself for not being a better writer, eat an entire box of pizza, and repeat this cycle for several years until something finally manages to reach a somewhat conclusive ending, oftentimes because my house is at that point flooded and I have other things to take care of.

Sometimes, though, a story is something you carry with you throughout your life — something that grows as you grow, both personally and as a writer who goes from thinking ALL SENTENCES ARE COOL to knowing the precise rhythm and feel that make her heart sing.

And that, friends, is the story of the story I’ve just had published on InfectiveInk.com, And How the Algae Twines!

The first time I wrote this story, I was a sophomore in college, staring out my dorm window at the shifting snow drifts howling across the campus quad, thinking of another time when the world was also made of snow and I could feel my first real relationship reaching its zenith and beginning its long, slow descent into the frozen ground. The result: a creative short essay, and the feeling that I wasn’t done.

The second time I wrote this story, I was mored on the shores of a criticism-ridden grad school workshop, trying to be a better writer than I felt I could be. Somehow, I stumbled upon this old essay, languishing in an ancient Word file, and found myself horrified at my use of language, yet intrigued by the thoughts, images and emotions that lay behind it. I returned to my keyboard, and tried to remember what it was to feel. The result: a thirty page behemoth, with ten pages of striking imagery, ten pages of a writer reaching for a moral, and ten pages of a 24-year-old woman, demanding her true experiences find an outlet. And a workshop with an excess of praise and an excess of criticism that would change my writing forever.

The third time I wrote this story, I had been torn down to my core. There were no safe places left — not for me, not for my work. Everything I did was wrong. There was no warm hearth upon which I could nestle. After so many years of fighting for independence, I was on my own and barely able to breathe. Left with the few words that meant something to me. The few words that wouldn’t leave me alone.

It’s been three years since the third time. Three years, and this story has won awards, and finally found publication. The joy of finally seeing this story in print…well, I can’t quite put that into words. Nor can I promise I won’t write this story a fourth time, as I navigate the shriveled climes of my very non-snowy setting. But I can say that the story of this story — this story that began nine years ago and continues on — is one I will carry with me, wherever I go. This story has not left me.

You can read And How the Algae Twines at InfectiveInk.com.

Empty pits? Seattle? Depressing economy? Yes PLEASE!

First: I’ve been published. Woohoo! Check out the story here:

http://www.citizenbrooklyn.com/topics/write/bits-of-blue-2/

Second: I’m waxing philosophical about my reasons for writing this story. Woohoo! Check out my explanation below.

For the duration of my time living in Seattle, there were two massive pits that lay empty on either side of the city – one in Greenlake and one in First Hill. They were dug in the most bubbly bits of the housing bubble, the developers I’m sure dreaming of ultra-profitable housing developments to fill the empty space. But then the bubble burst and the construction vehicles retreated and there were these two massive pits just sitting for years on end, not changing much except to collapse a little more each passing week. They seemed the ultimate symbol of the economy’s demise: these two dark, muddy voids.

One of those pits was eventually filled with some new project, and I moved far away from Seattle to a place that I’m sure will soon have pits of its own as the economy stretches legs, sprints forward, overreaches and caves inward in the way all bustling economies eventually do. And yet, I couldn’t shake the image, especially as I worked with children and struggled to imagine what it would be like to come to consciousness at a time and in a place where two giant abysses dotted the landscape. Did they play in the pits? Did they embrace the dangers? Was this just the way they thought the world worked? Was that a problem? Should we care?

It all seemed so tragic and poignant to me that, when I was asked to contribute to the new magazine, Citizen Brooklyn, I couldn’t help but write something up about it. So, if you’re as intrigued by voids and childhood and economies buckling and falling through, check out my story, Bits of Blue, here and let me know what you think.

Thanks again to Citizen Brooklyn for reaching out!

Week 4: Don’t. Take. My. HAIR. @write_by_night #blackmailme

If weeks 2 & 3 were all about procrastination, week 4 was all about what happens when a procrastinator realizes they’re completely screwed. Creation out of fear. Specifically, the fear of looking like a bald old man:

I'm assuming that when you shave your head the entire structure of your face changes too.

And so, to avoid devolving into a grumpy old man* with no family, friends, or  rebellious teens looking for a father figure to love him, a fire was lit under my butt.

*Man this automatic keyword thing is a stitch, just go ahead and click on that grumpy old man link and see what the machines have decided is the most relevant page.

A massive, somewhat life threatening fire, kind of like the one they set on Sesame Street when I was a kid because apparently torching Big Bird‘s nest was supposed to teach us some sort of a life lesson.

Look kids! Elmo is attempting to put out a fire that seems very likely to put a horrific end to all of the characters you've come to know and love!

And you know what? It worked. No, not the fire safety episode of Sesame Street. All that managed to do was send me into my parents’ bed for the next five years. I mean the impending deadline of head shave DOOM. My entire attitude changed. I went from this:

To:

And you know what? The world as I knew it didn’t end. Yes, I wrote a lot of  crap. In fact, I believe the crap to gold ratio was a solid 10 : 1.

But some of it was gold. Some of it was so funny, I thought of quitting everything and moving to New York to be a comedy writer. No! A song writer! No! THE BEST WRITER. My usual delusions of grandeur upgraded from something manageable into something dangerous.

Still, a week wasn’t very much time at all, and as March 29th crept closer and closer, I became acutely aware of my fingers’ limitations.

Despite all of my efforts to make time stand still, March 29th came and left. I worked all through the day, and then: 12:01AM, March 30th. I stared at my computer screen. I stared and I stared. I closed my laptop and began to cry.

Join us at 7PM tomorrow, April 19th at Write By Night headquarters (1305 E. 6th Ste 4, Austin, TX) to see either:

  1. My head get shaved (thus the crying)
  2. My finished first draft (thus the crying)

RSVP here.

And for those of you who don’t live in Austin, I’ll be posting an update on this blog, so keep checking back. Until tomorrow! When I can sing “Tonight” and mean it!

Weeks 2 & 3: Procrastinating Overachievers RUIN EVERYTHING @write_by_night #blackmailme

When most people think of a procrastinator, they think of laziness. There’s my procrastinating teenage son, playing video games and not doing the dishes. There’s my procrastinating college buddy, having a good night in the frat rather than doing her paper.

Me, I’m more of a perfectionist overachiever. I procrastinate by doing things like running a half marathon (it just really needed to be run!) or baking cookies for the entire neighborhood Just Because. You can tell when I’m procrastinating because I’m getting a whole lot done. Except, of course, what I actually need to be doing.

That, after all, is why I decided to do this headshave blackmail. To overcome my procrastinating overachieving…ness, I needed consequences, and I needed them to be dire.

But after week one of the challenge, during which I was mostly productive thanks to a little performance enhancement drug called Tic Tacs, I was lured back to old habits.

ONE: I decided the business I’d slowly been working on launching should be launched RIGHT NOW. TWO: I said yes to writing about 25,000 words for freelance jobs, which included a major SEO job for a paper supplies company and a big literature guide for a Dr. Seuss book.

Soon, I didn’t know what I was working on when. I confused the paper project with the Seuss project.

*Note: That should read “beets,” but I’d bet Dwight is a pretty good DJ, too.

Paper product SEO crept into my book.

And, like the sneaky enemy it is, time fled.

A week to go before my head shave deadline. Never had I been more productive. Never had I further to go.

The Smell of Drought – Published in Black Heart Magazine!

Our lawn is a jungle. Wild grass blows in the wind, and it’s just as lush and full as the well-watered plants that spring between the sidewalks of Seattle. There are tall stalks of some unknown, prickly weed, around which bees take turns hovering.

The sky is grey and threatening, the weather maps red with tornado warnings.

“Get out your NOAA weather radio,” they’re saying. “Weather approaches.”

There is a dog in the yard across from ours and the wind howls and the dog howls and the dog scratches at the screen door and still the house is dark and still the house is quiet.

This is a very different scene than the one that inspired The Smell of Drought, a short of mine recently published in Black Heart Magazine. Written in the heart of a terrible drought, this piece explores water’s effect on the land, the body, and the spirt.  Check ‘er out here, and then go drink a glass of freaking water.

http://blackheartmagazine.com/2012/03/09/the-smell-of-drought-by-leah-kaminsky/

Summer In The City

It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy the occasional bout of small talk–not so long as it adhered to templates sampled from the loudest voice to ripple across this morning’s blogosphere.  No, it was all the things that people could be doing while they small talked.  Mixing that latte, ringing up toiletries, debarking the express, generally: tut-tut-to-ing it; crossing the goddamn street.

This, she knew, meant she was decidedly a city person–not a country girl temporarily swapping tree forests for cultural ones, but a get-outta-my-way-gotta-get-this-next-thing-done-it’s-hot-as-hell-out-here-and-I’m-tired-and-hungry-and-don’t-give-a-crap-what-the-tops-of-the-skyscrapers-look-like-you-goddamn-tourist city person.

Or perhaps, as she’d once guessed, this was simply what it meant to be an adult.

The other day while waiting for the light in a haze of burning diesel, she’d overheard a conversation between a modern intellectual type–the kind with black rimmed glasses he had no physical need for and a voice made of NPR/PRI soporific intonations–and one of those shell shocked hippies who looked like he’d just returned from a forty year acid trip to discover the world had moved on but not much improved itself.

“What about life?” the hippie asked.  “Experience?  Presence?  Moment to moment pleasure?”

The intellectual shrugged, pinched his lips.  “I stopped to smell the roses,” he said, prepared his verdict, tapped his foot.  “Eh.”

Then he sighed, dug for change, made a mental list of phone calls for when he climbed the stairs to his closet-sized loft that lacked real windows yet baked skin like a kiln.

“And how about this weather?”

Then the light changed and they jostled across First, thighs sticky and feverish in the goddamn heat.

An Elderly Man’s Fairy Tale

A gaggle of elderly men shuffles past the coffee shop lead by their Pekingese pups.  One is the height of a light pole, yet it’s potbelly, bellybutton, heart attack as far as the eye can see.  Another sucks food from his teeth, his reddened cheeks inflating and deflating beneath sporadic patches of a white whisker facescape.

Too eager for hydration, the first dumps an icy drink onto his tonsils, then rolls over his potbelly and gasps for air.  The second laughs and pounds his back heartily, then mirrors his movements with consumptive coughs.  Then a third man nudges around the corner, peering over his walker like a beady-eyed gunner into the South Pacific night.  He steers his ship toward a bike rack, straightens suddenly, and belches into the trees.

“To the beach!” he cries.  And I wonder what it must be like to be old.

Published in Pindeldyboz!

A few months back, I had the pleasure of having my short short, The Secret Society of Carpet Liers, published in Pindeldyboz.  How’s that for alliteration?  Check it out on their website here.

This piece was the result of experimentation in the last months of my MFA with shorter forms and more precise phrasing.  I always tend to move in this direction after struggling through a poorly conceived novel.  BIG to tiny.  For me, short shorts mean declarative sentences which mean depressing prose.  Fortunately, I had just gotten out of a relationship at the time, and had plenty of heart-wrenching things to say.

Enjoy!