life

the new year should start in march

Having tagged along for my husband’s conference, I now sit in a casino-hotel called “Mystic Lake” run by the Mdewakanton Nation of Minnesota Native Americans, and it smells like cigarette smoke and old coffee. Likely because the casino is across the way and there’s a Caribou Coffee right behind me (cue the squeal of steaming milk). The combination of smells is mildly inspiring, if only for the old song. And I realize in a jolt I’ve not written here for a good six months.

Let me give you a brief photo update:

After I left Thailand in July 2017, my street rescue Jet got a new home and a new best friend, a little chihuahua named Tinkerbell. They’re pretty close, close enough Jet feels she can push Tink around a little…

In late October, I got to see my best friend in her new home in Kansas City, where she’s working like a BOSS at Hallmark. We then roadtripped back to my house in Kentucky in time for Halloween. She even wore a witch hat for me (dress-up is SO uncool). I was Mavis, the vampgal from Hotel Transylvania, and somewhere mid-transformation, used way too much Hard Candy concealer. People kept walking up to the antique shop booth where I was working and jumping when I moved. “Wow! I thought you were fake!”

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Bestie pulled an illegal U-ee in Lee’s Summit, Missouri for me to snap this. She knows me so well.

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Mid-November, about two weeks before my wedding, I visited my in-laws in Wisconsin…and realized just how cold my new home was going to be. Proceeded to search Amazon for appropriate clothing:

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Speaking of weddings, my best guy and I were engaged in August! After two years of long-distance, a story I will have to share another time, he proposed to me at my family’s favorite beach in South Carolina and even used sign language to ask me to marry him.

I mostly worked the ANTI-wedding planning game, because when I had to sit too long and think about details, the mental atmosphere ran something like this:

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There’s a reason I work at a café now.

Our wedding was December 2, a mid-morning ceremony with twinkle lights, Southern breakfast foods, and the best cake any of us have every tasted (thanks to my best friend’s aunt!).

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It’s amazing how fast the wedding flew by. I think here, standing with my new brother-in-law and his gorgeous wife, who got married only a few months before us, I was in such a daze that the only thing I could think to be grateful for was that we were no longer standing in front everyone, getting stared at. The week before, I had started to Google searches like “how to not get sick on your wedding day” or “INFJ marriage terrified too many eyeballs.” While I was still nauseated and could barely eat all the way up to the ceremony, I calmed down as soon as I saw L. And then, surprisingly, he cried before I did!

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It’s still just as cold as I worried it would be, and most days my clothes are so puffy, I cannot even detect myself in them. Observe, how I wear the coat I bought for Nepal and Turkey, thinking I would never have to wear it again…

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But after some time learning how to dress, get around in piles of snow, and I don’t know, cook food*, I’m starting to get the hang of married life and am getting back to writing. (*In Thailand, I just walked down the soi to our neighborhood restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall joint with the most delicious yellow curry–served best with a plateful of rice and a fried egg on top. What was the point of cooking when I could get all that and a coconut water for under two dollars?)

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On another note, after hearing about my sadness in leaving my Thai kitty behind, L’s family gave us one of their cats, Millicent. Black like my street sass but with a tuxedo pattern of white fur and “gloves,” she is the bully granddaughter of the family’s first two cats, who like true barn cats just kept having herds of kittens until they were taken in for preventative measures.

Millicent apparently did not like people or other cats or anything really and so would hang out under the stairs in the basement like a troll. Seeing how unfriendly she was, I was at first resistant to taking her in. I like my cats to be mostly like dogs except able to properly employ a sand box. But after a few weeks of hermit life under the bed, she decided she could stand us. She’s especially affectionate in the morning, when her food bowl is empty. It’s a good thing we don’t have stairs nearby. I’m sure one of us would go tumbling, how she winds around our legs.IMG_0937

So life has settled in, green things are reemerging from their solace in the deep earth, and I too sift through the things I’ve collected in the winter and turn to my journals and keyboard to discover what I think again.

Stay tuned. Many words in the works. And thanks, as always, for reading.

❤ , dori.png

 

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on writing

Story 101 Ep. V: Your Very Important Person

Your personal doubt-killer is whoever you want it to be.

The critic inside all of us lives a cushy existence. She doesn’t create. She doesn’t contribute. She doesn’t have anything nice to say. We each have one, unless you’re so doped up on something–be it caffeine or alcohol–that she’s having a lie-down in the back. In which case she’ll probably be snotty about what you wrote later, particularly since she didn’t get to have a go at it the first time.

We all have one. Mine looks like a girl from my college years, and yours may look like your varsity soccer coach.

But perhaps the best part of writing creatively is that it reminds us that we have imaginations. And just as our brains are bent on inventing us some spiteful opinionated backseat driver, it can produce us a Most Valuable Player–our favorite, most prized, most gold-star-giving, A-for-awesome reader.

Real or imaginary, this person is your Audience. Write for him. If something doesn’t make sense, clarify so he understands. If you find yourself explaining too much, think from his perspective and see if you’re talking down to him. If you hate this scene, imagine what would grab his attention. If you think the dialogue sounds forced, picture how he would hear it, as if playing in the background on TV.

Charming critics is for the academics. Unless you love them. Then charm them to death.

As for me, I will not kill myself to avoid entertainment style noveling, the popular sort from which Rilke discouraged his young poet friend, i.e., at all costs remain in the mountains and let the organ by which you create–your life–atrophy into disuse; go on making art, the highest of its kind, since life is a support system for art, and art is for the smart kids; blah blah blah. On the contrary, one) it’s no fun being stuck-up and two) my Favorite Person would enjoy reading an entertaining high fantasy novel. So I will write them one.

Who is this for? Whoever you choose.

Get creating, doubt-crushers.

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on writing

Story 101, Ep. IV: Events, Embryos, Essentials

The original source of these ideas remains sketchy in my memories; perhaps this bit was a talk on divine artistry by Tim Keller. But if your story holds most or all of these elements, I could almost guarantee it automatically rocks. These are the seeds of existence–and the stuff that addicts us to your narrative world.

  • a birth: an actual birth, a beginning of a dream, a newness
  • a death: a real death of someone we love or someone we have just met or someone who affects someone we love—because life is fragile, is it not? And ends are as vast in meaning as beginnings.
  • a marriage: a great love, a union against all odds, the meeting of souls in an otherwise chaotic realm that is Real Life–because be it, as it is, fraught with meaning, it is also chaotic, and love is a time-space-and-spirit miracle.
  • a redemption*: a making of peace, a cycle back to the beginning of the events and a renewing of what was once new and went wrong, a happy ending (*note: a tragedy will never come round to this, but we sit, reading, waiting, wishing for what could have been, and in this way, redemption is alluded to. I think of Nick’s green light at the end of Gatsby: a longing for a dream that never delivered.)

These are like the meat-and-potatoes of your story. If you avoid these in the name of “not getting too heavy,” you lose what may be called “Stakes.” What are the consequences of Ivy not retrieving that medicine in time? Oh gosh darn it, she gets a big headache is not nearly as compelling as then her true love dies. 

Modern and postmodern tales toy with these elements in order to pose questions against our narrative expectations. I recall my sister’s fascination with Hitchhiker’s Guide and the detritus of events that made her laugh (or cry) in their brutal nonsensicality. But the stories that inspire and incline earth-folk to greatness–at least, so I would argue–echo the Monomyth structure and involve each of these elements, literally or metaphorically.

On another note, I’ve also been toying with Dan Harmon’s Plot Embryo method (see Rachael Stephen’s practical application of it here and Harmon’s succinct explanation here)—and loving it.

Keep your eyes open for Episode V (concerning bullets 6. and 7.)!

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Story 101, Ep. III: Humans vs. Characters

“Characters” smell of stereotype and fiction.

If you met a character at a bus stop, you wouldn’t want to have a conversation with him–it would feel as forced as sitcom dialogue–and you’d wonder what was wrong with his face. Humans, on the other hand, have quirks and patterns of behavior that fit within the scope of their humanness. They wouldn’t try to talk to you at a bus stop or they most certainly would; they’d talk to a fence post and have a good time at it. But they’d be real. And given the number of examples we have surrounding us, I wonder why it’s so hard?

Collect people like stamps and try to capture their essence in as few of words as possible. If you read it later and can’t remember who they were, how they made you feel, then you can’t use it, which is too bad. But the pretty people aren’t usually memorable anyways, and the ones carrying Rottweiler puppies or a beard to their knees are so striking as to be astounding. You couldn’t possibly have a motiveless character who wears Undertaker shirts and bounces fat babies on their hip.

Don’t be afraid to borrow and don’t so much as write your characters as find them.

Look for Episode IV (concerning bullet 5.)!

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Story 101, Ep. II: Problems and More Problems

Don’t give it to ’em easy.

I’ve come to think of problem-invention as a parallel to my experience befriending people in Southeast Asia. American culture affords the sort of fast best-friendship that springs from extroverted social norms and bonding over sports teams or favorite authors, which immediate heart-to-hearts follow. This is not the case, though, for “cold cultures” — like introverted quiet sister Thailand. Culturally reserved but friendly, Thais accidentally feed the lie that you are not only friends but good ones. In a little bit, with some effort and time, you will be invited for dinner. You’ll think: “We’re totally friends!” But you’re not. When a wall comes flying up from a trapdoor in the ground, it’ll nearly clip you, and you may feel angry. Around the third or fourth time this happens, you’ll get discouraged at the thought of ever becoming as good of friends as you think you are. But still, you plow onward, and then another wall nearly takes off your nose. You may be in the jungles for a good few years before one day your Thai “acquaintance” will look at you and think and look at you and think and finally ask you what your favorite color is.

As soon as the main problem dies, your story is over.

The temptation as a creator is to invent the world you wish you had and make your characters flourish in it. But this is where we may mirror Real Life, which may not make a living off it but does enjoy a good dabble of thwarting. We learn through struggle, so let your characters struggle. Give them a problem relevant to their goal and let them want it so bad, their wanting bleeds through the pages and makes us match our breathing to theirs. Then thwart them.

On your character’s road to actualizing his or her goal, there are spring-loaded doors in the ground. But the more walls, the bigger the pay-off. I’ll never forget how happy I was to answer: “It’s green! Green green green!”

Keep an eye out for Episode III (concerning bullet 4.)!

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Design concepts for the brand. Brainstorm with your team on how you want to develop your brand visually. This is a crucial step in getting your brand noticed!

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