Receiving Critique

Whether they’ve been asked for it or not, most people when confronted with a creative work of obscure origins will give an emphatic opinion about it. I’ve experienced this multiple times, and so have you.

“I thought it would be better.”

“Maybe change the beginning so it takes place in Africa.”

“Make it funny.”

All of which are actual notes that I have received from real people who read my writing.

Thankfully, I’ve also been blessed with readers who give notes that are actually helpful. The thing is, between the helpful stuff and the unhelpful thoughtless stuff and the amazing completed stuff there lies a Great Wasteland of Indecision.

Today I would like to consider some strategies for crossing that wasteland and coming out the other side – as a better writer with a better script. I want to consider these strategies today, because today I am a lonely writer plodding through the parched, pathless sand. And I need to remember what the heck for.

So in no particular order, I give you these…

Possibly Helpful And At The Very Least Completely Innocuous Thoughts:

4 Strategies for Implementing Script Notes | Traveling Screenwriter

1. Be indecisive and okay with it

When I’m fresh off a rough draft high, it’s tough to hear that it’s not good enough. Even though I know this, I’ve been anticipating it even before Fade Out, it’s still a thing to be processed emotionally and intellectually. At first, you will have no idea where to go with these constructively critical responses. You will just have to stare at the wall for awhile and let it sink in.

I don’t know if anyone can relate to this, but when I finish a draft or a revision, I honestly feel like it’s the best I can do. So when the inevitable feedback comes, it’s like: I can’t. I can’t make it any better than it is, because this is my best.

But of course you can. I can. It just doesn’t feel that way at first.

2. Try not to listen to the voices of darkness

As if we don’t have enough inner chatter, between characters and plot shenanigans and the angsty inner story every writer is really trying to tell, our doubts and fears want to point out a few things too. It gets super noisy.

So do what you gotta do to boost confidence, quiet unease, and quit comparing yourself to others, but know that the noise will probably never disappear altogether and that’s okay. It’s normal. We all have it.

Of course if you are successful at ditching the voices altogether, then that is really neat.

3. Make two piles

Keep and reject. Of the comments I received on my script, which ones resonated with me (whether I like it or not) and which ones do I completely disagree with?

Some feedback will hit home. I know it’s true, even if I have no clue where to begin implementing it. Other feedback is just not connecting for me, no matter which angle I view it from, and when that happens I think we are totally fine to disregard it.

Or, if you’re like me and just have to believe that everyone in the world sees something useful that you don’t: try to get to the spirit of the critique. If someone feels my protagonist lacks motivation in Act 1, and I can’t seem to add anything that works for me, then maybe something else in Act 1 needs to go.

See, this is why revisions are exhausting. But worth it. Probably.

But whatever changes I make, I know that I as the writer am responsible for them. So I’m not making any changes I don’t feel in my gut are working for me. And I don’t think that’s arrogance, it’s just being real about the story I’m trying to tell. And no one else really knows what I’m shaping in my head – it’s up to me to bring it out and show them.

4. Don’t give up

As I write and rewrite, I have to keep connecting with the core of the story – whatever fascinated me with it in the very beginning. Whether it’s a character flaw or a curious world, I need to keep enthralling myself with that basic element. Otherwise I get lost.

The fun stuff is what keeps me oriented, keeps me telling the story I set out to tell.

And with any luck, after all the critique and deep dark questioning and sweating blood, we end up with an even better, clearer, more compelling version of that idea nugget than we ever thought we could write.

Onward we trudge, faithful screenwriters! For we shall cross the Wasteland of Indecision and reach the Promised Land of a Finished Screenplay. Keep hope alive.

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Pitching Your Screenplay

Dear Inktip Pitch Summit,

Your distinguished event is coming up in just over a week, and I’m beginning to sweat. What will happen if I stumble over my words and give a poor presentation? Will I be eaten alive and disgraced forever after?

Sincerely,
Sweaty in Palm Beach

Dear Sweaty,

Please don’t fret about your pitch. Some nerves are to be expected, but remember the producers and agents in attendance are regular people just like you, and they just want to hear a good story. 

So simply tell your story and let them react to it. You may find that the simple act of telling it over and over will give you new insights into your characters and make you even more excited to see it brought to the big screen.

Just imagine your star on Hollywood Boulevard… It all begins somewhere!

Love,
Inktip

Dear Inktip,

I’m packing for my trip to Burbank, and am concerned about the dress code. Someone told me people dress up as their characters for the pitch meetings. Should I do that? And where am I ever going to get my hands on a mermaid costume at this late hour?

Finless in Wyoming

Dear Finless,

We don’t know who may have told you to dress like a mermaid, but we highly encourage you to abandon that effort. Simple business casual is preferred.

Of course a pair of seashells is never frowned upon should you wish to save them for the pool.

Love, 
Inktip

Captain Jack pitches his script ideas. If a producer doesn’t like it, he’s marooned.

Dear Inktip,

What if I pitch my script and a producer requests to read it? Will I become an overnight success, famous, and rich beyond my wildest dreams?

Hopefully,
Dreaming in South Poughkeepsie

Dear Dreaming,

Yes.

Love, 
Inktip

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4. Kristen & The Wolf meets Progress

Remember the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean that shows The Interceptor in a raging storm and howling winds, and Mr. Gibbs asks Jack why he’s smiling? Remember what Jack says? I do (and not just because I’ve seen Pirates 50 times).

“We’re catching up.”

It’s enough to put a grin on the grimmest outlook. Making progress is fun, no matter what else is going on.

As of two weeks ago, I was beginning the next module in my screenwriting class (covering subtext – fascinating stuff) and bemoaning how far behind I’d gotten. I totaled it up – 22 missed assignments. Yikes.

22 lessons, from 6 different modules.

So I made a plan. In a nutshell, the plan involves food, sleep, and writing. And I’ve been working that plan. And as much as it hurts to say no to outside interests that would drag me away from those core activities, I have to smile when I see all the tracks I’ve made in this whirlygig storm of activity.

As of today: 7 down, 15 to go. Oh yeah.

Kristen-and-the-Wolf-Part-4

4. Kristen to the Rescue (conclusion)

Kristen froze mid-air, filled with a mix of glee and dread. She had never encountered an animal of this scale before – what should be done? No answers presented themselves except to carry on.

So Kristen, vine in hand, climbed and slipped and fell her way back to solid ground. “I’m coming!” she called into the pit. She tried to secure one end of the vine like she’d seen on TV, but the woody fibers did not respond well to the clumsy knots she attempted. They simply fell apart as soon as she let go.

But it was okay, because Kristen had a Plan B. Taking a firm stance on the edge of the pit, she wrapped the vine around her waist and dropped the other end into the pit. “Go ahead,” she called, “take the other-”

Before she could finish, the whatever-it-is had taken hold of the vine and Kristen found herself on the bottom of the ditch. Right next to Ron. We’ll call him Ron because as soon as Kristen looked up at him, he hollered out, “Ron! ROOOOON!”

Aside from a little shock, Kristen was none the worse for her unexpected trip south. She got to her feet and gazed up at the sasquatch who was staring at her with equally frank curiosity, the crushed threads of the vine smooshed between his fingers.

Taking his lead, Kristen shouted her name, “KRI-stennn!” and stuck out a hand. Ron shifted his weight and Kristen jumped away just in time to avoid his enormous foot stamping down in her general vicinity. “Watch it!” Kristen shouted back, “I’m just a small person!”

Ron seemed to register this somehow, and countered with a mighty swat from his less enormous (but still quite large) hand. Kristen’s hair fluttered around her as she ducked what would have been a crippling blow and stationed herself behind a large rock at the edge of the pit.

“GENTLE!” Kristen hollered with all her might. Beside her foot was the pine cone she’d tossed down moments ago. She lobbed it at Ron’s arm and it connected with a soft, hairy pat. “SOFT!”

Ron did nothing in response to this and Kristen, sensing his confusion ventured out from behind the rock. One hand out in a calming ‘stay’ position, she eased toward him and rested it on his knee. Perhaps this was not the most appropriate place to touch a sasquatch on first meeting, but it was all she could reach. And patting someone’s feet is just weird.

Aside from a low growl, Ron gave no indication of what he made of this. Before she could explore it further, Kristen heard voices above.

They were too far away to distinguish words, but they did not sound friendly. Ron heard them too, and shuffled his feet restlessly, filling his lungs to protest but Kristen shushed him and patted his knee reassuringly. Taking hold of some roots protruding from the earth, she again undertook to climb.

She got about halfway – high enough to look Ron in the eye and again hold a finger to her lips reassuringly – when a scruffy white face appeared over the edge of the pit. “Why… what are you doing down there, wee thing?”

Before Kristen should answer, the face had moved away. She could hear him hollering to a companion with words that only made sense sporadically: “girl,” “ditch,” and “gun.” Kristen froze to the spot, her brow furrowed in thought.

“…caught ourselves a Bigfoot alright,” a voice was saying, returning to the ditch. Kristen strengthened her grip and looked back up. Two faces now presented themselves, and the other one with glasses was talking. “Whew boy, what a sight he is! Don’t you be afraid little girl, we’ll make sure he leaves you unharmed.”

“I’ve already made sure of that!” Kristen screamed up at them.

“Just calm down sugar, we’ll have you out in a jiffy.” The white beard was saying as his companion disappeared again.

Kristen was perfectly calm. What were these jokers talking about? She looked at Ron and they shrugged. A strange metallic sound met their ears, which Kristen didn’t understand. It seemed to anger Ron, though, and he immediately became restive.

Kristen knew why when the man with glasses reappeared, leveling a rifle down at Ron. Ron roared his name, stomping his feet in protest. The noise was deafening, but Kristen clung to her hand holds and screamed, “Nooo!” But the man with glasses raised his gun and took aim.

Without thinking, Kristen simply flung herself off the wall and between Ron and the gun. Ron reached up to catch her, but the trigger had already been pulled, the bullet tearing through Kristen’s shoulder and lodging in the opposite wall of the ditch.

“You shot a little girl!” “What made you do such a thing, you deranged child!” “Aw Reuben, we’re in trouble now!”

Kristen lay in Ron’s hands, too much in shock to feel pain, but triumphant never the less. The next hour was a blur as the hunters worked to raise her out of the pit and tend to her wounds. She realized vaguely that night was falling and a fire was being made. Beans were coaxed down her throat and Ron was silent as she mentally willed him to keep quiet while the hunters were preoccupied with nursing her.

The next morning Kristen’s shoulder was bound and throbbing, her arm in a sling.

The ditch was empty.

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3. Kristen & The Wolf meets The Great Outdoors

It’s winter. Even at the beach. And that has made it tough to get out and get some exercise.

Writing is delightful, but it doesn’t afford much movement. That’s why I’ve been inspired by N.G. Davis in his effort to become a better screenwriter and a better runner. All his pictures have snow on the ground, so I’m betting it’s even colder where he is than where I am.

So I resolved this morning that no matter the wind conditions (it does get might windy on the ocean), I would bundle up to my eyebrows if need be and get out there.

I actually lucked out, weather-wise. It’s probably the warmest it will be all week, touching 48 degrees at 9am when I made it out, with wind at 7 mph. Almost balmy, you might say.

As I marched across the sand and toward the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, I tried to remember the last time I’d been out for a run. I couldn’t. I do walk quite a bit, being in a tourist town where most modern conveniences vital to life are within a few blocks of my front door – the coffee shop, the library, the grocery store, the post office.

But there’s no feeling quite like that of jogging down the beach as the ocean nips at your feet and invites you to go shoeless (not in 48 degree weather, thanks). It makes me look forward to warmer temps, but also solidifies my resolve to make it work regardless of the cold. Because it’s a step of intention. It’s a point I’m making about my life and the way I want to be.

And I can always come back inside if it’s too cold.

Kristen-and-the-Wolf-Part-3

3. Part One: Kristen to the Rescue (continuing)

When we last left Kristen, she was on her knees at the edge of a ditch, reaching out to a faceless creature making roaring sounds in the thickening fog.

From the sound of it, the creature was far below. Kristen reached down into the cavity as deeply as she could, but only grasped at rocks and mud for her trouble.

A tree across the pit caught her eye – its viney branches like arms hanging down invitingly. She ran to it and tugged at the wooden vines, but none would give way. Going on adrenaline, Kristen began climbing the tree. She had never climbed a tree before, and she wasn’t altogether sure of her next move. But somehow she got a leg up and made it to the next niche.

The bark was rough and unyielding against her tiny hands, but Kristen continued to climb. As she did, the fog abated and allowed her to see down to the ground – a feat which Kristen did not even attempt until she had fairly reached the top. But before that she was preoccupied with wrenching one of those vines free from its starting place somewhere in the trunk of the tree.

She was unsuccessful. But happening to live nearby, a woodpecker perched by Kristen’s knee. She was so relieved she might have cried. Instead she dragged the vine close to the woodpecker’s beak and let it peck away.

The woodpecker, true to its character, gave up long before the job was done. It had its fill of hard work and flew away, no regard for the hapless creature depending on its help. “Typical,” Kristen muttered under her breath as she twisted the vine where it had been pecked.

Amazingly, the fibers of the wood began to separate. Kristen worked at it, her hope growing, as bit by bit the vine began to break free. A vehement roar from below prompted her to look down and offer reassurance.

But the words died on her lips. Not only did Kristen suddenly realize how very high up she had gotten, but she could now clearly identify the impressions she had blindly followed through the woods. Footprints. Gigantic footprints belonging to a gigantic creature with gigantic feet, having been baited to fall prey to a gigantic ditch.

This was it. Kristen had gotten herself into a full fledged adventure.

To be continued

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2. Kristen & the Wolf meets a Limited Attention Span

We’ve all been there. Talking to a friend or hanging out in a group, and suddenly something happens.

The back-and-forth ceases to go forth. It’s just you talking and the person you’re talking to is now somewhere else – metaphorically speaking.

What happened? Any number of things – a ding, a ring, a super-loud Katy Perry ringtone. Or simply the silent arrival of an email.

It’s become increasingly common for our lives, conversations, and thoughts to be interrupted by the electronic gadgets crying out for our attention. The cumulative effect of these interruptions is making it difficult to see anything through to completion – a thought, a conversation, a project.

But I say it’s not too late. I say we take back our attention span.

Be free! When you’re talking to your friend and the phone rings, ignore it. When you’re writing a screenplay and two emails pop up on your Outlook, save them for later! I believe it’s these little choices that will dictate the strength of our focus.

Let’s stand up to our gadgets and show them who’s boss. Agreed?

Just a minute, I need to get up before my legs fall asleep.

Kristen-and-the-Wolf-Part-2

2. Part One: Kristen To The Rescue

It’s tough being 11 years old sometimes. You have to do a lot of things you don’t want to do, and you can’t do a lot of things you do want to do. You depend on grownups to take care of you and they don’t always do that very well. It’s enough to make you run away.

Which is what Kristen did.

Perhaps run is not the best way to describe it – drifted is more what she did. The school bus was grumbling down the street and Kristen thought once more about how much she did NOT want to get on it. The woods across the street seemed to beckon, and she simply went. The bus stopped and picked up the other kids while Kristen disappeared into the woods.

She drifted around all day, not bothering to mark her trail and really not at all concerned about going back. She inspected wildflowers and dribbled her fingers in puddles. She talked to a garter snake, which led her to a beaver dam. The beavers were all gone, but a few fish played Marco Polo nearby.

Kristen got into the water with the fish and touched their shimmering scales. The sunlight warmed the water, but it was still early spring and much too cold for a little girl to be getting herself soaked. The fish seemed to realize this as they nibbled at her fingers and nudged her knees.

Eventually the fish came to the conclusion that the best way to get rid of her would be to leave her alone (thus the expression). Kristen was sorry to see the fish go, and wondered what she had done to frighten them. But she was beginning to get awfully chilly and hungry.

An imposing evergreen stood on the other side of the creek, with boughs forming a natural teepee from high up the tree trunk to the mossy ground. Nestled inside the green tent, Kristen ate the peanut butter sandwich that Mrs. Bibbs had packed for her lunch. In here, it was not warm, but it was less cold. And it was dark.

Kristen fell asleep.

When she woke, it was difficult to tell anything had happened. She was still curled up next to the base of the tree and it was still vaguely bright outside the closely woven pine needles. But something had happened, Kristen could tell.

Parting the branches, Kristen peered around the still forest. The air was still. The creek was still. Kristen ventured out and nearly fell. She had tripped on something. She looked down, but couldn’t see any impediments. Another two steps and the same thing happened.

Kristen knelt down and felt the ground with her hands. It was a large indentation – about twice the width of her body, and longer than she could reach with one hand in either direction. Kristen crawled along, feeling with her hands, and soon there was another indentation. Slightly to the right this time, but similarly shaped.

She went on like this for some time, feeling for the impressions in the dirt and crawling beside them. She was so engrossed she barely noticed a light rain was beginning to fall, and with it a deep mist clouded the forest. Kristen just kept following the shapes, crawling  and scrambling over roots and rocks and flotsam.

Thankfully she caught herself in time. With her vision impaired and her focus so absorbed, Kristen almost didn’t notice the gaping hole in the ground. But instinctively she put a hand out anyway, reaching out. Because someone else had not caught themselves in time. Someone was in that ditch.

“Hello?” Kristen called. She had been nothing but calm all the day long, and not a thing had ruffled her – not missing school, not seeing a snake, not getting wet and cold in the creek, not even getting lost in the woods with no clue as to how to find her next meal. But now, knowing someone was in danger, Kristen was suddenly on the verge of panic.

“Are you okay?” She called, again reaching blindly toward nothing. In desperation she looked around her and found a pine cone. She hurled it into the ditch and it made contact with a dull thud. “Answer me! Please!”

She was rewarded with a thick roar. It was a groggy roar, not frightening in the least. Well, yes incredibly frightening but this is Kristen’s language we’re speaking here. And to her ears, it was a sleepy, disoriented, docile yawn of a roar.

She reached her hand out again. “Come on! Come out of there!”

The roar sounded again, more alert this time. There is no word-for-word translation, but Kristen understood enough to know there was no way this creature, whatever it is, could get itself out of the ditch alone.

(To be continued)

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1. Kristen & The Wolf meets Writer’s Block

To write when one wishes to do anything but.

It happens. We love to write, we want to write, we dream of writing, and then it’s time to write and we run away. I’ve been running all day: cleaning my oven (my OVEN, for goodness’ sake), baking, checking my email, and staring at the ceiling.

So how do we settle down to write when everything in us cries out for oven cleaning?

I’m sorry, that sentence is just so strange. Who wants to clean the oven? No one. Not even professional oven cleaners who started their business with just a cleaning kit and a dream, now with dozens of franchise cleaning services the world over. It’s a really unpleasant job. I would rather clean a 90-year-old toilet than an oven.

But today, this is what I’m doing rather than writing. No more. It’s time to grab my writer’s block with both hands and show it who’s boss.

Some helpful tools in that task:

1. A hot drink

Coffee, tea or hot chocolate, something warm and soothing does something to my nerves and helps me focus. Tonight it was tea (herbal, of course).

2. A candle

Nothing smelly, just a warm light on a dreary howly night.

3. Comfy pants

Self-explanatory.

4. Music

I love music, as many people do. I find it immensely conducive to focus and relaxation – both of which are important parts of writing. You have to be in the zone, and once I get there, I may not even notice the music anymore. But some well-matched tunes definitely help to usher me through the gate.

You can even take it a step further and follow Ryan Koo’s advice to create a playlist for whatever you’re working on, That way when it’s time to get back to your screenplay (or book, or poetry anthology), you can instantly replicate the vibe you had going last time. For the record, I took this advice, and it’s pretty good.

5. Just start

What’s the worst that can happen? You write something horrible and have to go back and change it all. That’s the best part! Editing something you’ve already said in order to make it better is WAY easier than generating something in the first place! So relax. Write badly!

With that in mind, I now bring you the official first part in our Kristen & The Wolf saga (the other part was really more of a prologue). If you’d care to suggest any additions to my list of writing helps, go for it.

Kristen 2

1. Part One: Kristen and the Monster

Kristen started at the new school three weeks after her 11th birthday. She had never been to a proper school before – she and Grandmom had lived far enough into the country that it was impractical for a bus to pick her up. Officially, she was homeschooled, but in reality Grandmom just brought her along to monthly errands in town.

Kristen learned to count by watching the bank teller deal out Grandmom’s money. Kristen learned to read by staring at the letters on each item in the grocery basket as Grandmom put it into the cart. “Toothpicks,” Grandmom would say, and Kristen would nod solemnly, like she got it. Eventually, she did get it.

Sometimes you gotta fake it til you make it.

So the new school was a real experience, with lots to get used to, and the culture shock on top of losing Grandmom was a big deal for Kristen. She knew it was a big deal, and Mrs. Bibbs, her foster mother, talked like she knew it was a big deal although in practice she seemed surprised Kristen didn’t just line up and work it out.

The Midcounty Elementary fifth grade class wasn’t the worst place to be new to absolutely everything. It wasn’t the worst at all, but it was uncomfortable for Kristen, who had to adjust to sitting indoors all day and nary a critter in sight. So when Miss Dinsmore announced they were having a field trip, it was like a ray of honey dripped into Kristen’s soul. It tasted like hope.

The cherry on top was when a freckly boy to her left whispered across the aisle the location of this trip – not a field, as one might expect, but the mother of all outings. The only place Kristen had ever wanted to go apart from Mount Rushmore, or the moon.

They were going to the zoo.

That night Kristen stared at the white prickly ceiling of her bare bedroom and smiled from the bottom of her heart. She was going on a trip. And there would be animals.

It was a perfect day. The sun was shining, the breeze blowing, and a little girl had offered to let Kristen sit next to her on the bus. As they each hopped off the bus and followed Miss Dinsmore through an enormous gate and to the promised land beyond, Kristen could barely breathe.

She felt as if she were coming home. The sheer variety of animals all around her was breath-taking. Kristen didn’t even know what to call most of them, and none of them had ever crossed her path in real life. The Discovery Channel can only do so much to prepare you for such a sight.

Kristen got lost.

It was almost immediate, and completely unintentional, but when Miss Dinsmore did a head count at lunchtime, it made no difference to her agony of mind.

Kristen, however, didn’t know she was lost and wandered quite cheerfully from the gorillas to the porcupines to the giraffes. She was disappointed that they were kept so far away. She wanted to go up to each one and get to know them. Standing at the gate between her and the lion, she felt frustrated.

It was such a beautiful creature, majestic, lying in the sun flipping flies away with its tail. Kristen longed to go to it and rest its head on her lap. If only she could get through these bars.

She stretched an arm through, up to her shoulder, but could budge no further. The cavern of space between them was only about a foot shorter than it had been a moment ago. And yet – was the lion coming toward her?

It had nonchalantly – almost carelessly – risen to its feet. It shook its mane now and took a few steps forward. Now the distance between them was shortened by two feet. Feeling a spark of hope, Kristen stretched her arm out again, flexing her hand to beckon the beast to her.

The beast obeyed. Step by step, almost cautiously, the lion came nearer. Kristen smiled as her hand finally met the lion’s nose. It nuzzled there for a split moment when a gasp behind her made Kristen turn and look.

“Get that child away from the fence!” It was a woman with a stroller, going ballistic from ten feet away. “She’s touching it! She’s touching the lion!”

Someone wrenched Kristen away, and next the lion let out a bloodcurdling roar. Everyone was screaming. A zoo staff member was assuring them that everything would be fine. The lion caretaker was inside the habitat, trying to lead the lion away with a long pole.

Kristen observed all of this with confusion. She had just enjoyed a beautiful moment with a ferocious animal. What was the big deal?

Thankfully, her meandering next brought Kristen to the sea lions. There Miss Dinsmore finally located her disappearing student when Kristen appeared on stage next to the man flipping fish into the sea lions’ mouths and asked if she could try it.

And she did it.

A perfect day.


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Before They Were In A Movie

Characters are my favorite. The best books and movies are invariably full of lively, unique people with mysterious or tempestuous relationships and traits. LM Montgomery and Agatha Christie hooked me into a story with their small town oddballs. The day my brother … Continue reading

Turbulence

I was sleeping, but I didn’t realize that at the time. Gradually voices lured me out of slumber and even though my brain told me to ignore them, instinctive curiosity overcame it and suddenly I was awake. I was lying in bed and listening to angry male voices fighting somewhere outside.

This happens a lot. I live right next to a bar and the late hours typically result in some sort of brawl. But this one just sounded so violent. Two men were so irate at one another the only way to express it was in a shouting competition. A woman screamed. My imagination took off. I ought to do something. What should I do? Call the police? My phone was far away. So I prayed. But even my prayers seemed to not really be happening.

In a matter of minutes all was quiet, the shouting having come to what seemed like a sudden and inexplicable end. But I was awake. I thought about what had happened and what might have happened an what I would do if it happened again. I heard rain slapping against my building. I fell asleep.

This morning the ocean was white and noisy and turbulent, with wind howling and blowing the rain sideways. Maybe the sun was sleeping behind a blanket of clouds, wondering what to do.

Commonplace Mysteries #1

A new series – based on strange or slightly surreal events I’ve observed. And of course, stretched a bit, for the purpose of good storytelling.   -Cortney

COMMONPLACE MYSTERIES:
The Strange Incident of the Recycle Bin

I came home one day and there it was. As usual. An array of empty recycle bins strewn across the sidewalk.

This is a typical sight on a Thursday afternoon. I thought nothing of it, since most people don’t get home until later in the day, and many more don’t pick up their bins until one, two, maybe three days later. No big deal. People are busy.

But one bin in particular lingered. Even after all the others had disappeared. And it wouldn’t bother me… actually, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed… except that it lingered exactly in front of my house. And I mean right there. It was the first thing I saw when I left in the morning, and it greeted me as I got home from work in the evening.

Then the homeowners association left a little warning tag on my doorknob. Okay, really? This recycle bin does not belong to me. I don’t recycle, I don’t have a bin. It’s not my responsibility. But the HOA tag is requiring me to take action. So I do.

I put the bin in front of my neighbor’s house.

When I get home the next day, guess what I see. There’s that bad penny, right in front of my house again. I guess I get the point. It’s a tightly plotted little townhouse community, and a few inches one way or the other is all we get. I was politely being informed that not only does the bin not belong to Neighbor On The Left, but that until the rightful owner is identified, please keep the stupid bin off my property. That’s my interpretation.

Not to be outdone, I slide the bin over to the right. And it lives there for a few days.

And then it’s back in front of my house. Not like it’s been put there, but almost like it went there. I’m serious. It’s like it just moved over.

I ignored it.

That night there was a huge storm. I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of winds hurling against the house, pushing tree branches around and swirling freshly raked yards with leaves. Most unhallowed of all was the gentle ruckus of the recycle bin being blown around the sidewalk.

So next morning I went out in my socks, picked it up, and put it on the deck. There. Happy?

Next day I go out to get the trash? The bin is gone. Poof.

Sometimes on stormy nights I still hear the abandoned recycle bin being blown across the sidewalk. And I really just don’t care.

© Cortney Matz, 2009

Why Grace Has A Scar On Her Forehead

This is a silly story I made up for a girl I know who wanted a good story about the scar on her forehead. This is completely fictitious and un-biographical. Laugh along with me. -Cortney

“Hey Grace, how’d you get that scar?” It had been a dull sort of day and I needed a good story. Grace has a little scar on her forehead and hasn’t everyone always wondered where it came from?

She had her hands full of takeout containers on her way to the garbage. “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s faded quite a lot.”

I waited patiently as she dumped her containers into the garbage and started tying up the bag because it was smelly. “At first it was really bright red and raised and it HURT. I kept forgetting it was there and was always scratching it or bumping it and- oh my.”

On the bottom of the bag was a giant spider. But it was dead. No biggie.

“So why was it bright red in the first place?” I inquired, solicitously returning to the topic at hand.

“Because of the hair dryer.”

“Which hair dryer?”

“The one at the hair salon. Remember that time when I got streaks?”

“The red ones?”

“No, before that. The blonde ones.”

I gazed at Grace’s purple hair and tried to remember. She can’t decide which color she likes best, so it is always changing. Which is kinda cool in an eccentric way.

“I’d forgotten about the sequins, and I think the hair dryer aggravated it.”

“Wait, where did the sequins come from?”

But Grace didn’t hear me right away because she had her head in the refrigerator. She emerged with a container of rice and I repeated the question.

“The sequins? From my tutu. I found it when I was cleaning out the basement.”

This got my attention. That basement is huge. And scary. Especially in the summer when the air conditioning starts up and sounds exactly like a deranged muppet coming after you with a tennis racket. I had to ask. “The basement? Weren’t you scared?”

She finished dumping rice on the kitchen counter and started assembling some other random ingredients. “Well not at first, because I was watching ‘Reading Rainbow’ and had this sudden urge to find all my old books. I know they were down in the basement because Mom keeps trying to sell them at the home school book sale, like, every year; and I always have to rescue them and put them back in the basement. And so LeVar Burton was telling this story about a mouse and a cookie and I have that book and I suddenly just HAD to find it!

“So I was completely absorbed in that. And when I opened the box, there were all the books and also my tutu.”

“You have a tutu?”

She grins sheepishly. “Well, I had one when I was little. I kept it. Wanna see?”

I laughed. “Not if it’s the same tutu that gave you a scar.”

“Oh, that wasn’t the tutu’s fault. I think it was really because of the books.”

I was confused. “But what about the sequins?”

“Oh I think there must’ve been a thread loose, because as soon as I picked up the tutu, the sequins slid right off. I was shocked. And saddened. That was my TUTU… and it died. Very, very sad. I was mourning it right when the air conditioning came on.”

“Ohhhh,” I nodded – it was all starting to come together. “The air conditioner scared you and you slipped on the sequins, fell over the boxes, and banged your head?”

Grace finished laying out the filling for her sushi and rolled it up. “Well yes. But that’s not what caused the scar.”

I waited, knowing it was important to leave a dramatic pause before finishing a story.

“I thought I felt a bug crawling on me and I scratched my forehead trying to get it.”

And the moral of the story is:

When You Wish To Clean Out Your Basement,
Make Sure You Shut Off The Thermostat