Am I a writer?

When I was a little kid I wrote ALL THE TIME. We had this old electric typewriter that used to be my Grandpa’s, and I’d lug it to my room, plug it in, and type away. I mostly remember writing plays, or screenplays that I planned to videotape (yes, I said videoTAPE) on my parents’ camcorder, starring my sisters, cousins, and me. I distinctly remember there was one screenplay I intended to film in my Grandma’s kitchen, and another in which I was an innkeeper with a modern kitchen disguised as an old-fashioned kitchen. I think there are probably some really awful videos, if anyone can access them, of us as kids filming our plays outside in the backyard. I KNOW there’s an awful one of me screaming at everyone in my parents’ basement that they ruined everything; I was a bit of a control freak and difficult to deal with.

I also wrote poems – not very good ones, and I only remember this gem, coauthored by my sister, Kayla:

If you ever meet a baby

who cries really loud

Then pick him up high

right up to the sky,

then drop him in the tub

and named him Bub.

C’mon, you all recognize real poetic genius here, right?

I turned all of my school paper assignments into creative writing stories. I don’t remember them, but I DO remember when I stopped: high school freshman English class, when we learned to write in MLA format. I remember crying about it (what do you mean I can’t use the word “I”?) and thinking my teacher was just the most awful teacher EVER; I’d even convinced my mom of it. Really, she taught me an incredibly important skill. But I very rarely had the opportunity to write creatively in school again, and I stopped doing it on my own time, too. Why? I don’t really remember.

I’ve known for a long time that I can write, and well (I’m so humble, aren’t I?). I wrote well in college, and in grad school one of my papers was used as part of the school’s reaccreditation process. I wrote analytic pieces for my job before I left to have kids. But I almost never enjoyed it. I did it because I had to. Then, in 2015 I started this blog on a whim. I still didn’t consider myself a writer. A book blogger, sure; but that was talking about others’ writing, not “actually writing” (whatever that’s supposed to mean).

A couple of months ago I saw a call for submissions to a new online literary magazine called Kindred Spirit, and for the first time I felt the urge to write – and I did it. I sat down and wrote to the prompt, a piece that I am pretty proud of but ultimately decided I’m not ready to share and didn’t submit. But the itch to write hasn’t gone away, it’s only gotten stronger. It’s perplexing, really – it feels a little uncomfortable and I’m pretty shy about it. So, I’m starting small. There’s a Twitter hashtag, #VSS365, that has a daily one-word prompt – you write a tweet-sized story using the word for the day and post it. I probably do it less than half the time, but it’s been so FUN. It’s like I feel a long-unused part of my brain slowly shaking off its cobwebs and sputtering to life. And the more I do it, the more I want to write — though I don’t know what or why, exactly. Maybe I’ll pop back in here and share some of my little #VSS365s…

I know to be a writer you don’t need to write every day. You don’t need to publish. You don’t even have to share anything you write with another person. And yet I feel hesitant to label myself “a writer.” It sounds so big and important, so much more than an unpublished piece from the heart and a few tweet-length stories or poems. But I’m feeling it out, trying to figure it out… Am I a writer?

Book Review – Calibration 74: Experimental Fiction That Sticks With You

Calibration 74: An Experimental Novella by [William F. Aicher]

It took me a while to figure out how to write this review because there’s just so much to think about packed into a relatively short book. I think I could read it over and over again and come away with something new each time. I’m going to try to focus on a few thoughts:

First, there are so many nuggets of truth, of wisdom scattered throughout the book. I could write a whole list of favorite quotes or lines I still think about. The book is a journey through the unnamed narrator’s mind as he searches, as he says in Calibration 42, for the answer to the ultimate question: “Life. The universe. Everything.” There are so many explorations of reality – what is reality? Is it perception? Is it mental? Not surprisingly since it was written during this pandemic, the book is so timely in a world where we’re increasingly living virtually, disconnected and yet hyperconnected.

Second, while it’s at times evocative of mental illness it’s not ABOUT mental illness. I identified with the narrator from the start, reflecting multiple times in early Calibrations that my stream of consciousness often mirrored his. At first this was comforting—maybe I’m not so strange after all!—but it eventually became slightly disturbing and I started to wonder whether I wanted to identify with this guy… I mean, there has to be something wrong with a guy who peeps in a woman’s window and boils skulls! I think, ultimately, that’s part of the exploration of reality, of humanity. Of how fine the line often is between being okay and not being okay.

Finally, I really liked that I never knew what to expect from the next Calibration. By the end of the book especially, it’s like reading a dream sequence. Things seamlessly change and morph in a completely nonsensical way that at the same time seems perfectly natural. Reading it felt like when you’re recounting a dream to someone – it all makes sense but then you say it out loud and you realize it makes no sense at all but it FELT like it made sense when you were in it. It’s trippy, but it works. Really well.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up, but I was thoroughly pleased and impressed. It’s philosophical, edgy, and very different from anything else I’ve read. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to read this book and will definitely look forward to Aicher’s upcoming work!

Thank you to William F. Aicher for gifting me a copy of this book! Get your copy here – you’ll be glad you did!

***** Five stars (and you know I don’t give those out lightly)

Are you really a unicorn? (A book review)

I’ve been following author Jess Hernandez on Twitter for a while and was so excited to see her debut picture book, First Day of Unicorn School (available for pre-order now!), is out on NetGalley. Sooo I logged in for the first time in two years (yikes), requested the book, and was thrilled to be approved within the hour. I sat down to read it with my four-year-old this afternoon and I was NOT disappointed.

First of all, look at that gorgeous cover! The whole book is full of bright, fun illustrations just like the cover art. My daughter loved them, and we spent a while just looking at the pictures and talking about the animals.

So, does the content live up to the expectation set by the cover? Yes! Milly is a donkey with a party hat (NOT a Unicorn), but gets accepted to Unicorn School anyway. She’s so nervous on her first day that her classmates are going to discover she’s not actually a unicorn and she won’t fit in, but it turns out her classmates all have a secret of their own . . . My four-year-old caught on quickly to what was happening (“Mom, she’s not a unicorn!”), and had a great time pointing out all the different “unicorn horns” throughout the book.

Ultimately, it’s a feel-good picture book showing kids that everyone has something they’re worried about, something they fear will keep them from fitting in — which actually means we’re all more similar than we thought, and really have nothing to fear. It’s about accepting ourselves and each other, and gets that message across in a totally kid-friendly, non-preachy way. I think it’s fabulous!

The book is actually geared for kids in grades K-2, so I’m looking forward to reading it to my first grader, too, and seeing how well she picks up the message. I give this one five stars, and recommend it to everyone with little kids at home.

Thanks to the author and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy!