You Never Know Unless You Try!

Just a quick note.

There are all sorts of things to find on Twitter – beyond the promoted posts and click bait. There are lots of writing prompts to help you improve your writing. One of those is 200 Word Tuesdays. Each month there’s a theme (or two) and you write a story to fit said theme, but use only 200 words. It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds.

I don’t generally think of myself as a short story writer, but given how the novel thing is coming along, I probably shouldn’t rule anything out.

So, I tried! And succeeded! Read Beautful Armor here and follow on Twitter at @200WordTuesdays (and the fabulous person behind it all @ReeDwithaBee).

Minimum Pay, Minimum Work: Why Customer Service is Dying

The house is warm, it stopped raining in the kitchen and I have a new phone.

Several things collided this weekend, culminating in an interesting Monday (part of which I blogged about here). In truth, all of it was nothing and it was a bunch of first world problems. Sometimes, to keep it in perspective, I remind myself that it could be worse. Before I started pursuing this lucrative writing thing, I worked with drug addicts, criminals, and juvenile delinquents. Perspective is everything.

Saturday it started “raining” in my kitchen. Not raining, but water was dripping down from the light fixture over the kitchen table. I contacted the electrician and, turns out it’s no big deal – as in, not a roof leak – and he’ll be by to fix it Monday around 12:00.

Ok. I have plans to get a new phone on Monday but that should give me plenty of time. And by “phone” I mean 2 phones and a tablet that had been ordered 2 weeks ago and I had confirmed they were at the store, waiting for me to come get them.

Except I wake up Monday morning to the cold house and spider infested furnace. Fortunately, the HVAC guy can come by that day, also around 12:00. Perfect.

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Not where rain should come from

I head to the store and it opens right at 10AM. There’s one employee there (the manager). Fortunately, I’m first, and everything is there so this should be an easy transaction. Only, it wasn’t. One of the phones I was told was there, wasn’t. Which isn’t really the manager’s fault, as she hadn’t been the person setting this up. She tried calling and texting the person I was working with repeatedly to find out what happened to the missing phone and he didn’t answer.

The manager offers to go over to another store to get it, but she won’t be able to do it until later but should have it by 12:45. Which is a problem because I don’t know if I can get back to the store that day because of the rainy kitchen and spidery furnace. (Side note: I wonder if it would have snowed in the kitchen if the furnace was out for much longer?)

But, I don’t have a choice. I leave, telling her I’ll be back. I go home, everything is fixed, I improve my fire starting skills and life is decent.

I go back to the store at 1:00, figuring that would be more than enough time for her to go and come back in lunch time traffic. Only, when I get there, it turns out she had just left the store to get the phone. Now I’m really not happy. The staff (there are 3 of them there now, 1 is a new guy. Poor guy. Crappy day to start a new job), try to talk to me but I explain I’m pissed and why I’m pissed and they are smart. They leave me alone.

Thirty minutes later, the manager returns with my phone, apologizes and, truthfully, handles it like a pro. Engaging me in conversation, being genuinely upset at the guy I was working with for screwing this up, screwing her over and not responding to her for 2 hours (I don’t know what he said about the missing phone). She was all impressed that I knew to do an encrypted back up of the phone before coming in. And she made me laugh when she tested the phone to make sure the number ported over by pranking one of her staff. Good times. And, let’s face it, she drove over to another store to get this for me. That’s pretty awesome.

Later in the evening, in the warm and dry house, I started thinking about everything that happened in the store. Not just about my response to it (because, before the haters get started, yes I was pissed that the phone wasn’t there and I have a right to be pissed because they told me it was there and then it wasn’t and I don’t have all day to wait around for a phone) but about the whole thing.

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Apparently, this doubles as a spider hotel

I was told the stuff was there but it wasn’t. That’s poor customer service. I worked retail for years to help me get by and when a customer wants something, you put it on hold, off to the side with a note on it. If there’s a limit on how long you can hold it, you tell them. And if you aren’t allowed to hold things, you mention that before the customer leaves the store.

Then I get there and the manager is on by herself and sort of knows what’s going on but doesn’t and has to call her staff person who doesn’t answer his phone. Not her fault, per se, all though, as a former manager, I kind of feel like you should know what everyone of your staff is up to, especially on their day off (as in “what do I need to know since you aren’t there to make sure the shit doesn’t hit the fan”).

But, again, perspective. How much do these people make? Ten dollars an hour? Twelve? Let’s even say fifteen, though I doubt that very much. Are they hourly? Salaried? Do they get full time hours or are they restricted to part time? Are there any benefits at all? Is the company using predictive software that scheudles hours based on the weather and the probability that X amount of customers will show? Because I gotta tell you, if that’s the case, the software totally blew it that day. No one around here cares that it’s a -20 windchill. Stuff’s gotta get done.

Is it my fault for expecting more? Do I expect too much because I’ve been in that position before and think I would do better? But would I really if I were in that position now? Is it unreasonable to expect more than minimum work for just a minimum wage? I don’t know what the manager makes but she seemed to go above and beyond, all things considered. Why her and no one else? Will she still be like that in 6 months? A year?

Yup, I know, it’s all a bunch of first world problems. And, all things considered, it could be worse. But I find myself asking, shouldn’t we do better? First world problem or not, shouldn’t we be concerned about low pay and what it could lead to? What it seems to be leading to? Shouldn’t we be demanding better for everyone?

Heavy thoughts for a Wednesday. Discuss.

Apocalypse Prep

For weeks I’ve been dying to get some writing done. Specifically, writing while in front of the warm and cozy fireplace I don’t use very often. Let’s face it, a roaring fire might be the stuff of rom coms, but it’s not very environmentally friendly. Or, from what I hear, that efficient at heating much more than the immediate area it’s by. Also, I know from experience they are a PITA. You’ve got to kindle them, keep them going and so on. More on that in a minute.

Today, through a convergence of dumb-ass circumstances. I got my wish. Right now, it’s 5 degrees fahrenheit outside. I’m sure it was a lot colder when I got up this morning. Don’t remember now. And it doesn’t matter because when I got up it was 62 degrees fahrenheit in the house. Not because that’s how I leave it set over night. But because the furnace decided to quit sometime in the middle of the night,

That’s very rude of the furnace. When I went to bed last night, it was fine. Humming along and working, spitting out heat. But, apparently the demands of heating the house last night was too much and it decided to leave for easier work. Or a better salary. I’m not sure because it didn’t leave a note.

Not that I blame the furnace. It’s been crazy cold here (Chicago) the last few weeks and I think at some point last night or this morning the windchill was something obscene like -22. So, I get it. I’d be pretty pissed to. I kind of am, actually.

As a result, this morning, I found myself in a cold house. Not freezing, obviously. But cold. So, I decided to light a fire, because, why not? I’ve been wanting to write by the fire so, here’s my chance.

Yeah. I know better than that.

While I totally believe the zombie apocalypse will do us all in one day, I’m not exactly prepared for it. I’ve got some stuff ready (like a go bag with some matches and maybe some clean underwear) but I seem to be lacking in survival skills.

See, when I grill outside during the summer, it’s kind of sad. I’m that person that pours about half the bottle of lighter fluid on the coals because I can’t seem to get them to light with a “light squirt” of the bottle. Also, I’m impatient and don’t have time to wait around for all the coals to light in a slow and uniform manner. I’m hungry, damn it, and I want to eat.

Impatience and hunger are not a good combination.

It’s worse when I have to light a fire. I can’t use lighter fluid to speed things up. Well, I guess I could, but I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to. Actually, next time I grill, I’m going to check the bottle for that information. And stock up for the apocalypse.

So, I ran out this morning, (not because it was cold but because of other things) then came back and, much to my disappointment, the furnace had not magically started working agin. Time to light a fire.

I grab some wood from the garage and bring it in. Then, I make a bed of newspaper in the log holder thingy (I’m so technical) with the wads I’ve been saving and collecting for weeks. I stick the logs on the bed and try to arrange the logs in such a way that they will catch fire easily. Preferably instantly.

For some reason, at this moment, I’m thinking of Tom Hanks in “Castaway” when he’s stuck on the island and he has a sudden epiphany and yells to Wilson that the fire needs air. Or something like that. I try to arrange the logs so they can breathe.

Then I light the paper and it ignites right away. Flames are burning bright and high and I’m warm for an instant. They burn quickly. Then they are out and the logs didn’t catch. For a brief moment I wonder how houses are able to catch on fire so easily when I can’t make these logs burn intentionally. I try again.

I twist up the paper, shove it in between the logs and light again. The paper catches easily and burns and starts to shrivel. As it does, it falls off the log holder thingy and does nothing to help with the wood.

Not one to give up even when I should, I try again. Shoving a ton of paper in there and lighting it in as many places as possible. It’s a pretty sight and a touch warm. It’s so bright in there, I have to look away for a second and when I look back, the paper has burned out and…

Success!

Sort of.

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And that only took about 15 minutes, which is a new personal best for me.

The problem is that that’s not enough to keep it going so I shoved even more paper in there and lit again and finally got more to catch. Then I poked it with the poker a bunch of times and it’s going OK now. It’s burning on its own and I’ve got a little bit of heat.

I could almost, maybe, possible, cook a hot dog in this. I’m not going to, (mostly because I don’t like hot dogs), but  it’s nice to know that if the apocalypse happens right now, I’m ready for it.

The Hungry Stomach

Today, I’m getting the oil in my car changed. You’re jealous, I know. I got here (yes, I’m still here), and they told me it would take about an hour. Which to me translates to hour and a half, minimum, but probably closer to two. Fine. No problem. I brought stuff to do. Like the WIP and some other minor housekeeping items. And I brought my water bottle and a snack. 2 hours? I’m good.

But the car isn’t. Let’s just say it’s going to cost me another $500 or so I hadn’t planned on spending today along with another 2 or so hours I hadn’t planned on sitting here.

While I could easily work on the WIP for a couple of hours, I don’t know if I can do it while I’m hungry. I figured I could make do with some of the snacks around here – like goldfish crackers and the like. Not great but at least it’s food.

However, this lovely couple just walked in and took a seat across from me. And opened lunch.

Sigh.

I shall comfort myself by telling my stomach the food looks gross and probably tastes bad. And my stomach will respond by telling me, “Whatever. I’m hungry.” Which means I won’t get much work done.

So, I’ll try to read a book I found on Amazon. And by try I’ll mean really try. It’s an indie and I like the idea of giving indies a chance, but… Win some, lose some, I guess.

I hate the idea of trashing an inide author, but I just can’t seem to get through it. I’m trying. I mean really trying, but the first few pages of this aren’t great. Not awful, horrible, oh my God how could this happen bad. But, not good. And I can kind of get why a traditional publisher maybe wouldn’t have wanted it.

But, who am I to judge? Really, who are any of us to judge? Judges, maybe. Ok. But, the rest of us? I remember when “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was popular. I started it and almost couldn’t get through the first 70 or so pages. It was just a lot of crazy backstory and set up. Everyone said, “Just get past the first 2 or so chapters and then it’s really great!” And they were right. It was. But, man, those first few chapters were tough.

I learned from that, though. To keep trying and really give a book a chance. So, I’ll try. Since I’ve read through this post and wow, I really need to eat. My muse gets quite cranky when it’s hungry.

Happy Freaking New Year

My Mom used to say, “Man plans, God laughs,” every time something went awry. Didn’t matter if it was a delayed flight, a party that didn’t go well or even having to park far away from the entrance, she’d say it. Kind of like a mantra. I always found it odd since she doesn’t believe in God, but, whatever. I could always count on her saying that when something didn’t work out as planned.

It bothered me a bit. It felt like she was saying we don’t have any control. That there was no free will. Only destiny. If that sounds a bit extreme and pessimistic, then you don’t know my Mother. If you know my mother then you get it. Which also means you know I automatically disagreed with her because she and I see the world very differently.

Of course, the funny thing is that the more adult-like I’ve become, the more I see that I can make all the plans I want and, well…

I had planned to start with the regular blogging again come the beginning of January. Not this crazy, occasional, when I get around to it and when I have time blogging I’ve been doing. And, I was going to work on the WIP more.

We can see how that worked out.

January is already half over and here’s the first blog post of the year. And that WIP? Still waiting. Hmpfh.

Instead of writing and creating I got stuck doing other stuff. Not stupid stuff. Stuff that had to get done. Stuff that had to happen. The stuff that occurs when you’re a grown-up and have to remind yourself – repeatedly – that you chose this path and that it comes with the territory.

Hmpfh. Again.

And, the super-annoying part? I logged in to Word Press this morning and see that everyone else has managed a whole bunch of blog posts and working on their projects and have been producing and creating and blah, blah, blah.

Hmpfh. Yet again.

Yup. Man plans. God laughs. You were right, Mom. (Don’t tell her I said that. I’ll never hear the end of it.)

Channeling it Into Writing

Fair warning. What follows is a fairly whiny and scattered rant. I’m writing it in hopes of expelling the negative energy.

I had a big writing plan today. Big chunk of time to myself, plenty of ambition, just enough coffee. It was almost perfect. I say almost because I haven’t seen the sun in about a week (I think. I’ve lost track). Not that it’s perpetual night here in Chicago, but it’s been overcast for days and when I’m working the day job, I’m in a windowless room so even if it does come out, I’m not there for it. This has definitely brought the energy level way down. That and eating nothing but marshmallows for lunch. Don’t judge me. It’s the weather’s fault. Not mine.

But I was feeling it today. Big time. So, I fired off one angry email this morning, honestly assuming it would go nowhere (since everything else surrounding said email has gone nowhere. It’s a long story about a battle I’m fighting. I’d say more, but don’t want to mess it up. Social media is a surprising powerful thing).

Shockingly, said email resulted in a response, which I had to respond to. So, now that’s off my plate since I know (because of what was said) it will go no further today.

But, it’s really not off my plate. It’s still eating away at me. Bugging me. I said what needed to be said so it’s not like there’s any nagging, “Oh, I shoulda’ said this!” bumping around my brain. And it’s not like I was smacked down. In fact, it was the opposite. I smacked the other side down (sort of. And, I’m not proud of it. I hate it when I have to do that and can’t work with you as a partner. But, it had to happen, unfortunately). It’s just sort of still sitting there. Hanging around.

In part, that’s my fault. I got worked up and anxious. Not like I was scared or worried but just revved up and ready to go. Ready to battle. Maybe I should have done my primal warrior call to ease the tension. I don’t have one, really, but maybe I should get one. Anyway, the anticipation combined with coffee, never a good thing for me. My heart is still thumping away and shows no signs of slowing down even though it’s over. For now.

Anyway, I find myself unable to write. I know what I need to do in the WIP. In fact, I delete the beginning of Chapter 2, that’s how sure I am, but I can’t seem to find the inspiration. I’m pacing the house, thinking, thinking, thinking. About nothing, actually. I’m just pacing, letting my mind wander and feeling my heart thumping in my chest. I’m deep breathing, I’m doing this blog post, but I’m still a bit crazed.

And, I hate it when that happens. People wonder why my day job is not that of “writer.” I find it hard to explain that I only have a certain amount of creative in me per day. I have no idea if other creative types have this problem, but I do. Once I’ve used up my creative for the day, that’s it, I’m done. If I’ve given it all to a client (or steady job) I can’t do for myself that day.

While technically I did nothing creative this morning, I did have to thing creatively and craft the right response. Angry without being condescending. I think I nailed it. But, as a result, I’m creatively drained right now. Which makes me angry. I had to waste all my creative on something stupid. Well, not stupid. It’s important, but I shouldn’t have to deal with it because it shouldn’t have happened to begin with.

So, I’m using this blog post to vent today, in hopes that I can expel negative energy and get back my creative. See, my fear now is that this negative will end up in the WIP. While that could be a good thing, it’s not really where the MC is in the story and I don’t want to write 2000 or so words today only to have them in the trash. I know that happens a lot, but if I can foresee it happening and avoid it, I’d rather do that.

Or, I could try to use it to my advantage. Maybe the MC is angry today about stupid stuff. Maybe I can channel this into something awesome. Would that mean I have to thank the people that pissed me off today in the book? We’ll see what happens.

ETA: It worked. I got the negative energy out and pumped out about 1500 words today.

When Words Fail

When you’re a writer, people often assume you always have the right words for any moment. They don’t know about the whole rough draft/editing/tearing your hair out/throwing it all out and starting over again process. Also, they must not realize there’s a delete key that we use often and when you type something utterly stupid you can delete it and it’s just like you never typed it.

There is no delete key in speaking. Or angry emailing. Or drunk texting.

But, when “things” happen, people sometimes (usually more often than not) turn to you to figure out how to best discuss the situation. That’s not meant to say they expect you to give good advice. I don’t think people think of writers as being like Dr. Phil necessarily. I think that’s there’s a presumption that you’ll easily encapsulate what is happening and say it so eloquently that “no truer words will be spoken.” Or something like that.

Writers don’t always have the right words. We have words, usually lots of them. But they aren’t always the right ones. And, even if they are, there’s our voice. It can be snarky, dismissive, condescending, whatever. The voice, the tone, may not be appropriate for the situation. Sometimes we can’t read a situation, sometimes we don’t really how our words come across and sometimes we use humor and snarkiness to deal with a situation because we are just as uncomfortable dealing with it as everyone else.

It’s hard trying to help someone with something when you can’t really help. When there are no actions you can take, no deeds you can perform to help resolve it. Or solve it. Or ease someone’s pain. In those situations, words are sometimes the only thing you can offer. But, sometimes there are no words. It’s not that writers have a hard time finding the right words it’s that there are no words. No words we can choose from our vast vocabulary to help. No words that can fix it or ease it or resolve it. No words at all. Even with the right tone, all the words are wrong.

For a writer, that’s hard. Words are everything to us. The reason we exist. The reason for getting up in the morning and the reason for breathing. And when they fail us, not through our doing or even their doing, it’s the worst feeling in the world. The one thing we love more than almost anything else, can’t help us. Can’t heal. They fail us.

To avoid an “open mouth insert foot” situation, we stay silent. Don’t be angry. Don’t be hurt. It’s sometimes smarter to stay silent, to avoid making the situation worse. In life, there is no delete key, something we all forget, but something we should all remember. Because sometimes words fail us and we, the writer, don’t want to fail you. We don’t always have the right words. And we don’t always have the delete key. So, we let the silence speak. And it says, “Sorry, there are no words.”