Envy is a Mothertrucker

Sometimes I can be a real envious dude. Like, real envious. Not about everything — I’m not that much of a jerk — just the really big stuff. The stuff I want so bad it makes my chest ache like I’m thirteen and I just spotted the girl I’m crushing on. Publishing a book is one of them. The biggest, actually. There’s a few other crossroads-at-midnight type of desires bouncing around in my head, but publishing a book is def the Big Bopper.

You might not admit to it, but if you fancy yourself a writer — or just human, for that matter — then you’ve almost certainly been bit by old Green Eyes himself. You know what I’m talking about, you old humany so and so. It’s that stitch in the pit of your stomach, or the knot between your shoulders when you see somebody getting something you want — nay, need — for yourself. Maybe you know them personally. Then again, maybe not. Either way, I’d bet a handful of my teeth that you’d spit on their neck if you could get away with it. Hell, maybe you’d even get caught if it meant sticking it to that S.O.B. Don’t deny it. You know I’m right.

So why do I bring up this feeling that everyone has but can’t own up to because for Heaven’s Sake, what would people think? Well, friends, I went to the movies last night and found myself chest deep in a kick-out-your-teeth brand of Envy when I saw the film version of a very popular book. I thought about how Mr. Fancy Author was probably swimming like Scrooge McDuck through a swimming pool of money while I can’t string enough words together for a first draft. Man, that pisses me off. Maybe it wouldn’t have sucked for me so much had the movie been bad.

Now before you all tell me to lay off the Haterade®, let me explain why I’m even bringing up this whole shizbiz. You might think I’m crazy as firecrackers in a swimming pool, but I think envy is a kick-ass motivation tool to get some damn ass work done. No bullspit, friend. That is, so long as I hold tight to that sincere desire to prove myself just as good, dammit.

Why does this matter, you’re probably not asking. Well, for the next few months I’m in a position where I can spend a good chunk of my time on the story I’ve been dying to write but have had dick for time to put into it. Now with some hours free and a whole lot of desire to prove myself to someone who doesn’t know I exist, I can work on this project the way it deserves. I’m pumped to see where it goes because my writing game has been on suck status for a grip.  I’m just hoping that two parts hard work and one part envy will be enough to produce something readable. We’ll see how that whole shazam works out in the coming weeks.

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Writing, Moving, and Other Problems

I don’t know about all of you, but whenever I get crazy stressed out I just can’t seem to concentrate on writing. It’s so bad in fact that I get this aversion to writing anything. That’s pretty much what has been going on lately. What with work, planning for the big move across the country, and buying a house, I somehow haven’t had room in my brain for working on my story. Kind of a bummer, but what are you going to do, right? I know that once I get moved I’ll have some time to get back into the habit, but for now I’m not going to beat up on myself too much. Moving across the country is crazy stressful without adding in the guilt of not getting some unreasonable amount of writing done.

Just as a little mental exercise I want to talk about where I’m at with the story. It’s a middle grade book — or at least my wife thinks it reads like a middle grade book — about a young girl who discovers a conspiracy going on with some supernatural bad guys. I’ve done a little rethinking of the main character (e.g. what she was like before she got to her current, conspiracy ridden school) so as to set her up for becoming friends with some of the characters I want to write into the story later. Thing is, it’s tough to go back and write in parts about a character when you’re not looking at the story fairly often. I mean, there’s a sort of rhythm that I get into when I am writing on a story regularly so that I can feel how changes will affect the whole of the story. Does that make sense?
On a little side note, I’m super excited to move! I have lived in Washington for about 5 years now and I feel like it’s time to be getting on. Plus, we’re buying a new house which makes it all the more awesome. Maybe I’ll meet some new writers in the area? I hope so.

The Struggle is Real

Ever have the feeling of struggling through every word you get onto the page? That’s totes where I’ve been at lately. A couple weeks ago I started back into trying to write regularly — and by “regularly” I mean “whenever my toddler is asleep / with grandma / busy making a pile of toys in the living room” — and I have never had such a tough time getting a single effing paragraph written. Maybe it’s the fact that I am trying to work on a story that has been sitting untouched for so long? I know that in the past I have lost the rhythm of a story if I’ve left it dormant for too long. I really hope that’s not the case because the I was just starting to love the characters and my read-through of the first draft didn’t make me totally sick to my stomach.

On an unrelated note, me and the wifey are getting ready to make the big move across the country for my graduate program. I’m crazy nervous about things working out so that might be increasing the suck-factor of my writing. Can you blame me though? Moving is hard enough by itself, but when you make it a cross-country trek with your whole fricken family, well, you might tend to get a tad more anxious.
Finally, I have a writing plan for this week that I hope will help to get the story moving again. I’ a morning person so I think that waking up at 4:30 AM before work, pounding a cup of coffee, and then hammering out 500 words is totally doable. I know I can do it! The Writing Gods demand it!

Human Cadaver Dissection: The First Cut

This is the first post in a series of reflections on my time in a human cadaver dissection lab.That said, if you’re the kind of person who had a hard time dissecting a frog in high school biology then you might want to sit this one out.

 

“You can look at his face first if you want to,” my professor tells us as he drags the zipper open along the body bag’s seam. The tang of formaldehyde fills the air.

We’re heavy with protective gear. A thick white lab coat hangs almost to my feet. Nitrile gloves cling to my hands. Yellow plastic wraps my arms from wrist to elbow. My face is hidden behind a mask and goggles.

“But you don’t have to do it right away,” he says as he finishes unzipping the bag. “Some people feel uncomfortable looking at the face.”

I think that I am one of those people, but I don’t say anything. I’m afraid of what he’ll think.

A layer of plastic sits beneath the body bag’s thick flap. It looks like a garbage bag, the kind you’d use to gather dead plants from your garden. He draws back the plastic to either side. I brace myself, expecting to come face-to-face with the bag’s occupant, but there’s a cotton sheet soaked with preservative beneath the black plastic. The unmistakable shape of a human being sits beneath it.

He stops at the cotton sheet and looks up at us.”Ready?”

“Yeah,” I say. I see my parter nod from the corner of my eye.

I hold my breath as he peels back the sheet. The skin is pale, yellow-white. My eyes immediately fall on pair of incisions running along the inside of both thighs stained with a red so dark it’s almost black. A matching cut mars the tissue midway up the side of his neck so deep that it looks like the aftermath of a knife attack.

I follow my professor’s finger as he points to one of the cuts in the thighs. He explains how the cut provides access the femoral artery. With the artery open the embalmer could pump fluid into the body, taking advantage of the body’s circulatory system to replace every drop of the cadaver’s blood with preservative. Then, with two fingers he spreads the wound open to expose something that looks like frayed wire.

He fingers the frayed material. “Once the blood’s out they just tie up the end of the artery with some string.”

Hearing him say this gives me a little shock. I can’t help but feel that using something as simple as string inside someone is wrong somehow. Maybe not wrong, but crude.

My professor begins his dissection demonstration at the chin. Scalpel in hand, he makes a shallow incision along the curve of the jaw bone and begins separating the skin from the layer of fat and connective tissue beneath it. As he peels the skin back I recognize the white fibers of the underlying connective tissue and feel a burst of confidence. When I’d signed up for the class I’d been unsure about my ability to translate what I’d learned on anatomy models to an actual human body. Now I begin to feel more comfortable, and as he offers us scalpels I willingly take one.

Our work for the day involves making incisions down the front of the thighs and separating the skin from the underlying tissue, much the same way he did with the chin. Other dissection teams have already removed the skin from the chest and abdomen so our work is meant to build on theirs. He asks if we understand, and we both say yes. I’m glad he doesn’t ask if we’re nervous.

My hand has a slight tremor as I make my first incision from the top of his right thigh downward toward his knee. I use a pair of forceps with serrated teeth to hold the skin taught and gently cut through the layer of fat beneath. My cuts are clumsy compared to those of my professor. A layer of fat remains on the body in the wake of my cuts, rising and falling like a mountain range on the surface of a globe. But the longer I work at it the cleaner my work becomes and the more confident I feel about my ability to perform in the class.

After ninety minutes our professor calls time. During our clean up time my mind lingers on who this man was before he reached us. Not too long ago he was doing all the things that people do. What were his goals? Did he achieve them before the end? Or did he die plagued with regret about what he should have done differently. Did he have children? Did he fall in love? When he was dying, did he realize that it was the end?

I feel like I have a lot more to say, but in the interests of posting I’ll leave it there.

Human Cadaver Dissection: A Writer’s Reflections

Whenever I tell someone that I am in school the question that almost always follows is, “What classes are you taking?”

It’s a normal question to ask, but not so comfortable for me to answer. See, last term I was recommended by my human anatomy professor for enrollment in a class that is only offered once per year: human cadaver prosection. Out of the hundreds of anatomy students at my school I was given one of the fourteen seats reserved for the dissection of a human cadaver. It’s an incredible opportunity, albeit one that elicits some very odd looks when I tell people how excited I am to be a part of it.

Right about now some of you are thinking, “Well, it’s official. Scott has completely lost his mind.”

And that’s cool. I totally get it. Poking around the inside of a human being isn’t something that appeals to everyone. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure most of you are happy that someone has done it, right? Because without actually getting into the body and examining its parts we’d be hard pressed to truly understand how we tick.

For the next couple of months I am going to post reflections on my time in the dissecting room. I feel like this class lands pretty high on the list of writing-worthy experiences, so I am not going to pass it up.

If any of you reading this have any thoughts on the subject I’d love to see them in the comments.

I’m Only Happy When it Flows

If you’ve ever spent any considerable amount of time pounding away at a story then you know the frustration that comes with getting stuck on some idea you’re trying to convey. You writers know what Im talking about. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to put things down in the right way.

On the other hand, there are the times when you cannot seem to get anything wrong. These are the spots in your writing where you are hammering away at the keys and it seems like every effing word you put to the page is solid gold. I like to call this writing sweet spot, “The Flow.”

Right now I am up to my temporal bones in some serious Flow, my friends. I started working on a new story on February 19th just for poops and chuckles, and as of today I hit about thirteen K’s worth of words. Awesome, right? It’s even extra special sweet because I got into the thing without any expectations about where it would go. I just set out to write something down in those rare moments when I wasn’t busy with school work or changing diapers and here I am with a story that I’m actually pretty stoked about. I have no idea how long The Flow is going to stick with me, but for now I’m just taking the time to appreciate a good story.

Denied: On Finding Out I Was Rejected By Graduate School

Well, it’s 99% official. I did not get into graduate school this year. Sad day. I’m not going to pretend like I’m not super bummed, because a totally am. However, I’ve decided to try out this thing called “look at the bright side” hat I keep hearing people talk about. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Apparently it involves looking at all the stuff that’s good in your life and being thankful for it. I don’t know how good I’m going to be at it, but here goes:

  1. My family – If having an awesome family was a prerequisite for getting into graduate school then I’m pretty sure they would have given me two spots just to accommodate how cool my wife and daughter are.
  2. My health – In the course of volunteering at hospitals and clinics over the past couple of years I have come across a lot of sick people who have things a whole lot worse than I do. I guarantee if you go and spend a couple of weeks volunteering in an ER you are going to leave that place with a totally different perspective on how good you have it.
  3. Everything I have learned – Over the past couple of years I have learned about integral calculus, physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, molecular biology, and some other sciencey stuff. Pretty sweet, right? The breadth of knowledge I’ve put into my brain has forever changed the way I look at the world. Plus, getting good grades in all those classes has made me feel really smart.
  4. Opportunities – Getting denied this year doesn’t mean that I can’t reapply next year. I’m planning on going through an EMT course this summer to make myself a bit more marketable to reapply next year. Not only that, but my kick-ass grades got me recommended to an invite-only cadaver prosection class next quarter which I am super stoked to be a part of.
  5. The chance to write – I feel like this should be under its own bullet point as I am so incredibly excited to be able to get back to work on the stories that have been brewing in my head.

I guess I’m not so bad at this bright side thing after all.