Perhaps NaNoWriMo and I should Break Up.

I’ve written a lot of blog posts about NaNoWriMo. So many, in fact, that it’s a little embarrassing that it took me until now to come to the realization I’m coming to… but, before I get to that, here are the old posts if you want to go back through and examine my journey:

It’s worth noting that even if/when I don’t have NaNoWriMo-themed blog posts, I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo a lot. Since before I met my husband, and we started dating 15 years ago.

This year, I decided I was going to be a weird sort of super rebel and continue writing my novel (the one I started during NaNoWriMo in 2018) AND write something new. It started as another novel, and then I declared on social media I was going to turn it into a screenplay! I had 764 words on November 3…

…and I have not written a single word since then. Not on my novel. Not on the new rebel screenplay project. Heck, I barely responded to the prompts in my Facebook writing community group — AND I’M THE ONE WRITING THE PROMPTS. (I just looked back, because I had to know: of the 16 prompts I wrote for my group in November, I answered nine of them. Over half of those were six word stories).

In that community, we were doing NaNoWriMo check-ins on Mondays. On the last one, I mentioned that I thought it might be time for me and NaNoWriMo to break up. A dear friend posted encouragement for me to not think like that, and I replied:

This is the tenth year in a row I’ve tried and failed. When I try to force myself to write under fictitious pressure, it’s bad. It’s not fun. Writing should be hard work, but it should still be joyful.

And that, truly, is the crux of the matter. NaNoWriMo isn’t joyful for me. I don’t want to hate my work because it felt forced. As a student, deadlines were a good thing for me. If I was given all the time in the world, I never would’ve gotten all of my work done. But this…I can’t figure out the right way to explain it, but this feels very different. The more deadlines I try to set, the less work I do. When I adopt a “this will get done when it’s the right time. As long as I’m writing, everything is okay” attitude, I churn out thousands of words. When I say, “Hey, I’ll send you a draft by November 1,” I write nothing.

I don’t know what this means other than I’m going to quit trying to box myself in, and I’m going to break up with NaNoWriMo for a while. Maybe we’ll get back together next year, but I’m not counting on it. I think we need some time apart so I can really learn/grow/figure out who I am as a writer separate from NaNoWriMo.

And as I write that, for the first time in months, I actually feel like picking up and working on my novel draft. Which, to me, says this is the right decision.

Write Vintage: 1000 Word Thursday (9/3)

I recently started an online Facebook community for writers called The Write Vintage. Each week, I’m posting prompts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Tuesday is “Two Line Tuesday,where writers come up with two quick lines of dialogue about the prompt. Wednesday is Six Word Wednesday,” for the most micro of micro-fiction, a story in six words or fewer. On Thursdays, our prompts get a little more in-depth: (A Picture is Worth) 1000 Words Thursday. In the group, I’m sharing a black & white image and encouraging everyone to write no more than 1000 words based on whatever the image inspires.

Here’s our image prompt for today:

And here is my piece that goes along with it:

When The Last Leaf Falls

It had been an unusually hot summer at the camp. More and more groups were opting for lake days and pool time, which kept Gage – the resident lifeguard – busy. His skin turned to gold as the days stretched longer and longer, the sun refusing to rest and give way to starlight. This seemed to make Lilly happy. She loved the sun, even though it turned her skin a painfully warm pink that peeled instead of mellowed. But Gage didn’t work at the camp for a tan, or water sports, or even Lilly. Gage worked at the camp for the stars.

The campground had been owned by Gage’s family for sixty years. His aunt Maggie was the Camp Director now, living year-round on the property with her two dogs, Bear and Wolf. The dogs’ names were a bit of an inside joke since neither bears nor wolves were spotted anywhere near this particular camp, as they were too far down the mountain and in too warm a climate, but there was a camper or two every week who asked, worried about the potential wildlife dangers. Maggie always replied, “This is the only bear and the only wolf you’ll find in this camp.” Maggie always had a way of making people feel comfortable.

This particular night seemed to take longer than usual to arrive. Gage had been atop the lifeguard chair for nearly six hours straight when Lilly had finally come to relieve him and take over his post for the few evening swimmers enjoying the lingering twilight. She’d reached out and squeezed his hand before she ascended the ladder. It was the most affection they’d shown each other in weeks.

It wasn’t for Lilly’s lack of trying. Gage had walled himself off to getting closer to her, ever since Maggie told him the news in early June.

“It’s gonna be our last summer, bud.” She hadn’t looked at him as she said it. Her eyes were on the horizon, unmoving, as though she was counting every leaf on every branch of every tree she could see.

“What do you mean, our last summer?” Gage had assumed she’d finally hired a certified lifeguard, one who hadn’t only taken a single Saturday CPR certification course at his local community college.

“We’re bleeding money. I can’t keep it going. I talked it over with your folks, and Uncle Gary. We sold. They’re taking ownership at the end of the season.”

“The end of the season?!” Gage was surprised by his own reaction to the news. He’d never imagined working at the camp forever. In fact, with his college graduation looming and the imminent pressures of ‘career’ and ‘adulthood’ beckoning, he had been sure this would be his last summer. He never imagined it’d be the end for all of them.

“When the last leaf falls,” Maggie replied sadly. Then she whistled for Bear and Wolf, and headed to the lodge for her morning chores.

They were still weeks away from autumn beginning, when Gage would return to school as the weeklong camps stopped and gave way to weekend retreats. Still, he felt the impermanence in everything he did. He could fix up the pool shed…but it wouldn’t be theirs much longer. He could organize the games in the lodge cabinet…but it wouldn’t be theirs much longer. He could spend nights with Lilly in his arms, counting the stars, whispering imperfect promises to one another…but it wouldn’t be theirs much longer.

He had told Lilly almost as soon as Maggie told him. She’d be sensitive and caring, of course. That was Lilly’s nature. But she didn’t have the same connection to the camp that Gage had. Gage was her connection to the camp. They’d both been campers together for a week their sophomore year of high school. Junior year, they shared their first kiss near the end-of-camp bonfire. At the end of senior year, Lilly had asked Gage about getting a job there next summer; she knew he’d be there, and she didn’t want their summers to end.

During the other seasons of the year, Lilly and Gage never spoke. When they were in high school, they had one another’s home phone numbers, but Lilly’s father had started a home business and the line was usually tied up dialing in to his America Online service. Gage’s family didn’t own a home computer. By the time they both went away to college, they’d gotten school email addresses, but neither spent much time in the labs on campus. Gage didn’t date much, and when he did, the relationship had always fizzled by the end of spring. He wasn’t sure if Lilly dated; he assumed she must, though they never discussed it. No matter what, the summers were theirs.

Gage heard the dirt crunch under Lilly’s feet as she approached the porch of the cabin. He was lying across a deck chair, and instinctively moved aside. She lay next to him and draped a quilt she’d brought with her across them both. They both stared up at the clear night sky.

“I thought I’d see the stars of the new millennium here,” Gage murmured quietly.

“I thought I’d see them with you,” Lilly replied, even though they both knew this was one of those imperfect promises neither was likely to keep. They were still six years away from the new millennium; they’d both be nearly thirty when it arrived.
Gage rolled onto his side and pulled Lilly close. He kissed her deeply, and hoped, somehow, that kiss said everything he wanted to say. That he’d fallen for her the first time he saw her. That arriving at the end of each May was the best day of his year, and leaving at the start of each September was the worst. That even though he’d never found the words, he loved her. And he would continue to love her every day, even after the last leaf fell.

Poem: An Apology to Oatmeal

Close-up on a blue bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh chopped strawberries and a large dollop of peanut butter

An Apology to Oatmeal

I hated oatmeal.
At least, I believed I did.
Thinking of oatmeal made me shudder.
People offering oatmeal made me gag.
The idea was as repulsive as the food.
Everything about it said:
Bland.
Sad.
Bad.

And then one day, in a very different summer,
Than the one we are currently enduring,
I was offered oatmeal again.
This oatmeal was made with love and intention.
It had dark cherries and honey and a few small
Dark chocolate chips.
Everything about it said:
Sweet.
Whole.
Welcome.

I didn’t believe it was the oatmeal.
I was just entranced by a weekend full of
Good people and good thoughts and good art.
And besides, it was the only option for breakfast.
And only coffee wasn’t going to be good enough.
Everything inside me said:
Essential.
Temporary.
Exception.

And then, in the throes of the pandemic, amidst a baking spree,
In which rolled oats were required for a number of sweet treats,
There was a morning that I plodded into the kitchen,
And grabbed the oatmeal.
Everything inside me said:
Maybe?
Perhaps?
Try?

And with the first warm bite of oats cooked in water, mixed with fresh fruit, I realized something.
When I thought of oatmeal – the oatmeal I hated – I didn’t think of oatmeal.
I thought of sad brown packages strewn across a Formica counter. I thought of a water cooler that had a “hot” feature, and that “hot” feature meant you needed to stack three flimsy paper bowls together to still risk burning your hands (just not as badly as if you only used one). I thought of the plastic spoon that dipped in and out of the mushy, flavorless mess as I scrolled through mushy, flavorless emails.
Oatmeal was not bland.
Oatmeal was not sad.
Oatmeal was not bad.
But life was.

So, this morning, I made oatmeal.
I served it in a dark blue ceramic bowl that reminds me of my bridal shower.
I topped it with fresh local strawberries that sing the sweetness of summertime.
I added a swirl of creamy peanut butter for richness.
And I ate it at my dining room table – no phone, no emails, no distractions.
Everything about this oatmeal said:
Happy.
Fulfilling.
Good.
Because life is.

Flash Fiction: A Good Date

I wrote this piece many months ago inspired by a friend’s Facebook post highlighting her…let’s just say amusing…experiences with online dating and dating apps. It’s been through quite a few iterations by this point, but I really enjoy this particular version of the story, and I hope you will too.

Thanks for reading!


A Good Date
By Colette Marie Murphy

“You know something…” 

Emma continued looking at Steve expectantly. She wasn’t skilled at breaking conversational lulls, whereas Steve only stopped talking to chew. Sometimes. 

“…you’re my fifty-first.” He gulped down his mouthful with a satisfied smile. 

“Fifty-first?” Emma reached for a roll from their shared breadbasket. 

“Yeah. Been going on about one date per week, which makes you fifty-one.” 

Emma felt herself nod as she glanced around the restaurant. She’d picked this bistro in hopes of avoiding the onslaught of cheesy holiday decorations that mocked her singleness every December. But as she began to count the petals on the poinsettia over Steve’s left shoulder, she realized there was no escape. 

“So, what made a gal like you sign up for At First Sight?” His mouth was full again. 

“A gal like me?” 

“Yeah.” He swallowed. “You’re way hotter than at least half of the other fifty.” 

She wondered if any of the other fifty had found him charming. If they were swayed by his bravado, enchanted by his oblivious confidence. 

“Well, what made you choose At First Sight?” She tore off a chunk of the bread and slipped it between her lips. 

“Tinder sucks,” he replied. “And Bumble is too political. Why shouldn’t I message a girl first?” 

“Mmhmm.” She nodded again.  

At First Sight was only a year old but had surpassed the popularity of most other dating apps because of its hook: it was text-only. Gone were awkward selfies, obviously staged “candid” photos, and unsolicited dick pics (though Emma received some number eight – equals sign – equals sign – equals sign – letter Ds in her inbox. She assumed in each case it was likely two equals signs too many). 

The app had been appealing to Emma, who never released her penchant for grammar after serving as editor of her college newspaper. Rather than looking through dozens of dude-bros flexing alongside a parade of hipster beards, she could scan for a misused apostrophe or incorrect “your” to sort out potential mates. Of course, this blind approach – “A true blind date!” the app promised – did present the risk that she’d end up sitting across from a dude-bro with a hipster beard, but if he could correctly use a semicolon, it was worth it. 

Or so she thought. Then, she met Steve. 

Steve was the definition of a “good-on-paper” guy. He’d graduated from a small liberal arts college, worked in a mid-sized office, and had never been married. He loved dogs and outdoor activity, but also enjoyed Emma’s guilty pleasure, baking competition shows. Every line of his bio, answer in his questionnaire, and message they’d exchanged were thoughtful, interesting, and grammatically correct. No wonder Emma wasted half her last paycheck on the new dress she was wearing. 

It wasn’t that Steve was bad looking. After her first few encounters with her matches on At First Sight, Emma worried the no-photo policy was a trap. But Steve was a perfectly normal level of handsome. Still, every admirable bit of his personality was reserved for the way he wrote sentences, leaving nothing of merit for the flesh and blood man sitting across from her. 

“But you didn’t answer my question.” He poked his breadstick at her. 

“I like to read,” she shrugged. “I guess I thought that would be a good way to get to know someone.”

When the waiter came to take their entrée order, Steve picked a bottle of wine from the list. Emma knew she wouldn’t be drinking much, if any, of it. It was her policy on first dates. Well, it was her policy on first dates now. Three months ago, when Emma woke up on a futon tangled in red sateen sheets, staring at a velvet blacklight poster, while the ten years too young for her drummer brewed coffee in an already-used filter, she decided one glass of wine (or less) would become her regular practice.  

Emma was a good date. She knew this. She didn’t speak with her mouth full. She smiled and nodded at all the right moments. She made an appropriate amount of eye contact, conveying interest but not aggression. She was apolitical. She was the type of woman you’d ask on a second or third date, and could see bringing home to meet your mother, who would later tell you that Emma was “such a nice girl.” 

But as Steve monologued about his previous fifty women, the promotion he’d received, and the quality of in-flight entertainment on different airlines, Emma found herself wondering if being a good date was worth it. 

The waiter approached and set a single dessert menu on the table between them. “In case you’re in the mood for something sweet.”

“Well,” Steve wiggled his eyebrows in Emma’s direction. “I already have you.”

Emma forced herself to chuckle at the joke, because she knew it was how a good date would respond. 

Steve picked up the menu and scanned it quickly. “Pie? No one actually likes pie. Who serves pie at a place like this? They should fire their pastry chef.” He sighed, flicking the menu across the table towards Emma. “You pick something. We’ll share.” 

As Emma scanned the list of options, she resigned herself to the fact that, once the check was paid, she would be spending the remainder of her evening with the bottle of Chardonnay in her fridge and the trusty battery-operated companion in her nightstand. 

The waiter returned with his pen poised above his notepad. 

 Before she could order, Steve grabbed Emma’s hand and said, “You know, you’re a really good date.” 

She smiled her good date smile directly at Steve, turned to the waiter, and said “We’ll have the pie.” 

The End 

APRPAD 2020 – Selections

April is National Poetry Month, and there’s often a “Poem-a-Day” challenge that goes along with it. 2019 is the first time I truly participated in it, and much like last year, this year I did most of the days. Unlike last year, I didn’t post them regularly here on my site, but now that we’re in the month of May and the challenge has wrapped up, I decided to post a few of my favorites in this post.

Now, here in California, we’re still under Stay at Home orders, and COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. This was especially true during the month of April, so you’ll likely see themes of the pandemic and of social distance throughout many of these poems.

These aren’t all the poems I wrote as part of the Poem-a-Day challenges, but some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy.

The Persona of Fear

I’m thought of as the thing that hides in the shadows
That jumps out at you in the night
That causes your heart to race
And your breath to quicken. 

You’re told that I am the only thing to fear
As though there’s a way
To defeat me, or silence me, or stop me
From interfering with your day. 

And maybe there is. 

I do not exist to harm you. 
I exist to try and keep you safe.
To keep you alert.
To keep you questioning. 

So, perhaps, I need not exist…

If you keep your eyes
And your mind
And your heart
As wide open as possible.

The Lilies

We hired someone to come in 
And plant lilies around a fake waterfall 
In the center of our backyard. 
The vibrant plants were alive
Brightening with red and yellow blossoms
And shiny green leaves.
But as the days grew shorter 
And the nights grew colder
The color began to fade.
By winter’s end, there were 
Just brown stalks
And a cold, dark earth. 
But today I went outside 
And among the brown 
(And weeds that desperately need pulling)
I noticed something. 
A light green stalk pushing up
Reaching for the sun
Promising color will return. 
Color will return. 

Daydreams

Is a daydream just
A wish wearing different clothes
To walk around in?

Springtime Haiku Sonnet

It’s raining again. 
Water pools on brand new leaves. 
Buds drenches as they break. 

Once the clouds are gone,
The breeze keeps the air quite cool,
But the sun is up. 

Bringing a lightness,
A cheerful glow of promise
Of new beginnings.

The rain will come back – 
Off and on for a few weeks – 
But so will the sun. 

The season of renewal,
Springtime brings us to ourselves.

Funny Little Brains

What must it be like
In your funny little brains? 
What fills the silence,
And the space?
What staves off madness
(or perhaps there is no madness)
If you’re not constantly referencing
An office you’ve never worked in,
A coffee shop you’ve never drank in,
A hospital you’ve never been treated in,
A diner you’ve never ate in,
An inn you’ve never stayed in,
A creek you’ve never rowed across,
A boutique you’ve never shopped in,
A castle you’ve never woken up in,
A tower you’ve never been captive in,
A park you’ve never helped save – or build,
A police station you’ve never called to solve a crime,
Or a campaign you’ve never run? 
Could it be any harder… 
(That’s what she said.) …to imagine.

What Would You Do Differently?

If you could change it all 
(It would have to be all,
Because changing just one thing
Changes everything else
That came after it),
Would you? 

What’s the point you would pick, 
The one moment in time,
To say,
“Now. Let’s start over from now.” 

And would you be willing to sacrifice,
Everything that didn’t happen to you,
But that happened to someone else,
As a result of something that happened
To someone who knows someone who
Knows someone who knows someone
Who knows someone who knows 
You. 

Because changing it all means changing it all
For them too. 
Every friend they’d never meet. 
Every baby that’d never be born.
Every heart that would never break,
Or mend, Or break and then mend,
Or mend and then break. 

If you could change it all,
Knowing it would be all, 
Because changing just one thing,
Changes everything else that came after it…

Would you? 

A Found Poem: #StayHome

Yesterday, a friend of mine forwarded me a tweet by Jessica Salfia that had gone viral. It was a piece of “found poetry” which, as the definition on Poets.org says, is the “literary equivalent of a collage.”

Inspired by Salfia’s work, I decided to give the exercise a try myself this morning, taking the first lines of emails I’ve received over the last two weeks and fashioning them into a poem of sorts. Here’s my version:

They Can’t Close Email Inboxes

Working, Working, Working.
Build your skills while you’re at home this month!
Not rendering correctly?
Want push notifications instead?
Join us ONLINE! 
We’ve got great stuff for at-home learning, too.  

We’re here so you can get the supplies you need, safely.
Your order is out for delivery. 
Discount included!
Your shipment is on its way. 
Shipping or free curbside pickup? 
I hope you’re excited about new releases.

Remember this from four years ago? 
More or less.
Some words of wisdom…
When you stop doubting yourself, this happens.
Explore projects and find inspiration.
What. A. Week.

Even if you can’t travel,
Save on fuel for your creative fires. 
Inspired by unstoppable women,
Brighter days are ahead.
Now the REAL fun begins. 

Thank you.

Stay Home = Disney Time!

So, back in December of 2019 — which, by my count, was about six thousand years ago — I set out a few Pop Culture themed challenges for myself to complete in this new decade. One of them was to watch all of the Walt Disney Animated Classics that had a theatrical release — so, yes to Aladdin, but no to either sequel and no to the live-action remake.

As of March 20, 2020, the state of California is on stay-home orders to help try and flatten the curve of the SARS-CoV-2 (aka COVID-19 aka novel coronavirus) pandemic that is currently ravaging the globe.

We’re trying to make the best of the situation, and one way we’re doing that is by picking up this challenge! We decided to watch one Disney Animated Classic per day, in order of theatrical release, for as long as the stay-home orders are in effect.

Here’s what we’ve watched so far:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

It should not be surprising that a film from 1937 doesn’t age well, but…oooof. Not in terms of quality of animation — that’s actually stellar! The scene when Snow is singing into the wishing well and The Prince joins her? Those water ripples? BEAUTIFUL! Just…the plot. You know.

Pinocchio

Look, let’s just assume that for a long, long while, every description I write about these should begin with “Oooof, that didn’t age well.” Pinocchio is rife with issues as well, but one happy surprise is that I forgot how amazing the cat is! Figaro is the cutest and has some of the best reactions.

Dumbo

Exceptionally problematic movie, party of one? Oh, hi, Dumbo! I could write for a very long time about all of the problems with Dumbo, but many other people smarter than I have already done so. I encourage you to Google some of the scholarly work on the subject. I will say that I was glad to see the “outdated cultural depictions” warning, though I do agree with critics that it’s absolutely not strong enough. sigh.

The one good thing? Dumbo (the character) is super cute. I mean, look at that .gif. Let’s just watch .gifs.

Bambi

Of our viewings so far, Bambi is the first one I don’t have any real complaints about! I mean, it portrays humans as terrible but…I mean, they got that right. We ruin nature. We’re (collectively) the worst.

The one thing that surprised me about Bambi was how much I have over-exaggerated parts in my mind and how many other things I forgot. I mean, yes, I teared up when his mother was shot, but I didn’t sob like I was expecting to…maybe because it was over so quickly? Maybe because it immediately transitions into this weird pubescent moment where the three dude-bro-animal friends all bail on one another for girlfriends?

The scene that actually caused me to shed real tears was when “man has returned to the forest” for a second time (to cause even more pain and destruction because, again, humans are the worst) and there’s an exceptionally anxious quail who is hiding in the tall grass. All of the other quails are trying to get her to calm down and stay hidden, but she gets too scared and takes off in flight…only to be shot dead. This is actually the only shooting death we see on screen, and yes, it wrecked me.

Another interesting thing about Bambi — if you haven’t watched it in a while, and you have watched The Lion King a bunch (or at least know many of the visuals well), go watch them again. There are some story similarities, yes, but even more-so, there are a ton of visual similarities. Specifically keep an eye out for things in Bambi that resemble Simba’s birth, Pride Rock, the wildebeest stampede, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” the Hyenas attacking Scar on the cliff, and the end. I can’t believe there were that many that we picked up on that it wasn’t intentional… Again, people other than me have already done the work, so check this out for more.

NEXT UP: Cinderella

Today is Day 5 of the complete “Stay at Home” order (but actually day…seven or eight? for us actually staying 100% home), so we’ll be watching Disney’s fifth theatrical release: Cinderella.

Stay tuned for another update in a few movies as to how we’re progressing!

NOTE: There were a few other Disney theatrical releases sprinkled in here, but they were known as “animated packages” — basically, a series of short films that aired together. We’re not including those on our watch through.

How Taco Bell Changed My Outlook on Writing

OH HEY, I HAVE A NEW ESSAY PUBLISHED. Let’s just get that very, very important bit o’ news out of the way. That’s right, my creative non-fiction/memoir essay titled “The Bell Rings, or Four Key Life Moments in a Taco Bell” has been included in Volume 2 of Taco Bell Quarterly.

What is TBQ? How did I come to find out about it? And how did this rebellious literary magazine suddenly, after two years, change my whole outlook on writing?

As to what Taco Bell Quarterly is, I invite you to enjoy the words in the Letter from the Editor Grande Supreme. Particularly, these words:

Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. Some people want to watch the world burn. Some people want to fill the world with Taco Bell writing.

M.M. Carrigan

I found out about Taco Bell Quarterly right after the publication of their first issue, when a former co-worker of mine tweeted about it. Immediately I was hooked, and I kept my eyes peeled for submissions to open up again.

As I waited, I wrote the first draft of the essay you will now find in Volume 2. Yes, I have many, many key life moments that happened in a Taco Bell. These are four of them. These four, in particular, tell a very important part of my own “growing up” arc. Call it a coming-of-age story with extra tomatoes, if you will.

The thing that struck me most about the first volume of TBQ (and it continues in the second!) is the fact that while, yes, these pieces of writing talked about dollar menus and sauce packets and drive-thru windows and polyester uniforms, they also talked about a lot more. They dove into themes of social class warfare, poverty, sex, grief, joy, love, politics, revolution, everyday life…basically, all the stuff truly great writing is made of.

If we can force generation after generation of literature students to spend hours talking about an old vase (yes, Keats, I’m looking at you), why can’t we also celebrate the humble yet magnificent bean burrito?

Here’s the thing that being part of Volume 2 of Taco Bell Quarterly really taught me: good writing comes from the heart. This essay I wrote was personal, yes, but every bit of the writing process came from a place of joy. And of most things I’ve been writing recently, it is one of my absolute favorites. Because I wrote it because I wanted to. I wrote it because I had this specific story to tell, and I wanted to share it.

Two years ago (almost), I left my full-time job in the private sector to write (nearly) full-time. I’ve worked part-time on various freelance and consulting projects and odd-jobs, and I have the extreme privilege of a wonderful spouse who is financially (and emotionally!) supporting us while I pursue this dream of mine. And during those two years, I found myself getting completely bogged down and endlessly questioning if this was the right choice. Every pitch contest, every “tips for writers” article, every agent signing announcement, every conference made me go “WTF am I doing? Should I be writing differently? Is this on trend? Will this be on trend in three years? Is it literary/important/earth-shattering enough?!

Writing this essay reminded me what I really love about writing, and why I really love writing. I love writing that comes from inside my soul. I love writing about things I love, and I love writing things that I would want to read if someone else wrote them. I love writing because I love playing with words, and I love creating something out of thin air, and I love sharing that creation with other people and seeing them react to it. This essay showed me that again.

And, since writing/submitting the essay, I’ve written a handful of other complete short pieces (some of which I’m submitting to contests/journals now) AND I’ve broken through some major writer’s block on larger WIPs.

So, a HUGE thank you to The Day Crew at TBQ for reading this essay and for seeing in it something worth sharing. I’m thrilled to have it listed on my published works page, and I’ve got some more menu items cooking for a future issue…

On Legends and Grief

I played basketball when I was in middle school. I’ve attended exactly one NBA game and one Harlem Globetrotters game. I have never participated in March Madness bracket. I don’t even know if I could name more than a dozen pro-basketball teams (are there even more than a dozen? I assume so, but I’m not sure…).

And yesterday, my heart was broken too.

I was at work when the news hit. I was teaching a class of twelve women how to knit chunky blankets. As soon as the first person mentioned the news, I pulled out my phone and went to Twitter to look for confirmation (because none of us trusted – or wanted to trust – TMZ as the sole source).

And there it was: Kobe Bryant was among nine individuals who perished in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

I scrolled through all the posts on Facebook and Twitter. I saw the grief, the shock, the disbelief. The tributes. The reminders of his complicated history and the attempts at navigating the complexity of emotions involved in that. I saw people doubt their own emotions – He was just a celebrity. We didn’t really know him. Why are we so upset?

And I found myself completely unable to process my own feelings. Let me be clear about this: My knowledge of Kobe is tangential at best — I know he’s an incredible player, I know he’s an Oscar winner, and I know he’s had his fair share of problematic events. And I’m not a basketball fan by any means.

Yet, my heart was broken too.

I took a while to think about why. If I’m not from L.A., and if I don’t really care much about basketball, why was I so heartbroken over Kobe?

Here’s where I find myself now, and I am sharing this because I feel like perhaps it will resonate with others too.

What I’ve come to realize about myself is this: when someone famous dies, I am not only grieving that person. I am grieving any memories I have tied to that person.

To me, this is the piece that transcends the “I didn’t really know them. Aside from being sad because death and tragedy are always sad, why am I upset by this?

When Heath Ledger died, yes, I mourned his loss. I still sometimes think about what movies we could’ve seen from him. But, in a way, I also mourned the teenage kid who was coming home from a high school theater festival and stopped with her friends to see 10 Things I Hate About You for the first time. I mourned the distance that now separates those once-inseparable cast mates. I mourned the days when who was going in whose limo to prom were the biggest concerns on our mind. I mourned the innocence of sharing a large tub of popcorn and shoving three straws into an extra large Diet Coke.

When Nora Ephron died, I mourned her loss. I mourned every story of hers left forever unwritten. And I mourned the kid who watched Sleepless in Seattle for the first time and cried her eyes out. I mourned the girl who watched When Harry Met Sally for the first time and discovered her all-time favorite movie. I mourned the young adult who figured out that while Nora Ephron could spin one hell of a story, real life rarely resembles anything written by Nora Ephron.

So yesterday, when Kobe Bryant died, my heart was broken too.

Because in 2002, I was approaching the end of my freshman year in college at UCSD. For those of you who don’t know, UCSD has a lot of students who come from Los Angeles. They also have a lot of students who come from the Bay Area, especially Sacramento. And in 2002, the NBA Western Division Championship was between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings.

Yesterday, when I heard that Kobe Bryant died, I also heard the giggles of my suitemates as we crowded together in our common area to eat rice bowls from Ocean View Terrace, our nearest dining hall. Yesterday, when I heard that Kobe Bryant died, I remembered us figuring out which floors/buildings must have Lakers fans versus Kings fans, because the shouts were so loud they reverberated through the walls across campus. Yesterday, when I heard that Kobe Bryant died, I could see the two guys sprinting across campus screaming KOBE! KOBE! KOBE!

And remembering all of that broke my heart a little bit.

I guess this is something I probably should’ve learned the first time I watched Pixar’s Inside Out.

Spoiler Alert: there’s an important pivotal moment when you realize that emotions died to memory can be “touched” by other emotions, and then the feelings swirl. A previously “Yellow” memory – one of joy – can be later touched by sadness and turn it “Blue” (or a swirl of colors).

And to me, that’s what happens when we hear about a famous person passing. Our brightly colored solid orbs are suddenly swirled with the news of the now, because memory and grief are complicated emotions that tango together.

So, in trying to process the complexities of all these feelings, that’s where I’m at right now.

And, of course, there’s the one quote that always comes to mind when I hear of a famous person – especially a famous sports person – has passed:

Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Follow your heart, kid. You’ll never go wrong.” ~ The Sandlot

And the nominees are…n’t?

WTF Oscars.

I shouldn’t be surprised at this point. I know that. And I know there are plenty of people out there who like to espouse the “just don’t care” “the Oscars are pointless anyways” “it doesn’t matter” mantras.

But here’s the issue: the Oscars do still matter. Maybe they shouldn’t, but that’s a different conversation. Right now, in the year 2020, being nominated for and/or winning an Oscar matters — it matters in whose films get attention, it matters in who gets hired, it matters in what types of stories continue to be made and shared, it matters in where the budgets go… it matters. The industry still lives and dies by these awards.

So, almost every year since I was eight years old (so, going on…uh…well, a lot of years at this point) I have watched the Oscars telecast AND I have tried to watch as many of the nominated films as possible. I tend to focus on the “Alpha” categories (things like – acting, directing, screenwriting, best picture). But this year…ugh. I’m having a hard time getting excited.

Now, to be clear — I haven’t seen any of these movies yet. Like any good Twitter resident (hey, you can follow me: @ThatColette), I’ve spent the morning reading and ruminating and discussing all the nominees, but it is all speculative to me at this point, because I’ve got a lot of movie watching to do. But still, reading about the Snubs I have to say…those sound a LOT more appealing/interesting to me than what is actually nominated this year.

So, I’m making two lists. Well, technically three – I’m gonna have a “cross-over” category just for Little Women basically, which did get a ton of nominations but somehow something can have the best script, acting, and PICTURE but not the best director… (*facepalm*).

We’ll start with what DID get nominated, in the “Alpha” categories (Best Picture, Best Actor/Actress/Supporting, Best Adapted/Screenplay, Best Director)

The Nominees Are…

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Bombshell
Ford v Ferrari
Harriet
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Judy
Knives Out
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Pain and Glory
Parasite
Richard Jewell
The Two Popes

Seventeen films. Of those seventeen, before this morning, I’d heard of fourteen of them, and I had eight of them on my personal “I’d like to see this” list.

Now, here are the movies that people are highlighting on the various snubs lists that are going around (and/or are just replying to me with on Twitter and/or Facebook). And to be quite honest, this list sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than the other list.

The Nominees Aren’t (aka, Snubs)…

Dolemite is My Name
The Farewell
Honey Boy
Hustlers
Just Mercy*
The Lighthouse
Midsommar
Queen & Slim
Rocketman
Uncut Gems
Us

*There’s some controversy this morning over whether or not Just Mercy was actually eligible, but I think it did have a limited release pre-ballot window, so basically, people are using the “it wasn’t widely available yet” as a bullshit excuse. But I need to confirm this.

My “Cross-Over” list of things that were nominated in some categories but really should’ve been nominated in others/more is just:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Little Women
Knives Out

In total, the Nominees Are and Aren’t lists include 28 films (again, focusing on the awards/snubs for Acting, Directing, Writing, and “Best Picture”). I’m not sure how many of those I’ll actually sit down and watch, but I’m gonna give the list a fair shot. Thankfully, with its 24 nominations (and a handful of snubs!), I can get a lot of these on Netflix.

What do you think? Do you watch the Oscars? Do you agree/disagree with what was nominated? Am I missing anything on my “Snubs” list? Share your thoughts in the comments or tweet me at @ThatColette.