Thirty Days, Fifty-Thousand Words, And Three Rules

Great news, everyone- I wrote most of a novel last month!

For the first time in my life, I successfully defeated National Novel Writing Month, with my final word count on November 30th coming in at 52.6k out of a necessary 50k.

I’ve still got a ways to go before “winning NaNoWriMo” becomes “finishing a novel.” But this was the hardest I’ve worked on anything in recent memory, and I learned a few things along the way that I want to share.

Here are my three new rules for writing, each presented in accordance with my new philosophy of just trying to have fun with the medium:

Rule One: With Apologies to Charles Dickens

I’ve always had a deep disdain for long-winded prose. Less is more, as the experts say. Why say lot word when few word do trick, am I right? Usually I’m the type of writer who’ll spend an hour looking for ways to cut pages down to paragraphs, and those paragraphs into sentences.

But that approach is the antithesis of NaNoWriMo, where the primary goal is to puke words onto the page at a blazing speed. No stopping to think, edit, or retool- just start typing and keep going until you hit the daily word count.

It was a hard adjustment for me to make, and for most of the month I felt like I was betraying my ideals as a writer. But damn if I didn’t end up with all the prose that I needed. Turns out, it’s easier to prune an overgrown word tree into the shape you want than it is to figure out the shape all at once when starting from a seed.

Rule Two: I Am God

I realized that whenever I’m writing a narrative, I get bogged down worrying about “realism” when what I should be worrying about is “credibility.” It’s akin to some advice an old musical theatre director once gave me about what makes a stellar performance: you don’t have to hit every note, as long as you can sell the song to the audience.

During NaNoWriMo, I did just enough research about the fields of aviation and exploration in the 1920s/1930s to make sure that I wasn’t writing something implausibly stupid.

And then I had to remind myself that I’m not writing a technical manual about the subject; I’m writing a pulpy adventure story that’s laughably unrealistic on its face. It’s going to be a little implausible, and the stupidity is half the fun.

I’m creating this world and the characters that populate it. It might look like the real world, but it doesn’t have to function using the same boring rules. Whatever I say happens in this world, is what happens in this world.

I am God in this world, and I can write whatever I want.

Rule Three: Screw the Rules

Outside of English classes, I’ve never really given a lot of thought to the rules of writing. All the guidelines for grammar, usage, and mechanics occupy some dusty shelf in my brain, and I rarely need to refer back. I’m pretty well trained in the art of proper writing, after all. I just do what what I’ve been taught to do, without thinking about it.

But that doesn’t always jibe with the authorial voice that I want to use.

Sometimes, the sentence that best conveys the tone and emotion I want the reader to feel isn’t grammatically correct, or it tells instead of showing, or it goes full Lewis Carroll because I was convinced that a certain word existed in the English language.

What I used to do was agonize over getting the closest “correct” sentence down on paper. Even though I know the rules of writing prose, I worry that if I don’t stick to them, everyone is going to think I don’t know.

During NaNoWriMo, I just started saying, “Eh, screw it.” I’m writing this novel to have fun, and the audience will be reading the novel to have fun. Nobody’s getting graded. End sentences with prepositions, split your infinitives, let a character say “me” when they should be saying “I”. It doesn’t matter. Screw the rules.

We’ll see how the finished novel turns out- but I’m definitely enjoying the writing process more now than with anything I’ve done in the past, and I certainly consider that a win!

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen- Until December, Anyway

If you read my post from two weeks ago, you’ll remember that I was toying with the idea of trying to write a whole-ass novel over the next 30 days.

Since writing that post, I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking and planning and plotting and outlining. And ultimately, I decided that I am going to go ahead and try to write a whole-ass novel over the next 30 days.

The novel, if you’re interested, is called Peril in the South Pacific: A Buck Bishop Adventure. Now, I know that sounds like an absurdly over-the-top 1930s pulp fiction paperback- and that’s because, in spirit, it is. It has a dashing aviator, it has a spirited lady-reporter, it has a marooning on an uninhabited island, it has a kidnapping, there’s a volcano, the bad guy is literally wearing a pith helmet, and you’d better believe that you can slash the sexual tension with a machete.

We’ll see if this turns out to be one of my best ideas, or one of my worst.

But either way, I don’t think I can crank out fifty-thousand words of certified fresh pulp adventure and keep up this blog at the same time. So for the month of November, I’m taking a hiatus from That Type Of Girl and diving headlong into NaNoWriMo 2020.

I’ll see you all in 30 days- wish me luck!

Make Your Own Damn Coffee: A Feminist Manifesto

I could make a lot of points about how difficult it is to be a woman in the workforce, but it wouldn’t be anything that Dolly Parton didn’t already tell us in 9 to 5.

I don’t believe for a minute that anyone reading this article is going to be confused by my lack of explanation, wondering what injustices I could probably be talking about. Certainly not any of the female readers, anyway.

Am I right, ladies?

Haven’t you had that boss who condescended you constantly while acting like your idiot male coworkers were business gurus?

You’ve been interrupted and talked over in a corporate meeting, only for goddamn Jerry from marketing to steal credit for the idea that he just freaking heard you suggest, right?

And hey, remember meeting an upper-level colleague who only shook hands with the men in the room, completely ignoring your presence?

Of course this has happened to you. Or if not this exactly, then whatever the equivalent is in your particular profession. It comes with the territory- we women must bear the slings and arrows of outrageous workplace sexism, and if we’re really unlucky then we’re expected to do it while wearing a pair of high heels.

Yes, the unfortunate truth is that being a woman in the workforce means a daily discovery of new and creative ways for The Man to shit on you. It’s tough trying to fight the patriarchy, and sometimes the only thing you can do is try to survive to fight yet another day. You have to pick your battles.

But you know what battle I always pick?

I’m not making the goddamn coffee.

If I had to boil down all of my bad experiences in a workplace into a single concept, and if most women were asked to do the same thing, the concept would be this: male bosses and coworkers don’t think twice about treating us like their secretaries.

You know what I mean. Being the girl on the team means that you’re the one who gets asked to answer the phone, to order lunch for everyone, to go around getting signatures on the birthday card, to greet any clients that walk in, to water the plants, to make a sign for the conference room door, to print this thing, to make a note of that thing, and, invariably, to make the coffee.

I refuse to make the coffee, and in my experience this is the single most satisfying action that I can take against workplace patriarchy.

I’m not your secretary; we have the same job title. You can make your own damn coffee.

I’m not the office den mother; I’m not here to serve you and take care of you. You can make your own damn coffee.

Do you understand that I don’t even make coffee for my husband at home? Do you realize that I don’t even drink coffee?

I don’t belong in a kitchen; I belong in a board room. You can make your own damn coffee.

I make thirty cents for every dollar that you get paid, mister.
You can make your own damn coffee.

It’s taken me a lot of years working in a lot of offices and putting up with a lot of bullshit to realize that this is where I draw the line, and I’m never going back. The day that I abandon my principles and make coffee for everyone in my office is the day that I’ll poison it, you mark my words.

Every pot of coffee that I don’t make is a victory for women everywhere. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a much better start to the day than a cup of joe.

It’s That Time Of Year Again, When I Decide To Complicate My Life For No Reason

Yes, it’s that time of year again- everyone is either getting ready for NaNoWriMo, or loudly railing against the expectation that they start getting ready for NaNoWriMo.

For those of you who aren’t in the know (and bless your souls for your blissful ignorance), NaNoWriMo is the fun, cool way to abbreviate “National Novel Writing Month”. The idea is that every November, hundreds of thousands of authors give themselves thirty days to write a 50k word novel.

It doesn’t have to be a good novel, or even the final draft of a novel- it just needs to clock in at 50k words, and you’ve succeeded. It’s all about putting pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, or whatever method it takes for you to puke out a manuscript of appropriate length. All you’ve got to do is hit your word count. It should, in theory, be easy.

That said, I myself have tried to participate in NaNoWriMo five or six or nine or fifteen times over the years, and every single time I have failed miserably. Never once have I made it anywhere in the ballpark of 50k words before quietly giving up on the whole idea.

But this year, for literally no reason other than that 2020 has already been a horrendous pain in the ass and I see no chance of success in attempting to make it easier for myself, I’m considering giving NaMoWriMo the old college try one more time.

Don’t try to stop me; I’m already fully prepared to regret this decision.

I’ve spent the last few days trying to identify exactly why I’ve always failed at this goal in the past, thinking that maybe I can figure out a strategy to miss the mark by a less embarrassing margin this year. I think I’ve come up with three things:

Thing One: I’m Just A Slow Writer
I’ve been writing for literally as long as I can remember- somewhere around twenty-two years now. In all those years of writing, I’ve only ever finished one piece of any significant length: the first draft of a novel (Bright & Beautiful, excerpt here) that totaled about 61k words.

It took me eight years. What can I say? I’m no Stephen King, I can’t just fall asleep on top of my typewriter twice a week and wake up both mornings with a fully-written bestseller.

Trying to write 50k words in 30 days is trying to increase my standard level of productivity by approximately ONE-HUNDRED-BILLION percent. That’s obviously going to be a considerable hurdle.

But I think that if I could stick to a consistent writing schedule, it wouldn’t necessarily be insurmountable…and that brings us to the next thing.

Thing Two: I Can’t Stick To A Consistent Writing Schedule
I went to bed at 9pm last night. The night before that, I went to bed at 1am. The night before that, I think I feel asleep on the couch at 11pm and then got up to go to bed properly at a quarter past who-the-fuck-knows o’clock.

This is the kind of person I am.

I do things whenever I feel like it, and two-thirds of the time, not even then. I resent the implication that I should be responsible for managing my time in any facet of my life. I can’t even manage to remember when I’m going to get PMS, and that happens the same goddamn week of every month. So how am I supposed to manage my own writing schedule?

The only thing that I think can fix this problem is to write the schedule ahead of time, and then refuse to let how I’m feeling in the moment have any bearing on the situation. I just need to decide that come Hell or high water, for 30 days I’m going to sit down every night at 7pm and write the next 1600 words of my story. I can’t try to set a schedule based on when I’m feeling creative or on what else I have going on that day; it has to be beyond my control, or I’ll find some way to drop the ball on it.

But this brings us to the third thing, and that’s the one that always really screws me over.

Thing Three: I Never Know What To Write
Now, I’ve got ideas. Believe you me, I’ve got ideas. Ideas as far as the eye can see; ideas as far as your psyche can imagine. Ideas built on top of ideas built on top of ideas. Ideas for DAYS. An endless, boundless, churning sea rollicking with ideas. Oh ho ho, I have no shortage of ideas.

But what I don’t have is the capacity to make an idea into a cohesive narrative.

I’ll have an idea for a scene, or a character, or an AestheticTM, but I’ll have no idea what to do with it after that point. I know where my story starts, but I don’t know where it goes. Or I know where it’s going to end, but have no clue how to get there. And to this day, in twenty-two years as a writer, I haven’t made any progress in figuring out how to close that gap.

Oh, what’s that you say? I should write an outline?

Go fuck yourself. Do you think I don’t know about outlining? Because I know about outlining- but the thing is, if I knew my story well enough to be able to write an outline, then I’d know the story well enough to be able to write the story.

My brain simply doesn’t work that way, or really in any way when it comes to expanding a theme into a plot.

I guess that’s an argument in favor of stealing- er, borrowing- a plot, right? Remember, we’re just shooting for 50k words. Those can be 50k words used to retread a tale as old as time, right? I sure hope so, because as far as I can tell that’s the only way up this mountain.

So I guess this is what I’ve decided in terms of NaNoWriMo prep this year:
1. Recognize that I can’t do this at my usual comfortable pace;
2. Set a writing schedule and stick to it as though it’s life or death; and
3. Steal a plotline and find other ways to showcase my creative spirit within the work.

…you know, the three things I realize every year shortly before failing yet again. Sigh.

May the odds be ever in my favor.

I’m Rubber, You’re Glue, etc., etc.

I think that in a lot of ways, deciding to grow up and handle problems in an adult fashion just makes life a lot harder for everyone.

It might be a different story if we started teaching children how to navigate the world properly a little earlier, so that the transition wasn’t such a huge mental shift. But no, we essentially have a longstanding societal agreement to spend the first twenty or so years of our lives handling our problems like absolute children, until suddenly one day that’s no longer allowed.

And at that point I guess we’re just supposed to throw out all of our old coping mechanisms from the middle school playbook. Even though they worked, dammit.

If I got into a fight with one of my friends in middle school, I could make a dramatic announcement that we were no longer on speaking terms, and they’d have no other choice but to leave me alone until further notice. Other people would run interference for me, even if they didn’t take my side in the conflict, simply because the declaration had been made. Remember that? “Bryanna isn’t speaking to Abby right now” would spread across the cafeteria like wildfire, and everyone would honor the battle lines that had been drawn. Maybe it was immature, but it was certainly effective.

But when you’re an adult, you don’t really have any socially acceptable way to announce to someone that you’re not speaking to them. Just saying it outright makes you sound like a seventh grader, and just ignoring them without explanation makes you look like a sixth grader. And neither of those are good looks anymore.

I suppose you could say it’s because adults aren’t supposed to give one another the silent treatment. When two adults have some kind of interpersonal issue, they’re supposed to talk it out until they can come to an understanding. And sometimes the understanding they reach is that they can no longer have a relationship with one another- but at least it’s not a holding pattern of claiming to still be part of one another’s lives, all the while refusing to have a conversation. We agree that’s a stupid solution.

But I think that really only applies if there’s some kind of argument at the heart of the issue. Of course it’s wrong to close the lines of communication when you have a disagreement that needs to be worked out. That’s obvious.

But what if it’s not that you’re having a disagreement with someone? What if you’re just mad at them, and you don’t want to talk to them?

What if someone has said something massively hurtful and unfair about you, and you’re so offended by their words that you can’t even consider the possibility of having a conversation with them afterwards?

What’s the mature and adult thing to do in that situation, if not to simply stop talking to the person until you’re emotionally ready for it again?

Is it to ask for an apology? Come on, of course it isn’t- that’s fourth grade territory. And especially if the insult wasn’t even made to your face. It’s far too low to stoop to demand that someone apologize for something that they said behind your back, isn’t it?

Or is it?

Because now I’m back to the square one problem: that trying to be “mature” just makes things more difficult. Maybe the easiest and best course of action is to simply say to your fellow adult, “Hey, I heard that you were talking shit about me, and I’d appreciate an apology.”

Or I don’t know, maybe you should really lean into the middle school approach and just start a rumor that they can only use jumbo tampons.

He’s Probably Not Going To Die, But You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming

If you’re a notable public figure, you don’t get murdered- you get assassinated.

No one will come to your funeral to comfort your family- they’ll go to your funeral to make some kind of social or political statement.

Your eulogy won’t be about your personality or your personal connections- it’ll be about your accomplishments and your impact on the world.

We all understand this to be the price of becoming an Important Person.

That’s why we roll our eyes when celebrities complain about being stalked by the paparazzi or asked invasive personal questions in interviews. When you decide to go out and become Someone, you’re willingly and knowingly giving up the expectation that you’ll ever again be afforded basic human courtesies like privacy, dignity, or our collective empathy.

It might be a raw deal, but it’s the price we all agree is to be paid.

And that’s just the price of being a person who does unimportant stuff like making movies or recording music. It goes double, maybe even triple, for political or religious figures.

People whose lives actually impact the rest of us in tangible and significant ways, people who make the big decisions that shape the world and decide everyone else’s place in it, people with real, actual power- those people don’t get to hide behind the idea that “we’re all just human beings”. That is not how the social contract works.

My point?

It’s completely acceptable, per the agreed-upon social contract, to hope that Donald Trump dies of COVID-19.

It’s totally fine to plan a party in celebration on the day his funeral is held. Hell, you could go piss on his grave if you want to. It’s fine.

It might still be petty and meanspirited and un-Christian, but it’s certainly not the same as doing all this in response to hearing that an ordinary person had a potentially life-threatening virus.

Donald Trump is not an ordinary person.

He is, first and foremost, the President of the United States of America. None of us look at Donald Trump and see just a man, nor should we be expected to. We look at him and we see the embodiment and representation of either American ideals, or their total destruction. Either way, there’s a lot tied up in the idea of Donald Trump, and none of it meshes with the notion that he’s “just a human being” like the rest of us.

It doesn’t matter if he has a wife and children and friends that care about him, because he’s not our husband or our father or our friend.

He’s our most important political figure, and in wishing for his death, we’re merely treating him as such. He knew what he was getting into when he decided he wanted to run the country. He knew he was opening himself up to our scrutiny, our derision, our harsh judgment, and even our ill-wishes.

We’re allowed to want him to die.

Go on with your tut-tutting and your finger wagging, if it makes you feel like a better person. But just know that the rest of aren’t going to feel shamed, because we know we’re well within our rights. You’re allowed to think we’re awful, and to pull out that old “so much for the tolerant left” soundbite.

But at the end of the day, to quote the man himself, “It is what it is.”

I Hoped Something Good Would Happen, And All I Got Was This Crushing Disappointment

I’m not sure how old I was the first time that I heard the story of Pandora’s Box, but I remember thinking that I was the only person to spot the tricky little twist. You see, what happens in the story is that Pandora is given a box full of all the evils of the world: sickness, death, war, famine, poverty, Green Day’s early discography, etc. But among those evils was one good thing: hope. Although negativity and destruction had been released into the world to torment us, the gods were merciful enough to at least give humanity hope.

Or at least that’s how the story is always presented. I, for one, have always been incredibly suspicious of the idea of hope. I mean, it was in a cursed box full of evils, for crying out loud! And by dint of being the only one that stopped to talk, it convinced Pandora that it wasn’t like the others, but that it was the one that could be trusted. Guys, that’s not even slick. It’s embarrassing that anyone took that at face value. Obviously, hope is the sneakiest and most evil of all. That is literally the only interpretation that even gives the story a moral, you know? But over the years, just about everyone I’ve shared this interpretation with has accused me of being unnecessarily cynical.

So this week, I took everyone’s advice and let myself believe in hope. I decided to have a little faith that there was good in this world, and to allow myself to think that maybe, just maybe, something nice would happen. And do you know what I got in return?

I got stabbed right through the fucking heart, because of course that is what happened.

At this moment, I truly could not tell you why I let myself hope that the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor would be indicted for that charge. I don’t know how I watched the Attorney General in Kentucky hem and haw with his thumb up his ass (as my mother would say) for months and still hoped that he was going to come around and make the right decision. I cannot explain why, even as I watched the municipal government in Louisville fortify the city in anticipation of rioting and unrest, I had any hope that the grand jury decision would be anything other than a miscarriage of justice.

I should have known better than to hope. I should’ve remembered the lesson I internalized all those years ago: hope is not to be trusted.

Hope is the little voice that deceives you into thinking that the situation at hand isn’t actually as bad as you already damn well know that it is.

Hope is what allows us to become complacent instead of taking action.

Hope is what makes us think that the wheels of justice might turn on their own, however slowly.

Hope is what makes us believe that our direct involvement isn’t needed to create a better and fairer America. Instead, we hope that it could somehow come about on its own.

And then it doesn’t, because of course it doesn’t.

Hoping for justice does not bring justice. Asking for justice does not bring justice. Only demanding justice, by whatever means necessary, will eventually bring justice.

If we’re going to fight against all the evils in this world, we mustn’t forget that hope is the most dangerous of all of them.

An Excerpt: The Salingers of Summer Street

[Now and then I like to try my hand at writing in the style of an author I admire. No points will be awarded for guessing the inspiration here.]

My sister Lila was smart as hell, she really was.

Not that Hazel and I were stupid- all three of us Salinger kids were what the adults liked to call “gifted,” whatever that was supposed to mean- but Lila was about as smart as both of us put together. She had this real great way of looking at the world, and then figuring out how to put it down on paper without it getting all jumbled up. She wrote the most beautiful stories you ever read. You’d cry if you could read how beautiful some of her stories were. She was a real genius and everybody knew it.

They skipped her up two grades and gave her a scholarship to this fancy writing program, and about six publishing agencies practically had guys camping outside her dorm room waiting to see what she was going to come out with. Lila was probably the smartest, most talented person in the whole world, and then she went and did a goddamn stupid thing like jumping out that window.

They expected me to say something nice at the funeral, being the older brother and all. A poem or a song or any old thing, as long as it sounded nice. So I tried to come up with something, but if you want to know the truth I really didn’t see the point. Lila was the writer, not me.

I wasn’t going to say so and make everybody feel even worse, so I sat up in my old bedroom with lot of books and a blank page in the typewriter and tried to look like I was really trying.

Hazel kept coming up the stairs to stand in the doorway and look at me, but she didn’t say anything until about the eighteenth time I saw her there.

I could tell that time that maybe she was going to say something, because she kept kicking the toe of her tennis shoe against the doorframe like she wanted my attention. I turned around to look at her, but I figured it was better if I just waited and let her say something first. You can’t say anything to girls her age, when they’re about twelve or thirteen- you can’t say anything to them or they get upset.

Finally Hazel said, “Have you got any money?”

“How much?”

She shrugged. “A couple of dollars. I just want to go down to the drugstore.”

“Sure. Come here.”

Hazel came over and put her hand out, palm up. I gave her the spare change out of my pocket. “Thanks,” she said. She started to turn around and leave.

“You know, it’s polite to ask me if I want anything from the drugstore.”

Heaving a very loud sigh, Hazel said, “What’s polite is not to stay locked up in here all day and make me have to sit with our mother and Douglas all by myself.”

I stood up. “Maybe I’ll walk down to the drugstore with you.”

“No thank you,” Hazel said immediately.

“Oh, come on. Take a walk with your big brother, it won’t kill you.”

I didn’t think twice about my word choice until I saw the way Hazel was looking at me.

“Sorry,” I added. “Look, I won’t come with you if you don’t want me to.”

Hazel sighed again and thrust her hands into her pockets. “Let’s go already.”

Summer Street in the middle of a weekday was eerily still. You got the feeling that a great big black pit had opened someplace and swallowed everyone up.

I guess it had, in a way. The world had just about stopped turning when word got out about “that unfortunate business with the Salinger girl.” A couple of the neighbors tried to come over and ring the bell, but it wasn’t any good because none of us wanted to answer the door. And none of the neighbors really cared anyhow. They just came over because they kind of figured that they’d better.

See, we never exactly got along with the neighbors. They used to accuse our mother and father of being real elitists, which didn’t get better when the three kids came along being “gifted” and everything, and getting all the attention in the school system and all that. And then when our father left it got worse than ever, everybody turning up their noses and saying that they guessed we weren’t really so much after all.

And now after all this business with Lila, our mother would probably have to sell the Summer Street house and move out to wherever Douglas’s people were from. The Midwest or someplace, I thought. Really I’d never thought much about Douglas one way or another, but I’d spoken with him just enough to start to wonder why my mother married him.

More to break the silence than anything else, I asked, “What’s Douglas like, anyway?”

“You’ve met him,” Hazel answered noncommittally.

“To live with, I mean.”

“Well, how should I know? Ask your mother.”

Making conversation with Hazel could be a chore on even the best of days, but in her current frame of mind it was nearly impossible.

“You’ve lived with him just as long as she has, haven’t you?”

Hazel looked down at her shoes, watching her looped laces flop to one side and then the other with each step. “I don’t know,” she said. “He reads the paper a lot. He always tries to ask me what I want to be when I grow up.”

“That’s not so bad,” I said.

Hazel grunted.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Walt,” she said. “Can’t you just shut up and walk?”

I couldn’t. I changed the subject instead. “Read any good books in school this year?”

“No,” said Hazel.

“No? The curriculum is just trashy French novels and pulp fictions, is that it?”

“Maybe. I don’t know, I didn’t read any of them.”

“What do you mean, you didn’t read any of them?”

“What do you mean, what do I mean? I just didn’t feel like it. I’m surprised no one wrote you to complain. I’ve been in trouble at school all year. Cutting class and not turning in assignments. Having a negative attitude.”

It was news to me, and I didn’t like it one bit. “Are you trying to flunk out or something?”

“No, I just-”

“Because that’s what’ll happen, you know. You’ll flunk out of school and you’ll never make anything of yourself. What are people going to say then?”

“I don’t care what-”

“You should,” I said. “Jesus Christ, Hazel. You’re too smart to flunk out of school. Think what they’d say about that, if one of the Salinger kids failed the eighth grade.”

“Alright,” Hazel snapped. “You don’t have to shout.”

I was about to argue, but now that she pointed it out I realized that I was shouting.

“And anyway,” Hazel added, “There are worse things a Salinger kid can do then fail the eighth grade.”

She stopped walking and sat down right there on the curb. I kind of stood around for a minute to see if she was going to get up again, but it didn’t look like it.

I sat down next to her. “Hazel.”


“I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

“I don’t care.”

“Well, I’m sorry.”


I let her sit there for a few minutes without bothering her, just looking up and down Summer Street.

We were still within sight of our house, pea-green with its white trim. I noticed for the first time that somebody had hung a black ribbon on our mailbox. Now even people who didn’t know us at all would be able to pick out the Salinger house, when they were informed in a hushed whisper of that terrible thing that the middle girl had gone and done to herself.

After a while, I said, “When I was your age I think I wanted to be a policeman.”

“Little boys always want to be policemen,” said Hazel. “And little girls always want to be ballerinas.”

“Is that what you want to be?”

“No,” Hazel said. “That’s stupid. But Lila did, did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“Well, she did.”

I tried to picture Lila in a white tutu, or anywhere other than hunched over her typewriter, glasses sliding down the end of her nose, hair pulled back into a messy ponytail.

“When did she tell you that?”

“This week. She called the day before… you know. She called the day before.”

“She did?”

Hazel nodded.

“What did she say?”



“She didn’t tell me she was going to jump out a window, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Well no, I didn’t think-”

“She sounded normal. We didn’t talk about anything.” Hazel stood up suddenly. “Come on, or we’re never going to get to the drugstore.”

She started off at a brisk pace without bothering to look back. I scrambled to stand up and go after her.

This time I didn’t try to break the silence again, and we came to the end of Summer Street and turned the corner heading into town proper.

Stop Asking Me About Babies

When I was a little girl, I used to dream about getting married and having a bunch of kids. Like, a BUNCH of kids. I wanted five, and I had their names and personalities all planned out: Natalie, the eldest, quiet and studious and responsible, and then Amanda, a rambunctious high-spirited tomboy who was by design the total opposite of her big sister, and then twin boys, Phillip and Andrew, who liked to build elaborate fantasy worlds with their toys and spoke in their own secret language most of the time, and finally little baby Chloe, whose only distinct character trait was that she never fussed.

I imagined us loading the kids into the car on Sunday mornings and going out for drives in the country, and our intelligent and inquisitive little brood pointing out the windows and asking a thousand questions about everything they saw, and my husband and I always having the answers and knowing how to facilitate a good group conversation, and no one ever got carsick or complained that their sister wouldn’t get out of their personal space or asked “Are we there yet?” or whined about not having enough snacks in the car.

And then I turned eleven, got my first period, and went, “Oh, fuck no. I’m already trapped in this PMDD-fueled biological hellscape for the next thirty-five years, I’m definitely not bringing pregnancy hormones into the mix.”

So I decided that I’d adopt instead. I remapped my imaginary future, shipping my five hypothetical children off to a relative’s house in England where they could explore wardrobes that lead to magical realms, and made room for my adopted daughter Vanessa. It was a shame she’d never meet her non-existent sister Natalie; having exactly the same personalities would certainly have made them best friends. But it was better in the long-run: trying to have five perfect biological children was the kind of goal that you only set when you’re a child yourself. A single child was much more manageable, and not having to do any of the intense physical part of it was hella gucci. (This was right around 2007 so that’s probably how I actually described it, and I’m not sorry.)

A couple of years after that, I was really into a guy who already had a daughter. And I realized that being a stepmom was actually the ideal way to be a parent. No pregnancy, and in fact no dealing with any baby junk at all. I wouldn’t be in charge of any of the life lessons or discipline or big decisions. Hell, I’d realistically only see the little darling about twice a month. Absolutely, sign me up for that! It’s like being a mentor in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program except I don’t have to wear the stupid t-shirt.

And right around there is the last time I can remember having any interest in parenting, and you can see how quickly it was waning in the first place.

I finally realized that I just wanted the “fun” parts of being a mom, but none of the actual commitment or responsibility. I loved babysitting- when I knew exactly what time I was off the clock and could get back to my own life. I loved my job working with kids in an elementary school- when I could send them home at the end of the day and whatever happened to them after that wasn’t my fault. I love my godson- and I really love his future not being entirely on my shoulders.

After twenty-something years of thinking that I wanted kids for no particular reason, it finally clicked for me that I don’t.

I could list a hundred reasons that I don’t want kids: it’s a commitment you can’t back out of, it’s a huge amount of responsibility to both a specific person and to humanity itself, the exorbitant cost of raising a child in the United States, the ever-present threat of climate change making the future of the planet uncertain, just to name a few. But I can’t think of a single reason that I would want to have a child that wouldn’t be satisfied by just getting a dog, and that realization was basically the final nail in the coffin of my considering motherhood.

Now, why do I bring this up?

Well, my husband and I have been married for about three months now, and that’s apparently the moment at which it becomes fair game to start asking us when we’re having a baby. Not even if, mind you, but when.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to tell someone that you don’t want to be a parent. But if you do, they always say, “Oh, you’ll change your mind.”

So I bring this up to illustrate that I already changed my mind. It wasn’t a whim; it took years and years of introspection and actually getting to know myself as a person. I already had my Big Change of Heart about wanting children- I went from feeling like I definitely wanted them but just needed to find the perfect circumstances that would make it work for me, to accepting that there aren’t any circumstances under which being a mother works for me.

I know you want to make a helpful suggestion right now. Everyone always does. I know you want to tell me about how wonderful and fulfilling parenthood is and all the big and little reasons that I’ll be sorry if I don’t do it. But whatever you’re about to say, that ain’t it, chief. You missed the boat.

In conclusion: we’re having a baby never. Stop asking about it.

Dial “W” for WTF – Part II

You’ll remember that at this point in the story, I’ve already called the subway advertisement phone number twice. And instead of the “free psychic reading” that I was expecting, all I’ve gotten out of it is an unprompted Nightmare Pop Music Hour and cryptic non-conversations with multiple strangers. But then, like I promised you, shit started getting really weird.

Immediately after hanging up the phone from the second call, I get a text message from an unknown phone number. 

Now, that’s actually something that happens a lot- I think I get a different random spam text every couple of days. So at first, even with the suspicious timing, I wasn’t sure that it was related to all this jazz. It was from a 718-number, but not the same one that I had just called. And all the message said was: “We thank you for your interest!” and then a linked image that it wanted me to download.

Usually I don’t even open obvious spam texts, and I definitely don’t download whatever bullshit is attached to them. But I had a gut feeling about this one. It seemed like too much of a coincidence, you know? 

So instead of doing the smart thing and never trusting an unknown link, I decided to roll the dice and download the picture. And yes, I fully realize how that action makes everything that happened afterwards my own fault.

What it turned out to be was a photo that someone took on the train, of one of those same moon-stars-Illuminati advertisements. Not much of the train car itself is visible, just the flyer tucked into the plastic up above the seats, in front of an old poster for Seamless Delivery. Nothing terribly remarkable, right?

Wrong! After I spent a couple of minutes trying to figure out which line this train was running on (impossible to tell), I finally noticed that there was more to the ad than I thought. 

Somebody had circled a bunch of the letters of the text written on the flyer. You know, the lazy man’s hidden code that I think we all learned from A Series of Unfortunate Events. Seemingly random, but if you write them down in the order that they’ve been circled you’ll reveal a secret message.

Now, as annoyed as I was by the whole waste of time phone call aspect of this, I am a sucker for coded messages. I was always that one kid who couldn’t just pass a regular note in class; the note had to be some complicated gibberish that only the intended recipient would understand, just in case it fell into the wrong hands. I honestly thought that a lot more of my adult correspondences were going to need to be protected from prying eyes than has actually been necessary, and I’ve never stopped being disappointed by the realization. So really, no matter what the lead-up to the situation is, you throw a secret code into the mix and I am here for it. 

So I write down all the letters, and the whole time I was expecting it to be a hashtag or a website or something along those lines. After all, half of the seemingly interesting things you see in New York turn out to be someone trying to sell you something, and the other half are someone trying to scam you out of something else. I’m thinking this is going to turn out to be the calling card of a company, or maybe an individual artist. 

But what it actually ended up spelling out was the name of a subway stop: Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

And do you know why that’s really fucking weird

It’s really fucking weird because I live in Kew Gardens, and that’s my stop. Union Turnpike is the station that I use going back and forth to work every day. Obviously that’s not a coincidence, right? 

I’m not a huge fan of this development, to be honest. It feels creepy, even though I doubt it’s actually anything to be freaked out about. Like, I already decided that this is probably a guerilla marketing campaign of some kind, and obviously they know that they’ve been putting ads on the E and F trains, which do both go to Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike. And I did have a whole phone call with them- two, actually- so they could’ve triangulated my location (crime procedurals have convinced me that this is a thing) and just sent me the ad that references the nearest subway station. 

All of that is perfectly plausible, and it’s not really that sinister. Just, you know, kind of creepy.

And the other thing that’s kind of creepy is that once again, literally as soon as I finished decoding the station name and was deciding how much I wanted to freak out about it, I got a voicemail.

The phone did not ring. I just got a notification that I had a new voicemail. It happens once in a while, when I don’t have reception. But obviously I have reception, because I was just talking on the phone in this same room, so….the hell?

And I don’t know if you know this, but if you don’t get a call or missed call notification then you don’t get any indication of who left you a voicemail. I have to listen to it to even know if it’s related to this whole subway flyer thing, like that text message did turn out to be, or if I’m just turning into a paranoid lunatic.

The voicemail, left by a female voice that I don’t recognize whatsoever, says, “Three days from today. Eight o’clock.” 

That’s it. No other context given. Three days from today, that would be Sunday. But “eight o’clock” is almost the opposite of information. Eight o’clock, what? AM? PM? You’re killing me, Smalls. And also, who even is this?

I decided to go ahead and assume it was related to the subway flyer thing, because it’s exactly the same brand of cryptic bullshit. And, at this point, how would it not be related? What would the odds be?

So I reply to the initial text under the assumption that they’re the same people who called me.

I text back, “Sunday at 8?”

And seconds later, they text, “That’s the time, you know the place.”

I text, “AM/PM? Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike?”

And, infuriatingly, they text, “That’s the time, that’s the place.”

So at this point I have to decide how interested I am in solving this mystery versus not getting kidnapped or murdered or whatever the hell, and also I have to decide if I think it’s worth getting up before 8:00am on a Sunday. You know, so I don’t miss it in case that’s the eight o’clock they mean.

But obviously I decided it was worth it to go- otherwise there wouldn’t be another part of the story, right? And the next bit is where things go from really weird to even weirder.