Trial by Fire

October 15, 2017

Someone got me writing again. Someone got me writing Scurvytown again, which is even better.

I wrote more words for personal interest than I have written in far too long. Everything in between a tangled mess, between ruin and pain management. I wrote my way out of that paper bag, lay it all out on the line to dry, and set it ablaze in effigy.

The push I needed was a new event in town for writers to showcase their work. They set up theme nights, and the second night was themed “Lemons.” I was like, well, hell, I have an entire lemon grove just wasting away in Scurvytown. I was all in for that event, but it got rescheduled, which was all for the best, due to some unfortunate happenstance.

My laptop died, most appropriately, because my last Macbook was a lemon. In the space between acquiring a new one and the rescheduled event, I wrote entirely new content. My plan was to start with a new Scurvytown piece and it ended up that that was the hardest thing to write, something that I finished the morning of the reading. It was something I should have finished the night before, but sometimes personal relationships take time away from writing, and sometimes, it’s time well spent. In this case, time well spent indeed, not the least of which was that I got excellent feedback on one of the pieces and was able to make some needed revisions on the fly.

I think the reading went well, considering I was rusty. Considering the words were a bit raw and not entirely polished/revised. Someone at the reading had a series of poems written by an AI, which is really close to this idea I have about a poetry chapbook seemingly written by an AI. I thought that was really cool. And honestly, I enjoyed getting to hear other people read way more than I enjoyed reading my stuff. I think people liked what I shared, though, so that was a relief.

By way of a weak conclusion, here is one of the poems from the reading:

Tea Leavings and What They Mean

I cut a swath across Ohio, ventricle to aorta, across the heartland and back again. In the breadth of a day. I slept most of the way, fevered dreams hoping for glimpses of a future told in three parts. There, back again, home. For good.

From sunrise to sunset, a warm grapefruit glow of morning glory, a cotton candy assault on the return, a Cheshire Cat moon appeared as a beacon, lighting a sideways smile to indicate a safe journey for whatever lay ahead in the darkness.

I saw my future in lemon groves, in sour slices of candy-coated segments, sparkling in the sun.
A deck of tarot spread out before me. The backs of the cards were all lemon trees, branches heavy with the fruit they bore. Heads up and upside down. Lights on and lights off. The queen of cones. The three of bees. What sort of fortune is this, in lemon soaked tea leaves?

When you reach the bottom of the cup, it means the cup is empty, and full of tea leaves.

Fixed Point in Time

April 13, 2017

At some point in time, I intend to reboot Scurvytown. But I have been saying this for far too long. I have half written episodes, at least half a dozen of them. There’s story notes, outlines, plotlines, ideas for the future. Which is great and all, an idea that exists in the future, but if you don’t put the time into it now, that’s the only timeline in which it can ever exist: an imaginary one.

When I started Scurvytown, it was a place to go to on writing exercise adventures. Make mistakes. Make them in ink. Or virtually so. And not really worry too much about bad writing that happens to everyone. Kind of like this entire paragraph.

The thing is, I know that whole working two jobs thing can only hold up as an excuse for as long as I can handle expending my time that way, and that’s beginning to fray around the edges. The part time gig is way more demanding than the payback for doing it, and it brings more frustration than it does joy, which is a shame, really. Which I think is why it’s been so hard for me to admit.

Trying to balance a chronic illness on top of all that has been pretty much made of bad choices. But I’ve made enough changes in my life lately (new full time job, new living situation), that all of that has improved tremendously, and that gives me the hope I needed to forge through, to commit to a passion project I love, and one that’s mine and mine alone. If nothing else, the chronic illness has taught me valuable lessons about balance and the worthwhile things that deserve to have energy reserves thrown at them. The past is in the past. Time to forge the future I’ve been imagining.

I would like to think that I am somewhat of a podcast junkie. I’ll subscribe to a bunch of new ones every so often on iTunes, and then listen a few times to see if I find something worthwhile there. Every so often, friends will ask for podcast recommendations, and I usually go a little overboard with recommendations. But it’s funny, too, that recommending content to a friend who would absolutely find a show as awesome as I do, still might mean they never listen to it because there’s still some weird stigma with podcasts, somehow. I haven’t quite figured out what it is. Maybe that the term itself is kind of bizarre and not really a good representation of the media. And maybe that the content varies so widely, and people get an idea of what a podcast should be rather than taking it as content they’ll enjoy. But I dunno. I mean, I grew up listening to NPR in the car with my mom and have very fond memories of shows like Bob and Ray, just to make a list of one. So I feel like that background is exactly the kind of thing that leaves you open to whatever the podcast might be about, and whatever methods are used to tell stories, really. And I’ve always been a fan of storytelling.

My favorite new podcast is not one that I stumbled into in my usual way, but one that was recommended to me by a friend. “No one I tell about it will listen, so I have no one to talk to about it.” She’s always one to listen to for recommendations, so I looked it up and the tagline reeled me in immediately, and the first episode clinched it. So here it is, another list of one, my favorite podcast of the year:

Hello from the Magic Tavern. Welcome to the magical land of Foon. This show has a thin veil of a premise and then is pure improv comedy that nearly always makes me burst into laughter and make my coworkers wonder what the hell is wrong with me. The concept, one that’ll make you need to suspend some disbelief, is that a guy named Arnie, while driving through a Burger King drive-thru, accidentally traveled through a portal into another world (a magical world with wizards, shapeshifters, and a ton of other crazy characters). He brought his podcasting equipment and records a show in a tavern in Foon with two characters he met there and then broadcasts it back through the weak wi-fi signal from the Burger King. You can probably imagine a lot of things you have to just shrug off and trust as true, but you won’t mind, especially when they have episodes with songs. And you’ll need a dirty and very open mind to truly enjoy this weekly journey. It bears mentioning that one of the sponsors of the show is Cards Against Humanity, so if you’re a fan of that game, you will probably love this show.

Sometimes the live episodes are a bit harder to trudge through, as they sometimes pull away the barriers of the regular show that makes it feel a little more realistic. There are times I could picture events unfolding, like a character goes to the bar to get drinks and you don’t hear from them for a few minutes, and you really think they’re off getting a round of rainbow bowls. Or maybe that’s just my overactive imagination at play. The best episodes often include musical guests, and I really wish they’d produce a Music of Foon album, because I’d buy the shit out of that. My top three favorite episodes: Music of Foon, Offices & Bosses, and Pandenomicon. I’d recommend just about any of those as stand-alone episodes that’ll hook you on the show and make you tear through the almost 2-year run of episodes in a matter of months. But then you’ll want to listen again, to catch things you missed the first time, and to gain a greater appreciation of the span of the recall jokes that are part of what makes this podcast so magical.

Can’t Move My Eyebrows

October 7, 2016

As I begin this post, I think about the weird spambot messages it is sure to field. The summer was hot and kinda of disgusting. There’s a musty smell of damp basement whenever the air conditioner kicks on, and between that and everything my neighbors smoke filtering into my living space, suffice it to say it was a hot and stank ass summer. A summer of migraines.

At times, they were so bad, I could barely lift my head without wincing. Not only my head hurt, but the worse pain was in my face, as my sinuses were swollen and achy. I had more ocular migraines this past summer than I normally do in a single calendar year. I failed all the meds that my doctors could throw at me, and ended up on the path to Botox.

Botox is weird. I would never have had it done if I hadn’t reached a point of desperation. And I finally got some relief. Could be the Botox, could be the Blutech lenses I wear almost all the time now, and it could be a change in diet that my allergist steered me toward. It’s probably all those things. At a point when I was afraid getting better wouldn’t happen, slowly I started to improve. I may not be able to move my eyebrows, which is apparently either hilarious or adorable depending on who you ask, but I would say it was worth it. I won’t be singing that tune during the next Botox appointment, since it involves 30+ shots to the head and face. Kinda like wearing a space helmet with bees trapped inside. Angry, stinging bees.

Anyway, been throwing a bit of time at Scurvytown lately, getting feedback from an awesome writer friend, and getting my writing confidence back. The things that have returned to me with my health are all good, positive things. And about the Botox: it’s damn near impossible to frown these days. It’s a nice side effect.

Update for 2016

April 30, 2016

It’s been awhile since I made a post, because clearly I suck. I’ll spare the excuses, because it’s a little exhausting just thinking of how much shit I try to pile into a single week. #humblebrag

I have been working on Scurvytown things, however. I have an episode and a half written for a new podcast. I’d like to get at least a handful written before I start the production process. I red-lined what I had so far, and have a lot of changes to incorporate, which is actually more encouraging than the opposite. Most of my notes are like, “change this, omit that, re-tool this scene, and damn it, Lauren, that’s not how dialogue works.”

The semester is winding down, which means I have a week to chill before the next one begins. This spring semester, I taught English 102, which meant grading 4 research papers for 15-20 students, depending on how many were actually turned in. It was a lot more intense than English 101, for sure, and thankfully, this summer, I’m back in a 101 classroom. If certain things improve, I’d love to be able to take a semester off, but who knows what the future holds? My immediate future holds grading 16 research papers, and a cookie when I’m on the other side of that pile of work.

One thing I worry about with the new project is running out of ideas for it, so I have to really set the focus of my brainstorm sessions on broadening the scope of the project. I tend to schedule my brainstorming to coincide with going for walks/hikes, and as the spring gives way to summer, my productivity tends to flourish.

I guess rather than being vague, I can at least explain generally what my idea is. Scurvytown character Magby Aarhus has a local radio show and is offering up free advice to people who call in. Now, Magby does not have any kind of expertise relevant to advice-giving, which makes it kind of funny, because things don’t really go the way she wants or expects. It’s kind of the idea of being bad at a thing, thinking you’re awesome at it, and not really getting that you’re awful. Not sure if that works, yet. I am also trying to figure out a way to incorporate music kinda like how they do on Night Vale, because that’s really fun, and the only thing my original idea from back in 2010 didn’t have.

And I guess at some point, I really do need to revisit my thesis, revise it much in the same way I’ve learned to do for this new project, and produce that damn thing already. I made a list of all my creative projects this past Monday night, and I was pretty much like, “Damn, girl. Pick one and focus that shit.” My inner voice may be a little harsh, but she’s right.


September 27, 2015

A recurring theme in my art is “overcoming my own gravity.” It’s probably the reason I enjoy writing space fiction so much. The dual meaning of it hits all the right notes in my head.

Writing-wise, things have been a bit bleak lately. I’ve attempted to write some short fiction (2000 words) and had a fun idea, but couldn’t make it work. I think I’ve been out of practice with fiction, and I feel the need to change that. The last song I have written and enjoyed was called “Gravity.” And this was about a month ago. The prompt for it was “Circus Style,” probably because the coffee shop where songwriter’s group is held is next door to a Circus Mojo. I decided to write it about the my longest running fiction work-in-progress, my space circus fiction, which had the first words thrown at it in roughly 2001. Back then, it was called “Jane of the Waking Universe,” which is a Guided By Voices song. That’s still its working title, though I have some other ideas of where I might take it.

I decided I was going to record a new version of the song, since the one I recorded a few weeks back is a little rough, mostly because I was at the first stages of a nasty lingering sinus infection. Turns out, writer’s block and the goob are excellent partners in crime when it comes to halting progress on a songwriting project. But clearly, I need to quit moping, shake off this sad-sackitude, and get some words out, even if the next thing is awful. Because maybe the thing after that will be awesome. That’s always the hope anyway.

But then I realized, nope, I’m totally going to post the shaky version of the song. One of those reasons might be laziness, but moreso it’s because of the lessons you learn from seeing your mistakes on camera. Shaky parts of the song that didn’t need to be, notes missed, places where the song drags. It’s always worth it, to some extent, to the end goal of making it better. Clearly, I need to overcome my own gravity, which is the line that earned this song its title.

And so without further ado, here is a rough and shaky version of “Gravity:”

Where’s your joy?

March 26, 2015

There was a fire drill or an unexpected fire alarm at work on Tuesday morning. I finished up the thing I was doing, grabbed my coat, and headed outside with the rest of the building.

When I got outside, it was like a rush of freedom. We were outside, even if only briefly, and our time was our own, until the call came to return indoors. I noticed the magnolia tree on the front lawn was starting to bloom, which is exciting, because it means the cherry blossoms will be in full force at Ault Park very soon. I was happy and bouncy and excited to be outside and away from anything work related, even if just for ten minutes. Not that I hate work or my job, quite the opposite, I was just reveling in the oddity of the unexpected.

And it seemed to me that a lot of people were looking at me like I was crazy to be so filled with joy and delight. And it seemed to me that, in contrast, some people were acting like they were at a funeral, instead of happy to have been given an opportunity to get up and walk around for a bit. To me, it wasn’t an annoyance so much as a chance for a change of scenery and some fresh air.

I guess it got me thinking a bit about perceptions. I mean, I guess you don’t really know from someone’s blank stare what they are thinking. Maybe that I was clearly insane, or off my meds, or maybe that they wished they could act less rigidly and structured? Not really sure, but it left me with a feeling like, “Hey y’all, where is your joy?”

It made me want to infect people with my own joy, to rain delight down onto them until they felt it, too. To let them know, you don’t have to stand in the yard all sad and deflated looking, or act any kind of way that is expected of you, or look at me sideways when I spin around in a circle, because “Yay, we’re outside and it’s impromptu recess!” I mean, do those things if they make you happy, I freaking guess.

The other thing about perception it got me thinking about is how when you make art, you often don’t really know what people think of it. But then, you don’t really know what people think of you unless you tell them, or unless they’ve been talking about you behind your back and word gets back to you. I suppose. I think back to February, when I went to an Emily Dickinson read-a-thon, and the people I respected most in the room stopped their conversations and sat down to listen to me read. Me, specifically. And one of them told me later it was because I infuse such joy and personality into her verse. I was so moved and humbled by this, and I wouldn’t have known, I wouldn’t have even considered that anyone specifically wanted to hear me. But Dickinson loved words and toying with them, and I shine a light through that lens when I read her. I can’t help it. I suppose I just can’t help myself.

I think that’s the core of me during the fire drill. People see me just being myself, because I give zero craps what anyone thinks. ‘Cept when I find out someone respects and appreciates my work, or the way I read a poem, and then it turns out, I give quite a few cares after all. And it makes being that kind of joyful, free-spirited person all the more important to me.

52 Weeks

March 8, 2015

52 weeks is a lot of writing. I think I want to qualify that with an “especially,” even though it doesn’t need to be done. I know from a lot of writing. I did NaNoWriMo for 10 years until it seemed to outlive its usefulness to me as a writing exercise, and after the passing of a dear friend and writing buddy. It lost a lot of its charm and fun after that. And besides, once you’ve written over half a million words and done next to frak-all with them, there comes some time to start working harder on revisions, if these things are salvageable to begin with. Or to pick some shorter writing forms for some instant gratification, maybe? Also, there is a lot of value in the experience of writing for its own sake. The more you write, the better you get.

In 2008, when I moved back to Cincinnati after my marriage imploded, I picked my guitar back up and tried to turn some of my poems into songs. It was weird, because the breakup was difficult, as you would imagine, but it was also an incredibly positive driving force that was about to lead me to awesome changes I could have never foreseen. But those changes were still a few years away.

In 2008/2009, inspired by an open mic called “Creativa” that I started attending, I wrote a poetry project called “Seven Deadly Sundays,” where I wrote poems mostly on Sundays, when I actually had free time to write. Now, I think I approach writing a bit differently, as I tend to make time for it rather than penciling it in as a maybe. But the songs I was trying to make happen never manifested. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t make it happen. I wasn’t ready for it, yet, I suppose. Then I broke my arm in 2009 and that set me back. And then I moved again, and started grad school, and moved again, and then life took what might sound like an awful turn… but all was very much for the best.

The first song I have really liked that I have written since I started going to the 52-week songwriters group is about this major shift that happened back in 2010. It was essentially about this one day where everything changed. The prompt was “bridge,” and I used to have these epiphanies while driving home from grad school, and they would usually hit me as I drove over the Big Mac bridge, so I felt compelled to write about that. On this particular day, November 11, 2010, to be exact, I lost my job that I despised, made some new friends, and made some serious decisions about my future. I remember driving across the bridge and suddenly realizing that everything I was before that day was dead, and that someone had essentially killed me, and that I was grateful for it. I could leave behind all those pieces of myself that I hadn’t much liked anyway, and learn to love myself, and be this totally new person who other people enjoyed to be around, and just let go of all the bullshit that I had let drag me down before. It was incredibly liberating, and I have to confess, I broke down and sobbed as I crossed that bridge that night, and it was such a lovely, happy cry.

I remember driving past my exit, and to a little bar in Silverton, because it was NaNoWriMo season and there was a write-in there that night. I met up with my now departed friend, and she said, “Okay, we’re going to your place, dropping off your car and I’m taking you to karaoke.” So we went to the Northside Tavern and I got stupid drunk and sang Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera,” appropriately. I picked the song for a few reasons, one being that it was the song I heard right before I got proposed to, just randomly, and how I remember hearing it and thinking, “I am about to make such a big mistake.” Funny how sometimes you know a mistake even when you’re in it, and you’re the kind of person who goes through the motions anyway. After that fateful day in November, I decided I wasn’t going to willfully make those kinds of life choices, not anymore.

Anyway, enough stalling. Here’s the song. There’s some audio issues that I didn’t notice til I uploaded it (oops), my camera is a fan of auto-focusing to hell and back, and my hair looks like I haven’t brushed it all day (spoiler: I brushed it half-assedly), but I don’t really guess I care about any of that, even though I took the time to mention them (more stalling, perhaps?). I’ve said I would share my art, bad or not, and I’m nervous about it, but I’m sharing it anyway. Also, I am still learning about this whole singing thing, so if you want to see the lyrics, click on the link, as they’re posted on youtube. Oh! And also also, I stole the line, “Where were you the day you died?” from my friend Eric Adams’ comic book Lackluster World. Just to point to where I did my thieving.


February 28, 2015

I moved almost a month ago. Unpacking came in bursts on the weekends, until almost an entire week of snow days happened and there was plenty of time to get more organized.

Migraines have escalated, to a point I had been hoping they wouldn’t reach. But they achieved a feat not many can claim, and that is finding my breaking point. I am not sure what has been worse: the pain or trying to find a doctor to help without just throwing nasty meds at it that I don’t want in my life. As of today, three days into the second medication they have prescribed, after the first one managed to increase the pain to a crippling amount, help seems more promising. I probably don’t have to explain to anyone how hard it is to function when all you want to do is curl up into a ball in a dark, quiet room, and cry until the relief of unconsciousness.

If that was my mid-week, today is better by far. The headache is still trying to catch my attention, but the meds seem to be trying to mask it, at the very least. So I can function, which is great, because I have been so behind on grading for my classes, I hate myself a little for it. I got caught up to a manageable point earlier this afternoon, and will easily be able to get all the way up to date tomorrow.

Writing-wise: In late December, I finished preliminary revisions for the piece I wrote last summer. I will probably start looking into the next phase of re-writing that soon. It’s a fun, weird little thing, that most likely I will just post on this website, or maybe try to get published as a chapbook somewhere.

Also in late December, I started going to a songwriting group in Ludlow, KY. The place that hosts it is Folk School Coffee Parlor, and it’s a really lovely space. The first time I walked into it, I thought, “Oh holy shit, this place has a really nice creative vibe about it.” It reminded me of writing with my friend Sherry, back when we were doing NaNoWriMo, before she fell ill in 2010 and was eventually lost to this world. Anyway, since I started going to the 52-week songwriter’s group, I have written 5 songs, and 2 of them I kind of like a lot. The next post I want to make here will be one of those songs. I just have some more practicing to do before then, and also to decide which song I want to post here first.

There’s a lot going on right now. I am still settling into the new place. Unpacking was one thing, but getting organized is quite another. I keep finding more things I just need to get rid of for good, which is lovely, because having less clutter around is always a positive. Working 40 hours, teaching 7 credit hours (3 classes), working on the lit mag, and writing songs. It doesn’t really leave a lot of time for other things, but this is how I have to face the winter, anymore: make myself so busy I don’t have time to let the SAD get the best of me. I’d rather put the best into my writing anyway.

This year, I have faced the winter in a few other ways. Sometimes, I have gone outside and spun around as the snow fell, pretending this world is self-contained in a snowglobe and that I am trying to figure out how to break out of it. Today I went to the park to recycle boxes from moving, and I saw abandoned snow forts on the hillside. A lady with a box called out to her husband to help her lift the lid of the recycling bin, but she didn’t shout loud. I said, “Oh, I’ll help.” But she said, “I was talking to my husband.” I glanced over my shoulder and could see he wasn’t coming over to help. I said, “Nah, I’ll help. I had one of those once. That’s how I remember it.” I was jesting, somewhat, and she didn’t laugh, but then she stayed and helped lift the lid for me when I was dumping my boxes in. Her husband started their car and sat inside where it was warm. Nice lady, even after I made it weird. I drove home and went a way I don’t normally go, and because of that, I saw giant snowmen with huge gaping mouths and far-reaching branches for limbs, like something out of Calvin and Hobbes. I felt good about most of those choices.

Last night, because the sun was shining and because I wanted to, I sat outside on the front porch and played a song I wrote. I think I felt a lot of things in that moment. Proud that I actually wrote a thing I have been trying to do for years now, and glad that it doesn’t sound terrible. Happy that this place is just so damn awesome and that I am glad I found it and jumped on it without much internal debate. Hopeful for more positive changes in the coming months. I have weird feelings like something bigger and better is coming, and I won’t know it til it’s here, but I’m not going to wait around, either. I’ll keep working hard, writing things, learning and improving my skills, and then see what’s what.

Moving Day

January 10, 2015

Moving day approaches. So many hours I spent in this tiny space, cluttering it up, more and more with each month. The more time I spent outside of it, leaving the clutter to its own devices, the more impressive the disarray became.

I think part of this happened because I was staying in one place, whatever you want to infer from that. The thing is, I had moved just about every year for the 4 years leading up to landing here, and moving a lot teaches you a lot about how unimportant stuff is. This place was just supposed to be convenient while I was in grad school, but it’s been almost two years since I graduated, and here I have stayed.

A lot happened here. Three weeks after moving in, I lost the job that was taking every bit of my sanity that I would foolishly let it have. I temped a lot, threw myself into grad school and writing, got a pretty sweet job in academia, and things have been generally okay. Well, aside from the time I threw out my back. That was the worst, but my mom came to stay with me, and helped get me literally back on my feet.

I have been ready to move on for awhile now, but I was being picky when it came to finding a new place. I wanted something closer to work, but I wasn’t really loving anything I looked at on the west side. So I started hunting in the Desales Corner area, but gentrification… so that stuff is already out of my price range. I stalked Craigslist nearly every day, and then one day, early in winter break, I found a place in O’Bryonville. It had a few flaws, but nothing that was ultimately a dealbreaker. And for roughly the same price I pay now, at least 200 more square feet. So, room to move around without knocking things over. No more walking out into a hallway and feeling like I’ve stepped into a bong. No more turning around in neighbor’s driveways because on-street parking is a pain in the ass on my current street.

And then there were other little things. Like the street number is a palindrome, and there’s a front porch and a firepit in the yard. And I only have an upstairs neighbor. And the oh-so-tempting bakery down the street keeps weird hours, when I am usually at work, so that won’t be a problem.

So anyway, I am excited, and packing, and purging crap out of my life for good. I am enjoying the feeling of change that a new year brings. I think I will be making better positive choices this year. At the very least, I plan to try.

On that note, here is a photo I took of some trees last November. I love the contrast in it, if that is even the right word.November Trees