Sunday, June 26, 2011

Memoir of a Sea Monster

Owl is suffering from writer's block. It's bad. Like, bad bad. Like, Owl can't read anymore because she's now allergic to words or something. They just slip out of her head. Like Owl's fairly sure she ain't never going to write or read again. Like, Owl's spending her weekends baking instead of writing, watching Korean dramas instead of reading, and composing spiteful messages to God. Or...wait, trying to and failing because writer's block. So most of the messages read something like this: Fooble. Snarl. Shitty poo poo pants. WOOOGLE. WAHHHHHHH! WAHHHHHH! And then Owl ends up on the kitchen floor clutching her stuffed whale and bawling. Gimme my words back! Gimme! Gimme!

Anyway, someone pointed out that a fair number of writers have said they ended up writing books they wanted to read. Owl should simply combine her writing style with the sorts of books she loves reading best and she will stumble up on a fountain of inspiration filled with glory. Not just water sparkling in the sunlight glory, but like chocolate rivers with strawberry slices and bananas bobbing along kind of glory. Serious glory.

Owl realized this was better than her other idea of experimenting wildly with other writing forms in hopes of discovering hidden talents. Owl did not discover hidden talents. Owl learned painful lessons like she's not cut out to write rap lyrics, someone who can't cook shouldn't write recipes, and writing obituaries about your friends is just...wrong. E-mailing obituaries to said friends and asking for writing feedback is just...well, yeah, don't do it. Just don't.

(Owl blames all of this on writer's block. Her judgment starts slipping when she loses her words.)

Anyway, the results indicated that Owl:

(A) writes memoir
(B) reads speculative fiction (yeah, Owl reads and blogs about all this other 'literature' crap and stuff, but speculative fiction is her drug of choice)

In other words, according to this analysis Owl should write an absolutely true memoir of her life as a sea monster.

New life plan.

1. Become sea monster.
2. Write about it.

At this point, Owl is pretty sure her writer's block is going to be permanent.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Happens in the Newspaper Stays in the Newspaper

When Owl was very young she was terrified of the news. Every day in third grade she and her classmates would take turns bringing in articles. Most students were content to bring in stories about lost puppies or the weather—except for Robert. Robert had a penchant for serial killers. Robert would hunt up stories about serial killers who lurked in parks or murdered women in their apartments. The gorier the better. After one particularly grisly description he ended by saying, “And the killer left Texas! He got on a plane. Guess where the plane’s headed? Here!”

Owl went home that day and refused to play in the park. Or leave the house.

After that she hid in the bathroom whenever it was Robert’s turn to present. Still, Owl could not stay in the bathroom forever, the teacher would fish her out, and once she left it was impossible to escape. In magazines there were stories about AIDS epidemics in Africa and orphaned children. Owl didn’t really know what AIDS was except that it killed parents and she could not understand what separated her from the children in Africa. If their parents could suddenly die why not hers?

Even the weather report was fraught with disaster. Sudden floods. Tornados that sucked up houses and cars and spat out the fragments. Hurricanes that swept you out to sea.

Facing the news
Owl did not know how people managed to get up, get out of bed, and carry on, when every five seconds someone was dying from hunger.

During current events one morning, Owl’s third grade teacher mentioned that students with any concerns should speak to the counselor. She’d once taught a girl who’d stopped eating, and the counselor had discovered it was because America had recently invaded Iraq and the girl was afraid of war.

“Oh, that’s stupid,” Robert scoffed. “Like Iraq could do anything to us.”

“Yes, well,” the teacher said and Owl saw that the teacher was not worried that she or anyone else she knew would die. The idea that across the ocean people were going to die did not upset her either. Maybe intellectually, but not emotionally, not in the way that your stomach sours and you can’t eat anymore because you can picture dead bodies and crying children.

That’s how you manage to live, Owl realized. You distinguish between yourself and the world. Slowly, Owl learned that there was a separation between real life and what happens in the newspaper.

The news is about other people. Who exist somewhere else. In a place like Owl’s world but completely unrelated to it. Owl stopped worrying about disasters, Owl started worrying about reality instead. Failing tests. Not getting into a top college. Friend drama.

Possibly Owl began to believe that her suburban life, with school and homework and clubs was what normal life does and should look like. Theoretically the average person in Nigeria lives on 2.5 gallons of water a day, but not really. In Owl’s reality, everyone has showers and running water.

Owl started getting cynical about human rights activists. Yeah, people are suffering and dying blah blah blah, but Owl’s got places to be and to be honest the rhetoric is kind of saccharine.

In college Owl took a class on International Relations and learned that war is a tool like a hammer or a saw that governments use to accomplish their purposes. The professor drew models on the board: war between two small countries, war between two large countries. Here, war was three or four points on a test, and an essay question. It has nothing to do with human suffering.

Anyway, Owl had to wonder, what was so bad about death? The world is overpopulated and straining for resources. Pruning the population might end up saving us. Owl used this as an argument during a debate tournament. The judge couldn’t stop smiling. “Fascinating argument,” he told her later. “Wonderful logic.”

Owl won that round. That’s how you win apparently. You say it doesn’t matter if people die, you say they ought to die.

Owl reads her news religiously these days so she can claim she is well-informed, a global citizen. It is slightly dry, but not difficult to do. She reads about murder, turmoil and hunger, death and war and then she puts away the news and plans out the rest of her day. Reading. Visiting friends. Buying groceries. Yoga. That's about it.

Sometimes she wonders about her ability to do this without batting an eyelash, if there’s any point to her attempts at becoming a well-informed global citizen.