Reflections

It’s hard to reflect on the situation when you’re in the middle of it. I have been trying to write a blog post for months, but have been coming up short. Some of it is the sheer amount of writing I’ve been doing this quarter. Fiction and creative non-fiction, which are demanding in different ways. I like both of my professors for their strengths. I have also had good luck with the groups I’ve been assigned for writing critiques.

I’ve had no small amount of challenges this quarter. Taking two writing intensive classes was a good way to set myself up for insanity, and then I threw in a debate class, which is a realm to which I do not belong. Despite my obstacle course, I have made headway in all three classes. I even got an A on my first debate, which is the highest grade I’ve made in that class thus far.

I realized something, which is that I’m not letting these classes make very deep impressions upon me. In my fiction class, my teacher has been assigning stories that are well outside the range of what I read on my own. The stories are challenging, upsetting, or worse, pointless and boring. Those are by far the worst, where I can’t figure out why a college professor would assign it as reading. But that’s the thing. I’m just dismissing those writings as useless and stupid. And maybe, maybe they are. However, I do tend to think my professor is good enough to determine a poorly-written story from a challenging story to make me think. I just haven’t figured out how.

What is it about the human mind that writes off situations it doesn’t understand as stupid, trivial, or in some way minimized? Why can’t we admit our weakness and accept that this is something we don’t understand, and needs more thought? The brain budget for new thoughts tends to have deeper reserves than we want to admit to, but it takes time to convince it to pay out.

My stories have been developing. I posted a couple of flash fictions that I turned in as assignments in class. It’s harder to post longer pieces here, but I can post excerpts of other things I’m working on. I used to do post flash fiction all the time, but it’s amazing how much concentration it takes to churn out a work, even a short one.

I published my third novel, Typhon Inc. I have been meaning to post it here, but that’s just how busy it’s been. I hope that people take a peek; it’s an improvement on Bento Box. I figure the difference between book sequels and movie sequels is that authors are continually learning their craft, and movie sequels tend to try to extend a story that wasn’t intended to be.

And now to take on the end of the quarter.

 

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Building a Myth

I wrote this in my Western Lit class. It’s a creation myth written in the style of the Native American spoken storytelling tradition. It has its flaws but I haven’t shared anything I’ve written in ages and thought this would be fun. Enjoy!

How the Frog Got His Spots

By

Tina Shelton

 

Once Raven bathed the world in light, everyone saw how drab and gray it was. The woman who had birthed Raven was sad, now that she had knowledge of the way things were. She yearned for something, but she knew not what. She yearned for something, but she knew not what. She roamed the land, climbing over rocks and visiting the river that flowed down into the ocean. She saw birds and fish, but it wasn’t enough.

One day while she was hunting firewood, she came across a strange flower. It grew tall and proud, and was not gray or black or white. Carefully she took one of the plants, but while she retrieved it, she dropped it. The ground beneath her feet changed as well. When she picked up the flower, she too changed, and with the change came the knowledge. This was a paintbrush, and it provided color.

Well, once word got out all the things wanted color. Except for Raven, oh-no. He was proud of his fine black feathers, and he intended them to stay that way.

Lady Paintbrush spent her days painting the creatures. She painted Bear, and Moose, and Deer, and Mouse. She painted Swan and Goose. However, each of the animals were one color, from the tip of their tail to the tip of their nose. Thus was the paintbrush’s magic.

She spent so much time painting the animals, that she neglected the trees of the forest, or the bushes, or the flowers. Each time she finished one animal, another hopped into place. One of those animals was Frog.

Frog was a proud animal, and he demanded that he be given a special color. He noticed that most of the animals being painted were brown. No brown for him! He wanted to be attractive to a mate. He wanted to be a vibrant green.

Lady Paintbrush chuckled and gave him his wish. He hopped off in the gray grass, proud of himself for his cleverness.

Raven liked his cleverness too. It made it so much easier to hunt the frog this way!

Hungry Raven swooped down, trying to scoop up Frog. While he was easy to see, he was a fast little hopper and knew to keep to the tall grass. He would have been impossible to find had he been the same dull gray. Raven watched intently and saw flashes of green to keep him going.

Frog was terrified! How could this have happened? He was clever, but he had not foreseen his new color getting him into trouble! He had to figure out a way to ditch Raven!

Lady Paintbrush was weary from painting the creatures. Her last job for the day had been painting Salmon. She felt he’d turned a delightful shade of silver. But now she needed to go back to her home and rest, and she could begin painting the animals tomorrow. As she was walking, she heard the startled cries of Frog. “Lady Paintbrush! I changed my mind!”

“I cannot help you.” She shook her head. “My paintbrush gives color, it cannot take it away.”

“Then make the grass green!” Frog pleaded. “Please, Raven is about to eat me!”

Lady Paintbrush wasn’t so inclined to Raven, as he had tricked her into having him rather than asking for her help. He had also denied her by letting her paint him. Still, she had a problem. “I cannot, for I am out of color!”

“Take mine!” Frog begged. “Any you need!”

Uncertain as to what would happen, Lady Paintbrush gently waved her paintbrush over his back. His color seemed to form cracks, tiny webs like a glass bead.

“Hurry!” Frog hopped in his impatience.

Raven, who had gotten a bit lazy in his certainty, flew by at that moment, and saw the frog talking to Lady Paintbrush. Just as he wondered what the frog was up to, Lady Paintbrush brought her flower down to the nearest blade of grass, and they touched.

Like wildfire, the curl of gray grass changed hue to a marvelous emerald color, the same as the Frog’s hide. Raven lost sight of him amid the greenery.

“No!” Raven croaked. He was incensed. His easy meal had out-clevered him! This would NEVER do!

“You don’t like it?” Lady Paintbrush asked innocently. “I think it’s rather pretty.”

“I’ll find that Frog!” Raven shouted, and dove to where he had last seen Frog.

Which was where Frog was, hiding.

Frog whooped in fear as the ground flew far beneath him. His color had gone strange, the green still present but loose in places, like a cracking shell.

Raven did not care about Frog’s back, he simply scooped him up and scarfed him down, eating him in one gulp.

Frog felt funny. He imagined it was being inside the darkest bird of all the world, but his back itched. He tried to scratch but he couldn’t see what he was doing. Finally he rubbed himself against the walls of Raven’s tummy, trying to scratch his back. Big flakes of color came off of his back.

Raven was feeling pretty fine about his nice, fat dinner. Then he looked down to see that his feathers were turning green! Oh, this would NEVER do!

Raven raced back to Lady Paintbrush, who was at home by now, sipping at tea and eating some fine Salmon that Bear had brought her in thanks. Her cheeks pulled back into a smile that was littered with amusement. Raven didn’t like to be the butt of someone’s joke, he did not! But he had to make her fix this.

“Lady, I would be black again!” Raven cried.

She chuckled. “I cannot paint you black, my flower needs to rest. My thought is to spit out Frog.”

“How did you know it was Frog?” Raven asked, surprised.

“He’s the only one whose color is broken.” She answered, sipping tea.

Raven sighed. “Do you have a tea to help me?”

The Lady Paintbrush mixed up a batch of tea to help Raven, who drank it and spat Frog out. Frog looked all right, save for now on his back he had quite large, black spots where he had once been all green.

“Look at me!” Frog declared, as though he hadn’t been dinner for Raven. “I’m all broken!”

“No, you’re fixed.” Lady Paintbrush gently picked up Frog. “You are also quite handsome this way. I believe I shall try mixing colors on the animals tomorrow.”

“What about me!” Raven demanded. “I’m still stuck looking like a duck!”

But it wasn’t true. When they turned to look, Raven was as black as night. Although in the firelight, glimpses of green could be seen glittering in his plumage.

“Now, off with both of you.” Lady Paintbrush said. “Whatever quarrel you have, kindly save it for tomorrow.”

Back to the Future

If I had a time machine, I would go back in time and tell 1998 me to go to the Financial Aid office and ask for the 411. I would explain to nineteen year old me that not having a kid, or any major debt, or a life to speak of, was the perfect time to attend college. And that as present me, I would take it as a serious favor.

Of course, that would change everything and break the space time continuum, but I’m not going to dwell on that. Instead, I’m dwelling on hindsight being twenty-twenty.

The irony of this being that I went to school to get better at writing, and have had almost no time to work on my craft.

I steal what I can. Last weekend my father-in-law came up and took Toby swimming with my husband, and I soaked up two hours and wrote 3200 words. Next week I’m taking a continuing education class on copy editing, which may sound boring but will definitely improve my craft a lot. I’m excited to be taking the class with two of three in my writers group. I think it will be a great exercise for everyone.

I can feel my life changing on a daily basis. I thought I was prepared for school, but I wasn’t. For the past three years I worked full time, got home, ate supper and spent time with family, and then when Toby went to bed I wrote. I thought that school couldn’t possibly be more work than that.

I was so naïve.

I got so tired that I bailed on a signing event a couple weekends ago because I couldn’t even. The thought of driving for two hours alone made me want to curl up and cry. I wanted to go, but the level of homework and exhaustion combined grounded me.

Knowing I have two years of this to look forward to, before moving on to my BA and other challenges, are hard facts. Knowing that my future books are slowed to a crawl is tough to accept. No matter how many times I try, I still cannot do ALL THE THINGS, and it still frustrates me.

Limitations are what help us grow, though. I keep thinking that growth happens when we have unlimited time and resources. Honestly it’s when we’re stopped from growing that we push the hardest. Even though it’s hard, and things crop up outside of school and test you, and then things in school crop up and you realize you’ve been doing it wrong, you go on. You just dust off and try harder.

And sometimes, if you’re very clever and your son and your husband are playing a video game together, you may have time to write the occasional blog post.

School Daze

When I started school, I had an optimistic mindset. I remembered being an excellent student. Hermione Granger had nothing on me. I was confident about learning and absorbed facts quickly, while being able to organize the facts for easy access later.

Well.

That was all true, but when you’re a student at 17, you live at home, you don’t have to run a household. Your biggest concern is generally what you are doing on Friday night. Being a mother, a wife, and an author, becoming a student tore a hole in my nice, shiny set-up. My friends have often made comments about the way I Tetris my schedule to squeeze every last usable minute out of my day. Well, I did not compensate for the demands of the day, and nearly ran my brain over a cheese grater in the process.

Like a drunken pilot seized by a survival instinct, I blindly grabbed for the controls and brought everything to a halt. My clockwork precision in ruins, I had to scramble to bring it all back to a medium pace. Lesson learned.

Everything is riding on college right now. I spent six months looking for work, and I barely scared up a pre-screening phone call. I got a lot of nice rejection letters, which is better odds than the last time I was unemployed. That said, I’m getting sick of being unceremoniously dumped out the cargo bay when a corporate entity feels the need to lighten the load. I’ve topped out on my customer service skills alone. I need something with more depth and more challenge.

The irony in the swirl of all this change is that I had just come to a point where I’d accepted my lot with my ex-employer. I’d been looking for jobs and hadn’t caught any breaks. So, I decided that I could keep doing what I was doing – work all day, write all night, live in the margins. It wasn’t a month after I made that decision that I got the boot treatment.

Back to school. I love it. I still have the ability to absorb information quickly. I’m still good at taking notes, organizing them, and turning them back around. I’m not doing as well as I’d like, but just imagine Hermione pulling a ‘B’ in a class. There are stakes. I hold myself to a high standard, and anything less than an ‘A’ isn’t a good grade in my book.

Sadly, I’ve had to put that model to bed, because life. I’ve had to adopt a more realistic model of things, one that gives me time and space for family and writing and sleep. It’s been difficult to adopt that model instead. I’m a perfectionist at heart, but perfection is a state attained only in one’s mind. It’s better in your head, Tina.

I’m hoping that with these adjustments college will be a smoother ride. Ah, platitudes. How would we manage without them?