Writing Challenge 8 – 4 Turn Offs

Ah, turn-offs. I’m not too happy with THIS particular prompt of the writing challenge, if only because I’m not sure what my turn-offs are. It’s not that I’m not turned off by anything at all; it’s more like I don’t really think about things I don’t like. Why should I? I don’t like them.

But of course, the point of this exercise is to get me writing and, to a certain extent, get me out of my comfort zone. I need to do this if I want to really stretch myself. So any moment now, I’m going to stop typing this largely pointless introduction and get to it.

Any moment now…

Any moment…

Dust

Dusty hand
This REALLY doesn’t look comfortable. Image from http://sxc.hu

Dust. If I really think about it, this is my mortal enemy. It triggers my allergies. When I’m exposed to lots of dust, I get these welts, go teary-eyed and swell up. I also get a really bad asthma attack which, I have to tell you, isn’t really a pretty sight because it turns my skin ashen and my eyes will go sunken. Cover me in dust and I’ll look like I’m one of the Walking Dead. When I get in that state, practically nothing will make me happy. Not even Tom Hiddleston.

Bad Writing

Twilight passages that make you think. In a bad way.
Only blogs like “Reasoning with Vampires” alleviate the pain. Image borrowed from http://reasoningwithvampires.tumblr.com/

I know, I know. There are people who would point out that “good” or “bad” writing is a matter of opinion. I know that I’m opening a huge can of worms when I bring up the “Twilight” series as an example of bad writing when so many people liked it. But I’m honestly taken out of the story every time a description or a plot twist makes me think “Wait, what? HOW?!” Maybe it’s from a lifetime of reading, but I like having logic in my reading material.

Pressure

When you feel so much pressure, you're bound to hang yourself.
If I were prone to wearing ties, I’d have hung myself by now. Image from http://sxc.hu

I admit that pressure is, occasionally, a good thing. It gets things done. But I’m afraid I don’t react well when faced with pressure. In fact, it makes me either shut down or freak out at you. I can motivate myself, thank you very much. Make a suggestion, and I will take it into consideration. But if you try to force me to do something I don’t want to, I will vow to never do what you want me to do at all. On purpose. To spite you. Yes, I’m petty.

Entitled Dickwads

A smoking dickwad.
“I will get everything I want because the world owes me and mom said I’m special.” Photo from http://sxc.hu

I’m not saying that I don’t occasionally have my entitled moments; I’m not sure it’s possible for anyone to have gone through their entire lives without feeling like they deserve something. That said, there are people out there who act like the entire UNIVERSE owes them something even though they actually haven’t done anything to deserve whatever it is that they think they should have. It’s the world’s fault that they’re unhappy. To me, having this attitude is a HUGE turn off.

I’m sure there are other things that put me off, but these are the first things that came to mind when I really tried to think about it.

Wow. I just realized that if I went on a bit more, I’d probably cite turn offs that are basically descriptions of myself. D: Ah, well. More incentive to try and be a better person…

On Guilty Pleasures

Bry left a comment on one of my recent blog posts (of which there are two) which not only welcomed me back, but also got me thinking about something:  guilty pleasures.  Granted, the wonderful proprietor of Literary Wonderland didn’t exactly use the term – he merely mentioned that he enjoyed Mitch Albom’s books, but wasn’t proud of the fact that he did.  It nevertheless had me mulling over the idea that there are readers out there who are uncomfortable liking certain books.  We all have reasons for this, I’m sure.  Despite the fact that I try to live by the adage “a pleasure is a pleasure, no matter how guilty”, I still found myself cringing a few minutes ago when I realized which book I chose to bring along today (it’s a 2-in-1 Harlequin romance book).

It’s not that I’m really ashamed of my patronage of such books.  I’ve been into romance stories since I was eight and found an old Harlequin romance novel which I thought belonged to my mom, but more likely belonged to my aunt.  I like reading about two individuals who find each other, and then find a way to make a life together work.  I admit, not all love stories work out as well as some others; but I love the principle and the fantasy of it nevertheless and I will defend the genre to the death if I could.  The “problem”, I believe, is that somewhere in the back of my mind I know that people will judge me for liking such run-of-the-mill tales.  And, as a person who has also indulged in being a judging judger who judges (I could barely get through the first hundred pages of Twilight, and I’m still flabbergasted at its success), I dread the judgement of other people.  I cannot say the same for other people of course – for all I know, their discomfort in liking something that they don’t think they should is just a matter of self-perception.

But I mostly think it’s the judging.

A picture of an owl, judging all of us.
“I thought you were above such trifles. You have disappointed me for the last time.”

Yes, I totally think it’s about the judging.  But that’s neither here nor there (or it shouldn’t be) because, at the end of the day, we like what we like.  I like what I like, and you like what you like.  We really have no business trying to change each other’s minds.  NEITHER OF US IS RIGHT.  There is no right or wrong when it comes to liking something – I already I discussed this in two previous posts.  This is why I think, by extension, we should be more PROUD of whatever it is we like reading.  It doesn’t matter that right now I’m reading something along the lines of “The Greek Tycoon’s Booty Call” (I would pay good money to actually read that, if it exists) and most of my serious reader friends are probably cringing inside at the thought of it.  What matters is that it’s making me smile right now.  And frankly?  I LIKE feeling happy and fuzzy once in a while, even if it’s over something that most people find useless.

So yeah.  I’m leaving that 2-in-1 Harlequin book out on my desk right now.  I don’t want to be guilty of THAT particular pleasure anymore.

A Promise is a Promise and Better Late than Never

About 4 months ago, I told Amanda of Amanda Meets Book that I will one day write about my kickfights with fat little Persian boys.  I suppose it could have been a short story, but when I sat down to get it written, it ended up being a VERY short rant piece.  Nevertheless, I think it’s entertaining enough for me to be able to offer it to the Internet without any semblance of shame.

So without further delay…

A Jerk is a Jerk, No Matter How Small

Let me preface this entire thing by saying that I am, in fact, no more racist than any other person (unless you’re a white supremacist or a less white equivalent, in which case – moving along).  But I simply have to say that the Persians who were living in our condominium building deserve to be struck down with their own god.  Hopefully, with a plague of rats in their toilets.  Siccing MY deity on them won’t be as satisfying.

I’d also like to make it clear that I rather like children, even if my limbs are far too weak to carry them, even when they’re babies.  But I recognize the fact that many kids can be unforgivably obnoxious.  And if they happen to be very spoiled or, in the case of this rather fat little Persian boy whose identity I will hide under the name of Abba (it’s the first Persian name the Internet spat out, ok?), come from a culture in which boys are treated like kings just by virtue of their penises, I tend to be very VERY intolerant.  I don’t care that their parents are raising them as they see fit; the moment some little overweight excuse for a little human lays claims ALL THE TOYS the other kids have just because his Mama and nanny can’t say no, the community has to step in.

Which is why, on a relatively quiet afternoon a little over a year ago, I kicked an entitled fat little Persian kid in the ankles.

In my defense:  he started it, I was wearing soft shoes, and I kick like a newborn kitten.  But it felt good and he learned a very important lesson – if you try to kick me while I’m trying to read I swear I will find a way to get back at you that you can’t whine to your mother or father about.  Just because I’m smaller than the other adults doesn’t mean that you can DEMAND that I get off that particular spot on the lobby couch so YOU can sit on it.  You ask.  You don’t kick at my knees and try to grab my book.  YOU ARE SIX YEARS OLD OR SOMETHING and you should know how to talk by now.

Also, I am not a Persian woman or somebody you parents pay to be nice to you.  So if I ruined your shoes?  TOUGH.  You were being a jerk, little boy, and the fact that the guards CLAPPED when I kicked you before leading me away.  Your youth should not excuse you, nor should your culture WHEN YOU ARE LIVING IN MINE.  If you want to live in my country, get used to females who tell you you are wrong.  Because you are.  I got to that spot first, and until I leave it’s mine.  That little girl OWNED that toy truck, and it will NEVER be yours.

Of course, you’ve been told that before.  You just didn’t listen until someone scuffed your shoes.  Holy crap, if we only knew that that’s what it took to get you to stop, we would have spilled shit on your shoe much earlier.

That being said, he still didn’t learn.  So we got into another quiet little kickfight a couple of weeks later (something about honor?  not sure).  After that, he and his family moved out – apparently, something about not following condo policies.  I think the kid tried to pull the same kicking shit with the landlords.  We’ll never know.

All I know is the place in general is now better, and fat little Chinese boys are incredibly polite.

What I Do for a Living and Why I Love Doing It

Keyboard for Writing
This image conveying my writing job is courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian. This is not what a keyboard in the Philippines looks like.

What basically inspired this post is one of the comments in my LAST post, in which I was offered a writing job after perfunctory praise of my (admittedly short and probably useless) entry.  While it’s painfully obvious that it’s a hiring/marketing strategy, it also made me think of what I actually do for a living, and the reasons why I’m not giving it up despite my desire to publish novels.

See I’m a web content writer.  AND IT’S FUCKING AWESOME (excuse my French).

Don’t know what that means?  That’s fine – when I first got in the business, I had no idea what it meant either.  But it turned out to be one of the most satisfying occupations I can hope for – because it forced me to write everyday, and it allowed me to research tons of different topics over the last few years.  Even though I disagree with myself sometimes, I just know that there’s hardly a dull moment when I’m writing stuff for blogs and websites while making sure that I use the right keywords and follow all the rules.

(It also doesn’t hurt that my current employer, as well as my department at work, encourage excellence without dealing out unreasonable expectations.  And we’re bribed with delicious food, to boot.)

For a voracious reader whose only skill seems to revolve around making words work together, this is as close to a dream job as I can get.  I get to write a lot (granted, not stuff I like writing for myself; but it’s made my writing better).  I get to read a lot (again, not necessarily stuff that I like; but I discover some really interesting things).  And I don’t go hungry (because let’s admit it:  stubbornly following literary dreams doesn’t necessarily pay well).

In fact, here are the top three reasons why I don’t want to leave my web content writing job:

  1. It’s got structure – While I’m far from having a supervisor hovering around my shoulders and checking on my articles, I also have deadlines and style limitations that help me focus.  In other words, it lets me compartmentalize my work in a way that makes me more efficient.  It helps me think of any writing I do in terms of goals, schedules, and purpose.  For a working writer who wants to write completely different things on the side, this is incredibly helpful.  (Also – and I’m not sure if this is only applicable to my current job – we’re not expected to take work home with us; it means I can really enjoy doing other stuff on my free time).
  2. I sort of get instant feedback – One great thing about writing as part of a web content team is that we do internal copyediting and proofing – which means I get to see what did or didn’t work in my writing within a few days (if I want to).  I totally admit to being the type of person who NEEDS feedback to function, and knowing where I can improve gives me peace of mind.  Thanks to this specific protocol we have at work, I’ve improved a whole lot in terms of writing sentences and paragraphs that DON’T confuse readers (which I suspect is useful for writing fiction too).
  3. It’s exciting – You may disagree, but I personally think that working as a web content writer is exciting.  It’s not just because I get to research different things, or because I occasionally face the challenge of approaching the same topics (and using the same keywords) differently.  It’s because what the search engines consider “good” changes pretty often.  As strategies change, so do our writing styles and goals.  And even if I do grumble about sudden changes, I’m ultimately exhilarated by the idea of mastering a new topic or writing strategy.

All in all, I honestly believe that my job HELPS me become a better writer – which will ultimately help me achieve my dream of becoming an effective storyteller in the future.  Maybe I’m lucky that way.  Or maybe I’m just optimistic.

Are you working or do something for a living?  Do you think it helps you become a better writer?

What Is Literature (and Should We Really Fight Over Its Meaning)?

“What is Literature?”

That was the first thing one of my favorite professors asked my class back when I was in college.  And despite having spent four years studying, examining, and reading examples of Literature, I find myself here – almost 10 years after the question was asked, still struggling with its definition.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I actually do know how to define Literature – it’s an artful presentation of significant aspects of human life, through text.  I know what it looks like, based on all the readings my classmates and I had to go through back then (some of them are actually still studying if not teaching Lit one way or another).  For all intents and purposes, I know how to differentiate a supposedly “literary” work from other kinds of written work.

The problem is that I think (in my heart of hearts) that the delineation is bullshit.

There, I said it.

I’ve become really uncomfortable with the disdain with which a lot of Literary scholars seem to treat certain genre of fiction (did that sentence make sense at all?).*  It’s as if works of science fiction, romance, and fantasy have no intellectual merit whatsoever, even when they do.  See, let’s go back to that definition:

It’s an artful presentation of significant aspects of human life, through text.

In what way does this definition EXCLUDE genre fiction and the like?  If there’s anything I’ve learned during my four exhausting but fulfilling years in Literature, it’s that practically anything can be literary if you know how to read it.

An ecard declaring itself a poem
This is either brilliant or stupid; it depends on how you look at it.

In fact, that definition I laid out up there has become more complicated since the word text started to encompass anything from advertisements to architecture (I’m not kidding).  In other words, they can fall under Literature too.

As far as I can figure, what makes Literature truly literary in the eyes of scholars is the sheer number of layers you can attribute to text.  That’s all well and good.  But I have issues with the idea that some specific types of text don’t have layers at all.

After all, WE AS THE READERS are the ones who find the layers; each of us has the ability to determine the profundity of each piece of text that we have the fortune (or misfortune) or reading.  The way I see it, Literature can’t be unanimously defined.  Not anymore.

At the end of the day, what Literature actually is is a reflection of us:  our aspirations, our fears, our time; the themes of our own humanity.  It’s different for every person, so maybe we should stop TELLING people that they’re reading the wrong things.  Instead, I think we should just share what we like to read and hope to heck that piece of us inspires other people.**

So to all of you folks out there who’ve told me that I’m wasting time and intelligence reading stuff that aren’t high-brow, I’d like to say:  enjoy your Ivory Tower.  I’m sure you’re very happy condescending to people from up there while the rest of us are enjoying the weather.

* Lemme just clarify that I’m not talking about my former professors and peers in the literary circles here.  I’m talking about actual literary snobs who look down on you for not reading everything F. Sionil Jose (and the other Literary Greats) wrote, the ones who look down on you because *gasp* YOU LIKE POPULAR FICTION MORE THAN MILAN KUNDERA.  The folks I hung out with were cool enough to let me treat Tarot cards as text.  Or let me argue the literary merits of graphic novels, comic books, and manga.

** I also want to say that I still think that there are some books that, in my opinion, AREN’T worth reading.  But if other people find a strange kind of meaning to the Twilight series, who am I to judge?  As long as they don’t force it on me, I won’t give a shit; they can read anything they want.  I just want to read whatever the hell it is I want to read too, without other people telling me how shallow Neil Gaiman is because he writes fantasy and children’s books.