Creative Writing Assignment Gone Horribly Wrong

A friend of mine was cleaning out her inbox today and found an old piece of my writing. I had fun laughing at myself and thought I’d share what can happen when it’s 4:17 on a Tuesday afternoon and you’ve run out of real work to do.

Creative Writing Assignment
What animal are you like?  Compare yourself to an animal. Tell how you are like that animal and in what ways you are different.

Escape. It’s a common enough desire. Throughout the ages human-beings have yearned for it.  Have looked, searched, strived and worked for it. Some even have found it—with the animals. Keats once longed to be a nightingale, Kafka imagined himself transformed into a monstrous venomous bug, Blake found himself dreaming of tigers and lambs, while countless Grecian gods and goddesses turned themselves into beasts in order to walk among men unseen. And so it is today. And so it is with me. For if I were any animal I wouldn’t be a bird or bug, I would be a unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin. That’s right, a unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin. Many have doubted the existence of the unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin but recently, in the far reaches of the Lebanese rainforest, they have found this allusive creature. And they have also found that it kicks ass.

The unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin is a unique cross-breed of the animal kingdom. Scientists have tracked its formation and have been astonished at what they’ve found. Back in 208 BC, in an unprecedented act of copulation a unicornpegasus mated with a velociraptor. Their offspring, by benefit of their magical powers and superior strongly-curved claws on each forelimb, flourished. Around 20 AD the creature came into contact with a platypus and, quite naturally, felt an instant connection to the mysterious creature that was half bird thingy and half mammal. The two mated and their offspring, which took after the mother, met up with a monkey around 1238 creating the infamous and much-debated unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkey. How that thing got it on with a dolphin is anyone’s guess but scientists suspect that a 50 foot crane and the smooth sweet tunes of Al Green were somehow involved. Needless to say, the result was and is miraculous. The unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin is the unparalleled and undisputed champion of the animal kingdom, which is why it’s the animal I would be. Like, duh.

With the superior intellect and physical strength of the velociraptor it’s able to capture its prey, terrorize preteen girls hiding in kitchens, eat stupid lawyers sitting on outhouse toilets, and sneak onto cargo ships so that they can eventually take over the world in the fifth movie. I don’t like to eat people or anything but I do think I can kick some major butt sometimes. And if some weirdo guy with white hair and a walking stick made out of amber brought me back from extinction I’d totally tear it up. Plus, I’m like, super tough. Rrrrrrraw!

And yet I’m playful too. And so is the unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin. Because of its monkey parts it enjoys games, laughing, and the inevitable throwing of its feces. I don’t throw my poop anymore but I love games and laughing. I also like to swing from trees and scratch myself—two traits the unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin has become well known for.

But I like the water, especially the ocean, so good thing the unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin also has a dolphin side. Dolphins are pretty much a water monkey anyways. And I think I giggle kind of like the unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin—similar to a dolphin but with a touch of whimsy and magic from its unicorn parts.

Because like the unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin I have a somewhat mystical side. Sometimes I like to think about deep stuff and like contemplate the universe and junk. Plus I totally want to fly and have magic powers just like the unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin. I’d like it if a piece of my horn could heal people too because I’ve always wanted to save the world. Oh ya, and like the unicorn side of the uniconrpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin I’m attracted to virgins, which is why people always try to lure me into traps using them.

And I’m always confused. I don’t know what I want to be or who I am—just like the platypus side of the unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin. So ya, that totally applies to me too.

I mean wow, I am such a unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphin and I never even realized it until now.

And I’ve totally lost steam and don’t want to write this anymore. So, I’ll just say unicornpegasusvelociraptorplatypusmonkeydolphins rock! And so do I! Booyah!

The end.


The Inevitable Failure of Office Birthday Card Messages

Often, when birthday cards circulated around the office, Abigail would open them up and read all the nice things people had written on the inside. She would think of the person whose birthday it was and want to say something really nice, something really great, that would explain something deep and meaningful about how she felt for this person and how she hoped they would have not just an amazing birthday, but an amazing life. Abigail somehow wanted to convey that she understood this person, that she knew them and ‘got’ them, in a way this person had not realized until now, until they read this amazing message she had written on the inside of their birthday card. Even if Abigail didn’t get this person at all, even if she barely knew this man or woman, she wanted to say something that would surprise even Abigail with her insight, that would allow her to know them and see them in a way she hadn’t known she could have. But Abigail could never come up with the thing, this magical right and perfect thing, to write on the inside of a company birthday card. Her messages only hinted at what she wanted to say but never quite got all the way there. As a result, they came across as cryptic and slightly creepy.

Like her message to Gregg in accounting:

Gregg, you like to drink coffee early in the morning. Lots of people like to do this but you stand by the pot and take your first sip with your eyes closed. I hope the rest of your life tastes just like that sip. I hope you always close your eyes when you enjoy yourself. Happy birthday! Love, Abigail

To Vicki in production:

Vicki, I always know when you go to the bathroom because your shoes click on the linoleum floor and I can hear it from my office. It reminds me of my mom, who wore heals to work too, and how she used to come wake me up in the morning before she left for the office. I’ve always liked that sound. Your heals remind me of waking up. Every time you go to the bathroom it makes me smile. Happy birthday! Love, Abigail

Or to Alison, who worked in customer service as well and sat in the cubical next to Abigail:

Alison, sometimes when we are both talking on the phone at the same time it feels like I’m talking to your customer and you’re talking to mine. It’s like we’re both saying the same thing to the same people. Or like maybe we are the same people and this same conversation is happening all over the world and what we’re saying we’re saying together to everyone everywhere. Sometimes I think I could talk this way forever. Sometimes I think you and I could help everyone in the whole world if we only got our voices lined up exactly right. Happy birthday! Love, Abigail.

Most of the people at her work thought Abigail was very odd. They didn’t understand her birthday messages. But this un-understanding was understandable. Abigail wasn’t upset by it because she didn’t understand her messages either. She just wrote them. She just tried.

The Story of How I Become a Great Writer (a selection)

Luckily, this story begins not just with me but with my characters as well. Characters like Alfred, who you will undoubtedly fall in love with because Alfred is the type of character that people love.

Alfred is a young young man, and by that I mean a youngish man (he is 23) who is undeveloped in many ways. As you may imagine, this can be both a bad and a good thing. Bad because Alfred often finds himself in troublesome situations he could have avoided if it weren’t for his laziness and immaturity. Good because Alfred is able to look at life and see it for its beauties and possibilities without really knowing he is looking at life this way—in the way a young child or undeveloped 23-year old might.

In my story, I give concrete examples of this because though I don’t believe there are no ideas but in things, I do believe that things certainly help ideas hold onto the world. Also, I once heard that a good story is something you can hold in the palm of your hand and the phrase has since become one of my favorites. I like the image of it—of a hand opening and a story sitting there, resting in the palm, waiting for something. Or perhaps the story is not even waiting. Perhaps it is simply living and being.

Either way, I will open my hand now and give you a concrete example of the way Alfred looks at the world:

One day, while walking home from work through the campus, Alfred spots an old man in a blue coat. The old man bends over, picks up a leaf from the ground, twirls it between his fingers, smiles, and puts the leaf carefully into his pocket.

Many people would see this old man picking up this old leaf and think it was sweet. Many would leave it at that, or perhaps smile to themselves before moving on and going back their lives. But Alfred is not many people. Obviously because he is in this story. He is Alfred. He is my character. And my character Alfred walks up to the man and says,

“Pardon me sir, I don’t mean to disturb you, but I couldn’t help but notice as I was walking by that you picked up a leaf. I was wondering if I might look at it.”

And because the old man is nice (because he is in my story and I want him to be that way) he takes the leaf out of his pocket and shows it to Alfred.

And yes, it is a beautiful leaf. In fact, as far as Alfred is concerned, it is the most beautiful leaf he has ever seen .

“That is the most beautiful leaf I have ever seen,” Alfred tells the nice old man.

“It is pretty,” the nice old man tells him back, “but it’s probably only the fourteenth or fifteenth most beautiful leaf I’ve ever seen. I’d have to check to make sure.”

And then, obviously, Alfred asks the man what he means about checking and the man tells Alfred that he has been collecting fallen leafs since he retired in 1983. It has been twenty-six years now and after the seventh year the man started taking pictures of the leaves that were his favorites and saving them when he could. After very little conversation the two men decide to go back to the nice old man’s house to see his collection.

But by this point in the story, Alfred’s and mine, the nice old man isn’t just a nice old man anymore but a new character whose name is Thomas. Thomas, as it turns out, saves Alfred many times in many ways, and shows Alfred the most beautiful leaves the world has ever known.

Thomas, like the leaves he collects, blows through Alfred’s story. He weaves his way through it just like some other leaves I once read about that were called pestilence-stricken multitudes.  These leaves were the kinds of leaves that that were moved by things—wind, nature, and even time. These leaves spiraled, circulated, and traveled great distances before finally settling down somewhere they could be collected. Thomas’s thoughts and words are scattered in just this way throughout Alfred’s story. And Alfred, being who and what he is, listens to them—these scattered thoughts that move like leaves yet do not die, do not become stricken with pestilence, as long as there is someone to bend over, pick them up, twirl them between his fingers, and put them in his pocket.

This is precisely the type of thing that makes Alfred, Thomas, and this story so great.

Because Alfred doesn’t walk away after watching Thomas pick up that leaf. He doesn’t wait for Thomas to leave and then go look at the other leaves and search for a similar one—one that can give Alfred whatever it is that Thomas has that he does not. He doesn’t stand there after Thomas takes off and wonder what is it about a leaf that can make someone smile so. And he doesn’t even hold that memory with him years after, thinking about it, the simplicity of it—picking up a leaf. And yet the mystery of it too. Because, after all, why would someone pick up a leaf? And why that particular leaf? What sort of person picks up a leaf in that way? And what sort of life must that person have, that he can pick up a leaf and smile at it with such simple joy? Is the old man out of his mind or does he know something the rest of the world does not ? Is the old man stupid and simple or is the action? Or is it both?

Alfred does not think these things. That is not the sort of character Alfred is.

Instead, Alfred looks at the old man through his young young eyes and sees the possibilities, which are this:

  1. That the leaf is beautiful.
  2. That the leaf is ugly and the old man is beautiful for seeing the beauty in an ugly thing.
  3. That the leaf and the old man are both ugly, in which case the beauty is in two ugly things finding each other.

After seeing the possibilities Alfred decides to find out what the reality is. And, as it turns out, it isn’t any of the possibilities he came up with.  Yes, the leaf is beautiful (1) but the leaf is also more than that because the leaf is how Alfred and Thomas meet.  The beauty is in two things finding each other (which could be 3) but what types of things is harder to determine. And so you are left wondering what kinds of things just met—two ugly things or two beautiful things?

It’s the moments like this that make this story great. Because they are moments that do not get lost.

This is also how I become a great writer—by writing about great moments and maybe ugly, maybe beautiful characters like Alfred and Thomas. And also leaves.

stardust, bible, toothpick, cable car

Louisa was a girl who fell in love with a cable car. This may sound odd but if you saw the car you would understand. It was bright red with orange stripes down the side, had a bell that rang at every intersection, and it always took Louisa not where she wanted to go, or had to go, but where she needed to be.

However, loving a cable car isn’t easy. Cable cars are always on the move, but they always move in the same directions. They go back and forth all day long in routes that cannot change, not without great turmoil and the tearing up of of tracks, and Louisa’s cable car was no different. Its route was carefully drawn in green lines, blue lines, and red lines that made up the transit map that soon became Louisa’s bible. She carried it around in her purse along with her wallet, sunglasses, and her lucky toothpick that had never actually brought her any luck but always made her feel strong and cocky.  (Though Lousia was never sure why.)

Not until the day it became her extremely unlucky toothpick that is. Then Louisa understood everything.

Because that was the day her cable car did not show up on time. In fact, it did not show up at all. Instead there was a new car in its place that wasn’t bright red and did not have orange stripes. The new cable car was green and it had checkered yellow boxes down its sides that didn’t look like stripes at all. They looked ugly. Like boxes with sharp edges. Like clunky things that sat and stayed and did not have lines that streamed and flowed and flew the way Louisa liked.

“Where is the old car?” Louisa asked the driver.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Gone.”

And that was that. Like so many other that’s that came before this that, Louisa’s cable car was gone. She didn’t know where it went, why it went, or what she was going to do about it. She only knew that her cable car was no more.

So Louisa did what she always did when she didn’t know what to do (which, admittedly, was quite often), she reached into her purse and pulled out her lucky toothpick. She put it in between her teeth so she could feel strong and tough like Clint Eastwood or Dusty Baker. But the lucky toothpick didn’t work. Louisa didn’t feel lucky. She didn’t feel strong. And she definitely didn’t feel tough. She felt not-tough. She felt like something pliable and squishy like jelly. Or less than jelly. Like liquid. Like water.

Or no, Louisa wasn’t even water. She did not flow. She was not part of something larger than herself. She was small. She was insignificant. She was something that could easily be lost or brushed away. She was not from this world–a world where cable cars disappeared and left her to travel alone.

The truth was, Louisa wasn’t Louisa anymore. The cable car had changed that. But Louisa also wasn’t jelly or water. She was something far away from all of that. Far away from things like green lines, red lines, bells that rang, and cable cars that traveled with her wherever she needed to go.

She was something almost celestial–a little bit like a cloud or a star, only sadder and smaller. Perhaps she was only part of a star. Perhaps Louisa was a star’s shadow. Only stars didn’t have shadows, so perhaps she was another something else. Maybe she was a discarded piece of the star, like a spec of dust–a spec of star. A very very tiny spec. That was sad but not horrible. Even if it was only a spec, it was still part of a star after all.

Yes, that was it. Louisa was stardust.


What Not To Write About

-Don’t write about your boyfriends.

-Or your girlfriends.

-And definitely don’t write about your ex-boyfriends or girlfriends. I don’t want to hear about your personal relationships. They’re trite and boring and I don’t care about what you think of as your broken or unbroken hearts. Trust me, you’ll get over both.

-Don’t write about history. You don’t know enough about it and are too lazy to do the research.

-Don’t write from the point of view of animals or objects that are not really alive. It’s really nice that you know what personification is but I don’t care what your dog thinks of your parent’s divorce or what a stapler has to say about the homeless.

-Really, you should assume you know nothing and when you write you should be writing from a position of unknowingness.

-Do not write from the position of an omniscient narrator. Do you know what that is? Of course you don’t. It means all-knowing. And since none of you are all-knowing, you will not be writing in this all-knowing way. In fact, for the duration of this class I highly encourage you to write in first person.  Because really, all you know is yourselves and your own minds. If that.

-But don’t think that you’ll be writing diary entries. This is creative writing which is another way of saying fiction. You will be making stuff up. I really want you to think about this. Fiction. Lies. You are going to be lying.

-Don’t you dare try and tell the truth in here. I will know and I will fail you and if you haven’t figured it out already I don’t give a shit about you or your GPA or what you think of as your hopeful or not-so-hopeful future. Don’t write about real life. If you do I will know and yes, I will fail you. Am I understood?

-Good. Moving on.

-Don’t write about your parents. Or your family. They love you or they don’t love you, or maybe they only sort of kind of love you, and whether you wanted them to or not they made you who you are.

-Don’t write about love. Any kind—familial or romantic.

-Don’t even use the word love. This is a word you don’t know how to use. Nobody does. That’s why it’s horrible. In fact, it’s not even a word anymore. It’s just a collection of symbols used by inadequate people that fails to mean anything. Don’t use it. Ever.

-Don’t write about war or fishing. You have no authority from which to speak on these subjects.

-Don’t write about the future. This is not a class for science fiction, this is literary fiction and though I’d love to argue with you about the literary merits of science fiction this is neither the time nor place. Just don’t do it.

-Don’t write about Hollywood. Or other countries. Or any other places you know nothing of.

-Don’t write about friendships or the loss of them.

-Don’t write about your first time or about sex at all. Chances are you’re bad at having sex and you’re bad at writing about it.

-Don’t write about the people you think have done you wrong. Chances are it was your fault anyway.

-Don’t write about society or how you think it affects you. Don’t write about commercialism or capitalism and think you know what you’re talking about. You don’t.

-And just so you know, none of you will be changing the world in here. There will be no amazing conclusions or insights reached. You may think you have something new to share but you don’t.

-Don’t write about being bored because it’s boring.

-Don’t write about being happy because it’s even more boring.

-Don’t try and pass off a dream you had as a fiction. It’s not. It’s a dream and it’s a bad, boring story that never really happened and nobody here cares about it.

-Don’t write about growing up. Don’t tell me about your bikes or your front lawns or the concrete streets of your cute little neighborhoods.

-Don’t try and tell me you grew up in a city because you didn’t. Don’t write stories about back alleys or dirty apartments because you don’t know any.

-Don’t write about being sick and don’t ever write about cancer. Chances are that one of you has known someone with cancer and that’s great, you should use that, but don’t address it in this class because you don’t have the skill not to sound like an idiot.

-Don’t write about diseases, you’ll offend the people who have them.

-Don’t write about ethnicity, you’ll offend the people who are them.

-Don’t write about being a woman or a man. We’re all women and men and we know what it’s like to be both.

-Has anyone here been in the holocaust?

-No? Okay, good. Don’t write about that either.

-Don’t write about death. You know nothing of death. Maybe you’ve had a grandparent die, maybe someone really close to you died, but you have no real idea what death means. Don’t try to guess. You don’t want to know the answer.

-Don’t write about flowers, or sunshine, or the mountains. I already know that nature is beautiful, I don’t need you telling me about the tree you saw last weekend and how it made you feel to understand that.

-Don’t write about parties. They’re only fun when you’re at them and even then, only if you’re drunk. When I am sober, or mostly-sober, and reading about how cool and tragic you think you are because you puked over the fire escape at some apartment building where you tried some drug, or tried to sleep with someone and failed, it makes me want to kill myself.

-Don’t write about suicide.  You have no idea.

-Don’t write about writing. Or try to make your story some kind of commentary on stories. That’s what criticism is for, which you should never read because it’s written by people who can’t write stories and thus don’t fully understand what it’s like to have a soul.

-Don’t write about heaven or hell or the afterlife. You are not dead. Either am I. I don’t want to hear about white clouds, puppy-dogs, and lilies of the valley. And I definitely don’t want to hear about rivers of dead people and carrion birds. I’m alive. I don’t care about what happens when I’m not alive. I want you to tell me about now.

-But don’t write about food. It makes me hungry and I hate that.

-Don’t write about traveling. You haven’t been anywhere and you’ve seen nothing. And no, your trip to Disneyland when you were seven doesn’t count.

-Don’t write about your jobs. You have no idea what it’s like to actually work. To show up somewhere every day wanting to leave.

-Don’t write about being poor. You’re not poor. You’re in college. And furthermore, you’re in America. You have no idea what poor is like. Really, for you, being poor is as abstract and unknowable as death.

-Don’t write about college. You really won’t understand it until you’re not here anymore. And even then the only stories you’ll tell about it will be anecdotes you tell your children so they’ll know you weren’t always old and sad and boring.

-Don’t write about anything in your immediate life. You don’t have enough distance from it to write about it objectively. Really, you shouldn’t write about anything that’s happened to you in the last five years. Ten if you want to be really safe.

-Don’t write about what your life might have been like if you’d done things differently or made different decisions. That’s not writing, that’s dreaming, and there is no place for dreams in this classroom.

-Don’t write about babies. They smell and don’t have anything interesting to say.

-Whatever you do, please, don’t write about God. Don’t try to hide God in your stories either. I’ll find him and I’ll know you put him there and I will hate you for it. God does not belong in your stories.

-In fact, don’t write about religion or your lack of religion at all. You’ll just sound confused and dumb. If I wanted to hear what confused dumb people have to say about Jesus, I’d go to church.

-Don’t try to hide things in your stories, I will find them.

-Don’t try to put how you feel about something or someone in a story.

-Don’t put yourself in your story. At all. Ever.

-And never, never, never have a character with the same name as you. The story shouldn’t be about you. You shouldn’t be in your story at all.

-Because it’s not your story. It’s mine. I’m reading it, it belongs to me, and I don’t want to read about you.

-And don’t think that I won’t notice you are talking about yourself when you are. If you try to sneak the truth into your story, any truth, any kind of trueness at all, even if this truth is just a piece of yourself, I will always know.

-Why? Because you are a bad writer. If you don’t believe me just wait a year and then read your story again. You’ll understand.

-Don’t write about music. Music is for listening to, not writing about. You’ll just ruin it with too many words.

-Don’t write about  any other art forms for the same reason.

-Don’t try to explain scientific concepts in your writing. This never works and you’ll only make yourself sound like an asshole.

-Don’t try to teach me anything in your story. You don’t have anything you could possibly tell me that I don’t already know.

-Don’t tell me I don’t know anything in your story because I already know that too.

-Don’t write about emotions. You don’t understand them.

-Don’t write about loss. You have everything.

-Don’t write about confusion. You won’t even know where to begin.

-Don’t write about pain.  You may think that you know pain but you don’t. You don’t know anything. You know so very little. It scares me sometimes how little you know.

-You know, maybe you shouldn’t write about anything. Maybe you aren’t ready yet.

-Don’t write about anything.


-Try to live a little more.

-Find other people and listen to them.

-Learn a few things.

-That might help. Or it won’t. But it’s really your only hope.

-Oh, and I’m failing you all.