It’s back! Chicago’s premiere storytelling event: Do Not Submit has started up again, virtually for the time being. I’ve signed up to tell a story on Thursday, April 29th. You can reserve a space to either be part of the audience (or tell a story) here. I’m still deciding what story to tell . . .
Do Not Submit (DNS) is a series of free, open mic events around Chicago where anyone can come tell a story. I love DNS because it is low key, fun and no expectations of perfection, I’ve met some really great people and storytellers at these events. Len Joy, a fellow BQB author, storyteller and triathlete introduced me to DNS some years ago. Whenever my travel schedule allowed, I would hit up the Andersonville session at Hopleaf Bar.
Last time I attended DNS, I told a 7-minute version of the story All in the Family, a story of mine featured in Science magazine about my summer studying Baboons and being visited by my cousin. You can read that original story here (if you have a subscription to Science), or a variation of it on my blog here.
Rostam’s lyrical ode to relationships, road-trips, and facing the unknown broke into the Alt Nation’s Alt18 this weekend. 4Runner is bound to become the summer’s song of reminiscence and nostalgia, at least for me.
I’ve been rocking out to it the past two weeks as I worked—first on a news piece for Neuron and then on edits and (final?) revisions for Calm Undone. Whenever 4Runner starts on my playlist, I instantly have feelings of nostalgia.
The opening bars with its acoustic guitar and brushed drums—a relentless beat that drives the song from beginning to end—remind me of Peter Gabriel. I’m back in college, hanging out with my friends, young and carefree. So many stories I could tell . . .
As Rostam starts to sing, the lush harmonies build and I’m suddenly longing for …. something, but I’m not quite sure what. Or when. The summer road trip that hasn’t happened yet? The days I wondered Capitol Hill in Seattle with my friends looking for a night of fun? An ungodly, early morning in San Diego, when I picked up my friends to drive all day to a triathlon? Or something that maybe hasn’t happened yet . . . but whatever it is, I think I’m getting closer.
I should confess, I am a hardcore Vampire Weekend fan, where Rostam got his start, at least professionally. And his first Grammy nod. So it isn’t surprising that I’m digging his latest tune.
But yeah, 4Runner, by Rostam. That’s what is wasting my time right now.
As I am debating and discussing final edits to Calm Undone with my (always helpful) editors, I find myself revisiting favorite characters and books. I truly believe that if you want to become a good writer, you will first have to become a good reader. When I struggle with things like pacing, character development, or how to get the right balance of telling a story without getting lost in minutiae, I pick up books I have strewn about my house that I think did all of that well. As I take a little break this evening from revising (and revising and revising again), I want to share my thoughts on two books (and the authors) that I remembering thinking, Yes, I want to create something like this.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Jesse Andrews, 2012). What I love about this book is the narrative voice. Andrews’ protagonist is Greg Gaines, a snarky, witty and self-conscious teenager who just wants to hide in mediocrity. Except when he doesn’t: he wants the attention of the popular girl; he wants the cool nonchalance of his best friend; he wants to move on from high school, but is so scared of being less than mediocre he won’t apply to any colleges. And above all, he wants neat, happy endings to the worse life dishes out, knowing full well it doesn’t happen. Which makes him your typical teenager. Andrews balances self-introspection and stream-of-consciousness story telling with enough dialog and straightforward exposition to keep the story moving forward. It is a space I struggle to occupy comfortably with my characters and plot.
The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton, 1967). I envy Hinton, I truly do. I’m still in awe of how she captures the internal voice of a teenage boy. I doubt I could ever write a female character as strongly as she wrote Pony Boy. What brings me back to this book over and over again, however, is the sense of yearning she creates in Pony Boy (Let’s face it – she does it with Johnny, and Soda Pop, and Cherry, and . . . well, she does it). Pony Boy constantly observes that he plays the role society gave him: Being a greaser. But all he wants is to know that if he wanted, he could be something else. It’s not that he thinks being a greaser is bad, it’s that if he wanted to NOT be a one, he could. Without being fake. Without betraying his brothers. Without someone telling him he can’t. Because he can – if someone just gave him the chance. That yearning to have a choice is a theme I want evident in Calm Undone, but it is hard to achieve. Well, not for Hinton, from what I can tell.