Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Write a 500 word story about friendship in response to the paragraph below from Samuel Beckett's Proust. I hope you notice what a lyrically dark view of friendship Beckett (and by extension Proust) has. You need not share Beckett's view, but I hope a little poison leaks into the otherwise sunny world the word friendship usually evokes.
But if love, for Proust, is a function of man's sadness, friendship is a function of his cowardice; and if neither can be realized because of the impenetrability (isolation) of all this is not "cosa mentale," at least the failure to possess may have all the nobility of that which is tragic, whereas to communicate where no communication is possible is merely simian vulgarity, or horribly comic, like the madness that holds a conversation with furniture. Friendship, according to Proust, is the negation of that irremediable solitude to which every human being is condemned. Friendship implies an almost piteous acceptance of face values.
(from prompt #32 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

Walking Man Takes his licks
"Walking Man takes his licks" by katmere

On his 30th birthday, Chris woke up late in his bedroom. His black out blinds kept his room in his preferred cave-like state, and so when he emerged he always acted a bit like a bear. Territorially, he lumbered into the kitchen—his kitchen, but also the kitchen of his three other roommates—and pawed through the cupboards looking for cereal. Someone ate his cereal. On his goddamn birthday, when all he wanted was a goddamn bowl of Cheerios.

On his best friend’s 30th birthday, Luke woke up early in his bedroom. His room had a door that led to the yard, and he left the door open during warm evenings so that his dog could wander out, and so ladies could wander in. Or out. He took his dog out for a walk, showered, and helped himself to some Cheerios.

Chris knew, for months, that his 30th birthday would be the worst day of his life. He knew because months ago he’d received an invitation to attend the wedding of the only girl he’d ever wanted to marry. The man whose name was engraved above hers was a wealthy orthodontist, and Chris’ teeth were fucked up and made him self-conscious about smiling. They were getting married on his birthday, and he did not have a date. There was a girl he wouldn’t mind taking, and she was, of course, Luke’s date. Chris was assured he would have a good time, which only made him more sure that he would not.

Luke knew that weddings suck, most of the time, so he was going for the free booze and for Chris. Luke didn’t have a really firm grasp on it all, but Chris had stared at the invitation, hung on the fridge with a Domino’s magnet, every single night for a significant amount of time. Chris had also been ordering pizza a lot more, but even Luke could see that as a symptom, not a cause. So for whatever reason, Luke canceled the surprise party he’d planned—a couple of guys from college could fly out, and they could go to the strip club and the Indian casino—and dry-cleaned his suit. Clearly it meant something to Chris, and it might be kinda lame but Luke was guaranteed to get laid, at least.

Standing in front of the mirror in his bedroom, Chris tried to hold his back straight. At least this evening, he didn’t want to slouch. He heard a girl giggle in Luke’s room, and he swallowed a mouthful of air as he walked out to the front porch. They had a cab waiting, and as Luke and their adorable neighbor, in a backless dress and kitten heels, joined him outside, Chris had a sudden urge to lay down under the back tires and feel his skull crushed by the weight of 30 years of life. Instead, he stood up straight, let out a low whistle of appreciation for the backless dress and kitten heels, and slapped his best friend’s shoulder to signal that he was ready to go.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Create a smart character. Show us this person’s unusual intelligence. Write a fragment of fiction at the center of which is one character’s uncommon and somewhat visible intelligence. You’ll probably want to display this person’s intelligence by means of action rather than conversation. If you choose the latter method of indicating a character’s braininess, you should probably decide in advance if you want readers to like this intellect or fear it (or both). 600 words.
(from prompt #31 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

"Rubidoux" by Spencer Finnley

Instrument in hand, he creates a world much like the world around him. Earlier, while driving, the white headlights driving opposite him had disturbed him, and to avoid being blinded he trained his eyes to stare straight ahead, focusing his vision just enough that he remained aware of what occurred around him without being distracted by the brightness of the other vehicles. His gaze steadied, and he remembered that she could cry with blinking, a trait that she would probably say was indicative of cowardice: she’d insist that her open eyes were too afraid to close. He knows better than to tell her the obvious truth, that it is uncommon because it is hard, and hard because it takes a lot of courage to look at the world without blinking, never mind the tears. Telling her wouldn’t convince her, but anyway she needs to realize things like that on her own. Maybe someday he will tell her “la calma è la virtù dei forti,” calm is the virtue of the strong. Speak Italian to women, and he remembers the rest of Henry V’s line: Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse. He made a mental note to look up the year that Henry V said so, and he did, later.

He creates a world much like the world around him. Stuck in traffic, reminding him of her again, he turned down the radio and listened. Around him people sat still or fidgeted or talked or sang, all going somewhere, all contained in vehicles; he thought how we all are alone in this together, he thought how many tiny worlds we have, how inside each person inside each car is a tiny world, inside each car, freeway, town, state, country is a tiny world that is at once its own world and a part of the whole world. Synecdoche, he thought, and he allowed himself to be amazed at the miniature grandeur. He tried to keep the amazement as long as possible, to control his thoughts, to corral his active mind into a pen that was also its own tiny world. The traffic, heaving forward like an exhausted lover, calms him; he steadfastly refuses to be frustrated by anything constraining or restricting his forward movement, and instead believes the constraints strengthen him, challenge him. His thoughts, and the cars around him, come from all over and he enjoys creating a singular story from it all, even if the story is just “Move forward.”

Instrument in hand, he creates a world much like the world around him. He remembers, translates, experiences. From the road he remembered her, hummed a song. The science of it all: to create, for the sake of creation, he has to focus straight ahead; “those who are engaged upon the quest for anything for its own sake are not interested in other things…and the road to it is rough.” He tries to forget her but she is his own tiny world, and so instead he takes his instrument, the tool of his trade, and recreates her, as he remembers nothing else. Thoughts focused, gaze steady, he works without blinking to create a world without her in it but that is still her. He begins his story with all he has, which is memories and observations and loose sayings and half-recalled quotes, and the sensation of an instrument held in his hand.

He creates a world much like the world around him.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Absent Commentary

Absence of....
"Absence of..." by ky_olsen

The "Absent" prompt was one of the most difficult for me to write about, and I'm not sure why. I'm not satisfied with how it turned out, either: I got a couple good lines in here and there, but ultimately I wrote more about the nature of missing someone than the true nature of the absent person. Sadly, this prompt asked a lot of good questions: how do we know of people? how do we characterize people? and I can't help but feel that I ignored those questions in order to answer other, unasked questions. Which is fine of course: there are no Epiphanizing police that will come arrest me if I don't follow the rules. But to be honest with myself, I didn't create a character, I didn't rise to that challenge. This was part laziness, a dash of indulgence to let me get away with doing something else. It was also honesty, because no matter how many different ways I tried to approach this prompt, I kept coming back to this story.

At some point, as my friend over at The Leafblower pointed out a while back, you have to let go of trying to do things "right." I missed a week of posting because I felt that nothing I wrote was good enough: I decided that nothing was better than something. Which is true sometimes, I guess, but when it comes to creation, as Brian pointed out, you paralyze yourself when you try to write something good. Just writing, everyday, no matter what, frees you. If you aren't afraid of what comes out, much more comes out. That sounds gross. It doesn't necessarily apply to bodily functions.


Construct a character who is not present, who is offstage for the entire piece. You have many options here: people may talk about this character before meeting him, or after meeting her; you might choose to examine what this character owns, how he lives, and under what conditions; you might uses indirect approaches, like letters or documents that attest to the existence but not presence of the person. How do we know of people? Examine the ways we build characters in our minds and social environments before and after we meet them.
(from prompt #30 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

"IMG_3021" by SolYoung

I feel my phantom phone vibrating; it’s nowhere near me, and wherever it is, it’s far too broken and damaged to alert me of anything after last night. But I feel it still, persistent and self-contained, buzzing close to me. It’s like it’s my twin that broke her arm at summer camp and my arm, while whole, is pulsing with a vague pain a hundred miles away.

I’ve reached for it a half dozen times already, and I still haven’t made it to a cab, let alone my car. Of all days, today is the day my phone isn't here for me.

Late last night I had a screaming fight in an empty parking garage. Our shouts carried farther than we needed them to carry, because as many hours ago as they occurred, they are still ringing in my ears. It’s a funny situation, and if it wasn’t so heartbreaking I would laugh. There we were, a bridesmaid and the bride, screaming obscenities after a bachelorette party gone horribly awry: she’s still got a cheap veil clipped in her hair, and I held baggies of homemade frosted cookies in the shape of penises up until she dropped me off at my hotel, when I chucked them with all the ferocity of a jilted lover casting off an engagement ring. And then I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, felt the actual moment that my heart broke—a dull crumbling, like the cookies, instead of the more dramatic shatter that I’d expected, listening to pop songs—and it was literally my tears that destroyed my phone. Water damage.

I want so badly to call so many people. I want her voice out of my head and I want to replace her voice with other voices. Her angry, awful voice echoing angry, awful things. She isn’t here but I hear her. She yells combinations of words, and I’m still sorting out their various meanings. When she says my life is a mess, and that I can’t take care of myself, is that a pronouncement or a theory? Is it coming to pass because she said so, or did she say so because it’s come to pass?

Her voice used to be comforting to me. We talked often, about books mostly, and ourselves. Once we talked in front of a Starbucks for four hours; she told me that dreaming in color is a sign of intelligence, and we were both satisfied with the nature of our dreams. She told me about relaying the same fact to a mutual friend, who had replied that she dreamt in black and white, and what of it. We giggled about people who weren’t intelligent enough to dream in a full spectrum of shades, people who weren’t intelligent enough to know what they were missing.

On my dead and useless phone, I had the text message she sent me the night she got engaged—just a picture of the ring on her finger, and the words “Shhhhh! I can’t tell anyone yet!” and I replied with tens of exclamation points, and still it wasn’t exclamatory enough. Her sparkly little diamond on her ring finger, catching all the light even in the dark night: even in the depths of my depression, I felt so buoyed by her happiness, by the joy of my best friend, and for a while there was nothing I enjoyed more than helping her plan her wedding.

What I want to say isn’t poor me, even though I’m feeling sorry for myself—I’m saying poor me, but it isn’t what I want. I want to say all that I can’t say, because she isn’t here, because my phone doesn’t work, because for the last month, when I was half swimming, half drowning in a pool of self-pity (that felt like an ocean,) I was trying too hard to keep my head above water to talk much about dreams or their colors. All I could see was what I was missing. And right now its her, because I can feel her and hear her in her absence: right now I can only think of all the things I can’t say.

I can’t say sorry, or thank you, or ask why, anymore than I can call her up to talk about how ridiculous Twilight is, or how awesome Gossip Girl. I can’t move on, or let go. I can’t ask if she ever started listening to The National, or if she still writes, or if she misses me. I can’t hear what she thinks about Palin or listen to her joke about Prejean. I can’t call, and joke about TV shows or listen to her vent about her sister or joke about her soon to be husband.

The one I tell everything is gone.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Write a fragment of a story about a villain who gets away with a serious and perhaps brutal crime and enjoys the fruits of his crime (or simply enjoys the fact that nothing happens after this crime). Love this character, and try to make him somewhat loveable to us. Think in terms of class distinctions, an uncomfortable subject in the United States, as we tend to deny they exist here. Crime is often an act of envy. According to an early meaning of the word, someone is evil who crosses class boundaries.
(from prompt #29 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

*disclaimer: this is an exaggeration of a perception of a public figure; it was loosely inspired by Sarah Palin, but is entirely fiction. by pure coincidence, the prompt had a word limit of 600, but somehow, I ended up writing 666 words.

Naughty Monkey pumps clip clop and echo more than other brands. This truth comes from experience, not science, because the only truths worth recognizing are the ones in your mind, from personal experience. The “clip clop” conveys power and a sharp efficiency; she likes the echo of this sound even more. She imagines an army of women in fuck-me pumps marching behind her, as the sound of her heels is magnified in an empty, narrow hallway. Just as importantly, these shoes show sass, they show she’s a woman with a girlish determination to pinch her body into something desirable. No matter how much power she has, men can still masturbate to the image of her, and that’s important. She may act like a man but no doubt about it, she looks like a woman. Some things just go against nature—butch women even more so than effeminate men, because what woman doesn’t want to be beautiful?

Today, as she walks, she catches a glimpse of herself in a darkened window. She likes what she sees. She’s thin, thinner than she’d been in her twenties, and it elevates her above, well, everyone else. The women who like her, they aren’t like her. She hasn’t been fattened by the middle age spread of middle class Americans living in the mid-west. She doesn’t eat any crunchy granola or that damned Whole Foods, she doesn’t buy into that propaganda about “going green,” but she’s better than those fast-food addicted idiots stuffing their faces. What they see when they look in the mirror is a nightmare, she imagines. Pausing for a moment at herself, she reflects. Here is a woman in control, a woman who takes control. Thank God for, well, for God. For God and for country, both of which she has been called upon to serve—called, if by nothing else, then by virtue of her superiority. Her beauty, her drive, her faith. Her obedience to God, to ritual, to tradition. Her discipline, her focus. All these qualities, these treasures she values as dearly as she values her home or her children. These treasures that she’s acquired by winning, by playing the right game the right way. These treasures she has been awarded by virtue of being better than white trash, better than her roots, better than the small town whore she could have been.

In the moments before the press conference, she goes through a little ritual. It’s like any competitive sport, any arena where one person emerges as the victor, the better competitor, against another, less worthy person. She visualizes her success, and she must be alone. In this most private moment, she imagines all the enemies she must go against, all those she must destroy. She thinks about sodomites, about godless heathens, about terrorists, foreigners. She imagines all their tiny deaths, she shrinks the whole world of them away in her mind until they are tiny enough to shut up in a little box. She closes the lid and she hears their screams, she hears them begging for forgiveness in fading voices. They call out to her, beg her to help them, but she doesn’t bend. She imagines herself crushing them under her stiletto heel, until they flatten out and disappear. Then she imagines the world she will create instead, a new pretty world, where everyone will listen to her. She breathes in and out, in a Christian fashion, visualizing her success just as her political coach taught her to do daily. People will be thin and healthy, women will know their place, men will be heroes. Breathing in, breathing out, until she can just see this new world, her new world, and she is ready to speak to the masses.

Stepping out onto the stage, lit by lights and by an internal passion, she is suddenly flanked by her four bodyguards in dark suits. She grabs the podium and begins to speak. “I was just your average hockey mom, and signed up for the PTA…”
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