Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Argument

Two people are arguing--a man and a woman. They don't have to be a couple. Each is convinced he or she is right. You, as the writer, do not want to know who is right, but you will have exquisite sympathy for both points of view, both sides of the argument. Give us enough background and history, but try to stay in the moment as much as possible. Choose an accidental arbitrator. This narrator knows and likes both these people well, but doesn't and can't favor one over the other.
(from prompt #44 in The 3 AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

The Crowd Kiss

"The Crowd Kiss" by hipposrunsuperfast

The full room, swollen with the scents and sounds of too many people, nonetheless invited private conversations. The worst place to be if you don’t want anyone to hear you is the place where there’s nothing else to hear. Near me a little girl told her father that sometimes dogs are brown, and somewhere behind me a man decided outloud and seemingly to himself that he’d like an egg salad sandwich for lunch, even though they are never satisfying, but that’s why he’d have chips as well. I don’t mean to eavesdrop, most people don’t, and if I’d had a companion I’d be absorbed with them, and not others. When I heard her voice I knew it immediately, and I was about to shout her name when I heard the edge in it.

“What are you trying to say then, that bodies are public property? Like a tree? Like a ROCK? So you have as much right to look at a woman’s ass as at a fucking rock, is that correct? I’m sorry, babe, maybe I’m confused, but honestly you sound like an asshole.”

“I never said it’s the same to look at a girl’s ass as a rock. Well, it depends on the ass actually, if the girl worked out a lot…Babe I’m kidding. Calm down. All I said was you can’t blame me if we are out in public and I see things. You look too.”

“I look at men’s asses all the time, yep. Sometimes I buy magazines just to stare at a naked man’s ass, you know. That’s what girls do, they just go look at men’s bodies for the sheer pleasure of it, all the time. Oh my God, I can’t even look at you you are so stupid. You don’t even get it, you don’t even have any idea what its like. ”

“Don’t be mean. You don’t have to attack me just because you’re insecure. What don’t I get? Tell me. I definitely don’t get what made you get so pissy in three fucking seconds. We are IN PUBLIC.”

“Don’t be mean? How am I being mean? I am not being mean! I am trying to explain that it’s a really asshole thing to say that it’s totally okay to stare at another woman’s tits when you are IN PUBLIC with your GIRLFRIEND right next to you, dammit. But obviously I guess I am a bitch for that, and anyway anything I say has nothing to do with respect or maybe the fact that you see nothing wrong with objectifying women, but clearly it all comes down to me being insecure. And jealous. So I guess nothing that I say even matters.”

“Holy shit. You have called me an asshole like ten times. You have. And you are attacking me. You are. Can we just be done now? I love you, you are beautiful, all of that, I respect women as equal to a man, except for certain things, and I’m sorry you caught me looking at another woman’s boobs, okay? But you have to admit they were pretty much on display.”

I looked over to see if she was seething or laughing, as it could have gone either way with her. But then I made eye contact and immediately felt my forehead growing warm with embarrassment. I could not hide how much I’d heard, it was written all over my face. He gave me a sheepish nod, and turned with her to head out the door. Just behind them, a beautiful woman nursing her baby on her functionally engorged breast stood with an expression of amusment that I could only admire from afar.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


If you are a man, write a short scen from the POV of a woman totally dominated by a boyfriend or husband who has a long history of controlling this woman. If you are a woman, write a short scene from the POV of this same man. In either case, avoid an eruption of physical violence and build a logical, reasonable set of explanations for the character's awful or humiliated behavior, no matter what you yourself feel about this character's behavior.
(from prompt #43 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

Amber Fireworks

"Amber Fireworks" by wanathan101

A rat scurried under the fire pit and found itself trapped between the heat overhead and the surrounding threat of the people standing and talking around the fire. I watched the rat pace under the metal pit before darting for the garden wall, bravely going between the high heeled feet of our neighbor and nearly brushing her foot without her noticing. From where I stood I could see the pattern of the party, people gathered in groups and moving predictably. I watched Susie laughing, looking to me from time to time, nursing a glass of Chardonnay while she listened to her best college friend tell a nauseating story about her children. Susie and Gina had been far too attached to each other in school, calling each other sisters and developing their own language of codes; entire discussions could take place in my presence without me knowing, back in the day. It tested my patience for years, explaining to Susie how toxic Gina is; eventually Gina revealed herself to Susie, revealed how obsessed with Susie she’d been. Now that Gina had moved back to town and had her kids to obsess over instead, I’d allowed Susie to talk to her occasionally, but within reason. Given the option, Susie and Gina would never leave each other’s side, they’d fill each others ears with the nonsense of their mutual language, and where would that leave me? Out in the cold is where, with examples of their collected stupidity pouring out of my mouth but never quite making it in their ears.

Susie had always gathered people around her, I found myself drawn to her during a party just like this years ago. She was animated, her hands flickering around her while she imitated a professor. She was radiant, even in the night, and I felt warmer standing by her. But just as nice as it was near her, it was awful away from her, awful being crowded out by her gaggle of girlfriends and shoved aside by the healthy dose of male “friends” hanging on her, too. Just my luck, the one girl that’s actually decent, actually worth spending time with, and then just as I was knotting the noose of self-pity around my neck she came and loosened it, loosened it all up. She poked fun at me, poked me in the ribs and told me to relax—my wife, standing there with perfect posture and with her hair pulled back like Grace Kelly. Just like I like it, just like she knows I like it. She’s my wife, not a girl at a college bonfire, and all the same, there she is, keeping warm while I have to navigate through a sea of worthless work associates just to talk to my own damn wife. Let me stand out on the fringe of my own party, in my own backyard, watching rats scurry, and if I didn’t know better I’d think she was enjoying herself, enjoying the attention. Yes, she enjoys seeing me pace and sweat, swinging her Chardonnay around and laughing so much that she throws back her head. Careless drunk, like a little girl away from her parents, seeing what she can get away with, and I’m right here.

“How much have you had to drink?” I ask her. Not that it matters, it was too much. Gina rolls her eyes and murmurs something, and Susie snuggles up to her like it’s a conspiracy.

“She’s an adult, at her own home, does it matter?” Gina tells me. Did I ask Gina a question? I did not. Do I want Gina to shut her mouth? I do. Do I think a hearty slap across that mouth would help shut it? I know it would, but Gina is not my wife, nor my problem.

“Susie, honey, party’s over. Time for bed, the mess can wait.” Susie looks over at Gina and all I can see is the back of her head, Susie’s blonde curls resting on her neck after falling out of place from the crown of her head where the rest of the strands have been twisted into place. I’d helped pin them, in the places she couldn’t see.

The party is hushed now, looking sideways at our triangle to see the domestic squabble, and I can feel my place now. Pretty blonde and her strong best friend and then me, this mean man they don’t understand. Leave her alone, they think. I pace, threatened by the crushing opinion of the crowd and by the threat that if I leave her alone, I’ll be alone, I’ll lose her warmth and she won’t even notice if I don’t make some noise.

A scream from across the yard saves me, and everyone turns to see the rat’s tail whipping a woman’s ankle before darting under cover again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Invisible Woman

Write a short scene in which a woman becomes invisible, briefly, for no explained reason. I leave it up to you what she will observe in her state of lucidity and transparency: her boyfriend's or husband's or male friend's life, a short scene of men without women, or a scene of another woman and her man (innocent or not). No one can see or hear her. She is not a ghost, and at the end of your narrative return her to her fully fleshed out self, again with no explanations. In other words, don't worry too much about the problems of imperceptibility. Just jump into the story and follow its political, rather than science fiction, consequences.
(from prompt #42 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

The gym
"The Gym" by combust

When she looked sideways at the mirror, she saw an empty seat where she should have seen herself sitting. The handle she held dropped and the weight swung down from the pivot point; in the middle of arm extensions, she glanced to her left to examine her tricep and saw nothing but suspended equipment. The gym remained the same, there were rows of women running in place above her, and men spotting each other in bench presses among the free weights. But in the mirror, the seat she occupied looked available. Testing this, she again extended herself, felt the dull strain in her upper arm, saw the weight lift and the handle rise and then drop with a clang that no one else seemed to hear.

She stood up, looked down, saw her own shoes tied tightly, felt up and confirmed a swinging ponytail on her head. The mirror reflected nothing. She walked up to a man laying on his back and lifted her shirt, jumped up and down, and waited. No reaction, just a grunt while he hefted up a bar stacked with more weight than she contained. She did a little shimmy and almost cried that he didn’t stop, gaping in wonderment at her naked breasts. He just kept lifting weight for the sake of it, completely ignoring her.

“I am invisible.” She didn’t say it out loud, she kept her thoughts in her head, and she sat, dazed, at the foot of the man in front of her.

She felt free and a little ecstatic; like someone had given her a superpower in the middle of the night and while part of her felt irritated at being disturbed, every other part of her delighted in the possibilities of what to do when no one can see.

She explored the idea of pranks; she considered mischief like a foreign language. She stepped on the scale behind a woman weighing herself, gave her a fright. She pulled the pin on a man bracing himself for a shoulder press and watched his face display surprise, then embarrassment, then cool recovery in a moment. The treadmills tempted her but she resisted ruining anyone’s stride, and instead she turned all the televisions to Spanish cartoons and laughed by herself at the few people this confused.

She wandered to the gym’s front desk and put herself up for free membership for the next year. Then thinking further she gave herself back credit for all the years she’d been a member, in addition to free membership going forward. It felt very bad and she surprised herself by doing it anyway.

In the locker room, she looked in the mirror out of habit. Realizing this habit sobered her up, she felt lonely without a reflection and lost, though she could still feel her hair pulled back and see her shoes laced. Things tied to her, around her, proved her existence but it scared her to not recognize herself among the images of women changing in the room. She watched women in the mirror, glancing at themselves or pausing and staring and pulling and prodding themselves, but her philosophizing was interrupted by her name.

Instead of herself she saw friend Emily balancing a cell phone on her shoulder while using both her hands to tie her shoes. With a thrill she realized she could hear Emily talk about her, she could hear what someone thought of her. But the words coming out of Emily sounded like they were describing someone else, someone awful. So she left Emily to frown at her reflection, she left the locker room and rushed towards the door of the gym, rushing towards somewhere without strangers or mirrors.

At the door she stopped, holding the handle, bracing herself for the rest of the world and the people in it who couldn’t see her. She gathered her strength and reached out and nearly fell forward through the open door, being held open for her by a man staring down at her chest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You Oxymoron

Use a dozen of these lovely phrases (like "she was gaily grieving" or "he had many pleasing pains") to describe a large oxymoron--a person, place, or event. The thing you're looking for in a good oxymoron is the surprise of the connections.
(from prompt #41 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

door number 1
"door number 1" by tanjatiziana

Before the interview I prayed like the devil for God knows what: luck, confidence, something that could instigate a permanent change of life for me. Everyone tried encouraging me, telling me to act natural, to just be myself. Whatever that means, because if I were to act natural I’m not sure it would be myself, and lately what felt natural is more ostrich than human. Inside I just wanted to hide from the outside world, filled as it is with voices telling me what I ought and ought not to want, but I’d been stuck inside so long that what I wanted most was fresh air. Handing a stranger a single sheet of paper declaring my value made me hyperventilate, which is a generous exchange when it comes to being able to breathe.

When they asked me why I’d had such an extended experience with temporary employment, as I figured they would, I had some prepared answer about personal business that could demonstrate maturity and responsibility. Something I could say that sounded more dignified than the truth, that it had been a pretty ugly year, spent hiding my head in the sands of time and debt piling up on me.

I know better than to admit some things, I know that leaving things unsaid saves others the trouble of pretending things are gonna be okay. We’d gone out to the cliffs the week before I left and looked out at the edge, silent and alone together on a clear summer day. The only words I remember were asking whats wrong with me, but I’m not sure who asked, it’s the same difference whichever of us did. The answer both of us knew without saying was, nothing you can fix. At a close distance the surf beat against the wall we were standing on, over and over, in big swells of water and in small laps, but from where we were we couldn’t see anything but the wide stretch of water resting fitfully around us, as far as we could see and farther. Just the deep Pacific, dark blue and torrid against a calm cloudless sky, and neither of us could appreciate the dueling expanses because we were just trying not to talk about much we couldn’t say. When we left the cliffs something had changed in an instant but we didn’t realize it for months.

It surprised me one day, about a year ago, to comprehend my ignorance, to understand that things always change. That day, a Tuesday, I woke up with dreams and went to bed without them. I felt numb. And the shock stuck to me and gathered and grew, like all things electric it made the natural appear unnatural and my thoughts were conducted accordingly. Mostly misdirected, searching for something to connect with, my thoughts circled round themselves straight to nowhere. Thinking so much about my meaningless life was the most destructive action, it nearly killed me trying to figure out how to live.

After I got the job, my boss mentioned in passing what I’d done that had stayed with her, that had gotten me hired. She said that, luckily, it was the confident manner in which I spoke, thanks to my habit of taking two deep breaths before speaking or even reacting. She said I was living proof that sometimes you just need to remember to breathe, but of course its just the opposite. Remembering to breathe being proof of living.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Doubling Up

Write two paragraph-long character sketches of two people you know well. Wait a day, then write another long paragraph sketch that takes elements from the two people you know to create a third, fictional character. The key here is to use the two pieces of writing, not the two people you've written about. Fit together two paragraphs of prose into one character sketch, making sense of the combination somehow.
(from prompt #40 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

"Laugh" by sflovestory

She isn't the heroine of a novel written in first person. The novel she imagines for herself uses a lot of adverbs: she laughs flirtatiously, she gazes directly. She sits quietly and responds promptly; she is never too absorbed in a task, always just absorbed enough to keep from being bored.

With a polite and quiet base level, her political opinions are unexpected: she cares (passionately) about ideals, she is liberal, she is knowledgable. She reads the CNN website and follows certain stories: Nancy Grace stories about child abduction as well as political stories about bills up, scandals, injustices. She worries. She is afraid of men, of being alone, of change. She is not afraid of her own power. She wants to be a social care worker and her family amuses her, with their antics and Mexicanness, her nieces and nephews running around and nearly knocking over her abuelita. She dates but with a wary eye, she isn't seduced by a sweet talker. Sex doesn't alarm her, but she respects it, its place, and allows it. She always notices attractive men and points them out. She sleeps with stuffed animals. She likes shopping websites, shoes, and romantic comedies.

She has a certain neutralness, and could be called generic if you didnt look closer. She has a big smile and luxurious hair. She has broad shoulders and breasts that spill out, as if she is unaware of their existence. She smiles (widely) and giggles about dogs, about slips of the tongue, about innocent mistakes, about the behavior of animals and the characteristics of people working with animals. She is enthusiastic and expects this enthusiasm to be met by those around her. She gets confused by things outside her norm, and she doesn't like to be asked to adapt. She eats rich foods and warms her bread. She worries about her weight.

She knows she is a good friend. Her friends describe her as she sees herself: she laughs flirtatiously, she gazes directly. Anyone could write her story, but she doesn't know who would.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Letters from Inside the Story

Have one character in a story you're working on write a letter to another character in the same story. The character writing the letter will not send it. Therefore this letter writer can say a great deal more, without restraints or censorship (from above or from within). You should also think of this as a piece of writing that will not go into what you're writing—just deep background material (even if this turns out to be a useful lie).
(from prompt #39 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response: 

"THANK YOU" by psd

Hey. I want to say thanks, but I'm not good at that. When people compliment me, I don't know, I get weird. If I feel like things are going well, when someone demonstrates appreciation, I get nervous about maintaining that. My biggest fear, my Achille's heel, is disappointing people, I guess if you know that than you know me. I use disclaimers a lot. This is going to sound weird. I know it's not a big deal. It's about confidence, not walking into a room confidence, but staying in a room confidence. Ruin terrifies me, destruction from the inside out: like the fall of Rome.

I haven't said thanks. Thank you. Thank you for being unabashed. The things you say, the comments you make, they boost me up and they make me feel like I'm doing something right. I'm trying to force this idea on myself, the idea that it is okay. Okay as it is, as I am: that I can be open, and myself, and if people like what I'm not hiding, I don't need to hide.
See, this is becoming about me, it is about me.

You make music. People who make music, I’m jealous of that. I hear songs in my head, and I don’t know how to translate that into ways that other people can hear too. Words do a lot, what I like about music is the words, mostly, but its not all the way. Its not enough to carry and land where I want. I wonder what its like, I think it must be like knowing another language, or having another sense. I’m fine, I’m complete, but still it must be like not being able to hear, the way that I lack an ability to produce music from myself. So you, how you make music, its like you have a sixth sense, you have another way to communicate.

Music and travel, things I don’t have any experience with, but I feel it all the same. The idea of these experiences—does this make sense? I’m sure it doesn’t, fuck, sorry, I want it to, I want to say it right—the idea of experiencing something outside yourself, of connecting in a new way, beyond the limits of body or space, that isn’t alien to me. It’s a feeling like a word on the tip of my tongue, I can sound it out, and there is a space, just beyond, that is waiting to be filled. By the experience, or the word.

It’s frustrating. I feel guilty all the time for all that I haven’t done. I feel most alive when I’m outside myself, it keeps me believing in God. The feeling alive. And I feel outside myself when I can connect. I think that’s what we are all looking for, or at least all of us like us. People who push and fall and look at things the wrong way so that they know what the right way really means. Do you know what I mean? And its things like that, words that I’ve got space for, and I haven’t found them yet. I feel bad about that space, that I’m keeping it all inside myself and I should be reaching out more.

I think sometimes people look at me and they see all that I’m keeping inside, and they know. They know I’m selfish and I’m scared. And sometimes I think no one has any idea, that they see me and they don’t, and if I get it all out I will scare the hell out of them. I think maybe I should hold back, try to fit in, try to be good. It’s knowing what good is, really.

This is the worst thank you letter ever. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I do want to thank you. For making music and for writing and for trying to connect, for always doing what I wish I could do. And for telling me that I’m doing the same, that I’m connecting.

I was thinking about something you said, and I was listening to a song, and it felt a little bit epic.

Thank you, from inside myself and as far out as I can reach, thank you for reading from the same place that I’m trying to reach.

If that makes any sense, if you know what I mean, if this isn’t all dumb. Then you’ll know. Thank you.

Sentenced to Death

Take a sentence from a writer you admire or who provokes strong feelings in your gut. Preferably, this should be a fairly long sentence with a lot of different words in it. Use any of the words and only those words (repeating words from the sentence as often as you want) to make up fifteen sentences of your own—adhering around a character or situation that seems related to the author of this sentence, but it need not be a direct response to the author. This is a very difficult exercise, but you may find a handful of crucial ideas about your character from the struggle of coming up with these sentences. The word length of this exercise depends on how long each of these fifteen sentences is, but will probably be about 200 words.
(from prompt #38 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

"As long as you don't let your exhaustion get to you, as long as you remember that you always have choices, as long as you're willing to read the book and see where it's taking you, as long as you love the book and the sum total of things that have brought you to this place, right now, this very second, you'll stay
-Jacob Clifton,

Remember the exhaustion the choices brought? You don’t have that exhaustion now, you have love. The right love, and the right place, and you’re willing to stay. And as long as you’re willing to stay, you get to see this love taking place. You don’t have to remember the choices, right?

It’s the things you don’t remember, the choices and the exhaustion, that you have to remember. The very things. The things that brought you to this love, always remember.

You read a book, you remember the total book. You don’t read a long book and have the love stay afloat; you have to have things taking place. The things taking place that you’re willing to read, you have to be willing to remember.

Second place choices, you don’t have to always remember, as long as you remember choices taking place. And don’t let exhaustion stay where you’re willing to have love. Always stay willing to have love.
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