300WP: Do you use coupons?

extreme-coupons

Today’s Writing Prompt: Do you use coupons?

No. I mean, yes. Sometimes.

I use coupons for things like oil changes or kitchen stuff at Bed Bath & Beyond or BOGO shoes. I like Groupons sometimes. But I don’t bother with grocery coupons or stuff like that. I used to try, for a while, but it’s a hassle and I have better things to do with my time than scour the Sunday papers for little bits of paper that I then have to keep track of until I go to the store. And I’ve used the apps like Cartwheel, but it feels so fiddly and I don’t really feel like I get that much out of it.

Someone told me once that manufacturers don’t do coupons for us, for the shoppers. They are doing it for their own good, and YOU don’t save more money than they MAKE on you. It’s uneven.

I use loyalty cards in a couple of stores.

Also, I don’t use the products there are coupons for. Take toiletries. I can’t use anything with chemical fragrance in it (that is, anything that isn’t literally from the plant) or aloe. I use store-brand cleaners. Also, I hate those coupons that are like, “BUY SIXTEEN BOXES OF OATMEAL AND GET THE SEVENTEENTH FOR HALF OFF!”

TLDR: No coupons.

300WP: Hotels

 

Write about a memorable experience you  had staying at a hotel. 

I had just started working for a major corporation in my hometown and my new team was having a big meeting in Miami. I was so excited to see South Beach and check out the salsa scene.

We stayed at the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in: right on the beach with huge rooms and beds, an enormous bathroom, very fancy products on the vanity. There was also a very famous pop star staying at the hotel, so I knew this was a posh place. The country mouse in the city, as it were.

The first night we were there, my boss had a poolside reception for the group we had assembled. She handed me her corporate credit card and told me to open a tab. I went to the bar, which was super-swanky and beautiful. I was gazing around, waiting for the bartenders to help me.

I heard a guy next to me ask for six glasses of Sambuca and a draft beer. The bartender gave him an odd look: not many people in this part of the world order Sambuca. It’s an anise-flavored liqueur and something of an acquired taste. And the guy says, “Yeah, I don’t know, they’re British. They like Sambuca. I think it’s disgusting.”

The way he said it, so smug and like he was trying to impress this bartender, made me want to see what this jerk looked like. He was standing directly next to me, wearing a nice suit. Sort of a Midwestern heftiness to him, sandy hair.

He saw me and said, “Oh, are you like, English or something? You like Sambuca?”

I said, in a perfect London accent, “What did you say?”

He paled. “Oh, so…you’re British? I mean, I just never met anyone who liked this stuff.”

I said, in my cool accent, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I happen to like Sambuca.”

At this point, the bartender is smothering laughter and this guy is backpeddling as fast as he can.

I finally broke into a grin and said in my regular voice, “Nah, man, I’m just  messing with you. I’m from Kentucky.”

His face went totally blank. “So you’re…you’re not…”

“I’m not English. I was just messing with you.”

He smoothed his tie, turned, and left. Didn’t take the tray of glasses the bartender had prepared. Or his wallet.

I consider this my first real improv experience with the Yes, and… technique.

300WP: An interesting date

low-poly-heart

Continuing my exercise of using the 300 Writing Prompts book, I randomly opened to a perfect prompt for today:

Write about an interesting date you have been on, good or bad

I did Match.com for a while, after my boyfriend lost his damn mind and moved to Florida without me and we broke up (Spoiler: he’s my husband now, and we are in our twelfth year of marriage). And the majority of my weird dates were then.

Mostly they were just a little awkward. One guy looked fantastic on paper. Well-traveled, had a good job, family lived all over the world. But the date ended up being like sitting in a sales pitch for a time-share. He kept doing that thing salesmen do where they use your name repeatedly. “See, Sara, I’m a real entrepreneur. I have this business I’ve built up and you know, Sara, it’s just great. Sara, do you have a job you love?”

If you know me, you know I’m prone to stupid puns and dry one-liners. This guy was totally immune to my puns and wit. I would say something I thought was kind of funny and he would pause, look at me blankly, then continue whatever he was saying.

Sense of humor is like, number one in my book of Important Things, and this guy was not scoring well. This is going to sound completely sexist, but he didn’t ask if he could walk me to my car or anything. I think he might have actually shaken my hand before he marched off to his own car.

I went on a second date with a different Match.com guy and it was after a really long day at work. I was tired, but still looking forward to the evening. But literally every 15 mintues he would ask me, “Are you okay?” I kept saying, “I had a really long day at work, I’m just tired, but I’m good.” It got really annoying after the first nine times he asked…

My first date with the above-mentioned boyfriend/now husband was interesting. He picked me up after he got off work and we ended up at a cool restaurant in a cool part of town. Things were really going well and he totally laughed at my stupid puns and dry one-liners. We were too late to catch a 7:30 movie but in our movie discussions, he brought up Silence of the Lambs, which I had never seen.

We ended up renting Silence of the Lambs on our first date.

But I didn’t really watch the movie, and not for the reasons you think. He sat on the far end of the couch and didn’t say a word. Didn’t look over to see if I was totally freaked out, no physical contact or anything. I assumed he was just not that into me.

Turns out, he just thought it was a really good movie. He gave me a DVD of it some years later as a gift.

300WP: Something I Bought Used

300-writing-prompts

I got one of those books as a gift that offers x number of writing/drawing/meditation/etc. prompts. I’m going to try to use these as blog post prompts. Feel free to blog along with me, if you are so inclined. I will randomly open the book and then choose a prompt for the blog.

Today’s prompt is: Write about something you bought used.

We just moved into a new house a month ago. My husband and I laughed about how nearly all of our stuff is secondhand. It felt all grown uppy and adult to get ALL NEW appliances for the kitchen. We haven’t bought any new furniture yet but here’s a list of the major pieces and where they came from:

Living room couch and armchair: Used, Purchased off Craigslist for $400 in 2007. I got it from a couple who’d ordered it sight-unseen from a catalog and vastly underestimated the size to space ratio. They’d only had it for four months so it was practically new.

Dining table and chairs and grandfather clock: Used: inherited from Husband’s grandmother

Sharper Image Massage Chair: Used, purchased off Craigslist when I was pregnant.

My desk: Used, purchased off Craigslist (originally from Ikea)

Our bed/mattress: New, bed from Ikea, mattress from Amazon

Poang chair: Used, Craigslist (originally Ikea)

Dressers in our bedroom: Used, one was my mom’s, one was a friend who moved and didn’t want to take it with her

Dresser in the boys’ room: Used, it was mine when I was a kid

Dining room mirror: Used, bought at an antique shop when I moved into my first apartment

Husband’s desk: New, made out of a butcher block countertop and Ikea desk drawers

Boys’ beds: New, given as a gift when they were born

I grew up in a family of reusers, upcyclers, wear-it-outers. We drove cars until the wheels fell off. I check eBay and Craigslist before I look for new stuff. I love consignment stores, thrift shops, yard sales. The newest cars I’ve had are our current vehicles: a 2007 Ford Edge (We inherited it from Husband’s grandmother in 2013) and a 2014 dealer demo Prius we got in 2015.

We didn’t have a ton of money growing up, so we had to use things up, wear them out, make them do, or do without. I never had stylish clothes.

I laugh at a home builder commercial on the radio. The woman is HORRIFIED that people live in “USED HOUSES.” I admit, it’s a stroke of marketing genius to suggest that only a brand new built home is somehow better, but it’s also a load of bullshit. Our “new” home is 117 years old and I couldn’t be happier about that.

 

Love Hurts

defleppard

(I told a version of this story at the Moth Storyslam in Louisville.)

Charlie Brown had his little red-haired girl. I had my little red-haired boy.

And there is my little red-haired boy, dancing with my best friend. At the Valentine’s Day Dance, 1989. They are swaying to that perennial romantic favorite, Love Bites by Def Leppard. We all seventh graders at Our Lady of Perpetual Miseries*.

I sit there on metal folding chair in the darkened gymnasium of Our Lady of Perpetual Miseries*, bathed in the disco lights, trying not to cry. I’m wearing a red three-tiered skirt with tiny white hearts on it, a wide white belt with tiny red hearts on it, and a white t-shirt complete with shoulder pads and red grosgrain ribbon bows. My mother had this thing about having clothing made for me and then insisting I wear it, no matter what “everybody else is wearing.” And I suddenly feel very over dressed and even more self-conscious than I usually do. If that’s possible because I’m the most self-conscious person I know.

My friend knows that I like him, the red-haired boy, but I don’t think he knows I’m alive and he’d asked her to dance, not me, so what could she say?

See, I carried a torch for the little red-haired boy for years. Our Lady of Perpetual Miseries* is Kindergarten to eighth grade, and many of us did all nine years there.

My affection started in first grade. In our classroom, there was a birthday display for the whole class – a cartoonish tree and each branch was labeled with a different month. And on each branch gathered cartoonish birds with the names of the kids whose birthdays were in that month. There on the July branch, our fat little birds sat. They were yellow and wore sunglasses and held fruity-looking drinks.

I learned his birthday is the day after mine, the day I was actually due, but thanks to my mother’s dedication to militant punctuality, I showed up early. How I wish I’d ignored her and shared a birthday with the little red-haired boy! Maybe he would have noticed me then…

But sitting there in the dark gym, trying not to cry, I was simply reminded of my place in the pecking order at Our Lady of Perpetual Miseries*. That is to say, last rung. Bottom of the barrel. Not cool.

These days it’s cool to be bookish and nerdy, to wear custom-made clothes and have a big vocabulary. We call it being “quirky.” Zooey Deschanel has made a career of this.

But back then, it was just called “weird.” I was just a weird kid. Bookish, nerdy, perpetually overdressed and never in the “right” clothes.  Nobody knew this then, but I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. Re-reading my diaries from those years is heartbreaking. The girl in those pages is scared of being crazy, she’s constantly uncomfortable in her own mind, and she is desperate for help.

These days, we would call what happened to me in grade school “bullying.” There would be interventions and talking tos. But back then, adults would just roll their eyes and say, “Little girls are so mean. Just ignore them. They’ll go away.” Only one of those things is actually true. Little girls are mean. The other things are not true. No amount of ignoring, holding one’s head high, or defending one’s self ever makes a bit of difference.

By seventh grade, things do level out a little bit, but I am still over the bullshit.

In eighth grade, the year after that terrible dance, the thought of four more years with these people makes me want to kill myself. I apply to an urban, public, magnet school and I get in. I won’t go to dances with them, I won’t play sports against their teams, I will hardly see them after school ends. What a weight is lifted! I suddenly have a license to give exactly zero fucks about the school or the people in it…except where the little red-haired boy was concerned.

Now, you might remember that who likes whom is of UTMOST importance to people of certain ages. Despite the fact that I carried the torch for the little red-haired boy, NO ONE COULD KNOW, lest that fact be used to torment me even further than they did. And I knew he didn’t even notice me so what was the point?

It is perhaps my first improv performance when someone asks me, “Who do you like?” And I respond, casually, immediately, offhandedly, “Bob.”

RECORD SCRATCH.

Bob? There’s no Bob here. No Bobbies or Robbies, no Roberts or Robs, even. Who is Bob?

Suddenly…strange things happen. Maybe it is the secret crush, or the lack of fucks given, or my acceptance to the city school. People start…being nice to me.

I admit that it is glorious. Like the day one of the legit popular girls brings me a page from Seventeen magazine that said in huge letters, “All About Bob.” It was about the haircut. But she says, “Because you like Bob!” I hang it in my locker. Because that is what you do when you are popular.

I become the talk of the lunch table but not in a bad way. WHO IS BOB? Public school in the city?? Whaa…?

For the last months of school this goes on. I promise I will tell the girls at our graduation party, to reveal the name of the mystery man. But on the caveat that no one tells the boys. Because that’s how it works. We’re friends, we keep secrets.

Right?

It’s the end of the night, the end of the graduation party, and the DJ is packing up. My mom is outside. The girls gather around me like a flock of Laura Ashley-patterned sheep. Here it is. My moment.

When I say his name, and I do say it, I want someone to whisper, “But he likes you, too!” And then I could swan across the empty dance floor and the little red haired boy can kiss me.

But nobody says anything and all. They sort of look at each other. And all I can do it watch this stupid blonde girl from my class who always has retainers and spits when she talks, as she breaks the unspoken rules of sisterhood and makes a beeline for the group of boys gathered across the room. She’s going to tell them.

In that breath, it all falls away. That illusion shatters. The idea of popularity, of not giving a fuck. Of feeling pretty in my white graduation dress. The idea that someone like that little red-haired boy might like me back.

I run outside, crawl in my mother’s Buick, demand to go home.

I have no idea what he said when he heard he was Bob. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t delighted.

I saw some of my classmates from time to time through high school, but really just at church. I threw myself into making friends at my new school and became one of those people for whom high school was amazing and fun.

I still change the radio channel if “Love Bites” comes on.

 

*Not it’s real name. But that would be funny if it was a real place.

Ghostwriting is not for the faint of heart

It’s October so what better time is there to talk about ghostwriting?

THERE IS NO BETTER TIME DON’T EVEN FIGHT ME ON THIS.

As a freelance writer, I have done some ghostwriting. It was mostly a pretty boring kind – articles for home care trade journals. That was a regular little job for a while, then the company went sort of in a different direction (the direction where they don’t want to pay freelancers for good work) and we parted ways. It was never my bread and butter, but I was happy to have the work that did come in, despite not getting my name on it.

I have also either bid for ghostwriting gigs or was approached to do them. In this case, the situation is the same every. single. time.

I get an email that says, “I have a story. I can’t write. You write it for me.”

Maybe we talk on the phone. Maybe we just email a little bit.

I send the person a proposal, which is really only to show the potential client the price tag before we get too far down the path and I’ve put in way more time and effort than it’s worth. I’m not preparing any contracts at this point, I’m not making outlines of chapters, nothing like that. There’s more information on the proposal…a general description of the project and my deliverables, a general timeline, contact information, and an expiration date. But really, this is to say, “I don’t think you know how this works so let’s save some time and get right to the money talk.”

And every time, it’s the sticker shock that kills the project.

People who want ghostwritten stories typically think that a) they have an amazing story that EVERYBODY will want to read NOW (they might but that’s very hard to predict), and that because of this fact b) they will make a million dollars and it will be a best seller (it might but that’s very hard to predict) because Nancy Whatsherface just published a story like mine and she is in the New York Times, and c) then they can just pay you with the money they’ll rake in from the sales of their book. And based on those beliefs, these people think that it’s OUTRAGEOUS that ghostwriters want a) a bunch of money, and b) a bunch of money UP FRONT. (THE NERVE.) Now, people aren’t always rude about this conversation. They are genuinely shocked – SHOCKED – that I don’t want to take a couple hundred hours out of my life for the next 6-8 months (in addition to having a full-time regular job because people don’t want to pay writers anything ever) to write about a stranger who found Jesus after being hit by a car driven by a drunk rabbi. Or whatever.

Without giving away all my trade secrets, I’ll tell you that a really crappy ghostwriter (think, a non-native speaker based in a country that is not the U.S.A.) will run you maybe $5,000. The average in the U.S. for ghostwriters is about $22,000. High-end celebrity ghostwriters (or ‘as told to’) can get up into the millions. I’m somewhere in the ‘reasonable for a ghostwriter of my experience level.’

I ask to get paid what I am worth as a writer. That’s all. People continue to be surprised that freelance writers (or graphic designers, or any manner of freelance artist) charge money. It seems like unless I say, “Oh it’s totally free!” then I’m charging too much.

What is it about writing that makes people say, “I am a terrible writer, I could never do that” in one breath, and “You charge too much to write” in the next?

One of the crummy things is, many of the stories I’ve talked to people about are really interesting. They are compelling and complex and they are stories that should be out in the world, being shared. This is especially true of a potential client I just spoke with. She has a really interesting story, it’s something I’d love to work on. But I sent her the proposal and I haven’t heard from her. It’s a shame, because truth is stranger than fiction and she could have a really great product on her hands.