Punch up, not down

Ahh, the semester is wrapping up and I’m reclaiming minutes of the day for myself. Instead of just doomscrolling, which is such a nice way to procrastinate, I’ve been using these minutes to squeeze in some writing and reading. Having minutes of time to myself doesn’t often feel like enough to get into a new piece of writing or engage in a substantial way with a book, but right now, I’m so elated to have these snippets of time I feel supercharged by them. And in just about two weeks, I’ll be off for Christmas break and basking in the glow of hours for myself. HOURS! I may just reach my goal of getting my memoir ready to send out to editors and agents by the end of the year.

To warm up for a few weeks of reading and writing (and revision) time, I recently participated in a writing workshop with Faith Adiele. (I found out about her workshop while doomscrolling, so I guess that act isn’t all bad.) We explored memoir and various strategies for writing it, and as an incredibly humorous person, Faith wove laughter and mirth and levity into everything we worked with, including our writing prompts. For one, she asked us to write an anti-hero piece about breaking New Year’s resolutions and not feeling bad about it. I don’t often like writing prompts, but in a workshop they are part of what one does. THERE, I can appreciate them. So for this particular exercise, I took Faith’s prompt and tweaked it. Channeling Colin Nissan’s, “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers,”I wrote an anti-hero piece about this break I’ll soon be enjoying:

2021 is going to be the best year yet. I’m going to kick it off in California, saltwater splashing in my face on a crab boat while my husband barfs over the edges. I’m not going to feel sorry for him either—fuck that asshole and his smug, always-better-than-anyone-at-everything demeanor.  I’ll let him be better than me at barfing, just this once. I’m going to drop crab pots while he languishes, wet and miserable, in a corner of the boat. I would rather be in Colombia for the new year, somewhere tropical and warm, not the wet-curtain wrapped around me always that is northern California. So I’ll be miserable too, probably, surrounded by his family for three weeks, but in my resolution to have fun on that crab boat if it kills me, I will not think about Colombia, at least not much. I won’t think about how warm I could be, how dry and sunbaked and sleepy. Instead, I’ll get the most crabs in my crab  baskets, the big fat meaty ones everyone wants, and I’ll shuck those bastards faster than his sisters can say “screaming match.”  I’ll eat until I’m the one ready to barf over the edge of the table, into my brother-in-law’s thousand dollar boots, and I’m going to enjoy that feeling of excess and oblivion.  I might be crabby and out of sorts for the  first week of the new year, the last week we’ll be in California, but I’m going to feel real emotions, man, none of the fluffed up hallmark Christmas shit that I’ll have been watching for three weeks while stewing in the sog of silent treatment.

Faith broke us into small groups to discuss our short writings, and my group mates got a good chuckle out the anti-hero piece. It was fun to write, and as is all good writing, hinged on small truths. I laughed about it as I read it, but I also knew there was too much snark in it, that the hits were a little to hard to come off as humor and not hatred. So I asked Faith for advice on writing humor, and she said, “Always punch up, not down.”

Don’t pick on people lesser than you, don’t throw down on someone who can’t dish it back, is the way I understood her advice. I liked this advice, and although I don’t write much humor, it seemed like good advice to use at any time when writing about difficult events in memoir. It also seemed like good advice for staying sane while finishing the semester and making time for myself.

I may not have a lot of time to write or read right now, put punching at myself while I’m bogged down isn’t going to accomplish anything. Punch up, indeed.

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