BrokenJPG

A Copywriter’s Blog

Please see last Wednesday’s post for details.

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When I was younger, I used to look around and be shocked at how boring adults were. At some point- according to legend- they had once been kids themselves. Why didn’t they have more fun once they could drive and weren’t limited by their allowance and didn’t have to be in bed by eight?

Take restaurants, for example. Why didn’t adults have fun restaurants? Like ones where all the waiters were ninjas, and lead you through secret passages to your table. They could drop out of the ceiling to ask if you were ready to order, and sneak up behind you when bringing your food. And they could all talk in fake Japanese accents and carry swords and maybe even a few could do magic like make fire appear in their hand, and then turn it into your dessert. To younger me, it just seemed obvious that there was a need for this sort of thing.

Luckily, someone else thought so too.

Ninja

Ninja NY is a great time. The wife took me there for a birthday dinner, and all of the above happened at least once during the meal. Also, we heard the following exchange roughly every thirty seconds:

Ninja: “HAI!”
Customer: “AAAIIIEEEEEE!”

Good times. Good times.

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She staggered down the street, purse over one shoulder, clutching the strap like a lifeline. The weight on the strap pulled shoulder down, making her stumble awkwardly, as if drunk. She wasn’t, of course. It would take far more than a glass of red wine for that.

It was a painfully bright day. She squinted against the glare coming off the skyscrapers and sidewalk. It took her a moment to realize why her vision was blurry. She wiped away the tears with the back of her hand.

She wanted an alley. How hard was it to find a damn alley in New York? Every time she left the subway after midnight, there was an alley every five feet. But now that she actually wanted one, it eluded her.

She didn’t know how many blocks passed before she saw one through a veil of tears. In the shadows behind a dumpster she sank to the ground and sobbed hysterically, clutching herself as if she were coming apart at the seams.

She lost all track of time. But when she realized the shadows were getting longer, she picked herself up and peered around to see where she was. Across the street was a church. She hadn’t noticed it earlier. It must be a sign.

She crossed the street and entered, twisting and turning down hallways. At the end of a hall she found what she was looking for, and opened the door without knocking. A dozen pairs of eyes turned toward her. It occurred to her suddenly that her clothes were probably filthy. She hoped they couldn’t smell her from the doorway. She took a deep, wavering breath.

“I’m Miriam Henley…” she shut her eyes as the tears began again, and struggled to speak around the lump in her throat, “and…”

The sob threatened to choke her. Her pulse roared in her ears.

“-and until this afternoon…I…I hadn’t had a drink for three years. I’m-”

The room was totally silent. Waiting. She heard a chair squeak, and a comforting arm moved around her shoulders.

“…an alcoholic.”

“Hi Miriam.” came the chorus of replies.

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Wow guys. Wow. The day I have had…I wouldn’t call it bad, because I love my job. I love what I get to do for a living. Even when the something I’ve been working on goes- completely, irrevocably, and through no fault of my own- straight down the crapper.

So it wasn’t a bad day. It just didn’t have the necessary pauses. The periodic commas, if you will, that make a normal day manageable. And so the day sort of came out like this:

Wow. I hope she gets over that.

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Not yet Ben Levy 22, June

Apologies, all. Due to unforeseen Life, What Happened Wednesday will happen Thursday. Or Friday. Or, at the very least, Monday. It shall happen, just not today. Thank you.

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Older, But Not Wiser Ben Levy 19, June

The trouble with birthdays is that they point out you’re getting older.

Since my last birthday, I feel like I’ve done some cool stuff. Grown as a person and as a writer. But still, it really bummed me out that I was turning 28. (I just lost every friend 28 and older who reads this blog)

I was talking about this with a friend of mine about a month ago. It was her birthday, and she was mourning how ancient she’d become.

“How old are you?” I asked

“You know I’m a year older than you. I’m 28.”

“You’re-” the pinwheel of death appeared in my brain, and I had to force-quit several other thoughts to make it go away. “But hang on. If you’re 28, then that means-”

So the good news is that I just turned 27, and can now confirm that putting one less candle on your cake than expected is one of the best presents ever.

The bad news is I’m gonna go get myself tested for early-onset Alzheimer’s. Cause I’m not getting any younger, and I just forgot how freaking old I was.

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Man, this song is possibly even better than the official unofficial BrokenJPG theme song. I can say, without embellishment, that I and at least 96% of the people who read this blog are totally this awesome.

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She sat on the train, head bowed, willing herself not to cry. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

Besides, she’d already spent the morning depressed. Alternately sobbing into her pillow and holding a tear-choked and one sided debate with her cell phone. “I am NOT boring” she had gasped at it. The text on the backlit screen, barely discernible through her tears, offered no consolation.

Then, once she’d run out of tears, she got angry. Who was he to call her boring? She could go out. She could go out anytime she chose. Why, she’d go out right now. “Besides,” she thought as she went into the bedroom to dry her eyes and get dressed, “the best revenge would be a life lived richly.”

What time was it? 2? Hah! She’d go out and- and- and start drinking right now! She put on the sexiest clothes she owned: A pair of pants that didn’t so much hug her curves as hide them, and a very sensible blouse. She almost left an extra button undone, but didn’t want to look like a whore.

Then she grabbed her purse, hailed a cab, and rattled off the first intersection that came to mind. She would get a drink at the first bar she found. Which had turned out to be the questionably named “Hairy Monk”. She paid the driver and, with a burst of willpower, stepped inside.

She blinked a moment, allowing her eyes to adjust to the sudden gloom. She would have taken a table, but the only other people there were sitting at the bar, and she didn’t want to do anything that made it look as though this was the first time she’d been in a place like this alone. She chose the stool at the end of the bar, next to the wall.

She ordered a drink in a voice barely above a whisper. Red wine- chosen because it was a safe bet between the white wine she only sipped on special occasions, and ordering something like whiskey.

She sat stiffly, her head bowed so low her chin almost touched her chest. This was all wrong. The TV’s were too loud. The air was too thick. And everything seemed just a little too sticky. This was a terrible place. She wanted to be gone.

What sort of revenge was this, where her hands shook and her throat closed and the tears gathered just behind her eyelids? The wine appeared, and she grasped it, grateful for something to do with her hands. She took a drink, tilting the glass higher and higher. The liquid burned her throat, but she no longer cared. She put it down empty, telling herself the rising lump in her throat was from the wine. She placed a dollar on the counter and slid off her stool in a single motion, halfway to the door before she had even pulled the purse back over her shoulder.

Hailing a taxi would have meant speaking to someone, so she had taken the subway instead. And now here she was, fighting back tears in a train car at 2:35 in the afternoon. The most pathetic- and boring- person alive.

When she got home she stripped off the clothes she had been wearing, putting on a familiar pair of sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt. Then she sat in the window seat of her apartment and picked up the book she had been reading. She did not cry. The lump in her throat was gone. The last thought she spared before losing herself completely in the pages was that it was true. The best revenge was a life lived richly.

*If you’re interested, my own comments on this story are below in the- um, comments. For an understanding of where this story came from, read this post.

I’ve been kind of stuck the last few weeks. To be honest, I’ve felt really drained since I launched my book a few months ago. It’s been doing well, and I’ve been thrilled. But the fact that I followed through with something has actually put unexpected strain on any new project I try to start. Suddenly I feel like all of them have to be worthy of record-breaking levels of interest. It makes me hyper-critical of everything I try to do, until I wind up discarding ideas before I even try them. As any creative person knows, that’s the best way ever to do absolutely nothing.

But two separate events occurred in the past week that I think have snapped me out of it. Permit me a short aside:

***

I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman. This is a ridiculous statement of course. It’s very much like saying one is a fan of eating.

There is little distinction in being a fan of one of the greatest living writers- no, storytellers- of our time. I’m by no means his biggest fan. The man is painfully prolific, and most of the time I feel as though I’ve barely read any of his work. Some of you may not know who I’m referring to. Thankfully, it’s very easy to explain Neil Gaiman to people these days. You either say “Sandman” or “Coraline“. (And if that doesn’t work, try “The Graveyard Book” or just send them here)

I bring all this up as a prelude to the following story that Gaiman referenced in the introduction to Stories, his latest work. Someone asked him what quote he would choose for the wall of the children’s section of a library. The following was his response:

I’m not sure I’d put a quote up, if it was me, and I had a library wall to deface. I think I’d just remind people of the power of stories, of why they exist in the first place. I’d put up the four words that anyone telling a story wants to hear. The ones that show that it’s working, and that pages will be turned:

“…and then what happened?”

I will assume those words hit you the same way they did me, and I’ll say no more about them. Event number two:

A few hours after reading that, I met a Former Student for lunch in a pub. We had just received our pints when a woman came in and sat at the bar. She looked to be in her late thirties, with short blond hair. She was dressed modestly in the summer heat, and spoke to the bartender in a voice I couldn’t quite hear, despite the fact she was sitting only a single stool away from me. She seemed tense.

All these details I noticed out the corner of my eye. I saw her raise a glass of red wine to her lips before turning back to Former Student, and only glanced back in time to watch as the woman laid a dollar on the bar and slid off her stool in a single motion. The glass she was leaving behind was completely empty. She left hurriedly and without a backward glance.

“Did you see that?” I exclaimed, “If we weren’t waiting on food I swear I’d run after her just to ask how her day is going. What the hell was that all about? Who has a single glass of red wine and bolts? The foam hasn’t even settled on my beer yet!”

Since it was fresh in my mind, I brought up Neil’s anecdote to Former Student. “That’s why this is bugging me-” I concluded “some woman just knocked back a glass of red wine at 2:30 in the afternoon and ran out of a bar…AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?”

***

And that brings us to now. Obviously, I have no idea what happened. I didn’t follow the woman to find out. But I’ve decided to write four separate short fiction scenarios that answer that question. They’ll all be here on the blog. They’ll be as short as I can keep them, and in many cases they’ll probably raise more questions than they answer. But it’ll be creative writing of a sort I feel up to right now. I’m doing them here because I think the mystery is fascinating, and I hope you do as well. Also, airing them publicly forces me to actually do them. And once I’m done, I think I’ll be ready to tackle personal writing projects again. If not the aforementioned short story, then something else.

Ideally, I’d like to do “What Happened Wednesdays” but who knows if they’ll be done in time or not. I suspect I won’t manage one by this Wednesday, because my week is already giving me scary looks. So- if not Wednesday, then by next Monday you’ll read my first stab at what happened then. Each story will start with the same scenario, though they may not be told the same way. And each will provide a possible answer to just why this mystery woman was in that bar, ordered that drink, and left so quickly. I hope you enjoy them.

I’ll still update something funny or angry on Mondays, even it’s just a short paragraph. I realize you guys don’t come here to watch me demonstrate just how poorly I write, so I’ll keep the regularly scheduled posts running as well.

In case you missed it, Hitchcock says “you have to stay standing´╗┐ here otherwise it won’t come out right… as the girl said to the soldier.”

Now, it’s possible he was improvising, although I suspect that joke has been around roughly as long as soldiers have been. Still, I think we can all agree it’s the prototypical “That’s what she said” joke. I also think we can all agree that Hitchcock is the man.

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