Drivers Who Want to Kill Us

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAWhy do so many people transform into stupid, selfish, dangerous meanies when they step into their cars? In the past two days, I’ve listened to people lay heavily on the horn because: 1) I was waiting at a stop sign so a car that was almost upon our intersection and had no stop sign could pass, 2) I was waiting before making a left turn on a green light because two pedestrians were walking directly in my path in the crosswalk and a motorcycle was coming our way, and 3) I was waiting to turn right because a man was in the crosswalk.

I think the pedestrians were more freaked out by me than by the people who were honking at me to go ahead and kill them. It was only me they could hear through my rolled-down window, screaming, “I’m waiting for a pedestrian, mother fucker!” or “What do you want me to do, asshole?! Kill the guy on the motorcycle?” My father hates swearing. He says people who use foul language are merely demonstrating that they have small vocabularies. God help him if he’s ever a passenger in my car, because when impatient bastards try to pressure me into doing dangerous shit on the road, my vocabulary shrinks to pretty damned small.

I’m not a hesitant or indecisive driver. I learned to drive in Los Angeles, where hesitant drivers quickly become road kill. I’m a defensive driver, always scanning quickly, moving decisively to keep traffic flowing, but remaining firm in my decision to stay put when there’s a good chance that moving will get me killed. So, when I say I was waiting at a stop sign for a car to pass, I assure you I didn’t wait too long and miss my chance. It was immediately clear that moving into the intersection would have meant death or a smashed front end. Yet, even as the car zoomed right in front of us, the woman behind me was gesticulating wildly at my incomprehensible stupidity, as if she couldn’t even see the other car.

The moments that freak me out most, though, are when people get impatient waiting to turn left at a blind intersection. They haven’t seen a car for a while, they can’t see past the car waiting to turn left going the other way, and they’re tired of waiting or nervous about the car honking behind them. So they guess. “There’s probably no car coming. I’m going for it!” They inch out, nobody clips them, but they still can’t see. So they gun it. When I was a TV reporter in Alaska, I often reported on fatal car accidents, and more than once they involved people who had made just this move. Were they late to an appointment? They definitely missed it. Were they just unnerved by someone honking behind them? Those honkers were still alive. Maybe they now felt bad about honking, but who cares? Not the driver who gunned it, because she’s dead. No wait, I believe it was her passenger who died.

A friend of mine once heard news of an impatient driver who got sick of waiting for the car in front of him because that idiot driver was parked at a stop sign, no traffic in sight. The impatient driver darted around to pass, hitting two small children who he hadn’t been able to see walking in front of the other driver’s car. Who’s the idiot now?

I told my husband last night that I’m pretty sure I’d rather be killed by an impatient driver than kill someone else via my own impatient driving. How could I live with myself?

Even when a driver in front of us is, indeed, behaving like an idiot—going well under the speed limit, say—does that mean we have the right to endanger his life by crawling up his ass at high speed? Not one driver has a mistake-free driving history. So why do some drivers seem so sure that the rest of us deserve death or injury for our mistakes?

Modern life is busy and stressful, and we all have places we need or want to be. Sometimes it’s even urgent. But it’s not worth killing or dying for. Yet, after all the honking, gesticulating, and screaming I’ve seen the past couple of days, I wonder if some people actually believe it is worth risking their lives to get there five minutes sooner.

I sometimes see people speed through my neighborhood. Maybe they’ll get where they’re going sooner, or they might kill a kid who is too young to stop and think before chasing a ball into the street. If drivers are running late, they might not get the job, might miss the movie or party, or might get an earful from a spouse. That could ruin a night, but if they kill a kid it will ruin the rest of their lives.

Daily we each get on the road and put our lives in the hands of hundreds of total strangers over whom we have no control. No wonder people are tempted to road rage. But actually, it’s a good reason to exert more than usual patience, not less.

I was recently walking across an intersection in my neighborhood when a car a block away made a left turn to enter the street I was on. I was already in the intersection, so I should have had plenty of time before they reached me. Then, when they were half a block away, the driver gunned it. I looked at the speeding driver in surprise, and saw that he and his two passengers were looking right at me. I had to run for it, and they just missed me. They seemed to be making a joke out of trying to run me down. I don’t think the driver planned to kill me, but just wanted to see me run.

What if I had tripped? I have a sad feeling those Clockwork Orange kids would have kept on going.

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Millennial Writers Get What’s Going On

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Demarteau_YoungWriterAfter wrapping up another Lighthouse Young Writers workshop in Denver, I’m again struck by how much the young generation understands about the meanings, intentions, and motivations that lie under the surface of our lives. Maybe you wonder whether teens really get it when adults tell them that choices have consequences. If the short stories I see in my classes are any indication, they do. Choice and consequence are what their stories are all about, whatever walk of life or level of academic achievement they come from.

The stories by my recent group from Denver Online High School seem to weave two primary threads: love and violence.

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When Writing Gets Lonely

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UnknownI write at home, which sometimes gets lonely. Here are ten of my simple strategies, for better or worse, for dealing with that:

1)   Watch an hour of Netflix at lunchtime

2)   Walk to my favorite neighborhood coffee house to write

3)   Take a five-minute break to visit Facebook and Twitter

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Reading Our Writing Aloud…to Ourselves

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Mrs-Cassatt-Reading-to-her-Grandchildren,-1888I’m excited to go to a write-a-thon today at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop because I find it energizing now and then to write creatively when I’m surrounded by other people doing the same. However, there is one thing that I have become used to doing when I write that I’ll have to give up for today: reading aloud to myself. I don’t mean muttering, I mean normal-volume dramatic reading.

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Dancing at a Khmer Wedding – by Guest Blogger Gillian Rhodes

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI teach dance in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and one of my Khmer friends from work asked me to present a contemporary dance duet at her wedding. Leak was having two weddings: one for her family in Battambang and one in Phnom Penh. I asked one of my dance students, Dara, to perform with me. We practiced our routine for weeks, then off we went to Battambang for the first edition:

The day begins at 5:45 a.m., but while my 18-year-old student Dara and I are bleary-eyed, the wedding tent has already taken over the street and music is blaring when we arrive. I’m ushered inside to find my friend Leak being turned into a goddess by a team of makeup-and-hair artists.

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The Mortal Gauntlet

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MoviPrepI was about to drink my disgusting laxative tonight, in preparation for my first colonoscopy tomorrow, when I received an email telling me that a healthy friend was rushed to the hospital Friday for a crisis that landed her in Intensive Care. It sure put a different spin on my day.

Preparing for a colonoscopy already had me contemplating mortality, but up to that point I’d been mostly laughing about it. I was almost excited about the excuse to go out to a big lunch with my husband tomorrow right after the doctor gives me the anal probe I never asked for. But now all I can think about is whether my friend will be okay after receiving the sort of blow that can befall any of us at any time—no matter how healthy we are.

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Extinction Event

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A friend shared this video the other day, which I found both astonishingly beautiful and terrifying. It’s the largest glacier calving event ever filmed, in which a mass of ice the size of Manhattan breaks away from Greenland to collapse into the ocean.

Perhaps the scariest thing was that this happened back in 2008, and we humans haven’t changed our behavior much since. Nor is it clear that even if we did, we could turn back the tide of damage we’ve already done. I say “we,” because so long as I drive a car, use electricity, and throw out garbage, I continue to contribute to climate change. Sure, if I weren’t living from paycheck to paycheck, I could switch to solar energy. But even as a recycler who limits her driving, rides a bike as often as she can, and limits buying new things—which require energy to make—I’m not going to get to a zero carbon footprint. Not if I want to remain a functioning member of society, versus going off the grid and becoming the equivalent of a cave woman. Better people have tried. And I’m just one person.

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Subterranean – My New Short Story at Connotation Press

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAWhen my aging mom broke her femur and our aging house’s sewer line broke in the same week, I felt overwhelmed by dealing with both, but also by the idea of finding a connection. The result is a creative nonfiction piece called Subterranean. I’m honored to announce that Connotation Press has published this new short story in the February edition of its online literary journal. Although Subterranean is nonfiction, it’s also an experiment with the quick imagery and poetic rhythms associated with flash fiction. The result is a vivid glimpse at what we bury, what we flush, and what we keep. Please stop by Connotation Press and take a look.

 

 

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Little Things – By Guest Blogger Benjamin Dancer

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FidelityBecause up until now I’ve mostly posted nonfiction here, let me to give you a heads up: the following short story is fiction, brilliant, and not written by me. Please welcome my guest today, author Benjamin Dancer, whom I recently met when I gave a craft talk for his high school students on behalf of Lighthouse Writers Workshop. I hope this will just be the first of many appearances here by Benjamin and other fine authors of fiction.

Little Things
By Benjamin Dancer

Adam was sitting on the sidewalk outside his mother’s townhouse when I pulled up four minutes early. He was still alive: that was something. His beard looked good, too.

He got in my truck.

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Tribute to An Author Who Inspires Me

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Unknown-1Today a writing prompt at the Creative Bloomings blog inspired me, enough so that I wanted to share the results with book lovers who read my blog. The prompt was to write a poem in tribute to a writer who inspires me. I chose to write about Luis Alberto Urrea, the author of one of my favorite novels, The Hummingbird’s Daughter. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. He has also written several other terrific works, and I’ve had a chance to hear him speak twice – another experience I recommend. He’s a fun oral storyteller, sure to move any audience to belly laughter or heartfelt tears. As I work on my own historical novel, I keep in mind his dedication to the true artistry it takes to reveal the inner heart of a story. Here are some of my feelings about this inspirational author and the masterpiece he created:

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