My son lost his confidence for a moment last weekend. Unfortunately, confidence isn’t something that you can find by shining your phone light under the bed or replace with a quick run to the store; and so it took Kyle and me a while to figure out that his lack of confidence was directly tied to a complete and utter lack of having fun. Once we filled up his fun, he found his confidence.
If you know me in real life you know that I have an overflowing abundance of confidence. (I also have an equal amount of anxiety and other crazypants issues, but that’s another thing.) I have so much confidence that it often gets in the way of life – like when I took my coworker on an unnecessary hour-long midnight joyride through the country because “we don’t need a GPS, I know where I live.” Or like the series of events leading up to the first story I wrote for North Dakota Nice.
You know how some families have a surprising number of doctors or athletes or undersea miners? My tree is filled with writers. My mother, for instance, is working on her seventh book. Her mother taught memoir and anecdote writing at New York University for thirty years; and, starting when I was three years old, would call me on Sundays so that we could craft a story together. I was given a typewriter when I was around nine, and after that our Sunday calls were used so that my biggest fan could heap praise on my many short stories (100% of which starred me as a fairy princess).
When I was twelve, I wrote a novel, entitled Kidnapped! In Kidnapped!, a class of sixth-graders was forcibly taken to a luxurious mountaintop island mansion, where their opportunity for freedom was placed in the hands of a plucky classmate tasked to teach them all manners and dialect. I described it as “My Fair Lady meets Sweet Valley High, an instant bestseller!” in the five query letters I sent to actual real-life publishers. Bless their hearts, all five responded with “Great job, keep writing, no thanks.”
I took their advice to heart and, for the next six years, kept writing. While Kidnapped! was more of a thriller/romance – the most detailed scene was one in which the protagonist gets to kiss a boy with an uncanny number of similarities to my real-life crush – my favorite topic was silliness, either in content or in voice. A cow that goes “Oom.” A supernatural teen with hands of fire who accidentally burns her boyfriend in the butt during a slow jam at a school dance. A fairy (probably princess) whose wings keep falling off. And hundreds of anecdotes about getting braces and forgetting my bloomers for my dance team uniform and accidentally burning my boyfriend in the butt with my fire hands while dancing to “Lady in Red.”
But then came college.
In pursuit of a degree in Communications, writing went from “fun pastime” to “egomaniacal lifestyle.” I lived on the Writer’s Corridor, took creative writing courses, and worked on an English minor. All of my dormmates, classmates, and library mates were very serious about making their names in very serious hard-hitting journalism and very serious dramatic debut novels, which they expected would literally and physically and metaphorically change humanity (very seriously) forever.
Naturally, I, too, immersed myself in very serious writing. Forty-one-year-old me will tell you my best college piece was a Patton-esque speech on the why pineapple belongs on pizza (“Men, a tomato is also a fruit.”), which I wrote as a joke while studying for an exam. My twenty-one-year-old self, however, was absolutely 100% confident that my Pulitzer Prize-worthy retelling of the Flood of ’97 (if you’re looking to roll your eyes out of your head do I have the story for you) was the direction my prose needed to go. Nevermind that I, the girl who also typed up a tale about a king who goes on a quest to fix his broken-down hot tub, was absolutely terrible at literary (serious) writing.
After graduation, I was so confident that I needed to be a serious novelist that I wrote the first paragraph of what would be my premiere novella and decided I would not pen a single additional letter for any other piece until it was complete.
For the next sixteen years, I labored under that stupid story. I say it was stupid because 1) it was stupid, and 2) I had absolutely no interest in writing it. The premise was this: A man refuses to finish his highly-anticipated first novel until he comes up with the perfect final line of dialogue for his protagonist. He ultimately dies having never completed it; and when his friends go to publish it, they do a quick read-through and realize it’s complete garbage.
Did I recognize any hint of coincidence between my own life and this story? No. Instead, I dragged myself, like a traveler lost in the desert, through every word.
My grandmother would see me banging my head against the keyboard and would suggest a quick writing exercise to get my creative juices flowing. Always, I would knock out something silly, like an elderly woman who breaks up her church group after someone suggests she make her hot dish with sodium-free cream of mushroom soup instead of regular.
“Maybe you should write more of what you enjoy,” my grandma said after one such occasion.
“George Orwell said that writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle,” I said.
“He was also a wacko.”
“A PUBLISHED wacko,” I reminded her.
Anyways, one night in late 2018, I had finished reading all of the local newspapers for North Dakota Nice and pulled out the notebook for my stupid story in order to bleed a little bit onto the pages before bed. Nothing was coming to me, so I set the notebook aside and decided to do a quick writing exercise about two of my favorite subjects: North Dakota, and me. I wrote for three hours – time flies when you’re having fun – and after I finished I posted the completed writing exercise on the website and threw my stupid story in the trash. I’d never been so confident about a decision in my life.
The photo above is of some of my many notebooks filled with writing exercises that I did – but didn’t count as “doing” – over the past decade instead of writing my stupid story. Also, Carmex.
The opposite of stupid are all of the wonderfully nice things that happened in the news this week, including a big deal of a small town, a leftover lunch program, and a glamorous prom. Read on.
Mayville is about to get its 15 minutes of fame thanks to the TV show “Small Town Big Deal.” (Hillsboro Banner)
Sisters Jackie Pfeiffer McGregor and Janine Pfeiffer Knop have written a book on life in rural Menoken in the 1950s. (Devils Lake Journal)
The West Fargo School District recently created a pilot program which repacked leftover lunches in containers donated by Power Plate Meals and gave them to students in need. Over 86% of the lunches were picked up by families, and so the program is going to continue – not just in West Fargo, but now in Fargo and Moorhead, too. (KVRR)
It was a sticky Saturday afternoon last week in Fort Stevenson State Park, as the staff put on a series of demonstrations on how to tap and make maple syrup. (Devils Lake Journal)
Bismarck’s The Banquet is expanding its meal services – and its space – to help families in need. (KX Net)
Law enforcement officers provided a chilly reception to the annual Special Olympics Polar Plunge fundraiser. (KVRR)
The staff at Legacy High School has helped senior Abby Johnsrud get glammed up for prom. (KFYR TV)
Congratulations to Mayville sixth-grader Wyatt Perkins, winner of the national VFW Patriot Pen essay! (Hillsboro Banner)
Carson Wentz’s charity softball game is on the calendar for June 26. (KVRR)
The Great Plains Food Bank had so many people show up to their first free haircut event that they had to turn a few away; and so they are going bigger and better for their second event. (KX Net)
(Like Amanda Silverman Kosior and/or North Dakota Nice? Check out this other story about bothering people.)