#AmWriting pop culture references and living forever in your words

Alright, so I didn’t end up writing on Saturday/Sunday because I was in central Michigan visiting my family. Instead, I wrote this morning at the cafe in the University of Notre Dame bookstore. It’s pretty cool because it has seating designed for students to sit there for hours with laptops plugged in, and the coffee refills are free. I don’t use that feature because I don’t want to feel sluggish and sweaty, which is what happens when I indulge on too much caffeine and not enough water. It’s not hard to resist buying books because those are all on the second floor, while the Notre Dame football fan stuff is on the first. You ever have a need for a Notre Dame grandfather clock that costs $2,195, you come to the bookstore.

notre dame clock
This is the really important part of the clock.

At first, I felt shy about writing. I had a great accountabuddy session last weekend, but he disappeared this week. Did I make him mad? I dunno. Maybe he’s busy being him. But I take everything personally. I have anxiety, remember? I wasn’t sure what to write, but I did use the notes I took from last weekend. I had started a story about a first date. These are characters I created in for my master’s thesis at Central Michigan University, but instead of being in their 20s, they’re now in their 40s, and this is a totally new story. Why they jumped 20 years when I’ve only aged 10 is beyond me, but whatever. Maybe I wanted these characters to be a little “crustier.” Why did I use the same characters? I feel like I know these people.

I knew I wanted the entirety of the story to be set during the date in the present, but I would add loads of flashbacks about who they were in college, their 20s, and their 30s to show why they’re both single. I might even go back to high school, but let’s not get excited. So, I had the framework of the date and flashbacks. The problem is, what do they talk about in the present? How do 40-year-olds date? I have no clue. Are they just as tech obsessed as people in their 20s? Are the grumpy and crotchety? Do they feel old? Are they mature — in a good way? I have to say, none of my characters ever come out predictable, something I’m proud of, though I confess it’s likely because I put little knickknacks from my life into every character, male or female, young or old. And good lord do I like a lot of random stuff in real life.

dating after 40

But back to being shy. Feeling shy about writing is essentially the first signs of “writer’s block.” But writer’s block isn’t real. It’s your unwillingness to write. It’s your unwillingness to throw some garbage on the page. You know what’s garbage? Right now, the male character in my story has a hat that gets bigger and smaller based on his emotions. It’s magical realism. But can I sustain a magical hat for pages and pages? Not really — that’s contrary to magical realism, which is supposed to make an entrance and disappear without much notice. The silly hat with the feather was a way for me to think about how this guy is feeling, and likely the hat will be cut.

I also think people experience what they think is writer’s block because they sit down and expect to be typing the whole time, and to do so for hours. I tell myself I’m going to work for one hour, and as I’ve mentioned before, that may be writing, editing, submitting — anything to do with writing. Today was mostly writing and looking up information, such as how much Austin Rogers won on Jeopardy! last year, the plot for that episode of Twilight Zone in which the guy busts his glasses and can’t read anymore, and good questions to ask on first dates.

austin rogers

I’m starting to see how my story is full of current references — like, really current. Austin Rogers won twelve games in a row in 2017. Do pop culture references date a story? Sure, but they also take us back to a time we’ve forgotten. My friend Mike used to fill his stories with references to horror movies and TV shows. I loved reading his submissions to workshop when we were in grad school. I just sent a DM to Mike via Twitter to see if he’s still writing and using pop culture references and asked how he feels about it.

If pop culture references date a story, I also have to wonder how splendidly I think of myself. Is someone going to read my story next year? In five years? After I’m dead? Ever? That’s something I can’t know, so if I want to write about TV, movies, and a think piece on NPR, for now, I’m going to do it!

This week, I didn’t get to the un-hillbilly-ed story, but maybe I will next week. I did get a rejection letter for a poem I submitted. I think the response is unusual (it’s personalized) and also vague in an insulting way. They wrote: “We would suggest experimenting with more nuanced language and clearer poetic objectives.” How do they know what my objectives are? Maybe I met them perfectly. I’ve been rejected so many times that this doesn’t bother me at all, except how vague it is.

rejection letter
Image from The Trouble With Poet blog

I submitted another story I wrote years ago that is basically a list of responses students might write to the end-of-semester instructor feedback everyone gets in college, but with footnotes that include the truth about the student that the teacher has seen without saying anything. *fingers crossed*

See you next Saturday!

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23 comments

  1. hahah I really enjoyed this post too! I can’t say I know how 40 year olds date, but I DO know that single women in their 40, 50 and 60s often complain that men their age want to date younger women. I doubt that helps but thought I would throw that out there.

    • I’ve been puzzling on the question since I hit “publish” for this post. I’m wondering if I was offensive….I don’t assume that 40-year-old people have trouble dating, but media assures me they do. My characters are both content-types so far, but just never got married because….well, reasons I haven’t decided on yet! I’m still writing 🙂

      • I’m just so totally freaked by the fact that you think 40-year-old are “crusties”!!! I dread to imagine what you think people in their 50s are!!!! I’m off now to slap on some extra wrinkle cream and get some hypnotherapy to see if I can remember what dating was like… 😉

        • I think people in their 50s are like a peach on a windowsill! 40s is that age when people panic about age even though they aren’t as far into life as they think. I love this quote from the Trainspotting 2 movie: “you’re a tourist in your in youth.” That’s the part where people have trouble in their heads, I think.

        • I also want to add that I’m not sure why people find it so hard to date past 30 except — based on what the internet and various mediums has taught me about Americans and dating — that they go into it with a poor attitude. Of course people have more history when they date at 40, but that’s no reason to despair. Please rest assured that I am writing my characters with dignity. The question is, am I doing something so unbelievable by treating them well?

          I saw the new movie Book Club last week and thought it was hilarious. I loved how it showed the challenges of relationships for people in their 60s and 70s and how it can be just as scary as a person’s first-ever date!

          • I guess it’s to do with things being more complicated – there’s often kids to consider on one or both sides, and if someone is divorced then obviously you wonder why. Plus, and I’m speaking from a personal perspective here, there’s usually not quite the same instalove feelings you get when you’re younger – the starry eyes, the butterflies, etc – so it can seem a bit more effort than pleasure sometimes. Almost like interviewing job applicants… 😉

  2. Hi Annelogan17 I’ve been in my 40s 50s and 60s, dating off and on, never a woman older than me. Why is that? I think even now at 67 my ideal woman would be in her 40s, not that I’d be game to ask her for a date! On dating sites (which I’ve long since abandoned) women more than 5 years younger simply ignore you. My last first date was 5 or 6 years ago, more nerve wracking at 60 than at 20, but we must have found something to talk about, we still phone or have lunch sometimes.

    • I have a friend who is in his early 40s and will NOT stop trying to date women in their 20s. He married one, but it didn’t work out. Now that he’s divorced, he’s looking for a woman about 25. I don’t get it. Wouldn’t you think that you’d want to date someone who can at least make reference to the same cultural happenings that you grew up with? If I were ever to get divorced, I’d have to find someone who felt that grudge changed how they felt–while grunge was still a thing. They can’t be a retro grunge lover. And if you can’t remember the Spice Girls when they were hot, well…I wouldn’t want to have to explain that to a younger man.

  3. I’m really enjoying your #amwriting series. It’s inspiring me to think about how I can fit more writing into my life – though I currently find it difficult to squeeze in a shower most days! It’s easy to make excuses and it’s something I do want to change so I like hearing how you make it work and how you think about writing.

  4. I agree with you…writer’s block isn’t really real. Making excuses is real and procrastination is real. When I was in school our profs were very clear that writer’s block could never be an acceptable excuse. Even if you wrote crap, you needed to be writing.

    • I’m glad your professors talked about it. My creative writing professors have always focused on workshopping, which is pretty aimless if students don’t have the basic tools of fiction down.

      • Our program worked hard to weed people out, I think, in the first year before we got into workshops in second year. Lots of people hated it but I think it was a pretty good system.

  5. I like reading about characters in their 40s and up more than 40s and down. Maybe because that’s the age range I’m in now, or maybe I’m tired of reading about young people’s problems. There are exceptions to this, of course – like historical fiction or classics. But for contemporary literature I like older characters.
    However, I can’t help you with dating in your 40s, except to tell you some of the things I’ve heard from friends: it’s no fun, it’s hard to find someone who’s not attached to another family or has a lot of baggage, I don’t think we’re grumpy or crotchety, but some are definitely as reliant on their phones as younger people, and I also find they move fast once they’ve found someone (no one’s getting any younger!).

    I love the idea of the story you submitted. Fingers crossed for you!

    • Thanks for the luck! Actually, your comments from your friends are helpful. I hadn’t thought about someone around 40 being very attached to another family or how fast they might move in a romatic relationship.

  6. What a weird comment on your poetry! Very odd. Hm. Anyway, I’m in my mid-40s and my husband and I are just as obsessed with tech as we used to be (well, he’s an early adopter, I’m a wait and see, what? this is obsolete already? Sheesh) but so is everyone else, which is weird. Sometimes we act silly, sometimes we have to deal with stuff. There’s often sad family stuff going on in your 40s because your parents are going into their 70s and 80s. Dunno if that helps. And I bet that guy who came to one write-together hasn’t come back for his reasons rather than anything to do with you.

  7. Because this is how my brain is working today:
    1. I want to read that story you just submitted. Published or not. I’m just sayin’. It sounds RIGHT up my alley.
    2. Everyone should have a magical hat like that. It would tell everyone else so much! Don’t give up on the hat. See how long you can go before it loses steam. I love it.
    3. Rejection letters are weird. Do people even read the things they write in them? Or do they just write vague-sounding-demi-criticism-compliments? So. Weird. Please tell me you’re saving this in your lunch box.
    4. this is the first time I’ve heard of Austin Rogers. I also hope he won lots of money with the response, “What is a taco”.
    5. Don’t worry about your accountabuddy. David writes with you every week, but his anxiety over his writing keeps him from emailing you (“Did I write enough? What is she asks me more questions I can’t answer?” blah blah blah– he NEEDS to be able to articulate his writing better.)
    6. Pop culture references are tough. Too few and they make the book feel dated. Too many and you have Ready Player One. It’s a difficult balance! Just trust yourself. Try not to judge until you’ve finished the writing. I know it’s tough, but I believe in you.

    • 1. I’ll send you a copy
      2. I’ll keep working on the hat because it’s also funny.
      3. I’m so sad to say this, but I have no clue where my lunch box is. I’m going to have to look for it.
      4. Austin would write weird answers like “what is a taco” when there was no way he could lose. He won because a) he knows everything and b) he would always bet about $4,000 when he got a Daily Double, so the others couldn’t catch him.
      5. This made me giggle AND brought tears to my eyes. Poor David! I don’t write very much each week myself. By writing is just a word after a word after a word, right? What a sweetheart.
      6. I ended up contacting my friend Mike who said that if an editor wants him to take out a random John Travolta references, it’s no sweat off his back. Good point, Mike, good point.

      • 1. You’re the bestest.
        2. The world needs more funny, that’s for sure.
        3. !!! No idea where your lunch box is?! That’s a shame. I hope you find it.
        4. “I’m not mad… I’m just impressed.”
        5. He *is* a sweetheart. That’s one of the many reasons I decided he was worth keeping. 😉
        6. XD That’s a great philosophy. Also: John Travolta references. Bless.

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