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Nonfiction Improv

Michele Campbell

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Michele Campbell wrote this piece for the Paper Darts Storefront in a Box Flash Fiction Improv event. Her sentence of inspiration came from the recent Replacement Press release: If You Lived Here, You'd Already Be Home: Stories by John Jodzio.

Four writers, one line of inspiration each, 40 minutes to compose an original story that each writer then read to the audience. Michele’s sentence of inspiration was: Erica uses the word "bunghole" a lot. Of all the words she uses, "bunghole" is probably her favorite.

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Have you ever noticed how people who repeat themselves a lot are often the ones who seem most likely to interrupt? It's like they think you aren't listening to them or something, which is probably true because they spend so much time not shutting the fuck up that no one believes they have something interesting to say.

I hate to tell you this, but I am often that girl. And while my comfort zone doesn't let me use the word "bunghole" on a regular basis, I have very much wanted to use the word piehole a little bit more than socially appropriate. You know, like to that girl at the gym who won't get off her phone while doing mile after sweaty mile on the elliptical? "Shut your piehole, bitch! Nobody cares that he didn't call you back!" I've always wanted to say that.

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Words that I've actually overused have been much more innocuous. Like an excessive use of exclamation points on Twitter, the word awesome has filtered into my personal lexicon so deeply that it doesn't really have any meaning left. Really great strawberries from the Farmer's Market? AWESOME! A chance to get designer shoes half off? AWESOME! An extra paycheck during the month of July? AWESOME! But do any of these things actually inspire awe?

Not really -- not in the original sense of the word. Awe should be that feeling where your heart has turned upside down and your toes kinda tingle and your face is too busy being surprised to remember to smile. Is there a reason to express awe daily? Not really, but boy would that be nice.

My overuse of the word awesome was called to my attention a couple of months ago when I went to a faux-posh suburban restaurant with a friend. While inquiring about the quality of their calamari, I asked, "Sure you say it's good, but is it awesome?" This question put our server's interactive abilities to a Full. Stop. He wasn't your average twentysomething post-college wanna be actor guy, but instead a fortysomething with a graying beard and a surly disposition. I imagined that he was a victim of the recession and was waiting tables because he'd been booted from a middle management position in a corporate office park. George, the name I gave him in my head, didn't want to be a waiter. He wanted to be in a cubicle wearing a polo shirt and khakis. And he didn't think that something as quotidian as calamari deserved the qualification of awesome. "It's good calamari," he said, "but I don't think it's ever inspired awe for me." I was torn between apologizing for myself and feeling put out that he didn't want to be perky. We ordered the calamari and it was good, but I've dialed back on the superlatives ever since.

In writer school, they taught us to use repetition cautiously and to refer to experiences with the emphasis they deserve. Details show truth. Awe is an experience that you can only describe by sharing how it feels: a rush of adrenaline that opens up every pore and makes you want to hit the stop button on the world so your moment doesn't end. A moment so palpably joyful that you want to lock it up in your heart bank, to spend when you've found out that someone you love has cancer or has gotten into a really bad car wreck.

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Falling in love or becoming a parent or your first trip to Paris -- that's some awe. Realizing that the manager at Trader Joe's gave you 40 dollars of free groceries because the credit card machine was broken? Pretty cool, but not really awe inspiring.

So yeah, the more I pay attention to the little ups and downs in my life, the more I realize that repetition is my biggest weakness. But still -- I have to admit -- getting out of work an hour early on a summer Friday when the weather is perfect? Awesome.

All rights reserved to Michele Campbell.

Katie Heaney

Bluffs & Valleys