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The Importance of Staring at a Wall

Over the course of the past month, I’ve had a bunch of random days off between semesters. My plan was to spend a lot of time writing, but I knew that I’d ultimately be distracted. So I decided to pay attention to my creative energy instead.

Though I had a great time last semester, I was mentally exhausted by the end. For about two weeks, I could do nothing more on my days off than stare at the wall and go to holiday parties.

Around the new year, I started reading everything in sight. I was devouring books, reading two to three books at a time, spending luxurious hours with books that I had been wanting to read, and rereading books that I remembered I had once loved.

Soon after, I started to write and revise voraciously, which I hadn’t really done (at least not at this pace) since early summer, when I had some time off between jobs. For the past two weeks (on the days I don’t work at my other job), I have done nothing but read, write, eat, and sleep.

I realize what a luxury this is, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to focus on my own work. But does it really have to be a luxury? In an ideal world, all creative people – heck, ALL people – would be able to recharge their creative batteries. Wouldn’t we all be more productive, capable, and creative members of society if we could just take one step back from our crazy lives and breathe?

I don’t believe anyone who says that people reach a creative peak in their 20s. Children are more creative than adults because they have more time to daydream. When was the last time you can remember being bored? “Boredom” is a key ingredient in creativity – you need idle time to let your mind flourish. Everything else is just clutter.

One day of vacation is not enough to inspire creativity. Usually, I just need one day to do things that don’t require any thought: painting my nails, cleaning the house. The real creative sparks don’t fly until I’ve shaken off all my mental fatigue, usually a week or two after the fact.

Can’t we all get sabbaticals of sorts? They’re usually more reserved for people who have “paid their dues” in the working world; these people have accumulated weeks worth of vacation. But I have so much creative energy that I squash with my exhaustion. We’d emerge so much healthier and more ready to conquer the most difficult challenges if we could all have some time to daydream.

Though excited to start the new semester this week, I’m kind of terrified of losing this creative streak. I’ll be clinging for dear life to this blog, which provides structured creative release. I’m just hoping I can continue some of the momentum I’ve gained, at least for a little while.

(Photo by kerryvaughan)

Will You Read Me a Story?

When I was a child, my mom used to take me to Story Hour at our local library. At Story Hour, one of the librarians would read one book out loud, slowly and deliberately. She would complete one page then open the book toward us so that we could see the illustrations. She had a great reading voice – pausing and creating inflection where appropriate.

Like most people, I don’t remember very many things about my childhood, but I absolutely do remember Story Hour.

These days, one of the greatest pleasures I can imagine is having someone read a story to me. But I’m rather picky. I can’t stand when people read in a monotone voice or stumble on words, unsure of pronunciation. The reader must know how to use punctuation as a guide. And, above all, the person has to read in such a way that demonstrates his or her respect for the written word.

For this reason, I like to attend literary readings where authors read their work. The annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs is a great place to see literary readings. Listening to a writer read work can provide a lot of insight into the way he or she imagined the reader would interpret the work. Listening to a writer, you may think, Oh, the dialogue was supposed to sound this way?. Just as you may misinterpret the meaning and tone of a text message from your friend, you may be hearing words incorrectly (or just differently?) in your head.

In some cases, the reader can make the writing sound better than it actually is. I remember attending a reading in college (the writer’s name escapes me), and I was so charmed by the way she read her short story that I bought the book immediately after the reading. I even asked her to sign my book, admitting how impressed I had been with her use of humor. Later, when I read the same story on my own, I couldn’t find the same excitement in it – why had I liked it so much? The writing wasn’t that impressive.

A bad reader can also make the writing sound worse than it is. Not all writers are meant to read their work out loud, which is why they’re writers, not public speakers. But a good writer who is also a good reader is something of a bonus.

I like listening to people tell stories so much that it sometimes makes me seem socially awkward. I can become so totally enraptured by a friend or acquaintance who’s telling me a story that I forget I’m part of a conversation. I am so fascinated that I forget I will eventually have to say something. I could sit for hours listening to people I like tell me interesting stories.

Do I like listening to stories because it reminds me of my childhood? In a way, probably. But there is an inherent pleasure in listening to well-written prose – it should be musical, more controlled and varied than common speech.

(Photo by edenpictures)

The Book Wasn’t Written in a Day

In case you haven’t heard, Snooki from MTV’s Jersey Shore has published her debut novel, A Shore Thing. Snooki wasn’t the only “celebrity” to score a book deal in 2010. Justin Bieber wrote a memoir. Hillary Duff, Lauren Conrad, and Nicole Ritchie penned novels. These days, anyone can write a book!

Well, these celebrities don’t actually write their books (surprise!). Typically, the publisher facilitates a relationship between the celebrity and a ghostwriter, who is hired to write the book on the celebrity’s behalf.

Jersey-born writer Valerie Frankel snagged the job as Snooki’s ghostwriter. She spent the summer of 2010 writing 1,600 words per day, every day, until she finished the book. That was “followed by a few weeks of ten-hour-days editing”.

Though I’d prefer celebrities not waste precious paper with their “I’m-in-it-for-the-money-only” books, I won’t begrudge them and their ghostwriters the opportunity to be published. As much as I hate to admit it, I guess there is a place in the market for these types of books. If I was a huge fan of a celebrity, I’d probably buy his or her book, if only out of curiosity.

However, I wonder what kind of attitude this perpetuates about books and writing and how that attitude makes my job as a creative writing teacher that much more difficult.

I have attended panels at the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) about writers who have just published or are trying to publish first books. Never EVER have I heard a “serious” writer admit to writing and completing a book in a summer. Two years? Yes. Even 10 years? Yes. Heck, I’ve been working on a manuscript for almost three years now.

And that time-line doesn’t include the amount of time it takes these writers to find agents and willing publishers. The entire process from start to finish for one book can take 15 years – and that’s not unlikely.

Are you shocked? How, then, could Snooki and her ghostwriter finish a book in one summer and have it on the shelves just a few months after that?

Well, the goals are different. Snooki’s ghostwriter was paid to complete a product that would give Snooki more publicity and earn her more money.

The writers at AWP know that fame and wealth are hardly worthwhile goals – let’s face it, there’s no fame or wealth in literary fiction. These writers are writing because they have a story that they want to tell, and they will work on that story until they feel completely satisfied with it. What’s the point of trying to publish something subpar if it’s going to take forever to find someone to publish you? You might as well give it your best effort.

Also, Snooki and her ghostwriter are recycling ideas and themes. They are telling a story that’s not necessarily original. They rely on cliches and standards that their readers would already recognize from other things they’ve read or watched. Writers who are writing for themselves are usually trying to push the boundaries – they are trying to have new ideas and create something truly original.

When students arrive for the first day of my creative writing class this semester, will they come with the attitude that a book can be written in one summer or even one month (NaNoWriMo)? Yes, it’s possible to write a book that quickly. But if you dashed off a book for the sake of finishing it, would the finished product make you feel proud?

(Photo by elgin.jessica)

Ideas Inside a Vacuum

Yesterday, I discussed idea generation with my friend Jarvis Slack on his podcast The Rhetorical Situation. Somehow, we found ourselves asking the question, “If you were trapped in a white, padded room, would you continue to have any ideas?”.

I absolutely believe that ideas are inspired by our interactions with the world. All my thoughts and ideas are born out of conversations I have with other people, inspired by books that I read, or based on my observations.

Alone, in a white padded room, I’d have nothing to see and no one to inspire me. Maybe, at the very least, I’d have ideas about the color white or the size of the room. Maybe I’d have ideas about solitude. But my scope would be limited.

However, assuming that I had spent any time outside of the padded room, I’d probably have ideas based on memories. But can ideas be born from nothing?

Anyone who tells you that his or her ideas are completely original is lying. Even the most creative people draw influence from someone or somewhere else. Sometimes, when I reread books that I know have greatly influenced me, I notice ideas that I have subconsciously used in my own work. This is startling, actually, and very humbling.

It also raises a lot of questions about plagiarism – who owns ideas? Where do we draw the line between a piece of work that has been inspired by another work and a piece of work that copies another work?

In his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” T.S. Eliot wrote, “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone.” The artist belongs to a tradition, one that includes every person who has worked before him. Any student or beginning writer who claims he doesn’t want to read so as not to be influenced by other work is completely ridiculous. Simply by being, by interacting with other people and participating in culture, you have been influenced.

As a writer, avoiding books can only hurt your own ability to generate ideas, not help you.

I definitely think that we remember more than we realize – we store memories in a space that we don’t access on a daily basis. But everything and everyone we encounter makes some kind of footprint in our minds, and the cumulative foot stomping makes us who we are. If you think about every piece of art as the cumulative effect of everything that the artist has ever encountered, doesn’t that make art pretty amazing (not that I didn’t already find it amazing)?

I know that my own writing is a monument to the people, places, and things that have moved me. Carrying that knowledge makes writing seem that much more sacred and special.

(Photo by cdsessums)

Top 5 Personal Best Moments of 2010

If I had to assign a theme for my life in 2010, I would use “growing up” to describe it. I have done nothing but prove to myself that I can take care of “me” and that I can do whatever I’m determined to do, no matter how scary the uncertain future may seem. I expect nothing but more wonderful moments in 2011 as I continue to teach, work on my book, update this blog, and serve as a marketing coordinator.

If I had to assign a theme for my life in 2010, I would use “growing up” to describe it. I have done nothing but prove to myself that I can take care of “me” and that I can do whatever I’m determined to do, no matter how scary the uncertain future may seem.

1. I finally achieved financial independence. This was more of a process than a moment, but I finally cut the strings from my parents. A fiercely independent personality by birth, achieving financial independence was a momentous occasion in my life. I realize that we all need a little help sometimes, but I prefer to take care of myself. Knowing I can do so instills me with a sense of pride, purpose, and confidence. Destiny’s Child says it best.

2. I found an apartment and roommates. At the beginning of this year, I was living with my grandma so that I could be closer to my job in Jersey City (and to Manhattan, of course). When that situation became unmanageable, I knew I had to move out. I conducted a Craigslist search and fell in love with the first apartment that I saw and the roommates who came with it. I’ve been living there for six months now and still feel fiercely happy about the decision and lucky to have found my roommates. In fact, I just signed a lease to stay for another year!

3. Someone at Rutgers University took a chance on me and offered me a part-time job as an adjunct professor of creative writing. When I got the phone call, I thought to myself, “I will remember this moment forever.” I was in Secaucus, standing outside my office building on a blistering hot day in July. And I said, “Yes! Yes! I accept!” even though I knew this would mean quitting my job and undergoing a lot of changes in my lifestyle. It didn’t matter! I wanted to teach! In addition, almost every class (especially my first class) during the fall semester were special moments for me. I was slowly proving to myself that I could, indeed, teach a creative writing class.

4. Terrified, I left my full-time job with benefits for the part-time job teaching. With rent to pay every month, I needed to find another job. How would I find a job flexible enough to accommodate my teaching schedule? How would I find a part-time job that would challenge me and pay a competitive wage? After just a few weeks and a handful of very disappointing job interviews, I did find a part-time job that I could work the days I didn’t teach. I’ve been at this job since September, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had – I’m working in one of my favorite cities, surrounded by young, intelligent people who have become my friends. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.

5. I negotiated a deal for a new car and signed the lease all by myself. When the car I’ve had since I was 17 started to fail me, I knew that I needed to get a new car, especially since I drive to New Brunswick two days/week. I did the research, asked friends for recommendations, and took some test drives. When I decided on the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, I spent a few hours of a Saturday negotiating a deal with the salesman and management. This was one of the most stressful, intimidating situations I’ve ever experienced, but I was really happy with the outcome and proud of myself for doing it. Now, I can start 2011 with a reliable car that I adore!

I expect nothing but more wonderful moments in 2011 as I continue to teach, work on my book, update this blog, and serve as the marketing coordinator for a company that makes me proud. What were your best moments of 2010?

(Pictured above: me and my brother, New Year’s Eve 2009)

On Being Easy

In their final papers, many of my students admitted that they entered the semester with the notion that Intro. to Creative Writing would lead to an easy A and not require a lot of work. Well, they were surprised by assignments that were rigorous and demanding. Why do students expect creative writing to be so easy?

In their final papers, many of my students admitted that they entered the semester with the notion that Intro. to Creative Writing would lead to an easy A and not require a lot of work. Well, they were surprised by assignments that were rigorous and demanding.

Why do students expect creative writing to be so easy? Why hasn’t the discipline earned the same level of academic respect as composition or English literature?

In grad school, as the only MFA student in a composition pedagogy class filled with students studying (you guessed it!) composition pedagogy, I spent an entire semester researching this. I knew that my professor looked down on me, and I worked hard to prove to everyone that I was indeed a serious student and that my expertise was worth something.

I came to the conclusion that creative writing as an academic discipline isn’t taken seriously because a lot of people practice creative writing as a hobby. Few people write theses about postmodernism in their spare time or do rocket science in their basements. But anyone can write creatively, which is why a lot of my students came with the attitude that they already knew what they were doing.

However, in a world over-saturated with information, creative writers who actually want to be read must learn the techniques that will charm an audience. That is no easy task. And very few people can do it well.

Many of my students don’t think they will ever utilize creative writing in the workplace. But they are so sorely mistaken. Skills that students learn in creative writing are both practical and valuable. In fact, these skills can give an ambitious employee an edge over his/her coworkers or other people in the job applicant pool.

Just last week, my boss at my other job asked me to help him with a presentation that had nothing to do with creative writing. But, to make the presentation more interesting, I included a sample script with imaginary characters. My boss and I agreed that this would make the presentation more palatable. I mean, what’s the point of a presentation if no one pays attention to it?

Creative writing is not an easy A because I never graded the students’ creativity. Each one of my students expressed his or her creativity, in varying degrees. I gave them feedback about how they could improve the effectiveness of their message or push their imaginations.

Over the course of the semester, many of them were confused about their grade standing because I wasn’t giving any letter grades. But their final grades were based on whether or not they completed assignments, came to class consistently and on time, and followed directions.

When many students failed to complete assignments, come to class consistently and on time, and follow directions – yet still expected an easy A – I realized just how little respect students have for creative writing. Wouldn’t any other professor of any other discipline expect and enforce the same policies?

Creative writers may never find the cure for cancer or solve world hunger, but they may be able to write about those things in such a way that inspires the right person for the job.

(Photo by howieluvzsus)

Blogging as a Creative Writing Exercise

Not everyone who has a blog uses it to create high-brow literature, but bloggers do write to charm a unique audience, one that’s unique in that it can interact with them. As a writer, blogging helps me supplement my other writing projects. It helps me discover my own voice, explore my characters, and experiment with different styles.

Blogs can be literary forms, just as much as short stories and poems are literary forms. Not everyone who has a blog uses it to create high-brow literature, but bloggers do write to charm a unique audience, one that’s unique in that it can interact with them.

As a writer, blogging helps me supplement my other writing projects. It helps me discover my own voice, explore my characters, and experiment with different styles.

I’ve been struggling with a short story that I’m trying to revise. A friend who is helping me revise this story said that my first person narrator should speak more honestly, like I do in my Comma ‘n Sentence blog posts.

No matter how I restructure this story, the characters remain flat and lifeless. I get so caught up in the language that I forget my characters need to resemble people. I just can’t seem to get inside their heads.

On this blog, I write in my voice, and I try my best to penetrate the surface of whatever subject matter I am exploring. So how can I get the characters in my stories to speak in a similar, substantial voice?

Earlier this semester, I asked my students to complete a faux blogging exercise that required them to create a concept for a blog and write three blog posts in the voice of a fictional or celebrity character. My students wrote blog posts from the perspective of Spongebob Squarepants, Paris Hilton, and George W. Bush, among others.

My favorite posts explored an emotional side of the character that most people never see. For example, in one blog, “Katy Perry” wrote very detailed posts about the nail polish she is wearing. The posts were believable because Katy does like unique nail polish, but they were also creative because Katy doesn’t actually write about her nail polish. The student had to use her imagination to create the content. She was able to maintain Katy’s voice throughout the posts by mimicking what she does know about Katy’s persona and the way she speaks.

The blogging exercise was supposed to inspire my students to think about how they could write from the perspective of someone else. Now that I’m struggling with writing in another character’s voice, I should probably follow my own advice.

Blogging requires a certain candor and simplicity that I sometimes lose when I’m writing fiction because I’m so focused on language and structure. When I blog, my goal is for the writing to be as clear and direct as possible. I have no idea why I can’t carry that over to my fiction writing.

But I think a great exercise for me would be to write “blog posts” in the voice of the characters I just can’t seem to penetrate. I might be able to get to know them better and let them help me discover the emotions that I really need to write. If I can uncover their insights, musings, and thoughts, their stories should write itself. In this way, I will be able to build multi-layered fiction.

(Photo by Tony the Misfit)

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

I asked my students to come up with a plan for the future of their writing lives. If they want to continue writing outside of class, how will they motivate themselves? What will inspire them? Where will they go to write? Who will they ask to read their work? Many of my students decided that forcing yourself to write just ruins the experience.

I asked my students to come up with a plan for the future of their writing lives. If they want to continue writing outside of class, how will they motivate themselves? What will inspire them? Where will they go to write? Who will they ask to read their work?

Many of my students decided that forcing yourself to write just ruins the experience. You should write when you feel inspired and not worry about making it happen. If you must force yourself to write, you probably shouldn’t be doing it anyway.

I both agree and disagree. I must force myself to write. I love the act of writing but sitting down to a blank page or a story that I know needs a lot of work makes me anxious and exhausted. If I didn’t force myself to tackle these things, I’d never probably never write anything.

Based on my students’ logic, I should probably just stop trying.

However, I do try because I know that, once I start, I will enter my “happy place”. Once I find my momentum or start tinkering with words and sentences, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. And usually, when I force myself to sit through the uncomfortable feeling of beginning – even if I don’t finish with something perfect (I never do) – what I do gain is something more than I had when I started, which was nothing.

If I updated this blog only when I felt inspired, I’d probably never update it at all. Having an active blog is important to me so I stick to a schedule. Many times, when I sit down to write a blog post, I have no idea what I’m going to write. But I always write something, and I usually surprise myself – sitting with my thoughts for a few minutes reveals that I have more than a few things on my mind. And, even though many of my posts are far from perfect, at least I can see that I have something written where nothing before existed. I can only move forward from there.

I frequently feel inspired, but I don’t always feel like writing. When I was younger and had more free time, I could sit down with a pen and paper and capture every inspired moment. Maybe my students take for granted the time they have to daydream document their thoughts. These days, when I feel inspired, I’m probably busy with something else or about to fall asleep. But carrying those thoughts, when you’re inclination is to write them, can be a huge burden.

In an interview with the Paris Review, writer Fran Lebowitz said, “…I realized how much easier it is to write than not to write. Not writing is probably the most exhausting profession I’ve ever encountered. It takes it out of you. It’s very psychically wearing not to write—I mean if you’re supposed to be writing.”

Scheduling time to write can be cathartic. I know that when I force myself to write, even if I don’t immediately feel inspired, eventually something will spark emotion or an idea. If I don’t necessarily feel inspired to work on one thing, then I scrap it temporarily. But I won’t stop writing. I’ll focus more closely on my blog or try to develop another story or poem.

Anyway, if you’re serious enough about writing that you want to develop it to the point of completion, you’ll have to revise. Revision is not easy; you’ll have to be honest with yourself and trudge through something that you likely don’t want to revisit. You’ll most likely have to force yourself to revise, but knowing that you’re most likely improving the piece helps.

As a class, we concluded that, if you have interest in writing for yourself only, then you can wait for inspiration to strike. But if you have interest in writing for an audience, any audience, you are going to have to motivate yourself beyond waiting for that aha moment.

(Photo by Bohman)

In the Beginning, I Had a False Start

In writing, as in life, a temporal beginning does not always make for the best beginning. Amateur, even professional, fiction writers tend to start a story at its chronological beginning. Because we think chronologically, our natural inclination is to begin a story with a character waking up from a dream or by introducing a stranger.

When we say “the beginning”, we usually mean a measure of time. Your date of birth marks the beginning of your life, your eyes opening mark the beginning of your day.

But the beginning doesn’t necessarily mean you are ready to take action, “to begin”. I’m sure the moment you wake up isn’t the moment you feel most human. I usually don’t feel human until 10 AM.

In writing, as in life, a temporal beginning does not always make for the best beginning. Amateur, even professional, fiction writers – in their first drafts – tend to start a story at its chronological beginning. Because we think and remember chronologically, our natural inclination is to begin a story with a character waking up from a dream or by introducing the new stranger in town.

But those are not always the most interesting places to begin.

Of course, traditional narrative is linear, which means it moves from beginning to end. Think of your favorite novels or stories. How many begin at the temporal beginning? How many begin in the center of the action and then extend outward? How many begin at the end?

How can you find the beginning of your story? Just assume that the first beginning you write is going to be the wrong beginning. But you need to start somewhere! Don’t feel too badly about your false starts. You will write to discover your beginning, even if that happens 12 pages into what you’ve written.

One of the first things you should do, when you evaluate your rough draft, is ask yourself: where does this story really begin? If you write a 15-page story, you’ll probably be angry when you find your beginning at page 12.

Anything before the beginning usually deflates the story. Think of the story as a balloon you’re trying to fill with helium so that you can let it float. If you’re struggling with the story, you just can’t seem to fill that balloon with helium . It inflates then deflates, inflates then deflates. You are not good with the helium tank. You let out all the air. But once you find your beginning, the balloon inflates and grows steadily larger.

Just remind yourself – you would have never found your beginning if you hadn’t written everything leading up to it. The same way that many people have come before you, many words may come before your story’s beginning.

Writers usually struggle with endings, but I think beginnings are exponentially more difficult to write. Your characters help you arrive at an ending, but a beginning can begin anywhere.

And isn’t life like that? Don’t we all have false starts? Doesn’t it take some of us years to start living? If you think writing is hard, try living.

(Photo by russelljsmith)

Not Far from the Maddening Lib

Yesterday, my students and I discussed literary magazines and their role in literary culture. I think my students were surprised by the broad range of subject matter that writers cover (a poem about photographing snakes, a story about drunk girls in stilettos, another poem about a burning Christmas tree) and how a magazine exists to suit every interest.

Yesterday, my students and I discussed literary magazines and their role in literary culture. I think my students were surprised by the broad range of subject matter that writers cover (a poem about photographing snakes, a story about drunk girls in stilettos, another poem about a burning Christmas tree) and how a magazine exists to suit every interest.

Many creative writers write because it’s the only mode of expression that allows them to do things ad libitum (ad lib), or “as you wish”. If you had the chance to write whatever you wanted, wouldn’t you try to push the boundaries?

I was showing off an issue of one of my favorite literary magazines, Tin House, and explaining to them what I liked about the magazine’s various features: stories, poems, essays, interviews, book reviews, pictures, even games!

I flipped to a two-page spread of a mad lib, which the editors had created by deleting words from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. I wanted to prove to my students that literary magazines can be fun and even interactive!

“Let’s do the mad lib!” The chorus of voices overwhelmed me.

We had reached the end of class, and I had already finished my lesson. The fact that a literary magazine was getting them so excited brought a huge smile to my face. So I told each student to share the first word that came to mind: ninja, derelict, placenta, Kanye West, and toad were just a few.

What made this mad lib unique was that the blanks didn’t specify a part of speech. So my students were free to choose nouns, verbs, adjectives, and even adverbs, even though those parts of speech didn’t necessarily fit in the context of the story.

I wrote each word in the corresponding blank. When we finished completing the blanks, I read the story out loud (you can read the story here). I could barely finish reading it because we were all laughing so hard.

Yes, the exercise was funny, but I actually liked doing this mad lib because it forced us all to reconsider how words can and cannot bend their parts of speech. Even though a lot of the words didn’t necessarily match the part-of-speech that Poe intended, they still somehow seemed to work in the context.

For example, if you use your imagination, you might be able to imagine how a word like “disingenuous” could be a noun, or how a word like “snowflake” could be a verb.

Also, this exercise made a story that we’ve all heard a million times (assuming that you’ve studied Poe in an English class) seem new again. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is actually a brilliant story, but many boring English teachers have ruined it for students. Despite the fact that we butchered the story, it still retained its original meaning and tone. Playing with a story can make it fun again!

The process of completing a mad lib, where anything goes, mimics the process of creative writing. When you approach a blank page, you never know what might happen. Opening yourself to the possibility of touching the unknown is sometimes scary, but the result will always surprise you. And sometimes even make you laugh.