Eugene, Oregon!


Ext. Midday. Rain pummels a tiny little city while the homeless runaways with face tattoos still sit in the open on the corner outside of Voo Doo Donuts, demanding baked goods from passersby.

The Retreat

By Zoe Brock


Friday, 5pm-

I’m holed up in a grand estate in Ojai, hiding from my life, pretending to be whole and happy, beset by hovering paparazzi in whirring helicopters that dance on the evening breeze as they try to steal a shot of the movie star next door.

I’m here, in a vast and ancient canyon, inside a rambling, Gothic house, feeling insecure and shifty, wondering if I belong. I’m not alone, you see. Oh no.

There are about thirty of me.

I’m part of a gaggle of writers fortunate enough to have the funds required to reserve a bed for the weekend. Except I’m actually not fortunate enough to be one of those writers with funds. I’m a blow in, a scholarship kid, a half-price wonder. The poor girl. I feel out of my depth, stupid, a black sheep. I wear my coat of shame. I question why I came here, what I’m doing, if I can hide away or leave.

I hear laughter all around me.

I look around at the kind eyes and excited, smiling faces. I hear snippets of conversation and begin to sense a common bond. I realize I’m part of one huge, pulsating, coagulated ball of shared insecurity, hope, humor and arrogance. We’re here because we can write. We know it. Sometimes we just forget. We’re all here to follow our leaders, to dance with our muses, to sit down and write.

This might just end up being fun.

Saturday, 6pm-

All over the house we are scrunched into chairs or crowded around tables, furiously scribbling or tapping on keys. If words need to be spoken they are whispered. Apart from a heated argument over breakfast about Richard Gere that turned into a fun conversation about genetically modified gerbils born without claws or teeth to make for safer insertion, it’s been a pretty mellow affair.

When we’re not writing we’re talking about writing. Or, we’re eating. We have a chef. It’s pretty fancy. I’m high on muse and an absence of chores and dirty dishes.

Throughout the day we’ve had classes with warm and encouraging teachers who gave various prompts and exercises that were both liberating as well as providing containment within a set of rules. It turns out I like having parameters and time constraints.

I dig the challenge. I feel competitive with myself. I fly.

This morning, for our first writing exercise, we were asked to make a list of masculine and feminine attributes and jobs, then we were told to pick a job and two attributes from each list to help round out a character of our opposite gender. The idea being that a character is more fully fleshed out, funnier and real if we incorporate attributes of the opposite sex.  We were given ten minutes to write, stream of consciousness style, about our character.

I chose a vain, burly fireman. His name his Hank. He is often perplexed and emotional. Enjoy!


I have a huge cock.

Sometimes I think that’s the only thing right with this world. This goddamn life. Sometimes, on bad days when I’m feeling low, I  look out the window at the city and just want to fucking scream, but then, if I choose, I can look in the mirror or down at the bulge in my pants and I feel reassured. Everything is going to be alright. I’m handsome. I’m packing heat.

I like being a fireman, sure. It’s ok. Fighting fires and rushing around is cool, I guess. But it’s the babes that are the biggest perk. The whistles and waves we get when we drive down the road in Big Red. The batted lashes, the smiles, the puffing up of breasts and wiggling of hips. This uniform gets me laid, yo’. Suckers.

The thing that gets me down is the death. It happens. I don’t get it. Sometimes we get there too late. We bust down doors and find bodies, perfectly still, externally unharmed, dead from smoke inhalation. Or worse. The krispy’s are much worse. The scars, the melted flesh. It’s a nightmare. The worst thing I ever saw was the body of a woman and her baby. A gas leak got ’em. She had been breastfeeding. They were just sitting there on a sofa like some kind of demented installation. The worst kind of fucked up nativity scene. Her tit was out. They were so still. I cried. I broke down like a chick. It was a fucked up scene and I’ll never forget it.

That’s what I see in my mind that makes me wonder about this world, this life. I see that mother and her baby, sitting there in that quiet room. I hear the sirens. I smell the death. Nothing, not even the fact that I have a huge-ass penis can take that shit away.

And that’s a crying shame.

Hank was a very illuminating exercise for me. It was the first time I attempted to write a fictional character of the opposite sex. I never play with fiction. Whatever you think of the piece itself, the prompts were an incredible tool. The ten-minute constraint was invigorating, there was just no time to mess around. The moment I understood that I would have to write from the perspective of a male character I heard those words and I was off.

I have a huge cock.

It’s good to know that while so many parts of me feel broken, they certainly aren’t dead.

If you’d like to try this exercise in the comment section below then I fully endorse it. Write a list of about 15-20 attributes and jobs for each sex and pick a couple from each list. Set the timer for 10 minutes and write like a crazy person about a character (or person you know) from the opposite sex. Have fun!


*** If anyone would like to join the incredible Marilyn and her lovely Writing Pad staff for the October 2011 High Desert Retreat in the Joshua Tree then please check out this link! I’m hoping to be there (and so is Hank). ***

So, here’s the thing.

I want the very best for the people I care about.

I do. I really and truly do.

And when I say the very best, I’m not fooling around. I want us all to be riding our jet-powered jaguar-shaped hoverboard through the streets on our way to a) have energetic sex with a hot Spanish secret service agent of the gender of our personal choice, b) pick up the keys to our new carbon-neutral Batmobile, c) enjoy a relaxing afternoon of conversation, massage and fine cheeses at Richard Gere’s house, or d) all of the above.

Yes, I recognise and understand the nature of a supply-and-demand economy, and I know that if these options were available to everyone it would decrease their rarity value, and the bottom¹ would drop out of the lucrative energetic-sex-with-a-hot-gender-non-specific-Spanish-intelligence-agent market, but, if you were given the choice between a), b), c), d) or e) going to work tomorrow, which would you pick?


I’ve come to realise that not all of the people I love currently have the wonderful lives I want for them. Perhaps even more heartbreaking, neither do I. And yes, some of the reason is because life just doesn’t work like that, and Richard Gere gets very busy sometimes, but there’s also another factor at play. And that factor is this:


I’ve heard – and lived – enough stories of terrible boyfriends, cheating girlfriends, dangerous drivers, abusive parents, muggers, murderers, thieves, and people who answer the phone in movie theatres that I’ve been forced to stop and wonder: Goddamnit. Where are all these assholes coming from? Is there some portal to another dimension  – an asshole dimension – that someone forgot to shut? Is that where they’re all coming from? Because I’m not that asshole. My friends aren’t those assholes. Who are these assholes?

Well… the truth is that no, actually, we probably are the assholes. All of us². It’s human nature. Everyone, at some point in time or another, has acted like an asshole³. Some more than others, but that’s the way it goes.

Because we’re only human. We get angry and we say things we don’t really mean, or we somehow glide right by the idea of consequences for the split second it takes to think that greenlighting Jersey Shore is an awesome idea, or we wake up in the morning and say ‘You know what California needs? An eighth proposition!’

And I’m not trying to judge, or blame, or make anyone feel bad, with the possible exception of The Situation… it’s just that I don’t think this approach is helping anybody. So maybe we could all tell the demons on our shoulders⁴ to just kinda… take the day off.

June 2 is Saint Erasmus’s Day. He’s the patron saint of intestinal diseases and colics. And that’s about as close as you can get to a patron saint of assholes – so it makes June 2 a fitting time for Hey. Don’t Be An Asshole Today Day. And the wonderful thing about this is that you can do it anywhere you are, and if you bust someone acting like an asshole, you can say ‘Hey. Don’t be an asshole today.’

Not today.’

(Saint Erasmus? He’s that asshole on the left).

I’m not talking about making a play for sainthood. I’m merely suggesting that, for one day – one day! –  we could all take a breath and try to restrain our baser instincts. In terms of logistics, these were the first ideas that came to mind.

1. Hey. Don’t Drive Like an Asshole Today.

Yes, sometimes you want to beat the light. And sometimes the perfect gap looks ready to open up if you just drop the pedal a little harder and cut around that guy in front and bam! Made it! Now to drop right back down to the speed limit and coast… all the way to Subway.

Hey, remember every single time in your life when you’ve suddenly hit the brakes because some asshole swerved in front of you with no warning and you spent the next five minutes in an impotent rage because there was nothing you could do about it except hit the horn, which, really, does nothing, and if the horn is whiny enough, actually makes you more angry? And then on the date you went on that night, which was the third date, and we all know what that means⁵, your date says ‘How did your day go today?’ and you snapped and shouted ‘Some asshole cut me off!’ and slammed your fists into the cheesecake, and your date got weirded out and left?⁶

That asshole?

Yeah, that’s you right now.

2. Hey. Don’t Invade Anyone Today.

Just for one day, K? I know, I know, Estonia’s been looking at you funny, and Malta is just begging for it, and no one will notice if you annex Lesotho because no one’s ever heard of it, but still. Just for one day.

One day.

3. Hey. Don’t Kidnap Three People and Turn Them into a Human Centipede Today.

Because why would you even do that? Seriously, why? There is nothing that a human centipede can do better than three people who aren’t a human centipede. Literally, not one goddamn thing⁸.

You’re a weird guy, Tom Six.

4. Hey. Don’t Commit Adultery Today.

It’s a big ask. But perhaps, just for today, if you want to have sex with someone’s promiscuous wife or philandering husband, you could just… oh, I don’t know. Not commit adultery?

It’s easy to forget and slip up in the heat of the moment, but if you find yourself engaging in sexual intercourse with someone else’s partner, maybe try stopping, or at least slowing down, and saying, in a non-confrontational, non-judgmental manner ‘Hey! We’re committing adultery!’

Like assholes!’

You could then maybe watch some TV instead, or play a little blackjack, or even take a walk if the weather is nice.

I’m not going to lie. It’s probably going to be awkward.

5. Hey. Don’t Call Anyone any Names Today.

24 hours without a single nigger, cracker, fag, dyke, breeder, queer, chink, spic, etc., etc…  And I don’t even mean just the big ones – any kind of name that might be hurtful, or offensive, or mess with someone else’s head… really, what are you going to lose by not saying them for 24 hours?

Nothing, that’s what.

Absolutely nothing.

Still use ‘asshole’ though.

6. Hey. Don’t Collapse and Release an Oil Spill into the Gulf of Mexico Today.

There is nothing funny about this.

7. Hey. Don’t Steal a Bunch of Money and Fuck Every Single Person in the Whole World Today.

Or this, really.

Wait. This line of reasoning insinuates there’s something funny about #1 – #5. There isn’t. There really isn’t. These arguments aren’t mutually exclusive, is the point I’m trying to make.

The point I’m trying to make is: Bernard Madoff, you are such an asshole. I lost so goddamn much. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back.

8. Hey. Don’t be an Asshole Because You Think a Book told you to Today.

No, seriously. If a book – and I’m not going to name names – is the reason why you think that some people can get married and others can’t, or why it’s OK to kill doctors, or kill people in general, or blow shit up, or really, just be mean to anyone and try to take away the rights, the life, or the happiness that you would want for yourself and the people you love, then just stop. Stop for one second and ask yourself: ‘If someone did this to me, would I think they’re an asshole?’

And then ask yourself: ‘And would my own personal God want me to be an asshole right now?’

It’s really simple. He, she, they, or it, totally doesn’t.

Gods hate assholes.

See you June 2.

¹ but not the culo
² especially you
³ but not me, actually, now that I think about it
⁴ the asshole demons
⁵ it means you can start talking about your political opinions now. All right!
⁶ you won’t be having any sexy discussions about Reaganomics tonight.⁷
⁷ or fucking
⁸ except ‘be a human centipede’, and that totally doesn’t count

I often use events that happened to me in real life as the basis for my fiction. In my novel, THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES, I took memories from many years of my childhood and condensed them into one crazy summer where the grown-ups swim naked and smoke pot, and the kids try to figure out how they fit in to the naked-swimming, pot-smoking life. So far, no one in my family has been hurt by what I’ve written. I’ve discovered that most people don’t remember many of the things that have happened to them, so they simply don’t recognize themselves when they’ve been fictionalized. I am now calling this lack of memory of one’s past The Keychain Effect. Here’s why:

One of my friends in high school was a very clever, smart-mouthed girl whom I’ll call Beth. Beth was intelligent, brave, funny—she had all the qualities of a good friend. She was also beautiful in an extreme way—always prettier than everyone around her. (Having a very beautiful friend, by the way, is good for you, it teaches you the lesson early on that there will always be someone smarter, prettier, and more successful than you and that you must simply be the best version of yourself that you can be.) Beth had long, thick, honey-blond hair….

…a nose with a lovely little tip, seductively flared nostrils, wonderfully-shaped black eyebrows, and bright hazel eyes. Boys loved her.

In the summer, my cousin, Mike, from New England often stayed with my family in Southern California. Mike was awed by all my friends, especially Beth. He lived in the New Hampshire countryside where there weren’t too many people of any sort (more cows and sheep)…

…and where there certainly weren’t many bold and beautiful blond girls like Beth. Mike was rendered practically speechless every time Beth walked in our house.

One hot, sunny day, Beth, my brother Josh, Mike and I were in the family room of my house, looking over a row of baked-clay keychains spread across the white tile counter top that separated the family room from the kitchen. My brother and sister and I had made the keychains earlier in the day. (My mother was an artist, so we were always doing art projects: etchings, paintings, clay-work.) Beth picked up a keychain that Josh had made. Josh was eleven at the time, Beth and I were sixteen. The keychain was an amazingly precise little sculpture of a woman’s face; she had huge pink lips and a blond afro.

“Did you really make this Josh?” Beth asked my brother. My cousin stepped in closer to get a better look at both Beth and the keychain she was holding. Mike was closer to Josh’s age than mine, but about six inches taller than Beth and I. He seemed huge.

“Yep, I made it.” Josh wasn’t particularly proud, he was the kind of kid who could do a lot of things really well.

“Can I have it?”

“Sure,”Josh said.

“Really?!” Beth asked. “You mean I can have it and use it and put my car keys on it and everything?!” Beth had a screechy voice that always sounded excited.


“You can do whatever you want with it,” Josh said. “Just don’t stick it up your butt.” (This is how Josh talked at age eleven.)


And with that, Beth lifted her yellow sundress, pulled down her underpants and stuck the keychain up her butt. Seriously.

She let her dress fall and then stood there smiling. My brother, my cousin and I were hysterically laughing.

“Is it really IN your butt,” I asked, “or is it just wedged in your crack?”

Beth lifted her dress again, pulled down her underpants, turned around and bent over. Sure enough, the sculpted face was gone and all that remained was an empty silver key loop dangling out the edge of Beth’s butthole.  My cousin’s face was the red of a cartoon drawing. He was shocked, choking on his laughter.

Recently Beth was visiting me in Baltimore where I live (Beth’s still in California) and she asked about my cousin. I told her that every time I see Mike, he brings up the keychain in the butt incident.

“What keychain in the butt incident?” Beth asked.

I was stunned that she didn’t remember. I recounted the story detail by detail. Beth laughed.

“Well,” she said, “I’m sure it’s true, but I don’t remember any of it.”

Now, you must understand, Beth has no brain dysfunction that would prevent her from remembering this story. It’s just that the act of having stuck a keychain in her butt didn’t mean that much to her, so she didn’t put it in her long-term memory. I, on the other hand, was practicing to be a writer (without knowing it). I couldn’t help but observe, note and remember all the details of everything unfolding around me. And my cousin, Mike, having never seen the bare butt of such a pretty girl, certainly was never going to let that image flee from his mind.

So, if you’re thinking of writing and you’re worried about using stuff from your real life, my advice to you is to go ahead and use it. I promise you, most people remember nothing of their past. Think of The Keychain Effect.