Writing Exercise: Brexit

“Exit, pursued by a Bear”

—–Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, Act III, Scene 3


Brexit just happened—that decision by the UK to leave the umbrella of the European Union.  The decision is a consequential one, and already there have been wild fluctuations in the world markets as the British pound has hit a 30 year low.  Over night, the UK’s credit rating has fallen.  Jobs will most likely disappear.  Brits will now have to get a visa and go through customs when they travel to the new “abroad” which is the continent.  And it is altogether possible that this will spell the end of a United Kingdom, as Scotland pushes to secede from the union.


On the bright side for Americans, interest rates will not go up and, therefore, we find ourselves in a position to overextend ourselves on a house we can hardly afford.  Of course, we also may lose that job that allows us to pay for the house.  Why?  Because the dollar is so strong that it means nobody can afford to buy the products we make.  Soon there will be lay-offs and defaults on mortgages nationwide.  Me:  I’m not thinking about any of that.  I’m busy planning a vacation to the UK so I can go shopping at Harrods!

Brexit has made me realize that fiction depends so much upon exits:  their consequences, intended and unintended.  The complications are where it’s at.  And Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction—“exit, pursued by a bear”—resonates across the centuries because our imagination is pitched toward the emotional meanings of an exit:  fear, loathing, absurdity.


Perhaps this is why the reporting of Brexit has become so much cloaked within the many metaphors of the exit:  exits are part of the way we are hard-wired to see the world.  Take a look at the headlines.  Brexit is a break up of a marriage—an abusive relationship come to an end, a terrible fall from grace in which man is forever cast out of the Garden.

So here is your task:  find a moment for an exit in your story.  It can be at the beginning, middle or end.  But perhaps to make this exercise work best, you should put it front and center.  Think of this moment not as an everyday exit but as a Brexit.  Think of all the ways it can have unintended consequences, how it can rear its ugly head.  Think of the people who benefit from the backdoor—those carpetbaggers who will show up at the Harrods of somebody else’s life and loot their shelves.  Think of the ways a Brexit also metes out its ironic punishments—the way that same carpetbagger will return home to a house repossessed and nowhere to store all the many treasures that they have carted off from that fabled department store far far away.

Mass Shootings, AK-47’s and Pulp Fiction

It’s been a rocky few weeks:  a mass shooting, a child attacked and pulled to a watery death by an alligator—both in Orlando.  In between, there were the usual killings of note in which nameless, faceless people in foreign wars are blown to bits.  There was also the novelty of sports violence.  And of course, I can’t be sure but I would bet my bottom dollar that a bunch of refugees died somewhere in transit and somewhere someone mourned.

That’s kind of why I just decided to take a break from writing this blog—take a break from all that kind of crazy, which is so present with us; it reminds me of those bats in Goya’s dreams that cover our night world with their beating, flapping wings.  I kept wondering about one question that revolved around death:  why do we hate it in life but thirst for it in fiction?

The Spanish caption reads:"The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters."

The Spanish caption reads:”The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.”

I don’t think it’s because we are necessarily bloodthirsty by nature.  If that were the case, I would just give up on being human altogether and embrace the ugliness of being a monster.  I would stalk the streets in search of victims—a long blade in my hand.  Why fight human nature?

One theory is that fiction allows us to crave murder and mayhem—the impulses of that childish monster locked up in our psyche—and in doing so, we actually defuse that monster.  Detective fiction, for instance, doesn’t necessarily feed our lusts but defuses them.  It is an outlet, not unlike the commotion of flapping bat wings that issue from the head of Goya’s sleeping man.


But you see, this theory—the idea that fiction is just a displacement of our fears but doesn’t necessarily mean an actual death wish—this theory doesn’t entirely hold up.  The last big rampage shooter who held the record of most deaths caused by an AK-47 was at Georgia Tech.  He was taking Creative Writing classes with the acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni—the woman whose famous poem about flying was so often recited by Oprah Winfrey.

Nikki Giovanni immediately saw in his stories of violence a propensity for very real violence.  She actually reported her suspicions to the Dean.  And the Dean said that there was nothing he could do.  It was, after all, fiction and fiction is simply not fact.

Marketing a Story of Mexico in the Tourism Capital of the Yucatan

I just got back from the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico, where I saw ancient Mayan ruins, snorkeled in underground limestone caves and, on the way to the airport, got into a car accident.  I gotta say one thing:  I definitely got the full tourist experience!

I have been to Mexico many times but I’ve never really been to tourism zones.  I am pretty proud of my ability to speak high level Spanish, so I usually go to places where I can truly practice the language.  And this rarely happens in first class tourism zones where you get to meet other tourists—places where all the money-making is geared toward English speakers.


So, this time going to a place that is the mothership of Mexican tourism taught me some interesting lessons about marketing.  And marketing really is all about storytelling, which is what this blog is about in the first place.  You see:  for you to get true value, you have to feel like you got to experience true Mexico.  Those guests at the all-inclusive resorts that tag you with fluorescent bracelets and suck you into the vortex of their black hole buffet—those guest don’t feel like they have experienced true Mexico if they don’t at least once have a street taco.  They make it a point to wander out from the hotel megaplex at least once during their vacation.  It’s on the checklist.

The paradox of wanting to feel like you’re in “true Mexico” (despite the fact that you are in Las Vegas) comes in the fact that a certain kind of distortion has to happen—small lies, slight of hand, smoke and mirrors.  There are obvious ways that this is done:  in the beachside tourist zones, the business people really play up the kitsch Mexican factor—the colorful embroidered huipiles that all restaurant hostesses must wear, the strolling mustachioed mariachis who pluck their instruments under flapping plastic banners that catch the ocean breeze.  Usually, the plastic banners strung across courtyards are made out of paper for a one-time fiesta…but, you see, if every day is a continuous fiesta, you need something more durable, something that will not fade nor tear.  Something that is not cut by hand but cut by machine.

fiesta-banner-clip-art_368268 (1)

A less obvious distortion comes in the fact that almost all of the restaurants feature seafood but none of the seafood is fresh.  Almost all of it is imported, frozen, from other parts of the world—shrimp, octopus, lobster, calamari.  “The clams are fresh,” offered my Italian waiter.  “We ship them in from Southern California and they are still alive with bubbles in their mouth.”  We were in one of those fancy Italian restaurants that actually had an Italian waiter and an Italian manager.  There was a Mexican guy rolling out pasta in a glass case.

“Why isn’t there any fresh seafood available?”

“I don’t know.  I think it’s because the water is too hot for the fish here.”

To me, this is curious—a real mystery—and the waiter’s explanation was suspect.  You see, all the beach zones in the Riviera Maya started off as fishing villages:  Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum.  And you can still book a sport’s fishing vacation in this area and bag yourself that trophy swordfish that you can stuff and mount in your living room—a souvenir of some great times in the aquamarine glisten of the Carribean ocean.

But I suspect that there was some basic economics to this.  You see, all the restaurants have to offer seafood because it wouldn’t be a Mexican fishing village without fresh seafood.  But these restaurants have to always make sure that seafood is on hand.  Not only does it need to be on hand but it needs to be standard in size—something that seafood caught from small suppliers can never be.  There is also the convenience factor:  seafood shipped from industrial plants are not only put into usable storage containers (cryovac bags) but also processed up to a desirable point (cleaned, scaled, prepped).  And this all means a smooth, well-running kitchen that can get the food out fast.  It also means there are not only no shortages but you can get Alaska King Crab and meaty Salmon from the very best farms in Scotland.

There’s probably another thing about tourism that is more insidious.  You see:  you might want to be in a Mexican fishing village.  And while in Cancun, you might long for the days when it was once a sleepy Mexican fishing village.  But you actually don’t want to see a Mexican fishing village.  The ships are an eyesore.  They are in no way picturesque.  They will ruin any selfie taken on the beach and add an element of stink to what is supposed to be an ideal vacation—the one vacation you will take all year.


Then, too, there is simply basic economics.  Who wants to fish when you can make good money taking tourists out on a boat for a fun time:  the money is guaranteed, the labor is easy.  Tourists are just better than fish and a lot less heartbreaking.

The waiter brought out the food and it was indeed delicious.  He made a show of cracking pepper from a four foot wooden grinder at everybody’s table.  But he didn’t do it at our table.


“Maybe we asked too many questions.”

“No, I’m sure he just forgot.”

“I don’t think we ordered enough.”  I looked at the other tables with their overflow of appetizers and the bottles of wine poured into long-necked crystal decanters.  Everybody was ordering by the bottle but we were just ordering by the glass.