Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Seriously, It's Just an Armpit

Today's Quote: "Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." - C.S. Lewis

I remember when Dove debuted their line of deodorants that contained, like other Dove products, 1/4 moisturizer. With each use, according to the commercials, the deodorants were supposed to nourish and protect that most hidden of skin, that skin of the underarm. After a time using it, reportedly, your armpits would be smoother and more beautiful.

But see, that's what I never quite figured out. Regardless of how much you shave it and moisturize it and nourish it, an armpit is an armpit. It is one of the least attractive (in looks and probably smell) parts of the human body. Everyone has at least one; most people have two. Dark, thick hair starts growing from them at that lovely age at which one reaches puberty. An armpit gets wet with little exertion on the part of the owner; it is simply enough that a human's normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. With the exception of keeping it hair-free (for women) and properly cleaned and deodorized, the armpit is a thing that is usually ignored. It's a little thing, really, existing only because of the presence of the arm and torso. Yet for a little while, when Dove ran the beautiful armpit commercials, people focused on the aesthetic aspect of this body part rather than the arm, torso, or body as a whole, buying an item not because it was effective or smelled good, but because it made them feel better about a largely ignored area that no one would see 24/7. It made them feel, well effective.

I was once someone's armpit as well.

When I started college in the fall of 2005, I left the comfort of gorgeous Eastern North Carolina and enrolled in an upstate South Carolina university. I knew three people in the entire college, only because they had gone to my high school at some point in the past (and I had graduated with one of them). So yeah, I was eager for friends. One of the first friends I made was in the same sorority that I joined. It started out cool. She was nice, also a freshman, and a science major like myself. She had also been to a Christian school and was very welcoming in a figurative sense.

As fun as a new friend was, it became apparent rather quickly that I was a project of sorts.

See, I made other friends too. Good friends, with whom I am still close today, though we all live miles apart. Upon meeting my friends, she decided later that they were all "very negative" to be around, as well as somewhat "odd." Clearly, having two sets of friends would be my practice. Then she critiqued the fraternity that three of my guy friends were in, because it was "nerdy." My accent (Eastern North Carolina) was so often critiqued (usually when I was speaking mid-sentence) that it hardly bears mentioning, but it did happen. When one of my guy friends in the "nerdy" fraternity asked me to a formal event on campus, and I mentioned that he had asked me over instant messaging (since we were good friends) she decided that he had asked me "the wrong way." When I said that he was an Eagle Scout, she scoffed and said that growing up, young people had Awana, not Boy Scouts (and at the time, she didn't have a boyfriend). I was told that my hair should not be preferred frizzy (I can rock the Hermione Granger look, people), that my striped socks were eccentric, and that I was an "odd duck." I remained friends with this person, but drifted towards my other friends, who never judged me, except for the time I conducted a caffeine withdrawal experiment upon myself. With them, I would go on to play many hours of Apples to Apples, spend afternoons in the mall, participate in many happy evenings of text roleplay, discover bubble tea, laugh a lot, get through my nightmarish sophomore year, and eventually be in a wedding. Eventually, I stared dating the Eagle Scout, then going steady. He was in the same wedding. We're now engaged. But, ladies and gentlemen, for a short time in 2005-2006, I was an armpit, slathered with Dove deodorant in an attempt to "fix" things that really didn't matter at all.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Quite a bit. I was so excited to discover that I do in fact like a bit of mystery in stuff I read that I tried to make my novel into a mystery/fantasy story. The whole thing involved the main character's family being mysteriously from *GASP* another NC county and a dry account of them driving to the courthouse in said other county's seat to find out information. Sitting in the laundromat (long story short: broken dryer) and working on the scene really really frustrated me. If I'm bored trying to fix this little tale into something that others would find exciting and, heh, novel, then the readers really will be. I crossed out the whole page. I don't regret it. I was led to change a few things after that. I don't have to make my book into part LOTR, part Lifetime movie by the introduction of a mysterious mystery and long-lost friend who moves into his old house because the family never sold it...oy. Trying to fix a stubborn thing in order to make it more like other big sellers did not work. The little armpit remained pale and clammy, stubbornly refusing to be "nourished" like I wanted it to be. I stepped back, and I'm letting it be what it is. There's still a bit of mystery, but it's so unfussy and simple and I love it.

Moral of the story: armpits are armpits. They are what they are. Clean them up, make them fragrant and polished if you want, but they will always remain the same: a clammy, pasty white reminder that we are all human and that silk shirts are a bad idea in the summer. Armpits have a purpose, if only for making jokes or even the occasional singsong armpit noises. If you're writing something and you just can't get it to work one way, the way you want it to and the way another writer did it, then maybe you're trying too hard. If an idea gives you the warm fuzzies and you like it and it works better, accept it and include it. Unless you do, you'll probably regret it big time, later on down the road, when some review says that your book didn't make much sense when it said that elf-ninjas "just could" change color because all is magic and wonder and idealistic speeches on a horse, and all the while you were thinking "TOLKIEN/JAPANESE SQUEE!!!" and inserting strangeness for the sake of such instead of letting anything make sense.

Now go out there and shave some armpits.

Unless you're a dude.

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