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5-Minute Memoir: Anonymous Fame

5-Minute Memoir is exactly what it sounds like—a personal essay on some facet of the writing life, be it a narrative or a reflection, pensive, touching or hilarious. Enjoy this installment from Barbara Neal Varma.

"William Shatner Appalled."

I stared at the headline on my computer screen, my face flush with embarrassment. It was still dark outside in the predawn of March 29, 2013, the day when my dreams of becoming a well-known writer came true. Indeed, by the time the sun came up, my work had reached millions. And I couldn’t stop crying.

I pulled my bathrobe more tightly around me and scrolled further down, picking at the scab.

“Thanks to Lame Leaked Star Trek Parody, IRS Definitely Not Getting Into Its Local Comedy Troupe.”

And several more quoting William Shatner’s dismay. Somehow these hurt the most, me being a lifelong Trekkie—or Trekker, as us Trekkies like to say. And now my beloved Captain Kirk was appalled. Ouch.

It’d been just another assignment at the day job, another routine writing task among many working as a communications analyst for the Internal Revenue Service. They’d needed an opener, my boss had said, a short video, five minutes tops, to kick off a managers training conference. Something to really rev things up, let the frontline folks know they were appreciated. Permission to get creative, he’d said.

(Writer’s Digest Columns: How to Write a Five-Minute Memoir)

Five of us were tagged for the project. I called first dibs on the first draft—never mind I’d never written a script before. Hey, I knew how to write, and I knew “Star Trek,” so I downloaded a screenwriting template and was soon happily typing away to reveal a story about the planet “Notax” where anarchy reigned due to the lack of a working tax system. I added lots of insider jokes I hoped would resonate with the managers and ended with the Enterprise gang swooping in to save Notax’s economic system thereby providing public funds and community parks for all.

5-Minute Memoir: Anonymous Fame

My teammates did some well-placed editing, added in a few of their own one-liners, and voilà, a script was born.

“This is great,” my boss said, and I believed him.

I was lucky enough to live near the conference location and got permission to attend my little video’s big debut. I stood in the back and breathed it all in: the cheers, the laughter, the happy shouts from the troops. Five heady minutes later and my adventure in screenwriting came to a close.

Or so I thought.

5-Minute Memoir: Anonymous Fame

The author and her brother in a Photo Magic souvenir photo circa 1980, courtesy of the author.

After a few years’ incubation, the video started to surface in the outside world. First, some staffers on Capitol Hill got wind of it, and then, inevitably, the media. Next came the roar of public outcry that the IRS had spent its time and money on anything other than administering taxes. Had the criticism stayed along those fiscal lines, my writer’s ego might have better weathered the storm. But the barrage of “Stupid IRS film” headlines and sharply critical comments wore me down.

The video itself, trailing best intentions like toilet paper, was inescapable. Local news, national news, “Good Morning America.” Christmas came early for late night talk show hosts while I sank even deeper under the covers.

At work, I hid behind careful writing devoid of humor or spark, a Stepford writer aiming to please. That’s when cancer found me. It beat me up some but reminded me that this sweet life is too short to be bound by limitations. Now that, Dear One, the Universe whispered in my ear, would be stupid.

So I started to write outside the lines again—for my freelance stuff, anyway. Like seeing a psychic for the first time (they’re actually just like you and me except smell more of incense) or taking a pole dancing class and calling it exercise.

Point is, these random, barefoot stories got published and seemed to be a hit with readers. Fascinating. Because in the end (and you know it’s coming), I’m a writer, Mr. Shatner. And a survivor.

May you, too, live long and prosper.

Fearless Writing William Kenower

In this workshop we’ll look at several techniques you can you use to keep yourself in the creative flow and out of the trouble and misery fear always causes.

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