Monday, May 17, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I wuz here
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I hit my flashlight again, hoping against hope that the batteries would reconsider; that they would decide that they would, after all, keep working. At least for a little while longer. I couldn't let it die.
My heartbeat quickened as I stumbled through the field. I had no idea where I was, or even worse, where the next piece of civilization was. My heart felt like it would beat right through my chest as the batteries languished and died, their last breath of light fading away.
The last thing I had heard on the radio before my car gave out flashed through my mind once again and I quickened my footsteps, though I could no longer see them.
A hurricane was coming. It was coming soon. It was coming here. My rational thoughts died out on me—I began to run. In the black darkness of the night, my mind was seeing horrible things, which quickened and blurred until my mind, too, was running.
My legs stopped, but my upper body kept going—I flew over some object and landed on my face and hands. I groaned, felt out what it was I had tripped over. I fumbled, feeling the metal, the strange shape of it. It took me a few minutes, while my mind slowed down and thoughts returned.
I began to laugh slowly. I laughed harder and harder until I was afraid that I had lost my mind. I had tripped over a lawn mower. I got up finally and started calling out in all directions, hoping somebody owned this and somebody lived nearby.
I shouted into the distance and I heard a low rumble of thunder answer me as rain drops began to prick my skin.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Sunday, February 28, 2010
How to Begin Writing
Sometimes when I sit down to write, it is because I already have a snippet or a phrase floating around in my head. It is usually either inspired by a real or misheard song lyric, or it pops up, fully formed, from some random part of my brain as I brush my teeth or put away laundry. I rush to finish the task at hand as quickly as possible, repeating the phrase over and over in my head, so I don't lose it. Then I rush to the computer or a scrap of paper, and jot it down. Sometimes this leads to a writing session; sometimes I decide to come back to it later.
But when I start out writing with a blank screen or piece of paper, without any preconceived notion of what to write (which is the majority of the time for me), than I set my eyes on the keyboard and run my fingertips over the keys, ever-so-lightly. I am searching for
the perfect letter,
to begin the perfect word,
to begin the perfect phrase
and then sentence,
that will become my beginning.
My eyes will scan the various letters, and certain words pop up in my head—Random, Wily, Opening, Forgotten—and I search around for one that sticks out—shining—offering up worlds of possibilities. And I pick that one. Naturally, the perfect first word has at least a phrase, if not the rest of the sentence, that automatically follows on the page.
Then, once the writing has begun, I stop and look at the sentence—or, if it really has been a perfect sentence, then another sentence flows out to follow it, and so on, until it stops. Whenever that is, I go back, and re-read what I've written. Given that I usually have very little (conscious) say in the whole matter, I have to spend a minute or two trying to determine what it could mean.
“Underneath the diamond bridge...”
What in the world does that mean? Is it literal? Is it a fantasy story? Or is it metaphorical, or a dream, or someone's imagining? What could be sitting under that diamond bridge? And so on.
But this is where it gets tricky. If I think about and analyze it too much, then the story dies, right then and there. I'm already sick of the first sentence, and if that's all there is, there is nothing to come and redeem it. On the other hand, if I go over it too lightly or not at all, and just continue finding beautiful letters with beautiful sentences to follow, then I am in serious danger of making absolutely no sense whatsoever. That 'diamond bridge' thing? That's what happened to that writing—it became one big, confused, tangled mess, couldn't find its way toward making sense, gave a big sigh—and died. It still haunts my hard drive, as all my writing does. I go and pay my respects from time-to-time...but it's a depressing place to go.
I build my scenes of my stories, and poems for that matter, block by block. Once some of the blocks are in place, I begin to see a shape that sets the scene. The rest of the scene appears clearly in my head, and there's a sigh of relief. Certain word choices lead me to make certain conclusions that I either feel I need to follow through with, or defy. Whether I want to defy what I think readers' expectations will be (which I know I give too much credit), or conventional narrative choices, I do tend to lean toward the method of defiance, unless the character(s) really want to go there, or the image of the scene in my head assures me that, no, this man really is only in his 30's, no older.
A lot of my writing happens because I “feel it out” as I go. I get images in my head of what I want to describe, or people's expressions, and I begin to enact it: either with my hands, my facial expressions, or the physical feeling the character may be experiencing. Often, I try to pretty much shape the perfect words out of thin air with my hands. It helps, too. It allows me, sometimes, to see in front of me what it is I want to describe.
When I'm looking for a word—say I see the face of a character, getting so surprised and offended that he can barely spit out any words. He can feel the anger building up in his chest, and his words start sticking there, but he has to say something to the other character, has to force it past his throat. (Even as I am trying to describe this to you, my hands come out in gestures, and I put myself in the place of the character—where is the anger building, where do I feel it? And I feel the tightness in my chest, so that is where it is for him.) And there is a word for what he is doing, as the words force themselves through his throat and his cheeks puff, his mouth opening and closing like a fish with air bubbles: he is...blustering, I find. Not only does the meaning of the word fit, but also the shape and feel of it. Blustering reminds me of blowing bubbles, of helplessly trying something, of puffy cheeks. Go ahead, say it out loud and see how it feels in your mouth.
But my writing tends to be on the side of the subtle (far too much, I am told sometimes), and I don't think the reader needs to know all that, because if I describe everything that is happening to the character, that makes the situation a bigger deal than it really is for him. It is not a tragic and life-threatening insult that he suffers, after all. Though he may be feeling everything I described, the reader will take it much too much to heart if I write it all down. Besides, this is a comedy. So what does it become?
“You fool,” he spluttered, and I drew back, offended.
“I AM the Pope!” he blustered.
So what happens next? Is always the question. Largely, it comes from—and here's that word again—Inspiration: unquantifiable, untraceable, and rarely understood. Scenes form in my mind, and I follow them where they go. They have a somewhat natural flow that they follow, and even if I'm struggling with figuring out what will happen next, the scene seems to have a place where it feels—with a sigh of relief—like a temporary ending. This part is over, but the story is not. When it isn't coming naturally, What Happens Next has to do, for once, with a very logical process: What makes sense? What should she do about that? How would this character react in this situation? If there are easy answers for these, then wonderful. If not, I probably need to know more about my character or the situation. Unfortunately, I often learn about my characters through the story as I write, the decisions they make, the reactions they have. So, it becomes a bit of a cycle. I'm still working on that one, though sometimes filling out character sheets helps me determine their motivation and background, which allows me to go back to the story and figure out what should happen next. I'm just learning how to do this. I still have a long way to go.
You may have noticed a lot of 'sometimes' and 'maybe' and 'usually' in here. I'm still learning how this all (me, writing, and the relationship between the two of us) works best. So these are just ruminations on how different times have worked best for me...well, how it has worked, when it has worked, really.
Setting Up for Writing
When I finally get myself to the place where I am ready to start writing, I settle myself (usually) either in my desk chair or on the couch in the living room, facing my computer. I suppose I take a deep breath or two, preparing myself for the beginning of—what? Something. Junk, seeds of great ideas, an interesting story. Sometimes I make sure to have a glass of water nearby, just in case I get thirsty. I know a lot of people like to get set up with a cup of coffee or tea or something, but if I do that, there is the distinct possibility (probability, really) that I will forget all about it while I write. So there's really no point. Unless an idea is trying to hurriedly rush out, I make sure I'm sitting comfortably. If I'm really excited and prepared to sit down for a good writing session, and other people are around, I try to give them warning.
“I'm going to write,” I say, or shout down the hall, and they know that I really don't want to be interrupted for anything less than an emergency. It is important business.
Sometimes I don't want to write on my computer, but I want to fill up my current notebook. I get ready in a similar manner, but it feels more...personal, somehow. I usually prefer writing poems by hand. Depending on the time of day, I may get comfy in bed and curl up with my notebook and pen. For me, it feels like getting curled up with some hot chocolate in front of a fire.
I absolutely cannot have music playing while I write. It has far too great of an influence on me. I find my story becomes about the songs and I may even accidentally slip in some lyrics. No good. I did try writing to Beethoven once, to see what would come out—complicated symphonic strains without any lyrics to blatantly guide me—and I ended up with a mysterious romance in a grand ballroom and a pining man looking for flowers. As you can tell, the Beethoven I was playing was not his most intense composition. So, that was that. No more music.
I like to have relative quiet around me when I write. While I can let the animals in and out or get a glass of water without distracting me (I keep my mind in my story and continue writing even as I do other things), I cannot have conversations nearby. Usually, while I am searching for appropriate words, gestures, intentions, my mind feels—open, ready to absorb new thoughts and inspiration to be channeled onto the page. I'm not looking for inspiration from my surroundings necessarily, but it helps to keep my mind open, to—receive messages from my muse, let's say. So, having people talk around me, even if it isn't directed at me, bothers me because my open mind readily absorbs the chatter and refocuses. I am able to write in a public space, but it is always more of a struggle, because I effectively have to shut out the outside world, which means closing myself off. It is something like writing in a tunnel: it is still possible and not acutely restrictive, but it feels a bit cramped.
Getting to the Desk
The hardest part for me is getting myself to sit down and write. I have yet to find a tried-and-true, works-every-time method. So my explanations should be taken with a grain of salt. Bear with me as I try to enumerate how I write, when I'm just barely beginning to figure it out for myself.
The most exasperating advice, and irritatingly, often the most accurate, is this: just sit down and write. Have writer's block? Sit down and write. Put one word in front of the other, just like learning to walk, and eventually you'll be striding confidently along. This was advice given during the pep talks of NaNoWriMo, which actually helped me quite a bit. It doesn't matter if you go back and erase or edit most of it. The point is, you got past the writer's block by sheer force of will. It's quite a feeling of accomplishment. Okay, yes, but since we both know that it takes more than that, how do I actually get myself to sit down and write?
Sometimes, it's inspiration. I have an idea, or just an itch that tells me that I want to and need to write. It's a tingly, jumpy feeling, mixed with a bit of dreaminess, and I love it.
Sometimes, people ask me about my writing, which makes me think of it, which leads me to sit down and try it out.
Sometimes I've been reading something wonderful and I just want those beautiful words to have come from me, and it leads to the above-mentioned tingly feeling of inspiration. I have to be careful with this one, though, because if I've been too immersed in a certain author, that author's voice tends to come out. You should have seen me after I finished reading Catcher in the Rye.
Sometimes I'm bumming around on the computer, and either happen upon some of my writing, or a mention of writing online. This leads to the inspiring feeling of I-could-be-writing! And sometimes I even try it out.
Helpful so far? Probably not. So I will tell you this:
When I scold myself for not writing, and actually manage to force myself to do it, I rarely end up writing much, if anything, and rarely anything good.
When I realize that I could be writing, that I could use this time to create new worlds, new people, and I face the excitement of delving into new stories and ideas without knowing what is going to happen, and I have the time and ability to sit down and write, that is when fun things happen.
I'm learning that, as it turns out, getting myself to write seems to largely be about word choice, just like writing is. Once again, writing and life seem to go hand-in-hand. I love it when that happens. That realization also helps.
The realization that writing matters, that my words and stories can make a difference, that writing can be, often is, an intimate reflection of life, and a vehicle for learning about it...it reminds me why my dreams are not silly, and petty, and inconsequential to the rest of the world. As far-fetched as it may be, I have to be reminded that I May Have An Effect On The World. That is very important in making myself write. So if something brings that back to mind, it refuels the fire of my determination, and it can (less abstractly) lead me straight to my desk.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
“Would you like to buy a dream?” asked the woman sitting on the park bench, bundled in so much clothing that the eye was unable to discern individual layers and left observers confused about where her body actually began. She asked with a gentle smile on her lips that just barely reached her eyes. She might have been 30. She might have been 60. The passersby she asked could barely look at her. Their paths eddied around her as if she took up much more space than she actually did. Budding trees behind her pulled her into their reality, making her seem a natural part of this scene. I drank my quickly cooling coffee and was sharply aware of the contrast between this downtrodden woman and I, in my clean, pressed suit.
“Would you like to buy a dream?” I asked a nice-looking woman walking by with her young daughter, and felt a little bit of my hope sink within me when she glanced sharply at me from the corner of her eye and pulled her daughter closer to her as they passed.
No one knew what it was to dream anymore, it seemed. No one understood this gift that I had to offer. I felt it, the dream, wriggling around under my many layers, and I wrapped my arms tighter around myself in order to keep it from flying away. It was mine to give, and I was trying to give it to someone who was worthy of it. Letting it fly off on its own—it might end up with someone who didn't deserve it, or worse yet, get stuck in a tree somewhere and be lost forever. It was best to keep it tightly under wraps until it could find a new home.
I could see the young man looking over at me, sharply bound in a suit of predetermined future. I felt sorry for him. Where were his dreams? I wondered if he wanted to come over, to ask for this dream I was offering, but was too shy. He wasn't quite able to meet my gaze. I understood, though. He wasn't quite ready yet to let go of his cut-and-paste lifestyle. It had been hard for me, too. I would let him take his time. When he was ready for a dream, I would be here.
Unless, of course, someone else bought it first.
Friday, January 29, 2010
“So what now, Your Majesty?” I asked eagerly. “Is the other man an impostor, then?”
“Of course he's an impostor! Damned good one, too. But now, I am going to go back to my chambers and try to figure out what to do. You are going to go back to wherever you came from,” he grumbled.
“But I can help!” I said, jumping up and down beside him. I could be the key to solving this mystery, I realized. A real mystery, with the Pope!
“I certainly don't need any more of your help. I can do very well on my own,” he huffed, and turned to walk away. His knee buckled, and he almost fell to the ground. I caught him. He grunted, and looked up at me. I smiled widely back at him. “I guess I'm a little stiff from the torture.”
“He TORTURED you??!” I practically screamed.
“Well...yes...in a manner of speaking,” the Pope muttered, and would say nothing more. It must have been very traumatic for him. I patted him on the back sympathetically, before I realized that this was the Pope. So I took his hand and gave him a deep, reverential kiss on his fingers.
“STOP THAT!” He pulled his hand away from my lips, looked at his shaking fingers in disgust, and wiped them on his robe.
Holding onto the Pope's elbow to help him walk, I eagerly asked, looking up and down the seemingly endless hallway, “So where do we go now?”
The Pope looked one way down the hallway, then the other. A flash of irritated confusion crossed his face for a few moments, before it settled resolutely into a look of determination. He lifted one shaky hand, and pointed majestically in front of him. “That way,” he said solemnly.
Decades later, it seemed, we arrived at a main intersection in the Vatican. The Pope had quite stubbornly insisted that he had never been lost at any point: he was just taking this opportunity to explore regions of his domain that he was not often able to visit. I decided not to point out that he had revisited certain empty rooms and hallways several times during our journey.
“Ah, finally,” he breathed as he saw his guards bustling about, along with various clergymen having what must have been truly grave discussions regarding the human soul.
“They won't lose the match. Not after I've sunk so much into it!” I heard a particularly wise-looking old clergyman say to his companion as they passed by us, apparently completely unaware of our presence.
“Fantastic. My minions are here. They will help me sort things out,” the Pope said gravely as he prepared to step out of our inadvertent hiding place.
Suddenly, the people parted ways as someone began coming down the hallway, accompanied by guards. It was the Pope Impostor! And everyone began bowing to him as he went by! The Real Pope started huffing and puffing at their mistaken adoration. I grabbed him just as he was about to confront the Pope Impostor.
“Wait! You can't just go out there!” I whispered fiercely.
“And why not? I'll solve this problem once and for all!” he argued. “I'll get that impostor thrown into the deepest, darkest cell of the secretest dungeon,” he growled.
“But how did he get in here in the first place?” I asked him as he took his first step back towards the main hallway.
“Well, either some of your guards are in on the plot, or he looks too much like you for anyone to be able to tell the difference,” I explained. “Either way, it may not be as easy as you think to just step out there and assert that you are the real Pope. Regardless, it will definitely cause a lot of chaos and confusion among your people.”
The Pope stepped back and squinted in my direction. He leaned in closer and stared at me, hard. “Good God. You're actually making a lot of sense.” He stood proudly upright, or at least as upright as he ever seemed to be able to manage. “Fine then. We will go to my chambers, and we can figure things out from there.”
“Oh, boy! Your chambers? Your real, private chambers?” I asked.
“Yes,” he grunted.
“Oh, I can't believe this! Can I take pictures and put them on my blog?”
“Of course you can't! How absurd!” he glowered.
“Can I at least see your ducky pajamas?” I asked shyly. His face darkened as he seemed to be swelling with a purple hue. Frightened, thinking he had somehow been poisoned, I leapt toward him to get whatever it was out of his throat.
“Get off of me!” he yelled, struggling with my arms around his waist, trying to pry himself free. “What in the world do you think you are doing??!”
“Saving you from choking on poison!” I explained.
“I wasn't choking and I wasn't poisoned!” he protested. I stepped away from him then, reluctantly releasing him from my hold.
“But you were turning purple!” His face began the whole process over again, and I opened my arms to rescue him, but he stopped me. He held out a hand.
“Get away from me, you foul beast.” The Pope turned and started walking back in a different direction. “God help me,” he muttered as he walked away, and I followed.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Hours later, I was exhausted. I had been wandering forever, it seemed. None of the doors or hallways seemed to actually lead anywhere, or even have a purpose. It just existed as a confusing mess of unused building, sprinkled with priceless treasures, jewels, and gold.
Finally, I realized I had to sit and rest. A wonderfully ornate trunk was just down the hall in a niche. It had what must have been a twelfth-century tapestry laid over it.
I plopped down on it, resting my tired feet. I smacked my lips together with thirst. I could really use some whisky, I decided. I must have also been hungry, because I heard a strange sound coming from my stomach. After feeling the trunk move beneath me, though, I discovered that it hadn't been my stomach at all.
Back on my feet, I stared down, puzzled, as the thing began to thump, and the tapestry to vibrate. I looked both ways down the hallway, though I hadn't seen anybody for at least an hour. Then I tentatively leaned forward and knocked back on the trunk lid. There was a pause in the noises, but then a rapid, insistent knocking proceeded from inside. I jumped back. Then, I slowly leaned forward, lifted the tapestry, and found a lock holding the trunk closed.
“Um,” I said, feeling foolish for talking to a trunk, “the top appears to be locked.” I heard muffled yelling. “What's that?” I asked, and put my ear closer. Again, the mumbling. “I really can't understand you.” I paused. “I'm afraid I'm just going to have to break this lock open so you can tell me.” I took the mumbled yell to be an agreement, so I looked up and down the hall to find a possible tool. Ah, perfect. Conveniently, there was a full suit of armor standing there, with a sword.
I grabbed the sword, raised it above the lock, and slammed it down. When I opened my eyes, I saw that it had missed the lock completely, but had made a nice, long slice along the tapestry.
“Oops,” I said, and sat down to think about the best way to go about opening it. Finally, I had it! I angled the sword hilt toward the lock, so that the rest of it was sitting on the ground, and, with one swift bonk, the lock cracked open!
I scrambled to open the lid and was surprised to find who was inside.
“It's you!” we both exclaimed at once.
“Hey, you're the Pope's—um—friend,” I said awkwardly, averting my gaze from the man who had been in the chair and had a remarkable resemblance to the Pope.
“Well, you're close,” he grunted, as be began to try to lift himself out of the trunk. I noticed then that he really was quite an old man. I took pity on him, and reached out to help him up.
Once he was standing, puffing for breath and red in the face, he tried to speak again. It took a couple of tries before it worked.
“You fool,” he spluttered, and I drew back, offended.
“I AM the Pope!” he blustered.
I stood staring at him in shock. Finally, I could speak.
“You poor, sick man, you. Now, tell me where you live, and we can find some nice people to help you there,” I said, as I patted him on the shoulder.
I thought he had already caught his breath at this point, but he started puffing out his cheeks and breathing erratically. His face went from a rosy pink to red, almost taking on shades of purple. Oh, God, I thought. This poor lunatic was going to burst! I stood and watched in fascination.
“THIS IS WHERE I LIVE!” he shouted out finally. “I'm the bloody Pope! Are all of you people so stupid?” He had started flapping his arms about.
“There's no need to be insulting, sir,” I said haughtily. “I saw you with the Pope. Therefore, you can't be the Pope. You understand?” I tried explaining to him.
“He's an impostor! That—THING—came in and tried to get rid of me, so he could take over,” the man blustered, still standing in the trunk.
I looked him in the eyes, and narrowed mine. It was time to pull out the big guns, I decided.
“He had the hat,” I said. “And you didn't,” I finished. There. I had done it.
“He threw mine in the stove when he captured me!” His voice shook as he said it. “That was my favorite one, too.” Tears were forming in his eyes, and his lip quivered. I watched as he tried to compose himself, and I started to have an inkling. He really did look remarkably like the Pope. The other Pope had just kind of roared at me when I commented on his hat. But this man...well, he was in tears about it. Maybe...
“All right,” I said suspiciously. “What's your favorite song?” He narrowed his eyes at me.
“Ave Maria, of course,” he answered disdainfully.
“Hmm...well, everyone knows that,” I said. I thought for a minute. “Okay. What are your favorite pajamas?”
He blustered again, offended. “How dare you! That is not an appropriate question!”
“So you don't know the answer?”
“How absurd! They're MY pajamas!”
“So then you know that you prefer your penguins?” I asked, leaning forward.
“Penguins! Bah! My duckies are far superior to any penguins,” he said quickly.
I stood and stared at him in awe. He hadn't fallen for my trick. And since I had bribed guards before to tell me all about the Pope's personal preferences, I knew the right answers. And he had gotten it right. That could mean only one thing.
“Your Highness!” I shouted, and bowed down. I heard grumbling, so I stood back up.
“It's about time,” he muttered. I stood there, staring at him and grinning. “Well, are you going to help me out of this thing or what?” he asked.
“Oh! Yes! Of course!” I said, and took the Holy Hand as I led his Holy Aching Body out of the trunk.