Archive | April, 2013

Monkeys and Puppies

29 Apr

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I heard a while ago that some monkeys will kidnap puppies – not as food – to raise them as pets. Supposedly, it’s a symbiotic relationship, where the baboons will feed and protect the puppy, which will grow up loyal to the primates. The dogs then provide protection for the baboons, when they grow larger. Now, it’s probably not (strictly speaking) a ‘True’ story. But it’s a good one. And it set my brain off on a fun adventure.

Woof woof!  Eek! Oop! Eek!  Ruff!

Like a lot of my creative friends and colleagues, I have trouble going “back to the well” for sustenance. It’s a lot easier to bang my head against a wall, I guess, than to withdraw, review, and reflect. Or, at least, that’s how it feels. I know how to smash myself against the wall – I do that every day. Going “back to the well” is scary, on some level. I’m giving up direct control and letting the spirit of inspiration carry me.

But, of course, I’ve gotta do it. Eventually, I’m going to collapse from all this wall-smashing anyway. It’s wiser (and easier on the head) to take a break. My favorite way to recharge the creative energies is to play. Playing is something I can understand. There’s no risk, there’s nothing to lose, it’s just a fun time in my mental playground.

With the baboons and puppies idea, there is no shortage of toys to play with. If you extrapolate from the pattern thus far – from lesser primates, to humans – what do you suppose a further extension might be like? Monkeys are to us, what we are to… what? Some super-primate, alien species maybe? What if our first contact with sentient, alien life-forms is like that? They would probably be very condescending.

My brain smooshes these ideas together and it is pretty revealing and fun. If animals start domesticating other animals, maybe they’ll get a head start down the evolutionary road. Could dogs be the spark of sapience? Maybe dogs are messengers from our alien space brothers, sent here to elevate us from our common monkey-hood? Yeah, that’s kind of nice.

The odd-shaped puzzle pieces of story and weirdness start to click into place. Ideas for fantasy, horror, pulp adventure, and science fiction all compete for available brain energy. Settings, characters, and conflicts play out in my thoughts. It’s a good feeling, keeping the juices flowing – the pot simmering.

Will I ever DO anything with this? No, probably not. But that’s not the point. This is a lesson that I have to learn, over and over again: Relax, play, have fun. I forget and fall into the rut of feeling like it’s all work. Soon, it feels normal to bang my head into a wall, every day. It’s so ridiculous, especially when it is so easy to bring myself around. All you need to do is give yourself permission to chase those phantoms and see where they take you.

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Anti-SAD and Nerd Nightmares

27 Apr

A lot of my friends suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). All winter, they fight melancholy and lethargy and long for the sun to come back so they can get back to normal. They grumble about not being able to get up in the morning without a sun lamp and grouse about needing more coffee. All winter, it’s hell for them.

I don’t have that problem.

In fact, this year, I’m realizing that I may suffer from Anti-SAD, or SODD as one friend calls it (Seasonal Oppositional Defiant Disorder). I don’t hate winter. I love it. I love to nest and stay inside in the cold weather, to watch the rain run down the windows, to have hot tea by roaring fire, to sleep under five blankets. I love that I can stay in and work, without people mowing their lawns at 8 am or chatting as they walk their dogs past my window or asking me to go do outdoor stuff that will only lead to sunburns and heat stroke on my part. I love that winter encourages people to go home early because it’s dark and cold. It’s much more acceptable to leave a party if it’s already full dark at 7 pm. As much as I love being social, I also love that option. Winter is the introvert season.

Reading in Winter

This is not me but you get the idea…

Summer, on the other hand, is the extrovert season. Everybody goes out. On a sunny day, an introvert like me can’t just pop down to the diner for some quiet writing time because everyone I know is there. I get strange looks at the grocery store when the clerk asks if I’m enjoying the weather and I say I’ve been reading in bed all morning. And the worst part? I sleep A LOT more. Every afternoon, when the sun is drowning the world in its horrible heat, I start to fall asleep. It’s involuntary. My eyes just won’t stay open. I want to go crawl into my dim room, turn on a loud fan to block the noises outside, and check out for as long as I can.

And when I do, I have nerd nightmares from being too warm. I hate the nerd nightmares most of all.

In the winter, I don’t have these kinds of nightmares. In the winter, my nightmares are conventional: being hunted by zombies or taking a test naked. But when the weather starts to warm up? My nightmares, they do change.

In the heat, I dream about being hit on by Wil Wheaton. I truly have nothing against Mr. Wheaton, but I don’t want to date him, in real life or otherwise. In the dream, I repeatedly tell him that I can’t hook up with him because 1) I have a fabulous boyfriend already, and 2) Mr. Wheaton is married himself. But he just keeps trying to lay down and put his head on my lap. It’s extremely uncomfortable. Then the dream morphs, as dreams do, and I’m with a bunch of people I used to know a long time ago. One of them, a guy I never really liked and haven’t actually seen in years, proudly shows me his extremely long novel. He’s just printed it out. On my printer. Which was almost out of ink before and now has none. I get really annoyed because now I can’t print out my novel. He doesn’t seem to care and everyone ignores me to congratulate him.

Then I wake up, sweaty and pissed off. The sun from the slats in the window shade blinds me. My dog starts barking because she senses a cat cleaning itself on the patio. Someone next door yells to their friends over the sounds of jazz music at their garden party.

And I fight melancholy and lethargy and long for the sun to go away so I can get back to normal. I grumble about not being able to stay awake because of the heat and grouse about needing more coffee. And for some odd reason, my suddenly cheerful and productive friends just don’t seem to understand, even when I tell them about the nerd dreams. They just don’t get it.

Things That Work, Part 2

26 Apr

Things That Work
Part 2

I wish my shower was this cool

I wish my shower was this cool

It was Autumn and the precious few hours of sunshine were long gone. I leaned my head against the side of the shower and let the hot water pour over me. Warm steam filled my lungs and began to thaw my chilled joints.

I had been working on my story almost all evening, only coming out for dinner. My wife was now in bed, my daughter was in bed, and I was supposed to be in bed already – after all, I had to wake up and pretend to be a responsible adult in just a few hours. My thoughts began to drift, away from my writing, to the looming deadlines I had at my so-called real job.

And that is when it hit me. A connection between two big themes in my book – the close of a gap that had been driving me nuts – just popped into my head. Not only was it A good idea, it was the RIGHT idea. Unfortunately, it arrived at a terrible time.

“Wow,” I said through the drizzle of hot water. “Thanks a lot, brain.”

I dried off, wrapped my bathrobe around myself and headed out to my computer. My mind was happy and irritated, at the same time. Two hours later, even more exhausted and stinking of cigarette smoke, I collapsed into bed.

The next day was torture, but I knew I deserved every moment of suffering. How could I have gone to bed, in the face of such illumination? What other choice was there? I couldn’t imagine any other course of action.

Three days later, the same damn thing happened. It felt like I had been cursed.

Again, up very late. In the shower, trying to not think about words, or stories, or anything. Really, just minding my own, and ready for the sweet embrace of sleep. And that’s when I suffered an epiphany. And believe me, I think “suffered” is the right term. I tried to push the idea away, but it just nailed me.

“God damn it,” I muttered to the shower wall. “Why didn’t I think of this four hours ago?”

A few hours and several rewritten pages later, I fell asleep in my chair. When I awoke around dawn, my legs were numb, my neck was sore, and I felt as if the best part of my will to live had been dried up. In other words, it was a Writer’s Hangover. As I stumbled to bed and burrowed under the covers, I took small consolation in the fact that it was my day off.

When I dragged myself out of bed a few hours later, I swore this wasn’t going to happen again. After I drank half a pot of coffee and reviewed my changes and edits, I realized that I had been too tired to write clearly. The ideas were sound, it was my writing that had turned sour.

The next night, I tucked my daughter into bed. I checked in with my wife. And instead of rushing off to get to work on my book, I decided to do something else, first. I took a shower. It was half a clever notion, I’m sure. But the other half was grim determination. I’d be damned before I let some stupid inspiration or clarity rob me of my good night’s sleep.

“Stupid brain,” I grumbled as I dumped shampoo on my head. “So you like showers, huh?”

It was a ridiculous notion, I knew. But I stood under the scalding water, letting my mind wander, trying to focus only on my breathing. And the ideas charged down from the steamy ether. I pushed them aside, but they regrouped and mounted a counter-attack.

I stepped out of the shower, into my bathrobe, and perched on the edge of my seat. The words slipped into place, the scenes lined up, and nobody had to get hurt. Midnight rolled around. I went to bed.

<> <> <>

And THAT is what works. For me, anyway. But only when I feel ‘stuck’ in my work. If everything is jumbled up, inside my head, I know that I should walk away. But just the simple distance from the writing can loosen up the ideas.

It doesn’t work like a magic trick, or like some silly ‘cheat code’ for the brain. But it kind of is a mind game. I don’t know a lot about meditation, or self-hypnosis, but I like the results of this silly process. You should give it a try, if the need arises.

I think this comes back to my mantra, as a practical word-jockey: Whatever puts words on the page – that’s what I need to do.

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Writing Under the Influence

25 Apr

I’ve recently made a rather unsettling correlation: I write better, faster, more often, and with more enjoyment when I eat junk food. I used to joke when I was younger that I couldn’t write while I was in a relationship or on a diet. Well, I seem to have overcome the first, but the latter is still persistently and disturbingly true.

In the past year, I’ve made a lot of discoveries about how I should treat my body if I want to be healthy and happy. I won’t go into all of them here, because I hate blogs about that sort of thing, but suffice it to say, I really can’t eat a lot of the things that people commonly eat. OK, so just stop eating those things, right? The problem is, when I do eat them, along with the nasty side effects, I get this nice creative surge. I connect with my muse and, boy, does she express herself! She sings from the rooftops like a teen girl in love when I eat a pizza, for example. And don’t get me started on milk chocolate. Or jelly candies. Or ice cream. Oh, man, ice cream…

But when I eat what I’m supposed to eat? Nada. It’s like I have to find just the right hair on my head, yank it out, and repeat, one for each word. I inevitably give up.

I’ve thought about this a lot, trying to figure out exactly why this is happening. I think it’s the same reason that artists and writers over the centuries have used intoxicants of all sorts: simply put, things that numb you out out also let you be creative.

When I’m being healthy, I am very aware of the world. I am in the moment, in touch with my surroundings, and at one with the universe. It’s all the things that people say you should be. I should be blissfully calm and serene and happy, right?

Nope. I can’t stand it.

If my body is running on all cylinders, I feel like I’m living in a box made of glass. I can’t get away from anything. Everything in my environment is a distraction, an intrusion. I can’t get to the place where I’m creative, that dark secret place where ideas bubble up from my subconscious and percolate into stories. I’m so completely conscious and aware that my muse is left standing on that rooftop in my deep brain, alone and forlorn, with no one to hear her sing. I literally can’t utilize my internal processes. It’s as if I’m cut off. All surface, no depth, makes Alexandra a blocked writer.

Whereas, when I eat junk, I get a wonderful buzz. I zone out, not enough to be impaired, but just enough to disconnect from the world and access that place where my muse lives. Suddenly, the box is opaque on three sides and I have room to hide a bit, to ignore outside stuff. Then I can get back to that rooftop and hear the song. (There’s a lot of imagery in this post, huh? Yeah, I just had a bowl of tortellini alfredo. Sigh.)

I don’t want to be in pain and lethargic and all the other things that happen when I don’t take care of myself. But I also want to write. So what’s the answer? I’ll let you know when I find it. Or, if you’ve already found the balance, please please please, leave it in the comments. My muse would be ever so grateful. She’s sick of singing to nobody.

Found on the Elevator

22 Apr

 

OK, this is just kinda neat. Wil Wheaton posted a reference to it today and it turns out side one is available on SoundCloud. Here’s the rundown:

This inexplicable 10-inch record from 1969 is one of the strangest and most obscure private pressings you could ever hope to find. It contains a 24-minute psychedelic message from the distant future, presented with intermittent bursts of electronic music, feedback and ambient noise. This recording is an “unauthorized experiment” that was made in the year 2058 C.D.S. (Carbon Dating System), a “blue verbal data feed” sent backwards in time to “retro A.D.” by Decker, T. L., index J-3, CMR 00965 of T-Group Roaring Vectors 252, a human cyborg who suffers from a malfunctioning number nine electrode in his head which causes him to have an emotional breakdown as he records this message. It’s a secret message to a past world he has trouble imagining, a retro world of foreign substances like metal, plastic, animals, soldiers… a world all “physical and slow,” “all mechanical and disunified, before major coordinations.” An 8½” 20RPM disc containing this recording was found on the elevator at 205 W. 57th Street in New York City on February 11, 1969 by the composer Clark Gesner. The only other known copy of this record resides in Box 44 Folder 7 of the Clark Genser archive at the Princeton University Library Manuscripts Division: A 1973 issue of Radical Software magazine (Vol. II Nr 3) contains a partial (inaccurate and rather poorly comprehended) transcript of a little over half of this recording, as well as a letter from Mr. Gesner declaring this recording to be a part of the public domain.

This is either exactly what it says it is (!), or a great piece of weird art. It’s worth a listen, any way you look at it.

I Accidentally A Word

21 Apr
blind spot

blind spot

 

Why does this happen to me? I’m good to my loved ones. I brush my teeth before I go to bed, every night. I even eat my vegetables. What did I do to earn this terrible curse? “What curse?” you ask? Well, let me tell ya… it’s the second worst affliction that you can suffer as a writer: the blind spot. (I don’t wanna talk about the worst affliction right now; it’s a sore subject)

At least, that’s what I call it. It’s an error so glaringly obvious that you’d have to be blind to miss it. And yet, that’s exactly what happens. I’ll be in the middle of a story and write something like:

“Jerry walked up to window,” he said.

Which should have read:

“Jerry walked up to the window,” he said.

I do this kind of thing all the time and it drives me insane. The real horrible part is that I’ll miss it on my first read-through. Hell, I might end up missing it every time. I once left this kind of error in, only to find it after the work had gone to press.

It’s embarrassing enough, even when no one else will read it. Imagine how terrible it feels when you include in something that is for sale. “Yes, please, pay me money for my idiotic typos.” I’m sure it is understandable – forgivable even – but it feels SO very bad to do.

At least some of the time, these blind spots will be caught by the grammar check in your word processor. But there have been plenty of times that I have blown right by the squiggly green lines under my words. I’m sure we’ve all had that kind of arrogant reaction, “Oh, Word – you just don’t understand my cool, hip grasp of the English language.” Well, maybe it’s just me. I do spend an awful lot of time talking at my computer…

The blind spot will happen to me, over and over. I’ll find one, squash it, only to find another in my next read-through. It gets so bad in longer manuscripts that I want to break down and cry. I get paranoid too, which only magnifies the problem. In fact, I’m pretty certain there a few hiding in this rant I’ve written. I have to force myself to go on, to ignore the impulse to review and edit right this minute. It’s tough.

I’m sure it’s all due to pattern recognition. The act of mental closure helps our minds fill in those gaps. It’s why you can read those stupid chain emails from your grandma. You know, the ones that go: “If yuo cna raed tshi yuo aer srmat.” Yeah. You feel pretty clever when you plow through that. It’s not so nice when you send the protagonist of your novel says, “What is problem man?” Grr.

If you’re like me, and you’ve carried out this kind of self-diagnosis, what can you do? How does a writer recover from – or compensate for – this kind of weird ailment? I have found only two things that help.

1. Readers: Whether it’s your significant other, or your mom, or your writing group, you need people to read your stuff. If you can arrange it so your proof-readers are helpful to your editing process, you are living a charmed life.

2. Inertia: You have to keep on, keeping on – as they say. Do NOT stop writing, even when you see these terrible… ‘goggins’ rear their ugly heads. Shut that internal editor up and keep writing. Tell yourself that you can fix it later.

I know that not all writers have this problem, but I bet all of us have similar issues. Some of my best friends can’t spell correctly to save their lives. Hell, even I rely on spell-check more than I should. Others have bad habits with sentence structure, or the way characters speak. And the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad truth about all of it is this: We are probably stuck with these problems. We can tame them to a certain extent, but I fear these faults are just a part of us.

Well, they’re a part me, I should say. I assume that everyone struggles, because my fragile ego couldn’t handle the existence of a perfect author. And I’m neurotic/cynical enough to believe that I’ll never kick my problems entirely.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because I don’t think we find meaning or purpose in ‘perfection’ but in the pursuit of perfection. It’s not the destination that’s important, it the journey.

φ

*Yes, I meant to do that.

IDEA – Abandoned Works

20 Apr

Abandoned, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

a-ban-doned

  1. Deserted; forsaken.
  2. Exuberantly enthusiastic.
  3. Recklessly unrestrained.

(that’s a pretty sweet definition; two-thirds of it sounds like a party!)

I have more good ideas than bad. This is a natural state of affairs and I’m blessed with the uncanny insight to be able to distinguish one from the other. Well, most of the time, anyway. I don’t want to go off on a personal rant, so I’ll just keep this relevant to my writing/editing skills.

So many times, I’ll put together the seed of a story or a novel, but it doesn’t go anywhere. I keep an ongoing file of ideas that I want to nurture, or meditate about. Often, though, nothing ever comes from it. Then I got the notion that I don’t need to do anything important with these things. Why keep ‘em locked up in a notebook?

This is the plan: I’m going to post up some story seeds. Sometimes, it’ll all be fleshed out, with characters, setting, and all that good stuff. Other times, it’ll just be bare bones – maybe some dialogue and some notes. And I’m going to use a creative commons license to make it a ‘free culture’ product. That means that anyone can use it, for anything they want, with little/no restrictions.

Maybe someone will come across these ideas – these deliberately abandoned works – and make something of them. More likely, they’ll just languish here, in this weird corner of the internet, forever. At the very least, I’ll get the opportunity to kick out some dead weight, get some mental exercise and have some fun. Of course, there’s always the chance that I’ll get very, very lucky and you’ll enjoy reading what I’ve got.

I’ll be posting up my first abandoned work shortly. I hope you enjoy it.

-Patrick

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