Saturday, April 5, 2008

... actually, I saw it, I'm just too lazy to find the quote tonight

During my internet hiatus, I've had plenty of time to myself. I hadn't realized just how much time I kill by doing nothing much at all. Of course, I also spent that time writing (or trying to write, depending on the day, but a subject for another day) so that takes an appreciable amount off of it.

I've spent most of that time reading and thinking. Thinking about what I've read, thinking on my writing, thinking about myself. It's been kind of a down period, a time to focus internally, take assessment of where I am, and strike out again restocked from a new fortified and rejuvenated center.

What I've found, more than anything, is that my writing is lacking.

Some dude named [ find this guy later and put him in here, and haha on me if I post this with this tag still intact ] said that "a writer's apprenticeship includes one million words which are then discarded. Then he is ready to begin."

I'm not at the big 1,000,000 (impressive written out like that, ne?) but I'm about halfway. This is if we only include works of fiction, because if we attribute all my lengthy bits of roleplaying and blogging and journaling and ranting over the years, I've well surpassed a million and I'm probably pushing or have beaten 2mil. I don't like that idea, though, because to be completely honest I flew into my first novel as blind as if those words hadn't counted, so I'm content to say they did not.

So I'm not at a million, but I'm getting there by hook or by crook. And I've found that while I'm getting a grasp for the demands of a book--be they character bits, or plot lines, or themes or whatever--the bones of the writing is what really needs the work.

I think this has a lot to do with the editing of MS, really. I read through it, and was struck time and again with the fact that it was a great story, but that my writing just wasn't up to par. Often it was soft, unsure, lacking the confidence I needed to have. As much as I hate the bastard's writing, Hemingway never pulled a punch when it came to narration. Things were. They weren't. People said and did and lived and died. Nothing was ever a maybe.

I'm not going to write like Hemingway, or even attempt it, but I need to learn to tighten up my own voice. I know my book. I'm telling the story. I can't back away from it or hem and haw over it. I need to stride forward and put the words on the page and not blink in the face of them.

There is a painting by Japanese hero Miyamoto Musashi of a bird on a branch. I have this picture prefacing one of the books on Zen I have. The most remarkable thing about the picture is the complete purity of it. Done with black ink and a brush, the main focus of the painting (the branch) is drawn in one master stroke. A single like cutting across the page, turning to and fro, but never stopping. It is a line that defines. A line that divides.

But beyond everything else, it is a line put down without fear. It is what it is. It is a killing stroke turned into creation. It is the mind's weapon unleashed for poetry as opposed to distruction.

I still stands, to me, as one of the most defining ideas to me of what art should stand for.

I'm looking for my voice. The thing that is ME as a writer. Many people say I already have voice, but it's not where it should be. The book I'm trying to write requires my voice to grow and change. This is great, because I need to always stretch for something greater in order to evolve as a writer.

I need a bigger voice. A surer voice. A voice that writes the way Musashi painted. A voice that is a killing stroke, a voice that puts the words on the page and makes no excuses for them. A voice that is willing to utilize the language without fear.

I don't know what my voice will be--whether it'll be flashy or simple; casual or formal. When I think of the kind of writing that makes me feel something stir, it's writing with powerful voice. There are specific authors I have in mind, but my books will look nothing like theirs. Indeed, my voice is nothing like theirs and never will be. Nor would I want it to be. But in them, I see something of myself. I see where I want to go with these words.

So I've been reading. And thinking. I pulled back my overextended and weary forces, I sent the troops home to tend to their families for a while, and now they're back on the front. The winter's passed, the harvest was safe and babies will be born in time for the next one.

Now the forces stand at the ready again, feeling stronger. Sun Tzu knew the meaning of morale when it came time to fight a war. And while there have been plenty of warfare metaphors here in this post, I think they're accurate enough. All things are related to all things, so they say. In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg mentioned offhandedly that the further one gets into writing, the more things seem to relate to it. In the end, a writer relates to all things through the vehicle of their task. The medium itself becomes transparent and all encompassing.

Maybe this is just a moment of that. And it's not just writers. Anyone who is very into their career or passion eventually sees things through the skien of that passion. It can't be helped. It's as natural as runny noses and muddy shoes.

The troops might be ready to strike out on a new campaign, but let us not forget, it is still spring.

The only difference between us is everything

I was out at Borders on Saturday night, Saturday being the 29th (for clarification, since at the time of writing this I have no idea when this'll go live on the site). I went out there to meet a friend from NaNo07, a very pleasant woman by the name of Jennifer.

I've been mostly absent from the NaNo group meetings post-November. Moving three times has kind of sucked my time, and the general mental malaise of the past few months hasn't helped any. But I was out and about on Saturday, and figured what the hell. If someone was going to go out and sit to wait, I would join them. I didn't have anything on the burner that couldn't wait.

The first thing she said (and if you're reading this post, don't worry, this isn't about you, I swear, I'm far too selfish to do something like that) was that she had enjoyed my blog. Also that she found it confident and open and honest.

I sat there, holding this telephone directory of literary agents (which I didn't buy, if only because there were other things to buy [Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle and the World War Z audiobook, if you must know] and I'm not ready to deal with agents yet so the book would sit and gather dust...) listening to her and feeling some sort of disconnect upon the level of someone telling you that in actuality, caffeine was a depressant, up was down, and violence really was the answer. This as I was holding a book that could qualify in some cultures as a deadly weapon.

( ... continuing the parinthetical statement, I know the idea of a book sitting and gathering dust is a laugh and a half to anyone who knows anything about my book-buying habits. I now have nearly thirty books that are doing just that, and it doesn't seem like that's going to change in any appreciable way anytime soon.

Honestly, I just didn't want to shell out $30 for nonfiction. I will, eventually, but man I hate doing shit like that. Oh well, I can write it off for taxes next year, supposedly. )

Back to the matter at hand, I have been told numerous times that my blog is many things, but guarded and restrained were chief among them. This is stuff from people I *trust* too, so their opinion was what I highly regarded when it came to matters of opinion that I was far to subjective to make objectively.

So my friends thought my blog was distant, and people I barely know think it's honest. Hrm. What does that say about:

1) People I don't know so well,

2) People I know pretty darn well,

3) My blog, or most importantly,

4) Myself?

It's really hard to guage something like that, you know? Maybe I'm just that extreme to my friends. And I've heard that before. I don't pull a lot of punches around people I'm comfortable with and I try to make sure that I don't say anything in my blog that I'm someday going to regret (trust me, I say a lot of things to friends that I'd regret in the public forum of this lovely internet, no matter how isolated my corner may be).

I don't know how I feel about this, though. Is it good? Bad? Whatever? It's good that other people think I let it all out, even if that's not true. Is the illusion of honesty better than honesty? And am I even being dishonest? Just because I might bite my tongue from time to time, that doesn't necessarily make me less truthful or anything, does it?

This leads me to something I've already been thinking a lot of. I'll shove it into its own post, since it's a different subject and will make a long post in its own right.

Monday, March 31, 2008

brain jetsam 1: the mystery is lost with telling

The following is brain jetsam, pay it no mind:

It was my Sophomore year of high school and the sophomore slump for me involved being absent more days than I went. To be fair, it wasn’t my fault. I was sick. With what (I vote malaise and sinus problems, but the pundits still debate) doesn’t really matter, but needless to say that two surgeries and two … other hospitalizations (one in-patient and one out) kept me away from the hallowed halls of my local high school for quite some time.

It was between my two hospitalizations (after the in-patient one, before the out-patient) that I was sitting after school catching up on math homework. My math teacher was a fellow by the name of Mr. Williams. He was tall, lanky and balding and irredeemably nerdy. It had something to do with the fact that he was genuinely excited about high school level math and teaching it.

I know it’s judgmental of me, but I can’t help but look down on that. Sure, be excited about anything else, practically, but math? Algebra II, at that? Goodness, talk about a hollow pursuit. But then, he might feel the same way about literature, so let him.

Regardless, he had left me to do some sort of work at his desk while he did whatever it is teachers do after school gets out but before they go home (hours that are longer and more interesting than you might think) that I decided to glance along the papers on his desk.

I’m not a snoop, but there’s only so many polynomial equations I could do then before my eyes went funny and my thoughts turned murderous (now that number is a total non-entity because at the first polynomial my corpus callosum grows teeth and starts devouring my prefrontal cortex in a fit of envy). So I looked.

Near the top, under a calculator that I accidentally nudged aside when I moved my book, was a note. This was one of those “Please excuse student” notes that I was growing more and more familiar with. And on it was the following message:

Please excuse from class from xx/xx/02 until further notice. He has been hospitalized following a suicide attempt.

I could sympathize with the poor guy, though I don’t remember his name and probably didn’t five minutes after I read the note. Just back from my own limited engagement among the committed and incarcerated youths of the mentally hospitalized I knew that those were rough shakes. I certainly was never suicidal, but there were plenty of people I saw there who were.

However, the note tugged at my brain a little. It’s been my experience with notes that explanations don’t need to fall that specifically and that far down the ladder. My own excursions into the world of patients and pills was fairly discreet and disclosed only on a need-to-know basis. Mostly because nobody needed to know, mostly, and when I had been gone so much with doctors notes for all of them it wasn’t hard to believe that something was truly wrong with me. Hospital would suffice, as I imagine it would to anybody.

Being in a hospital is specific. Specific enough, anyway. They’re expensive and verifiable. So it should be enough. Nobody ever played hookie by going to a hospital. Going out of your way to specify the exact reasoning, especially in a perfunctory note like that, seemed overly honest. A kind of embarrassing, shameful honesty that bordered on contempt for the kid in question.

Did his parents hate him for doing what he did? Or did he simply not care that the world knew? If that’s the case, I’m unsure if that would classify it as a cry for help or the serious suicide type. Hard to say.

Then again, it could have meant nothing at all. As I was soon to find out, I was apparently still crazy. Pundits still argue as to with what.

I could have sworn it stood for Eustation.

So, apparently I've been given the E is for Excellent award by my good buddy Morgetron, who is awesome and well deserving of the title of Excellence.

The award looks like this!

Anyway, apparently this award was first concocted by Kayla at Project Mommy, and Morgetron was awarded it by The Dutch Files. I haven't read either of these, but I'll trust Morgy. Anyway, the award is supposedly some sort of viral thing I'm supposed to award to other people, but I'm going to hold onto it to give out at a later date.

Because such an idea is excellent.

It's hard to do vibrato when you breathe through gills.

I'm a pacer.

I know this. Anybody who's dealt with me long enough in casual company knows this. Any appreciable amount of time I have to stand around invariably ends with me going back and forth and around again, shooting off in random directions. Like a shark, it doesn't matter so much where I'm going as long as I'm moving. To not pace is unthinkable. It would be like talking without my hands or not chewing on my pens.

Honey, it's just not *in* me.

Regardless, I usually have some spare time now, in between finishing my work day and my ride showing up (on my hopefully soon to be done forever carpooling situation). And now that the weather has gone from Ninth-Circle-Gee-Count-Uglio-Want-Some-Katsup-With-That-Enemy to merely hrm-kinda-cool I stand and wait and read. There's a very nice, open cement area. Not quite a courtyard, more than a sidewalk.

And I stand. And read. And pace.

Back and forth and up and down and katy corner (both ways!) and around in kind of lazy circles and squares and sometimes even triangles. With the wind in my hair and the sun on my face (even that weak anemic sun that hasn't quite made it to spring yet but is really trying to update its wardrobe as soon as it can afford to, you know how the economy is) I can't help but move around. Words and steps, movement and thought. It's the closest I've ever come to walking meditation, and that's impressive because I'm about as comfortable meditating as white surpremacists are at the apollo.

Wow, that simile came out of no where. Talk about your elephants in the room.

Anywho, there's something special about moving and reading. A kind of connective synchronization between the physical and the mental. I adore it. I wish I could do it more.

So, when/if I ever have my own house, I need to have a space for this. Maybe a flat, manicured lawn. Maybe a zen garden full of stones neatly raked into patterns I'll immediately destroy as I tromp my merry way over the oceans I created. Maybe just a large and empty patio.

And I'll pace. Probably for an hour or two at a time, burning through my books. Maybe I'll, miracle of all miracles, get a tan. Lord knows I wouldn't otherwise be bothered. And then the neighbors will look over and see this crazy fellow wandering around in mad circles and patterns for long stretches of time as he flips through books and talks to himself at times about what he's reading and what he's thinking.

Maybe even singing. I do that from time to time, too, while I'm reading or pacing. Can't help it.

Like the sharks, if I don't sing, I die.