Requiem for a Notebook

My Writing Practice notebook is filled. This one is, at least. I will start a new one tonight when I sit down again. Yesterday I wrote to the end of the current one and, because I was curious, I decided to do a review. Here’s what I found:

There are 100 sheet / 200 pages in this notebook. A few of the pages are covered with other writings, so they don’t count. I filled 191 sheets with my scrawl. The first 4 sheets had 197, 190, 170, and 167 words on them. I’ll estimate all those 191 sheets have 175 words each, for a total of 33,425 words, which would be about 135 pages when printed. That’s a long novella. Not bad.

My longest streak was 13 days in a row, starting July 2 and going through July 14. The next longest was 11 days from 8/4 through 8/14. Hm, something about the 15th of the month that I don’t want to write?

I did a 5-day series early in July on “Describe sex…” The first few lines of each are as follows:

7-3-18 This is a strange one. Because most other phenomenon a will be described by their physical properties – the game of baseball will be about… ; sex, on the other hand is more likely to be described in emotional terms.

7-4-18 It’s a physical status and a physical act. Status – male or female. Act – penetration, intercourse interaction.

7-5-18 “Sex is natural, sex is fun. Sex is best when it’s one-on-one!” “Let’s talk about sex, baby, let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things, that may be.”

7-6-18 Sex is power. Sex is control. Sex is authority. Sex is “top” and “bottom”, sex is “giver” and “receiver”. Sex is “fucking” – an active verb, an authoritative act – and it is “getting fucked” – a receptive, passive, dominated, submissive state.

7-7-18 Sex is biting nipples. It is stroking shoulders and grabbing hair, but not by the ends, to pull and to hurt, but close, at the back of the head, right by the name of the neck, just to get a feeling of control

I had “lose control” experiences on 7/22, 7/29, 8/5, 8/16, and 8/18. These are times when I stop thinking, stop getting logical, and often my pen does not even make words any longer. It looks like this:

7/22, at the end when I’ve completely lost control

On 8/4 I ended with “I come in the whirlwind.” I liked that line so much that I started my writing practice on 8/5 with that same line.

On 8/20 I ran a pen dry. This is always a satisfying experience. My topic was “Write about background music – “. I started and as I noticed that the pen was close to exhaustion, I promised myself I would keep going until it gave out. 6.5 pages in, the ink finally finished and I quit.

On 8/22 my topic was “Write in incomplete sentences.” It looked like this:

This will be a challenging for ________.

I don’t often ________.

In the middle of my sentences I usually ________.

Somewhat _______, but there’s this cute girl at the ________ that wasn’t immediately rejecting me last time I ________.

On 9/9 I ran out of space. I had no more empty pages. But I wasn’t done writing for the day, so I turned the notebook 45 degrees and wrote over the last page a second time. If I try reaaaaaally hard, I could probably decipher what I wrote the first time and the second time. I don’t want to try that hard.

I wrote on 60 of 83 days available during this period. I had one long stretch at the beginning where I missed 7 days in a row (I must have been doing something else the 3rd week of June), but for all the rest I usually only missed a day before writing again. My next notebook I’ll aim for 60 days of 70 (skip one day a week, on average).

I’m pretty satisfied with this one. Now it goes on the shelf. Will it ever come back off? Not likely. But still, having that tangible reminder of what I’ve done is always valuable to me.

Writing Practice – 9/8/2018 – a Letter

Write a letter to someone you haven’t seen in a long time…

Dear ________,

I’m sorry that I haven’t written in, gosh, probably 25 years, almost. The last time was when we were back in high school. And I do apologize – I’ve forgotten your name. Somehow. But I haven’t forgotten that you lived in Ames, Iowa. I thought it was cute, back then, like I thought you were cute.

Do you remember, we met on separate Choir trips to the same place? Must have been Chicago – that’s the only trip my choir ever went on. I was Treasurer of the club that year, so I spent more time counting checks than I did counting eighth notes. But that was okay – I learned quickly and sang well, so I could afford to miss rehearsals.

I would ask you how you have been, but I realize that’s a very bland, very “standard” question. I want to ask what has made you happy? What made you cry? Have you ever seen a sunset, all by yourself, standing or sitting at the top of a mountain you just climbed? What makes you laugh?

I would tell you about my life, but there’s too much. Facts aren’t that interesting, really. I know you want the stories – I want to tell them. Like how I ended up on the floor in my underwear at 2 am, crying and praying and dripping snot down my cheeks onto my chest. Or how I put half a dozen holes in the walls. Or how I almost passed out when I fell, once, and that shook me up enough to make some more drastic changes. You want to know my successes and failures. You want to know what I’m proud of and what I regret.

You know what? I’m proud of the fact that I can park 2 cars in my 2-car garage. It may seem like something people don’t often brag about, but I’m really happy I can do that.

You know what I regret? Not keeping in touch with people. Not just you – Andy, Andrew, Nathan, my brother for a while. I want to be a better friend. I want to support my friends in their journeys. I want them to support me. I don’t want to blow away like an ash from a campfire, tossed up into the wind, tumbled along without intention, without purpose, without goals that, when I achieve them, will bring a measure of satisfaction for a job well done.

I want to be happy. And I want others to be happy, too There is enough in this world for us all to achieve what we want. Why hoard? Why restrict? Give. Even if it is not returned to you, that happiness, that love, that community, give anyway. Because it is the right thing to do. If it comes back, then give again. And if it does not, well, then, you will have done the right thing, and that is most important.

Please, do write back. Maybe then I will remember your name. 🙂

Sincerely,

SJ

Writing Practice – 9/5/2018

Heart & Soul, p 201

“While most young men dream of becoming a professional athlete, Herschel Turner dreamed of becoming an artist.”

He would read books on Matisse and Magritte. He practiced cubism, sculpture, and 3-dimensional art. He painted wide swaths of canvas with daring colors, red and blue and green and orange, sometimes merging them into a dun-colored masterpiece that seemed almost indistinguishable from those hanging in the Guggenheim.

Herschel painted, sculpted, or cast into bronze by instinct. He’d seen all the others and determined to do it better, more simply, more provocatively, than they had. Just why anyone ever actually bough his shit was still remained a mystery to him. He even tried to throw them off with obsequious artist’s statements like

“This piece transcends the boundaries of language and meaning, reaching beyond context into meta-context and sub-comprehension. It is as if my feline inner nature were awakened by the transcendence of participation in the birth of this piece, and the reality has been shattered by its convergence into the conscious plane. Really, it is a sight to behold, one of the Nine Wonders of the Modern World, alongside Barack Obama, the gyroscope, and the theory of the electroweak force. Humanity is worse off for its participation in such drivel.”

And yet he was called a revolutionary. A genius. A man out of his own time. For us, as art critics, we could not see the value in what he’d been doing. But maybe that was because we were too close to the subject, to steeped in mythology and folklore of what had gone before to truly be able to step back and accept it for what it was, art, ART, art that moved people. That challenged them, that made their hearts melt or yearn or burn, and so they had to have his pieces, critical analysis be damned. I wish we could have seen IT. I wish we could have opened our minds, our eyes, just once, to see with that naive, childlike vision, to take in something just as it was, just as it made us feel, not what we thought it meant or with an eye to judge how well the execution outpaced the idea of the thing. OH, to be simple once more. To have that bland, blank stare of childhood, when you can simply like something, and you don’t have to have a reason. I miss those days.

Writing Advice

A friend (M) asked me for advice for said friend’s child (R) who has shown interest in and talent for writing. So here’s what I came up with. I offer this to you as either inspiration, a wet blanket on your enthusiasm, or however you want to take it.

***

So my thoughts for R. (or you, or the teacher, or whoever else wants to know about writing) are this (in general order, but do a lot of them all at the same time):

1) To write well, you need to read. A lot. And a lot of different things. R. should be reading at least a book a week, maybe 2 or 3. She doesn’t have that much going on that she can’t also be reading a lot. So find a few authors she likes and read a bunch by those. And then find some things that she starts and thinks, “I absolutely hate this”, then finish it and asks yourself, “why did I not like it?”

2) Write. A lot. Get a notebook. Write at least 10 minutes a day. Here are some topics to start writing about, if you can’t think of some:

I feel…

I smell…

I remember…

I want to go to…

I used to be…

One time, when I walked outside, I saw…

I wish…

Yesterday I dreamed…

When you fill a notebook, read it back through, once. Then put it on the shelf. Start another one. When you finish that one, read it through, then put it on the shelf. Keep going until you have 10 notebooks. Then keep going again. Sometimes, set a timer for an hour and don’t stop writing until it goes off. If you get stuck, keep moving with “Okay, now I’m stuck and I don’t know what to write. So I’ll just write what I hear. I hear…”

3) Did I mention reading a lot? Yeah, keep doing that.

4) If she’s going to be blogging, I recommend you (M) be the blog owner and she work with you to publish stuff. That way you’ll have access to comment moderation. I use WordPress, because it’s free (if you want, I think I pay something like $99 a year to have a domain that doesn’t include “.wordpress” in it). I’m sure there are a hundred blogging sites, you can find something that works for you.

5) At first, set a schedule for blogging. Like, “one post every Monday and then one every Thursday or Friday”. That way, one of the things  she wrote on Friday – Sunday can be selected for Monday, and one of the things from Monday – Thursday can be selected for Thursday or Friday. This will get her into a rhythm of writing, but it will also remove the pressure to create additional pieces just to post. Don’t worry if it isn’t great. Blogging isn’t meant to be perfect.

6) Read. A lot. Not just books. Have her read the New York Times from front to back one day. Go to the library and read an article from each of Cat Fancy, Guns & Ammo, Cosmopolitan, Ebony, and Science. Mix these up, read different titles each month. She won’t understand some, some you might have to chaperone or totally block, but just get her reading a variety of stuff, not just Nancy Drew or Wimpy Kid all the time.

7) Write more.

8) Read more.

9) Have her write a story. Make sure it has a beginning (something was like _____), a middle (then this problem arose_______), and an ending (and this is how the people solved the problem__________). Read it, give your honest feedback. Have her friends read it. have them give their honest feedback. Put it aside. Have her write 5 more stories. Read them, giving your honest feedback. Have her choose one of these to revise. Have her friends read the revised story. Have her revise it again. Put it aside.

10) Invite her to write letters to 10 authors. These could be people who have articles in the newspaper, or book authors, or magazine article authors. See if she gets any response.

11) Keep writing. Keep blog posting. Keep revising. Keep writing stories. Once she’s written 20 stories (each with a beginning, middle, and end), have her submit one to a magazine. Have her be honest about herself, her credentials, and be realistic. Expect rejection. Aim for 100 rejections. Once a story is rejected, find another place to submit and send it in. It might take 5 years to write enough stories to get 100 rejections, and some stories may have 20 rejections while others only have 1 or 2. That just means you’re honing your craft all the time.

12) Keep reading. Keep writing. Write for yourself (R), not for anyone else. If you like it, that’s important. If you like it and you’re authentic (which means it’s real, not just “what you think your audience wants”), that’s enough. Nobody else may ever like it. That’s fine, if you’re writing for yourself. Because ultimately only you need to be satisfied with it. And, strangely enough, if you are satisfied with it, eventually you will find an outlet for it.

13) Sometime you’ll want to, in your writing practice, start with “I write because…” You should attack this topic a couple of times a year. I still do, because I still don’t have a definitive answer for why I write. Mostly it’s because I love the feel of creation. I love to be surprised at what my mind comes up with when my pen is scratching across the paper. Some of it is the desire to impact people. Very little of my writing that I really enjoy is because I’m going to get paid for it or because it’s going to make me famous. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, they write because they can’t not write, not for any other reason. They would still be writing if they weren’t making the same money from it. The money is a bonus because the things they wrote are authentic for them, and, as above, since it’s authentic, it resonates with others too.

14) Read. Read the classics. Frankenstein. Dracula. The Swiss Family Robinson. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Read the classics of tomorrow:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The Hobbitt. 1984. The Prophet (Gibran). When you finish reading something like this, take one or more of your writing practice sessions to critique these stories. What worked for you? What was confusing? What was unexpected? What was too bland? How would you have made it better?

15) Create your own rules. These are suggestions. Read them. Read Strunk & White. Read Anne Lamott. Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Read the AP Manual. Create your own writing rules. Follow them. Break them. Make new ones. Follow those. Break those. Make new ones again.

16) Be yourself. Write the stories you want to read. Write the essays you want to read. Write the poems you want to read. Write the plays you want to see performed. Write the songs you want to hear. If you can do that, you’ve won.

— SJ

Writing Practice – 8/30/2018

Note – sometimes what comes out when I’m writing really surprises me. This was one of those times.

Myths of Origin, p 75

“Into my reverie bursts the Monkey, turning temple-creature with geometric arms full of sandwiches.”

His stadion radiates a semblance of perfectionary, the image wavers, as if through a desert haze, a mirage of reality, a thinning of the barrier between truth and imaginary. The Monkey, having by virtue of existence, earned his titular M, plays with his titular on the way out. He globules onto the permanence of spasmosticity, inventing new words and arrangements on old themes, transposing and transversing them as easily as a hot knife through ice cream, as deftly as a surgeon at the scalpel.

The MONKEY, monikered now with not only authority but also aggression, begins dismantling his sandwiches in front of me. He un-layers a top half-loaf of bread, then sets aside tomato, lettuce, sardines, a layer of mueslix, and the protein – goat’s tongue, ground up and stuffed inside the goat’s own intestine, flattened and seared so as to make a sandwich patty much like a sausage. I watch MONKEY with prurient interest, enamored with her thin, agile tail, golden and glowing in the moonslights, a reflection of a reflection of the original, and I marvel at the wonders of this universe which allows me to see twice-bounced photons as if the item itself luminesced.

I take off my robe to join MONKEY in its vulnerability. I wonder aloud whether it will join me once all the sandwiches have been autopsied, for that must be what zhir is doing, and therefore I must enjoy the moment, must appreciate the precision, the delicacy, the anticipation fo the coming feast.

So the sandwiches are bare, stripped, lying like skeletons in the moonslights, and I too am naked, flaccid penis hanging proudly down to my knees like so much goat-tongue sausage, before casing and cooking.

I watch MONKEY as it raises arms to the sky. It babbles in MONKEY-SPEAK, and yet my brain immediately translates.

“Bless the land. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the River. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the rain. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the wheat. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the crops. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the air. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the wind. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the Moons. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the Suns. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the humans. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the penis. Bless the MONKEY. Bless the seed. Bless the MONKEY.”

MONKEY drops its arms, takes me by the hand, leads me to the dismembered sandwiches. It stands me astride various piles, my left foot between lettuce and top bun, my right between sausage and bottom bun. MONKEY places a paw on my penis, begins to stroke. MONKEY and I begin the communion, the celebration, the fertilization, the joining of our fates together. My penis becomes erect. MONKEY strokes. It speaks again, but this time my brain allows the words to drift by, uncaptured, free, abandoned to the night.

The climax approaches. My breath comes short, my penis hardens, my pulse quickens. MONKEY strokes harder, intense, tighter. My pleasure maximizes, and I push through to the peak, to the orgasm, to the spilling of the seed, and it erupts out, launches across MONKEY’S PAW to land on lettuce, on tomato, on my foot and MONKEY’S tail, on the ground. MONKEY continues to stroke. To chant. To stare at my eyes. My penis recedes, becomes limp again – I back away when MONKEY releases me.

MONKEY dances atop the dissected ingredients, slick now with my seed, glittering in the moonlight, chanting to echo off the surrounding trees. MONKEY dances, I watch, the earth receives her worship, her spoils, her tribute, MONKEY dances, I retreat, disappear into the forest. MONKEY dances. MONKEY worships. MONKEY tributes. MONKEY lives.

Writing Practice – 8/26/2018

Sara’s Game (Book 1) – nook p. 100

“Sara wadded up the slip of paper and threw it at the cage wall, toward the tall man’s face.”

He ducked, slowly though, and it slid through the bars and hit his shoulder. She knew she was taunting him, torturing him, and it felt good. “There,” she said. “Eat that.”

He knelt down and picked it up. From behind the cage walls he looked as if he’d shrunken six inches in the last two days. And why shouldn’t he? He’d lost everything – freedom, hope, even, it seemed, the will to live. His long fingers stretched to pick up the crumpled wad of paper, on which he’d written, in his own blood apparently, PLEASE LET ME GO. When he passed it to her, silent, pleading with his eyes because his tongue couldn’t work any longer, because it was lying ten feet away in the dirt, flies already attracted to the rotting flesh, he hadn’t been able to meet her gaze. Her, the tormentor, the captor, the role-reverser.

Her, the one who’d taken him prisoner and thus begun her revenge just twenty-four hours earlier. Her, the one who’d been severely traumatized by this same man twenty years earlier. Her, who had spent years and years in the meantime plotting this revenge, this retribution, this justice that was so far from coming in the “injustice” system that was the courts. Justice? Ha! She’d seen what justice looked like when the judge did not believe a nineteen-year-old girl about the horrors this forty-one-year old had inflicted upon her. Injustice when they said that the statute of limitations had expired. Justice? To say that simply because it was way back in the past it didn’t matter, didn’t count, or still wasn’t impacting her daily life?

Sara had accepted his note, had read it, had crumpled it up and tossed it back in his face. He did pick it up, then, unfolded it, and turned it to show her. He held it upside down.

She laughed. “Damn,” she said, and reached in the bars to right the paper. “It goes this—

He grabbed her hand and yanked her towards the bars. Out of his mouth came a spew of blood, spraying her eyes and blinding her. The shock startled her, and before she could react he had his other hand too through the bars onto hers, and she was somehow now pinned against the wall of the cage with her arms trapped inside, held in a vise grip of his two stronger ones.

“Oh fuck,” she thought. “Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck-“

Extremely Bad Advice – Child Misbehavior

Dear SJ,

My wife and I are having a disagreement about our son. He is 11 years old and is starting to misbehave. My wife wants to make him do extra chores around the house when he’s getting out of line, in order to show him that his actions have consequences. I say that unless the chores are directly related to what he did, he won’t associate them together. Like last week – he broke a window in the family room by throwing a ball through it. That’s easy enough; he has to pay for the window replacement. But what about being disobedient, or just lazy? Are there chores we can assign that are punishments for these kind of actions? — FRUSTRATED IN FARGO

Dear FRUSTRATED,

I’m sure you don’t want to hear this, but your wife is right. There absolutely are consequences for your actions, and sometimes they aren’t even directly associated with the thing you’ve done, except for a roundabout way. For example: last month I had sex with your mom. She was pretty tight, for an old broad, I’ll give her that. As a result, it now burns when I pee. Goddamn, but I thought I was done with STDs back in college! Anyway, the direct consequence is now I have to go to my doctor. The indirect consequence is I have to deal with a clingy grandma who just won’t go away and keeps texting me like six times a night to come over and give her another good one. It’s almost enough to block her. But it’s not just her. Apparently the whole bridge club is in on the deal. Sheesh, you make one old woman shudder uncontrollably and you never hear the end of it.

So, in your situation, your son has absolutely got to learn that actions have consequences. Break a window? Pay for it out of your allowance. Front a disobedient attitude? Get a dismissive one in return. It looks like this: “Well, since you didn’t hold up your end of the parent-child relationship and disobeyed me, I’m not going to hold up my end either. No dinner for you! Enjoy the soup kitchen.” If you’re feeling generous you can print out a Google Maps set of walking directions.

However, that’s pretty tame by my standards. Just telling you to be a jerk probably isn’t what you’re looking for. That’s just bad advice, and it would probably only solve the surface problem of misbehavior. You want Extremely Bad Advice which will not just deal with the symptoms of the disease infecting your life, it will actually root out the cause and eliminate that forever. Here’s what you need to do.

Next time your son does something wrong, you actually reward that behavior. Go buy him a puppy! Or a new dirt bike, or video game, or something he’s been asking for for a while. This kind of reverse psychology will start to fuck with his head really quickly. He’ll tell his friends what he did and how you reacted. They’ll all start trying it with their parents but getting opposite results, and pretty quickly he’s wondering just what happened with you. He’ll try it a few more times. Double down on the technique. When he back-talks you in front of his teacher, take him out for ice cream. If he comes home late from a friend’s house, supply him with rotten eggs and you both go whip them at the crusty old couple down the street.

In a few months this kind of mental mind-warp (the difference between what you do and what a typical “good parent” does) will break down any remaining sense of logic and rationality the kid has. At that point one of two things will happen, both of which solve your problem pretty quickly. Option one, he dissolves into a quivering, immobile blob on the floor, blathering on and on about “friends say … mom says … friends don’t … dad does …” and your disobedience problem is resolved. Kind of replaced with a permanent diapering problem, but at least he’s compliant. Option two, he finally can’t take it any longer and runs away. Presto! Instant happy house and no more sass from the kid.

Trust me on this one. You can’t do any better for yourself and your own happiness than psychological torture. Good luck!