Writing Practice – 10/7/2018

Poem a Day Volume 2, p 383 (Dec 16)

Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race,

Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,

Whose speed is but the heavy plummet’s pace;

Run thy own trail, travel thine own path.

Send to the heavens the shout of a many-breasted warrior strong with the ichor of battle. Let forth a barbaric yawp to shake the hills and rattle the cedars. Share not your victory with those who would have nothing to do with the battle but everything to do with sharing the spoils. For why should their reticence be rewarded, and your valor diminished? Why shall your light hide, as if a reflection upon the surface of the moon, instead of shining bring from the sun’s rays?

Strive, then, brothers in this long struggle, and let it be know that you shall no longer rest in humility as a result of the things you have fought for, sweated for, bled for. But these days shall see a resurgence of your manifest adulation. The righteous praise well-deserved flowing from all of the crowd’s lips to over and above and through you. For it is never enough for just one to shower adulation and praise (except that she be the one, yet that remains a different tale for a different time). It is not enough for a single voice, no matter how powerful or authoritative, to say “well done.”

Nay, it is only for the recognition of the crowd that the warrior strives. He seeks not his own glory, but does so to honor his fallen brothers, to eke out, to draw out from those who remained behind, their praise, their worship, their respect, their fear.

For, if they did not fear the powerful, if they did not respect them at least a little, and in practice a bit more than that, if they did not recognize the hidden, camouflaged power waiting within the army’s arms, if they did not acknowledge the real authority beneath the breastplate, if they did not offer a genuine kudos to their true betters, they know that in a few moments, with a turn of a whim or at the insolence of an unruly youth, they, too, might find themselves a new enemy of those who wield the true power. For true power comes not from robe or treaty or birthright. True power comes from a willingness to fight, to truly fight, not simply argue, to fight and take power, to risk one’s own life in the pursuit. That is power. That is authority. And that deserves respect.

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 – 6/1/2018

Pen is running dry…

I like to watch the progress of the ink level in the barrel as I go along. Slow and steady it is, but it keeps going. The more I write, the less I have left to go until it’s all gone. Like footsteps, paradoxically, the more I write, the more evidence there is that I was here. The more pen on the page, means less pen ink in the tube.

I wonder if the people who made this pen thought about how it would be used. For grocery lists or for calculus homework. For taking notes in a quarterly divisional meeting at a large multi-national corporation, or for making doodles on the side of a notepad while waiting for the doctor.

The possibilities inside this pen are endless. There are whole worlds, whole universes, to be set free. Inside this plastic cylinder are dragons and demons and fairies and magic. Inside are robots and hyper drives and a new ansible and a Crucible. Inside are epic poems and haikus. Inside is a resignation letter from the President, alongside and mingling with the phone number scrawled on the back of my hand at that bar last week.

These things are all in there. They’re all potentials. misspellings and transgressions, sleights of hands and phurns of trase. Malapropism. Aproprisms. Run-on sentences. Adverbs. The month of September, and how it smells like sheep ready for shearing, how it feels like the ground is turning its own nose up at the change of seasons. Inside is a butterfly, dancing merrily on the edge of my shoulder, its delicate leg somehow caught in the uneven weave of my shirt, fluttering and flapping to try and escape, yet still entwined with me, so that I have time to take out my camera and snap a selfie, two, three, four, five, before I watch if finally leave, and take off and leave me wanting more once again.

It is a desert, and Antarctica, and Pluto, and Polaris, and protons, and Protease, and protein, and prescriptions and purses and pennywhistles and Pennywise, all in one. It is the large infinitely large and the small infinitely small together – mashed, waiting, uncertain as to whether it will manifest on the paper as power or pusillanimousness. The possibilities are infinite, a regular [unclear] Pen of the word, an infinite universe of quantum potentialities which do not coalesce condense collapse into one until I set pen to paper and become, in this world, the almighty.

Extremely Bad Advice – How to Deal with Sentimentality

Stealing from Abby once again – ’cause I’m too lazy today to write a new question.

DEAR ABBY: My adult son passed away two years ago at a young age. We were very close while he was growing up. He married young, and I maintained a great relationship with both him and his wife. They gave me the most precious grandchildren any woman could ask for, and I am extremely active in their little lives.

My daughter-in-law has moved on. She met a nice young man, and they are planning to be married in the near future. Do you think I would be out of line to request to have my son’s ashes back home with me? We live near each other, I love her very much, and we still have a great relationship. I don’t want to damage it by asking this if it’s not appropriate.

I would pass his ashes on to his children when they grow up, of course, but for now, I’d love to have my son back home with me and his dad because she has started her new life. My husband is noncommittal about the subject. When I broach it, he says he “doesn’t want to talk about it.” I really have no one to ask or confide in about this. Your thoughts would be most appreciated. — STILL BROKENHEARTED IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR BROKENHEARTED,

Well, what can I say? I would say I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m not. I think “sorry for your loss” is about as meaningful as “the sky is really blue today”. If I was saddened by your loss, I’d tell you that, and perhaps that would do something. If I was interested in showing how much I care about you, I’d ask, “Oh, that must be hard. What do you miss most about him?” But, again, I don’t care, because your sorrow and misery really don’t affect me on the daily. Other than to provide fodder for my advice column, for which I will gladly say, “Next victim!”

Okay, here we go. The classic dilemma – who gets to keep the crispy bacon that used to be your son’s body? Because, let’s all agree, your “son” is no longer there any more, just like the dream I used to have of being an Abercrombie & Fitch model has blown off into the wind with that first hit of the mind-altering substance known on the street as Jif Extra Crunchy. Your son disappeared from the shell that held him the moment his cranial electro-activity ceased. What he left behind was the meatbag for DNA that did its job incredibly well by providing “the most precious grandchildren” [hold on – just threw up in my mouth a little].

And in order to do that, he had to procreate with his wife, your daughter-in-law (DIL). Who is now his widow. So, for that you should be grateful to her, not jealous.

What’s left is sentimentality. I get it. People have good memories of the past, and it’s hard to move on. It’s hard to imagine that your progeny wouldn’t love you as much as you loved him. How could he? You’re a mother, and everyone knows a “mother’s love knows no bounds”. He couldn’t reciprocate your devotion to him. And he proved this by not pulling an Oedipus and fucking you! He shagged the DIL, knocked her up a couple of times, gave her good memories, and now his burnt ends occupy a silver chalice on the mantle. Good for him and her.

But – you’re a selfish hag who has nothing left in her life, and you’re trying to fill your own void by commandeering what should be left to her in order to appease your own shortcomings. As evidenced by your question to me! Don’t do this. Would you be out of line? Absolutely. Don’t do it! Leave well enough alone. Your husband “doesn’t want to talk about it” not from an ethical or emotional perspective, but simply because you’re looney-tunes and he recognizes a bear trap when he sees it.

However, because I suspect you won’t take my advice above, being as reasonable as it is, I’m going to give you a bonus recommendation of some Extremely Bad Advice. This you’ll probably do with gusto. Have fun!

Step one: Offer to babysit the grandkids for a night. Give the DIL and her new guy a chance to go out and have fun.

Step two: Prepare for the switch. Get a plastic bag, about a gallon, clear (not white), full of ashes from your backyard barbecue pit. Take along a second, empty bag for holding.

Step three: Once the kids are in bed, make the transfer. Go full Indiana Jones. Play dramatic music, sweat profusely, look over your shoulder for booby-traps.

Step four: Revel in your glory. You now have your son’s actual remains, and she, the grandkids, and your husband are none the wiser. Dare I say they might view you as a hero for how magnanimously you deal with the situation? Visit a bar and order a glass of Chablis to celebrate. Send me the bill – I’ll gladly treat you for that job well done!

Writing Practice – 3/27/2018

(Today’ s writing practice session did not begin with a prompt. I simply started to write.)

To start a writing practice session, I always do two things, though not always in the same order. I review the Rules for Writing Practice – keep your hand moving, don’t think, don’t get logical, lose control, go for the jugular. And I imagine myself inside my own brain, a flat bottom and a half-oblong dome above me, grey, and I have a paint roller in my hand. I dip it into a bucket of white paint and use that to cover the inside of my a brain with whiteness, blankness, cleanness, renewal, readiness for the experience of writing. Once all of the surface has been covered, strip, strip, along the bottom – working my way from the middle, next, next, next, out to the edge, along a Mohawk strip on the top, next, next, clear around to the curve to the edge, when it meets the floor, painting, covering, all in white a canvas, in preparation.

Then I am ready to write. To burn through to first thoughts. To offer myself to my Muse, wherever he is that day, if He will choose to show up or not, if he will deign to stoop down and place a soft, reassuring touch on my shoulder, if he will whisper, warm, tickling breath in my ear, “Yes, go, get that, follow that thought, chase it, don’t let it escape, pursue, continue, persist, never, ever, ever let go, find it, fight it, kill it, master it, turn it, transform it, tame it, succumb it to your power, to your authority, to your will, do not relent, do not release, do not avoid when the subject turns delicate, or embarrassing, or insecure, for you are to know that you are the one in control, you are the one from whom all these blessings flow, you are the god in this world, this world you have created, this universe at the tip of your pen, you are the Alpha and the Omega, what you bring about here shall live in mythology and archaeology and your subjects’ anthropologies for as long as they exist, for you are a deity far above all others, you have the power to build up, to tear down, to keep, to preserve, to destroy, to eliminate, to mould and fashion and to remake and to evolve, you are the thing in this world that all other things are subject to, and so therefore with such great authority comes great responsibility, an awareness of self, an introspection of your power, your ability, your authority, and your standing in this world, that world, that experience, you have power and authority, yes, so choose wisely, choose judiciously, make with circumspection and introspection and valor and virtue, for what you make, what you destroy, what you build and what you tear down become your legacy, your history, to the universe above you, the god who sits judging you for your godhood shall weigh your actions, your perseverance, your perversity or magnanimity and he, she it, they too shall judge, with the same measure as which you used to judge, so take care, be wise, be well, and do good work.”

Extremely Bad Advice – Office Interactions

Dear SJ:

My boss at work has been giving me a hard time about a new hire recently. I was assigned to be her mentor and “show her the ropes”. Since I’m a thirty-something married man, I’ve tried to keep my distance from the young, naïve, pretty little girl who could almost be my daughter. But my boss keeps insisting I spend more time with her outside of the office, to “build rapport”. I think it’s dangerous; especially since she has hinted that maybe she doesn’t have the best of morals. One time she let slip that she would “do anything” to get ahead in this company. And she admitted to me that she cheated on some tests and bought essays instead of writing them herself so she could get better grades. Oh, and another thing – my boss is another guy even older than me, and I suspect that he might have hired her simply for her looks. What do I do? Should I approach HR? Call out the boss? Just go with it?

HESITANT HARRY

Dear HESITANT,

I don’t get it. I mean, I really don’t. You’ve got a young, attractive girl practically throwing herself at you, you’ve got your boss’s approval, and you’ve got permission from HR to get close to her. Yet you haven’t yet gone for it. Why not?

You know HR isn’t really bothered by this kind of thing. Why else would they assign you to be her “mentor”? Everyone who’s anyone knows that “mentor” is just code-speak for “hit your quarterly sales and profit goals and you can do whatever the hell you want.” Including banging in the office. Especially banging in the office. Happy employees are productive employees, am I right?

I know it’s on your mind, since your letter concluded with “Just go with it?” I mean, if you were serious about not having sex with this girl, you’d have asked me, “How do I say no? I don’t want to cheat.” But, clearly, that’s not your angle. So we’re working under the following assumptions.

One: she’s DTF. Two: you’re DTF. Three: Your boss is down with you making the beast with two backs. Hell, he’s practically throwing her at you, encouraging you to “build rapport”. You’re going to have to get over whatever performance anxiety or antiquated guilt trip still holding you back in order for this to happen. Unfortunately I can’t be there to smack you upside the head and knock this kind of sense into you. You’re just going to have to man up on your own and decide to do this thing, for your own good, for her good, for your boss’s good, and for your company’s bottom line.

So here’s what you do.

Start with an early “performance review”. This should happen, ideally, on a Thursday afternoon, after most of the work is done for the day. [Why Thursday? Because I want another story to get me excited when I open up my e-mail on Friday.] When she comes in to your office, make sure you’re sitting behind your desk with your pants pulled down. You don’t have to be spanking it or anything, but it would be good if you had a hand in your underwear.

Mention how good she looks. Be specific – don’t just say, “You look nice,” use a direct compliment. “Your blouse really makes your eyes sparkle,” or some other drivel that women love to convince themselves is true and not just an inroad to her panties. Tell her, “Here in the office, things have been going good, but I think they can go better, don’t you think?” And use your eyes to indicate your crotch. Based on her reaction, you can decide whether the banging happens on your desk or in the bathroom at the local dive bar. If she starts touching herself and complimenting you, it’s on like Donkey Kong. If she is a little bit shy, that just means you’ll have to “take the meeting offsite” and call your cousin Jagermeister to wingman for you.

And as this is corporate America, they like to have documentation of everything. Make sure to wear your Google Glass and get some POV videos for your boss. Like you said, chances are good that he hired her for her looks and her willingness to sleep her way to the top. So you’ll need to have adequate evidence for your official written review coming later. Best would be if you save the condom too as evidence of your participation – they’re going to want to match the semen and the vaginal secretions later to make sure she’s not conspiring with a competitor. And when it’s all over? Don’t forget to “cycle back” with regular “action items” about every two weeks.

Best of luck, we’ll look for the resultant bump in your company’s performance to push you guys into the Fortune 500 in the near future.