Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eight Days a Week.

Dear Blog,


My semester of insanity is almost over. My last 6 day work week ended yesterday.

I have this rosy idea that once I am done with this semester, life will sort itself out. This is a little delusional, since I still haven't really decided what I'm going to do with myself. Life will probably never get sorted out completely.

One thing is for certain: I need a reboot, and I need some new inspiration.

I blame my feeling of dullness on a couple of things:

1.) Too much work. Teaching six classes, six days a weeks was not fun.
2.) Too much Interwebs. I waste too much time online. It's embarrassing.
3.) Too little almost everything else: Besides not getting the chance to do fun things, I also didn't really get the chance to do things like cleaning the house, going for walks, reading good books, writing something-or-another, things like that.

Needless to say, I haven't exactly met those goals I set for myself back in August. But that's okay. Hopefully I will still get to them... someday. What I am more worried about at the moment is that I am getting a little bored and antsy.

There are things that need to get done that aren't getting done. There are things I want to accomplish that aren't getting accomplished. There are projects I want to do but haven't, for whatever reason. Also, I have a giftcard for Forever 21 that I haven't used up all the way yet.

But those three reasons I listed above are more indicative of a different problem that I have been avoiding for a while: I could have taken initiative, and I could use my time more efficiently, but I don't because underneath it all, I am sabotaging myself. I see this sabotaging more clearly when I am teaching: the students usually know when they're aiming a gun at their feet... and yet they just pull the trigger. It's frustrating to watch... which helps me understand why some people get a little frustrated with me when I say that I just can't do something.

How, though, does one go about getting back into that general productivity? I think that a clear mind helps. Having a break from work will help. I think it is possible to be creatively productive when you are bogged down by a job you hate, but I haven't seen it really happen in my life. The winter break and summer months are when I get the most writing done... and the other times of year that I do get writing done is usually a result of shirking some of my more pressing responsibilities.

So here's to the end of the semester: Good riddance. And hopefully, here's to a productive month of writing, and so on.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pain in the Neck.

Dear Blog,

I should post something, because I said I would, and I said I had goals. (Despite the fact that I get a bit impatient with goals as a concept, they're good things overall).

The trouble is finding something worth writing about, especially after a long day of work. It's also a little bit tougher when your neck hurts.

This neck pain is, it seems, a result of a couple things. I am a tense and intense person, apparently, and grind my teeth at night. And yes, I do have one of those awful mouth-guard things, but my unconscious asleep self knows that this thing is terrible and it's inevitably found on the bedside table, on the floor, across the room, something, by the time morning rolls around.

I also keep my shoulders kind of hunched and tense as well, like I'm about to tackle someone or something.

Maybe I am.

The other trouble is that I use my computer a lot, and not the right way, and that makes pain in my neck, too. My computer is a pain in my neck.

So I opened up one of my writing works-in-progress in Microsoft Word in the hopes that I'd actually get some fun kinds of writing done, but my eyes feel like they're about to fall out of my head, and my neck hurts, and I'm not feeling particularly inspired. Actually, I feel kind of like I want to play video games.

Which leads me to ask this question: how do people create when they've worn themselves out?

People do it. There are artists and writers who somehow manage to squeeze out masterpieces after 40 hour workweeks, don't they? But how? Is coffee the answer? Is the right music the right answer? I can't write half a sentence, and when I look over my work, it sure ain't a masterpiece, by any means.

I think what's more disconcerting is the fact that I have this need to get writing done, and it's not getting met. Perhaps that is the bigger issue. I don't care if it's complete garbage, but I need to get some kind of writing accomplished in some form, or else something unfortunate might happen. I think that is the source of spontaneous combustion, by the way. Unmet writing needs.

So this is the crappiest post of all time, but I've got videogames other stuff to write.



Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hello There, Blog.


So it's been a while.

Like, a little more than half a year.

So you all can forget about that series it seems I thought I was going to post way back when. Not going to happen. (Who cares about novels, anyway?) (Well, maybe the vampire story will happen, since I ought to finish that one anyway.)

But basically, my blog as a vehicle for my own creativity and writing kind of crumbled around March, and I just dropped it. That wasn't good, but it happened. It's easy to drop a blog.

But I still like that idea, that a blog could do this for me, somehow.

What's next, though?

This is a question that's a sticky one for me. The future is not my favorite thing, since it's so uncertain. And then on top of that, I'm not normally a fan of goals, either.

But now it's half a year later.

And I'm going to try again.

Someone said to me that the thing that's great about goals is that they're always in the future, and it's okay that you haven't reached them, because that's what goals are. Something you're trying to reach. This is kind of not the way I usually think; the Eeyore in me keeps that from happening. But this person was right.

And I made a list of goals. One of them: keep on with the blog business. Maybe not five days a week, but at least a couple.

I'm the busiest I've ever been just about, and so now I think it's even more important that I set aside time where I think about and cultivate this kind of thing, something that has nothing to do with essays, grammar, stuff like that.

I need to keep at it, or it'll happen: I'll become boring.

I probably already am boring. At any rate, I felt boring. That was what motivated me to create that list of goals. Because I was getting boring. I could just feel it. When you become predictable and afraid of the future, you become boring.

So I'm going to try again.



Thursday, March 17, 2011

Novels are Best Because: They Tell a Story.

I think truly good stories are starting to become less and less appreciated, generally speaking. I mean, check out the box-office numbers now and then, and you'll soon find how true this is: top grossing movies need not have a compelling story to make money. 

And I am usually not one of those: "back in the day" kind of people. But this time I am, because I think it is  possible we are starting to believe the lie that stories are not all that important: escape is important, fantasies are important, explosions are important, flashes of light are important, but stories: not so much.

We tell stories every day, and they are important. That thing I said about cat vomit, and how it has become ubiquitous in my house as of late? Yeah, that was a story. Sorry. But it wasn't a very good one.

I pose this question to my students at the beginning of the semester: "Why would it be an outrage if a school decided not to teach its students how to read anymore and just focused on Math and Science? I mean, really, you don't need to read to survive, right? Humanity could get by without the written word, couldn't it?" Sometimes they can't wrap their minds around this possibility, because we exist in a literate world, and it is nearly impossible for them to imagine a world without the written word ("But.. how would you pay your bills?!")

And maybe that's the same point I'm trying to make about stories. It's kind of hard to imagine the world without stories, because I think they've existed much longer than the written word. And my friend Ed made a good point on my last blog: God communicates through stories. And if Christianity isn't your cup of tea, I think most religions have some form "story" surrounding them.

Novels just take those little stories and make them a little bit bigger, a little larger, and a little more full. They embellish. And if the author is a good one, he or she will use nice words and image to accompany these stories. A novel isn't just a story, after all.

And a story isn't just plot points, either. Man, that would totally suck:

Hamlet's dad got offed by his brother. Hamlet has an existential crisis. Hamlet kills uncle, but also dies. Oh, also: some people think he wanted to bang his mother. The end. 

It is a little funny to me when people get upset when someone gives away the ending to a novel, like that is what it's about. This isn't the Sixth Sense, people: your experience should not be dependent on information, but how information is relayed. I mean, in some of the greatest works ever written, nothing really happens, anyway. People mope around and think about things. But it's still a story.

Which brings me to my last point about stories. And yeah, it's the most cliched. I apologize in advance. We are all stories. Some of us are exciting stories. Some of us are lame-o stories. Some of us are gross stories. Some of us are inspiring stories. Some of us are tragedies, or comedies, whatever. But we all start the same: we're born. We end the same: we die.

One of my favorite novels is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and part of that is because it is James Joyce's story. And while I relate to his story, it is different enough, and clever enough, and transcendent enough, that it makes for a good story. It has a beginning, right when Stephen Dedalus is a little boy, and it follows through to his going out to encounter the uncreated conscience of his race as a young man at the end.

What a great story. And it happens every single day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why I Think Novels are Best.

Philosophy will clip an angel's wings, Conquer all mysteries by rule and line, Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine - Unweave a rainbow
Oh,  I heart you, Keats. 

For the past few years I've been lazy about reading. I suppose I'm not really one to go about extolling the virtues of novels and literature when I, myself, often hesitate the crack the covers of a book and just read. But I've decided to come to terms with the fact that my hesitance stems from grad-school trauma, and not from a rational place. Plus, I do read, just not as voraciously as I used to.

And so I think it's okay that I'm going to go on a little novels are awesome kick, despite my poor behavior in this area.

So I've decided to make a list and then write about each item a little bit every day.

Really great novels are awesome because:

1.) They tell a story.
2.) They describe human nature.
3.) They are self-contained.
4.) They end, but continue to exist.
5.) The ending stretches out forever.
6.) They are subjective.
7.) They try to make sense of things that don't make sense.

This list is not so exhaustive, but I feel like I need to remind myself of why I loved novels in the first place from time to time. You may read this and think: "How the hell can studying literature cause one hate literature?" Well, I can't really answer that question very easily, because I am me, and I am verbose, and I am my own person with an individual reason for it that probably doesn't account for others, but that was what happened to me.

Video games don't really help here either, let's be honest.

As a writer, though, this fear of novels is kind of a problem, too. At one point I used to think: Novels matter. My life wouldn't be worth living without them. And now I find that I can get through my week without finish some novel or another, and I do not have an overwhelming desire to read. Life goes on without literature.

Ergo: Why write?

For a while I used to say: I write because that's all I've got going for me. But that's kind of a poor excuse, too, and ridiculous. (I mean, hello? I can also boil water and chew gum at the same time). But after a while, like all band aids covering larger problems, this excuse stopped working.

And I stopped writing as much, because it also seemed kind of pointless.

But here's the good news: I'm coming around a little bit, starting off with a "fuck you" to the side of me that is 1.) Depressed. and 2.) Believes the overwhelmingly pragmatic vibe that exists in this sad, scientifically-obsessed age we live in, that reduces us all to genes and atoms and animals that just do things for physical satisfaction, because that stuff is soul-crushing.

(See: Keats, Fig. 1).

My sister went to art school in Boston, and the Christian fellowship there had this little motto that went something like: "We Create Because We Were Created." Perhaps that is part of my problem: I don't think of creativity, the act of creation, as something we humans were designed to do, mainly because that is something that is not often on people's wavelengths. It doesn't come up in conversation, most of the time. It can be easy to forget about what our soul needs, since Omega-3 fish oils won't help supplement that problem

And I shouldn't think of writing as something that serves my purposes, exactly. They serve a purpose outside of myself. As does all art, all literature, all music. At least, that is what it should do. Maybe that is the problem with Rock Stars, yes?

So novels may not seem to serve a purpose on the surface, but they do matter. They do fulfill a purpose. And my idea of what purpose this is may not be extensive or academic*, but oh well. And so I am going to explore the items in my list for the next few posts (and maybe finish that damn vampire story).

There you go.

...And, okay, full disclosure: having a "series" might help me be a little more disciplined in posting, too.

*caveat: This is not to say that the academic study of literature is bad/useless/no good. On the contrary: I'm all for the promotion of English Departments, and the study of English Literature... You'll be fine as long as you do not wish to get a stable and well-paying job. Kidding, kidding: it is terrible that the humanities are dying. Seriously. We need them. If you don't agree: re-read post.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Excuse for Buying Moleskine Notebooks Today.

So I am a horrible blog poster.

There's my self-flagellation for now.

I think I'm already over it.

Today, before going to my sister in law's bridal-dress-trying-on-thingy, I had a few extra minutes, so I swung by Barnes and Noble to buy myself a datebook, because I have things I need to do and go to, and yet I do not have a place filled with the months and days of 2011 in which to write these things down. As it turns out, neither does Barnes and Noble; they only have these things around Christmas, apparently.

What they do have, though, are a small selection of Moleskine notebooks, which, if you weren't aware of this already, are the thing that every hip, artsy writer-whatever type must have in his or her possession in order to be legit in the hip, artsy writer scene.

I already have some small, pocket-sized Moleskine notebooks that I write random information in every now and then. But I decided I should buy some larger ones to write actual real things in.

Because I realized something kind of recently:

I am not a good writer.

The reasons for this are many. But I don't necessarily want to go on and on about the personal things that make me not a good writer. We'll leave that to Anne Lamott. Her stories are way more interesting, anyway.

But one reason, though, has to do with the Internet. I used to only write longhand. I never wrote first drafts on the computer. I thought that was completely insane. It felt unnatural, somehow. But then graduate school happened, and I wrote first drafts on the computer, and then this carried over into my creaive writing life. It's unfortunate, but true.

Really, it's ridiculous. I mean: I go from writing a page of whatever, and then I check my email, and then I check to see if someone might have updated their status on facebook, or whatever. It's amazing I get anything done at all.

So it's all well and good to realize my faults (I'm pretty good at picking up on those... maybe a little too good...), but I realized I am out of practice. When I buy a random crappy notebook at CVS and get ready to write, I am a bit confounded as far as what I should do.

The written page feels a lot more permanent than typing on a computer. I can type faster than I speak, or at least, I can type the same speed at which I speak, which is much better than my writing. And when I type something I don't like, I can get rid of it without crossing stuff out. It just disappears. Forever.

But I don't know if that is a good thing, necessarily.

I decided something must be done about this. The CVS notebooks weren't cutting it. I needed something better. More Hip. Something Hemingway and Picasso wrote in. And they were drunk geniuses, so that means something. So I got the Moleskine notebooks, and I will try and write first drafts long hand first, again.

We'll see how it works.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Creative Nonfiction: WTF is that?

So I haven't finished my vampire story. I am working on it, but I want it to be good, so I am not about to just throw something together and then post it without it being decent.

But I will post something that might be considered "Creative Nonfiction." Which is, basically, blog posts. So it works, right?

The Vampire Story will come soon enough.

            When I was younger, I once saw the Invisible Man in a dream. He was standing in the kitchen, but he was only a pair of trousers and a buttoned-up denim shirt in the shape of a human being. He was just leaning over the sink. It terrified me, and I woke up. I kept my eyes open as long as I could, because the possibility that a body can disappear and leave its clothes behind, and then that person could remain an ethereal presence in a kitchen was horrifying.
            It was around this time my great grandfather died, and when I tried to get my sister to explain this concept to me, she said that it meant that your body stopped working. It just stopped. As far as I knew, a “body” was the trunk that your legs and arms and head attached to, and it was strange to think that if this part stopped, then your limbs and your sight and everything else did, too, like a car that blew an engine gasket.
Somewhere, tucked into that unconscious corner of my four-year-old brain, I already understood that death was unfair. And then I started to consider the possibility of ghosts. It was a love-hate obsession: they terrified me, but they seemed like the only way to make death a little more balanced.
It made a little more cosmic sense for our ancestors to come back as disembodied flaneurs, sitting on front porches in the empty chairs, or peeking out attic windows, watching the others that still had pulses and a sense of touch and taste carrying on without them, and because of them.
Someone once told me that people who claimed to be abducted by aliens might have actually been possessed by demons at the time, since a large proportion of them had dabbled in the occult at some point before said abduction took place. Whether this insight is correct or not, I used to apply this reasoning to ghosts as well. It was possible that ghosts were actually devils straight from Hell.
But then again, who’s to say that being a ghost couldn’t be kind of like heaven, anyway? The vague answers, that heaven is “above” and hell “below” never made a lot of sense to me anyway. This may sound awfully Eastern-religion of me, but maybe these two places exist together on earth, side by side.
At any rate, I’m well aware we’re not supposed to believe in ghosts, despite how scared they make us. But I do, anyway, mainly because I’m fairly certain I saw one last summer while on vacation.
I suppose I was lucky this was my first run-in, but it also makes sense. The house I grew up in wasn’t filled with these ghosts, like other people’s houses, because it was built in the 1980s, and its only inhabitants that have died were dogs, cats, and innumerous hamsters. I am fairly certain those don’t come back.  No people had died yet, and even if someone had, they probably wouldn’t have stuck around anyhow. There was no space or quietness for the spirits to hang about in anyway, with all the children running around the carpeted halls, past the empty, white walls.
The house that we stayed at for summer vacation, though, was a different story. The place stank of earlier generations.
It was built in the 1930s, by my mother’s grandfather. He had built another one before that, but it burned to the ground. It was unsettling that the arts-and-crafts reincarnation was just as much of a firetrap, but at least this one had some outdated fire-detectors, so that was a minor improvement. But it still had that half-finished quality. Nails from the roof stuck in through the walls in the upstairs bedrooms, crooked and menacing.
For a while, we all thought that this house was terrible: there wasn’t a television, the roof leaked on rainy days, we had to wear flip flops if we used the cramped shower, and you could feel the springs sticking into your backside when you sat on the dilapidated couches. But the lake that seemed to stretch out for eternity, or, at the least, to the coast of England, straight off the front porch, made up for it. And, as we all grew older, the space that allowed for a week without work, and without the outside world, which made up for it, too.
My Mom showed us the outhouse in the side of the garage, and she said that was the only toilet they had when she was little. And there was a cast-iron sink in the kitchen with a rusty water pump at the side, with a red rusty residue left along its spout, and a large, pot bellied stove dusted gray with fifty year old cinders that we’d put the cat’s dishes on, so the dog couldn’t get at it. The floor was hard, crusty linoleum, with faded flowers running along its edges.  It was peeling away along the edges. Like the rest of the house, it was a diminished version of what it once was, frozen in place, but slowly going back to whence it came. Like people, kitchen appliances and iron come from the earth, too, even if they last longer than we do.
The bedrooms on the second floor were never finished, and when you lie in bed, you just stare at the bare rafters right above your head, and listen to the other bodies around you shift on their creaky mattresses. The walls make for visual privacy, but otherwise, only exist to push an old bureau against, or nail an antique photo up.
Even the lake reminded us of a long-dead age. During the first half of the twentieth century, a paper mill would dump all of its leftovers into the water, and it would slowly creep into our little nook and bog, creating a dark, mushy mess, perfect for leeches. We’d wade out to the yellow, clean sandbar, feeling the decay squeeze between our toes, squinching up our faces in disgust. Later, I found out that the paper mill closed down over forty years ago, and yet more of that pulpy debris would come and stack up every year; it wasn’t until a couple years ago that it seemed to subside by degrees.
My mother never minded these kinds of things. For her, this was where life became complete and whole again.
Maybe it’s because she knew that it was the perfect place for ghosts, and her mother died when she was thirteen years old.
It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. There were so many hiding places, dusty corners and cob-webbed ceilings. They didn’t even need an attic, or an empty front porch. They could sit on the empty rafters upstairs and stare down at their sleeping grandchildren, great grandchildren, in the antiquated beds below, two per mattress. They could mill around their familiar kitchen. The twenty-first century hadn’t crept in yet; they’d know how to pull the string hanging from the bare bulb, and use the stove, or pump some water, but they wouldn’t need to.
            The bathroom was on the first floor, so I knew I’d have to pass them all if I had to pee in the middle of the night. This is why new houses make sure there’s a bathroom on both floors, and why they had chamber pots before. It’s not because people didn’t want to go outside to the outhouse in the cold, or because they were lazy. It’s because they knew that night’s the best time for ghosts in their houses to come down and mill around.
            There were chamber pots still under the creaky old beds, but that didn’t mean I was about to start using them. 
And that’s when I saw her. I stumbled down the stairs, eager to finish what I had to get done, and safe back upstairs, but there she was, on the front porch steps.
            The front porch was where everyone spent most of their time, between the lake and the tame, screened indoors. When we weren’t swimming or eating, we were waiting around for something, playing board games, or reading books, or listening to music to pass the time. It’s strange that was the case. We were in limbo during vacation, and we wanted it that way.
            She was sitting there, ephemeral and pale, and yet very rooted to the spot. And she stared out at the lake, expressionless, empty, and yet not sad. You would think that ghosts are sad things, missing out on something that they never fully appreciated while they were alive, but I think that death does something to a person. It takes the sting out of things. 
            What made it worse was I recognized her, somehow. I could only see her back, and her head, and her shoulders, but the shape and posture were familiar. Perhaps it was from another dream, a familiar one that came back to me night after night. I couldn’t be sure. But that was what kept me from running. That was probably the problem; if you see a shadowy, faint figure of a person you recognize in a vague sense, you shouldn’t just stand there and stare.
            She wasn’t surprised to see me. Maybe she knew that I had been standing there, watching her, for several minutes.
I felt the goose bumps rise on my arms, and I stared out at the black night, and the occasional shimmer of light against the black lake water. I couldn’t help but consider the possibility that this was just as real as my eighteenth birthday, or my wedding day: days that would happen, possibilities that loomed ahead, very concrete and real, but a little hard to grasp for sure.
            This woman was not from our time. I could tell right away. People don’t look the same now as they did then. And they all probably said the same thing about their grandparents and their great-grandparents. My mother once showed me pictures of the woman I was named after, and she had her hair done up, held away from her face in a bun, pinned and neat. She wore a blouse that went halfway up her throat. A pin near her collarbone.
She was almost another type of human. The texture of her skin was different. Her eyes had a different kind of sheen to them, as though they were paler than our eyes. Her features weren’t like ours. They were rounder, softer, like many of the other people I’d seen in old photographs. The twenty-first century created different people than the twentieth, and the nineteenth. We kept evolving. We became harder, maybe.
            And this woman was from yet another, softer age. Her lips were dark, painted on. Her dress flared out from her hips, emphasizing her small waist, and her sandals were tall, and a little clunky, the straps secure around her ankles. The imaginary smoke from her cigarette curled up towards the porch rafters
            I crossed my arms. It was very cold outside, despite the heat during the day. I blew out my breath, wondering if it would come out in puffs of smoke, like hers. But it didn’t. And she didn’t have breath, anyway, I didn’t think. When she moved, the creaky floorboards of the porch remained silent.
            “Sometimes I think life lasts forever,” I said, confessing something that only teenagers think. “Sometimes, I think that tomorrow will always come, and I will always have a second chance.”
            And she disappeared.
            My mother once dreamt that my grandmother hadn’t really died when she was thirteen, and she had been waiting, underground, for over forty years, waiting for something to let her out. She was patient, and somehow, once the mistake had been realized and she was released from her prison, it turned out she hadn’t aged a day since her burial.
             They went shopping, and they went to Portland, and that was when my mother realized that my grandmother’s skin had started to turn gray. And my mother said to her mother: “Don’t go yet. Stay with me. I can take care of you. You don’t have to go.”
            And that night I knew what she meant.
Because all I want to do is take care of everyone, and keep them stored up, safe, in the rafters of the camp, or around the stove in the old kitchen there, in the dusty, cobwebbed corners. There will always be room for more. We can layer them on top of each other, my grandmother, my grandfather, my great aunt, relatives I’ll never meet, people whose names I don’t even know; everyone can fit, and I can take care of them.
            Ghosts don’t take up any space at all. They’re light, and they don’t have to eat.
They aren’t empty, though. They’re full of things, of the past, and they matter, somehow. Because without them, I wouldn’t exist. The house wouldn’t exist. The house was built on that fragile foundation of past lives, stacked up and fading away.