Writing Myopia

•May 6, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Being a writer is living two-eyes open to your own, terminal myopia.  Occasionally you’re spared a fleeting glimpse of normality. Usually it’s like dandruff on your shoulder, reminding you, hey most people don’t think like this. You smile. You can always count on dead skin to remind you’re a meatsack, and not a Jupiter brain. Or, really, just remind you that people who write have less of a clue how to write than people who don’t.

Of course, that’s what Icarus’ fable was -genuinely- about. You soar the velvet face of god, then cartwheel into reality with all the grace of a wailing cat being blown down a wind tunnel. You can’t land on your feet because there isn’t a place to land.

Reality and writers have a rather unusual relationship to this type of state of being. It’s our fossil fuel, our inspiration, but like that gleaming jet to Maui, damn if it isn’t where you want to live.  Writers spend pathological amounts of time inside their own heads. The crazy thing is, people like it. Who knew all the times I got called out for daydreaming over HMS Beagle and Robespierre’s missing head might actually result in something amounting to a career.

Well, not yet. Still. Getting paid to think is appealing. Getting paid to imagine worlds? Wow. Seriously, why don’t more people become writers or creators?

Because many people have a pathological dislike of doing the things it takes to create. Everyone loves stories, but the appetite for consumption trumps the one to create. (I say this in expectation that people naturally desire to write stories, but do not because it takes effort.)

In my last blog, I likened the act of creation to a bowel movement. This is in part more prescriptive than descriptive, because it happens variously. I think it’s an important analogy though, because, as someone takes things very seriously too often, discovering a sense of humor in your process is relevant to the process itself.

I like to pick my stories apart as I write them. Part of it is I’m a recovering perfectionist. The other part is I’ve simply found I write a lot of dumb stuff. For example, one of the characters in my retired manuscript frequently and favorably said “Hidden in plain sight.”

That’s dumb. The more I thought on that though, the more I realized it was more than a little myopic. It was a way of looking inside his character. He’s a very simple man, thrust into a very complicated world, forced to be someone he never wanted to be. Going from a janitor to setting the Galaxy on fire and being on the Ministry’s Top 10, ‘definitely taking a hit out list’ is a bucket of cold water for older man.

Naturally, they’re going to develop some idiosyncrasies. That kind of thing percolated throughout the text, writing a whole sub-narrative. Rather than simply moving around unseen, him and his (SPOILER REDACTED) had the ability to influence technology around themselves. He could, literally, hide in plain sight. An over-reliance of technology made it easy for him to walk around in broad daylight.

As Bracken (I hope you read that inclusively), I spend a near pathological amount of time inside my own head. Often, I’m wondering how the insides of others’ heads work. Basically, I’m a shrink without a license and med school.

Worse, I’m an amateur philosopher. Worst: I’m a sentient, amateur philosopher.

As a writer, this creeps out of my text a lot. I love being able to exist inside a diverse set of heads (-queue maniacal laughter-). It helps me learn about those characters. Sometimes, it even shows me a shard of myself. Mirror Mirror on the Wall, who’s the most Lewis Carol of them all?

Being a writer involves a lot of perspective. You write inside and outside of different characters, projecting your own limited sense experience. Hence, two eyes and a terminal blindness. You perceive the world as it could be without seeing it. Sometimes I get lost in that paradox.

Being aware and being lost as a writer is a magical, near religious experience. In our own lives we have very little actual power over our destiny. Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero died with Rome. Horace was wrong.

We exist under the illusion that if we play by the rules, the world will be nice. Some of us, like Horus, believe that if we create rules – the world will be nice. Wrong. We can only create rules by the substance stuff our own, societal prison provides. The scaffolding upon which our lives are built is very precarious indeed.

Society is more fragile than life itself. The mere thought of society coming apart has driven mankind to perpetrating horror in the name of stability. We see that, we understand that, and we hide from it. People practice religion, raise children, engage in relationships, and engage in media to forget that.

Deep down, I think people fear that more than death itself. The idea that everything you know is more fragile than you is truly terrifying.

Writing is similar to this active forgetfulness, but different. Being a writer grants you power without provision. Being a writer grants you the stability the world cannot. The only promises made there, are the promises you can make yourself.

On Jupiter Winds his sails he clove,
And into hydrogen depths, boldly, dove.

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An End and a Beginning

•April 29, 2019 • Leave a Comment

The image of the artist, riding inspiration to lofty heights upon wings of gold with the acquiescent benevolence of the coffee gods is a well sold authorial trope. The truth is, writing is more like having a chronic bowel movement. Or, more precisely, recognizing and appreciating when you’ve passed something good, and when you’ve passed a piece of shit.

Inspiration goes more than it comes. When it does come, it’s often at one’s inconvenience much like driving down an empty stretch of highway and your bladder announcing its fanatic irritation at your decision to drink a 20 ounce mega boom rather than a paltry twelve-ounce minor boom. The times that it comes at you conveniently, are well and truly awe inspiring.

The rest of the time – something on the order of 85-90% – inspiration comes through boredom and frustration. I find this form of inspiration more gratifying, almost like a nice gesture or compliment from a stranger. There’s very little in the world as surreal as hammering one’s thought-stuff into an unfeeling keyboard with a clear, garbage sense, and being hit with a sudden, self-annihilating one-ness with your text.

Real inspiration comes with relentless work.

That isn’t to say that all work happens in the seat. Most of one’s work – probably 70% of it – occurs thanklessly and invisibly. A trip through the grocery store becomes a repository for sound play. An overheard conversation turns a fancy idea in your head. Orson Scott Card captured it well. “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them… Most people don’t see any.”

But what of those ideas? You train your mind to see them, much like constructing a bubble chamber to capture the trillions of neutrinos that stream through your fingernails each day. There’s no real handy guide-book. How will this work? Ah, yes. In that penguin habitat there was a particularly curious penguin. Perhaps he is descended from an avian genome engineered to birth explorers of renown.

That’s not to say being a story-teller is exclusive. Story-telling is woven into our chemistry as thoroughly as the biological impulse to procreate. We love good stories. We tell or listen to a story a few dozen times a day. Most of the time, we just don’t recognize it.

On the other hand, being a writer comes with practice. More specifically, it comes with failure. Like any well-practiced skill, you ‘get good’ by producing lots of shit. (Hey, we had to figure out how to crap better.) There are plenty of guide-lines on how to be a better writer. Too many.

In fact, if you followed the rules supposed for being a writer, you’d write something no one would read. Neil Gaiman, Tolkien, and George R.R. Martin write compelling things with something bordering on a ferocious contempt for rules. Adverbs? Proper syntax?

Art hates rules. One of the best things another writer told me was I broke enough rules to make sense. My senior English teacher told me my writing was awful and I was gifted in the same breath.

What rule do I hate most? The one about concrete language. Misleading someone in third person omniscient requires tossing that like a year- old eggs Benedict that’s been cultivating a sentient, fungal ecosystem inside the inviolable chamber of your fridge with reckless abandon.

That’s not to say artistic license liberates completely. There’s a bit of a critical point in which disregard become wordsmith anarchy. When your adverbs are shooting up your run-on sentences, it doesn’t matter how good of a writer you are or how interesting the idea is: no one will want to read it.

STOP. By now you’re questioning what the point of this is. Good news, I’m not rambling. Bad news, we’re venturing into autobiography. (See what I did there?)

Writing a story is involved. May 28th, 2018 through November 2nd, I wrote 101,721 words. November 2nd, 2018 through April 29th, 2019 I wrote 187,622 words. 163,221 of those were part of a ground up rewrite of the first manuscript. Altogether in 11 months, my brain managed to get down nearly 300,00 words on a story.

On average, I spent about an hour to two a day writing. Not much? Remember what I said earlier? That’s just the measurable work. Writing is like chicken pox. You get it, and it never goes away. Left mismanaged, you spend hours a day turning it over. Learning how to be a healthy writer is part of learning how to write. Professional and prolific writers toe the line of productivity by understanding when to step back.

That’s difficult to do when it’s something personal. There’s a reason why artistic populations exhibit neurodivergent traits and behaviors at scientifically descriptive rates. Creators, coffee, alcohol, and madness go hand in hand like Poe’s infatuation with death or Dostoevsky and polyphony.

That’s probably why we write about Cthulhu and Interdimensional Space Elves with hula hoops.

Around 80,000 words into my rewrite I stumbled across a troubling realization: I was writing something I couldn’t write – not yet. It helped that I had a friend (Primus Phoddius) point out my relationship to the story: “No one starts out with their magnum opus.”

Well, not many people. Certainly not me.

That stuck with me. At the time I was so engaged in the rewrite that I wanted to ‘finish’ the -first book- (and I say this loosely to point of deception.) It was a story I cared deeply about: in a way, a story I felt like I’d been waiting for years to write. When I finished the rewrite on the 28th, I saved the document in several places and told myself I had to wait several years more.

Right now, I can’t do the story justice. My characters deserve better than their coffee blessed creator can gift. They say a writer is a god. I’m not sure I could say I’m a very good god. I can, say though, that I am an impatient god.

Putting the story aside was simultaneously the easiest decision to come to, and the most difficult to accept. I really want to share this story with the world, and I think with time it’s a story the world would like to have.  (Did I mention that the story is -actually- a series with, at least, five books and the potential for as many as twelve?)

Writing is an intensely intimate thing, and not just the enormous effort that goes into putting thousands of words and hundreds of pages of sense into a coherent framework. Writing is intimate because it’s about you. It’s the story you want to hear.

The characters you write (and you write them because they are interesting) are in some capacity shards of your subconscious personality, molded by the abstract thought-stuff of imagination into something tangible and believable. A year ago, my main character: Ventris/Seerus/ Wolf existed solely as a disassembled stream of electricity and blender chemistry inside my head.

Now, to me, she’s real. I can’t imagine life without her. She has likes and dislikes; she suffers, she grows – from a Mary Sue into someone so afraid of emotional attachment she has fewer qualms sleeping with a gigolo than she does taking lives. And she’s a hero – she’s royalty.

Writing is fucking weird.

Art imitates life. The story started because I was in a sore spot, as nearly on my ass as a guy that ran 40-50 miles a week, working, and going to school could be. I had a bad case of mono. I still haven’t fully recovered. That was a year ago. The first words for the story went down 11 months ago. Put it together.

Everything happens for a reason.

I was stuck at home and lonely. Wolf wasn’t enough. She needed a foil character to bring out her best and worst. Sparrow was born. Now, they’re inseparable. They’re my Frodo and Sam. I have a playlist of music just devoted to them. I went to the hospital feeling suicidal in December. When I was there, talking to the nurse about Wolf and Sparrow gave me control.

Maybe it did because I feel like the world could use more Frodos and Sams. I certainly could. All the innerness is inherently lonely. That trope about writers is true. Our society contributes to this.

As a writer, you only exist when you have a book. Even then, you exist marginally – kinda like neutrinos (I’m sorry, I mean Kaions.) Our society expects you to be a Martin, Gaiman, or Tolkien or be inconsequential. Writers are poor. Most rely on their significant other for a livable income. It’s not a road people take for fame or glory, though those are nice things.

I’m certainly not Martin, Gaiman, or Tolkien – but that’s because I’m Bracken. I know I have a gift with words though. Break out the fanfare. I was winning writing and poetry competitions in high school. I translated Don Quixote into English out of boredom my sophomore year. Words are my thing like the dinosaurs were the Chicxulub asteroid’s bitches.

So, it’s all intensely personal. It’s all from your head. It’s all part of you. Even if it’s a piece of shit, it’s your piece of shit. Inside, there’s a part of me that’s mourning my incapacity to write -the story- (Because that’s what Wolf and Sparrow’s tale will always be to me.) and that I’ll have to set it aside for some time.

But, I’m grateful to it. I’m grateful to the mono, pneumonia, pleurisy, shingles, encephalitis, and flu that have beaten me sideways against my bed and couch. Through suffering, I’ve discovered an amazing universe with amazing places, cultures, artifacts, and people that never existed before.

There’s something extraordinary to that.

 

“Far from home, an oaken, shaded nest,
The Sparrow sang at their journey’s rest.”
– The Tale of the Wolf and Sparrow

 

 

The Lethe Cycle Blog 1: Monomyth and Moue

•December 27, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Storytelling is a specifically human process in which we effect the singularity of our existence into a universality that might be cultivated and reciprocated by other human beings. American literature professor and Mythologist Joseph Campbell espoused the concept of a monomyth in the mid twentieth century. The monomyth is specific in elucidating normalities in the narrative mode – that is to say, pointing out that there is a pattern to how we tell stories. Incuriously recondite, many that do know of Dr. Campbell’s work know of him only through his influence on George Lucas’s Star Wars.

One of the more poignant (and critical) moments in my pedagogy was an October morning in 2003. It was Alabama warm in my senior English class. Puberty inflicted us with a certain moue, our eyes groused with PT exhaustion. We were reading Hamlet, and there was a certain point at which my teacher slammed his book on the desk in frustration to a missed allusion. “If you speak and read English, and are ignorant of the Bible, you don’t know how to speak or read English.” His injunction was, of course related to Shakespeare’s prolific use of Biblical typology in his works.

My teacher, was of course, correct. While one might disagree with the Bible, there is no disagreeing with the enormity of its impact on our culture. But storytelling preceded the Bible – story-telling preceded the written word.  Story-telling preceded the Jaynesian Bicameralism that purported humanity’s self-awareness, and saw man first reflect on his own face and own actions in the still, mirrored waters of his own mind. This is the heart of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth.

This is the story of a universality that contends and coexists with the self. (One should be feeling specifically Jungian right now.) In the grand scheme of cosmic physics, we are drawn to storytelling for a specifically few number of reasons.  Personally, I am inclined that all these reasons and peculiarities distill to one entity: to be human, is to need to believe in something. Whether that need to believe manifests itself in the subtle beauty of mathematics, the harmonic sorrow of music, the magnificent panorama of art, the hopeful beauty of faith, the otorhinolaryngological phenomenon of writing – or anything else, it is there as surely as the trillion synapses of chemical lightning within our minds.

As a writer I am specifically interested in this second to last phenomenon. I say phenomenon, for that is what writing is. Writing is a specifically unique medium, in which the normalities of the senses are engaged by little squiggles and scratches on paper. (To say little of those anointed with specific powers of blending, such as is experienced in synesthetes.)  Moreover, as a writer who is endeavoring to tell a story, I am profoundly interested in it as it relates to the human experience.

In a finite chemical system, collision increases in proportion to molecular density. Dr. Campbell’s monomyth is precisely a monomyth because of this self-determined chaos: we tell and retell stories of the same strain because we inhabit a shared system. Our minds are little molecules interacting with other molecules. My senior English teacher’s molecule bumped into mine – and mine into Dr. Campbell’s, and through a profoundly unforeseen set of reactions has resulted in a story that will encompass three entire novels at the very least.

The story is, of course, about people and their relationships. It is set in the future (so you may call it science fiction), it draws from mythologies, (so you may call it fantasy), is written to instruct (you could call it educational), and is written in observation of a great many contemporary things (a commentary). In the coming weeks I intend to extrapolate on this latter piece through further blog entries.

I have no broad goal in mind for this series so much as a specific set of articles I desire to discuss. There will be articles about my personal influences, about the fleeting but entirely necessary micro-moments of hyper self-awareness that allows me to exist in two worlds: to place one foot inside my characters as well as towards my mailbox simultaneously, but most importantly, I want to discuss why I’m writing this story.

I want to be able to answer: how did the story start out as two, independent stories? How did a series of philosophical dialogues and a painter in Imperialist Russia become something else entirely? What do I expect out of this? What am I learning from this. Ultimately, why now? (that, perhaps, is the least problematic and most intuitive of the entries that can be written, but as it is the most specific it might prove qualitatively difficult to write.)

I did not set out writing this entry with the intention of taking Campbell steps through an Alabama classroom of Hamlet and exposition, but I arrived here anyway. The story, like my life, has been much the same.

As Tolkien opined in the writer’s specific omniscience and complete ignorance: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

See you next time.

The Long Run

•November 11, 2016 • Leave a Comment

There is a certain solipsism to the long run. Ask any serious runner what day of the week their life revolves around, and much like many Americans the answer is almost unanimous – Saturday.

But it’s for a different reason. The Long Run.  There’s more to it than the name, though. There’s an almost mystical appreciation of its effect on a runner’s life – so much so that many runners approach it ritualistically, eschewing a late night Friday life in favor of winding down early in eager anticipation of an early morning.

The alarm goes off, half a sandwich, a few light muffins, or a bagel with peanut butter are devoured– and the communion proceeds apace. (Don’t worry, Baptists, only some runners carry alcohol with them.) Some runners run in groups, others solicit the magnanimous solitude of their own minds – using the time to think critically about events on hand, perhaps solve a few problems the week had them too stressed to figure out. (Ask me not how something as intentionally torturous as running for 3 hours engenders critical thinking, but that’s part of the magic.)  Many people use it as a chance to escape from life. Like a sudden road trip that leaves the family perplexed by a sudden and unanticipated event. “You’re going WHERE?!”

Of course to non-runner’s the response is, universally, “You’re running HOW far?”

Really, runners don’t tend to think in miles any more than the road tripper. It’s not the destination, per say (one always ends up back at home. There is a philosophical one of course, but I digress), but the experience.

The only thing I really think runners tend to think about before and during the long run is: “How hot will it be/what’s the humidity, where are my water stations, and how many carbohydrates do I need to carry with me?”

Not slices of bread. Though, if we can figure out how to distill german rye down to gu plasma and add cinnamon swirls, I’m in.

Someone create a kickstarter.

Perhaps the long run is a bit munchausen.  Many runners appreciate and respect their long run like some vague, irrevocable illness. Of course, it’s a hobby, but to many it’s a hobby that is, well, abnormal. After all, who makes a habit out of giving up Friday night, getting up in the pre-dawn darkness of glorious Saturday, and running for hours on end? (Did I mention you tend to want to spend the rest of the Saturday plastered to the couch, almost questioning one’s ritualized addiction to an activity that always ends in exhaustion and discomfort as your spoon deracinates a helpless jar of peanut butter?)

To me, the long run is a quasi-spiritual ekdysis. Hence the communion imagery. It’s a great way of getting away. Not from people, sure that’s part of it, but from my own mind. That math problem that was eating away at you? Probably solved. Grand unified theory? Probably not, but it was considered somewhere after the third water stop as hypoglycemia was setting in.

After all, you have to be somewhat mental to do what we do.

At this point I’ve rambled on enough.  My own ritual is beginning: water and gu are packed in the car. My route is (somewhat) planned, and my alarm is set for an unlawful hour.

In a few hours I’ll be unconscious, and as soon as that alarm goes off I’ll amble to my altar of sweat and figure out things from there.

 
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