Category Archives: Books

Write Selfishly, Readers Will Be In Ecstasy

My laptop is ready to blow. It overheats so much these days that my keyboard is burning away my finger tips until I’m forced to take a break from any writing. These are the notes from a computing inferno.

It has come to my attention that blogging has become some sort of mental health pill for me. These posts are all over the place in topic but all share the same purpose for me as a writer: a way to stop moping and start writing. This blog is a perverse confessional, a manic cry to the world from an isolated bedroom, a message in an electronic bottle thrown out into the cyber sea, amongst all of the obscurity of millions of other blogs, billions of other words, hoping to leave a few ripples and maybe some waves.

This is indulgent. This is selfish. This is ok.

A writer has very few hopes of leaving behind many original pieces. Life is full of monotony. Even the anguish, the wars, the deaths, the physical and mental tortures have all been experienced and reiterated countless times. So why try? The reason is because you’re the only person who experiences these things the way you do. Write things the way you know them. Let the reader see big, universally known experiences through your eyes.

Kurt Vonnegut says in his novel Timequake:

“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

This is why readers need to hear your voice. Maybe you’re saying something they’ve felt and so desperately need to have affirmed. Feeling alone in your thoughts can be crushing. For me as a writer, feeling unoriginal in my emotions, whether it is heart ache, insecurity, or confusion, is devastating.

Writing is a beautiful art form. You don’t have to be a “writer” to gain the benefits of writing. It’s something I think everyone should do. But I am a writer. I may be an aspiring writer when it comes to my professional dreams but in my soul I am nothing else. Like any dream I have to pursue my goals with blinders on to deter the blurs around me.

In Factotum, Charles Bukowski said:

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

So the message in this blog post’s bottle is the above: selfishly fight the good fight for yourself and your readers and throw anything that prevents you from doing so to the side and out of your mind. There is nothing but greatness waiting for those willing to shed comfort. Comfort is a tethering chain. Free yourself. Give your readers affirmation that they are not the only ones feeling this way. They will be as grateful as you are to the writers who have done this for you.

What Do You Do When Everything is Right in Front of You? or How Do I Capitalize on Each Day?

Mark Doty, poet author of the book Atlantis

My first assignment in my Intro to Poetry class was to read Mark Doty’s 1995 book of poetry titled Atlantis, based mainly on the death of his partner to AIDs. In the poem “Long Point Light” a lighthouse speaks and says, “The morning’s the size of heaven. What will you do with it?”

As we went over the line in class today, it made me think about what my days have consisted of; nothing worth commenting on and basically the exact problem with my life and that quote.

When the first day of the semester came around I was thanking God for giving me something productive to do with my days. I lost my job at the beginning of August and went through a few good weeks of consistent reading and writing which is ideally how I’d like to spend my time. But then, while reading the depressing Sylvia Plath novel The Bell Jar, I hit my own slump and didn’t do much of anything for a while. School will hopefully put me back on track.

Back to the Doty quote, how can I treat every day like it’s the start of some kind of paradise? I’ve been able to do this from time to time. On a good month, I can have one or two gloriously full and productive days a week. But how can you be more consistent? I would like to be able to treat every day this way or at least most of my week.

But it just doesn’t seem plausible. In order to tackle a day fully I need to be optimistic and have some sort of idea of what I’ll be doing. I need to have a story to write or a good book to read and be inspired by. I need my creative juices to balance out with my optimism and I need the time to pour myself out onto the page.

Sometimes that is too much to ask. My moods shift. I have work or other obligations. Then it’s like I don’t get anything done at all let alone a full day. Excuses are our enabling friend.

The first half of the Doty quote suggests that there is great potential at the start of every day. There is literally no end to what could be accomplished in a whole day. However, the second half brings a twist; in order for this unlimited potential to be harnessed, you will need to take charge of it and command its reward.

I’m wondering how I can. And I’m open to all suggestions.

I suppose like all major projects, preparation can play a big part in the process. I shouldn’t wake up with no game plan and expect great things to fall in my lap. I was thinking about searching the internet and finding a bunch of writing exercises that appeal to me and stowing them away. If I can’t think of something to write one day I can reach into the pot of random poetry and short story exercises and get to work.

I’ve been meaning to limit my time on mind numbing activities too. Hours are lost and time truly melts in the presence of TV, Facebook, and the vast brain tumor that is the internet with all of its cat pictures, sex, and random pleasure generators. Hours are precious. They cannot be returned.

A constant battle I have is whether or not I should actively try to wake up early. I’m naturally a night owl, so Doty’s quote would have to be altered for me to say, “The late afternoon’s the size of heaven.” I do believe I’m more productive when I get up at a reasonable hour but those hours after midnight, when the rest of the world is sleeping and I’m left undisturbed with my writing, are when I’m really at my zenith.

So I suppose we’ll have to start with those options for now and see if they help me to carpe the hell out of some diems.

  1. Have game plans for your days. Prepare ahead of time.
  2. Do not waste time on things that numb the mind (Facebook, TV, and internet).
  3. Sleep less. Wake up early. Go to bed late. Best of both worlds.

“What is the Purpose of Life?” or How a Small Bit of Character Info from Kurt Vonnegut Helped Put Getting Fired into Perspective

 

Getting fired from a job is one of those moments that make you stop and take stock of your life. Even if you’re not that big of a fan of the job, it’s still the basic idea that you were forced to stop performing when you weren’t ready because someone else said you weren’t doing a good job. It’s like having sex with someone who you’re not remotely attracted to, someone who you know you’re too good for, but still you keep pumping away sluggishly as you go through the motions. But then all the sudden, this person who should be thanking God that you’re giving them the time of day, taps you on the shoulder and says, “I think it’s best if we part ways.” Then you’re left fumbling to put your pants back on and wondering what you did wrong to upset this beast you previously loathed.

“We’ve decided to part ways,” is how they say it.

I walk into my office and there’s my General Manager standing with another GM from the market who was summoned for backup. The other GM knowing my shift’s start time and probably showing up fifteen minutes early to be there standing, posing as I walk through the door. I knew what was going on before they even began talking. At least it was a nice day out.

This is an asshole.

I can’t say I was very surprised by the termination. I had gotten some poor reviews, which although were never for anything substantial, I knew the procedure since I’d seen the same thing happen to other employees; I was aware they were getting the documentation they needed to ensure a legal termination. That’s how things are done in chain businesses that are run by home offices in other states by people who see you only a few times a year for a walk through, the only thing on their mind being to find something wrong with how you’re running the building. It’s really quite disturbing when I think about it too much.

But the great thing about being canned is I have a lot of time to do all the writing I claimed to be too busy to catch up on. Thankfully, I’ve actually been making good on it and writing daily. When I’m not writing I try to read. I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, the humorous tale of beloved Vonnegut character Kilgore Trout, a recurring side character who this time gets to be the lead on the black comedy stage. Trout is a fictional science fiction writer who pens hundreds of novels and short stories which are usually sold in pornography stores with dirty pictures printed along with the text. His stories, which are unique and otherworldly, are merely vehicles to peddle smut.

In Breakfast of Champions, a small character description struck me. Trout walks into a porno movie house when they’re trying to close for the night. Vonnegut writes, “Nobody was there but the manager, who was also the ticket-taker and the bouncer and the janitor.”

It’s quite a small sentence which isn’t detrimental to the story. In fact, this theatre manager is only around for another few pages as he walks with Trout before being assaulted on the dark New York City streets. But it struck me as remarkably true and hit home, having just been fired from my position as a movie theatre manager, (unfortunately not of a porno theatre.) Being a manager in an AMC chain theatre consists of little glory or prestige. Working at a smaller multiplex as opposed to a megaplex leaves managers with less payroll and more tools needed on the belt. In one shift I would be needed as projectionist, usher, concession and box office cashier all while trying to fulfill my managerial assignments and ensure guests had a good visit. It is a thankless business. Long hours, weekends, and holidays are a requirement. And at the end of six and a half years I just get fired anyway at the ripe old age of 22.

Something about Vonnegut’s description of the poor, porno theatre manager having to clean up the dirty theatre at the end of the night in addition to all of his other jobs made me realize even more that it was probably for the best that me and the theatre “parted ways.”

Just before Kilgore Trout walked into the house he was in the bathroom of the porno theatre and read a question written on the tile wall. It said: “What is the purpose of life?”

To which Trout wanted to respond, but he had no pencil to write it, “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool.”

With all the self reflection that comes along with getting fired from your job, the purpose of one’s existence is sure to poke its head up at some point. Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout made the valiant effort of trying to answer that question. And to him, it’s quite simple and a foolish thing to be questioning.

We are only here to retort this life to others. We are merely a vessel for which to comment on what life has in store, for each of us individually. For it always surprises me that each of our lives are so unique, so original, and yet so connected to the paths of everyone else on Earth.

Vonnegut would say that there is no superior answer to the purpose of life. We are simply here. For no other reason than that we are allowed to be here. And once you can accept something like that; that life is so vulnerable and that our individual lives are so minute to the great wide intertwining world, then you are truly living specially. You are seeing clearly.

In one of my favorite passages from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle he says:

“God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, “Sit up!”
“See all I’ve made,” said God, “the hills, the sea, the
sky, the stars.”
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look
around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly
couldn’t have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to
think of all the mud that didn’t even get to sit up and
look around.
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor!
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.
I will go to heaven now.
I can hardly wait…
To find out for certain what my wampeter was…
And who was in my karass…
And all the good things our karass did for you.
Amen.”

What a lovely way to live if we all admit that we’re just mud that got up to look around. This applies to you, me, President Obama, millionaires, prostitutes, the Pope, your grandfather, cops, junkies, a collective universe of chaotic, flawed beings capable of nothing more than taking a breath and looking around.

 

 

Get Naked

Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence Universit...
Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been talking a lot about how much I’m reading lately. I’ve plunged into literature with all the fever of seasoned heroin addict. Reading makes for good writing. I’ve been delving into poetry and blog writing as a result. The productivity has also made for one of my finest weeks of filming. I started production on a short film I’m writing and directing and then had a very fun day filming two skits for my YouTube channel.

While on the set of the short film, I went up to my lead actor’s bedroom where he was stowed away as he prepared for his scene. When I found him, he was ironing a shirt in the bare bedroom. We talked about the scene, his motivations, his character’s spine, and then I noticed his bag full of books and magazines. He reads a lot too. He pulls out a copy of Bound for Glory, poet-folk singer Woody Guthrie’s autobiography and hands it to me. I’m perplexed, not knowing who Guthrie is and not recognizing his face on the cover.

My friend tells me that he was Bob Dylan’s mentor and that Dylan would read this book a lot on the road. Also, Dylan would go and play guitar for Guthrie in his hospital bed. Since Bob Dylan is a hero of mine, a book by his mentor seemed like a good read. I told him I’d have to check it out. Fate decided I should read it sooner than later. My actor friend lends the book, without reading it himself, to our mutual friend and my Director of Photography to read. Later when filming the skits, my DP says he probably won’t read it any time soon and lends it over to me. Wonderful. Add it to the pile.

I finished Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant and moved onto the first chapter of Bound for Glory. I wasn’t too impressed with the train riding tale in the first chapter but I went onto the second chapter this afternoon and couldn’t choke back tears at the beautiful innocence of Guthrie as a child asking his mother why she didn’t have two wedding rings, a gold one and a diamond glass one. I know this book is going to have many more treasures within.

English: Portrait of Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dy...
English: Portrait of Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan by Elsa Dorfman (1975) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I jumped on the computer and started YouTubeing Guthrie songs and then moved into Dylan songs and eventually into one of my favorite activities, reading lists of quotes from both men. My love for quote reading is perplexing. I know why I like it. Listening to the powerful words of my heroes puts confusing emotions and life itself into a perspective I can understand and live by. The problem lies when I’m holding conversations with people and most of my dialogue is other people’s words. I rattle off these quotes like a Christian quotes Bible verses, treating them like a firm commandment to live by. As a writer, when will I stop being able to form my own opinions and just start spouting out other people’s words? I’ll have to keep an eye on that.

I discovered that I missed Bob Dylan’s birthday by two days. Happy late Birthday, Mr. Dylan! In addition, I found a quote I liked:

            “A poem is a naked person… Some people say that I am a poet.” -Bob Dylan

Having been writing poetry and knowing what distinct voice it gives my writing, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been telling people that the reason I write poems is to put a voice to the emotions I have that I can’t transfer into my fiction. Poetry is me at my most honest and usually is about myself, not a character. Putting it simply, I’ve told people that poetry is being naked for the world to see.

Finding a quote from Bob Dylan, a man I respect majorly, that basically says the same thing as what I was saying is great. My fears of losing my voice and becoming a quote machine subside as I see my own thoughts solidified by great minds.

This is an idea to live by. Not just for poets but for everyone. There’s a lot of risk in putting yourself out there for the world to analyze. You’re opening yourself up to a point that you probably won’t be able to close up the incision. It’s scary and not something I’ve been able to fully embrace yet as I am young, learning, and protecting my emotions against forces that are ever changing and adapting to my defenses.

However, when I write an honest poem or display my emotions to somebody, I’ve only ever had positive outcomes. There are no regrets when you put yourself out there. There can’t be. If you’re laying yourself on the line and being truthful than what can you regret? You’re only being yourself and how could you possibly chastise yourself for that? Other people will do that for you. Another Bob Dylan quote says, “all I can do is be me, whoever that is.” I find that so reassuring.

I’ve had these moments where my thoughts feel like poisonous snakes, squirming and tangling and intertwining in my head and my heart wants to burst open from the inside out from the pressure of flies, fleas, maggots, these insects of regret. But that quote says I don’t need to worry. I don’t need to doubt myself or wonder “what if?” because as long as I continue to be honest and truthful to who my character is then I’m doing my job. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said “Amor fati—‘love your fate,’ which is in fact your life.” See how fast I become a quote monster?

Back to the quote that inspired this post. Let’s all get naked. That’s what I’m urging you to do. Take off your clothes and stand in front of the mirror. What do you see? Most people probably won’t be completely satisfied. That’s ok. You’re just you. You’re doing your job.

Now try to take off the clothes from the inside out. Try to peel away the sweater from your heart. Take away the veil from your mind. Have you scared yourself, yet? Those fears made you who you are. Embrace that.

Now try to take down those barriers for someone else. Start with a loved one, family, husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, best friend. They should already know what you’re showing them. But you’ll open their eyes and reaffirm your bond with them.

One day, we’ll be able to do this with everyone; strangers, enemies, the whole world. You will display yourself honestly to the world if you have the guts to do so. You’ll walk down the streets, fully clothed and bare as the day you came into this world all at the same time. People will notice the difference between you and everyone else. You will be you. And there’s nobody on earth who can imitate it.

Like Beer and Liquor, Or Possibly Certain Types of Recreational Drugs, You Shouldn’t Mix Certain Literature

Cover of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:...
Cover via Amazon
Cover of "In Our Time"
Cover of In Our Time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the last two days I’ve completed reading two novels of distinct interest to me: Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time. Both were phenomenal reads. Both can be related, in their own ways, to the American Dream. But perhaps they should’ve been spaced out a little bit in my reading schedule.

I’d been loaned a copy of Fear and Loathing from a friend a little over a month ago. Thompson had become pretty inspirational to me over the last year as I researched his work. I’d watched Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation but never got around to reading the actual novel. When I was lent it, I had to practice a good deal of restraint from reading it since it was the end of my semester and I had a list full of books to finish for my American literature course.

Ernest Hemingway in Milan, 1918

One of my final books in American lit was an extra credit read of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises which I fired through with awed vigor. Hemingway has become one of my favorite authors since the 2011 fall semester when I read his short story “Soldier’s Home” and did a research paper on the main character Harold Krebs’ motivations. So I was very eager to read his novels as quickly as possible. Or I guess in respect to Hemingway, I should say: I liked “Soldier’s Home.” I liked The Sun Also Rises. I was happy when I read them. Nothing seemed to make me more happy. (That’s a little prose humor for you.)

During the end of the semester, I was mixing my required readings with some pleasure reading of the short stories of In Our Time. I put it down half way through to finish my final book for class, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

As of last Tuesday, school is over and I was left to do my own reading. And I’ve begun to assemble a nice list of books I want to get through. First up was Fear and Loathing. I breezed through the majority of it yesterday and finished late last night. Once the drug-fueled craziness kicks in full swing, which is pretty much at the beginning of the novel, it’s too much of a page turner to be put down. And like Thompson says, “you can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug, especially when it’s waving a razor sharp hunting knife in your eye.” In my case, I couldn’t turn my back on a book full of Samoans puking into shoes, waitresses being petitioned for sodomy for a few laughs, and a few premium American automobiles getting more banged up then the drug-bingers driving them.

When Fear and Loathing came to a close I made the odd decision to pick up In Our Time the very next day. As I finished the final stories featuring Nick Adams realizing his maturity in the middle of a two-part finale that goes nowhere but touches on everything, I started to feel a little disoriented. In a matter of hours I went from 1971 Las Vegas, full of its acid induced hallucinations to 1920’s Europe and America as disillusioned Americans do their best to cope with harsh realities.

Both books had stated tough truths about the American dream. That’s the one unifying theme that ties them together for me. In the same way Thompson sought the location of the American dream in Nevada’s deserts, I’ve been searching for it in literature.

Each book spoke to a different generation that found itself asking “what’s the deal?” in its own way. Both books present people transitioning from prosperous and enjoyable decades in American culture to times of confusion and disappointment. Hemingway’s Adams returns home from WWI and fights to come to terms with masculinity, relationships, and values. When the reader leaves Adams, he has isolated himself from people to ease his confusion with the help of nature. For Krebs, protagonist of “Soldier’s Home,” the self-realization is a little bitterer as he’s forced to adapt to societal norms he no longer cares for to avoid confrontation.

Hunter S. Thompson, Miami Book Fair Internatio...

Thompson tells his own tale as a living, breathing survivor of the hippie counterculture of the 1960’s who was left stumbling into the 70’s, hungover and blurry eyed from a decade of heavy recreational drug use only to find that their rebellion was fruitless. Politics got weirder and times weren’t changing for the better. This sense of disappointment in these people’s fates was summarized beautifully by Thompson in arguably his best passage from the novel:

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

After reading both of these works I’m left fumbling around in my bedroom on a particularly humid and rainy night at 2:00 a.m. I am as confused and disoriented as the world and war weary WWI veterans of In Our Time and the self-destructive drug abusers of Fear and Loathing. Gertrude Stein called Hemingway’s folk “the Lost Generation.” Hunter S. Thompson didn’t seem to have the right map either in the 70’s. Over forty years later and I couldn’t tell you where I should be going. America has been at war for over a decade and I can’t find a decent song on the radio. If Hemingway’s time was the “Lost Generation” then I want to know who was ever found. All I can think to do is put on an Acapulco shirt, rent a convertible only to drive it to the ground and abandon it at the edge of the woods before submerging myself deep into isolation and nature for some trout fishing and a little bit of nothingness.