Category Archives: Poetry

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.

Gone Fishin’: How to Catch Big Ideas in Deep Water

English: David Lynch, photographed on 10 Augus...
David Lynch, doing his signature spirit finger motion when discussing ideas floating around,photographed on 10 August 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like quotes. I have spent many hours copying and pasting quotes from artists I admire into my Evernote app for further handheld inspiration. Recently I’ve been diving head first into the work of filmmaker David Lynch. I seem to find I have some things in common with Lynch, at least I perceive so. Specifically, I hold a great deal of admiration for his imagination and his idea generating process. In many interviews, Lynch refers to ideas as fish and his extended conscious-mind as a pond where these idea-fish are swimming around, waiting to be caught. Lynch says:

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”

 

I’m not embarrassed at all to say that quotes like this send me gushing like a teenage girl at a rock concert, (or a Justin Bieber/Taylor Swift festival. Is that what teen girls gush over now?)

Lynch’s rationale that we all have great ideas swimming around in our subconscious, waiting to be found and explored, is enlightening and liberating. He admits to not knowing the best way or even if there is a way of locating these ideas and bringing them to the surface. They just kind of come, sometimes when you least expect it, and you have to be ready for them. A forgotten idea can drive an artist mad, so keep your pen and paper (or trusty Evernote app) handy.

This journey into the “deep water” of one’s soul is not necessarily a Lynch original. I can recall a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” I love that quote. Writers must pain themselves and even torture their souls in order to squeeze the pulpy prose from their juicy brains. Good writing is about feeling something on a very deep level and having the courage to push forward, through the emotion and onto the page.

Even before reading this Fitzgerald quote, my first encounter with the term “deep water” came in a creative writing class where I met my current hero and greatest teacher, poet Christopher Bursk. Chris, whom would be agitated to be referred to by his last name in this post or in the classroom, spoke regularly about the importance of paddling out into deep water in order to write beautifully. Our assignments were often exercises in swimming in deep water; write a poem about something you regret, write about a person you would benefit from being dead, or the self-indulging, soul scrutinizing personal “Song of Myself” that we’d have to write and share in front of the class.

The greatest advice from Chris on writing about deep water was a story he’d tell us about taking his son to swimming lessons. The swimming instructor said the best technique for swimming out of deep waters and to the shore was the dead man’s float; where you put your head under and trust the water to keep you afloat as you paddle forward.

This is of course true for writing. Much like Fitzgerald’s quote, sometimes you have to trust that the pain or longing of the deep water will keep you afloat and just start paddling, start putting the words on the page, and eventually you’ll make it ashore.

These quotes and this advice have helped me channel emotions into some of my best writing. It’s a constant struggle though but I’m content with battling every day. It’s a compulsion to want to strike out every day in hopes of getting that good idea, catching that big fish.

I was thinking of myself, Lynch’s quote, and came up with an analogy. If you’re ever uncertain of why you can’t come up with a good idea, look at the process as you would look at fishing. When you go out fishing, they don’t always bite. Fishing is all about patience. Staring at your rod or checking your hook constantly won’t make the fish come any quicker. Sometimes you just have to lie back and let your thoughts drift when all the sudden you see your line bob and you scurry to your pole, your pen and paper, and start reeling the fish in.

Some people are better at coming up with ideas than others, just like there are master fisherman in the world. In this regard, I think I’d say I’m a talented idea fisherman. I get ideas, sometimes several ideas, every day and I try to be a work horse in order to get them all into a project, down on paper. For the analogy’s sake, I’m good at getting fish to take the bait. But I will say that I have trouble catching the big fish. I’m young and still learning to explore myself and be honest with my emotions.

If I do manage to hook a big fish, a great idea, I often find I have trouble reeling it in and getting it onto the boat. Or worse, sometimes when I do get these big fish onto the boat, adapted into a story or script concept, my ship sinks before I land safely ashore. Sometimes my emotional state implodes unexpectedly and my ship, my safety, submerges with all the ideas and ambition onboard.

So what’s left when I hit the water, away from the safety of the vessel? Usually I panic and suck in a lot of water. But then I remember the wisdom of my heroes, I put my head under the current and start paddling towards land. And sometimes I’ll find I’ve carried one of those big fish along with me as I step onto the sand.

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.

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.

The Powerful Effects of a Good Writing Group

Being a writer is tricky business. It’s a strange talent that requires complete submergence in order to have any lasting benefits. If you want to become a professional writer, you pretty much have to slave for over 40 hours a week, without getting paid; writing, editing, nitpicking, stressing, and freaking out over your work just to produce something that might appeal to a publisher, studio, newspaper, or whatever person with money that will make your words readable to the right people.

If you just want to be a decent writer in general, you can look to the millions of quotes from authors that basically tell you to write often, write every day, write, write, write. Good writing comes with writing. Period. Case closed. Practice makes perfect. Writing every day is the only way you’ll get really good.

That is easier said than done.

I started my blog simply as a way to write more and put a voice to ideas and personal opinions I could never plant into my fiction. Writer’s block is a hell of a thing. It’s a crippling thing. So I figured if I couldn’t write fiction and create stories, I could frequently write blog posts just to keep my hands on the keyboard and my mind molding sentences. And still, I don’t write every day. Sometimes I don’t write all week. Yikes.

A little less than a year ago, during the 2011 fall semester, I took a creative writing class that changed my life. I’ve documented my thoughts on the first class in another blog post and continued to discuss the powerful lessons I learned from the professor in a post about heart break. It’s safe to say that class changed my life. And that’s really saying something considering I’ve actively been pursuing my dream of being a writer since I was about thirteen. So that’s almost ten years of trying and writing a lot. Still, that class gave me a new look on writing and what it takes to write something meaningful. I have found a joy in writing poetry since the class which was always something that bored me, confused me, and smothered me in previous years. But now I’ve come to find that to really write in the “deep water” often means bearing my soul. And I think that soul bearing is a format best suited for poetry.

Here I go on another tangent. These blog posts, Jesus do they tend to go off topic quickly. Let’s back track, this is a post about writing groups and how they help motivate me to write. Now I’m talking about my awesome creative writing class, which is good back story, but let’s get back on track.

In this creative writing class I managed to write some really good short stories and even a half decent poem towards the end of class. But most importantly I got amazing feedback not only from the professor but my classroom full of peers, many of whom were actively trying to be writers themselves. It was a great environment, slightly competitive but not in any negative sense. It was more that we didn’t want to come to class unprepared or clutching a crappy story since we knew we’d have to read aloud often. This made me write good pieces on a very consistent, weekly basis.

So when the semester came to an end I was nervous about where I’d go as a writer. I learned some tools but would they just grow a coat of dust sitting in the tool shed that is my thought process? I was relieved when on the last day of class; two students mentioned getting a writing group together once a month after the semester so we could keep working. I signed my name boldly, the John Hancock of the group I hope.

So since then, myself and three of the best writers in the class (and in the entire school in my opinion) have been meeting in a secret, intimate, little writing group on campus and providing each other with very useful criticism and motivation to keep writing. I cherish that one day a month and have grown close with the other writers.

There are two female poets, one male poet/fiction writer, and me who alternates between presenting short screenplays, short stories, and as of yesterday, poems. There’s a great mix of style, substance, and format being passed around each meeting.

Recently, I’ve been assisting a best friend with some of the challenges of being an early-twenties college graduate with no immediate job future in the field he wants to pursue. But he mentioned something that I thought provided him with all of the hope in the world: he said he wanted to start writing.

I jumped on the thought and told him what every author on earth tells new writers: write, write, write. “A writer writes. Always.” That’s a quote from the film Throw Momma From The Train with Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito. But yes, it’s accurate. Write!

He’d been writing poetry to keep his emotions in line but was weary of their merit. I told him there isn’t a lot of bad writing if it’s honest writing. And just as I suspected, it was pretty good stuff. I gave him my comments and then finally mentioned he should take the jump and come to the writing group with me.

My friend was hesitant but finally agreed and I was pleased to see how much he enjoyed himself and walked away with valid critiques and motivation to continue writing. I’m excited to see where this motivation takes his work.

Yesterday’s writing group was something else. It went on for hours and hours because we took a month off and all had so much enthusiasm to present the several works we all brought with us. It was a wonderful session. We read multiple works. We passed around some of our most valid and useable criticism. And I left in awe of some of the writings that my group came in with. I make no mistake in saying that I believe in every one of them to reach success with their work if they continue cranking out stuff of that caliber.

So we disbanded from group just short of midnight and had to unlock and force open one of the automatic sliding doors that was bolted shut with us still inside the campus. We practically floated back to our cars in the vast, empty, chilly parking lot, hollering to one another that “it was great to see you” and “I can’t wait for next month!”

And I noted that familiar surge of energy and excitement sprinting through my veins and bouncing about my stomach that I get while going practically light headed with enthusiasm in a discussion over writing or filming. By the time I got in my car I had a headache from the rush. My voice was scratchy and I felt exhausted although I knew I’d never sleep. I agreed to meet up with my friend for a drink because I still wanted to talk more and gauge how he felt about the group.

I believe we all left that particular meeting with a heightened level of enthusiasm to continue writing. Not in general, since any writer could probably never really give up writing altogether. But I think we were ready to write liberally. We had more ideas now. We’d gone to the fountain and replenished our imaginations with each other’s stories and enthusiasm. Now it’s just a matter of sitting down and writing.

So that’s what I’m doing. I wish it wasn’t a blog post but something in one of my many opened projects. But it’s a start. And after all, you’ll never know what you’ll get until you sit down and write it.