Tag Archives: Bonni Goldberg

If I Could Talk I’d Tell You…

Sometimes what is really worth saying is what is most difficult to say.  Perhaps anyone can tell a story, but it’s the unsayable that charges the tale with compelling if not conflicting emotion.  Writers write because they have something within that is urging to be said; the challenge, though (and the reason why I think not just anyone can tell a good story), is articulating what we feel so strongly when there may be no direct means of doing so.  This is why people use metaphor and simile or play off the sounds of words themselves to recreate an experience that is otherwise unrelatable.

The Prompt:

To help us say the unsayable, page 23 of Room to Write asks us to “choose a feeling, idea, or experience that you haven’t been able to express to anyone no matter how hard or often you have tried.”  In trying to convey this, we are encouraged to use any of the following writing strategies:

1. Comparison – compare the sensation to a similar feeling that it reminds us of;

2. Juxtaposition – describe conflicting aspects of the sensation, side by side; and/or,

3. Rhythm – structure the words/syntax of our sentences to audibly mimic the sensation.

Response:

At times, it felt my eyes would propel from their sockets, or splash out of them with the popping burst of a water balloon breaking against blades of grass…as if I might literally ‘cry my eyes out.’  My heart felt it might split open my chest cavity like a crab leg gripped in the toothed metal of a lobster cracker; holding my heart back from rupture, however, was an opposing anvil of pressure at my sternum, compressing my breast as though I’d plunged into ever deeper waters.  The dulling of other senses was likewise like treading below the water’s surface, looking up to see the pool of light above while deliberately sinking myself toward what was cool and black, obscuring my perception of life as it actually was through the dark and refracting depths and clogging my ears to reason.  At other times, it was like being strained through a sieve, dispersing the atoms of my being into the broader environment, a melding into the background as I soaked into the carpeting or evaporated into the walls, becoming more and more transparent from my own sight.  A water-logged cadaver deadened by apathy alternating with the quick-pulsing, hyperventilating, lurching engine of emotion that, either way, spun me off the road and left me paralyzed in the ditch, tangled within the weeds where no one could see or hear me.  This is what depression felt like.

Reflection:

Yeesh, I feel like gulping for air after trying to re-feel the sensation of a dark, momentary blip in my life.  Thank goodness this experience was temporary, triggered by a few too many life changes that occurred at once—good changes overall, granted, but changes nonetheless that entailed adjustment and sacrifice.  Ah, the bittersweetness of life…but as I learned in Istanbul’s bazaars last autumn, it is good for their elaborately woven Turkish carpets to be trodden on, as it only makes the knots stronger.  And thus we all strengthen into something of more beauty just when we may want to pity ourselves for being stepped on.

In any case, while I don’t have any issues talking about it (I prefer to, actually, as being able to speak of it in the past tense makes me revel in the happiness of my present and optimism for my future), I never feel I can adequately get the experience across.  And I can’t say for certain I’ve done so here, nor really approached it in the way that Bonni Goldberg has asked; all I can say is that I wrote what came to me most readily, and I know I could rewrite it through various other lenses.

I didn’t deliberately attempt rhythm, but if I want to grasp for sound effects, I detect some unintended assonance and alliteration in the penultimate sentence:  the repeated “aw” sound in “water-logged” that draws out the words like the slowed feeling of trying to run under water, the interspersed “a” and “eh” sounds in “cadaver deadened by apathy” that sound listless and whiney, then the “d” sound in “cadaver deadened” that falls with dull thuds.  The action words with strong, snapping consonants and short “i” sounds that follow (“quickpulsing, hyperventilating”) seem to then speed up the sentence a bit.  At least that’s my take on it…or maybe I’m just making this all up as I go along 😉  But seriously, though, although my little analysis here might be stretching because I didn’t try to strategically embed devices like this, I point out these examples just to show how the sound of language could be used for certain effects, and obviously more effectively when done on purpose.  I think this is at least the 2nd time I’ve bypassed rhythm as a writing technique in my responses, so I really need to start challenging myself more in this area.

But enough about me.  How might you say the unsayable?

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Digging a Rut into a Wishing Well

Meh.  I’m starting to sink into the funk I babbled about previously in “My Inner Critical Beeyotch.”  The dealio is that I’ve approached the point in my project where I really need to start bringing everything to climax and a concise resolution; the mental obstacle that I’m encountering now is not a writing block, but, rather, a plotting block.  In fact, my problem is the opposite of writer’s block, as ideas and words are flowing really naturally now, but I think what’s working against me is that, as far as the books I like to read, I gravitate to the lengthier novels that I lose myself in for a nice chunk of time, the ones with gradual character and plot development, that steep you into some of the minutiae to help you feel more intimate with the characters, like you’re really accompanying them through a personal journey.  I’ve been consequently following a pace that feels natural and necessary to me, knowing full well the word count still wouldn’t come close to some of those beasts I have on my bookshelf.  Unfortunately, the tidbit of advice that keeps coming to my attention through various sources is that word length for first-time authors should not exceed 90,000-100,000 words.  Um, well…I’m already in that vicinity and feel like I have a ways to go.

Here’s what I’m struggling with:  I started this project as something for me, a creative outlet I’ve been wanting to plug into for years and am only first now seizing the opportunity.  At the outset, I told myself it was first and foremost for me, but if I finished it and was pleased enough, it wouldn’t hurt to try to make something more of it by submitting it to agents in pursuit of that pipe dream of getting published.  Why just let it sit there on the computer, right?  But that said, I don’t want to be overly inhibited by keeping my eye on the publishing prize. I want to create, not sell out, but I also want to be realistic.

Should I just keep writing as I have been to get the ideas out, get the conflicts resolved, knowing full well I’ll have to go back and take an ax to a massive amount of it?  I suppose it’s better to have the clay to mold with, as Bonni Goldberg discusses on page 9 of Room to Write (see “More Messiness From the Membrane“), as I can always take away.  I need to remember my workshop guidance:  “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings…”

All right, then.  Chill, Monkey, and focus on the next writing prompt.

The Prompt:

Page 21 of Room to Write asks us to record our wishes.  As Goldberg says:

“Wishes are voices of the imagination, taking you out of the realm of reality on a daily basis.  For this reason, in creative writing, it is worth paying attention to them.”

We can write our secret wishes, our past or long-time favorites, or the one that is nudging us this very minute.  I will follow this last one, for obvious reasons.

Response:

Today I wish for clarity of mind…that I can sift and sort and structure my swarming ideas into a manageable plot to continue writing…that I will hold fast to my original goals surrounding theme and mood…and that my instinct will guide me through my pacing and revision.  I wish that the end product will be something I am utterly proud of and content to share with those closest to me, with the added bonus of being something marketable, so that I may also share my story with the world. I wish for the patience, inspiration, and discipline to see me through toward this end in the meantime.

Reflection:

Ah, it’s nice to let that out.  No shame in wishing.  What do YOU wish for?



The Art of Lying

Okay, then.  Getting me arse back into gear with my writing prompts now that I’ve concluded my grand U.S. tour.  I had a productive writing/revising day yesterday, though, so hopefully this will help me accomplish even more later today.

I was just watching the film The Invention of Lying last night, and, funny enough, the next prompt in Room to Write is about lies.  The movie is about a world in which no one lies until one man discovers the possibilities of doing so, and it’s hilarious the utterly dull impact the inability to lie has on advertising, literature, and film—fiction basically can’t exist!  The fact is, everyone at some point tells a lie.  Our motivations for doing so can vastly vary—it might be out of kindness to spare someone’s feelings, or it might spring from more ill intentions like self-gain or pridefully covering up that we are not as all that and a bag-o-chips as we’d like to think we are.

The Prompt:

In light of the different reasons why a person might choose to tell a “good” or a “bad” lie, our characters’ motivations in doing so can be very telling about them, even more so than the actual lie that they speak.  Bonni Goldberg tells us that we can more convincingly portray our characters’ lies by considering our own motivations for lying.  So, page 20 asks us to write only lies.  We have these options:

1.  Write silly lies, like you’re confirmed to pilot the next shuttle to the moon;

2.  Write more realistic lies that you have told or would actually tell to yourself and those you know;

3.  Write lies you have told and reflect on why you chose not to tell the truth in that instance; and/or,

4.  Write a scene in which one of your characters considers telling a lie.

This is one opportunity we have to tell lies without judgment…well, I guess I’m setting myself up for more judgment than if I were privately scrawling these in a journal vs. publishing it in cyberspace.  As I’m concerned this might hold me back from revealing certain truths through lies (odd how that does make sense), I’ll do a variation on #4 and share a scene in which my protagonist tells a string of little white  lies, and reflect on her motivations thereafter.  As in my earlier post, “Dialogues of Destiny“, I’ll call her “Margaret” and likewise alter my other characters’ names.  I will also highlight her lies in red font (that’s red, right?  Or is it orange?  I will not tell a lie and confess that I’m color weak.  Not proud of that fact).

Response:

To provide some context first, Margaret (an American) is temporarily living in her British friend Ron’s London flat.  They have had a recent, inexplicable falling out while standing in the doorway of her room.  Afterwards, he goes out for the night with his girlfriend Wendy while Margaret takes a nap.  She has just woken up and been writing in her journal when he returns, and this is what happens:

Margaret started when a dull thud on the door sharpened into three knocks of increasing conviction.

“Margaret?”

She adjusted the dimmer to fill the room in starker light, bracing, and the desk chair answered on her behalf with a creak as she lifted her weight from it to open the door.  Dread permeated her heart as she stepped into the threshold with a clammy hand still on the knob.  In the silence, it took several seconds before she could raise her meek eyes to his.  The face she met was not the darkened, scowling countenance of the Byronic hero she’d imagined; Ron’s visage, perhaps shaded in uncertainty to counteract its enhanced pallor, was otherwise unaltered.

“Are you all right?”

His tone conveyed that he had not analyzed this to remotely the same extreme Margaret had, if he’d even given it more than a second thought before embarking on his planned evening.

Sure.”  Feeling short of breath and sickened by their resumed postures in the doorway, a déja-vu she could control, Margaret suggested they relocate to the living room.  Averting an instinct to go to the sofa, she sat timidly on the club chair like a child sent to the Principal’s office.  A chair for one could be safe, personal space for her.

“Wendy was here just briefly, then we went for dinner.  Pizza—seventy-five centimeters of it.  I have the leftovers here for you if you like.”

The simple act of kindness pressed her eyes from behind.

“Oh, that’s so nice of you.  I’m fine, though.”

“You did eat, then?”

No.  “Yeah.  But thanks.” Not wanting the gesture to be thought in vain, she added, “Maybe tomorrow for lunch.  Cold pizza’s always been a national favorite.”

“What were you up to tonight?”

“Oh, I just slept.  I’ve been really lethargic lately, and just taking advantage of the fact that I can.”

“You have appeared positively knackered.  I assume you’ve had some late nights studying.  That can take its toll.”

His words sound so sadly strained…forced.  “To tell you the truth, I haven’t been to class in over a week now.  I never ditched class in high school or college, but, again, just finally realizing that I can, so I do.  It’s nice for a while to just be.  Whatever ‘being’ is.”

He rubbed his chin slowly between thumb and forefinger as speculation shadowed his piercing blue eyes.  “Well, you’re an adult.  I suppose you know what you’re doing.”

Not likely, but she was grateful he did not get didactic on her.  Still, she tried to salvage her studious reputation to an extent.

“Well, Ive still met with my project-mates, so they bring me up to speed.  A lot of this stuff is innate, or like something straight out of work experience, so I’m making good headway.”  This was half true; she had sporadically returned their phone calls and emailed bare-minimum contributions so at least their credits would’t be sabotaged.

“Interesting project?  Challenging?”

“Not really.”

Ron didn’t probe further, even though it was an area in which he himself had expertise; Margaret appreciated this in him, that he knew where to draw lines and let her be.  To a degree.

“What were you working on just now?”

“Huh?”

“You looked like you’d been at the desk writing.  In a notebook.  Documenting your stay here?”

Mm, sort of.  Just a blurb about something on my mind.”

“What is on your mind, may I ask?”

Shit, I handed him the perfect segue, garnished on a platter.

She was sincerely at a loss for what had come over her, remembering all the actions, but none of the motives, and she didn’t know where to even begin explaining something like that to her friend.  But she owed him a try.

“Not much.  I don’t know.”  She audibly expelled air from her lungs at the point of conceding defeat.  “Look…I’m…really, really sorry for my behavior earlier.  I don’t pretend to have an excuse.  I have reasons—I was tired and starting to feel positively nauseous.  But this doesn’t excuse me for my rudeness.  I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, you were a bit of a prat, weren’t you?  Rather unexpected.  What made you fancy laughing in hysterics like that?  Only to slam the door in my face all in a paddy the next instant?”

So he had thought about it.  Just took some classic British passive-aggressive beating around the bush to get down to it. “I’m really embarrassed; I’m not sure.  Did Wendy hear?”

His brows elevated. “Quite clearly, yes.  I believe that was the point, was it not?”

FuckBlame it on my hormones? “At the risk of making you uncomfortable, I think I’m approaching the end of my, you know, ‘cycle,’ so my estrogen levels are outta whack.”

“I comprehend the feminine chemical imbalance that occurs monthly, but, really now.”

This was a male attitude that never failed to royally tick off Margaret.  She lifted the tail from between her legs and automatically ignited.

“What the hell is with men being incapable of understanding that!  It would save your kind so much trouble if you’d just learn how to track a fucking calendar and know when to stay the hell away.”

Ron laughed through his teeth at the re-flaring of her incomprehensible temper.  “And what calendar is that?  How am I supposed to know your menstrual cycle, pray tell?”

“You could ask.”  Margaret realized this was an idiotic comeback.

“Oh, yes, quite right.”  He affected a Californian Valley Girl accent: “So, like, Margaret…when’s, like, your next period?  Need to borrow a sanitary towel?”

As funny as it was hearing the phrase “sanitary towel” articulated in an American accent, she was provoked.  “Well, hasn’t Wendy trained you to follow hers by now?  Or is she just bitchy all the time?”

“You’re out of line.”

Sorry.”

“No, you’re not.  And according to your own earlier statement, you don’t know Wendy.  So where do get off insulting her, offending me in the process?”

I was just making a joke.  I apologize that the humor doesn’t translate.”  The arrogant bitterness infusing her reply rendered the value of this apology null and void.

“What has come over you?”  She had never heard his voice raised before.

“This is getting all blown out of proportion.  I don’t even know where it started.  All I know is, I’m sorry for whatever misunderstanding is occurring right now.”

No, you’re not,” Ron repeated.  “Margaret, in just a matter of days, you have become a completely different person.”

Reflection:

And scene…well, to be honest in the midst of all these lies, that isn’t really the end of the scene, I just don’t want to give too much away about the plot and central conflict of the story.  In any case, beyond this point, Margaret shifts gears and becomes truthful to a fault, with more jabs below the belt.  But I will divulge what is hopefully apparent in this scene—Margaret’s emotions have become more erratic than usual, which, in all fairness to her, is just as perplexing for her as it is for us readers.  So, in her defense, when she tells Ron she isn’t sure what came over her earlier when she snapped at him, she really isn’t—nor does she understand why she’s becoming more disorganized and irresponsible.  However, she is not secure enough with herself to admit this to anyone just yet.  Rather than confront the possibility that there may be something psychologically imbalanced about her, she grasps for a commonplace explanation.

What is evident earlier in the scene is Margaret’s repetitious assurances that she’s “fine.”  Her motivations in this case also relate to her insecurity; she wants to hold up a brave face rather than show further vulnerability in front of someone she respects and in whose presence she just recently embarrassed herself.  This further explains why she half-lies about her coursework (she is taking a leave of absence to pursue summer professional development studies).  What is also going on here, though, is what I mentioned above about Margaret’s own confusion over why she’s acting the way she is lately.  In light of this, she is not only lying to Ron in this scene, but to herself.

When her temper begins to flare yet again, she spits out nasty comments (revealing her instability as well as tinge of jealousy over Wendy) and tries to backtrack by lying that she’s sorry; while he might not have noticed her dishonesty earlier, it is at this point Ron is able to call her out on it.  He knows she does not regret saying the spiteful things she does, and while it is offensive to him (and, oh boy, does it only get worse when the rest of the scene that is not posted here unfolds), his genuine concern encourages him to try to work through it with her.

One more white lie highlighted above centers on something Margaret wrote in her journal.  I’m not going to reveal what that’s all about, just that her deliberately vague response is likewise inhibited by her fear of revealing too much about herself that could be considered strange.

So that’s that for today.  I hope this dialogue comes across as natural and that the motivations underlying Margaret’s little lies do indeed say something about her character, regardless of whether it makes her sympathetic or not.  In closing, below is a tiny window into what the world might be like if nobody lied.  As it will reveal, lying is not an altogether bad thing in certain circumstances!


The Art of Discipline

On page 19 of Room to Write, Bonni Goldberg pauses to reflect on the importance of discipline in writing.  Her personal mantra when the going gets difficult is:

“Writers write, writers write…”

It all goes back to her emphasis on “showing up on the page” and curbing our tendencies to procrastinate or wait for inspiration to hit us.

The Prompt:

In light of the above, Goldberg asks us to write about discipline in one of 3 ways:

1.  Begin a poem or essay on what understanding you’ve reached on what it means to be disciplined, what you accept about it or what you reject;

2.  Track one of your existing characters as he/she copes with some element of discipline; or,

3.  Relate a past event that involved discipline in your life.

Going with Door #1 today…

Response:

Discipline is..

dedication and details

a dreaded dungeon

of dankness that congests my chest and blurs my eyes

resistance

like trying to run along the ocean floor.

But discipline is also

drizzling drops

of decadent delicacy

embedding structure within passion

to convert it to a sugared treat.

Reading the results

the rejuvenating reward;

whereas

idling for inspiration

the idiocy that is

waiting for words to come to you

rather than working to walk amongst them again.

The daily dollop, then,

the routine regimen,

the waking willingness

to expend effort and enjoy the effervescent energy

of Creation.

Reflection:

I can’t say I had any deliberate reason for the particular consonants and vowels I repeated in this other than they were the ones that started a lot of the words that were coming to mind with regard to the topic .  And I actually think I automatically latched onto to alliteration as a device to give me discipline, to set boundaries in which I could creatively explore.

Ironically, I’m not disciplined enough right now to spend more time on this or even take a second pass on what I just dashed off to revise or expand.  Ah well.  In truth, I think even just that brief time reflecting on it was validating, as that’s the point–if we perceive our goals as laborious tasks immense in proportion, of course we’re going to hit a psychological road-block; we’re just setting ourselves up for it.  The approach that seems widely recommended across writers is to chisel bit by bit off that boulder.  It may not feel like much at the time, but the aggregate results over the span of days will be noticeable if we discipline ourselves to set and accomplish reasonable daily goals.  If I’ve learned anything from my professional experience, it’s that goal-setting needs to focus on feasible, measurable results.

For me lately, on days when I’m not writing for my project, I’m making sure I’m at least writing a new blog post to stay warmed up.  And as for when I am working on my extended piece, sometimes I just roll with it, but other times I might set a word count–in yesterday’s case, 2,000.  It started out slow, requiring much discipline, but once I got into it, I tapped into a torrent of new ideas and ways that they could tie back to the old, and before I knew it, I had written almost 2,500 words by the time I reached a good time to stop for a break.  And even if I can at least add a few sentences of maybe a 100 or so words, I can feel the same level of satisfaction, even if I end up deleting it the next day.  Simply because I know I tried.  I worked at it, and I showed up on the page today.


Touch No Evil

The Prompt:

In wrapping up this series of writing exercises on sensory detail, today’s challenge (page 18, Room to Write) is to write through texture.  Again, we have 3 different approaches we can take on this:

1.  List textures;

2.  Describe the textures of a person, place, or thing;

3.  Reflect on how the textures help us find understanding.

I think I’m going to interweave #2 and 3 for this one, at least at the outset and just go wherever that takes me.

Response:

To lull myself to sleep at night, I often rub my fingers along the edges of my pillow case; it’s a habit I’ve had since childhood, one that I developed as a substitute for massage (I was very used to nightly back rubs from my mom).  So when I repeat this ritual as an adult, the tickling sensation of that thin fabric whispers kisses on my fingertips to assure me everything will be okay.  On the occasional night when I’m really sunken into a mode of regression, I’ll lay there in bed snugglng my panda bear, a gift from my parents when I was five.  Holding her close, I’ll run a thumb over the course, pebbly fur, matted down and hardened from decades of hugging.  Now and then I’ll still find a soft spot, a silken smooth patch that was not prone to friction and reminds me of the fluffy fuzz that once went up my nose and tickled my nostril hairs (and sometimes caused that sharp, almost stinging, muscle-constricting anticipation of a sneeze) when I sniffed the bear to find my own scent.  I run a finger over the rugged, scratched surface of its eye wondering when I would’ve let my guard down to have ever let harm come to there.  I feel how flattened and condensed the stuffing has become, the reason why this panda had actually grown an inch once on the family growth chart.  I roll onto my stomach and worry that the weight of my arm is putting the panda into a strangle hold as I feel its unyielding lump beneath, and as I turn my head the opposite way, the slippery straightness of my fine strands of hair slide across my cheek in feathery protection.  I nestle my face into the moon-cooled part of the pillow that I hadn’t yet laid on and sense its soft, suede-like fibers brush against my skin, which, newly cleansed and burning from an invigorating sandy scrub, prickles a bit at the thin fuzziness just skimming its surface, almost velvety after multiple washings.  I feel the thick raised bands of its pattern press into my cheek to stamp its existence into my damp epidermis.  Awareness of the tepid, downy pressure  of my breath upon the back of my hand distracts me from sleep, so I move my arm outwards, outstretched until it bumps dully into the warm life-force emanating from my husband’s back.  In short, vertical sweeps, my hand rubs up and down against his t-shirt, which has become flimsier and less abrasive to the touch after continuous wear has relaxed its threads.  Through the fabric, my fingers feel a twinkling of bristles as tiny needles of hair penetrate through.  Sensing a shift of the mattress below me with a tug of the sheet above me, I realize I’m waking him when not meaning to and so withdraw my hand to the top of the duvet and let it sink into cloudy puffiness as a brief escape of air from between the feathers huffs around either side of my wrist.  I lose concentration of the regulation of my breathing as, limb by limb, my body numbs against these textures and my mind delivers me into anesthetized dreams.

Reflection:

Huh.  So I didn’t really know where I was going when I started out.  At first I thought I might be listing different textures that have come to have meaning in my life and then reflect on that, yet when the pillowcase and panda that both connote safety and reassurance to me (in representing childhood nostalgia) also both coincide with bedtime, I found myself just running with that image in my mind.

I didn’t realize it until the very end how much the sense of touch comes into play at that time of night when it’s quieter and darker, and, therefore, sounds and sights are more subtle.  Touch logically comes to the forefront, then, as we try to situate ourselves in comfort conducive to fading from consciousness.   A challenge was searching for different adjectives to describe what basically boils down to a bunch of different fabrics–the textures within a bed are not all that dynamic, so I kept wanting to describe things as “soft” all the time.  On rereading, I notice how I used a visual word (“twinkling”) to describe a sensation of touch, and while that may be cheating, I don’t know, it works for me because there’s a sort of motion and sound that go with that word that lets me understand how it would touch against my fingers.  I don’t even know if what I just said makes sense, but I am realizing that the boundaries between the categories of sensory words can be crossed time to time, as the different senses so often work together to elicit a shared sensation, so that leaves us open to all the more creativity in how we spin our language into the thread of a story line.


Hear No Evil

The Prompt:

Continuing on with my previous posts related to the senses, today’s writing prompt (page 17 of Room to Write) delves into sound.  Writers benefit from being good listeners, so Bonni Goldberg asks us to comment on what we hear in any one of 3 ways:

1.   Listing  sounds we love or hate;

2.  Describing the sounds we hear around us now; or,

3.  Developing a dialogue that employs purposeful rhythm in accentuating the subject and tone of the conversation.

I think I’m going to dapple in the first two for now, though I’d like to challenge myself with the third sometime soon and will update this when I do so.

Response:

1.  Sounds I love: the melodic vocals of the song birds that wake me and sing me lullabies in the summer.  The crisp Pffftt when someone opens a can of soda.  A genuine belly laugh gurgled from a niece or nephew.  The satisfying crackle of a fire, or cereal just submerged in milk.  The fluid ripples of a harp.  The melancholy of piano music.  The tap-tapping of corpulent rain drops on the rooftop.  A tongue clicking…once.  The ting of wind chimes and crystal.  Ocean waves and the way their foam sizzles through the pebbles.  Sounds I hate: TV commercials that blare louder than the shows they invade.  The dull thuds of neighbors existing above and around me in apartment buildings.  Car alarms.  Phones and classroom bells ringing.  Cheesy R&B vocals and the ootz-ootz-ootz of dance club music.  Buzzers.  Car horns.  The creaking of my desk chair.  Human voices babbling too loudly on public transportation.  Belches, and the laughter that follows them.

2.  What I hear now: Echoes of children’s voices undulate on the air as it carries their afternoon playtime imaginings across the square.  The steady pulse of a car or building alarm cuts through persistently with a piercing beep that makes my left eardrum throb and contract.  The hum and buzz of street traffic ebbs and flows with the Doppler Effect as cars and lorries approach and flee, the road too stop-and-go to allow continuous whirring and vrooming to meld into the whooshing roar of a waterfall that could let me remotely imagine I am amidst and one with nature.  The upstairs neighbors return with thumping and scuffling on carpeted stairs and a child’s commentary on the school day before jangling keys swing and collide as one of their own unlocks the door with a heavy click muted by friction.  The thumping continues overhead, plodding about more swiftly with a child finding freedom back in her home quarters and is soon accompanied by scuffs and skids and creaks.  All the while, I hear the clacking of the keyboard keys beneath my fingers as they yield and either stomp out letters in quick succession like the notes of a piano concerto (clicking and space-barring to a waltz, perhaps) or pause with the dreaded silence of a writer’s hesitation…a silence that is not quiet, but containing the overlapping tracks of sound previously described; a silence that a writer fortunately does not always hear when seeking out the soundscape of her storyworld.

Reflection:

As I attempt to quiet all the sounds and voices, real and imagined, swarming in my mind so that I can concentrate on reading for a while, I’ll close with this little tribute to onomatopoeia:


Smell No Evil

The Prompt:

My next series of posts will be pertaining to our senses, and, today, page 15 of Room to Write kicks us off with our sense of SMELL.  In describing smells, we can list significant smells or try to describe a person or place strictly using sense of smell:

Response:

There was an air freshener my mother used to keep in one of the bathrooms that always made me think of my grandmother’s winter home in Cape Coral, Florida.  Even though I hadn’t been there since the age of 5, any time I used the loo as a teenager I was transported back to this place that I could barely recall visually.  In attempting to describe this smell, it was pungent (in a good way), spiking through the nostrils with a sort of juicy, fruity, ocean breezy scent that makes me think of blue.  I also still hold onto shampoo samples from my first trip to Cabo San Lucas a few years ago (yes, I’ve saved the toiletries that long), as all I have to do is sniff to get that same teleportation to a calmer, tranquil retreat.  It smells most dominantly of sage mixed with aloe and a well-rounded fruitiness that I could cup my tongue around, though it isn’t tart like the air freshener scent–there’s something more arid about it like the dry winds breathed out by the Pacific across the sand and carried green brittle scents of cacti.  It’s a scent that makes me see a cloudless blue sky from the vantage of floating on my back in the waters of an azure-tiled pooled.  As a kid I would love to step into my parents’ garage on a humid summer day and deeply inhale the fragrance of gasoline (healthy habit, I know), which gave me the same satisfaction as the scents of freshly-cut wood and wood stain still can when I enter a home improvement or furniture store.  An odor on the cusp of this category, but that walks a finer line between love and hate with me is that of fresh paint.  No, in fact, the jury is in on that one after all; I don’t like it for its way of teasing me at first that it’s wood stain then goes in for the sting of sour headache-inducing toxicity.  To alleviate it, I open my windows to the moist air that can smell of snowy chills and soil and the must of dried leaves, exhaust, and the occasional coriander.  I like the smell of entering the bathroom after my husband has already showered so I can take in the herbal, apple-y, musky mixture of assorted toiletries, undermined only by the now-and-then stink of mossy mildew, like grub-infested mud.  As I remove my clothing to take my own shower, I may catch a whiff of paprika and salted alfredo.  I’ve never been one to be able to distinguish between the components of a glass of wine’s bouquet, so perhaps my olfactory sense is, in fact, weak, but I’ll say this:  one scent I cannot handle is breath.  The mildewy rot of halitosis goes without saying; I’m talking even the slightest essence of chicken or pepper or garlic, the stale, chemical scent of consumed alcohol, or the milder yet gag-inducing average scent, like milk steamed with the stifling closeness of humidity…whatever it is, I’m not having it in my face.  I’ve never understood the possibility of poets’ descriptions of “sweet breath” in their odes of love, and “baby’s breath” always creeped me out as a flower’s name.  Breath is what stinks up a bedroom like dirty feet and clammy armpits when one falls asleep with one’s mouth open without having brushed one’s teeth.  Contained odor of other people’s bodies on airplanes, trains, buses, what have you, is another sensitivity for me.  I addressed my own stench above after a day’s activity and a night’s rest, but the ground-in cumin smell that practically solidifies in the air as its own entity when a human has not been washed for days, if not weeks, is an olfactory oppression, and I would be mortified if my smell was enough to infuse a room merely because I occupy it.  There is nothing scent-sational in that.

Reflection:

This activity brought me warm, soothing memories in the opening as I recalled the scents that give me pleasure, but I see how I gradually gravitated toward the more unpleasant of life’s odors and thereby yanked myself from tranquility into the judgmental crankiness of an old codger!

Like I said above, I never regarded myself as one to have the most keen sense of smell, but I realize now I’m much more sensitive in this aspect than I would’ve given much pause to realize.  It seems when people write (including myself), the first descriptions to jump to are the visual ones.  Even looking at what I wrote above, I couldn’t resist reverting to visuals.  I noticed this all the time with my high school students, and we used to workshop on revising their stories to try to incorporate all five of the senses to better immerse the reader into their storyworlds.  It’s this descriptive language that brings words on the page to life because it appeals to our living faculties and makes us feel as though we’re using them when we read, smelling what the characters smell, touching what they do, etc.

From my experience, smell and taste tend to me the least incorporated descriptors (if not most challenging), so this is a worthwhile exercise to come back to time and again.  Whenever we write a new passage and revisit it to revise, we must ask ourselves if there is anything in that passage that lends itself to scent.  If not, or if it wouldn’t add much value as a superfluous, distracting detail, then we shouldn’t force it.  But if it could enhance the scene as a more realistic sensory experience, then we should certainly try.


Resurfacing from the Dive

It’s been a few days since I’ve tended to the blog, not because I continued to sink into the despair I was feeling when I wrote my last entry, but quite the contrary.  I’ve been inspired!  One little tangible gratification that came my way since I last posted was an unexpected email regarding a contest submission I’d entered last year…I took the lack of response as a rejection, but no, I was selected for an anthology of letters.  So, not a nod toward my creative writing yet, but I take this as encouragement in my writing in general.  I have always been told that I write a nice note… 🙂

Anyways, riding on that positive bit-o-momentum, I’ve been writing a new short story over the last couple days to enter into a fiction contest.  Making decent progress on that so far, but presently taking a break by shifting gears over here in the blog so that I can refresh and dive back into my story.

The Prompt:

Page 14 of Room to Write asks us to revisit a previous “diving” (freewriting) session and pluck out a phrase, passage, or metaphor/simile that we ourselves still don’t fully understand.  Goldberg is operating on the belief that sometimes our writing is ahead of us—no, not that we’re psychic, but that we’re “tapping into a stream where imagination and intuition meet.”  What may initially sound like nonsense might contain a nugget of truth and understanding that further writing can help unlock and deepen.  To do this, we should roll this passage around on our tongue and practice any or all of the following strategies:  a) apply it in dialogue; b) list associations with it; c) create an acrostic using a key word from it; d) draw it; and/or e) verbalize it out loud using variations in tone, pitch, or accent

On revisiting a previous freewrite, then, I’m torn between these two passages (the most peculiar parts to me are highlighted):

1.  “playing at children’s games mild lost to tea and egg pie and muddle gunk and tomfoolery wizened but not wise enough”

2.  “I catch my breath and try to inhale the purity calmness gaseous extremity that I can believe in the cool quake calmness of din and then I reach the apex of snow and glide and glisten along my way the sunny fresh extremes of hilltops glossed in icing and glint and free falling to a furry escape

Response:

To address #1, I believe I meant that the benign naivety of childhood gives way to an adulthood confined by more rigidly self-imposed rules of living, like proper afternoon teas or other modes of conduct that are considered refined but may be even more nonsensical foolishness (i.e., “muddle gunk and tomfoolery“) than the ways children approach life through their innocent, natural perspectives—adults kidding themselves that they’ve learned through years of experience yet still have so much more to understand.  “Muddle gunk” sounds like something very inspired by e.e. cummings, a way of making up one’s own words that somehow capture an idea through their sounds.  On re-reading the passage, “egg pie” really sounded strange to me at first, but now that I conceptualize it more, there’s nothing odd about it at all; it’s just a more silly, casual-sounding (indeed, more childlike) way of saying “quiche.”

As for #2, as I repeat “cool quake calmness” aloud, the alliteration of the hard ‘c’ sound instantly clacks against the roof of my mouth, creating a crisp, clean connotation (look, I did it again!) that suits the image I presume I was trying to create at the time.  How “calmness” can coexist with a “quake” or “din” is confusing, though, so let’s see if I can work it out.  I associate the last two words with the two senses of touching and hearing, “quake” being a violent shaking or shuddering like an earthquake beneath one’s feet and “din” being a ruckus, a commotion of sound (for some reason I hear someone clanging on a pan with a spoon, perhaps simply because “din” first makes me think of “dinner” by virtue of its spelling, not meaning).  It could be that the tremors and cacophony somehow respectively meld into a steady vibration and white noise, within the hum of which one actually can drown out distraction and disturbance to find peace.

As to why I would describe the escape from all the clamor as “furry,” I’ll use that for my acrostic:

Friction-free

Underbelly

Refreshing

Relief

Yielding

It seems I meant that it would be a soft landing that would only bring tickling, warming, soothing relief as it breaks the fall from the more putrid, rotting, artificially-created existence described earlier in the freewritten piece.

Reflection:

This was a useful exercise for revisiting my own words.  It’s wild to think that we can write things that we don’t ourselves even understand at the time–even more so that we can extract meaning from it eventually, and something that actually does make sense!  It’s a testament to the power of writing and how it helps us to unearth truths and propel us forward into the realization of them.


My Inner Critical Beeyotch

Today is one of those days when I feel discouraged to write, even if simply in response to a basic prompt as practice. What I should be doing is working on my project or at least expanding on my previous blog post with the level of characterization detail I had omitted the first time around. But I don’t seem to be, do I? It’s not standard writer’s block, though…my ideas for my project are there and swarming around and ready to be written…yet there’s this paralysis in me noggin induced by insecurity in the face of all that’s been written by all the writers out there.

Why does this happen?  I throw the question out there because I know I am not alone in this.  How do I know?

Well, before I answer that question, I think what first triggered all this today was reading Waiter Rant on the bus home from work.  This should be a non-threat book in that it’s a nonfiction account of a guy’s experience waiting tables, something I should be able to read without comparing it to my own writing style and content (which has become a nasty occurrence whenever I read novels).  The author is a good writer, though; he’s not just ranting and chronicling like it’s Dear Diary and he just wants to catalog humorous facts—he actually has a flair for descriptive and figurative language that illuminates the people and incidents involved to a very engaging degree, and he structures it effectively.  And then suddenly it does become relevant content when he’s recalling a conversation with a fellow waiter who comments on his talent for writing, as evidenced by his blog of same name, the very one that eventually became the book due to its massive popularity.

Which reminds me of the close-to-zero viewership of my own blog, which then makes me question why anyone would ever want to read it .  Nor my stories or ongoing book project.  But it’s all fairly new and more for me anyway, so since when do I even care, right?  Right.

With that assurance, I then come home tonight and happen to stumble on other blogs that truly reduce me to clearance at 8 cents per dozen.  The cyber-smorgasbord of blogs to be had addressing the same content as both my professional and personal blogs is intimidating—all the creative talent scattered far and wide sowing their seeds so quickly and with such frequency and making it seem effortless.  I automatically feel inferior again…

Seriously, it’s one of those days that feels like everything keeps coming back to reflection on the art of writing, but not in the empowering way.

And that was just today’s insecurity blast.  At other times it comes on that occasion when my otherwise delightful immersing of self in a bookshop–a moment that is one of hand-clapping and salivating wonderment over all the literary possibilities my fingertips might fondle on those bookshelves–becomes instead like a swift slap in the face by every hardcover and paperback to be had there, taunting me from their holier-than-thou pedestals as if to say, “We made it up here.  You’re still down there, and your writing is still just in your My Documents folder on a Mac.”  (Yes, the books are quite bitchy when I’m in this frame of mind)  Or I read the book jacket of a best-selling author’s latest novel and freak out that it follows a similar theme in a similar environment to the tale that I’m presently weaving, making me feel stupidly unoriginal and, even worse, like I’m crafting a version that could only be sub-par to this writer who has already had her first book adapted to a major motion picture.

It’s like looking at everyone else’s success as it accentuates my singular failure, and there is nothing more detrimental to the process of writing than letting that creep in and seize hold of your grey matter and squish it between its fingers.

So to get back to my earlier question of how I know I’m not alone in this—and, more importantly, that it’s okay—just as I’m revisiting Twitter tonight and esteem-crushingly marveling at everyone else’s links to genius, I came across this little pearl tweeted by Electric Literature, a blog post by Maud Newton.  Posting this just yesterday, what she addresses is exactly what I’m talking about above—the crippling insecurity one feels as compared to their favorite writers.  Oh gaawwd, I don’t even dare tread that path…it’s bad enough that I’ve come to measure myself against amateur bloggers…so needless to say, it’s very encouraging to see how this is a pervasive issue for writers, among both the published and the aspiring.

So I read this and I still manage to feel paralyzed, first looking at my writing project to see–if I’m not inclined to create new stuff–if I can at least read through what I did write over the weekend and revise it.  Not feelin’ it.  So then I click out of Word and onto this blog to either embellish on the character sketch of a real person that I initiated a few days ago or sketch myself as a character, as the next page of Room to Write directs.  Yet, again…nothin’.  With reluctance I then turn to the following page to just get the 3-Strikes-I’m-Out over with so I can shut down the computer and sulk behind a book to just leave it to the professionals and what they’ve already written when…aha.

Yes, I say to you that, lo and behold, page 13 is an A-Haaaa!! sort of serendipitous moment for me.

I am an avid observer of coincidence who becomes increasingly convinced by the day that there is, in fact, no such thing…so imagine my inner gasp when I see that page 13 of Room to Write involves confronting our CRITICAL INNER VOICE.  As Bonni Goldberg says here, “A critical inner voice taunts you as you create. […] The best that most of us can do is acknowledge it and keep writing anyway.”  Folks, I will delve into this today as an exercise/exorcism:  exercising my creative confidence as I exorcise the demon of doubt from my psyche.

The Prompt:

Page 13 of Room to Write, then, asks us to convert our inner critic into a character.  Consider its gender, appearance, smell, and favorite writers (if it doesn’t think that we‘re good, who is?).

Response:

My inner voice is female.  At the risk of stereotyping (for the record, I’m a female, so reserve the right to generalize my kind based in my own observances of self), I say this because she has bitchy tendencies to coincide with her vulnerable questioning of me.  She needs me to be secure, support her, and in this need comes a desperation and doubt that I can.  So, instead of inspiring me, she tears me down, tries to hurt me to make her seem stronger, smarter.  Classic insecure female, in my opinion.  Next, she’ll be asking me if I think her ass looks fat in those jeans.  Well, it does.  She is pale and sweaty and pimply with puss oozing out and her posture is horrendously arched.  She quivers like a nervous over-bred lap dog and would jump at her own shadow if she ever did dare step into the light.  She yanks on my sleeves to pull my hands away from the keyboard and dangles carrot-shaped published works within my vision but outside of my reach to reinforce that which I cannot have.  She is bug-eyed in Coke-bottle thick glasses, deteriorating my sight with her own myopia.  Her mousy brown, thinning, yet wiry tresses with the texture of pubic hair strike like foot-long lightening away from her head, and I can smell the swampy sourness of her body odor when overactive glands from overactive pessimism spit out their secretions to moisten her dirtied linen blouse.  Her preoccupation with bullying me absorbs her time away from tending to herself, though when she does indulge herself with her books (storing up on intellectual ammo to pierce and puncture me with later), among them are Fitzgerald, Dickens, Austen, Hemingway, Rowling, Niffenegger, Maguire.

Reflection:

Ick.  Nasty little broad, isn’t she?  Well, that felt good.  This feels better.  I just described someone I loathe and would never aspire to be, so why should I be so concerned about what this chick would think of me?  She clearly has more problems of her own.  So step off, ya floozy, and leave me be with my writing.

With that activity and brief reflection complete, I’d like to close this post with 2 points of inspiration that Maud Newton’s blog directed me to.  First, in the post itself, she gives a precious word of advice—basically, keep a crappy novel that you’ve read nearby, always, so just when you’re feeling down, you can skim through it and remember how crappy that book is that still managed to get published.  Second, her post provides a link to an LA Times article, which in turn quotes Ted Solotaroff from his essay, “Writing in the Cold:  The First Ten Years”:

“Writing itself, if not misunderstood and abused, becomes a way of empowering the writing self. It converts anger and disappointment into deliberate and durable aggression, the writer’s main source of energy. It converts sorrow and self-pity into empathy, the writer’s main means of relating to otherness. Similarly, his wounded innocence turns into irony, his silliness into wit, his guilt into judgment, his oddness into originality, his perverseness into his stinger.”

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Inner Critical Voice.

*


Character Sketch (Part I)


The Prompt:

Page 11 of Room to Write gives us some practice in developing character description.  Certainly, in creating our characters, they are not necessarily people  that we know in real life.  We might incorporate aspects of real people into our envisioning of them, but the remainder may lie sheerly in our imagination.  To ensure that we are offering the proper level of description to these characters, then, today we are to have a go at describing someone we already know–either closely or arm’s-length–with whom we have regular contact.

This will be an exercise in discovering what it is we actually notice about people first.  I’m sure you’ve taken a personality quiz at some point that profiles you based on what you notice first when you look at someone (e.g., eyes, teeth, hair, etc.), and this will be similar, just taking it to another descriptive level.  In identifying what it is that we automatically look to in a person, we will identify what it is that we automatically describe in a character.

Chances are, we’re limiting our characters in some way.  So, after I write this, I’m going to reflect on not only what I did write about but also what I didn’t.

Response:

His eyes are blue, though I still sometimes question if they’re at all green…must depend on the lighting or what he’s wearing.  It isn’t a crystal, cold, icy blue, but a muted, soft one that I’d feel comfortable dipping a toe in, then submerging into fully.  They’re kind eyes that don’t penetrate with menace or even cloud over in sorrow, but they surely twinkle when he’s happy.  They’re eyes that I can see looking exactly the same, with the same good humor, when looking out of a far more aged face.  His face now, though, is young, though showing the lines of maturity, of laughing, of squinting in the rays of the sun or the gleaming fresh powder of a snowy mountain.  His skin is sensitive to dryness in the air and wind-burn when rushing down the slopes or bouncing along the pavement.  It will redden then flake, so he moisturizes it often.  Left to its own devices in the absence of the natural elements, it is fair skin to go with his fair hair and fluffy fair eyebrows.  His blond is more sandy, darker in the winter months when shielded from the sun’s bleaching effects, and becoming increasingly peppered with grey on the sides, which is giving him that handsome, distinguished presence that befalls all lucky men who retain their hair and physique, the fellows like Cary Grant and Sean Connery who only get better with age like a fine wine.  He’s a man who can wear a beard and not look unkempt; the whiskers grow in dark and give a tanned shadow to his fair skin and protect it from the irritation of the daily shave, though it is only on holiday when he’ll let it grow this way.  Otherwise, he’s the clean-shaven type, keeping his hair trimmed close to his neck in the back and parted neatly at the top, though in casual circumstances will lightly gel it into a more naturally tousled look.  Even when casual, however, he’ll wear a buttoned shirt and leather loafers, with denims or khakis in between.  He’ll smarten up a day of air travel with a wool blazer, and every day at the office sets that bar high with his well-tailored suits and the rainbow’s spectrum of Charles Tyrwhitt shirts accented with cufflinks and ties of unexpected patterns and hues.  His answer to the proverbial male-profiling question is undisputedly “boxers,” and his socks have found new voice through multi-colored stripes.  He’s a man who does not need his wife to dress him in the morning.

Reflection:

Okay, so that’s my first pass on describing a real, living, breathing human being in my life.  What are the things I noticed first in my mind’s eye?

Face/Head:

– Eyes (from their color to how they reflect the temperament behind them)

– Skin (its physical description, including external influences that portray one of the man’s favorite hobbies–skiing, running, and, apparently, moisturizing)

– Hair (primarily physical description, which to extent reflects personality)

Body:

– Clothing (again, physical description that may reveal underlying personality)

So what didn’t I describe, then, that I could have?

– what his smile looks like

– body physique

– the way his body moves

– what his voice sounds like

– how he smells

– what he feels like

– nervous habits

– ANY habits–the way he behaves in different circumstances

– sense of humor and other personality traits

See anything that I’m missing?  Please list in your comments if so.  More importantly, give this a try yourself!


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