Sunday, July 31, 2011

Writing Life: Stories on the Fly - An Explanation

I've been wanting to do something like this for a while. That is, give myself a scenario such as the one in the post below (a woman, locked in a room, with a deadline), write a story within a certain time, and allow myself less time to edit the story. Then post it on this blog immediately.

It's really a writing exercise to see what I can come up with. With enough practice I should get better at it (I hope). When I was with my ex, we tried a similar idea but we had to tell the stories out loud to each other without writing anything down. I took the scenario (two men in a car, arguing about a woman) and told a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end right off the top of my head. There was plenty of conflict and secrets that came out in that little story. There was no time limit. The idea was we had to verbally tell the story until it was finished.

I'm going to try this exercise from time to time. Feel free to leave a scenario and a time limit in the comments if you'd like. The minimum time for writing the story is 15 minutes. I promise I won't cheat! I can't guarantee that all the stories will be good or even decent but I'll never improve unless I challenge myself.

Thanks for reading.

Writing Life: Stories on the Fly - The Only Way Out

Total Writing Time: 15 Minutes; Total Editing Time: 8 minutes, 30 seconds

Scenario: A woman. Locked in a room. With a deadline.

The clock was ticking. She looked up at the window. Sheet metal had been welded over it. She checked her watch again. She knew it was two minutes fast. Yes, two minutes might be enough, she thought. Above her head near the top of the window, was a bomb. Just a handmade bomb but she could see there was enough explosives to destroy half the building, and certainly this entire room.

She was alone in a room about 500 square feet. The walls were painted black, featureless. The floor was made up of white shiny tiles. There were pools of bright lights concentrated in the center of the room, leaving the outer edges dark. There was only one window and one door. The door had bars of steel welded over the front of it on the other side. She knew this because there was a small screen hanging down from the ceiling in front of her showing the door and hallway outside. It was a little like one of those DVD screens that drop down inside a fancy, tricked out mini-van. No one was in the hallway. She had nothing but her clothes and her watch. She pounded the sheet metal over the window with her fist, testing it. There was no way to break through it.

After looking around the room, she walked around the outer edges quickly testing the walls for any weaknesses. She finished in the middle of the room and stared up at the DVD screen. It was attached to the ceiling but there seemed to be a seam in the ceiling. She jumped lightly, hitting the bottom of the DVD screen. There was the tiniest amount of give. She smiled.

She backed up and then ran towards the DVD screen and leaped up towards it. She grabbed the screen and held on, swinging her legs. The screen held and then her forward momentum pulled the screen's based too far and the screen ripped from the ceiling leaving a gaping hole that looked like it would just large enough for her to crawl through. She landed on her hip with a thud, pulling the screen and its cords with her. She checked her watch. There was only three minutes to go. She grabbed the cords and climbed up through the hole as quickly as she could. She was breathing hard but paid no attention. There was a long corridor of vents ahead of her. She had no idea if she was going to get far enough away in time but she had to try. She began crawling away from the room, barely able to get up on her knees. She went in the direction of the north side of the building near the river and kept going. She knew if she didn't reach the other end of the building, she would probably be killed in the blast or at least seriously injured.

She stayed focused. Kept moving, she thought. It was the only thing she could do. She could see the other end of the building in front of her. Just a little bit longer, she thought.

The building exploded.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Blog Housekeeping

I moved this blog post just to keep everyone in the loop about the changes made. I first posted it on 7/9/11.

Today I did some housekeeping. First, I moved all my posts from my Fainting in Coils blog to this blog and shut down Fainting in Coils. Anything that would be been posted there will now have a label titled "Mr. Gryphon."

You can see I've included buttons at the top of my blog. The top row of buttons are About pages for general information and the bottom row of buttons are label buttons. I chose some categories I like and created the buttons. If you click on a label button, all posts with that label will be displayed. If you have a suggestion for label button, feel free to leave a comment. The list of all the labels I've used on my blog posts is still located on the side bar.

I created a separate link list on the side bar for my strange story FailSafe. It shows all the chapters in chron order and includes the Asides I wrote. I originally did a label button for it but found it to be too unwieldy given the story's length. When I finally get around to posting another story I will create a separate link list for it.

Lastly, for those of you following this blog I sincerely apologize if you were inundated with notifications or emails when I transferred the Fainting in Coils posts to this blog. I'm still not sure if all the blog posts I moved were sent to you as new postings, and my attempts to find out (and prevent this from happening) were met with failure.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Old Blog - Posted on June 16, 2006: Fainting in Coils

This is the first post featuring Mr. Gryphon. At the time, he was only "Gryphon." I added the Mr. shortly after. As I've said before, I created him when I was breaking up with my ex as a way to keep him around a little while longer.

In this post you can clearly see his trademark qualities: seriousness, unsmiling, and slight crankiness. Plus, he never hesitates to call me on my shit.


Gryphon and I spent the evening together last week. It was a beautiful San Francisco night. The Universe was playing up its parallel nature to the hilt. I was running late as usual. Gryphon was annoyed.

"Can't you tell those work people to shove it?"

"I try to but I don't get anywhere with that and if I continue they won't ask me back. Who would pay for dinner then?" I say.

"Hmm. Good point."

We make our way into the MUNI underground. Since this is San Francisco, California, United States of America, no one seems to notice the Gryphon and his wings. As long as he's wearing his chaps, no one casts a second look.

I'm feeling stiff from residual work week stress but then again that could just be my turtle shell. We somehow manage to fit on the MUNI train. The Gryphon folds his wings away.

"What about what's-his-name?" he asks. There a crunching sound as Gryphon crushes the bar he's holding on to.

"What about him?" I ask.

"Thought so," says the Gryphon. He gazes up and down the train, apparently satisfied that the topic of conversation has been exhausted. I'm relieved myself. I'm happy to be alone with what's-his-name and my thoughts for a change.

We're only going two stops to Powell Station. The doors open and we disembark. We make our way up to Union Square. Gryphon insists upon taking a Cable Car two stops to our destination. After some pushing and shoving, I manage to hang off the side of the Car, Rice-a-Roni style, and he's content to perch on top. Tourists gape and take pictures.

We reach our dinner destination, The Cheesecake Factory. There's only an hour wait. We put our names in and wait in the bar. Gryphon watches the basketball game on TV, he's quite fond of games. I sip my alcohol laced milk shake.

"I'm having lobster," he announces, shaking his great head.

"They don't have lobster, you'll have to settle for shrimp," I'd been reading the menu.

He gives a little growl but says nothing. The first time I'd met Gryphon was during a dance at the beach. He'd been pretty much keeping to himself on the shingle, kicking a stone here and there. Most people think he's too taciturn and solemn but we managed to become friends somehow. Since he's going to keep watching the game, I give up on talking to him until we sit down for dinner.

A server named Mandy, all bright and fetching, bounds towards us.

"Drinks? Alcohol? Appetizers?"

"Now and Laters?" The Gryphon holds up a package of "classic" Now and Laters for her to see.

"Oooh, yes! Have any grape ones?" He tears open the package and gives her all the grape flavored ones. She is excited. He watches her but does not smile. He never smiles. She leaves us with more time to decide what we're eating.

"That's the kind of girl you need," I say, "Someone to offset your seriousness."

"Miss Turtle," he says leaning in, "it's better to be a little serious than to cause yourself all kinds of unnecessary sorrow."

"Are we getting on that subject again?"

"Of course, that's why I'm here. Why else would I be sitting here in chaps on a Thursday night at the damn Cheesecake Factory?"

"At least you got to ride on top of the Cable Car again," I say, glaring at the menu.

"Stop pouting and no crying this time," he says.

"I'm NOT pouting and crying," I snap.

"No raising your voice at me either."

I seethe and consider leaving the restaurant but some men at the next table start singing the Barry Manilow song "Mandy" to our server. I look down at the menu and smile a little.

"I used to love Barry Manilow," I say wistfully. The Gryphon just looks at me, that look of disdain on his brow.

"We need to get on with this dinner, Miss Turtle," he says briskly, "Now, you need to relax and stop worrying so much and be thankful for what you have. All this fancy about the end of the world and how bad things are getting just won't do. YOUR wasting a lot of time."

"You spelled YOU'RE wrong," I say stiffly.

"What of it? That adverb there is silly, by the way. You're always stiff on account of your shell. Stephen King would not approve of all these adverbs."

"What about what's-his-name?" I ask.

"YOU'RE pouting again. What about him? Why are you even asking that? Is he here right now at this moment? Then don't worry about him. He's fine where he's at, wherever he is."

"Is? At? Same thing?"

"Yes, sometimes." Gryphon picks up his Ultimate Margarita in his claws, thinks better of it and puts his glass down.

We order, the food comes and we eat in silence. The night is turning a little cool. I start to think the last dialog exchange was the whole point of the dinner but then Gryphon looks at me again.

"Just remember, you are fine where you are. Am I right?"

"Suppose so. What's going to happen next? How will this all turn out? Will anything happen?" I'm getting my trademark tears in my eyes.

"Don't know what's going to happen next. Don't know how it's all going to turn out and something will definitely happen," Gryphon says, "No crying, you heard what I said before about that."

"Piss off, "I say wiping my eyes.

He sighs and holds up a dinner menu. "Dessert?"

"No thank you. I'm going to throw up if I eat very much more. Why is everything so painful sometimes?"

"I've answered that already. You know how it goes. The answer is in front of you at all times. All the things you need to know now. Stuff like that.

"This has turned out to be a tiresome dialog, Mr. Gryphon. I think we need to end it now."

He agrees and we make our way out of the restaurant. I wipe my eyes. "No sorrow?" I ask.

"Not a one," he says, "you know it's true. You keep asking the same questions over and over. It's time to drop them. No answer is forthcoming, at least not in the form YOU'RE hoping for."

A Cable Car stops on our corner. He smiles a little, then I laugh as we run to the Car before it pulls away from the stop.

Saturday, July 09, 2011


The love of my life is obsessed with a married woman. We never could see each other clearly.

Every time I hear or even imagine him singing her praises: how beautiful she is, how brainy, the look of wonder and sliced pain on his face every time he talks about how glorious her poetry or paintings are, I feel spite rolling slowly from one side of my chest to the other, my heart providing security the way inflatable bumpers provide cushioning to bowling balls during children's tournaments.

I used to smile wanly at him, but he wouldn't notice my pained eyes because he was too busy staring off into space in the crowded restaurant as radiant pictures of his married love broadcast behind his darker than dark eyes.

One night I broke into the art studio where she paints and spent hours looking at her neatly lined up brushes, her carefully positioned canvases. Even her well used palettes along with works in progress look like they belong in a museum, full of cobalt and silver and orange and rust and mint and rain and summer and ashes and warm wood. I rarely talk to her, but when I do I try to stay with the conversation. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of big heartness not to scream and yell at the HAPPY bitch.

For she is happily married with her own family, she talks about cold autumn afternoons, spooning and snuggling. Warm blankets wrapping up precious children. All of that and still she takes the love of my life even if he's content to flit around the edges of her cozy world saying inappropriate things to other people like how he wishes he were married to her instead of her lucky husband. He doesn't care what anyone thinks. And long ago, he decided that I was unworthy of his love, unworthy of his attentions.

And although I was tempted to, I didn't sabotage her paintings or her supplies even though I wanted to very much. Instead, I crawled through the window I'd forced open, landing painfully on harsh concrete. I sprained my ankle and scrapped my left knee in the process. I sat pitifully on the hard, unforgiving ground crying from pain and love, the full moon washing down on my tears.

Two days later, he and I are sitting in the same diner and once again he is talking about how wonderful she is. He doesn't see me. I look hard at him, my tears forming shrink wrap over my eyes, blurring my vision. "Look at me," I think as hard as I can, as hard as when I wished for a pony when I was eight years old. I try to send the thought to him with all the force of a visionary. I try as hard as I can, but he just becomes more blurry.

"She's just so amazing," he's saying, shaking his wonderful blond head. His glasses are sliding slowly down his slightly pink nose. He pushes them up with his index finger, a completely unconscious gesture, then his eyes drop down to his half eaten burger with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese still not seeing anything. "I'm never going to find someone to love. It's been too long, I'm too set in stone," he says.

I think harder and then harder still until I realize the salt shaker on the table is trembling from my thoughts, "I'm here. In front of you. I love you. Look at me. Look at me." The tears spill from my eyes, not that he will ever notice.

I wrote this post on March 12, 2007 at 8:34 pm while in the middle of a personal relationship shitstorm. I think I posted it for a few hours before taking it down. I remember at the time being proud of the quality of writing but that it hit too close to home for me to feel comfortable with putting it out in the world. I'm still proud of the writing. Thankfully, the guy wasn't the love of my life though I sincerely believed it at the time. He never did see me properly. Oh well, it's his loss.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Movie Musings: My Approach to Film Surveys

Now that I've completed two film surveys and am working on a third, I thought it was time to write about how I go about doing them.

First, I'm not doing this for school. When I mention to people that I do film surveys and explain what I'm doing, they always ask if it's for a class. I do this because I get so much out of it and it's really fun. I think it's interesting that many people assume someone engaged in this kind of activity would do so only for school.

Second, I've never taken a film course so I have no idea how an instructor would approach a similar survey. The process I use grew out of my own efforts and I'm assuming an instructor's course would have much more depth, and certainly more information.

All that being said, here's how I go about it.


Sometimes the subject matter is easy. You decide you want to explore a particular director's body of work so that's where you start. Or you decide you want to concentrate on a particular time and place, or even a particular actor.

My first film survey was on Weimar Cinema, films made in Germany from 1920 (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) to 1933 (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse). I also watched The Triumph of Will (1935), the notorious Nazi propaganda film as a coda. Choosing my next subject was easy because I really wanted to learn more about Akira Kurosawa and his films. The subject matter for current survey was more difficult. I had the thought that I wanted to concentrate on a European director, perhaps someone who'd made films in the 1940s and 50s, possibly into the 60s, but I was also taken with the idea of focusing on an event or subject matter.

One of my friends did an impressive overview of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He read a bunch of books, watched films and documentaries, and even read a manga or two about it. I seriously thought of going this route and either following in his footsteps or picking another event. I also thought about other directors and even actors (one of the actors at the top of my list was Vincent Price). In the end, I settled on Spanish director Luis Buñuel. I was fascinated that he'd made so many films in different countries and languages and for his reputation as a surrealist.

I should note that I don't consider my continuing review of South Korean films to be a "survey." For me, film surveys are all about looking back at a particular time and place or a particular person, such as a director. South Korean films are still evolving and maturing. For now, I'm merely a collector.

Once the subject matter has been chosen, it's time to make a list.


A film survey must have a beginning and an end so it's important to make a list of films. I always start on Amazon, believe it or not. I run searches for Listmania! articles ("So you wanna..."). This is how I created my Kurosawa list of films. After reviewing Amazon, I'll run a general Google search and do some reading for recommendations. Yahoo! Answers is another good place to find film recommendations. After I have some idea of what films could be on the list, I'll start reading Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, and IMDB articles about the films. Some films are are a no brainer such as Kurosawa's Seven Samurai or Buñuel's Belle du Jour. Others are less obvious and require some reading to ferret out.

My survey of Weimar Cinema topped out at 14 films. My Kurosawa survey encompassed 16 of his films. When I'm done with Buñuel, I'll have watched 23 of his films. None of these numbers include any "offshoot" or remake films (more on this later).

The next most important thing is to find a book of the films. I found my book on Weimar Cinema at the library. The Films of Akira Kurosawa by Donald Richie was a wonderful book to have on hand. Oddly enough, there isn't such a book for Buñuel's films so I had to do some poking around. I found a book called A Companion to Luis Buñuel which discusses his films and also his life but not film by film. In the end, the best resource I found was Luis' autobiography My Last Sigh. UPDATE: I found a splendid book titled Luis Buñuel: A Critical Biography by Francisco Aranda at a used bookstore in the Mission and paid $8 for it. It has a detailed bio, especially of his childhood, a film by film review, and many of his critical writings about art and films, and some of his surrealist writings. This book, along with My Last Sigh, are my best book companions.


If you're lucky, as with all of the Kurosawa films I watched, the film will have been released by the Criterion Collection. Criterion is a company that releases films that have been restored and include excellent extras. I suppose you could consider their approach to be more scholarly. Some of their releases are brilliant, such as my three-disc set of Seven Samurai. It has the best audio commentary I've heard so far along with documentaries, essays, and the like. On the other hand, I was somewhat disappointed to find out that the only Buñuel films released by Criterion were from his Second French period.

I watch the film, all commentaries, and all documentaries. After that, I'll look the film up on Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, and IMDB and read more about it. If I have a book of the films I'll read the relevant section but only after I see the film first.

In the past, I've stopped there but now I log the films in my Master Notebook. Logging is tremendously satisfying. I'll take at least one screenshot, maybe more, give the film my own rating, add factual details, and write a review. In addition to logging, I'll make a note in the survey's diary section in my Master Notebook entitled The State Of My Obsession.

My current survey for Buñuel includes the film log, The State of My Obsession diary section, and a Reading Page. I've been doing a lot of reading related to Buñuel himself, his films, and his friends so I keep track of those activities there. As noted before, I also write articles relating with the survey but I've noticed the articles are slower in coming. I'll definitely do an article about Buñuel and his friends, and will likely do an article about recurring themes in his films: surrealism, his attitudes towards the Bourgeoisie, and religion at some point.


Many directors, Kurosawa is definitely one of them, inspire others and remakes of their films are made. Depending on the film, I'll sometimes watch a remake for comparison purposes. For the Kurosawa survey, I watched Magnificent Seven, a 1960 western remake of Seven Samurai, and A Fistful of Dollars, an iconic 1964 Spaghetti western remake of Yojimbo. An "offshoot" film is always one by a different director but might explore a similar genre, might even include actors my director likes to use. Or the "offshoot" film is about the director, usually fictionalized in some way. For my Kurosawa film survey, I watched The Sword of Doom, a 1966 Samurai film directed by Kihachi Okamoto and starred Kurosawa regulars Tatsuya Nakadai and Toshiro Mifune. For my Buñuel film survey, I've watched Little Ashes, a fictionalized account of Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, and Federico García Lorca during their university days.


My Buñuel survey has taken me to new places I never anticipated. I've become interested in Paris in the 1920s and have been doing a little exploring in that area. I already have a bit of background from reading Buñuel's autobiography and learning about the Surrealists. It also helps that we have a number of wonderful art exhibits going on here in San Francisco that encourage this kind of exploration: a Picasso exhibit at the DeYoung Musuem, a Steins exhibit at SFMOMA, and an exhibit on Gertrude Stein at the Jewish Contemporary Museum. I might take a bit of time and read one of Hemingway's books (either A Movable Feast or The Sun Also Rises).


As you can see, my biggest problem is keeping the survey contained and focused. The other problem is completing the survey in a reasonable time. Both my Kurosawa and Weimar Cinema surveys took years to complete because I wasn't very focused on them. I've already seen 16 of Buñuel's films and am now focusing my efforts on his Second French Period. It's a bit overwhelming to go from doing a survey in a couple of years to doing one in a couple of months. I need to find the right balance for myself.

I'll definitely write a blog post here and there about the survey (here's one I did about Buñuel's First French Period), but these posts tend to be watered down, shortened versions of my Master Notebook log. I have toyed with the thought of starting a separate blog for writing about films and film surveys but I've got too much on my plate to focus on that right now. I may try it later.

This is really fun for me. It never feels like work. The added element of logging the survey and writing essays just makes it that much more wonderful. Plus, I get to flip through my Master Notebook to see the results. So satisfying.