Friday, May 25, 2012

Back to Basics

2012 Circa Calendar
Index cards (3x5 and 4x6)
Some small moleskines (mostly blank)
Small envelopes

The list above is a label on a white box I have on my desk.

Years ago, a guy I used to work with said when things get overwhelming or major changes are taking place sometimes it's helpful to get back to basics.  Just focus on getting all your ducks in a row with the basic things in your life.

I thought at the time this was great advice because it places your focus on shoring up your foundations and gives you solid ground to stand on.

There are a ton of changes going on in my life right now.  Due to many factors, I'm going to have to give up my rent-controlled apartment.  In order to do that and stay here in San Francisco, it means I'm going to have to downsize.  This sounds like a bad thing but it isn't.  I have way too much crap, including things left over from my marriage that just don't apply to me and my life anymore.  I've been wanting to streamline for years and this is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Looking at all my stuff and starting this process is intimidating as hell, though.  I know there's a finite number of items in my apartment (it's not that big) but when I think about it, I get really nervous.  Need to start small, need to start steady.  Plus, the idea of living in another place is also scary.  It's exciting too.  I think I need this little shake up.

I streamlined my schedule even before I heard about my apartment.  After more than 23 years I retired from volunteering with the penguins.  I wasn't doing very much at the end there and I've got a bunch of personal projects I really want to focus on.  Also, I stopped doing the monthly critique sessions for my writing group.  I was the only one doing them and no one wanted to back me up.  Running a critique session is more work than facilitating a writing group.

This evening I've started purging in earnest.  I'm in my living room and worked for an hour while listening to 90s rap tunes.  I tossed a lot of stuff already, consolidated some items, and have labeled some items for storage.  I'm going to finish up with my office supplies (damn, there's a lot of those!) and get ready to do some more work tomorrow.

When I first started writing I read a book on writing by Jack Bickman titled "Writing the Short Story."  It was the first nuts and bolts writing book I'd ever read.  It's a kind of a course where you do a ton of prep work on 3x5 index cards about things you're interested in that could be inspiration for your writing and how to map out your story using 3x5 cards.  I went through the entire book and worked really hard.  At the end I had a nice pile of 3x5 cards with my story, characters, settings, etc. all mapped out and...I took the pile of cards and put them away.  I never wrote that story down.  I even went to where the story was set and drove around, making notes.  The reason I never wrote it down is because the story was done.  There was no need to continue with it.  This was the first time I discovered intense outlining and prep work before writing doesn't work for me.

Well, I found those 3x5 cards in a box a little while ago and had fun flipping through them.  All the things I'd written down for inspiration still apply.  I thought about tossing the cards because I know I'll never go back and look at them but I think I'll keep them a little while longer.

Bickman's book was valuable for other reasons even if I didn't take to the method he was teaching.  Mainly, it gave me a good overview of plot structure and the concept of adding "tags" or characteristics to your characters to give them more depth.

Another thing I found nestled among the 3x5 cards is an outline for a short story I wrote when I first moved here.  The story itself has been lost as far as I can tell.  The setting is in the Southwest and it's an extremely disturbing revenge story.  I mention it in this old blog post (The Role of Extreme Violence in Art).  I went all out with it and kept pushing and pushing, trying to go to places that scared the hell out of me to see what would come out and how much I could take.  I know if I read it now it would be full of beginning writer mistakes but it would be nice to take a look at it anyway.  The story contains some of the most powerful visuals I've ever written and is one of the most violent and gory stories I have ever read.  I still remember most of it and at this point those 3x5s are just about priceless.  I'll probably write it down again at some point.

Hmm.  I was supposed to talk more about getting back to basics but ended up talking about writing again.  Oh well.

I have a lot of blank index cards.  I use them in my writers notebook/calendar sometimes and occasionally decide to go back to using them as my calendar.  And who knows, I may decide to try plotting out another story with them.  I'll talk about the moleskines later.  For now, let's just say I have an obsession with them, and blank books in general.

If I find anything else of interest, I'll do another post.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Worth of Things

"It's late."

"Yes, and I have to get up early.  I know."  I pick up the teapot and pour some Earl Gray into the usual delicate teacup.

"It's nice to see you.  We've missed you."

I nod but say nothing to this statement.

Mr. Gryphon and I are sitting on a smooth white ledge, the tea service on the floor between us.  Our legs are dangling over the edge, and out beyond is the dizzying view of the universe.  We on the observation deck of a vast spaceship.  The deck looks much like giant cake dome.  The transparent substance which surrounds the deck is impossibly thin, only a few atoms thick, and stronger than almost any substance in the known universe.  It feels like we sitting on a white circular platter, suspended in the middle of space.

It has been many months since I've talked to him and even longer since I've been in this strange world I created.  I look down, getting dizzy.  Below me are more stars and the endless blackness of space.  I kick my legs a few times.

"I've missed you too," he says, pushing his blond hair out of his eyes.  I look at him, frowning.  I'm so used to him being big that it's weird seeing him so small though he's still taller than me.

A year ago, Valentine's Day, Mr. Gryphon woke up in the morning and found that he had turned into a human being, a guy around my age.  No matter what he or anybody else tried to do, he could not turn himself back into a gryphon.  Yes, it's true, I just haven't mentioned it to anybody.  I have a draft blog post to prove it.  I wrote the post "Imaginary Friend" and in it he keeps talking about how I have to write a story about us, and how everything has come to a standstill.  I'd figured out how to overlay a gryphon facade on him but it's impossible to maintain for any length of time.  If you're paying any attention in that post, I'm having difficulty looking at him.

"I was uncomfortable," I say, "Still am but clearly the story needs to be written.  I just don't know when I'm going to get around to it.  There's a lot going on."  I kick my legs again and focus on a steady point of light that appears to be directly in front of us.  A planet of some kind, obviously.

"Things seem to have come full circle.  Because you didn't want to write the story down, other things happened."

"Do you really believe that?  You're just a character in one of my stories.  You're not real," I say.  I am very tired but this conversation needs to take place.

"Stranger things have happened."

"You're still stoic, Mr. Gryphon.  How did that happen?  How did it happen that you are stoic?" I say, leaning towards him.  He merely rolls his eyes and picks up his teacup.  "Look at what I've done!  Gryphon and Mock Turtle are always together.  It's built into your nature.  You can't leave, not ever!"

"No, Miss Turtle, that's not true.  You can't leave.  It's your nature," he says.  In the months I've been avoiding him, he has clearly become comfortable with his human self.  He picks up small cake slice and offers it to me.  Our fingers brush.  His hand is very warm.

"Goddammit!" I yell, startling him.  He blinks rapidly for a moment.  His eyes are a very warm shade of light brown with pronounced gold flecks.  I miss his great yellow eyes.  And his wings.

"Sorry, I'll take the cake back if you want," he says.  I carefully put the plate down then I start to get up.  "Please don't leave.  It's been a long time since we've talked.  I would very much like it if you would stay for a little while."  He looks sad.

I settle back down.  I stare back out into the infinite empty space in front of us.  "Ever wonder if certain things are worth it?"


"Never?" I look at him again.  "Don't you get tired of waiting around for me?"

"Nope," he says, taking a sip of tea.  "I don't mind waiting for you, Miss Turtle, because it's always worth it."

I wince.

"I know what this is about," he says.  "This is a fair bit of self-torture, don't you think?"

"I prefer to think of it as hashing things out."

"We could talk about it directly, you know.  It might be a good thing."

"This is a public blog.  We can't talk about it directly."

"Suit yourself," he says watching me.  "You went through Heaven, Hell, the Garden of Eden, New York City, and Purgatory to find me, your imaginary friend.  You know something about whether difficult situations are worth it."

I ignore this last comment.  "Some people say, Mr. Gryphon, that one shouldn't do something if it's not easy, if you're not going with the goddamn shit flow of the motherfucking universe.  If it's difficult or uncomfortable, you shouldn't go there."

"Yes, and people also say you should just 'be,' exist."  He has taken the small cake he offered me earlier and is eating it with delicate bites.

"Fuck that."

"Yes, Miss Turtle, I believe that's the right attitude.  If everyone just did what was easy, there would be no progress, and there certainly wouldn't be any stories."

"Thanks for your support.  I know it's built into your nature to support me but I appreciate it anyway."  I push my teacup away and draw my knees up, wrapping my arms around them.  "Don't ask me what I'm going to do," I say.

"I wouldn't dare," he says.  We stare out into the millions of stars.  Right now, everything and anything is happening around us, around me.  I ponder the worth of things and how painful these discoveries can be.

I posted this last December then took it down again.  I thought it was about a person I was hashing things out with but it isn't at all.  This post is about something bigger and wider.  The story.  My own fears about how I'm living my life and how much risk I want to take.  People to hash things out with come and go.  Friends and family stay.  And my imagination is a constant.  There's a weird kind of comfort knowing that Mr. Gryphon will never fail me.  It's good to have imaginary friends.