A New Normal

A lot has happened since I last posted. My girlfriend and I drove from California to Connecticut in the middle of winter. We saw a ton of cows. We almost (accidentally) broke into someone’s hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico (sorry, they gave us the wrong keys!). We saw tons of cows in Texas. We debated on religion in Arkansas. We got caught in an ice storm, with tractor trailers strewn all over the road in Oklahoma. We ate Mexican food in Nashville, Tennessee. Then we moved into our new apartment in Connecticut. This is our third month in our new place.

A lot else has changed, too – I’m in the middle of applying for graduate programs in Psychology, with my fingers crossed all the time. I’m consistently working on my resume and cover letter and getting letters of recommendation, looking for new work, etc.

I just started writing again recently. On Friday, in fact, it was the first time I worked on VALENTINE in nearly a year. It was a large chapter that had been daunting, but really needed a rewrite – and now that rewrite is done, and it’s time to push forward. I always feel invigorated and ready to write in the spring and early summer.

It’s kind of nice, though, to be settling into a new sort of normal. I’m happy now – there’s a lot on the horizon that I look forward to. I’m happy where I am, with what I’m doing, and what I’m working towards. I can’t wait to get more writing in in the coming weeks, and to hear back from some of these graduate programs. I’m even thinking about looking into software for screenwriting, for independent films – to see what that process is like, and give that a try too.

I hope to be a little more active with this blog in the next month or two – I always say that I will, though, and rarely do. But here’s hoping that things will be different – I’ll get a new routine – a new normal!

A Risk in Fiction

There are times where I wonder if I take too many chances with the way I write pieces.

I remember some of the edits I’ve received from fellow writers over the course of time. Most of them were on-the-mark in terms of copy-editing, and spotting grammatical errors. But there are times where I made those grammatical errors on purpose. For a reason.

An example. If I were to write a scene. A young man is at a party celebrating the recent engagement of two of his friends. He knows mostly everyone at the party – the groom-to-be’s friends are mostly friends or acquaintances of his. But then in a green summer dress is a girl he’s never met before that he wonders, all through the night, what she’s like. He drifts through conversations, growing more daring with each drink, until he’s very near her. By then, one of his friends is explaining his new job to him, but he’s barely paying attention.

Now in the story I’m writing, the young man at the party is reciting what happened that night. All of those half-remembered, cloudy conversations where he’s barely listening are told haphazardly. I don’t give them quotation marks, because he’s not sure of the exact words they were even using – he paraphrases as best he can, but it’s not a quote. No quotation marks.

But when the young man finally sneaks up to the girl and tries to be cool, and stammers out a dorky pick-up line, what she says is all he cares about then. He remembers the words perfectly, to this day, and for every day to come. Those words get emphasis. They get quotation marks.

I wonder what happens in the mind of somebody reading the pages for the first time, though – I wonder, are readers going to think this guy doesn’t know good grammar?

A published book has a leg up on this sort of thing. When you buy a published book, you know at least one person has read it from cover to cover and approved it. But probably many have. When you see quirks in the writing, you probably give the book, and the author, the benefit of the doubt.

When you’re reading a manuscript from some no-named nobody that was sent to you… does it really get that same benefit? Especially considering all that they see – all of the grammatical errors that weren’t done on purpose, for instance.

I think about this frequently, and hope that the rest of the writing persuades everybody – even editors – to give me the benefit of the doubt in knowing that the risks I take were done for a purpose. I’d be okay if somebody shot me down because they didn’t believe the “reason” for these risks justified bending the rules – I just don’t want someone thinking that just because the rules were bent or even broken, I must not have known they were there to begin with.

Idle thoughts for July 4th, 2013: Reimagining your holidays

The time shortly before a holiday is the best to me. It is promise, and little else. Christmas is, especially, a great example of this. If you’re like me, you don’t mind classic Christmas songs through the speakers in stores when shopping… though the pop covers can be intensely grating. It gets darker earlier, and it is cold – but there are decorations, blinking colored lights, candles, and expressions of thankfulness and loving – whether they’re sincere or wholly for commercial purposes is a debate for another day – but there can be something about the season that can send a spark through my fingertips.

Often, as it is in my family… which mostly doesn’t talk to one another, though… when the Holiday comes, it leaves me wanting.

My expectations are never grand. But too often I find myself remembering that today is like any other day, except I don’t go to work. A reason to celebrate for many. I’m a Research Assistant at a University in the daytime, though – I don’t mind the work. I plan to do some from home tomorrow. Getting off of work alone isn’t enough to make me feel it’s worthwhile.

I hear fireworks going off in the distance from my bedroom. My family didn’t do anything today – as they never really do. Many of the ties are bent or strained or severed between them. Being one of the youngest still in the whole group, I feel left spinning on a broken line. I debated briefly going outside and standing from my driveway to see splashes of colors through the tree lines, or over the roofs of houses – but I won’t.

In my writing, I use holidays to paint atmosphere.It’s twofold, really. I can reimagine these days in ways that they fulfill their expectations for me – and still use them as a touch stone for the reader, using them as points in time in a story that travels well over the span of a year – to mark how fast, or slow, time is passing.

But I wonder sometimes, then, about the people like me – when holidays don’t ever quite meet even the humblest of expectations – just average days punctuated with a store-bought red, white and blue cupcake after dinner – and wonder if they’ll feel less connected when reading these chapters and seeing happier, or more poignant, interesting times in stories. Feeling like they’re the only ones without a family to celebrate with.

I don’t mean to sound quite so bitter and miserable. I’m often happy – but when the clock turns to 8 or 9 at night on Holidays sometimes, it reminds me of when I was a teenager in my bedroom listening to music, wondering what is out there in the giant world that I am missing at that very moment. Everything, I was convinced.

Now, instead, I’m thinking about all those who are teenagers now – or younger, or older – who are alone like me. Wondering when and if things will get better. Wondering what others are doing at this very moment, on this 4th of July, or any other Holiday – convincing themselves the whole world is having fun without them.

I could rattle off a number of things. That we’re not all alone. That things get better. That it shouldn’t mean much. And these things are all true for most of us. Thankfully. But what I really want to say is quite simple: I feel your pain at times.

I know what it is to be lonely still. I know how it feels to be young and lost. I understand, and I remember vividly. And I hope that that still shines through.

I think, just like with America, it’s best to take time sometimes and remember where you come from.

I debated on writing my thoughts on America, on the state of things, on capitalism… but I won’t. I have been listening to this on occasion since last night, though:

In other news, I am writing again. It’s exactly what I need. And as I said before, I am happy in general.

Not A Writer

Part of how you know you’re a writer is that… when you don’t write, you feel like less of yourself.

Of course, another big part of knowing you’re a writer is that, well, you write things.

But that first piece feels more about who I’ve been lately. I read things on artistic pursuits sometimes. Pieces written by authors, comedians, moviemakers, actors, etc. They talk about many of the things they do to become accomplished in their fields. A lot of the time for writing, it’s about how you have to write something every day, and just keep working on it all the time. Otherwise you’ll never finish, or you’re not really a writer, etc.

This brings to mind a timely example. George R.R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, who’s also partly responsible for the quality HBO show Game of Thrones, based on the same book series. Martin is older and overweight, and there’s fuss about him not being able to finish the book series. There’s been talks and snipes back and forth, including by Neil Gaiman, that “George Martin is not your bitch“, and that authors are not contractually obligated to provide you with the book you want to read now, or spend every waking moment of your life writing it. And it brings him to say this:

Some writers need a while to charge their batteries, and then write their books very rapidly. Some writers write a page or so every day, rain or shine. Some writers run out of steam, and need to do whatever it is they happen to do until they’re ready to write again. Sometimes writers haven’t quite got the next book in a series ready in their heads, but they have something else all ready instead, so they write the thing that’s ready to go, prompting cries of outrage from people who want to know why the author could possibly write Book X while the fans were waiting for Book Y. – Neil Gaiman

I think I fall into that very first sentence, personally. I spend a lot of time, to borrow from Gaiman, charging my batteries. This consists of listening to lots and lots of music, watching movies, reading occasionally (though I admit, I don’t read nearly as many novels as I should – which is terrible), and otherwise doing regular life stuff. Every so often, I’ll write a chapter or two here or there, or I’ll work on the outline of the book. I’ll eyeball the dry erase boards I have mounted on my walls with notes about upcoming chapters that need to be rewritten or mercilessly edited. Sometimes I’ll daydream about the characters, or when I feel too detached from the story as a whole, I’ll try to get into the headspace of the characters all of a sudden, and worry about how I’m not a writer anymore, and that I’m terrible, and incapable of writing fiction anymore.

I admit, concerns like this are agony. It makes me feel like less of a man – and even worse, less than the man that I am. I pride myself on being a writer, and being passionate about it. To dwindle so many days away not writing makes me feel… inferior. And things are made worse when I hear quotes from established writers who speak of writing as their 9 to 5 job, and something they do every single day like clockwork. Michael Chabon, for example, talked about it as something he does that requires routine, and that you can’t just wait for inspiration to hit.

In the past, on previous drafts of VALENTINE, and the novels before, I often feel I’m connecting to the story even when not typing words on a page. Then, I can write the whole thing in a few weeks, or a month or two. I’ve written two of the (now four) drafts of VALENTINE in two different summers. Each time, it gets better. But I also feel, each time it gets better because of the time between. I grow and experience more in the time between revisions – I learn. I wonder sometimes if being young, still finding my voice, still finding my place in life, even, is a just excuse for supposedly relying on an amateur’s technique – inspiration – to get it done. But even looking forward – if my dream were to come true, if I could get an agent and get a book published – I wonder for myself if I’ll ever be the sort of man who treats writing a novel like an old job, sitting in my home office and working from 9 to 5 in my chair, writing words on a page or conducting research. I don’t know that that will ever be me.

Writing still feels fresh to me when it comes. But I don’t necessarily think that it’s because I’m “new” to it, when I’ve been writing for over a decade. I think the rush comes from the sense of wonder and excitement – the fact that it’s not an obligation, and rather something that feels infinite, and without limitations or possibilities. It’s a surge of adrenaline still when inspiration comes. I know that it’s not profitable to spend 8 to 10 months of the year waiting for work to come for 2 – but I try to envision what my life would be if I really treated writing as a “desk job”, and traded in the late nights and the summer afternoons for writing a chapter at 9 AM on a Monday morning after the newspaper, and between sips of coffee. I don’t know that that’s me.

And I don’t know if that means I’m just a silly amateur or not, destined to never be published, never be profitable.

I take some comfort in Neil Gaiman’s words, though. Some writers speak about the craft of writing as if it’s set in stone, and that you’re not a writer unless you write a page every day and really push all the time for it. But I know that even those days that I don’t put a word to the page, I’m still a writer – because even those days I’m not writing a chapter of VALENTINE, I miss it, and I think about it, until I find myself aching to do it. And then I do.

I write.

The Perks of Being a Grownup

I’ve decided that I’m not going to start a post and then never finish it anymore. If I start a draft, I’m going to publish something. So many times, I write half of a thought down here and stop. I lose the train of thought and I step away, with the intention of catching it the next day, but I never do. So whenever I start something here… I’m going to finish it. No lollygagging!

When you’re a teenager, every false step feels like the end of the world. I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower recently (and, it’s very true to the book it’s based on) and remembered how high school felt like the entire world when you’re in it. Even if you’re not a popular kid, these places act like a vortex. You spin around and around in the same circles, getting pulled deeper and deeper in. She said this and he said that and can you believe they both wore the same dress at the school dance. All of that stuff you hear murmured in school halls that no one should care at all about. But I guess that’s what happens when you shove a few hundred kids with raging hormones in a building together five days a week.

For those of us who weren’t the popular kids – it wasn’t so much that we were young, and didn’t know any better, and didn’t want to think about the future. I think for many kids high school’s a prison or a war zone, or a mix of the two together. You’re persecuted and imprisoned, and confined in a single building… and yet explosions are going off all around you. People are at each other’s throats. Metaphorically, in many cases. And sometimes not. One year can be a life sentence.

When you’re sixteen-years-old, you don’t have control. You’re still taking the bus to school twice  day, waiting out in the cold or the rain beside the next door neighbor girl you wanted to date when you were twelve who laughed at you when you asked, if you ever even got the courage to ask, or the kid who smokes in the back of the bus and picks on the nerdy Asian kid three stops down just because, or whatever. You don’t have control over your reputation most of the time either – people who went to school with you for ten years and never said a word to you think they know you and your history. Usually it’s one word. “Nerd”, maybe. Or “skank.” You can do whatever you want – but if you were heavy in third grade, and slim as a needle by fifth – there’s still one kid who won’t forget to call you a cow any chance he gets. You can’t control the acne on your face, either, or the fact that you’re gay, or you dropped the football once in gym class and some dipshit jock raged on and on about it because he really wanted to WIN FUCK YEAH HIGH SCHOOL GYM CLASS. That time in your life, there’s so many things out of control.

But most of it doesn’t matter so much anymore. The importance fades when you see the world is bigger than what you felt. Even if your parents or an older friend told you it was, you might not believe it. It might not matter. When your boyfriend breaks up with you and you think about killing yourself. When someone close to you dies in a car accident, and you push everyone away for a semester, or your parents catch you smoking pot, or whatever it is… nothing else matters. Until you step away, outside of that building, outside of that bubble, and the same group of people who had the same nickname for you three years in a row isn’t there to define you anymore.

I used to be angrier and sarcastic. I was depressed and confused. I was an imaginative kid – and I’ll admit, more mature than most of the kids I went to school with. I wanted to be an adult since I was a boy. I wanted to be able to make my own decisions, and be independent – I wanted a car, and a girlfriend, and I wanted to be as far removed from the loner loser geek I was in school. I played with action figures until I was a young teen. I watched Batman religiously. I wanted to be someone else – not just anyone else, but someone responsible. Accountable. Heroic. Independent. I was silly and selfish – I wanted the whole world to know just how damn smart and creative and passionate I was. I had a great Writing teacher that guided me to poetry and short stories. I started writing my own book. It helped. A lot.

Today, it takes a lot for me to lose my temper. I’m calm and calculated most of the time. I’m smarter than I was then, and I still write. (But not enough. THIS SPRING. THIS SUMMER!) The passion? I know I’m a passionate person. But I fear sometimes that I lose the excitement I had when I was young. Everything you love becomes old sometimes. The people, the places… as things grow familiar, they might not excite you the way they do when you’re young. Being in love the second or third time around might not feel like the lightning bolt it did at first – when it felt like you were the only person that could possibly feel this weird, intoxicating feeling, oh my god! – and I try not to let it get me down. I still love. Hard. I still feel things in ways that surprises the people that know me sometimes. Plus I write better now than I did back then, by a wide, wide margin.

So as I was watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I felt a pang of nostalgia wash over me. Some nostalgia for my awful high school years that I hated so much. I don’t want them back at all. But I sometimes miss the raw energy of everything feeling like it mattered so much – every argument feeling like the end of the world, so you act like you have nothing to lose, and everything to prove. Sometimes I do miss the intensity of it. But I know that, even though I’m older and wiser, that silly witty punk is still alive in me today. Blasting music out the open windows on the highways. Writing like there’s no tomorrow. Crying while watching movies alone. Being myself. And at least one perk of being an adult is not having to look over my shoulder to see who’s watching – not being defined by the nicknames or the history I have with the same 200 people that don’t know me at all. I know who I am now. I can feel comfortable in my own skin. I can actively be the person I want to be with no regrets, and no shame.

Martin Bashir: You’re Wrong.

I have political opinions. Very passionate ones. I don’t like to  share them too much in public, necessarily, because it’s a polarizing topic to discuss with strangers. But, I definitely have my opinions. I definitely lean one way toward the political spectrum in this day and age.

That said, there’s promo commercials for the channel MSNBC that are hosted by the channel’s hosts. Some of these I like. Some of these I don’t. But there’s one lately that I’ve heard a few times now that makes me want to pull my hair out. It’s a promo by Martin Bashir. I can’t find video of it, but I’m going to summarize what he says:

Bashir says that America has a fascinating mix of individualism and community. That when a tragedy strikes America, the people of this country unite together as strong-willed individuals to overcome the tragedy, and he doesn’t think there’s any place in the world quite like it.

I say bullshit.

You’ve never seen another place that came together after a tragedy? You’ve never known another group of people other than Americans to rise up from a major loss and pull themselves together? Are you seriously going on television and saying those words? I don’t know how one says something as enormously ignorant as that and still has a career. And I don’t understand how someone who has seen the rest of the world, who isn’t even from America, can think this.

If I recall correctly, I think Jewish people have had a pretty rough time in the history of the Earth. There was the Holocaust. There’s the conflict that’s been waging in Israel since then, too. I’m pretty sure they look out for one another. But maybe that political unity doesn’t measure up to the level you’re talking about. How about we look at the people of Africa, who’ve endured untold amounts of tragedies – including a genocide being waged right now, as we speak. The people that live with nothing but huts and the fear that even those might be burned in the night by terrorist militants who will kill them, kidnap their children and force them to kill countless other innocents to repeat the violent, evil cycle? Many of the children who’ve seen untold horrors many of us in America can’t fathom an still attend schools or play sports together and express a heartbreaking joy for just being alive. They have communities. They overcome tragedies. They are an inspiration.

There’s countless examples. I’d wager that there’s examples of people overcoming tragedies and pulling together as a community everywhere in the world.

And of course, there’s the fact that America’s history, and the people of America, aren’t always so good at coming together at all. Forget the politics. 9/11 didn’t just bring all of America together in unity – sure, there were tons of American flags. There were a lot of people humbled and shaken to the core that appreciated each other… there was also a lot of innocent Muslim Americans who had bricks thrown through their store windows. Why? Because they were “Arabs” and “Terrorists.” Is that sort of behavior an inspiration too?

What about way back in this nation’s history, the Native Americans, and how we treated them. Was that unity? Was that like no other place in the world? What about when we sent all of those Japanese American citizens into internment camps in World War II. How inspirational was that? How about the McCarthy Hearings? What do you think about the long, slow droll for slavery to be abolished – something that nearly tore the nation in half because rich white men didn’t want to part with the cheap labor afforded to them by other human beings they didn’t even consider a whole person.

You might read this and think that I hate America. I don’t hate America at all. But I don’t have wool over my eyes, either. America is an inspiration. At it’s best, it is inspirational, and inspiring, and a feeling of pride for being an example for the sorts of freedoms that all people should have in any of their respective countries is a constant sense of hope and joy, that we could be leaders in helping millions and billions of others in leading them to adopt even more liberties than they aren’t afforded already. But America, like all countries, has a troubled past. And it’s certainly not unlike anything else out there in that way. Just like in any other country today, there’s still remnants of racism. There’s still obstruction to personal freedoms. There’s still hatred and violence that erupt in the wake of change or diversity. There’s still a lot of obstacles to overcome.

Tragedies have befallen this country. And each time, the people of this country have risen up to the challenge and overcome. But so have a lot of other people, in a lot of other countries. It’s not a testament to being an American that we can withstand great challenges and still prevail, sometimes stronger than ever – that’s not something inherent only to Americans. That’s something inherent to humanity as a whole – which I think is a much more optimistic and powerful thought to behold, anyway.

We are, all of us, stronger than any one person, any one nation could be. And that’s the real inspiration.