Black Swan: Aspects of Story

 

I just watched Black Swan. It’s a movie that came out way back in 2010. I wasn’t ready to watch it at that time. But anyway, I liked watching it. The story is about a ballerina named Nina learning how to be the lead in Swan Lake, White Swam/Black Swan.

LV1F4983.CR2

I didn’t know the story of Swan Lake before hearing it in the movie. It’s about a girl that’s turned into a swan, the White Swan. Finding love to escape the curse. She finds a Prince to love. Before he can turn her back, he is seduced by her evil doppelganger, the Black Swan. The White Swan is heartbroken. Instead of living as a swan without her love, she commits suicide.

black swan

According to the movie, the White Sawn requires perfect ballet. Nina is very good at precision and the perfect ballet required for that role. The Black Swan requires a more natural style. Nina can’t allow ballet to happen. She can’t let herself go and simply respond to the music. She can’t be out of control. That’s the part she can’t do.

mother

The movie is about learning to let go and batting her self-injuring tendencies. Nina unconsciously harms herself and imagines perfecting herself by throwing away unacceptable parts of herself. I think that stems from her desire to be loved by her mother. If Nina isn’t perfect, she doesn’t get affection, just a strong hand controlling her. Anyway, Nina’s symptoms get worse with the pressure on her.

Nina

Nina is jealous of the new ballerina in the company, Lily. I liked Lily’s character much more than the troubled Nina. Lily is a natural. She let’s herself go in the movement of the dance. I enjoyed the unself-conscious way she moves through the world. I hoped a little of Lily would rub off on Nina.

IMG_1338.CR2

I wanted a different storyline than what was presented to us. I wished Nina and Lily built a relationship, so Nina would learn what she needed to. That sadly didn’t happen. Events evolved in a different way that I didn’t like much.

 

Black Swan was a great movie. It made me think, and I love movies like that. Isn’t it startling how deeply our parents can influence our future self’s. It even more fascinating that we can’t remember the formative time before the age of two and a half years. Those few years greatly determine our personalities.

 

Have you seen Black Swan? What did you think?  

Memoirs, Writing Fiction, and the Difference

Memoir is really very similar to fiction in how it’s written. They both follow the same structure. Events are organized in the framework of a story. The flow isn’t interrupted to preserve the totality of events. Things that pertain to the story being told are included. Everything else is left out. Fiction is an additive method. Memoir is subtractive. You take a subset of everything you remember and from that into a cohesive story. Events are picked from a multitude of things that actually happened.

This selection of events is apparent in movies based on true events or a dramatization of the truth. Take for example, Steve Jobs. I’ve watched three versions of Jobs’ life. First, the biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, Jobs. Then the factual documentary Man in the Machine. Finally, Steve Jobs directed by Arron Sorkin and starring Michael Fassbender.

Each movie had a different angle. Jobs was about Jobs getting ideas and using them to be the best. Man in the Machine is trying to be as unbiased as possible. It was the most balanced but tried to talk about the relatively unknown things about Jobs. Steve Jobs was controversial in its directorial and writing direction. It omitted his accomplishments for the most part and focused on his relationship with his daughter, Lisa.

All in all, the based on true story movies tried to make Jobs relatable. And the perception of Jobs was he wasn’t approachable. He was a strict, straight to business type of guy. He had stringent expectations and expected them to be met. He was thought to be the driving force behind Apple’s success. Each movie took a different approach to humanize and create a connection with the audience. Sorkin focused on Jobs’ personal life and matched it to Apple’s performance/Jobs’ fortunes. Jobs started us with Jobs as a student that couldn’t really connect with anyone except when he started Apple. Man in the Machine used his relationship with the mother of his daughter.

 

Memoir and fiction follow the same pattern. First, we see the character before anything starts. Then, something happens they have to react to. Then, they try fixing the problem different ways and fail successive times. Then, something starts working. Finally, the character succeeds, finds something that changes their life forever, and the story ends. This matches the character arc of a fictional story. Fiction adds an external conflict. When the character arc is the main conflict, it’s a literary story.

gone girl

Some recent stories have a strong character arc and conflict arc that are nearly equivalent in importance. Take The Girl on the Train as an example. The character arc of Rachel’s drinking and the central conflict of finding Megan’s killer. Or Gone Girl. The internal conflict is how Amy feels about Nick and the external conflict is Amy’s murder. Adding a strong character arc to a compelling plot brings a story up by an arm and a leg.

girl on the train

I recently read Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara. She is a prolific writer of memoirs and personal essays. She pointed out some key points. You have to be a hero, not a victim. It’s easy in this society and time to feel like a victim. You need a time in your life where you take action. A bad thing comes your way, and you fix it. Getting your car stolen is bad luck. Bad stuff happens. But if you track down the thieves, steal your car back, and you learn how to overcome a debilitating fear of confrontation. Then, it becomes a story that works in a memoir.

ndw

You need to be done with the problem. If you haven’t found a way out, there’s nothing really there. Struggling and still struggling with the issue you want to write about, it is too soon. The writer needs perspective to make a memoir. You need to know the lesson and be detached enough to know what really happened. People read a memoir to gain a new understanding of the human condition. Something that can help figure out life, a little better.

 

A few things are in the way of me writing personal essays. When I write about myself, the writing comes out snobbish and stand-offish. I have allows been a little showoff. For years, I never knew why I wanted to prove my intelligence. Recently, I found the reason behind it. I have always felt less than everyone else because of my physical limitations. I always felt a little trapped by my condition. My way out and to feel better about being “less”, I try to feel equal by proving my intelligence more than balances out my physical weakness. That realization changed a lot, but I still worry about falling back into old habits.

 

When I have in-depth conversations about my intense emotional states and the inner workings of my mind, the person on the other end doesn’t understand me. That’s because I’ve never tried telling people even a percentage of that stuff. I have trouble relating to other people. I’ve been anti-social for that long. I’m slowly improving there.

 

This is an example of a recent conversation where I try to get better at explaining something.

 1 

Recently saw Collateral Beauty. It’s about a father that recently lost his 6-year-old daughter to cancer. He writes letters to Death, Time, and Love and they reply. Towards the end, there was a really emotional scene where he admits his daughter is dead. I actually had tears forming a well in my eyes but didn’t allow any out. I pulled away emotionally.

 2 

Why didn’t you let your tears come? Don’t you think you’re cutting out emotion unnecessarily?

 3

Whenever I describe something in too much detail, it doesn’t make sense. I need to fix that before writing a memoir. I’ll try my usual description first.

 

Emotional history: Started as a person with normal reactions to my emotions. Feeling them and becoming numb when some emotion became too much. Everyone does that except it isn’t going to happen frequently for most people. For example losing a close loved one. That might happen a few times. Simple sadness was enough to make me numb after a little while.

 

Then I started to decrease the threshold before I became numb. It worked for a time, and I reached my goal to fit as a male in American society. At one point, I was unable to feel anything.

 

Then, I slowly reduced the threshold when numbness happened. Through that still ongoing process, I thought I was rediscovering something I lost. That moment, watching that movie, I was in a struggle to stay there and feel. Becoming numb would have been slightly easier. There was a standstill and anything could tip the balance. Something did.

 

A better image. Everyone has three parts to their psyche. We’ll ignore the superego. There are various names that work for superego like conscience, mother’s voice, God, and hindsight. We’ll ignore that.

 

There’s a childish side or you at your weakest, id, baby, or the person you would be without an external influence. Then the protector, ego, or what the world made you into. The protector usually acts in small ways. Like covering your face, when you cry. Hiding you away, when you’re boiling mad. Putting on a brave face, when you’re really scared. It basically reacts to what the baby wants and finds a socially acceptable way to meet those needs.

 

What happens with normal emotions? The protector does those little things. When something too much happens, like the death of a close loved one, the protector says, “Baby, you need some time in your quite room. I’ll be with you the whole time. Too much is going on out here.” You become numb while the baby has some time away from life.

 

For someone like me, the baby cries bloody murder when something sad happens. Everything is exaggerated beyond the average. A baby like that spends too much time in the quite room. That baby never gets to experience a lot, because a lot of things are too much.

 

I increased the sensitivity of my protector to the baby by showing the protector more emotional states. Like an abused child, the protector grew more attuned to the tormentor, the whiny baby. Then the baby spends less time out and then none at all.

 

Right now, I’m dismantling the safe room. If an external threat appears, the deconstruction stops or reverses temporarily. Very similar to the process of growing up.

 

That’s still a little confusing.

 

The other part is sharing too much. The vulnerability of it. We’re all scared to sharing too much. That allows the possibility of getting hurt. The more you share, the greater the rejection. I feel like I should share my life’s lessons. I’ve been through a lot. Moving to a different country at five and never going back. My medical experiences that vastly over date my time to 28 years of age. Then the lessons meditation taught me. Finally finding meaning in my life. There is a lot I could share. There might be a memoir in my future. We’ll see.

 

Proustian Chronicles: Halfway Through Swann’s Way

I’m reading In Search of Lost Time with a reading group from Book Oblivion. It’s supposed to be a really difficult and punishing read at over 4,000 pages. Sentences are frequently massive and sometimes over 100 words long. The sentences are more convoluted than anything I’ve read. It’s a study in difficult to read writing.

 

I deeply respect the work of Proust. He has deep insights that aren’t frequently explored to this depth. My tastes just systematically oppose the purposes of this book. I have extensively studied how I remember stuff for years. My memory is highly selective, and changing its focus is extremely difficult in practice. I feel I share a lot of things with Proust as most heavy readers do. Add to the fact my life has basically lent itself to me becoming a writer. And the book is about Proust becoming a writer.

 

malgorzata-frej-4151
Photo by Malgorzata Frej on Unsplash.

 

Proust’s masterwork is basically a biography/memoir of his life. That was something special around the time it was written. Today, we have memoirs and things much closer to what Proust is trying to do. I have previously sworn off memoirs. I read Eat, Pray, Love out of my pretentious ideas. I will simply read and like something because a great number of others have liked it. I would rather discover things about life from other sources. Meditation is my preference. I have learned meditation without the aid of a meditation teacher. I learned writing in the same way. Garnering insights from others feels a little like cheating. Insights from the art of meditation has a much bigger impact for me. Those insights don’t fade as easily and give a bigger impact for me. Experiencing a trip around the world isn’t the same as reading about someone doing the same.

 

That raises the question of why I’m still reading this 4,000-word tome. The length of the sentences fills up my head as few books have. The main reason I like reading is it occupies my head space so thoroughly, I can’t succumb to my anxiety and physical issues. Those long sentences needed a slight switch in the way I read. When reading, the brain assemblies the entire sentence from the words you’ve read so far at periods. Long sentences make this reading process doubly difficult if not more. My first day of reading Proust, a new realization struck through my head. There was a trick to make Proust just one tick more difficult than the average read, instead of the three ticks it had been. Think Shakespeare instead of Beowulf in old English. The easy system of partially reconstituting everything read at semi-colons then it became after each comma. Sometimes this doesn’t work. One example so far. I need to figure a way to un-flip the switch of doing it that way.

 

Reading something difficult makes reading everything else go faster. Reading speed changes with how much you’ve read and how difficult it was to read. I also want to understand what made this book last beyond its publication generation. And I need to figure out how to be social in the setting of a book club.

 

carissa-gan-341253
Photo by Carissa Gan on Unsplash. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

 

At the beginning, I was tempted to read it full blast. If I really tried, I could be done in 14 weeks. The schedule the club is on goes for two and a half years. That’s five percent of each volume a week. I have done independent study before and the results were mixed. Sometimes I’m ahead, and sometimes I’m behind. I decided to read when I got sufficient sleep the night before. That’s another thing that readers of this blog should know. Classics put me to sleep effectively. Without enough sleep, I’ll never get through. I’m five weeks behind and finally got back to reading. I should catch up in 14 days. Not too bad.

 

I feel so inadequate in the book club. Everyone else has an English degree of some sort or the other. I just have a public school education up to a high school diploma. And two AP English classes along the way that are supposed to be equivalent to college level classes. I am trying to fit in with partial success. I’ll learn from the others and will eventually fit in. I’m learning a lot, and it’s fun.

 

nicolas-prieto-187290
Photo by Nicolas Prieto on Unsplash. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

 

Sometimes I feel we’re over analyzing the book. Maybe the walking route his family goes on isn’t symbolic. Maybe we’re digging too deep. But another spot in the book made me think it was symbolic. I’m too new to this to really know. I’ll watch and observe. That should help to figure this out.

 

“Easy reading is hard writing,” ― Ernest Hemingway

 

Sometimes I get annoyed at the overly complicated sentences and the extensive detail to mundane things. I find confusing sentences lazy. But I’m new to this whole writing thing. Maybe those sentences add something I’ve yet to discover. I feel like I’m missing something huge. By the time I finish In Search of Lost Time, I might have this head scratcher figured out.

 

And I think the book’s theme is time is never lost if you remember what you were doing or learned from the experience.

 

Title photo credit: Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

Going Back: High School

This previous summer, I went to my ten-year high school reunion. I think the best thing is to describe how I was during High School. I was shy and more anti-social than anyone I knew. A lot of things that could have broken my shyness came my way, but I’d always been too stubborn to let it take. I made a few loose friends during school hours, and that was everything I knew about being social. And I was satisfied with that. Frequently, I was lonely and my imagination grew to fill the space. That’s how I coped.

 

Anyway, that was over ten years ago. It’s kind of embarrassing that I’ve been looking forward to the reunion for around five years at the point it was announced. I had developed a few ideas about reunions that likely fit with my emotional state through a vast number of years after high school. I had misconceptions about the whole thing. I thought two kinds of people went to reunions. First, those that had their best years in High School. That fit with the jealousy I had for people that could navigate the social landscape way better than I ever could. Then, the people that wanted to show everyone how they had changed since High School. I put myself into that group even though I hadn’t changed a ton until two-three years ago. I credit meditation and writing with those changes. Being ignorant in social matters doesn’t work for a writer, writing, and marketing. I was wrong. Popular media is way off.

 

I went as a test for myself and to see people from years ago. There were a few things I needed to know about myself. A personal test motivates me the most. I needed to check if I wanted to talk to people and could overcome my anxiety/insecurity/shyness. Basically, if everything I’d worked on was good enough. Also, I wanted to test if I could use my new communication device in a social setting with real world conditions. And if I could network and hand out business cards. And if having someone driving my chair worked good enough.

 

bulkan-evcimen lced tea table
Photo by Bulkan Evcimen on Unsplash. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

 

I went in with my nurse, a wheelchair driver, and the medical supplies I always have with me. I meet one of the people I’d wanted to see. We had a nice conversation, and I gave a business card. Success! And somehow I engaged in a conversation with someone new I never remembered meeting before. That has never happened in my entire life, if you can believe that. The device wasn’t loud enough in the ambient noise of the reunion. Using the device was much harder with the distraction of the people around but still manageable. A few people called my name and I smiled at them. I had no idea they wanted to talk to me until near the end. Communicating that to my driver was near impossible. I couldn’t think at my best in the slight crowd. I could’ve typed it on my device but it never occurred to me. At that point, I decided to go out to the patio for something different.

 

I meet the other person I’d wanted to see out there. The device didn’t work outside. I tried for a solid 30 minutes it seemed like. Then I figured out having the device up was sending the same message as if I was using my phone. I put the device down and returned to the person I was in High School. I silently nodded and smiled while other people talked in front of me and other people spoke for me. I wanted to talk the whole time though. It was two hours into the reunion by then.

 

I returned to the main reunion room. I would have to leave within thirty minutes to make it into bed sometime before eleven. By eight thirty, I had to leave. A have a ton of medical stuff to do before going to sleep. By the time I was back inside, people were beginning to get drunk. The late arrivals were sober still. I don’t drink and rarely eat anything through my mouth. A few people looked stunned to see me. Another test passed. I could finally read facial expressions.

 

I was disconnected from my emotions, facial expressions, and physical manifestations for so long that determining facial expressions in others was impossible. I always had intense emotions and during high school everything was buried for some degree of normalcy. That hid a large part of the social learning most people were going through in the teen years. That reunion night, I read facial expressions and responded with my own instinctually. I got the expression of stunned then surprise. I hurriedly looked away as she looked into my eyes. Accidentally, they moved up in an eye roll. If anything, I was too honest. You’re surprised I showed up? Well, I don’t care. I’m here, deal with it. At that point, I didn’t have anyone else I’d wanted to see.

 

I wanted to talk to people that used be unapproachable. I could use the device indoors. Typing up phrase before hand is a must at parties and crowded places. Sometimes reading the communication device is easier than hearing what it says sometimes. The backup system is abysmal in comparison, allowing people to speak for me. I need to drive my chair around. Body language is a huge part of social interaction. It’s not something that can be delegated.

 

It was a learning experience, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll fix all the mistakes I made. I rarely make a mistake more than once these days. I’ll figure out this social stuff like I figured out everything else. Nothing can stop me. Hard work can get you anything. Here are a few words about change from Tony Robbins.

 

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

— Tony Robbins

 

jon-tyson we work motivation poster
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash. Enhancements by Graham Kar.

 

 

The Others and Why I Can’t Stop Reading

I came upon a series a few years ago. It’s a series called The Others, written by Anne Bishop. For a long time, I’ve been thinking what about the series makes me coming back, except having purchased the entire series up to now. A lot of things can keep me coming back, but everything from before doesn’t work with this series. The characters aren’t particularly interesting. The world in the book isn’t that different from real life. Nothing is really there from a first glance.

 

written in red.jpg
Written in Red, Book #1

Hopefully, this blog post will help me figure out what’s the appeal of The Others. Written in Red was the first book I’ve read that starts with an introduction that says the history of a fictional world. It basically says alongside humans there was another comparable top predator. Bishop refers to these other people as the Others, Earth Natives, or terra indigene. Well, the Earth Natives control the natural resources and humans make stuff. Everything humans have is basically rented or purchased from the terra indigene. One area in Europe is rightfully under human control without owing the Others anything.

 

 

I’ll dissect that idea here. The terra indigene are creatures that take on the form of other top predators they encounter. Most of them have a human and animal form. Some can become smoke. Others shift into the elements. And others can turn into anything at will. This relates to skinwalkers in our world, people of myth that can supposedly take the shape of animals. I equate the Others to Native Americans who have way more power due to their ability to be stronger and just as smart. What happens if the invaders or early explorers found people much more dangerous than themselves? Something very similar to the world of the Others happens.

 

This dynamic sometimes gets interesting. The clash between the Others and humans is always there in the background, but it isn’t that big in my mind. That dynamic has appeared a few times in other stories. Basically, every vampire and werewolf story is like that. I don’t really like that monster genre. Where the protagonist is a vampire or werewolf.

 

In the first book, Written in Red the moment that got me in was the nature of the cassandra sangue or blood prophet. Some girls and women have the ability to tell prophecies after they’re cut. That was new to this genre. After cutting, they speak and experience euphoria or hold it in to remember the vision and feel the pain of the cut. That euphoria bugged me for a little bit. I decided that was plain fiction. One such person, Meg is the protagonist of this story.

 

The combination of those two storylines effectively drives the story forward. Each book delves into a different aspect of those concepts. A series exploring the same facets of something in each book quickly grows repetitive. I haven’t read any adult series, but that makes sense based on the other series I’ve read.

 

Written in Red was about Meg escaping the compound and finding work with the Others. People like Meg, cassandra sangue were allowed to be held against their will by benevolent caretakers to help them survive their addiction to cutting and the euphoria. Those rules didn’t prohibit cutting the girls to make a profit by selling prophecies/cuts. Basically, the rich wanted that to continue, so they had their lobbyists pressure the government. Meg escaped one of those facilities. Most cassandra sangue weren’t exposed to the outside world so living outside was difficult.

 

Bishop adds new jargon throughout her books. I found that interesting as a writer. How should I introduce new words through fiction? The learning curve required probably wouldn’t work with how I write, but seeing it for real was something. The first one was A walk on the wild side, basically an intimate liaison between a human and a human form terra indigene.

 

The storyline was a group of mercenaries went after Meg at the courtyard of the Others. Meg’s visions alerted them to the attack. Premonitions are an effective way to drive stories forward. Each book has them in different lights. In Written in Red, Meg spoke aloud her visions and other people interpreted the few words she spoke. In the second book, Murder of Crows, Meg dreamed her visions first. After cutting, she held in the vision and did everything she needed to do to save the most people. The third book was frustrating. Vision in Silver didn’t show the full prophecies. The bits and pieces we got were impossible to decipher until it actually came true. Right now, I’m reading book four, Marked in Flesh. Meg uses cards to reveal prophecy and other cassandra sangue bolster her abilities.

 

murder of crows
Murder of Crows, Book #2

Murder of Crows is about two drugs, feel good and gone over wolf. Both are the same drug. The Others get feel good, a downer. Humans get gone over wolf, an upper for aggression and courage. Those drugs egged humans on to kill a group of Others that were shifted to Crows, hence the title. A group of people attack the Others’ courtyard like in book #1. Bishop made the similarity between the euphoria cassandra sangue felt and sexual pleasure. The villain drew me in. She was beyond convinced that the Others behaved like humans. A sexy body didn’t affect the others in any way. They didn’t find thin people appetizing, except in rare occasions. Her behavior was strange to them, and that cracked me up. I know I’m strange, hence the moniker radical.

 

 

vision in sliver
Vision in Silver, Book #3

Vision in Silver was about finding a way for cassandra sangue to in live the outside world. The other plot was about the rising friction between the humans and others. Somehow jewels financing the human uprising got into the hands of the Others, and people wanted it back. The Others are more deadly than people can imagine.

 

 

marked-in-flesh
Marked in Flesh, Book #3

Marked in Flesh is the first real attack on the Others. The events leading up to and after the event are chronicled. You can guess what happens when a weaker force underestimates and attacks a stronger and more vicious force. Again, prophecy pushes the story forward.

 

 

A few things about the series bug me. The shifter story element seems all too familiar in this genre of urban fantasy. Sometime I should probably read the most successful series in this genre, The Twilight Saga. Haven’t had the pleasure yet, but eventually. The cutting experience is very different from reality in some ways and similar in others. Euphoria doesn’t result, and cutting isn’t as it seems in the book. Cutting is a response to some internal frequently psychological occurrence. A lot of unnecessary details are abundant. I doubt we need to read the characters changing between boots and indoor shoes every time they enter a building. The plethora of characters bugs me. It seems like in every book, a handful of characters just appear. If each character was new, dynamic, and transformative that would be something. The characters, except a few, seem like filler or a different name to use. Those flat characters aren’t even described frequently, externally or internally. Each book assumes you remember quite a lot about the characters, but the books come out months apart. I know a few books down the line, I’ll pull the ejection seat.

 

Anne Bishop does a few good things. There are a ton of subplots. Something is always going on. The descriptions of the buzzing, tingling, and prickling skin are effective as a divining rod to find the focus of a prophecy. Different characters are used as the point of view for different sections of the book, from chapters to a few lines. Meg’s battle with addiction is interesting, because it doesn’t exist exactly like that in real life. The basis is probably chemical addiction like smoking. I wish that so many Native Americans weren’t wiped out during the settlement of the world. The native people weren’t doing anything wrong, and we needlessly eliminated them in mass numbers. Maybe the world of the Others is how things could’ve been. The aspect of writing simply and getting complex ideas across interests me. Also, the way Bishop manages to put a sinister light on the most basic interactions.

 

The Others is a great series to read. Graham Kar.

The Secret History Versus The Goldfinch

Recently, I finished reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It’s about a college student by the name of Richard Pappen going through the process of starting college at a remote institution. He finds a group of people and a subject that consumes him. In the end, they get involved with the murder a fellow classmate.

 

I read Tartt’s other book The Goldfinch a few years ago. I remember it fairly well. It’s about a boy, Theo Decker. The book starts with the death of his mother. The entire book is about Theo struggling to find a sense of normalcy in his life. Ultimately, he finds solace in what life has to offer.

 

Reading two things from the same author is something that helps me see how to improve my own writing. Seeing another writer’s progression suggests a way forward. My direction will probably be an amalgam of the authors I like best. I thought a lot about the differences and everything the author carried across both books.

mingwei-li-270198.jpg
Photo by Mingwei Li on Unsplash. Picture enhancements by Graham Kar.

Both protagonists are chronic malcontents. They’re unhappy in their lives. They cling to fictional versions of everything that has happened to them. Richard lies to everyone about his life back home in Californa. Theo clings to the remnants of his perfect life with his mother, in any way possible. That has do with the way they romanticize the lives of others and the past.

 

Romanticizing something imbues it with qualities that are rarely apparent when something actually happens. I think of romanticizing the past as embellishing it to feel some comfort that wasn’t there in the moment. Seeing the lives of others as better, whether that’s the truth or not, feeds into the self-fulfilling prophecy that your life sucks. Digging a well of self-pity rarely gives you a good feeling. I’ll admit this opens up a lot story possibilities. And sometimes that, above mentioned thought process strangles us. That’s where these stories start. Then something shakes everything up. Richard is always in that strangling thought process. Theo is too young to be disaffected without something going catastrophically wrong, the death of his mother.

daniel-pascoa sun through clouds
Photo by Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash. Picture enhancements by Graham Kar.

Frequently, Tartt casts characters with a dreamy air. Characters like Pippa and Camilla, as well as scenes. Sleepy in an ethereal light. That’s done with a few different elements. Elements like cigarette smoke, drawn shades, night time, dense fog, pure light, and drug induced states. That lends a slight fictional air to the proceedings, like lightening in Frankenstein. The environment lends a sense to what’s about to happen or has already happened. A drugged daze when the character feels lost. Cold when the character feels alone. Dream-like sights for the people we love romantically. A straight forward translation of a dreamy woman or guy. That nonetheless adds a unique dimension to her stories. The pictures and events described are picturesque and always interesting. Making the scenes simple wouldn’t work very well to translate the protagonist’s mindset. Saying a character is stuck with their head in the clouds isn’t the same as making it felt on nearly every page. Might I point out that this is very similar to how writers see the world. We examine mundane events to shed light on the human experience. It’s fascinating to see the part Tartt shares with us.

 

The protagonists love the unattainable. Pippa or Camilla depending on the book is the one Theo or Richard love. Not exactly them as people, but they fall in love with the idea of them. Theo is attracted to his first love and the possibility that if everything was different, they could be together. Richard loves the woman who is incapable of loving him. Camilla is in love with the strength of another. “We love in others what we most lack.” Richard H Stoddard.

arnaud-mesureur woman blue blonde glasses librarian
Photo by Arnaud Mesureur on Unsplash. Picture Enhancements by Graham Kar.

Richard dreams of Camilla and is dissatisfied with any other person. Theo knows it’ll never work with Pippa. They are broken in much the same way, and that can never work. Love of the unattainable is a continuation of their malcontent mindset. As you can probably tell, I’m masking a slight disgust and jealousy throughout this post.

 

The protagonist goes through the daily motions of life wishing for more. Theo attends school despite the turbulence in his life. He finds a job despite his obstacles. He gets engaged and on. Richard faithfully completes his assignment. He misses classes every now and then, but things work out. They find a way to keep from worrying, so the actual story has time to play out.

 

Drug high states are used for dramatic effect. That contributes to the dreamy quality present throughout the books. The descriptions of their experiences are interesting to read. I wonder how factual they are. It would be not that difficult to write from research and fictionalizing the rest. I suspect that everyone’s reaction would be slightly different. And drugged out experiences can be found if you look for it, as with probably everything these days. The characters take uppers, downers, and psychedelics throughout. The Secret Histroy features smoking and drinking. Theo does a ton of drugs with his friend Boris.

 

I’ll highlight a few differences. I really didn’t pay much attention to this while reading. The Secret History takes places during two years of Richard’s college existence. Identifying the time setting was tricky. It happened sometime be 1978 and the 1990’s. The Goldfinch follows Theo from middle school through to adulthood. It happens very close to the present at the end. Richard experiences guilt, and Theo deals with grief. Both of them never feel they fit in where they are. That’s something I’ve felt, and I really struggled to find my place in this world. When I started writing, that feeling waned a little. The more I pursue it, the more it feels more like I’ve found my place.

andrew-preble-187062
Photo by Andrew Preble on Unsplash. Picture enhancements by Graham Kar.

Hampden College, the setting of The Secret History is as far from New York, Las Vegas, Amsterdam as you can get. The Goldfinch goes on in Greenwich, NY, a suburb of Las Vegas, and Amsterdam. The Secret History is more action based but sometimes feels like a series of conversations in dream-like space. The Goldfinch is entirely internal with everything else taking a backseat. Richard, the protagonist of The Secret History tries finding the best path forward to achieve his goals despite everything thrown in his way. Theo accepts that his life will never be as he has expected. He has basically given up because he was broken at such a young age. Theo does his best to gain the approval of others. When he goes after his own ends, things backfire.

roberto-junior-270326
Photo by Roberto Júnior on Unsplash. Picture enhancements by Graham Kar.

I enjoyed reading both books. Any fan of literary should read them, if you haven’t already. Their experiences shed light on what we have going for us. The stories are superb works of fiction, and say something as it was never said before. The Secret History and The Goldfinch.

 

Title photo credit: Shiro hatori on Unsplash

Planting Ideas and Watching Them Grow

The process of generating ideas and expanding them is the most fun for me. I’ve always been an idea person. I also like trying to find the possible basis for an idea. For example, what’s the source for a story like Shutter Island? I think of it as a combination of the process of going insane, investigating the supernatural, and solving a crime. That was fun. Never thought through that story idea before. It explains it for me, but that probably isn’t the truth.

 

All ideas start as a seed from something we see in our daily lives. It doesn’t have to be something completely external. Frequently, it’s something that resonates with something inside. Anyone else witnessing the same event doesn’t feel the same way you do. Once the idea is planted, it can either grow or die right there. That process is the same, no matter if it’s a story idea or something that makes you see the world differently.

jeremy-thomas red leaves

Ideas come in two fashions. We have an epiphany or just a realization/new idea. An epiphany is a realization that you can’t go back from. An idea that changes everything, and there’s no way back. This happens to me generally over an internal struggle I’m having.

michal-grosicki bokeh bright

A few years ago, I struggled with reawakening my emotions. My writing was emotionless and felt inauthentic. I needed to remember how it felt to really feel. Then things started building gradually up to something, an epiphany. I started seeing changes in my writing. I wasn’t struggling like I once used to, figuring out what a character should feel. I knew how those emotions would manifest externally. I started feeling more useless than I have in a long time. I stopped blowing off emotional passages in books. And then, the epiphany came. One night I was ridiculously bored. Then this horrible feeling took me over. I felt intensely hungry, not for food, but everything I had denied myself. Things like friends, honesty, connecting with people, and being myself. I felt angry and sad that I had denied those things for so long. Then the epiphany came. That was everything I was hiding from for most of my life. That was why I was afraid to feel. I knew I would never allow myself to return to hiding. Nothing would bring me back to that scared kid hiding in the dark.

michal-grosicki bokeh dull

Finding a new story idea has a fraction of that energy. Ideas come from connecting two tidbits of information you’ve learned. They are two things you’ve never put together before. For example the Earth and teleportation. That’s how this one came along.

 

The Earth is really one big machine that can teleport.

 

And combining Wiccan rituals with technology.

 

Ritualistic technology: A different society of humans with slightly different technology. Wiccan tech fusion.

jc-dela-cuesta red satin

Those ideas can grow into something bigger if more thought is applied. The ability to put together two things you’ve never put together before is free association. I personally employ meditation to help enhance free association. Frequently, I ask a question to myself. What are issues average people go through? An idea prompt if you will.  Am I good enough at something? Rock star and nerd. A famous rock star holes up in his bedroom practicing during an after party. I prepared an example from my list of story ideas.

 

For a while, I’ve been toying with the superhero genre. How to change everything that’s going on around superheroes into something I want to write? Combing everyone with powers, superheroes, and aliens experimenting on humans for amusement. I got aliens drop masks across the globe and everyone gets superpowers. Where’s the story conflict? Superpowers make everyone do bad things. One person is trying to turn everyone back. The mask didn’t work for him. He lost everyone he cares about and wants them back. The superpowered want to stop him.

 

I kept expanding and got this.

 

Superhero mask idea #2. Masks fall, everyone gets, everyone keeps. Except one guy the mask doesn’t work on. He keeps looking to figure out how masks work. He was relevant scientist that can reverse engineer the device. The masked put someone on him to stop him from finishing or kill him. Dr. Good set up a dampening field against physical manifestations of strong powers, strong enough to kill. Toxic powers and non-harmful physical changes allowed. Everyone lives in fear of the Evil Eight or some coalition of evil masked. One of which, Scarlet is a shaper, mind hacker, and love toxic. She watches him work trying to kill him with bodies she puts on. She accesses his mind and temporarily becomes them. She turns into his super brilliant PhD student and actually helps. It doesn’t hurt Dr. Good was crushing severely. She gets a kiss and thinks she won. He escapes with an antidote he worked from a sample of her toxin. He gets back to work. Other evils turn up. He watches them outside. They drag him out. Right before he dies, a Mega shows up. Megas are people with prior inclinations and super-super powered so they stop caring for masks, evils, goods, humans, aliens, and life. They’re all powerful and don’t care. This Mega is unfathomably strong. He plucks everyone up to his cloud palace. Masks stop working. Mega turns everyone to help with his mind hacking and shaper abilities. Scarlet helps most as anyone he needs. Mega descends and enslaves everyone. Scarlet falls in love with Dr. Good. Dr. Good defeats Mega, masks, and evils. Scarlet driven insane. Masks bolster each other. With weakened masks, she can’t keep everything straight. Mask has fused to face. Dr. Good turns Mega to save her and almost looses himself. Scarlet brings him down. After Dr. Good becomes himself, Scarlet leaves him. Or maybe she has already fallen in love as herself.

jim-rhoades desert plant leaves green black tips

I wrote a part for book 2, The Trouble With Dreams about my process of choosing what to write in a particular scene. This is a short excerpt from The Trouble With Dreams. One notable difference, meditation instead of LSD.

 

The novel started with Drystan talking on the phone with a flirty client. Michael imagined a boyishly handsome guy of average stature, if a little thin. Melisande from accounts came around for the daily client information pickup. As a security measure, account information was on paper. It was a messy reason for their first meeting. Melisande was new to the company. Drystan was uncomfortable with the new recruit around. Fawn colored hair tied into a ponytail. A soft comfortable face to be around that wasn’t pretty enough to bring on thoughts of insecurity or so dull as to be bland. He felt like he had known her for years but they just meet. Later a fraudulent payee, brought Drystan down to her office. He spent a few minutes with Melisande looking over his shoulder. Drystan felt things he had never before.

Later that evening, they discovered they had been neighbors for a few weeks and never meet. Their relationship evolved into a deep friendship. A few things happened to draw them together, until they were having friendly dinners. A superstrom in Florida, where she was from, and getting locked out of her apartment after getting stuck jogging through a number of rain bursts, among other things. Michael remembered the getting locked out incident.

 


 

Drystan opened the door to Melisande drenched all the way through after jogging. He wasn’t sure exactly what was going on.

“Hi. I need my spare key. I got locked out.”

“Sure.” Drystan got his bunch of keys. “This is the sticky key right?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want help?”

“I really don’t care at this point.”

They walked next door to 117. Drystan dropped to his knees with her right near him. The key went in with some jiggling. A sideways push seated the key. A warm humid presence at his back was comforting. He turned the key with a grunt and the door opened. Melisande went inside. Drystan stood there looking at her. Melisande had removed her t-shirt, hung the dripping garment over her shoulder. With each breath, water dripped down from her equally wet sports bra. The drips smoothed out and rolled off.

“Do you want to come in, Drys?”

“What?” He cleared his throat. “No.” How much he wanted kiss her surfaced, but he couldn’t move beyond his doubts. Drystan thought about what could have been if he wasn’t anxious all time and a better person. He would have kissed her breathless, made her warm, and taken on some of her wetness. The images of what he wanted to do to her flashed through his head. Melisande had tried making the first move, but he freaked out. If he had the desire, she would accept him. He wasn’t ready, and it hurt.

Melisande said, “Thank you for everything, Drystan.” She held his arm.

Drystan wanted the feeling to last, but didn’t have it in him. “No big deal and you’re welcome.”

“Later Drys.”

“Bye.” He couldn’t bring himself to say her name. She shut the door and Drystan left hating everything he couldn’t do.

 


 

Michael ingested the drugged slice of LSD. He remembered the outline. A few more dinners and Drystan suggested they try dating. Getting Melisande to understand the semantic difference took some time. The first few dates happened without much difference. Their second kiss was far from perfect. Their first night together was embarrassing for Drystan. They ended up making out and fall asleep, clothes once removed.

Michael set aside his laptop, closed his eyes, and allowed the drug to take him into the story as Drystan, Melisande, or both. He woke up as Drystan, dressed in something comfortable. Finding her in his bed was freaky and oddly soothing at the same time. He made coffee, something Michael didn’t do in real life. He got the cereal. Then he saw Melisande, putting on the same clothes as the night before. Anything unimportant to the story skipped through. The cereal tasted like nothing except a starchy paste similar to papier-mâché glue. The coffee was good and the breakfast left her bored. Maybe they should go to that place around the corner. She suggested it to Drystan. He agreed.

She showered first. Drys ate his cereal and watched TV to keep his mind off the fact that she was feet away. It troubled him now, even though she was bathing a few additional feet away the day before. It was frustrating he couldn’t take her when she wanted. If he had been more of a man then or now, they would be so much closer than they already were. He was mad at his impotence. Drystan got a glimpse of her dressing through the open bathroom door. It felt exciting and risqué, basically anything could happen. They left the apartment after Melisande made a short trip to her apartment.

Breakfast arrived at the dinner that Michael could see as if he was actually there. Drystan extended his hand to meet hers. He still wanted to feel closer to her, so he moved around to the other side and slide across his plate. Holding hands wasn’t enough. Drystan held her leg and drew circles on the inside of her thigh. Melisande held his forearm in tension. What if someone saw them and thought the worse. She relaxed after realizing she shouldn’t care, in truth, Michael realized it. With breakfast finished, she turned his head for a kiss.

Michael dived into Drystan’s head. His anxiety had taken root and begun to flourish. Worries flooded his head. What if we kiss too long? What if I gag at the taste of food in her mouth? What if I choke on spit? The worries grew more absurd. What if a car dives into the building and we don’t see it coming? What if an Earthquake cracks open the floor and swallows them? What if they weren’t supposed to be together? What if his true love was watching them kiss, and that ruined the possibility of true love? What if I ruined everything with my anxiety? What if I mess up this kiss? The worries swirling around were too much. He had to do something to make it stop.

Drystan slapped her. A small laugh echoed across the back of Michael’s head. Michael agreed it was funny, but did he want it to happen? It worked on a few levels. Drystan reacted to anxiety with a physical response. The slap is an effeminate gesture. He did something against his best interests, characteristic of anxiety, something that’s good in some conditions but generally self-harming. It worked as well as seating the key.

Melisande looked at him, glum and a hand pressed to her cheek. Drystan said sorry, I don’t know what came over me. A guy came up to Melisande, asking if she was okay. Another guy came up to Drystan lecturing him about hitting women. He froze and couldn’t say anything. The guy threw Drystan into standing. The lecture continued. Melisande went around or tried to. She spat out the words Let me go. She came to Drystan and held his arm. Once everything was smoothed out they left the restaurant.

Michael was ready to write something.

 


 

Drystan woke up the next day, forgetting who was sleeping next to him. The second set of breaths startled him. The buzz of worrisome ideas erupted through his head. The thoughts accrued, building pressure to the conclusion that it was Melisande. He turned around to see her sleeping there and felt relieved. The duvet tucked in around her neck gave him a deep longing to be there in its place. Drystan got out of bed and into something clean. By the time he devoured his first bowl of cereal, Melisande escaped the state of sleep. She came to join him in drinking coffee and partaking in cereal, which decidedly tasted of starch decoupage paste.

“Why don’t we go out for breakfast?” Melisande asked, spooning through the cereal mush.

“Sure, it could be fun.”

“That place around the corner work?” She was relieved with his agreement. Getting Drystan out the door, except to work reduced to a battle.

“Yeah, sure.”

“I’ll go in the shower first, my tub drain is choking.”

Drystan eat a little more sugary cereal, trying to keep his mind off Melisande through the open bathroom door. Drystan fixated on his inability to do the deed and give her what she wanted the other night. If he was a real man, nothing should have stopped him from the thing they both wanted. His feelings of impotence taunted him, a jeering list of inadequacies that made his life nothing desirable. He watched TV with her a few feet away bathing in steaming water. He wanted to make her hot, but the water would have to suffice. She was an additional three feet away every single day, but today the proximity was too much. Drystan swore. The TV wasn’t doing a thing for him. He watched it as drudgery with a pleasant view of her dressing through the open door.

Drystan excused past into the shower. It was his turn. Melisande told him she was off to her unit for a fresh change of clothes. They met downstairs and walked over to the restaurant down the block. The restaurant was just as Drystan remembered. Glass block walls, retro dining booths, bare bulb fixtures, neon menu signs, parquet floors, and regulars mixed in with some people they knew. They found an empty booth. The dour waitress took their order.

The food found them sitting quietly and looking at each other. They began eating. Drystan felt cut off from Melisande sitting across the table. A feeling of watching her with no connection whatsoever, she could have been any other woman at that point, and he wouldn’t have felt any different. That wasn’t true. He needed some acknowledgment from her. Drystan stretched his arm out to her. Inching closer, brought them to meet. Drystan felt an immediate reassurance that she was still with him. The feeling fled as quick as it came. He wanted more.

Drystan motioned his intention to sit beside her. With her nod, he switched places. He held her hand at a spot on the bench between them. Interweaving their fingers together became a great thing for Drystan’s self-confidence. There now was something irrefutable about the allowance to do that. They went beyond friendship — not that he didn’t know that — but it nullified the ability for his anxiety to interfere.

Drystan grew more daring and cavalier than he knew what to do with. The warmth from her bare lower thigh called to him, the smooth hot skin inches away. Drystan climbed out of her hand and walked over to her thigh and landed below the hem of her skirt. Drystan satisfied his hunger, unable to think of anything he wouldn’t want to do to her. He needed more but that wasn’t the place. His index finger split off and wandered up her thigh. He took to tracing his finger around in a circle.

Melisande couldn’t believe what Drystan was up to. She had to practically seduce him the other night and nothing came of it. This was the Drystan she wanted then. There was nothing they could do there. She held his wrist tight, but thought naught should come of it. Nobody was looking under there. Drystan kept it hidden, but Melisande was almost driven crazy by the sensation. She wanted him and wasn’t sure about waiting until they got home. She laughed at the feeling. With the food done, Melisande turned his head to her with a smile. They kissed.

Drystan enjoyed it for a moment, before the thoughts returned. What if this was all a big mistake? Something he would regret for life? An unforgivable grievance because he wasn’t ready for her? He wasn’t ready to grow as a man. That relationship wasn’t something he deserved. The guilt of falling for her. The questions grew more illogical and worrisome. What if Melisande wasn’t the one for him? What if he was missing the girl for him right now outside his apartment window? What if a garbage truck tore through the intersection and killed them as they kissed? A kiss of death. What if a massive Earthquake split the ground right below, swallowing them whole? The worries build and grew to immense proportions, making him ready to do anything against them.

Drystan slapped Melisande across the face. The sound lingered in his ears. Melisande looked up at him, her hand pressed to her face. She couldn’t understand what happened.

“I’m sorry.”

She looked worried and held her hand there. Drystan took out his wallet, counted up fifteen bucks, and a guy came up to Melisande. “Is everything okay here?”

That was all he heard before another guy came over to him. “What’s your name son?”

“Drystan.”

“Well, Drystan we don’t treat women that way. Do you understand me?”

Drystan couldn’t bring words to his mouth.

“We have to respect each other or everything degrades to primal instincts. That’s something neither of us want. Speak up son.”

He began poking at Drystan’s shoulder. “We need you to stop hurting women. They deserve respect. Respect keeps us civil. Civility is what we want. I don’t see that here. Say something.” The guy threw Drystan up with his collar.

Melisande was explaining the situation. Seeing Drystan standing there shaking, she tried to get to him. The guy in front of her held her back. “Let me go!” she spat out, laced with venom. The guy let go, startled. Melisande went to Drystan. She was angry with the other guy for saying “bitch,” under his breath, as if she couldn’t hear him.  She held Drystan’s arm, explaining that it was a big misunderstanding. They were fine. Everything was good. The two guys backed away after some additional explanation. Melisande turned Drystan’s head to kiss him and waited for the panic to leave him. Drystan threw his money on the counter. They both left.

g-n-dim red flowers on black

That’s basically the final step in the creative process from an idea to prose. Editing is needed after. I wish I could type faster. I wish I could write more. I have more ability to type than ever before. Maybe it’s enough. I’m thinking of writing a lot of short stories with the ideas I’ve come up with and a book or two. It’ll be fun.