I recently finished reading Swann’s Way, volume one of seven in Remembrances of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time. That volume is 600-something pages. I’m reading a guide at the same time. After each volume, I’m comparing my thoughts with the verdicts delivered by the reading guide. That isn’t exactly the best way to get the most from reading this but as the preparations for reading more literary work. I have my eyes on IQ83 by Haruki Murakami.
That’s a long way away or maybe sooner than I think. Anyway this is a summery/reaction to Swann’s Way and the reading guide the group’s using, Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time: A Reader’s Guide to Remembrance of Things Past by Patrick Alexander. The book is divided into three parts. The Overture, Combray, Swann in Love, and Place-names: The Name.
The Overture is a real bore in my mind. There are a few interesting tidbits in there, but forty pages seems overkill for a waking up sequence. It’s long but effectively primes you for the writing style you’re likely to experience. Brevity is a tad more important later on. It never reaches the expectations of today’s rapid gratification.
Combray is the memories Marcel has of his childhood. It details his experiences of visiting his ailing Aunt Léonie in the summers. There’s a lot there about his childhood desires and experiences. The guide refers to Combray as one of best childhood experiences in a novel of this era. Reading through, I noticed a few things. Marcel is ailing from some mysterious condition which I suspect is just getting colds that are quite severe. That sickness reduces his activity considerably. Still, he’d much rather stick his head into books. Marcel attributes good qualities to people he likes and people he would like to be like down the line. These memories Marcel remembers were triggered by eating something he enjoyed in those summers, lime tea and madeleines.
I like to think Marcel and I would be kindred spirits if we ever met. That makes me feel good, and that’s reason enough, but there’s more. I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, and that enabled me to distance myself from peers. In addition, I loved reading. That love is what got me into writing. Then, I wanted to be like those charismatic people who can entertain an entire room without breaking out in sweat and make people like them. And I remember my past history to a similar extent. I think we’re pretty similar.
Swann in Love was my favorite part of Swann’s Way. According to the guide, it’s the closest that Proust gets to traditional story structure. I agree. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Swann meets Odette. He doesn’t commit right away. Then, he’s in love with Odette. Swann gets jealous. He asks too many questions and finds difficult answers. In lack of love, he tries with another woman. That’s the plot of Swann in Love.
The beginning of this part was the first time I loved reading this book. It makes me a little sad that the other sections won’t follow the basic plot structure. And a theme of this book is love leads to jealousy. That’s true. Love always comes with some unwelcome jealousy as a bedfellow. That’s especially true if you have abandonment and anxiety issues. Jealousy can make love sweeter by contrast. Working on your self-worth might reduce these issues. Surely possessiveness makes the jealousy worse. That’s a theme in this book that bugs me. Any number of themes bug me, so that’s basically a given with anything I read.
Place-names: The Names wraps up everything. It cross applies the lessons learned in the previous sections of Marcel’s young life in Paris. Then, it echoes the fact much more is going to change.
Each section is like a novel in its own write except the transition sections: Overture and Place-names: The Name. That’s not the way any book is organized these days except memoirs. Because In Search of Lost Time is the very first memoir as far as I know.
That method isn’t acceptable in fiction these days. I know it’s not fair to Marcel Proust, his many fans, and the English literature community to compare a book written something like 120 years ago to stories these days. That comparison is of paramount importance to current writers of fiction trying to learn from Proust. What elements of Remembrance of Things Past can be used to write fiction in the time we live in now? What elements won’t work? For example, putting two storylines in one piece of fiction. They need to smoothly merge from one to the other despite section breaks. Some things can end and be picked up later but never left hanging forever except at the end. Simultaneous story lines are permissible if they’re all pushed together.
I’m listening to Taylor Swift on repeat since the release of her sixth album reputation a few weeks ago. I have always looked up to her as role model of success and creativity. That seems a little ridiculous when I started writing at 23, a full six years after Taylor Swift made her debut. It seems impossible I’ll ever get anything published at this point, but I’m going to try. A lot of things motivate me. So far, I’ve never been able to get those reasons all fleshed out on the page. This is my attempt at doing just that with a few references to Taylor Swift’s musical journey as seen through the eyes of a fan.
reputation has a deeper theme that becomes clear after listening to Taylor Swift’s previous albums. There’s a big difference between the version of you that’s projected out to the crowd, and the real version people close to you see. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust discusses various identities you go through as you change and grow through life.
reputation then goes a step further by saying there are multiple ways to see that duality. The difference between the best version of you and the worst version, light and dark for the sake of brevity. Then the version you put on social media and the real you. That feels like a cheap attempt to tap into the current Zeitgeist. The songs aren’t about fabricating an identity on social media. I admit showing that with music is tricky. But Taylor Swift accomplished that in You Belong With Me (from Fearless). Turning that into a whole album is very difficult.
And the lighter parts are easier to share than the darker parts. That’s because of the social unacceptability, and the fear that indulging in darkness can make you into a horrible person. Of course fearing you’ll become evil is a sign of goodness right?
The struggle is finding the courage to be yourself with people spouting their ideas of who you’re supposed to be.
I could make this into a post supporting that conclusion. The cover booklet of reputation starts with a brief note explaining the meaning of the album. That storyline feels superfluous.
This is about my experience with that transformation. Starting overly concerned with what a few people thought to not caring what other people think about me.
As a teenager and until a few years ago, I would say I don’t care what other people think. I didn’t fit in with other kids. Those themed days we had in high school. Well, I didn’t participate. I didn’t stay in the corner assigned to disabled students. I wanted to go to regular classes with non-disabled students. I was in all Honors classes. I scored academically like a normal students. For all intents, I refused to be typecast. That seems like not caring what other people think, except that was what my parents expected from me.
My parents never put pressure on me to achieve academically. I was just trying to be like my parents to feel closer to them. That’s something I always wanted to feel, love. Pursuing the same aspirations made me feel closer to them.
I always craved affection in a tangible form.
In order to feel something from the reticent displays of affection provided by my parents, my unconscious amplified my emotions. That way I could feel close to them. That’s the biggest problem I face, extreme emotions. It’s even bigger than my physical condition of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I’m not trying to level charges against my parents. They tried the best they could and the best they knew. Without them I wouldn’t be alive today. There’s no doubt in my mind.
Those extreme emotions made me very clingy to friends and people in my life as a kid. That meant my friendships didn’t last very long. It was an intense friendship in my mind but really annoying to my friends. It was frequently like the friendship between Erika and Clementine in Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty which I happen to be reading at the time of writing this.
Then I went into the phase of just following approved behavior.
Being that strange was too painful. All my emotions became subdued and locked away. The resulting anger from suppressing everything turned inward. Wondering what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why am I messed up?
That’s what we train men to be in this society. To suppress emotions we don’t deem acceptable for men. Anger is allowed. Slight sadness. And happiness. Everything else should be suppressed away or bad things happen. Being alone. Insults and perhaps the insinuation you’re gay. That means everything has to be converted to anger and thus become acceptable. Slowly that’s starting to change. Suppressing emotions is unhealthy. It leads to trouble expressing emotions, and difficulty explaining what’s going on inside. That leads to troubling things like suicide and loneliness.
Being socially acceptable is the goal of Taylor Swift’s eponymous first album. It’s about innocence, love, and anger that’s a little cute. That’s how this story starts. Fearless and Speak Now follow that same pattern and camouflages the rest.
A song like White Horse shows exactly what I mean. I wasn’t listening that close to the lyrics, but it didn’t sound sad to me. It sounded like it was saying I don’t want you anymore. The music video shows a sad messy breakup.
My isolation and social ineptitude continued through high school and three semesters of college. Then reality caught up to me. I have Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Around 18–24, people with my disease get into breathing issues. I got my first pneumonia. It was a few days in the hospital. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. My dreams of going to college were dashed. I tried summer classes and online classes. My health requirements were too much, 8 hours sleep and breathing treatments.
That sent me into depression.
My extreme emotions make me highly susceptible to depression. If you’re feeling too much, it’s easier to just tune everything out than deal with it. That especially happens when an onslaught of bad emotions hit me. There was nothing except clearing my lungs and airways, sleeping, stuffing my stomach, and watching C-SPAN. I was steadily losing weight from expending too much energy breathing. And I was home alone with a PCA, all day.
Three years into my depression, I got a trach. That was freaky for the first two years. I couldn’t sleep overnight because a nurse was sitting in my room. An emergency situation happened in the first two months, I couldn’t breathe. I got sick every few months after. It was deadly not to care, the way depression made me. I needed to mediate to stay calm and not go crazy from breathing through a tube that could clog at any moment. It was a new experience, having a trach and a ventilator to breathe.
There was one good thing to those first years with a trach. I got a stomach tube. Slowly I got up to weight. From 63 to 117 pounds.
My back is really messed up. It’s curved like an S because my back muscles weakened too much before my back was fused to a stable state. After surgery, my curvature was 50 degrees. That surgery happened when I was 15.
That means getting a trach tube to fit my curvaceous airway is tricky. My brilliant ENT doc found a trach that worked for me. Unfortunately, that trach tube is really tricky to change. With my curvature, any correctly fitted trach is difficult to insert.
My brilliant ENT doc had trouble changing out my trach.
There are several layers of flesh between the outside of the throat and the airway the trach tube sits in. So the doc pulled the old trach. He tried putting in the new trach. It was a ton of force on my neck. The connections between my airway and chest were hurting probably at five out of ten, but let me tell you that was nothing. The trach tube didn’t go in.
When changing a trach, they always have a smaller trach if the correct size can’t be inserted. That smaller trach went in. At that point, I hadn’t breathed for about a minute.
My ventilator was hooked up. The breath didn’t come. I had intense pain in my neck.
The trach had gone between the layers of flesh in my neck. The trach wasn’t in my airway. I told them I couldn’t breathe. I was looking at this innocent ENT resident across the room from me.
The doctor pulled the trach. He called for a trach tray to re-establish my airway. Luckily, that wasn’t required. My brilliant ENT doc got the trach into my airway finally. Then, I was breathing again. I remember the events with a precision that happens when you almost stop breathing.
I also remember what was going through my head. I looked at that innocent resident. I wondered what would be the emotional fallout for him, that fellow Indian if I died in that room.
I’ll ruin you.
At least my life would have a lasting mark beyond the heartache my passing would cause. I was desperate for my life to mean something in those last moments. I no longer cared if it would be something good. Facing death strips everything away and leaves behind something you can’t guess.
Then an eerie calm took over my head.
So this is the last thing I’ll see.
My vision went yellow. It was like looking through amber at the world. Then everything started to look normal again. The resident was scared. Man was he scared.
That’s probably projected emotion. In difficult situations, you project your emotional states on other people or things, effectively removing them from your person.
I stayed the night and had to be put under to get my correct trach put in.
That made me question my life. Which is common after what I experienced. Is this what I want? Sitting around and just surviving day to day. What’s the point? Keep in mind I was depressed around that time. That’s when I thought about what I could do. I have a ton of time to think about stuff when people do medical things to me. That became meditation, at first. Then something that had been a desire from years ago resurfaced. That dream was to write science fiction.
That’s when my transformation starts.
Taylor Swift’s trajectory radically changed with Red. That album was happy at times, but it was usually sad. The end of a relationship, liking danger, sadness, and the fact of love love being elusive. Off hand, I remember just a few songs that were happy, Begin Again, State of Grace, and Everything Has Changed.
I wrote the most acceptable science fiction story possible and heavily obfuscated the darker elements. It was a crisp, clean, bright future. That doesn’t make a good story in itself. Then, I added memory and cryosleep elements to make a story. I thought I wasn’t good enough, so I wrote heavily wrought prose.
Some quirks were there because my parents have basically reversed gender roles. My father takes care of people better. My mom likes dealing with things instead. My father is more emotional than my mom. They even stand like the opposite gender. My mom stands on both feet. My dad favors one leg. That explains the strange gender roles I put in my first book.
I noticed a few other strange things. It could be argued that the supporting female character was actually the protagonist. In the length of the novel, she’s the hero. But in each individual scene, the main character, a man is the hero. Anyway, I enjoyed writing from a woman’s perspective more than I thought possible.
That’s based on me being hetero-normative. I can love women in a romantic sense. That extends to writing from a woman’s POV. I can’t have a romantic relationship with all the duties I need to complete for my survival. I even wrote a song that states my case. It will probably be really sad. I’m self-conscious putting it up here.
The Way I Remember You
You go your way
I’ll go mine
In the end what happens, who can say?
But I’ll never forget you,
The way I remember you.
Love escaped me in the dark.
Lost to the brightness of day.
Light wasn’t there for me then.
It never came my way without you.
I can never be without you
Not even for a day.
Everyone around us
Has only what we can dream.
We can only be onlookers
On what everyone else has seen.
You go your way
I’ll go mine
In the end what happens, who can say?
But I’ll never forget you
The way I remember you.
We never know when our time will come
It’ll not be in forever, but some day.
Until then, we try to experience what was lost
What we can never find again
The love of another we can’t be without.
The trouble we can’t live without.
There’s accusation in those eyes
Eyes I’ll never see again.
You go your way
I’ll go mine
In the end what happens, who can say?
But I’ll never forget you
The way I remember you.
That was fun, right?
If you love someone that’s out of your reach, than imitating them makes you feel closer to them. Like reading something, they like reading. Doing something they like doing. It’s like the fan wanting be like the star. And the closest you can get is falling in love. Which is what happened in Black Swan, this compelling psychological thriller movie that came out in 2008.
Nina wants to be a natural dancer like Lily. Nina dreams of sleeping with Lily.
In Taylor Swift’s 1989, she starts to own everything that has gone wrong. She might get hurt. People might not understand what’s going on. All that doesn’t matter, because she just wants to be herself. It doesn’t matter what that means to everybody else.
My second book, the Remember Sequel was an excursion into everything that Remember wasn’t. With Remember, I avoided sex. The characters from Remember were stumbling around in the dark while everything miraculously worked out for the best. In the sequel, they were self-aware enough to see the end and help it along.
I’d focused a ton on making Remember based in reality. That limited my science fiction. In the Sequel, I abandoned that constraint.
The first character I wrote in the Sequel was sexy in everything she did, like Tiffany in Truly Madly Guilty. And she was looking for something she couln’t have, durable love. She was a compelling character I enjoyed to write.
Taylor Swift’s reputation has more allusions to sex than her previous albums, in songs like Dress and So It Goes….
Wildest Dreams was the closest to that from 1989.
Then I started Book 2, The Trouble with Dreams. It has a deep thesis that a perfect life doesn’t exist. And involves more sex. Sex is one of those things that should be hidden away to make people comfortable, like religion, race, mental health, and sadness. I still didn’t have the guts to actually write erotica yet, but I had to read some not to accidentally write it. Labels mean a lot.
What’s in a name except meaning?
A few months ago I would have said nothing is in a name except a shared definition.
Then I finally wrote something pieces that looked professional. The first was kosher. Then second was PG-13. The fourth was erotica. It had to happen eventually, right? I have no firsthand experience, but it seems nice. And it’s a part of growing up. It’s the modern day’s rite of passage like hunting was long ago.
I can write whatever is required in service of a particular story.
The shedding of what other people think of me has been the biggest evolution of my writing in these five years I’ve been at it.
I listen to a ton of music while editing. Music is one of the few things that get me through the editing process. I’m frequently bored out of my mind editing something. Unlike writing, editing doesn’t require undivided attention. Focusing on editing makes me remember what I wanted to write instead of what’s on the page. Listening to music teaches me ways to add elements of lyric writing in story writing, specifically literary devices.
Memory has always been something I could do well under a few special circumstances. Math and science, historical stories, things I’ve read, things I’ve watched, and things I’ve heard. My strong emotions help the remembrance of those things. That explains why I could get straight A’s in high school, despite the fact my insufficient caloric intake made me basically dumb. I could still remember stuff, but the ability to make creative leaps was beyond me.
Listening to music isn’t a fruitless enterprise. Song lyrics are a mixture of prose and poetry, instrumentals and vocals. Sometimes the connecting patterns are in instruments and vocals. This article is just about prose and poetry of lyrics. Because that transfers the easiest.
Of course, using a metered verse can add beat to prose and poetry. That isn’t something I know or use well. I know how to write in iambic meter, because the first language I ever learned was entirely iambic, Tamil. The phrases and words themselves sound more musical than average English. The other metered beats like the trochee, dactyl, and anapest are something I haven’t used. The dactyl and anapest, the three syllable variations are daunting to me.
This post uses music freely available on Youtube. I’ll put up the Google Music and Spotify Web Player Links. As far as I know, Google gives a free listen and Spotify requires a free account. And the Youtube links. Relevant excerpts are below with explanations. Some have multiple literary devices at the same time.
My approach to literary devices is just reading and remembering quirks of writing I’ve read. Then I simply use those techniques. For the sake of this post, I researched the names for the quirks listed below. They’re actual literary devices and the references are all from LitCharts.com.
That’s anaphora. It’s the repeating of the first few words for successive clauses. Two instances above. Ending anaphora with and different clause beginning, with some connection to the previous clauses. In this case that’s rhyming.
Try finding truth, finding wisdom, and you’ll soon discover finding isn’t an easy thing. Everything that needs finding isn’t that far away, everything that needs finding is right inside.
This was somewhat useful I think. These devices of repetition are useful to build power in writing. That’s great for the purposes of conclusion. And as an accent to draw attention. But there are many ways to do that. A concise conclusion makes a difference, it surely does. Those examples verify that I need practice in their application in the construction of prose. There, that was the least bit successful. Maybe this helps, maybe it doesn’t. But understand it I will.
I’ve been thinking about how to write a piece of flash fiction. How to fit the components of a story in 1,200 words? I accidentally write 250-500 word stories. I have no intention of writing a particular scene as a complete story. Those short story paragraphs are in the middle of a longer piece. That actually works really well. If each scene has all the parts of a story, then multiple scenes build a longer piece.
Learning about this length of a story, 1,200 words should help my story writing a ton. It’ll help me find the essential parts of a story. What can be left out, and what can’t. It’ll teach me more ways a story can go. And writing that word count should take me a day to type out. That’s how I learn best. I closely study things related to my primary goal. Flash fiction is so close to novel writing, we’re splitting hairs. Most writers practice with short stories before getting into longer things. I also want to get published somewhere. This new skill will help.
I was researching literary magazines for somewhere to send my future short stories. That means, for me opening tabs in my browser of potential magazines. I screen through for criteria the precludes a few things that aren’t feasible for me. I’m not happy ordering a print copy because that’s difficult for me to access. I’m not sure about ordering digital versions from providers with worrisome persistence. If a digital service shuts down, it’s possible you lose access to everything on there. That means publications with a few free examples. At first, I was going through the list at Writer’s & Poet’s. Then I found a list for new writer’s. All those tabs are open in my browser.
I add each to this spreadsheet I keep. That includes the description of what they want and submission guidelines. I read through two pieces and a lot more if they’re shorter. I started researching The Zodiac Review. It’s just flash fiction. I’ve come across a lot of magazines that accept flash fiction. Given the fact that the majority of the short stories featured on Radical GK are less than 1,000 words, it should be pretty easy, right?
Well, it’s not. Those stories aren’t exactly complete. Those were designed with emotional impact in mind. They weren’t supposed to be stories in themselves. And they bear that out. The writing is lyrical but too difficult to understand. Look at The Sum of an Empty Life. About 13% in, C decides to wait for Brian Whalen. That’s the first plot point which is supposed to happen 20-25% in. The second plot point is C walking away with Brian’s briefcase. That happens 44% through the story. That’s nearly right. The part where C figures out the combo is the third plot point. That’s 79% in. The fact I wrote that story two years into my writing journey is amazing to me. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The story structure is nearly spot on.
I didn’t come prepared to write this post. That simply means I’ll discover something in the process. The last paragraph planted an idea. Maybe I should just forget about everything I learned in Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and return to the way I used to do things. Just maybe.
Anyway in my research, I found a few ways to tell a story in 1,200 words. There’s this much longer piece (The Watchers). It feels like that method could be brought over to this. You list the scenes with a break between each scene. That could work, right?
Some story lines are better for that method. If the story is done so much that the reader knows the sequence of scenes. If it isn’t scene after scene in rapid succession. Some time can pass between each scene. For example the development of PTSD in soldiers. It usually isn’t one event (scene), but a long series of stressful events. If the sequence of scenes isn’t all that important, or the sequence of scenes doesn’t matter. For example the story of going from place to place, a travel story. Establishing the connections between scenes is tricky. And the reader is always searching for how much time passed between each scene.
There’s this other story (The Game) that uses another technique to tell flash fiction. I call it the slow reveal. It combines story with exposition. That works well when one event exemplifies a continuing pattern. I’ll provide an example of my own below. As the indicative event takes place, exposition adds the missing plot points on their time cues. The plot points can come from the exemplifying event or the flashbacks to the continuing pattern. In the piece I linked to, the first plot point is the generalization of what usually happens (20% in). The second plot point is how they act towards each other, the protagonist and his competition who is also his friend (53% in) Then the argument about who won (77% in). That matches the established structure nearly to a tee. That’s the structure from Story Engineering. I have another shorter example from this blog I follow.
The last technique is the obvious one, writing it like a regular story except having the transformation happen in one scene. Like when a battle turns into a win. What happens is the enemy heavily bombards you. A new enemy weakness is discovered, and you defeat them. That isn’t too difficult.
1,200 word stories need a plot that works with the length. Too complicated, hard to explain plots are much harder to get across in the limited space. More nuance can be achieved with the second technique, the slow reveal. That’s using one event to establish a pattern of behavior. That kind of feels like cheating to me.
A story needs to do a number of jobs in sequence as Story Engineering taught me in definable terms. Here’s the list from memory. Gain sympathy for the character from something bad happening. Establish the character or stakes. Basically the before state. Then the character decides to take the quest which is the first plot point. The character responds to what the choice brings. The character finds something internally or externally that allows them to face the conflict, second plot point. They fight against the conflicting force and lose. The character finds the missing piece to success and the will to do anything to prevail, third plot point. The events play out, enemy defeat or character dying in the process. That story I divided into plot points above shows there are many ways to fill those requirements. Accept the challenge, get permission to engage, and proof they will do anything to remain friends. You can combine those requirements anyway that works into different scenes as long as the sequence doesn’t change. That means anywhere from one scene on up.
This is an example plot. Abuse story: woman is abused, entering relationship flashback, hiding bruises at work, buying a gun flashback, trying to talk about it with support person, returning home hoping he isn’t there, pushed to the ground changes her mind to kill him, murder then admitting to self-defense. You could easily replace any of those scenes with anything the fills the same purpose.
Hiding from abuser, has to return for belongings, friend doesn’t show up so leave, buying gun/pepper spray, return to get stuff and defend, stalking causes restraining order, face him with gun, run away/disappear.
Fear with partner, abuse cause visible symptoms, run away, abuser follows and finds, ran away after facing enemy, finds new partner, kill abuser together, live free from suspicion.
All of those work. A different method perhaps, but it’s doable. Those are my explorations of 1,200 word stories. The plot has to specifically engineered to fit the constriants of the length. With novels, any story can fit. A focused story is required for shorter formats. That’s everything I have to say. Feel free to add more in the comments below.
That’s one of the most used writing phrases out there. It’s become a cliché. But what does that mean? Banalities frequently stick in my head. There’s a bigger lesson to be learned from simple phrases such as that one.
Writing that reflects first-hand experience feels more real than pure fiction. What’s the cause of that feeling? I ask myself that question a ton. Why do I feel, guilty for example? That’s what meditation is currently for me. Why am I feeling this way? The feeling that something is real or pops off the page. What determines the difference? I need to know to write well.
My experiences seem far removed from the everyday life of most people, hence the moniker, Radical Thinker. That comes from a few personality quirks. I don’t listen to other people unless some avenue of proof is available. Of course, that precludes generally accepted theories like science and any reasonable thought process. Still, external confirmation. That process invites deep thought and learning stuff through observation. Add that to the differences in my emotional landscape discussed here. Adding that to my medical condition gives me different experiences than the average functioning adult. I bridge that gap by observing and using my imagination for the rest. Like going to work. Like dating. Like being in a relationship. Like playing a cello. Like having bipolar depression. Like basically anything within the bounds of reality.
It can’t ever be the real thing. There’s something missing. The most impactful details are remembered. The rest is forgotten. Doing that in a fictional construct is really difficult. Those imaginings aren’t real. They fade away like a dream after you wake up.
I have two examples for you guys. First the song lyrics from Taylor Swift’s autobiographical song Out of the Woods.
That has the quality I was talking about. There’s just enough detail to seem real. It supposedly is. Two details. The camera and where they were. Giving just enough detail is nearly impossible without first-hand experience. The compilation of what should be remembered and what shouldn’t is one way to get the feeling of reality.
I have another example of feeling real. It taps into another method, the relatability of something. It’s from Ella Dawson’s blog, Post Grad Warriors. I’m a fan of her writing, read this for more.
That’s basically what happens to everyone after college. Sometimes you drift away from your college friends. And sometimes you’re bound for life.Sometimes you connect with people that were there in the background. Still, there’s connection. Still, there’s shared experience.
First, there was the music, strobe lights, sweaty people, and the way they danced. That’s more than three senses, but this is an overwhelming place, a nightclub. So three senses make you feel you’re there. More depending on how intense the situation is. Fewer than three if it’s boring like a long sink to the seafloor. Sight first. Sound next if it matters, or smell. Something along those lines.
That’s a change for me, this checklist of senses.
Something else showed up when I wrote a couple of short stories. I actually have relatable personal experiences. They’re all personal emotional experiences. That’s where my extreme emotions come into play. Exploring their root causes is an added tool given to me by mediation.
That started as figuring out how to write creative non-fiction. Read this one, that one, and that other one for more. I used those new skills to write this post for Medium and this other one for BayArt. Writing non-fiction helped this change come about. I’m all about cross-application of knowledge and lessons learned.
That carried over to fiction writing where it could. I’ll write up a short paragraph on the feeling of guilt I felt this morning. Here it is:
Guilt is that nagging feeling, the perpetual elephant stalking you from room to room, everywhere you go. It starts small, like the way big things always start. It seems insignificant at first. Then it grows and grows until it’s an elephant on your chest. It doesn’t have to be an elephant. Most guilt isn’t that severe. It’s a rock in your shoe that doesn’t go away until it’s dealt with. It’s an annoyance that hurts the more it’s in there. There are ways to scrub away the annoyance, the weight hanging around you. All it takes is an apology, but it’s not as easy as saying sorry. You get caught in the doldrums of your anxiety. Is an apology required in this situation? It’s not just you against your guilt. There’s another person involved, the one you wronged.
Are they hurt? Did the mistake bother you more than it should? Does the aggrieved see the wrong as you would, as you do? If not, there’s the pickle. Should you apologize and risk highlighting your mistake, your error. Well if you did, the elephant disappears, the rock vanishes. Then you get to pick up the cards dropped where they may fall. You have to move on and forget the turn in your fortune. What was once peaceful friendship became your torture for a while, but you mustn’t forget it. Those that forget are soon to repeat mistakes anew. Those that conjure the elephant, those that create the stone are always there. Never repeat the mistake, never call guilt forth. Mistakes are human, and we are human after all. But humans can change, and so can we.
There. My example of writing what I know. Guilt as the case is.
I finished reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frev. It gave me things to learn I frequently ignore. A few tips redefined a few things like what to explain and what to leave out. The book is about writing dramatic stories, not the literary I frequently write. My literary pieces have a strong dramatic storyline and a deep internal conflict. The lessons learned are invaluable in improving my writing.
The character must be fathomable. Explain their motivations, character attributes, and decision-making process. My writing process directly opposes this requirement. I establish a new thought pattern in my head to match the character I’m writing. That’s only possible because I’ve spent nearly a decade and a half mediating. Acting out physical traits isn’t something my diseased body is capable of. That mental model is as close as I can get. Thinking like your character makes the motivations, character attributes, and decision-making process apparent and self-explanatory. It should be second nature. Stuff that doesn’t feel wrong as that character. Everything except that particular action feels wrong. Putting that on paper isn’t tricky at all, except I never know how much to put down. This book helped a lot. Include everything required to understand the characters.
Each scene should be a story in its own right. The scenes should have all the pieces of a story. A beginning setting up the conflict. A middle of rising tension. Finally a build up to the conclusion. When a book has that it’s difficult to stop reading. A perfect example is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It followed that pattern. Each scene was a story in its own right.
There needs to be a connection of causality between scenes. Watch this, the best discussion on causality that appears in a feature film in my opinion. The events must require the events prior to lead up to them. A connects to B, then C. The web of causality must connect from one to the next. Again this is exemplified in Dark Matter. Of course, literary novels frequently forgo that rules. But getting things in line helps to justify those tangents literary is famous for.
Dialogue should also follow the structure of a story. No conflict in dialogue means it can be rewritten or scrapped. Standard conversations we have every day can easily be reduced to one summarizing sentence. We talk about this or that.
Sometimes things go down. You come away reeling and need to spew everything to someone you trust. Those are the sorts of conversations dialogue should be. I noticed that in my first novel. The lunchroom conversations were boring to read but the arguments were impactful. Leaving out the daily dribble of conversation helped my story beyond measure.
Reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel and Dark Matter in a basic requirement for any writer. The theory expressed in the book about writing is exemplified in Dark Matter. Read both and get back to me. Kidding.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why didn’t you let your tears come? Don’t you think you’re cutting out emotion unnecessarily?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Another over-complicated dream sequence for you guys to read. I edited this one down more than the others so far.
I entered a room engulfed in white tile. Dark gray streams of concrete stood still, solidified within the field, ripples and all. Four pictures adorned the entirety of four walls. One profiled a fjord in its depth and security. Another depicted a temperate rainforest abundant in tall trees. Yet another of a glacial lake framed with mountains caught my eye. The blue water of it entered the spider-webbed fissures and crevasses inherent to a glacier. The remaining wall presented a steep mountain top, the sheer cliffs allowing a tenuous foothold for the resident snows.
In the center of the space, a reflective, metal, human-esque sculpture floated up. I went to it. Upon a touch, it transformed into a gray padded body suit. The intricate stitching had a zipper that moved down the side of the neck, ran over the shoulder, across the torso, and down one leg. Both sides were identical.
I slipped the suit on, zipped up the sleeves. It fit perfectly.
My hand now became a contorted reflection through to the floor below. The entire room felt alien with a somber metallic sheen, and the pictures morphed to perfect mirrors. I tried to look at myself, just to see the opposite wall. Moving closer and closer changed nothing. I reached out and saw a ripple in the reflection. The truth of my invisibility dawned on me.
I knew exactly what to do, merely walk out of the room. The insane ability — yet untapped — rushed the environs into a blurred frenzy. The scenery went beyond any mortal feats of perception, somehow forcing a long forgotten sense to reinitiate. I intuited going out the door, turning right, walking up a flight of stairs, and stopping on the edge of the roof. We flew into a high jump off the roof, keeping our body narrow and straight, pleasing a new urge. The invisibility failing at downward speed necessitated swift accomplishment. I prepared to land kneeling, compressing as broaching ground impact. Rolling over face up, pounding the ground, threw me into standing. My quick reaction to every minutia occurred without thought. Circling a group of soldiers — all marked as friendly. Following the line in the sand, so to speak marking the path, avoiding any and all incognizant, running at an incredible speed into a two-story fence harboring spikes! Instinctively jumping right up, rolling tucked over the fence, I stood ready for anything.
Noticing a group in the distance, I sprinted there. My arrival went unnoticed by everyone there, marked as targets. That received a message to touch each target, depositing a piece of invisibility behind. The pearlescent mirrors shone in the near ubiquitous gray. A countdown sounded… one… two … three…the targets crumpled into neat mounds all around.
At the epicenter of the carnage, there swirled a black cloud dropped out of the heavens. Shortly, stabbing me by throwing a sword. Engaging the new target, my suit became a prickly defense and attack arsenal of spines. I entered the ominous black gas quagmire to perpetrate my continuing attack. My defense articles tossed away a hastily thrown enemy sword, the first of an unrelenting black bolt barrage and other metal armament, with glimpses of a humanoid dripping in black ooze. One bolt penetrated my defenses. A surge of adrenaline jumped me away a 100 yards, the black mysterious weapons system stayed immobile at enemy camp. I withdrew my attack/defense scheme, my most powerful option requiring a high degree of precision jump onto the target. The jump was ready. Jumping as high as possible, everything grew small. The suit changed shape, directing me over the target. The invisibility flensed off to near my feet, the gray underlayment remained for my protection. I plunged into the high reaches of the dark cloud, then impacted with the force of a small earthquake. The cloud dispersed with the disintegration of the enemy.
Secured behind the invisibility barrier, a high pitch whine signaled intruder alert. A cold embrace ran up along with an associated numbing climbing through me. A black film tarnished the lustrous finish. I yelled for help. No one was there to hear my cries. Everything that was mine, my body, my thoughts, my feelings, ceased to exist. I gasped my last breath.