My Life and Taylor Swift’s reputation

 

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.

You try going on thinking everything is good, but something wrong happens. That error is what we call life.

 

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

Chorus:

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.

Chorus:

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.

Chorus:

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.

 

I abandoned the Remember Sequel on the drafting table. It wouldn’t force me to grow as a writer.

 

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.

 

Mission accomplished I think.

 

GK

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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.

 

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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.

 

GK

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Experience, Write, Publish: Thoughts on a Memoir

 

I’ve never been drawn to reading memoirs, autobiographies, personal essays, or creative non-fiction. It feels to me that people can say almost anything in those literary forms. Selectively choosing moments that fit into the conventional craft of writing fiction. It’s like those movies based on true events. The screenwriters dramatize the story and your left wondering what exactly happened and what was changed for dramatic effect. The truth is always elusive and that genre really makes it too apparent for my comfort. And anyway, my life is far from typical, muscular dystrophy, mediation, immigration, and intense emotion. Maybe that’s just a little too much ego there, but that’s the starting point.

 

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A writer I’m following that writes great satire. I’m totally new to reading satire.

 

Around a year or two ago, things started to change. I discovered Medium for the first time. Medium is this micro-blogging site taking off right at the moment. It was a hidden writing community when I first joined. A lot of things changed from that time. Getting sold to Facebook and the introduction of membership. Medium specializes in creative non-fiction, point of view pieces, and lastly, fiction. Now it’s shifting to listicles like the rest of the web, sadly. Throughout this post, I’ll link out to the best articles I’ve read on Medium.

 

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A listicle I actually liked reading.

 

I went there from a link on Facebook, originally. I don’t read news frequently, and Facebook mentions are what I go by. Reading the news feels too real for me. I logged in and found a few stories, not in the news like the refugee crisis in the Middle East. A POV piece by Piper Perabo visiting a midway point in the refugee’s path. That happened a few times.

 

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That POV piece by Piper Perabo as mentioned in the paragraph above.

 

Then I dived into the creative non-fiction and POV. It was a window into the life of women. Medium has a surprising number of things I had never been exposed to in my entire life. Pieces about the bad experiences that a ridiculous number of women have gone through, sexual violence. Things like rape, unwanted sexual attention, harassment, inappropriate gestures, and trouble with mostly men.

 

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One such piece.

 

 

 

My thoughts were astonishment. For a really long time, I couldn’t figure out how women even functioned in society. How could people get out of bed with the looming threat around every corner? Knowing it was virtually impossible not to run into someone that had done something like that in the past. It was unfathomable that was the case in 21st century America. This is America. How is it possible?

 

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The possible future state of America.

 

Sure we could blame so many things. The over-sexualization of American culture, women, and body image. But the cause isn’t the big issue. What can we do now? How do people still function?

 

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This is an article about Pick-up Artists and Ovid. I used it to help research a character I was writing for The Trouble With Dreams.

 

Simple. By accepting the condition as it is now. Continue with life as it is. And wait for change. Is that really what’s going to happen? So far it has.

 

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A story of finding yourself.

 

I’ve basically gone on a rant of incredulity for the last handful of paragraphs. Let’s return to the topic. What changed after discovering Medium? Not much. I subscribed and tried writing a few things. After that nothing really changed.

 

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A story of not belonging.

 

Then I read Eat, Pray, Love. I’d watched the movie ten years ago when it came out. I didn’t think it was a memoir. The movie seemed too neat to be real life. Everything fit perfectly together and smoothly transitioned like fiction. I’ve seen a ton of biopics, but it was never so neat. I happily went on for years, bought the book, and eventually read it. It had always been a memoir. The book wasn’t as neat as the movie, but the events were rearranged a little, to fit conventional storytelling craft. I kept merging the images from the movie with images I constructed in my head. Reading to me isn’t a series of phrase but a series of pictures based on the written text.

Eat Pray Love

Liz started in New York and her messy divorce. The book spent way more time before the travel started. The mess with her rebound relationship. Then the happenstance of finding her guru and the Balinese Medicine man. With that, her travels began.

 

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Got to love satire. For the longest time, I didn’t.

 

In Italy, there was so much more than food. Learning the language and living in a city for months. I never knew so much research went into a memoir. Liz explained why Italian is such a pretty language. I fell in love with Italian through reading it. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very enthused to read my first memoir. If Liz wasn’t so funny, I wouldn’t have finished it. I found the description of tastes wanting. I haven’t eaten solid food in years and wanted to imagine the tastes of Italy. The taste should run a few paragraphs in my mind. I was glad to see she asked the locals what was good. That’s the only way.

 

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Ella Dawson. Written really well.

 

The Thanksgiving was a big difference between the book and movie. In the movie, they fell asleep in the dining room. But in the book, the turkey took way longer to cook than they expected. Turkey was for breakfast.

 

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Another article I liked.

 

Then it was off to India and the ashram of her guru. India is a very spiritual place. The saying goes, you walk a few paces and run into a guru of some kind or the other. Gurus are that plentiful in bigger cities. Liz went to a remote ashram filled with foreigners and local devotees. I don’t agree with a few things. I have never learned from a guru and figured out meditation mostly in isolation. I don’t think a guru has to bless you to have a chance at enlightenment. Learning in isolation leads to a longer, meandering, and wandering journey to the same goal. Three months isn’t enough to learn a self-guided meditation practice. I have a lot to learn about describing meditation practices. When I try to explain meditation or my deep experiences, the person listening doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I’ve spent too much time in self-monolog and isolation, that explaining things in an understandable way is really difficult at times. Before writing a memoir on me, I need to learn how of write deep things in a way that other people get.

 

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A deep discussion well written by another writer I like, Emma Lindsey.

 

I don’t believe a set of holy words must be used as a mantra. A mantra should have the required associations in the mind. The final description of Liz’s experience with the divinity inside her wasn’t that clear to me. Some experiences can’t be put into words even by the best. I was nice to see the ashram through the author’s eyes.

 

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A perspective on defining something that shouldn’t need defining in a perfect world. 

 

The Bali part was about balance. I would state it as filling your life based on your loves. Whether it’s meditation, writing, and thought or meditation, love, and writing. Ketut and Balinese culture were strangely familiar to Indian culture and weirdly different. Liz had so many facts and peculiarities that I enjoyed reading. Meeting Filipe was interesting. Ex-pats are a microcosm of the world writ large if everyone wanted chill above all else.

 

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Emma Lindsey figuring things out for us.

 

Her dealings with Wayan, another healer, and Ketut, the medicine man were interesting. Sometimes Ketut didn’t remember some things. And Wayan was a rarity there. She was divorced. The family is really important in Bali and acts like a compass to help navigate the world. Wayan and Liz were both divorced. Then Liz finds a way to help Wayan and works through the hiccup associated with it. Ketut teaches Liz a few mediations and many life lessons.

 

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A possible answer.

 

The third to last chapter felt odd to me. It was a flashback to her first trip to Bali. Liz was silent for a few weeks on a remote island. She eventually discovered that her current life wasn’t working and she needed a change. It felt like an epiphany and it came in the right place. It was placed out of time, towards the end of the novel. The sequence of events in time doesn’t matter to the sequence of the memoir. The majority of the events should be in chronological order but a scene here or there is fine.

 

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Another article for book research.

 

The memoir worked like it was supposed to. Reading a genre before writing in it is essential to the craft. Not sure which ones I’m going to read. I have no idea when I’ll even write a memoir. Everything is up in the air. I’ll work towards getting my deep experiences across on the page. Sometime down the line, I’ll try writing a memoir, maybe. Experience, Write, you know the rest.

 

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A woman working through illness.

 

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Story Engineering: Getting Down to the Story Mechanics

 

Larry Brooks is a published author that has writing classes/workshops. In Story Engineering, he shows us what he teaches his students about writing fiction. Apparently, writing a screenplay is very easy in comparison. Books out there detail the rules required in an acceptable screenplay. Larry Brooks has brought that over to fiction writing. If you ignore the condescension of organic writes, the book brings a needed insight to novel writing.

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Story Engineering starts with an argument against the formulaic nature of planning out a story using his components. The difference between art and putting matching things into a formula is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant while reading it. That’s one of the few things not explained in Story Engineering. I figured out a possible explanation. The various story elements, concept, story structure, character, theme, writer’s voice, and scene construction have a synergy between them. Each element builds on another. For example, first person, solitary confinement, weak mental state, and being alone is inhumane. With first person, we are with the inmate at all times. There’s minimal interaction with other people. Add the weak mental state and there’s a compelling story. Add examples of what other inmates in solitary confinement come out as. That makes a pretty good story right?

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Concept is the central question of the story. Story structure is the pacing of the story. The author does a really good job of getting this point across through the book. What plot event should happen at certain points throughout the story? Several movies and books are discussed as examples. Every book and movie I remember follows the plot events. I’m not sure about the timing yet.

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Character is presented as a personality selector you would use in The Sims. Different characteristics that can be tweaked to show the universality of humanity. Figuring out how each characteristic affects the others is where the art part comes in. Then the character arc. That was completely new to me.

 

I use a few lines of research to understand how characters operate. First, observing people and imagining what goes through their heads. Talking to people and looking for the motivations. Deeply analyzing my psyche through meditative practice. And method acting in my head. What would this character do if that happened?

 

Theme is the meaning behind the story. The story can give an opinion or explore a question. Figuring out what to say helps put it into the novel.

 

Writer’s voice is something that needs to be discovered through writing and trying different things. Scene construction states each scene has a mission. The scene needs to be short enough to accomplish its mission.

 

Reading Story Engineering will forever change my novel writing. I was already close, and now I get it for the first time. Larry Brooks knows his stuff. Great book Mr. Brooks.

 

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Book 2: The Characters that Make the Tapestry

 

The Trouble with Dreams requires really strong characters to pull off the story I have in mind. Six characters that allow us into their lives to see it for what it is. Then we need to peer deeper to understand their inner dreams. Also what factors are preventing them from what they truly, deeply want in life? That’s a lot of weight placed on small human shoulders. Let’s make them mighty.

 

What prevents people from getting addicted to prescription drugs? A support network. I wanted this place addiction to be stronger than reality. Showing people at various levels of success would do that. I wanted average people for their lot in life. And what’s the best way to reframe addiction in a way that’s new, visceral, and real? Make the addiction instead an experience that’s their dream life incarnate. And there we have the concept.

 

I needed compelling characters that go through this experience. I started with a homeless veteran with PTSD and cancer. Uplifting, right? Jk. A large percentage of the homeless are veterans. I wanted to make it a choice superficially, but we all know there’s more to it than that. Chris manages his PTSD by limiting stimulus that triggers his symptoms, like sound and movement. He has a family ready to help, but everyday things trigger him. The potential for him to hurt a loved one is always there.

 

Then we have an ex-con. It started as a male character but later turned into a woman. Getting a job as an ex-con is really difficult. Most ex-felons are black and reoffend. Unable to get a legal job, she returns to the only thing she knows, car theft. I know very little about low-tech car theft. Mix in those wireless key fobs and then it gets interesting. Software defined radio, RFID, Bluetooth hacking, wifi hacking, deep packet inspection, copying packets and retransmitting. Computer stuff. Never actually done it. I know the general principles and the thought process. She’s trying to be reunited with her daughter.

 

Then we have Elise (Lotus Elise comes to mind). Elise is a high-end call girl. The company keeps employees under tight control by getting them hooked on prescription painkillers. I wanted Elise to have surrogate relationships with her clients. I also wanted the story of how she got there.

 

Then we have an author. Michael wants to publish a romance novel, but his first book is a tremendously well-selling pick-up artist guide. He’s hung up on a patient he had as a therapist and is nearly in love with his escort. I connected each character to every other to resemble the fact that everything’s connected. Michael stays sane by picking up women for fun. That should work out really well for him, right? Sarcastic.

 

Then we have a closeted lesbian lawyer. She has a partner that the firm doesn’t know about. Add a nice apartment and a few cats. Her struggle is getting pregnant through IVF. Some medical issues causing it to be very difficult.

 

Then a millionaire founder like Elon Musk. Supermodel wife and the works.

 

Finally, we have a psychologist that interacts with all the rest. Larissa Emery is the common thread through the story. I wasn’t clear on her storyline at the beginning. It grew into her suspicion that her husband was cheating on her. She finds the truth and deals with it. Her interaction with her patients (the other characters), help her decide what to do.

 

I wrote each point of view separately as if writing an independent story without worrying about fitting everything together. I started with Chris. To get the story under 50,000 words, each of the seven parts should be 7,000 words. Chris’s part took 10,000. My word counts would be higher for the other characters. My vision for the story was too big for my goals. I cut back the characters to four. Chris, Elise, Michael, and Larissa. That grew into The Trouble with Dreams. The entire first draft took ten months and now out to beta readers.

 

GK

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Book 2: The Law of Averages or The Trouble with Dreams

 

I tried getting Remember an Agent. That work was the best I could manage then. It was sheer audacity to believe Remember was the correct fit to be published. Since then, I’ve learned so much about writing. I needed something more relevant and approachable. More than that, it needed to be marketable. Would the work be appealing beyond the angle of dropping the reader into the character’s shoes?

 

That gave me a hit list. A list of things that the next book required. Some givens were already established so far in my writing career. A psychological thriller, futuristic optional, character driven, and involving love somewhere along the line. I also wanted something that’s set in reality, relatable, 50,000 words, and with average characters. Not all analytical scientists. I also wanted a few hangers-on from the Remember Sequel. That ended up as multiple points of view. I also wanted simple, easy to understand prose that allows the story to get across.

 

I came up with a few ideas/concepts.

1. the Earth is really one big machine that can teleport

2. a ghost sucks life force and vanishes after the people die

3. a cat turns into a human, helped to become a successful human designing cat toys

4. an alien world with varied population, mainly very thin humanoids that neatly float away without gear weighing them down, from high gravity home world chases down criminal just to allow escape

5. snake civilization of high intelligence makes heaters from fire to stay warm and hunt down larger animals  for food

 

And finally the idea I stuck with:

  1. place addiction

 

That idea came from a weird place. We all know about addiction to chemicals like cigarettes, alcohol, opioids, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, marijuana, and various other things. The jargon abounds with these obviously. Let’s extend that to something more like love. Put on your nihilist hat, please. Love is basically an addiction to a person. Being around a particular person you love, triggers a highly complex, not well understood the neurochemical cascade of dopamine, oxytocin, and numerous others. Now, what about a place? Can people become chemically addicted to a place? Yes, if there’s an association or neural connection that links getting high with a specific place. The next obvious question is what happens if the place no longer works or the dosing ends? If a junkie can only get subpar dope, what happens? Well, we have a pretty good idea. What happens when a great relationship ends abruptly? Hate? Confusion? Betrayal? Inconsolable pain? Suicide? Take your pick. Initially, the idea just appeared as if from nowhere. Looking enough gave the root and stem of the idea/flower.

 

GK

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