Poems and a Creek and Such (revisiting an old spot of time)

When I was a freshman in college, I had the not-uncommon experience of feeling 150682234% overwhelmed. It was honestly a feat of grace and strength that I stuck it out, but by the second semester, how happy I was that I did!

As that terrified, homesick 18-year-old, I went on a choir retreat and nearly had a complete breakdown which resulted in the composition of what I consider my first “real” poem. Now, I am not quite as proud of it and see its many faults, but here is the link to it just the same: Poems and Trees and Such

This past semester (my second-to-last as an undergraduate) has been a whirlwind, but it has also been characterized by a level of calm which I never thought I’d achieve as a freshman. Naturally, when I revisited the site of my first poem (written in that state of anxiety), I wrote more poetry in an outpouring of gratitude, mixed with a certain melancholy that the time has flown by faster than I ever imagined possible.

In the craziness of this semester, though, I forgot this scribbling and only just rediscovered it as I leafed (pun, as always, intended) through my journal. So, now that I have a bit of breathing space, I’ll share it:

This stream I knew is dry now
and its rocks are all laid bare.
It buzzes, stinging, where once it washed
with water and with tears.

The rattling, skeleton tree limbs
stretch but don’t quite reach
across the dusty canyon bed
or seasons since we first did meet–
I and this crumbling, crackling creak.

But still the lone lorn pools reflect
in their barren, dirty sheen,
the ghost of the girl gone and grown
who now returns to where she’d been.

I see myself in retrograde:
this fount is as I was.
I was first the barren stream,
the jagged soul with aching limbs,
and he, the babbling merry thing.

Then it was green and I was young,
but worn in ways I am not now.
I came to cry, but now to sing,
for here first from my heart did spring
a gush of poetry.

And, in being made so free
by nature then to nurture words
and, drinking of living water,
to be rewritten by the Word.

And now, although I have come back,
content as I was not then,
I find I cannot return that
happy favor to this friend.

My cup o’erflows and I’ve grown strong;
now I’m the one bubbling in song.
My ghost meets me in the creek-bed’s death
and, thankful, I draw in freshened breath;
Although we have now traded place,
I bless this stream and its gentle grace.

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Method…Writing?

Method acting is a key point in my novel. One of the characters is an actor who has become “stuck” in the role that he last performed. He has lost himself into the character he was contracted to play. There are obviously a MANY problems that arise from this (many dark moments for this poor guy), but there is one lesson to learn for our benefit:

Method Creating.

First of all, to create art, you cannot always consider yourself an “aspiring artist.” If I had stayed in the mindset of “I’ll someday be a pianist” I would not have gone far as a musician. Instead, I learned, over many years of self-doubt that if you want to achieve something, you have to live into that dream now as if it is already reality. In much better words:

You have to live as if you already are what/who you want to be. If you want to be a great pianist, you have to live as if you already are one by practicing hard, humbly listening to both praise and criticism, and making original (even if not at first brilliant) artistic decisions. For too many years I worked my tail off and studied like mad, but was crippled by the thought that I had not yet achieved, that I was not yet the musician I wanted to be. In one sense this is true. I had and still do have far to go and we should NEVER stop pushing ourselves to be better or else our art (and, worse, our very selves as human beings) will stagnate.

However, you have to live and press forward with the conviction that you already are that musician (or artist) that you want to be, letting this motivate you to live up to your future vocation/goal in the present practice.

Oddly enough, I have never had a problem claiming to be a writer. To be fair, I probably should have more qualms about my claims to being a writer, for I am soooooooooo far from where I want to be. I don’t have a doctorate, haven’t published a novel, have not been invited to give guest lectures, etc.

But I am confident that one day I can reach these levels because I have already adopted “writer” as my current role. By living as a “writer” in the present, I am more motivated to actually pursue this goal than I would be had I remained an “aspiring writer” or “someday writer.”

So, I have adopted a sort of role even if it is not brought to total fruition yet, and my approach to my art is made the better for it.

What else can my poor method acting character teach us?

Surround yourself with relics.

My novel includes, to name a few, a Venetian mask, a violin, a huge volume of Sherlock Holmes, Italian postcards, red wine, a portrait, and about a million cappuccinos.

And I have all but the wine sitting beside me as I write. I can feel the characters speaking to me from their favorite curios. I hold in my hand the mask that the actor dons in a pivotal scene. I sniff the pages of the book another character read as a child. I drink the espresso one character conjures.

Through the little souvenirs I have gathered since the conception of this novel idea, I am able to enter into the realm of my story. I have adopted the role of writer, of creator, and, using tokens I have gathered from this world, am able to enter into another of my own making.

Give it a shot, maybe. What title/role would help you pursue excellence and dreams? And what little things can you surround yourself with to foster creativity and insight? Comment and let me know! I’d love to hear how your artistic life, dear reader, is thriving.

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Slight disclaimer: When I say to live into the role of what you want to be, I do not mean to adopt this as your identity. The character I used as the original example suffers this exact downfall and, let me tell you, it does not go well. Our full identity cannot be found in any temporal or merely-human characteristic and any “roles” must be held subject and united to the enduring identity promised in faith. (Indeed, though, this identity too is already given and, at the same time, yet to come, informing our lives in the present by assuring us of the future!)

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Final note: The novel featured in the photo at the top is AMAZING. Yet another reason to be excited about being a writer. 😉

Mariners

We are mariners, mariners we,

made for the land, parted from sea

from that second day and still –

striving as on the earth to fill-

drawn by its alluring, billowy waves-

we drink down the depths

to find watery graves.

.

We hear the call, that age-old call,

a whisper first, a breeze enthralls,

that grows and storms, restless ocean

which floods within the hearts of men.

And from our own mouths, it ever rails:

“Depart, depart, and set your sails!”

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And so headlong into the deep

we crash from quick-eroding beach.

Toeing the sand was never enough;

we ached to ride the riptides rough.

.

Water there upon land gives life

but here the salt-foam drains it dry.

But never we stop to ponder: why?

Why to the sea, which roars, “Stay back!”

Why tempt a beast, that is bound to attack?

But the sea is within us; we ate of its fruit

it drowns from inside ’til shore zephyrs fall mute.

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We fashion our ships, believing them arks

to keep us safe from the ghostly white sharks.

But up on their decks as we voyage across

we all yet shoot down heaven’s albatross.

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Best stay inland, best anchor your soul.

Our bodies might swim, but this old sailor knows:

there is no raft or vessel that might

bear us when the steady dock’s out of sight.

Cast out the life-sucking salt in your heart!

Rebuff its waves with its own cry: “Depart!”

Royal: A Typewriter Story

I feel I should offer a few disclaimers before you read the following story:

  1. I do not drink, but apparently the narrator does.
  2. I love typewriters and mean no offense.
  3. No cats were harmed in the making of this story.

Royal

December 23, 2017

It was an impulse buy, totally impractical as demonstrated by the fact that I am typing this on my laptop instead of the metallic clunkers of the aforesaid impulse buy.

But I’ve been suffering writer’s block for some time now and even during short periods of creative constipation (my wife hates the term, but it makes me chuckle) I tend to be reckless, spontaneous. Thank God that Susan has a steady job and, better, an even head.

But this bout of writer’s block is the worst yet. It’s been nearly six months since I’ve written anything worth sharing. The only words I’ve penned are those such as I’m scribbling now: the exaggerated ravings of my private journal. Usually I just use it to jot down ideas I don’t want to lose; it serves as overflow control for the ideas that bubble up in my brain.

But since July the pages once tattooed with colorful bursts of inspiration have devolved into rants about my vacant mind. There seems to be a wall between me and ideas worth writing and this wall seems to be made of blank, white pages. Funny, though, these white pages used to be a source of wonder for me, like a fresh snowfall just waiting to be traipsed through and molded into snowmen and forts. But now, I cannot bear the cold of these empty pages, for I am armed with no thoughts of how to shape them. I’ve run out of the childlike boldness that lead me once to rush headlong into the snow and feel I have become pragmatic (Susan still disagrees) and reserved. No dangerous ideas for me, thank you very much. I am being forced into retirement ten years early, it seems.

Susan would say I am overreacting. “Every artist has a dry spell,” she says. “It’s like the weather; it can’t always rain.”

Her words are comforting, falling gently in her lilting mezzo, but I can’t agree with her. Every artist has a dry spell, but not me. Even Beethoven took breaks to walk through the natural world, pondering and refreshing his mind after explosive productivity. But I’ve never needed such times of refreshment, for I only am at rest when I am doing what I was made to do: write.

Hence, the impulse buy.

There’s an antique store downtown that’s served as the setting for more than one of my stories. Something about the musty air there breathes ideas, much like the dust of an old library is thick with words. I was wandering about under the pretense of doing some Christmas shopping. (Funny, I know. Susan always takes care of that and anything I get her is promptly returned under the guise of “not fitting quite right,” even when what I bought is not clothing.) But, even so, I spent the better part of the afternoon pacing outside of the shop and the better part of the evening wandering around inside it, conscience of the fact that closing time was soon but no particularly caring. After all, my short story, “The Shop,” increased their business enough that the manager can hardly object to my prolonged presence. For all he knew, I was dreaming up another bestseller to boost patronage.

I was not.

Finally, even the hopes for increased shoppers and income could not keep the manager away from his family any longer. (It was the night before Christmas Eve, after all; the preparations were beyond those of a wife alone and all husbands realize that, while they might not do it correctly, they are at least expected to offer help with the holiday preparations.)

“Sir,” he greeted. “Can I help you find anything?”

It was a polite way of asking if he could help me find the door.

“No, thank you,” I replied, continuing to browse the crackling spines of long-abandoned books. It always encouraged and disheartened me to find books in an antique store; on one hand, these works endured for decades and even centuries, but on the other hand, they were long abandoned as reading and had fossilized into vintage decor. It is at once every author’s dream and nightmare and I am fascinated every time.

The manager watched me for a moment, his mouth opening and closing like a fish.

“Any recommendations?” I asked, to break the silence. He breathed a sigh of relief and I expected him to recommend that I check out the pub across the street. Rather, he nodded and disappeared around the shelves. I followed, finding him standing beside a sight so odd I was disappointed in myself for not having noticed it earlier. After all, writers specialize in oddities. (Susan often jokes that this is because writers are oddities. I quite agree with her.)

Before me, the manager stood beside an enormous birdcage made of cast iron. It’s bars were thicker than those of a typical birdcage and my mind suggested at once the image of an enormous raptor roosting in it; no harmless sparrow or lark would need such a barrier. It was a cage made to house a vulture. And then, I noticed what it held: a heavy black beast rested inside bearing lettered teeth and a crest of yellowed paper. On its flat, metal jaw was the emblem: Royal.

“A fine typewriter, I do say,” said the manager.

“It certainly is,” I agreed. I stared at it and had the eery feeling that it was staring back. Being in a birdcage made it feel alive. My fingers twitched. Used to the ease of my laptop’s keyboard, they were aching for a challenge. I could already feel them digging into the weighty keys of the typewriter, could hear the clackity-clack of their action and the chipper bell announcing that I ought to reset the page. I should note that I have never actually used a typewriter, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that all the true writers have at some time or another craved to try.

“It’s a bargain, really,” the manager was saying, but before he could finish, I’d opened my wallet and then waited as he extracted the typewriter from its prison.

“Why was it in there?” I asked simply to make conversation; there is nor ever has been any rhyme or reason to the displays in that marvelous shop.  This very lack of order is what makes it such a great honeypot of inspiration.

“Oh,” he gave off a chuckle, “he’s a fearsome beastie, that Royal.”

I laughed and took the boxed-up typewriter, the door jingling merrily as it swung shut behind me and the manager releasing a sigh of relief and already dialing up his wife to apologize for the delay.

 

December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas, indeed! An idea has dawned and shines like the star we sing of in church. I woke this morning before the break of dawn, something I have not done since our children were home and young and overeager to unwrap Santa’s gifts.

But I woke and felt immediately that this Christmas was something to greet with the excitement of a child. Something was going to happen, was already happening. I just needed to be awake to witness it.

I lay still, Susan’s ever-even breathing beside me, wondering what it was that I felt was to happen. After twenty minutes, I felt silly. What did I think would happen? Was I expecting there to arise a clatter on the rooftop? To spring from my bed to see what was the matter? I started reciting this cheesy Christmas poem to myself as I fell back into a doze.

But then, I did hear something. But it was not a clatter. It was a clackity-clack. Believe it or not, there is a difference between onomatopoeias; I’ve read enough children’s books in my time as a parent to know.

I sucked in my breath, waiting. The noise fell silent, but I knew I did not imagine it. Braving the cold air, I tiptoed to my office where the typewriter sat in its box, unopened, a Christmas gift to myself. I listened, but heard nothing but the ringing of silence. I could tell by the cold and this crystalline silence that it had snowed overnight.

I peeled open the box. The typewriter sat nestled among tissue paper just as the store manager had wrapped it. I took it from the box and set it on my desk beside my charging laptop. It was silent. Though the air was still, the yellowed paper left by a long-lost writer waved a ghostly greeting.

I squinted at the paper. The ink was faded, but there were certainly words there. I flicked on the light and held the page up to it. I could barely make it out,  but when I did, I cried out in delight. There, printed on the page who knows how long ago was my next idea. I have no qualms over taking it, though it was surely dreamed up and written by some author past. He or she is long gone based on the yellowing of the page and I am a mind in need of ideas, in need of words. And there, before me in the light of Christmas morning, the words have come.

I had never hummed Christmas carols with more vigor than I did this morning, flipping open my laptop and pounding away, writing three thousand words of a story before I heard Susan’s alarm sound. Oh, glorious day! Oh, happy impulse buy! A word has been born again in my mind, though it was written first ages ago.

 

January 1, 2018

I have scarcely left my office since Christmas. The festivities over, I locked myself inside with a cup of coffee and no blankets (I write best chilled). Bless Susan. She always remembers to bring me refills on coffee and make sure I eat every couple hours… I really need to do something nice for her once I cash in this story. It’s going to be my best yet; I can feel it in my soul as I pound away at the feather-light keys of my laptop.

I rejoice, a writer restored to creativity, and it is no chore to write the story that dances in my imagination. In fact, to write it is the most natural thing in the world to me. That’s why not writing, not dreaming up ideas, was so painful; it goes against my entire nature as a sub-creator. But I am restored. A few faded words on an old typewriter have revived my lazy mind and I am back in the race, streaking past the word count for a novella in record time. I could make this a full-length novel someday. But for now, I must submit it to my editor before she loses faith in my productivity.

I am at rest as I do the work I was born to do. Susan understands and that is what makes us such a good pair. I am wild, spontaneous, and dark, whereas she is calm, practical, and optimistic. But we both agree that one cannot be comfortable unless doing the work one was born to do. And so she balances her work as a professor of mathematics and I power my way through another bestseller.

But I digress.

This will be a killer little book, not just because it is about a little killer. Rather morbid for an idea born on Christmas, but I like it nonetheless. I look fondly at the typewriter as I scribble out this journal entry. It grins back at me with its toothy keys and I cannot suppress a shudder.
Perhaps it is too cold in here.

I glanced back at the typewriter just now and a gruesome image of it licking its black lips crossed my mind. I should laugh. It’s such a ridiculous idea. Besides, I have better things to think about than freakish fancies: I am writing a marvelous little book and what better way to begin the New Year than with a new creation?

 

January  25, 2018

I’ve been too long absent from my journal, but I have been in the same writing craze as I was when last I wrote. But now I am finished and the manuscript is bundled neatly and en route to my editor. I’ve never written anything so good so quickly and I am shaken. I can scarcely believe it. But I can at last breathe a sigh of contentment, knowing now that my creative dry spell was a temporary trial and perhaps even lead to this great rush of words.

Susan and I went out to dinner for the first time in a month. I listened to her talk about the university and plans for a new math and science center, but I admit I was distracted. As we walked downtown searching for a restaurant, we passed the antique shop and I was set to thinking about the typewriter. I wrote my novella on my laptop and my journal I write by hand, but I feel I owe the typewriter for the idea that revived my spirit. It was the messenger of the words that inspired me, after all.

I could easily restock its paper supply, but where to purchase ribbon? And does it need any maintenance? Why bother…I wouldn’t actually type on it. Not seriously, anyway. But it could be fun to fiddle with now and again.

As soon as we returned home, I went online and ordered several different kinds of typewriter ribbon as well as a repair kit, just in case. I could use a hobby, I told myself, to excuse the money spent.

“Soon you’ll be good as new!” I said, patting the Royal on its iron top. It clicked as I touched and I jerked my hand away. Then I laughed at myself for doing so. It’s just a typewriter and not even a working one.

 

February 1, 2018

My editor’s feedback was excellent. Usually  my manuscripts return red-penned and gory, looking like victims of some great grammarian battle. But she didn’t even return it this time. Instead, she called me up and asked if she might just forward it to the publisher.

I thought it a prank. This never happens. Not even the best writers get away without a number of revisions. I look at the typewriter as if it is somehow responsible, but know that’s ridiculous.

“Sure,” I said, not wanting to press her. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, as the old saying goes.

“Terrific,” she said. “This is without a doubt your best work yet, Brad. Keep it up.”

“Thanks,” I said before hanging up. My jaw is still hanging open.

I spent the rest of the day drinking and tinkering with the typewriter. It’s great fun to pound away at its keys, but I am so slow at it I know I’ll never write anything serious on it. Still, I feel like a real writer when I kick back with a drink in one hand and typewriter keys under the other.

What am I saying? I am a real writer! Perhaps I need to cut myself off for now.

 

February 15, 2018

Two weeks. It’s been two weeks and I’m ready for another idea. Oh yes, and Valentine’s Day was yesterday. That was nice, as usual.

But an idea. I was alright to take those two weeks off in light of the news from my editor, but now I’m rearing to get back into the race. Until I think of something, I’ll fiddle with the typewriter some more.

 

February 16, 2018

Hurrah! An idea struck not five minutes after I penned those last words yesterday. Not another novella- it’s too soon to launch into a bigger project anyway- but a nice short story. And by ‘nice,’ I naturally  mean ‘horrifying and thought-provoking,’ but those are ultimately the same thing.

And you’ll never believe where the idea came from! The typewriter! I was idly skimming the words I’d typed last on it when I saw at the bottom a line I do not remember writing. But I must have…after all, I’d had a couple too many Poe family eggnogs before last I pounded at its keys. It took barely three minutes for me to read the words, imagine a plot, and open a new document.

Now, not six hours later, I have a revised and chilling product. I love it. Oh, being in love with one of your creations is the most wonderful feeling. I always understand the opening chapters of Genesis best when I have just produced something I can proclaim “very good.”

Thank you, typewriter, for holding onto an idea I might otherwise have forgotten amidst multiple cups of eggnog. When I went just now to pat it in thanks, I could swear I saw it’s keys shift. I must have accidentally pressed something, but I still felt a shiver down my spine. In that moment, it was eerily resemblant of a beast baring its teeth.

But no, my mind is just in a whimsical state. As I look now, it is the same chunk of still metal that it was before.

No more eggnog for me! But I can’t help being a little giddy off my own ideas, now, can I?

 

February 20, 2018

I woke to a piece of good news and a piece of unfortunate news. The good news is that my novella is already at the top of the publisher’s list and will be on its way into the world in record time. The bad news…

My laptop is broken. There is a massive crack across the base of the keyboard. I heard a crash last night and thought perhaps a shelf had fallen off the wall, but when I checked in the morning, everything appeared in order. Everything, that is, except for the cracked laptop. The typewriter was disturbed too, though whatever caused the breakage must not have been able to hurt the iron of the Royal. I reset the typewriter and am scheduled to have my laptop repaired as soon as possible.

But what could have caused this?

 

February 21, 2018

When I went to retrieve my laptop this morning to take it in for repairs, I was met with a horrific sight. It lay spreadeagled on the floor, like a book whose covers have been splayed and torn. The repairman said it was beyond fixing, though the crack I found yesterday would have been alright.

I asked Susan if she had perhaps bumped it, but both of us know that’s unlikely as I’ve always been the clumsy one and she has never so much as chipped a glass. Our cat has not entered my office since the allergy fiasco three years ago. I have nobody but myself to blame. I suppose I left it balanced precariously on the desk…

I went back into the office to investigate just now and, as before, nothing was amiss. Nothing besides the Royal, which had shifted slightly from the place I remember it. But I clearly cannot trust my memory to be exact. When I moved it back in place, I rediscovered words I must have typed on it last time I was fiddling with it in a fit of idleness. The words were chilling and, not surprisingly, I do not remember composing them, but I will take credit and employ them in a horror story soon enough.

 

February 24, 2018

Speaking of horror, the past few days have been terrible. I woke on the 23rd to find my journal in tatters! It was clamped under the metal jaws of the Royal and for a split second I was inspired by the thought that the typewriter looked exactly like a predator and my poor journal its prey, pages fluttering limply like the wings of a slain bird.

But the fancy faded as I realized the extent of the damage. All but the final page upon which I had written had been slashed and torn in the most awful manner. I blamed the cat, much to Susan’s protests that Millicent had not been anywhere near my office, and tossed her (the cat- not Susan) unceremoniously out into the muddy snow.

I’d better lock the office door. Millicent is too smart for her own good and one more act of destruction will lead to hers…

 

February 26, 2018

My last prediction, scribbled on some spare scraps of paper in the absence of my dearly departed journal, came true.

Susan, usually so calm and collected, has been inconsolable. Millicent (too smart for her own good, I said!) found her way into the office and managed to pull the Royal typewriter off the desk, right down on top of her, crushing her small ribcage. Susan doesn’t believe this is possible, but I see no other explanation. Irritating as her fur might have been to my eyes and nose, I never hated the feline enough to plot her demise! 

Well, I must go begin digging a small grave for poor Millie. But with Susan glaring at me from her teary eyes, I feel a little as if the grave were my own.

 

March 1, 2018

Things are looking up. I’ve been writing these journal entries on loose-leaf paper, but will purchase a binder soon. I’ve discarded of Millicent’s things and Susan seems slightly less upset. My new laptop is set to be delivered tomorrow evening.

And that’s not a moment too soon! I’ve been tampering with the Royal and whenever I return to read the words I’ve typed mindlessly, I find a new story idea brewing! I do fear that my memory is becoming lax, though, for I don’t often remember the story ideas that I later return to love.

But I’ll just let Susan know and take whatever vitamins she recommends without complaining. I am content, after all, for it seems my creative block has been lifted and ideas just flow and flow and flow.

Oh, how thankful I am for this impulse buy. As I write this, I glance occasionally over at the Royal, even stopping to pat its cold head as if it were a cat. This makes me laugh, though I cannot tell poor Susan: Who needs a cat when you have a beastie like this typewriter?

Funny, I can almost hear it purring. My imagination is such fun, much more fun than a snappy memory.

 

March 2, 2018

I fell asleep in my office, writing away by hand at an idea that I was particularly struck by. But I woke feeling that I had been struck by more than an idea. Not only did I have a pounding headache (Susan confirms that there is a lump on my skull she cannot account for) but my writing hand was squashed beneath the Royal.

How did I manage this in my sleep? Unless Susan decided to change her entire character and begin playing gruesome pranks, I believe I ought to see a sleep specialist. It seems perhaps Millicent was innocent and I might have a critical case of sleep walking.

 

March 4, 2018

It’s getting difficult to write. My writing hand did not hurt terribly at first, but it has swollen tremendously. Thankfully my new laptop is here so I can type again.

 

March 6, 2018

This is Susan. I am dictating for my husband, whose hand is out of commission. He blames the Royal, but I blame too little sleep and too much frantic writing late at night under the influence. He says not to write that. Too late. Sorry, dear. It’s not often I get to put my perspective in words and I’m enjoying this a bit more than I ought.

I put the Royal on the top shelf in the office, out of the way. I think it’s becoming an obsession and that it is not quite healthy. The hubby says that’s not true. He also says he hates the term “hubby,” but last I checked, I’m the one with the pen in hand so I get to decide the wording for once.

 

March 8, 2018

A full day away from writing was a torture only a little worse than listening to Susan write in my journal. I could not suffer either again and so am writing- painstakingly- with my left hand. Must use shorter sentences. That hurt.

But I can type.

And have an idea.

So type I shall.

 

March 9, 2018

It’s the wee hours. Been typing all night. Susan asleep next door. Office clock ticking. Want a drink. And sleep. Almost done with story.

Heard a noise. Like clackity-clack. Ha. Clackity. Hard to write with left hand. Kind of fun.

Sounds like a typewriter. Weird.

Did the Royal shift? It’s on the shelf just up there, above my head. Still there, barely over the edge.

Over the edge…

Oh dear.

I can almost imagine it falling and crushing me…like poor Millie. Chomping down on my neck…like my poor journal. Cracking my bones…like the laptop.

But that’s ridiculous. Silly.

It’s there, though. I can see it now.

Over the edge…

Over…

O-!

Beautiful Lines

As a writer, I spend a great deal of time editing and lamenting over my own work. Admittedly, I probably should spend more time revising papers than text messages, (yay, overthinking!) but in either case I am painfully aware of my weaknesses as a writer.

However, sometimes I surprise myself as the ink on my page forms something truly lovely. My next story will not be published for at least a few more days, but in the meantime, here are some lines that I found to be beautiful (or, at least, intriguing) as I reread my first draft:

“I recognize the bounce in her step. It is the dance of a writer who has just written something with which she has fallen wholeheartedly in love.”

 

“On occasion [my journal] explodes into poetry and that’s when I know I either am going to be brilliant or mad.”

 

“I like this little idea of mine, in all its ragged swaddling clothes of free verse.”

 

“She either doesn’t believe me or is undaunted by lunatics. If the latter, she will make an outstanding writer.”

 

“Finals are over and the university students are coming to life again…I like to see them laughing again, going on dates again, reading for pleasure again. Best yet, all three at once.”

 

“They are flirting by arguing whether Jane Austen or Emily Bronte is better. I hope they settle on Austen…any relationship founded on Bronte is doomed from the start.”

 

“A steaming beverage in a warm mug is often the friendliest of muses. To the creator of such, I owe this work.”

 

Writing: Expectations vs. Reality

  1. Expectation: Showing off your stellar vocabulary. Reality: Spending ten minutes trying to remember how to spell “potpourri” because you’re too proud to look it up.
  2. Expectation: Writing elegant rhymes to express your emotion. Reality: Sounding like an angsty Dr. Seuss.
  3. Expectation: Writing free verse poetry that seems authentic and avant garde. Reality: Sounding like an angsty and, now, drugged Dr. Seuss.
  4. Expectation: Scribbling thoughts on random scraps of paper because inspiration strikes at unexpected moments. Reality: Looking like a conspiracy theorist at best or a serial killer at worst as you frantically try to assemble your notes.
  5. Expectation: Making keen, discrete observations of your surroundings for later use. Reality: Looking like a creep when you make eye contact with a potential character and being mistaken for a critic as you analyze your favorite cafe.
  6. Expectation: Having movies and theme parks made after your bestselling novels. Reality: Writing silly blog posts late at night. (Unless you are J.K. Rowling, in which case the reality is still “having movies and theme parks made after your bestselling novels.”)
  7. Expectation: Carefully crafting characters that perfectly follow the planned plot. Reality: Controlling your characters is like herding winged cats. Not only are they cats, but now they can fly.
  8. Expectation: Planning a time to write and doing so in an orderly fashion. Reality: “THE VOICES IN MY HEAD SAID I MUST WRITE NOW!” (usually “now” is in the middle of another project, late at night, or somewhere without any form of writing material whatsoever)
  9. Expectation: People reading your silly blog posts all the way through and gaining an internet following. Reality: Your fan club continuing to consist mainly of your grandma, your best friend, and the fake cat lady blog your mom made to spam you.
  10. Expectation: Having many writing woes to blog about. Reality: Only being able to come up with nine and realizing that is also a problem you can add to the list.

I had fun jotting this down and think this might turn into another #WriterProblem series! Do you have any writing expectations vs. realities? Share them in the comments!

The Girl in the Red Dress

23517777_1510531702365350_5454757495854809805_nI am a pianist, but I have long suffered from stage fright. My junior undergraduate piano recital was yesterday and, true to my philosophy that no art is complete without a proper understanding of other art forms, I used literature such as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to create program notes to give greater depth to the pieces that I played.

As I was writing these notes, I realized: Why not also use literature and this wonderful union of my two arts to ease my stage fright? What if I wrote a story tracing the ideal progression of  my recital and pretended that I was an audience member?

So I did. And, to my delight, it helped exponentially! Although I was still incredibly nervous, as soon as I stepped on stage, I was no longer scared little Ryanne, but the Girl in Red that I had seen perform her recital through the eyes of my narrator. It was marvelous! I felt like I had already seen the recital and so was able to imagine I was listening and enjoying the musical and literary journey rather than sitting on stage performing.

Obviously no live performance is perfect, but I felt that by writing this, I was able to play my repertoire more confidently and thus communicate their themes more effectively.

So, my dear musical readers, here is my recital in literary form:

Oh! I should tell you my program as well so this makes more sense:

  1. Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No. 2  I. Largo-Allegro by Ludwig van Beethoven  (1770-1827)
  2. Miroirs  II. “Oiseaux Tristes” (“Sad Birds”) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

  3. Années de pèlerinage II, S. 161 No. 7 Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

So a piece about the storms of life, lonely birds, and Dante’s Inferno. Fun, right?

The Girl in the Red Dress

We came by invitation, to see a girl we know. She’s quite a character…lanky, blonde, eyes that are intense one minute and twinkling with laughter the next, always writing or dreaming of writing, usually stepping in a limping time to a tune nobody else can hear. But she’s anxious. She overworks herself and doubts her work. She is likely trembling backstage now, her hands nearly purple with cold from the frigid hall and her nervous heart. Likely she is pacing and wringing these hands, trying to calm herself and warm them.

I send a quick prayer up past the cracked ceiling of the hall for her. Lord, calm her nerves and let her play with the excellence and emotion with which she has practiced daily.

As I whisper “Amen,” my hands join the chorus of clapping. She has stepped onstage.

But this is someone different. Still her…and yet not. She’s taller. Her arms are stronger. Her lips match her blazing red dress and yet the blue of her eyes flash and burn the brightest. The click of her heels echo through the hall, a measured drumroll for her own performance.

But she looks upward when she looks outward, as if her audience is not below but somewhere beyond the ceiling’s crevices, in the region my prayer just ascended.

A bow.

She sits.

Silence.

The audience scuffles, trying to hush the murmur of their program notes. Program notes…about books, of course. I glance down at them but it’s too dark to read now. To the glow of the stage I return.

The ghost of notes begin; substantial yet ethereal. How? I hardly dare to breathe, unsure whether I really heard them and yet they are resounding gently through the hall. It’s a mist of sound. And then the mist is broken by the steady gallop of a frightened yet determined human tread.

But the mist is back.

And now the running. It’s an uphill run- not fast but intense and ever moving.

And suddenly it’s a battle cry interchanged with a plea. And now a whirlwind. All melting seamlessly into each other.

But the mist comes again, for the adventurer has reached a peak in the mountain range. It is cold, yet clear, colors of sunlight radiating softly through the curtains of mountaintop clouds. Peace descends like a gentle rain, drawing us upward.

Then the battle rages once more, startling and yet not surprising…Did not we feel in our souls the same ever-present struggle of this piece? Beethoven was too knowledgeable. He knew himself- that is, he knew all of us – too well.

Another moment of peace…yet not peace. It’s a cry. The sound of an oboe as the sound of our very hearts. It is a recitative and it is reflective, but it is not weak.

And then a piercing urgency and pain returns, then whirling and, before I knew it, the piece concludes; urgent and yet not rushed. It is reminiscent of intentionally restraining the racing heart. Controlling our steps if we cannot quite control our fears.

Silence falls. I can see the moth-like breath of the girl in red; it flutters, shaky, but soft.

The scene changes. It’s still a mountain’s peak… Grey swirling mist abounds, but the girl in red leads us above it. We are alone. I am alone. She is alone. Everyone is isolated and alone. No man is an island? False. All men are mountaintops calling in vain to each other, wandering birds forever losing their nests.

It is beautiful but sorrowful. Something tugs in my heart at the harmonies, so blended and subdued but for a sudden flurry of frantic wings. And then faded again, as if the great shroud of mist has descended over us all, sealing out loneliness and separating us from the enduring and interconnected nature in which we have no part apart from our lost nests.

This silence is lighter and heavier at the same time. Something is coming. Something terrifying.

And then it does, in a trumpet blast. It is evil. Or no…not evil…something more terrifying than the evil that has become familiar. It is the best good. It is the Good. And I cannot stand to it and thus cannot but think it evil. The mountaintop that seemed a hermitage is opening up as a gaping prison beneath me and I stumble into it with a crying utterance too deep for words.

Is she bringing us into this inferno? Is she the girl I know or some spirit sent to administer justice of the most fearful kind?

The lament continues, more rhythmic than melodic and each note is a beat of my own heart, which is pounding at the walls of my chest in an effort to escape, but my ribs constrain it and it holds its time.

A reaching for higher aid falls back into lament. We have all killed an Albatross in our lives and this is our recompense.

Drum-rolls and rising tides. Shivers of terror more substantial than chains run down my spine and suddenly it is the distant beating of drums as they approach a funeral pyre…my funeral pyre.

But something is changing… the tonality is richer. Something of gold is in the flames of judgement and real gold fears no fire…but who put it there? Can it – this gold – be enough to pay my ransom?

And then in a burst of light made of every color, my soul is bathed in the burning purity of F-sharp major. It peels back my mask of sin and I realize this mask hid not my face but hid me from seeing the face of One too Great for My Sight.

But I can hear Him. Though I may not yet look, I might hear and feel and sense that the Almighty has won a victory. The victory. And I might dare to hope that He shall make me a soldier to share in this victory.

I take to arms within the deepest part of my being and when the trumpets of fearsome judgement sound again, there is something of my own determination in them.

And this determination brings the strength which is grace.

It is beautiful. I am swept into a lulling dance which turns to the song of Him singing over me. The powers of darkness might whirl around, but this song holds me fast, anchoring me.

It gives way to a beautiful dancing flurry which concludes with a declaration of coming victory, if only the judgement first comes.

Drums again. I feel the darkness creeping forth from its pit. It will not be contained, it says. It inches its way toward the hearts of men.

But that Great and Only Goodness is not touched. It’s dignity and perfection reign and the throne is not overthrown by these creeping, oozing things. It’s perfect order and rhythm and timing subdue them with a fear greater than any they could evoke.

And the song sings again, restoring my strength to finish this battle.

And I see it. I see this Light. Distant, but it is coming for me. I tremble yet rush to meet it.

Oh, glorious victory! Surely it is won!

But are those the trumpets of perdition I hear once more? Oh! the dwellers of the pit sneak forth again in chromatic slyness. They dance, the demons do, dance with a syncopation that is too easy to fall into. They crescendo in their final push.

But their frantic, Bacchic celebration of their own undoing is overthrown by the grace and gentleness of a waltz, which crescendos along with them into their end and its everlasting beginning.

The drums return, but no longer accompanying lament. Rather, it is a drumroll toward triumph. And the horns declaring this triumph continue longer than expected, but, after all, are they not to resound throughout all eternity?

Yes, Lord.

Amen, Lord.

I am shaken. Something has been purged from my soul. I barely register my hands applauding. How does one applaud the victory of the Lord?

But then I remember. This is a piano recital. An ordinary girl in a red dress is performing. This is a piano solo, not a divine judgement. But perhaps they are intertwined after all. Perhaps, even more than the Steinway grand, she herself was an instrument of the true Master.

Flowers and bows and the girl in red smiling as if she has won a victory herself, yet blushing and laughing with an innocent, overwhelmed delight at the same time.

She exits.

And returns.

More bows. More golden laughter, trilling softly beneath the thunderous applause of her loved ones below.

She winks at a friend, signaling him to stop clapping and waits for others to follow before she invites us to tea and scones.

Tea and scones? After this moral turbulence?

I glance at my watch. It’s only been thirty minutes.

Alright, then. Tea time it is.

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Also in the interest of combining arts, I used this stunning painting “Le Femme en Rouge” by Impressionist artist Giovanni Boldini for my recital posters. People kept asking how I got someone to paint me…