Writing

Birds in Aquariums

I'm really excited to be announcing that my debut poetry collection, birds in aquariums, is going to be available on May 25, 2018! This is a collection of poems I've written over the span of several years, arranged in a series of typographic expressions. I should be updating this blog more often ahead of its release, so stay tuned for updates!

Deified (Palindrome Poem)

Taste and see, brother – my downfall.

I am both broken and whole,
break to rebuild.
I feel I fear this: as above, so below,
as all we are.

Breath illuminated;
as blooming seeds grow trees,
your love of tatters and shreds
fears these sinking dreams.

“I have fallen, haven’t I?”

Calling me to climb further, a
start to ending – perfectly reflecting ourselves.
For aren’t we?

Again and again:

We aren’t for
ourselves, reflecting perfectly – ending to start
a further climb to me, calling:

“I haven’t fallen, have I?”

Dreams sinking these fears,
shreds and tatters of love. Your
trees grow seeds, blooming as
illuminated breath.

Are we all as
below, so above? As this fear I feel: I
rebuild to break.
Whole and broken, both am I.

Fall down, my brother – see and taste.

Fall's Last Stand

that first white’s fallen
while the last red leaves
her neck and limbs stripped,
she sways and grieves

omens in the whispering wind –
autumn’s shiver
piercing summer gardens
left to whither

let it go to hold it together
and stand with the fall
blinding white and fading light
she endures it all

Creatively Unsatisfied

Every once in a while, I hear the phrase “creatively satisfied” – usually an interview asking an artist if they’re satisfied creatively. And that phrase has always rubbed me the wrong way. Because as a creative person, I feel like it’s my very nature never to be satisfied with my work. The kerning in a logo could be tweaked until my eyes bleed, an article could be rewritten endlessly until I run out of words in the English language. Everything could always be better.

But is it a bad thing that I’m never 100% satisfied with my work? Of course not – what point would there be in doing anything at all once you’ve created the perfect thing – whatever that may be? I would never want to create a “perfect” piece of art. “Perfect” is bullshit.

And maybe “satisfaction” is bullshit too… at least as far as it relates to creativity. Creativity by its very definition is producing something new and original – and creative people look for new, unique solutions to ordinary problems. If there’s any satisfaction in that, it’s fleeting because something can’t be “new” and “original” forever. “New” is only truly new until the next new thing. And that new thing is only new until the next new thing, and so on.

I may be proud of my creative work, but I’ll never be satisfied with it. It may function perfectly. It may connect with people and satisfy them – but I won’t be satisfied. I’ll always think of how it could be better or how I can push myself further next time.

I’ll always be unsatisfied. But I’ll be unsatisfied as creatively as I can be.

 

Short Story: Lotus and the Fool

She stepped into nothingness and held out her hands. They clasped at nothing and caught only air. She stepped again, stumbled, tumbled, fell—

There.

Her fingers found a branch and she held it, swaying, panting. Where am I?

Eerie green hovered above her. It darkened and blurred, as if veiled with shadow—then brightened as it was lifted away. Dark, swamp-like gas yielded to a cool, blissful tinge. Beneath her brown petals fluttered to purple, pink, red, crimson, then purple again.

Bzzz.

Wings swept past her. Her hair flitted in waves, chasing after the what was it? Some insect? She watched its shadow disappear into the green.

Soberly she took another step. She felt it tugging at her chest, pulling her deeper into the light. For it was a light, wasn’t it? The forest before her was aglow, shining and breathing, pulsing with a magnetic mist.

It parted at her cheeks, leaving gentle raindrops. She let them stay and soak into her skin. They wiped her tears and she forgot who she was, what she’d been running from. They were arms wrapped tight around her, holding her, burdening her. Sweat seeped from her skin and she shrugged the shirt off her shoulders, then the skirt from her hips. She left the exhaustively sewn fabric behind, left to be found by pauper or poorer.

And just as quickly the air around her cooled. It swept in gentle waves across her skin, brushing behind her hair like a flickering flame—whose pale wick plunged through the trees, over the grass, the fields, the humming trees and into the light.

Where she was blinded.

She blinked, tried to brush it away. She saw white—then a distant shape. She made out a figure and heard its voice.

Hello?

Though barely a silhouette, she knew it was something beautiful, something not of her world.

Hello?

Closer now. Edges sharpened, formed.

What’s your name? she asked.

Lotus.

Lotus, she repeated. And paused, held her breath. Lotus. When she heard that name it sounded like music. She said it again: Lotus. Melodious. She couldn’t sing but she sang when she said her name.

Lotus.

Then with feet like wings she hurried away. Through the orange leaves she flew and disappeared, leaving them whispering behind her.

Did you touch her?

Yes, did you?

Yes, so beautiful!

Shuffling, she followed. Not with wings but with chains—heavy, clumsy weights.

Who are you? the forest called after her. Where are you going?

She didn’t answer. Instead she called her name.

Lotus?

Lotus didn’t notice.

Lotus was silence, emptiness.

She was gone.

Above her the green sky winked. Without eyes she didn’t know how, yet it did. Do you need eyes to see? she wondered.

You never told me yours.

Breathless, she spun around.

Lotus smiled and the whole forest smiled. Winged pestals fluttered from the grass to circle around her, and behind her a gosgole sighed the most beautiful sigh.

Her mouth opened but she stopped. She couldn’t bear to taint this place with her name. This place needed Lotuses to fill it with warmth and beauty, not words that would suck the air straight out of it.

What’s your name?

Reluctance, she wanted to say. Timothy the Timid. Sheila the Sheepish.

I gave you mine, Lotus urged, voice calm as silk. So, what’s yours?

Vera, she said finally, though it sounded like chopping wood.

How very! she chirped.

Very what?

When Lotus shrugged the whole forest shrugged. Leaves plunged off their perches and clouds brisked away. The gosgole scoffed the most careless scoff.

Very everything, she said. It just is.

How can something just is?

Well it certainly can’t can’t, can it?

Why not?

Then it won’t!

Can’t something won’t?

No, everything must is.

She’d spun her mind backwards. She’d taken it right out of her skull and tossed it carelessly into the air.

Are you going to catch it? she almost asked.

But she was gone. Lost again to the whispering leaves.

Lotus?

Lotus wasn’t focused.

She’d been taken again by this forest, that was as much a part of her as the feet that carried her through it. Those winged feet, weightless, weightless how they flew!

And still chained, Vera followed.

She’s gone, you fool! the leaves laughed. You’ve lost her again!

She clambered past them while they taunted. Some screamed as she trampled their fickle frames with feet that didn’t belong there—feet that belonged with fabric wound tight around them, hidden inside soulless boxes. They belonged far away, not here. Not with the pestals, the gosgoles, the hazy green sky and floating trees.

Not with Lotus.

Am I a fool? she wondered. Still they sang to her that hopeless song. Still they laughed, still they taunted.

And still she searched.

Lotus?

Lotus, my psychosis!

She fell into a run. She’d been running all along but couldn’t remember what from or what to. There’d been darkness behind her but something else up ahead. And she felt that maybe that something else was here, maybe she’d already found it. Maybe Lotus was the end to it all.

With just a look she had swirled her sky. What had been lines were now circles—and green, not blue. And just her name had turned those circles into spirals. They danced, they swayed, they dizzied her. Everything was upside-down. What was wasn’t anymore and what never was now was.

She hasn’t caught my mind, she thought.

Maybe she still had it, holding it in the crook of her arm, prancing with it through the grass. And if anything at all, she had to find it. What fool wouldn’t chase after her own mind?

Lotus? She called her name again and still it was a melody. Still from her lips poured the most elegant sound that had ever graced her ears. It swept from her lungs and blended into the breeze.

Her name belongs to this forest, she thought, even more than the pestals, the gosgoles, those irksome, whispering—

How very cruel.

She paid them no mind.

Lotus?

Her name left her breath and it stopped. Her lungs emptied and she stilled.

Shining, there she was.

She was speckled with a million different hues, glowing between the silent, spindly trees. Her head was woven with hair that wasn’t green, wasn’t blue, wasn’t red—but every colour that had ever tasted the light of the sun.

Lotus.

Won’t you join us?

Yes, she said, and stepped through those still-irksome leaves. With a breeze they brushed against each other, a mock applause.

Finally!

Finally the fool has found her!

Into her pool Vera waded. And deep in her waters Lotus waited. Just like her, the waters shone. A thousand thousand glimmers leapt to welcome her. They touched her skin, felt her bones, soothed her muscles and filled her lungs again with that song.

Lotus!

Vera.

What was it that made me stay? she wondered afterwards. Was it the tepid waters lapping at my skin, a softer caress than any hand? Was it that beauty I saw, perfection itself shimmering before me? Or was it that silent victory, her found to my lost?

Yet she knew. Even then she knew. It was the way she said her name, that sounded like growth instead of decay. Not death but birth. Life.

To her own ears it was still that harsh, scratching sound that hounded her insides. Still she heard it and crept away, hiding behind the shambles it held up for her.

But when her lips drew the lines that formed her name, it was as if no other word had been so pure, like she’d been waiting her entire life just to say it.

The same sound that drivels into my ears doesn’t reach hers, Vera thought. No, she hears something else. She sees something else.

With her lips Lotus sang and painted a picture—the one that she saw. And when Vera looked she didn’t see perfection at all—no, far from it—she saw something that existed nowhere else but beneath her flesh. It was a world of colours the sun had never seen, creatures the earth had never housed, thoughts no one else had heard and pictures no one else could paint.

And that in itself was beauty.

Lotus! she cried.

She saw her essence, and reflected it back.

And it was very.

It was. It just was.

Like her own name, like the winking sky, like all the other impossibilities that surrounded her, it just was.

What’s your name?

Vera, she said. And she stepped into nothingness and held out her hands.

 

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

  4. Once upon a time there was __. Every day, _. One day _. Because of that, _. Because of that, _. Until finally __.

  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

The Art of Character

Some notes taken from David Corbett's The Art of Character:

  • Desire is what prompts action, and action defines character.
  • Writing requires a constant pursuit, if not embrace, or the unfamiliar, the foreign, the uncomfortable—and creativity often begins only once we leave our comfort zones.
  • Characters are the human beings to whom the story happens, not cogs in the machine of your narrative.
  • Readers do not need everything explained to them. (This was a huge revelation for me.)
  • Characterization requires creating an initial impression of the character that feels coherent or whole, then shoving her through a doorway toward the unknown, into a gauntlet of trials and reversals, revelations and confusions, that will shred her familiar, coherent sense of self and transform her utterly.
  • Show your character wrestling with ideas and emotions instead of simply having them (show, don't tell).
  • Consider the outer goal, the inner conflict and how they relate to one another (ideally linked but not one in the same)
Imagine a woman in a grocery store at 10 am dressed in evening wear: a cocktail dress, bolero jacket, opera gloves, a string of pearls on top of a shelf, straining, unable to get a grip. Glancing around, she sees no one available to offer assistance, stares once more at the unnerving peaces, then suddenly hikes up her skirt, notches the toe of her pump on a lower shelf and starts climbing as though up a rock face. Tongue between her teeth, reaching as far as she can, she wiggles her fingers, finally nudges one of the cans—it totters. Then falls. Several others tumble down with it. She jumps back down, shields her head from the avalanche—she may be hurt, but before anyone can get to her she very slowly drops to her knees, picks up two of the cans, clutches them to her chest, and begins to sob quietly.

There is no description of what this woman looks like beyond what she's wearing. The most important things that make that depiction compelling are:

  • The character needs or wants something.
  • She is having difficulty getting what she needs or wants, and comes up with a plan for overcoming that difficulty.
  • She exhibits a seeming contradiction: She's dressed in evening wear at the grocery store at midmorning.
  • Something unexpected happens (she makes a mistake), which renders her vulnerable.
  • Her sobbing suggests there is more to her predicament than meets the eye—a secret.