Friday, March 30, 2012

Sad Songs (Blogfest entry.)

When I first read the title of this blogfest I knew there was only one possibility for me.  There is one song which, when I'm sad, I return to again and again. It's simple, powerful, and beautiful. I enjoyed it so much I even wrote a paper on the symbolism of the music video. (The video is at the bottom of the post, by the way.)

In 1992 R.E.M. drummer, Bill Berry, was sickened by news of teenage suicides. He decided to write something specifically for teenagers contemplating suicide. What we got was "Everybody Hurts" from the incredible R.E.M. album Automatic For the People of that same year.

       When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
       When you're sure you've had enough of this life, 

       well hang on...

 It's worth noting that R.E.M. was well known for mumbling from the lead singer, Michael Stipe, and obscure lyrics with incomprehensible meaning.  In this song, however, Stipe sings clearly. Every word is delivered with care and distinction. The lyrics are simple. Sometimes ridiculously so.

        If you feel like you're alone, no, no, no, you are not alone...

Later, Berry and Stipe explained that because this song was written for teens they wanted to keep in clear and simple. What's amazing is how such a simple string of words turned into something so beautiful. A survey done in the UK created a list called "Songs most likely to make a grown man cry."  Everybody Hurts was at the very top of the list. Clearly there is some power there.

         Well, everybody hurts sometimes,
         Everybody cries. And everybody hurts sometimes...

 The addition of the music video, in my opinion, only heightens the profound feelings of the song. Whoever decided to add the thoughts of the people in the cars was a genius. The feeling of slowing into an impossible traffic jam, the people all sitting in their cars, next to each other without talking... It's powerful, but then you add some of the sentiments and you begin to feel a connection.  For me it's that first moment with the mother in her car with her child climbing over the seats. "I had no idea" are her unspoken words.

      'Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends
      Everybody hurts. Don't throw your hand. 

      Oh, no. Don't throw your hand

 There are strong religious overtones in the video, which I don't pretend to understand the meaning behind. Maybe it was something from the band, maybe the director, son of Ridley Scott. I don't know if it was an encouraging or disparaging message.. who cares.   Just give this a watch and see how  you feel.

I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.  


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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Picture Paints a Thousand Words Blogfest Entry.

I've never done a blogfest before, so I hope this is right.  Below is the text of a super-short story written based on a picture found at Unicorn Bell. Personally... I wasn't too pleased with the results, but here we go:

The heat of a gun barrel pressed against the back of my neck was alarming. The gentle quiver of the hand which held it even more so. A hot gun barrel to the back indicates someone for whom the firing of the pistol is no longer in question. There must have been a test fire moments ago. Something my aging ears missed; muffled perhaps by the morning mist rising from the lake. The shaking hand, though... That was a problem. Adrenaline and inexperience could end my life if my assailant got jumpy. I left my hands on the cold stone of the crenelated wall, frozen in position. Focused on breathing steadily. Kept things nice and calm.

The barrel shifted to my back, just on my spine between my lungs. A firm push. “Move,” said a raspy voice. Indistinct, non-gendered. A tall woman or a short man from the positioning. Other hand on the shoulder to steer me. Gloved. My mind raced to calculate angles, find information. What had I missed? Latch on to any port in the oncoming storm.
I opened my mouth, prepared to question. “No talking,” said the voice. “One word and you’re a body in the lake.” The voice was more distinct as we slowly walked along the wall. Female. Choked with tears and strained with the task at hand. Something I did to a woman. Something I did to her family. Worse than I thought. No reasoning with this kind of vengeance. “You turn your head and you’re dead.”
We passed the spot where my lieutenant and best friend Alan had died years and years ago. Died defending us when the ghul army attacked. Creatures from legends who summoned magic as easily as we pull a trigger. You can still see the scorch marks where he had been standing.  
We emerged from behind the main keep and continued along the top of the wall over the children’s courtyard. The mist was starting to thin and I could see a few of the youth already out playing with a ball. Children young enough to have never known the war. No adults in sight.
“Don’t try anything,” came the whisper.
I wouldn’t have. I’m no fool. A hundred desperate battles and a thousand scars had made me tough - made me strong. Taught me to wait for the right moment. But would there be a right moment?
We descended into the cobbled alleys between ancient stone structures. Nobody but fishermen really came out this early. But where could she be taking me? If she wanted me dead I’d have been dead, wouldn’t I? Or was there a ritual - some path of vengeance she was determined to make me walk? Something she wanted me to see before killing me? I knew far too well that desire - the desperate want to prove to the guilty how badly and how deeply they’d harmed.
We skirted the decaying black stones in the tight area between structures where we’d killed the gug - the nightmare creature. It had taken the lives of two dozen defenders before I had finally been able to finish it off. Used our last grenade. Killed 4 good men in the process, but it was either those 4 or the 180 terrified souls in the castle behind us. It hadn’t been a hard choice, but it had made the following months and years vastly more empty for me.
Another lane, another building, more memories. The house where we tortured a witch we had discovered hiding among us. The street where the ghul ambassador had decided to molt. The dryad tree we had each fed with a little of our own blood. The shed where we cached our ammunition - now mostly gone. Death and blood and monsters and hope. Leading my men to triumph and to death. Years of defending and attacking until they stopped trying to fight us.
Finally we passed through the outer wall and to the dock. Waves lapped against the pier and I saw that our fishermen had already left for the morning. A sole fishing boat from the shore communities was waiting there. Grim men toiled over nets and line, looked up at me, then back to their work.
“Get on the boat, Edward,” the voice said softly.
I stepped onto the boat and it cast off. After a few seconds I turned around at last to see the anguish and the tear stains on her cheeks, the strength in her frame.
“Don’t come back,” she said.
Alan’s daughter. Lost a father to a war, lost a husband to a nightmare and a grenade. I was lucky to be alive at all. I thought about the other fifty or sixty men I’d led to their deaths. I nodded and took another step back onto the deck. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I was leaving anyway.” I knew it was the truth.
The sun emerged at last and the island fortress was revealed in ruinous splendor - one of the last safe places on the earth. Seeing it like that... for the first time I wondered if it was worth the cumilative cost we paid to make it safe. The compromises. The deals. The lives. Let them blame me, I thought. I think I may be strong enough now.

NOTE: A great deal of the text for this story, and the noir-ey feel, comes from the flash fiction blog of my friend. (used with permission) You can visit here:  You can see the story I blatantly robbed under the title "An Occasion" but I encourage you to read a few of his stories. They're all first drafts and wonderfully moody. Leave him an encouraging comment or two, while you're at it.

P.S. I could use more followers, if you've got nothing better to do. ;)  Come back and visit any time.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

This post will make you shift bricks.

I chose bricks instead of twinkies because I have my doubts as to the structural integrity of a palace made of twinkies.

Maybe I should have mentioned that after the analogy.  Hm.
In my father-in-law's back yard there is a large pile of bricks. If you suddenly thought to yourself Wow, I really want that pile of bricks on the other side of the yard to better display my brick enthusiasm you would have two options: 

1. Lift the pile, move the pile, deposit the pile.
2. Move the bricks one at a time until the pile is moved.

Only superman and certain species of forkliftae have the strength for option one. You? You have option two and only option two.
Looking at that pile of bricks stacked up in just the wrong spot it's easy to get discouraged. That's a lot - a lot - of weight to shift. You might feel like the task is impossible. You might wonder how something so frustrating could have happened. You may say to yourself "Tomorrow I will get it done." or "I'll start for real on Monday"

Eventually you may realize that National Brick Day is sooner than expected. So you'll think "Maybe I can move two bricks each day instead of one.  Starting Monday."

Monday comes and the task seems too big. 

National Brick Day passes and you wonder how you could have failed so badly.

My friend is in a hard place. He has an awesome job, but it pays only for production. In other words, the more he produces the more he makes. If he fails to produce, he makes nothing.

Tonight he said to me "I looked at my earnings for the year - March to March - and my goal had been $1000 per month. I only reached that goal 4 times over the entire year. Most of the time I earned less than $500."

Normally this would have let to a lengthy conversation about money, work, life, etc. but we had just finished a long game of Arkham Horror. Time for bed and interesting dreams.

So instead I summed up my thoughts. "When we look at a year of failures it's easy to get discouraged. It's important to let go of that and focus on the moment - on right now. The question isn't 'How am I going to make 12,000 dollars?' the question is 'How am I going to spend the next 15 minutes?'" 

Stop looking at the entire pile of bricks - the whole goal, the tremendous task. Let go of the past. There is absolutely nothing you can do about that now.

You have 15 minutes.  What will you do during that time? 

You have today. Move one brick.  Type one page. 

Yeah, it will feel like nothing compared with the job you're trying to complete. But that's part of the point. You'll look at that lonely brick now on the front yard and think "I guess I have time for another."

Step by step, page by page, brick by brick you will make your journey, you will write your novel, you will build your palace. Create something wonderful by focusing on the day by day. In a years time you'll look back and say "How in the world did I manage that?"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Write With Friends.


Back in November (yes, NaNoWriMo) I started outlining a fairly long and complex story about a strong female character solving mysteries in a dry and dusty world of the distant future. It was fun. The story gained complexity and went in directions I hadn't expected.

One problem, though, was this: I couldn't figure out how to end it.

Basically I had two options, both of which involved the main character making a difficult choice. Neither of these options really satisfied me, though. In fact, the option that I liked better was the least realistic choice based on the characters I had developed.

What to do, what to do?

Well my initial thought was to re-work the characters, but by the time I gave in to that idea I had already plowed through 60,000 words and felt really good about the characters as I had originally envisioned.

This indecision led to months of no progress on the actual writing of the story as I sat in writer's limbo.

Finally, a few days ago, I approached my long time friend and asked if he's read through my first draft - mainly just looking to see if the concept worked for him. He read a bit of it and a day or two later we talked about it. After his criticisms we talked about where the story was going, problems I hadn't resolved yet, and so-on.

At last, I revealed my deep dark secret. I presented my options to him. He agreed it was going to be tough to decide which would be best. Not too long afterwards he said "You know, you could always really mess with the readers..." He described a world which veered wildly from my chosen outline. It was entertaining, but not what I wanted to do.

Then the light bulb turned on over his head. I saw it in his left eyebrow as it lifted gradually towards his hairline.

"There's a third option..." he said.

And he was right. It was satisfying. It was surprising. It changed everything and forced characters together in uncomfortable and exciting ways.

So the message is this: Write with your friends. You don't need to actually write with them, obviously, but get people involved who can see things from the outside. We writers are a naturally secretive, suspicious and reclusive group of people. We tend to hide not just our writing but our ideas like it was a precious treasure. It may be time to change that behavior.

Find friends who can share your passion and excitement and work together. You'll be glad you did.


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