I recently just spent about two weeks with my wife in New England. We traveled through Providence, RD; Boston, Mass; Portsmouth, NH; and Portland, MN. I was struck by the history of the area, where here in California things really only go about 50 years back before they get remodeled or replaced. We went to Concord and saw the place where the shot heard round the world took place, to start off the Revolution. We went to Walden Pond. We went to Emerson’s house and looked at his personal collection of books, which still held his liner notes. We went to the Old Manse where Emerson and Hawthorne lived. There was so much history and culture here, but it’s just the memory of history and culture.
These things only matter to those who care.
What would visiting the Old Manse matter to someone who had never heard of Transcendentalism? What would visiting this old decrepit house matter to someone who had never been blown away by Hawthorne’s beautiful prose?
These places made me sit back and contemplate on what we as a society are doing. Are we moving forward? Are we towing the line? Are we causing problems for our future generations?
There are two stories which struck me and have weighed heavily on my mind, one of which was told to my wife and I in the Old Manse and the other happened at a seminar I attended for my day job.
While we were in the Old Manse the tour guide told us a story in which Waldo Emerson wrote “Nature” at a desk which faced the window looking out at his garden and the woods beyond. He did so because it inspired him. A few years later Hawthorne moved into the house and tried writing at the same desk as Emerson did. But he found that nature was far to distracting for him, so he had a desk build which faced a wall, to eliminate those distractions. Here he wrote “Mosses from an Old Manse”.
The seminar I attended was about education and what people (specifically young people) needed to succeed in the world after school. I was on a panel with adults ranging from their late twenties to their early sixties and resoundingly I heard that the younger generations had no etiquette. They had no sense of responsibility. They had no attention span. Ostensibly, that “these kids have no respect.”
I listened and in turns was disgusted and agreeable. I think that some of these people didn’t realize how young I was and I think I held a unique perspective to them. I have encountered many young people who have respect. I have encountered many people who have a sense of responsibility, who have an attention span. I have also encountered many older people who have no respect, have no sense of responsibility nor respect.
There’s a lot to be said for people who spend the time and develop themselves. Take responsibility for themselves and I don’t think that the younger generations are given enough respect themselves. It is true that most people take the road more traveled. They want to live easily, they don’t want any hardships, they don’t take responsibility for the hardships which do occur in their lives. Yet there are those who embrace their lives and strive for their dreams. These people take the road less traveled and they grow and become more empathetic and wise and respectful.
I think the story of Emerson and Hawthorne is apropos to this story because Emerson wanted a space where he could be inspired by nature. Instead of complaining that there were too many distractions (for Hawthorne is was the garden and the animals and the forest, for me and my generation it is the internet and cell phones, Hawthorne decided to make a change for what he needed and made strides to make it happen.
There are always distractions. There are always diversions. It doesn’t matter if you live now, 50 years earlier or 150 years earlier. It doesn’t matter what type of phone, or computer, or car, or yard, or television you may have. There is no easy road to get to your dreams, no matter what those dreams are. But if you chance it, if you take that first step through the brush, you just might find the right path to your dreams.
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellowed wood/And sorry I could not travel both/And be one traveler, long I stood/And looked down one as far as I could/To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair/And having perhaps the better claim,/Because it was grassy and wanted wear;/Though as for that the passing there/Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay/in leaves no step had trodden black./Oh, I kept the first for another day!/Yet knowing how way leads on to way,/I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hense:/Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-/I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
The first book I ever read was “The Bachman Books” (so technically the first book I read was “Rage”, the first book in “The Bachman Books”) by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman. I was in sixth grade. I had previously tried to read other books such as “The Hobbit” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, but there was something in the language of those novels in which I was having trouble accessing. So I had to write a book report and my parents brought me into B. Dalton books (anyone remember those?) and I looked at the gruesome cover and I thought it was cool.
Throughout my life I have said that Stephen King is my favorite writer. But then I started getting into writing myself late in high school. I loved being able to tell a story, just like Mr. King. I loved being able to evoke emotion out of the people who read my writing, but I never considered myself a wordsmith. I never considered myself literary.
In college my love of writing deepened and I began to expand my reading repertoire. I read everything under the sun and I practiced writing in styles of these writers. I soon came to the realization that there was an inherent difference between being a writer and being a storyteller and I attribute Stephen King to creating the difference in modern popular culture.
I would not consider Stephen King a literary writer (and when I say writer this is what I’m talking about) and I think that he would probably say the same thing about himself (he has often spoken out against the literati crowd. Specifically people like Jonathan Franzen who purport that they are disparaged for writing in a literary vein.). He writes stories which capture your imagination through character and place such that I’ve never really experienced in another writer. His characters jump out of the page at you and no matter how ridiculous the situation King brings reality by making the characters human. I would not call his writing beautiful the same way I would Thomas Pynchon or or John Irving, or in a more modern literary crowd Kevin Brockmeier or Paul Auster. However you cannot discount his stories or his characters.
The writers of the world focus more on subterfuge and the aspects of the words used. It is the difference between utilitarian and aesthetic. Are you writing to make the language beautiful or are you writing to make sure the story is clear? Both of these mediums (and yes they are different mediums. Most people who read King will never read a Pynchon book and vise versa) are acceptable and both of these mediums are beautiful.
First and foremost I have to print a retraction from the previous post. I said that TNT was the network which had the slogan “Character’s Welcome”. The correct network was USA.
To that note however, because of my propensity for writing more character centric, I thought I’d comment on how our television media has changed into what I would consider a new “Golden Age” of television.
I’ve thought back onto where all this began and I’ve traced it back to one show that really got the ball rolling. To one man, really, who broke from conventional archetypes to create a new type of character. Something more than the classic Hero/Antihero standard which we had been working with. For better or for worse, whether you like him or not, Joss Whedon is this man. He was a writer for many movies before he wrote the screenplay for Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a feature length movie. The point was to flip the horror trope of a blonde teen girl running down the alley and being chased. He wanted a character who would take charge of the situation, to empower while blending horror, humor, suspense and coming of age into one movie.
Being just a script writer, he had no power over the end result and has been purportedly upset over the result. His response was to develop a TV show to encapsulate his original vision and the WB network signed him on. Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered in 1997. Before this television was primarily sitcoms and formula dramas (think Law and Order).
Buffy went on for seven years, featuring a spinoff. The WB network also held other less popular shows like Charmed and Smallville which tried to help corner the market on the teen ratings.
These shows captured the imaginations, but the situations went beyond the everyday occurrences and production values began to rise. Suddenly a show that had more to do than just police procedure were getting budgets which would make the shows a bit more realistic than the old Hercules special effects debacle.
Then despite the success, the WB went against these shows and other networks took on the character mantle. They began to understand that television could do more for us than just to give a cheap laugh or thrill. In 2001 other networks took up the mantle of the “Character”. As the WB fell into obscurity, USA network began to emerge as the leader of interesting character centric programming. USA came up with the slogan “Character’s Welcome” and came out with a with a new spin on the police procedural with Monk in 2002 and then a multi-layered drama called Burn Notice in 2008.
You may ask, why had HBO not been mentioned here? After all they did start out with their original programming in 1997 with OZ and continued on with shows like The Sopranos at the same time.
The most interesting thing with HBO is budget. They have far more budget to deal with the characters that creators want to create. For example Deadwood had two very well funded seasons before they started to have to worry about ratings. The difference is that the people who watch HBO pay for that right. Because they do HBO creators can be much less discerning about what the audience wants because they’re going to get what is put out. This is not the case with network television.
Then in 2011 at the pinnacle of the reality TV push (thanks a lot Fox), Netflix announced it would release it’s own shows. Netflix has put the budget where it matters and the production value has never been higher. Now all other networks are pushing through their own shows to match these budgets and are working on coming up with new and unique concepts.
Now the question is, will it become a battle of the premium cable networks (of which Netflix is included because you pay for it) or are the remaining networks going to continue with provocative shows?
I’ve been working hard on “The Book of Antiquity”. I’ve worked through a second draft (a second draft of a 550 page book) and now I’m working on a third. I have recently started a writers group to help me in this process, which I have to say is maddening, difficult and frustrating, but it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.
I worked on my first book “A View of the Edge of the World” by myself. I wrote all the stories through various means. I have outlined. I wrote and let the voice of the story take me where it wanted to go. I wrote plot heavy stories. I wrote character heavy stories (thanks TNT, now all I can hear is “Characters Welcome” when I think about character driven stories, but that’s a discussion for another time). I wrote character sketches. I wrote histories of place. I wrote to shock. I wrote to pull on heart strings. I wrote to scare. I wrote to provoke. In all this time I spent writing and re-writing and editing it was always about what the end product was like. I seemed to have lost focus on what writing should really be about. Namely the love of writing.
I quote Stephen King a lot because I respect him as a storyteller (I’ll have to get into my rant about the difference between a storyteller and a writer later on) and I’m in awe of his ability to focus. He’s been said to be able to sit in front of the computer for hours knocking out story after story, or page after page of novel. He never seems to have a problem with where the story is going to go, but instead is very vocal about letting the character dictate where the plot will go (This could also explain why so many people hate the ending of his novels, because sometimes they feel as though they weren’t thought out). In fact he is said to have sat in his chair writing for hours just after being hit by a truck and bleeding out. Blood dripping down into a pool on the ground underneath him because a stitch broke while he was writing, but he had such focus he didn’t notice.
I have often thought about this focus and why I seem to lack it. Does it have something to do with personality? Is it the fact that Stephen King has an addictive personality and he gets addicted to writing and cant quit? Is it because he comes from another generation? A generation without MTV, without “Real Housewives” and without twitter where people could stick around for more than 140 characters? Is there a focus gene that people are born with? Is this a nature versus nurture issue?
I know for a fact that others whom I’ve spoken to have this same issue. They have trouble with focus and writing a outline feels as though it’s cheating, or its a crutch, or it’s too strict for the natural course of the novel. I have talked to people at length about the mid-story blues, where they know where the story starts and where the story ends, but when they get past the beginning and wade into the proverbial deeper end of the pool; into the darker second and third acts, they get lost and writers block settles in. Suddenly twitters 140 characters rules your life and you burn the midnight oil with Facebook as a companion instead of your protagonists.
Is this truly an endemic? or is this a shift in perspective?
I work full time to support my writing habit. I have a wife and a dog. I have a house which constantly needs work (and I am never endingly grateful for all of these, don’t get me wrong). I think about all of these things when I sit down to write. I think about my life, I think about the lives of others, I think about money. I think about promotions. I think about what my wife wants for dinner. I wonder if I fed our dog that morning. Then I stress myself out and think that I have to write the Great American Novel, so I can do all of these things while doing what I love and not worry about any other type of working.
I focus so much on getting just right what the potential agent, or publisher, or future reader might think, that I think about them instead of my character and what they are thinking about. This is why the mid-story blues hits so strong for me. I’m worrying about all the other things that might happen instead of just enjoying my time with the characters and trying to force something amazing to happen to them.
I’m taking the character pledge. I’m going to write for the character and the world they live in instead of writing to improve my own. I’m writing for the love of the story instead of the love for what the story can bring me.
There’s been a lot going on in the past two years. I got married, started a new job (no not the writing gig I’ve always hoped for, but a pretty sweet deal to pay the bills), moved to a new city and moved into a new house. Needless to say that I’ve let the site go by the wayside for good or for ill. Now that life has finally slowed down and I can feel a rhythm on the horizon, I decided I need to get back to roots. Now where I’ve never stopped writing (because, come on, those who write know that; to stop means to stop living) I’ve slowed down a bit. However in the past four or five months I’ve picked the pace back up enough to warrant the blog to continue. So in the future, you will see poetry and some new fiction, as well as lots and lots of book reviews and in depth writers critiques, as well as editorials. So I thank whomever has stuck with it over the long haul and lets get back at it again!
I’ve been having some trouble streamlining my new essay, so while I work out the kinks, i thought I’d pass on a few classical poetry recommendations. If you’ve never read Auden, do it now. He’s the most brilliant poet ever. I have a busy week, but hopefully I’ll be able to finish that essay and present it here next week. Enjoy!
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: With feral longing and melancholy (The Nightingale) ST Coleridge paints beautiful dark poems. They range from esoteric (Kublai Khan) to the downright epic (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). His surprising rymes make him a joy to read and his bipolar views that range from perverse to quintessential love make him a perfect read for any occason.
W. H. Auden: Probably the best poet to ever live (much better than the poet laureates who don the stage now [no offense to those who like Billy Collins or Charles Simic]) he has a way with language which stays with you long after the poem is finished. His verse is so layered you can re-read many times and come out with something new each time. Notables are The Shield of Achilles; At the Grave of Henry James; who stands, the crux left of the watershed; Under which Lyre; and In memory of W.B. Yeats.
William Blake: If you’re interested in dark literature, with a hint iof redemption read Blake. The nice thing about him is he was also an artist so you can view the horrors he depicted in words and through his own eyes. If you’ve ever heard of Hannibal Lecter, you’ve serripticiously heard of William Blake. Does the poem and paiting Red Dragon ring a bell?
John Keats: The Most read in high school and also the least appreciated. Everyone knows the classic Ode to a Grecian Urn but what about Ode to a Nightingale, or On the Sea or even On sitting down to read King Lear Once Again? He has a beautiful and resonant flow, ebbing with emotion and description. There is a reason high schoolers have to read him, he is one of the best poets at extracting emotion.
Edgar Allan Poe: Poe has beautifully dark and resonant poems, but with an almost juvenile rhyming scheme and whereas everyone knows The Raven, try out others such as the melancholic (and probably his best) Tamerlane, or such melodic gems as Annabel Lee and The Bells. If you long for the nostalgia of reading The Raven try out the poem (which is actually much better, though little known) which inspired its creation, Lenore.
Langston Hughes: You will never find a more melodic human being. He infuses jazz in everything he writes. Think slam poetry, but good (you know those annoying people who get up and read at open mike nights and make a bunch of hand gestures and say absolutely nothing.). Even when his writing is depressing, there is nothing more hopeful or empowering than Hughes. If you’ve never read him, you’re missing out.
I sincerely apologize for the absence of posts for the last two weeks. My apartment has been under construction, so I’ve had to be off the grid for a while. I’ll be back in full force on Saturday (05/12/12) with a scathing treatise on leadership, science and religion; with, hopefully, a dash of insight. Stay tuned!
I just finished writing the first draft for The Book of Antiquity and because of my elation due to the completion I’m going to give you a brief update on what I’ve been working on the last year.
The Book of Antiquity: This was written as a Teen Fantasy/Adventure, but make no mistake, the theme and some of the events are very adult. I’ve tried to keep the balance, and I think the second draft will help even more, but because of what I’m interested in and because of the influences I think its a great novel for everyone (although I would think that wouldn’t I?). Bill is just beginning his teenage years and he and his mother live in a small duchy, which by all intents and purposes could really be called a mining camp. It’s overseen by a horrible despotic Duke who represses his subjects. Then one day a man drops a note under their door which asks them to join in a rally against the Duke and ultimately the King. Bill sneaks out in the night, against his mothers wishes, and in one horrible night is injured and whisked away by this strange man. In a world where science is prohibited but present and religion is mandatory and prevalent, Bill begins to uncover the King’s, his companion’s, and even his mother’s terrible secrets, and the destruction which made the world the way it is.
Dark: What would you do if suddenly all light, except for fire, was eliminated? This horror/adventure novel explores the human psyche under duress. What would people do when you cant see them. Burglary? Rape? Murder? A group of seven band together to protect each other from the dark, and one wily stranger traverses it on his own. The darkness takes them to the limit of what they think is possible…and beyond.
Memoirs of a Hero: Two men, both in San Francisco and oblivious to the other, have everything taken from them. Faced with an unknown future and with nothing to their name, the two men set out on two very different paths. One of them tries to save people and one tries to punish them. This book is in the same theme line as the previous two, but will not have any classical fantasy or horror aspects, it will focus on why we make the decisions we do and what the consequences of the decisions are. The whole book centers around the question: What do you do when all you have is the clothes on your back, you have nothing to lose, and you witness someone being beat up, raped and mugged?
Elsinore: This is a comic book that I’ve been working on for years. The story centers around Frank and Christy Harvey. They are suspect characters who are feeling something which happened in Pensacola, Florida and end up crashing their car in a remote Texas town called Elsinore. There is some force which keeps the couple in the town which they come to realize is in the midst of a civil war. The two sides, a congregation of staunch Catholics led by a suspect Priest and a group of monstrous freaks led by an enigmatic cripple, fight constantly between each other for the right to be in charge because both sides feel they think they have the “right” way to do things. The battle began because of a prophesy that the town was at the door way to Hell and there is an army of demons coming…and soon. Now Frank and Christy are stuck in the town and must decide which side to choose.
The Island of His Mind (working title): This story follows a young reporter who is sent from New York to Hawaii to cover a rash of murders which break out. Along the way she meets up with a old homeless man who is suffering from both PTSD and Alzheimers disease, she befriends him and together they try and solve the mystery. This book is about humanity and the dark places the mind can take us, but it’s also about hope and friendship.
I’m in the process of writing a fantasy adventure novel and where I love the high adventure of it and the idea of being out away from the bustle of the city it’s a paradox because while I stare out my window at the hills in Millbrae leading out to Pacifica and the pacific ocean, I’m inside my apartment and looking up over buildings and cars. The progress and process our lives have taken.
Often when I’m writing a specific type of story I like to get other materials which help me in my creative process, other writings or movies to get the creative juices flowing. For example in writing “The Book of Antiquity” I have read both Joseph Campbell and Books like K.J. Parker’s “Engineer Trilogy” (This is a fantastic trilogy by the way, you should read it). Most recently I have gone out and purchased “The Lord of the Rings” on Blu-ray. I thought the depth and breath of the movies was going to bring me into the perfect frame of mind to finish the novel. Give me inspiration for the final battle in my novel.
I watched all three and a half hours of the extendo version of “Fellowship” and was again amazed at the job they pulled off in creating this movie, and I felt inspired to write, so I sat down in front of my computer and poised my hands above the key board…then I saw my hand made pipe and the small bag of tobacco sitting next to it and thought about all the pipe smoking in the movie and how relaxed they all seemed and I picked up my pipe, packed the Burlingame Tabacconists custom blend “Black & Gold” Tobacco into it, lit it and averted my gaze from the computer screen back to the hills leading to the Pacific and made sure to take my time and enjoy the smoke, instead of powering through it, just to finish, as I’m prone to do.
Then I was hit with a beautiful and possibly horrible epiphany. I anchored the pipe in my teeth and moved it to the right side of my mouth so I could see my computer screen unobstructed and I wrote a line:
How do we recompense the love of nature versus the march of technology after we have already made the decision to join step?
I also watched the special features of “Fellowship” and Peter Jackson said in one of them that J.R.R. Tolkien loathed technology and loved the simplicity of nature. This showed through in scenes where Saruman had his Goblins tear down the ancient trees to build a factory for evil.
I looked back up at the tree covered hillside beyond the buildings and cars and streetlamps. I pulled the pipe from my mouth, realizing that I was puffing away and getting no pleasure from the smoking, I was again smoking for the satisfaction of completion and not for satisfaction of the act. I put the pipe down. I stared at my computer where I had my entire novel open in Microsoft Word and the internet open with stereomood.com playing music while I wrote, my phone was in the background telling me that I had a text message.
The march of technology and the distraction of consumerism had absorbed me. I was having trouble focusing enough to finish my novel and I was using distractions such as other novels and other movies, possibly even music to try and help me focus on my writing. Then, because life harmonizes, I distinctly heard a lyric of a song playing through my computer: “Ouch, I have lost myself again.”
Why did I think these distractions would help me concentrate when I’ve always known that the best way to concentrate is to clear one’s mind of distractions? I picked my pipe back up and stared at it. I spent $100 dollars on the pipe, because it reminded me of a simpler time and I thought it would bring me relaxation. I looked at the Blu-ray (Which I purchased in Blu-ray because I knew it would be much more lush and beautiful than the regular DVD) and shook my head, ashamed.
I was ashamed not because I had purchased these things, but because I had lost my sense of myself. I had lost all moderation. I had leaned too far to the consumer/technology obsession and started to lose my personal/naturalist sensibility. Even the idea that I was finishing my novel instead of just writing it was indicative of how far my mentality had shifted. I need solitude and nature to feel peace and to clear my head of the everyday clutter, but I need the trappings of a hand made pipe, of a blu-ray player, of a computer to collect my thoughts and to soothe me with music. To be even more stark, I need nature and solitude to create something which takes technology to produce and that I hoped people would purchase for their own edification.
I’d become a juxtaposed mirror image of myself. And that’s what led me to understand that the beauty of life comes from that delicate balance. The hardest part is to keep that balance and be wary of tilting too far in either direction. It’s human nature to try and make things easier for ourselves, but we need to be wary of over simplification and “losing ourselves” of becoming too lazy and letting technology direct our lives, or leaning too far in the other direction and stagnating our development as a race.
So how do we recompense? We need to create and innovate using nature as a muse. There is such natural complexity to nature, which is what gives the world its beauty, if we lose that innovation will stop and Science Fiction will prove true. Our creations will rule our lives. Our danger is that we cannot stop looking at the wonder of nature since we have now followed technology’s march too far to ever truly fall in the opposite direction.
Who was the last poet you read? Were they living at the time you began to read their writing? When asked about what poetry they like what does everyone answer? cummings? Frost? Dickenson? Shakespeare? Have you heard the names Louise Gluck, Billy Collins, or Phillip Levine? Why is it that there hasn’t been a visible cannon in Poetry since the ’60s? Why is it that one has to follow poetry to know the current names? Is this because we aren’t teaching anything than the previous Cannon? Is this because it’s harder and less lucrative profession? Is it because reading it is too much work for our sitcom/reality TV A.D.D. minds? (I’m less inclined to believe this last one)
Whatever the reason Poetry, though not my favorite form, can create beautiful spectrum’s of emotion in a more succinct and visceral manner than anything written out in prose or text. So the next time you sit in front of the TV think about picking up the latest Billy Collins for a quick poem. It wont take you more than 2 or 3 minutes to absorb and let settle into your brain and heart. It might start to change your opinion of its worth.
(by the way Gluck, Collins and Levine are all Poet Laureates from the last decade)
In honor, here are a few of my own:
The bright white flash of the city
Exploding paper is hilarious
more so than deconstructing
drinks. The flow of time makes
for illuminous revelations with
exposition that makes no sense
and dialogue which is trite.
What better way to celebrate the
night than to discuss diatribes
of normalcy and illusions of delusion.
Sunday at the bar
devouring thier hoppy
indifference with the
order of benevolence.
Smiles as big as a
Chrysler grill. Loose
immoral bodies thrusting
and grinding to the
Thud thud thud
power these people
How is happiness so
How can this cause so much
At home squalor,
ignoring the fugus which
grows on thier month
old dishes. Who is accountable?
Living a college life;
living paycheck to