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.
It’s amazing the difference sitting down and actually working makes. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, even when I was a little boy. The moment I decided for sure was probably around the time my underused little mind aged eight years. I saw a movie for the first time, and although it’s just an ok movie there’s a portion that stuck with me; haunted me.
The movie was “Stand By Me” (This was before I’d even discovered Stephen King so you can’t blame it on that). The scene where the boys are sitting out in the woods and they all beg Gordy for a story and, without complaining, he tells an intricate little story so mature, but then again so quintessentially teen. He tells this story with so much moxy and vigor that when he finishes the other boys all groan, laugh and fall about the place. It’s just a movie sure, but while other people would laugh and shake thier heads, I was enthralled. That was so cool! I thought. Two years later I read an introduction to the “Bachman Books” and in it, Stephen King says that in his head there are many people and they all have a history. The more he looks at them the more the story of their lives takes shape. He also said a majority of his stories started because he would see an image and ask What if?
What if a rabid dog trapped a woman and her child in a car?
What if there were a monster in the sewer?
What if there were a monster in the closet?
What if a little shop of curiosities was owned by the devil?
Once the question was asked, one of the residing characters would take up the mantle and beg for the story to be told.
I thought Holy Crap! Thats me!
So I pulled out a type writer and fed the paper in, relishing the warm toner smell and the crispness of the the fresh paper. I got swept away by the hum of the typewriter and I came up with “The Heavy Metal Bands” and I never looked back.
“The Heavy Metal Bands” was a story of how a few friends got together and formed a heavy metal band, then because of their strong personalities they also became a gang. Somehow this worked in my pre-teen mind. That story spurned four more stories, ending with the lads saving the world. All told, all five of those stories filled out about 4 pages worth of text.
Then I moved onto other things (Like the Marty Brothers, based on myself and my brother Steve; an echo of the Hardy Boys), but length was always an issue. I couldn’t seem to write anything longer than four or five pages. I got so disturbed by this that most of the things I wrote were bulbous unwieldy ten page stories, with more filler than a Twinkies.
I hadn’t yet found out what I was doing, but I thought the point would be length, the story had to be longer for anyone to read it. I started to read a lot at this point, trying to see how people did it and getting lost in their stories in the process. Then my senior year in high school I took a creative writing class, and where almost everything I did during that class was horrible, but I got to see how others wrote and what their process was. I hated the class but it did give me more perspective and a deeper desire to write more.
It’s been a challenge. My whole life I’ve struggled with the juxtaposition of the desire to write and the lack of writing talent. how many people in the world are like this? how many people who strive to actors love the craft, but have no skill? What about painters? What give these people success when only one out of a million people are born talents at what they desire to do.
Stephen King was born with drive and talent, and he’s successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. I have drive, I wonder where I’ll end up…
I wrote this introspective little gem a little while ago at a time when the writing was flowing smoothly, my book was just published and I felt on top of the world. Then I found myself eventually collapsing into worries over problems, some of them personal some of them worldly, and eventually the grasp on my panache slipped a little and a finger of uncertainty slipped in. That finger poked and prodded until it opened up a hole which sucked my creative thoughts and trajectory from my brain. I thought it wouldn’t effect me because of my strength, but I devolved into artistic truancy and emotional malaise.
I saw my life for the first time without success and I wondered if it would ever be possible. In fact I even began to fear it, because it would mean I would have to continue and for the first time in my life I couldn’t visualize the story in my head. How can you write other books if you’re bored when you sit down to write? I would be a manager for the rest of my life. I could proceed and I could make decent money at it, but I would be a manager. My traveling would be limited, devoid of scheduling flexibility and every woman I would meet would hate my dedication portrayed through long hours. I saw the road leading down that hill towards the setting sun and I stopped and took a deep breath. The easy road, the one that led down and towards the beautiful sunset was appealing, but then I turned and saw up the mountain and realized that I have not yet proved that I could do it. So I sat down at the computer and I vomited on the keyboard (metaphorically), then I sat down the next day and did it again, and again. Eventually visualization of people and locations materialized and my vocabulary began to return and my heart relaxed. It’s 12:31AM…
The anachronism that is my writing life
It’s 2:44AM. My cat is lying asleep in bed and I’m sitting in front of my computer, my dyspepsia blaring and my eyes blurring. I gaze past the empty Coke cans, from my artist’s model hand to my book of Twilight Zone stories (lit only by the soft glow of the monitor) and wonder what I’m doing. Why am I awake? Why did I drink that Coke at 2:00AM? Why cant I slow my mind down and just relax? Why do I force this on myself?
In my day job I manage a bookstore. I have 45 employees and I’m a corporate whore. My daytime language is all business parlance. Learning Plans. Store Manager Action Plans. Business Acumen. Performance Management. I stride through the store giving my direct reports thier priorities for the day. I look at the employees and I contemplate thier personalities and thier strengths and I fit them into little boxes on my succession map.
When I’m home and alone, I’m in front of the computer creating lives. Specific personality attributes collide in my head and I see a character. I see them in a snapshot or a Polaroid, if you please. I see men and women as they are, without thier protective shells. I hear thier voices and read thier thoughts. There’s a man sitting in a room. The room is dark and he’s alone. There is a small crease in his brow, indicating consternation. The room is spartan with only one book lying on the floor behind the simple wooden chair he’s sitting in. That book is “The Bell Jar.” Do you know what he’s thinking? That’s the greatest part about writing. You can layer on infinite articles or events and you’re the only one who knows what’s happening.
So why do I deal with Corporate Initiatives, Selling Culture and SMART Goals while burning my nights in front of the computer in a portentious insomniatic glaze? I love the romanticism of it. The glorification of the struggling artist. My office is covered in books, tomes of introspection, entertainment and knowledge and as I look around I feel both solace and restlessness. I want more. I want to know more. I want people to know that if you need to know something Sean’s the one to ask. When people think of me I want them to think of me as a writer erudite enough to facilitate that other life. So why do I push myself to odd hours and split my attentions to the point where I’m spead thin, when I can imagine other people and every possible outcome of their situation? The answer is; I cant help myself. My brain wont stop. When a new challange presents itself I have to take it, just to prove to myself that I can do it (and maybe everyone else in the process). I’m going to make it. I’m going to facilitate my desires. I can adapt and succeed on my own terms and I can live the American Dream.
I’m going to give you a short essay I wrote during the “Bowling Alley” era, as well as a current poem I posted on Facebook, because I think they work well together. Be aware that when I use ignorant I use it in the dictionary and not derogatory sense. It is a person who lacks a certain knowledge.
There seem to be three types of people in the writing/reading world. Those with Talent, those with potential and those who’re ignorant. This fact causes great distraction and great despair. I think I could be a good if not a great writer, I think I could have talent, but there is something in my brain which seems to block that switch. I merely have potential.
It’s such a difficult process and yet for so many people it just flows…as if their body were an extension of their mind and their fingers were a conduit for their art. They are the talented. They can sit and let the vision flow through them for hours on end. They see the course in front of them and they don’t think twice about it; they just go.
I have potential. The majority of the populace has potential. This is the ability to see something, to want to create something, but to lack the necessary drive, or vision. This is the collection of people who like to write, like to paint, like to create with their hands, but employ their creativity as a hobby for all the aforementioned reasons.
Then there are those who have no potential. The ignorant. The people who read a piece of literature and don’t understand it; who see a work of art and see it as colors on canvas. There are the people who just don’t care. The reasons are irrelevant, schooling, culture, drive, class, it ultimately comes down to what is the interest. These people would much rather catch a midnight matinee of the new Michael Bay movie. Why would this be? How can anyone look at a piece of art and not enjoy it? Because it’s work.
I study art, but I’m no artist. I contemplate it. I assimilate it. I gorge on it, then I fake it. To people with talent it’s a drive. It’s ever present and forceful. It becomes deleterious to them in it’s absence. The ignorant don’t understand at all. They need to be told what the meaning is, it needs to be spelled out. They don’t want to exert or do the necessary work.
But I have potential. I love art in all it’s forms. I see it, I study it, I embrace it, but I’m not artistically inclined. I don’t have talent, I have potential. I have become a student, I love the idea so much that i want to become it. I crave talent, but it’s work. It’s hard and it takes major effort, but there is a voice somewhere deep down that knows that talent is something you’re born with, it isn’t something you can develop. So I keep telling myself to work harder, to try harder. I have potential, I tell myself.
So I drive and hope people will mistake me for what I truly am. I am a person with potential and I’m a fanatic and I’m trying to fool people into believing that I have talent; that I know what I’m doing. But I’m still learning. I’m still pushing myself forward, forcing the creative side to mesh with the analytic side and create something beautiful. I have potential, but If I work hard enough I hope to fool the world.
And here’s a brand new poem that I think goes fairly well with the essay. I’ve been having some writer’s block while working on my novel and have made very little progress in the last two months. Then one day I sat down and for some reason the creative juices were just there and this poem was the result. I’m still struggling a little, but at least there is some work happening now…
and this state of constant wonder, leads me divided; torn asunder
in this horrid devil’s playground in my head…
My fingers tell the story, of the broken trumped up glory
when my mind refused to listen, drowned out by broken pistons
the silence beating louder than my heart…
The darkened frozen night glows, and the turgid sky just bellows
of my time examining seams, on the boulevard of broken dreams
as words flow down as kindling for my hearth…
But through those wounds of empty pages, who speak louder than the ages
as the clock runs down to zero, I’m not a battered, broken hero,
just a man who wont give up until he wins…