Friday, October 30, 2015

Your Friday Yes: Play Your Ukulele

I may have gone on for an additional minute longer than I needed to in this video. Oh, well.

(My t-shirt says "One Tough Cookie" at the bottom, and it is my favorite t-shirt, but I rarely wear it so as to preserve it as long as possible.)

The feedback on this video indicates that me not actually playing the uke was a disappointment. I tried to record myself playing "Call Me Maybe" (a friend of mine is in a "Call Me Maybe" situation this week and I wanted to surprise her), which is fun, but has a difficult chord transition in every single bar. So it wasn't a song as much as it was just a bunch of inconsistent chord-playing. And my voice sounded terrible. I used to sing in choirs in high school and college - I was never amazing, but never on the level of terrible. Either my pitch has seriously declined in the past twelve years and I haven't noticed, or the mike on my webcam is really bad, or the song just isn't right for my voice. I'm thinking about trying to record a different song and putting a link into the video.

Regardless, what I said still goes. Go make something. Make a macaroni necklace. Make a paper doll. Make a collage. Just make something that doesn't have to be good, and believe me, it'll be easier to make things thenceforth.

That's all I got. I'm knackered. Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Primordial Blobbery

Since we moved out of the 1970s in terms of the fiction syllabus provided to me this semester, a lot more light at the end of the tunnel has become visible. In three weeks, I read John Haskell's I Am Not Jackson Pollock, Dubravka Ugresic's Lend Me Your Character, and Karen Russell's St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. I loved all of them, for totally different reasons, and the first two gifted me with a plethora of ideas, and such an open-ended horizon, for what I can/want to write in the future.

That horizon will have to wait, though. School is not finished killing me.

Thing is, all the ideas dislodging from the soil and floating up and moving around, they're all interesting but unformed. I've taken notes, asked myself questions, created little tadpole blobs of associated words. I have a blob about Kathy Ireland, a blob about a specific memory of laughter, and a long essay-blob about my brain. I've done justice to none of these ideas and honestly, I don't even know what one of them means. They're blobs. They're not even really things yet.

There's a more shapely blob I've had in my head for about two years about Roland Barthes. It's not fiction, it's scholarly, and I'm not in any position to be advancing a scholarly idea like it in the format it deserves. But it won't let go, and I am wise enough to beware of the blob. It creeps. It leaps. It glides and slides.

The point of all this is that it's good that school is not finished killing me. I need time for these ideas to gestate, time for them to sink out of the primordial blobbery and solidify. I'm impatient to return to writing rather than schooling, but all things in their own time, I think. That's what I'm being told. Time is being given to me in different ways than I want it, but we don't get to choose how time works on us.

And the other point is that this is what school is good for. The laughter idea is going to be a big deal if it comes together the way I suspect, and it never would've floated up from the muck if not for what Dr. Chatterjee said when I was sitting in class on Monday night. I never would've read John Haskell and thought you mean I could just do this and call it a short story? if not for Dr. Haake's unusual method of creating a syllabus. Education is no small help.

Other news. I meant, but failed, to post on Sunday that it was St. Crispin's Day, and the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. I mentioned this in my Your Friday Yes video, which I also did not post timely in this space.

So there's the video, and here's the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V. My original idea for last Friday's Yes was to read the whole speech into the webcam, and I think we can all be glad I came up with a different idea.

There's more to say, but I'm out of time. Natch.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

OCTOBER 21, 2015

It's today. It's the day every Back to the Future fan knows. It's the day Marty goes into the future.

I am so excited. (The Cubs better win the damn World Series.)

To celebrate, I'm posting a piece of fiction I wrote, in fun, to try and understand the perspective of Biff Tannen, who is up there with Gene Hackman's character in Unforgiven for no-holds-barred villainy. I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Publishment at Hobart!

Wow and double wow! My fiction is presented today at Hobart online. You can read "Shade", which runs just over 1,000 words, here.

I am so pleased and honored to be featured at Hobart. I love what they do, and it's been a goal of mine to have a piece there since around 2008. So, kids, follow your dreams. You can reach your goals. I am living proof.

I wrote this story as an exercise in the fall of 2014. It was well-received by the class for which I wrote it, so I fiddled with it a bunch to smooth off its rough edges and sent it out. It was rejected, the editors said, because the ending was too abrupt; I consulted with a writer-friend, she told me what was going on there, I fixed it, and voila. It isn't always so easy, but I got lucky this time.

The impetus was a warehouse like the one described in the story that I saw by the side of the highway. I was driving back into Los Angeles from the Santa Clarita area on highway 14, and I saw the lower legs and skateboards of a clutch of teenage boys buzzing around under a corroded roof. The story was not fully formed after I saw the warehouse, but the characters of the boys were, almost. (Who would go way out of town to a dangerous warehouse to skateboard? These boys, that's who.)

The social divide between two of them in particular came later. For Ray I was thinking of a boy I knew in high school whom I desired largely because he wasn't rich and preppy like the other boys. But for the pair of them, Ray and Colin, I was thinking of how young people can misunderstand the differing values of privilege and popularity when they're still in the closed terrarium of high school.

And that long long long sentence when Ray falls off his skateboard? I'd been reading Absalom, Absalom! and wanted to see how long I could make a sentence, whether I could make a single sentence draw the reader into the emotional peak of the story and then pull her back again.

I hope you enjoy "Shade". If you do, c'mon back here tomorrow. The timing of this week means I'm posting again on Wednesday, and there will be fiction then, too.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Your Friday Yes: How to Do the Twist

What it says on the tin.

The thumbnails were all bad, so I just went with the dorkiest one

Next week I'm going to post on Wednesday and Sunday. Sorry for the change in plans, but it's to the good. There will be surprises. Less cute ones than me doing the Twist, but surprises that I hope you enjoy nevertheless.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

It's Kinda "Choose Your Own Doom Among Several Bad Choices"

I think I've been a little too noisy about my birthday this year, for no particular reason that I'm aware of, so I'll just say "it's my birthday" once more and then I'm done. Yay! Birthday!

by Roy Marvelous

I had a grueling weekend. I spent about 18 hours of it on schoolwork: a take-home midterm for my theory class (about which the less said, the better) and a short story for my workshop class. I'd spent enough time over the past two weeks thinking about the short story that writing it was less mental effort than usual, but it still kind of sucked to grind out 4,000 words in a single day. I honestly don't know if it's any good, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't suck. And it's finished. Which is what I needed to happen for the sake of the class. So, mission accomplished.

The story apes the format of a choose-your-own-adventure novel. I wrote three separate stories about three supernatural creatures: aliens, werewolves, and zombies. In the first two cases they are a little more metaphorical than they are in the final case. I created a few forks in the road for the characters to cope with and then put "turn to page X" instructions at the bottom of each page. I was so pooped from writing by the time I was formatting it that I wasn't enjoying it anymore, but when Matt read it he said the story was, in fact, fun to read. Which I hoped it would be.

Naturally, bad things happen to women in this story. I had swung away from that theme in 2014 by writing more about men and boys, but I guess I've swung back. Anyway, I'll keep you posted on how the workshoppers deal with it.

I hoped that this story would be a sort of rehearsal for the wikibook. A formal experiment that's not dissimilar to what I mean to do in the bigger project. The story was formally less hard than I thought it would be, which is good news. Of course, all the same writerly endeavors remain, pushing like ground stakes through the unusual format: characterization, tension, use of time, etc. I know not much better what to expect from writing the wikibook now than I did before I wrote this story, except perhaps that I can relax about it formally because that aspect won't be as hard as I thought.

The only other news is that we are finally out of Mercury being in retrograde, which I would have dismissed as hooey a month ago as something that affects me at all, but I do not think that anymore.

The best way I can think to explain the recent shape of my life is "my shit is all fucked up," and/or to direct people to this page. It is about Mercury being in retrograde in 2014 but I nodded along at every single thing. This is how my late September and early October has gone. Goddamn chaos all around me and I. am. not. chill.

On Sunday, though, I started feeling better. Like I feel after the Santa Anas have left town again. Their hot restlessness gets under my skin and I toss and turn, mentally and physically, until they go away. This retrograde business was closer to frenzy, and I am beyond grateful that it's ending.

We are heading into my least favorite time of the year, though - the Holiday Months. Give me strength, O Saint Willy the Shake.

You can get your own Sainted Writers candles here

Friday, October 9, 2015

Your Friday Yes: Turning 34

Another Your Friday Yes that's over five minutes long. :( I talk too much. One day I'll figure out how to make them shorter.

I record these on Wednesdays, and this past Wednesday I had a bunch of weird stuff going on. So I leaned confessional, because that's something I know how to do.

In case you were curious, the t-shirt I'm wearing endorses RiffTrax, which I love. I'm making it a business to wear a different interesting t-shirt every week, and I'm starting to think I ought to show them to the camera and talk about them. But then the videos would be yet longer. Decisions, decisions.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Doing Prose, Audience-Free

I want to talk about audience today, but I'm not sure my ideas on it are completely settled. So come along with me on this jaunt; no guarantees I know what I'm talking about or won't change my mind.


A friend is in the process of figuring out how to write what she wants to write. She says that she needs her pieces to land, or to be received, for them to be whole, and her feelings have been echoed by other writers I know. I get it. There's a way in which a lot of my day-to-day seems imprecise and fuzzy until I talk it over with Matt. Writing is often the same way; until I loop Matt in on what I'm doing, and then ultimately give him the finished product, it feels like a secret that I don't want to keep.

I'm not sure I was very helpful when I gave my friend my $0.02 about this.
After eight years of taking my writing seriously, and thinking about audience and who would like it and the importance of putting my stuff into the world and etc., this year I just stopped caring about that and started doing it for me. And everything has changed.

That's not to say that I don't ever have audience in mind (especially when revising), but just that I'm finally more interested in what I think of the work as opposed to what someone else will think of it. Not being married to whether the work is suitable for others has made it SO much better. I was waaaaaay wrapped around Being A Writer and what that meant and whether I deserved it, and now I'm invested in the process of writing instead. The process of making something with which I am satisfied. And the process is what keeps making me better, instead of some magic key or combination that means I can write a perfect MFA story suitable for The New Yorker.

For me it took the bottom of despair about writing to hit this point (and, again, years of effort and carrying on when a lot of the world told me not to), and I really hope it doesn't take that for every writer. 
The thing is, it's not actually true that I don't care about audience at all. I do. I care about writing such that others can understand me, and about publishing, and about other people one day walking up and saying "Your book mattered to me." I just no longer care about those things so much that all my joints freeze up before (and while) I put words on the page. I no longer care such that I'm thinking my way around every street corner before I even put my characters in the stroller to go for a walk. And I no longer care enough about the potential end result of a piece that I'm willing to rethink my method or style or interpretation of storytelling in order to make my work more saleable, or palatable, or any other adjective that depends upon external reception.

I'm still open to feedback (for heaven's sake). If the story doesn't have internal logic, it needs revision. If I give it to Matt and Matt says "Huh?" then it probably needs revision. But I suspect - forgive me - that it's kind of like parenting. If you think every other second about how your kid's going to end up after you've sent them off into adulthood, you're going to lose your mind, right? Way too much pressure, too much fretting about a future that's so unwritten as to be irrelevant until the kid's a certain age. If instead you just parent them to the best of your ability, day-to-day, I imagine you'll do a better job. The act of parenting, today, matters a lot more to the kid, now and on the future therapist's couch, than a consistent push toward Yale or a good marriage or whatever.

Whether I'm wrong or not about actual parenting, the conclusion works for writing. In my opinion, for my type of writing, the act of sitting and doing prose matters more to the long-term avocation and concerns of a writer than the act of considering what will happen to that prose once it's done. I respect the need for an audience when writing in other genres, and the need for a reader for the sake of closure, but I have learned that to be satisfied with one's own work and, importantly, to reach higher when considering the next challenge, is a far more profitable enterprise than starting with "Who will want to read this?" and working backward.

Writing this blog has been a practice like that. I used to care so much about who was reading this blog, how many hits I got. I used to try to make the posts tidier in subject so they'd be more easily shared. At some point I just stopped caring about all that, and I started thinking of the blog as a resource for myself: a library of my thoughts and experiences related to writing. I would like it if other people found the blog helpful, or if the blog found a wide audience, but that's not my goal anymore. A goal like that depends on too many variables, too many unpredictables (or too much selling out). I'd prefer to build something for myself, which is a goal for which I know how to aim. When gathering friends and followers along the way becomes anything more critical than a side benefit, I find that I lose interest in blogging.

So. I'm not sure where that leaves my friend, or, again, whether I'm going to change my mind six months from now. (After my next horrible depression, ha ha. Ha.) But like I said, everything has changed since I figured this out. I reread some of the secret project yesterday (while I was trying not to hate the new story I'm writing for my workshop in a week and a half), and I was amazed that I had written it. It's so good. It needs work, but it's so free and fine, so much better than I remembered. And I know it's because I care almost nothing about whether that work is going into the world. It matters more to me to write it for myself, and as a tribute to what I've enjoyed about Ceremonials, than it matters that the book is long enough to be a novel or the stories can be submitted for publication on their own or the content is too queer or whatever the fuck. To me, it's so good. That's all I give a damn about.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Your Friday Yes: It's Just a Ride

I got pretty frustrated recording Your Friday Yes this week. I did a take I really liked, but it was 7.5 minutes long, was unkind about Jem and too revealing about work, and had weird color problems. I did another take that was ruined because a plant-killing squirrel kept dancing around on my balcony, taunting me, and I was so angry at the thing that I couldn't be appropriately lighthearted in the video. I did more takes that I screwed up for other reasons. I ended up with this one, which I like less than the 7.5-minute one, but which will do, and anyway by the time I was finished with it I was out of time to do any more.

Say yes to imperfect yes videos.

Another story to be workshopped is due in six days. I have about 200 words of it. My mental image of myself is of a Hanna Barbera cartoon character in deep trouble.

This is not to say that I've done no writing in the recent past. I wrote an essay last week that was serious business, something I'm quite proud of, but it's too short and probably way too personal to be workshopped. The story I have in mind shouldn't be a serious trial to write, but, natch, finding the time is going to be a challenge.

But hey, it's just a ride.