It’s Been a Minute: But Fear Lightly

smile and the whole world in his hands...

smile and the whole world in his hands…

I’m still working on chapter 3…My brain produced a new plot element that has to be included in chapter 3.  This called for a re-write…after an existential melt-down…forgive my stating of the obvious, won’t you?

It’s been tough…this adventure to the garden isle.  I’m having a hard time finding my rhythm.  Especially with regard to writing time (the time I use to write, not time that I’m writing…I don’t write time, I just act like I do…I’m aware).  I was telling my friend that this was the hardest button to swallow.  He said it was worse than I thought because now I’m mixing metaphors.  He was right.  It is rare when Matt is wrong on such.

So read the first 2 chapters and comment.  I will be using the comments for editing when I write the second draft for publishing.  We are gonna get through these dark days like we always do: together with liberal amounts of hyperbole and hubris…Mahalo

I Am Not A Poet and I Always Kind of Suspected That That Was True

St. Francis

“All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.” –Oscar Wilde

Medium is a large part of effective communication.  If you miss the correct forum or mechanism for your voice, you run the risk of ultimately losing your audience…it matters little how important your message.  Recently, I watched a movie that was made using a book that I really enjoyed as its source material.  The titles of the book and the movie were both “Blue Like Jazz“.  The book was an autobiographical account of a man named Donald Miller and his search of understanding his own faith in Christ beyond the pale of his parent’s faith, beyond the faith that he’d co-opted as a result of his upbringing.  The movie was not.  The movie was a confused coming of age story that used scenes and themes from the book, but massaged and bathed them in clichés and simple-minded tropes to the point of being almost unrecognizable to those in the book.  The movie galvanized a suspicion I’d held for a long time: there is more to good media than just earnestness.  The folks working on the movie, a group that included the book’s author, probably wanted to make a good movie…I’m sure they were intent on making an authentic representation of the book.  But, in the end, what they made was a movie, most aptly described by my friend Scott, that “Blew like Jazz”…Scott later apologized for his harsh treatment of Jazz…but I think he got it right.  I learned through experiencing these two forms of media–medium that were ostensibly created by the same mind–that being good at one form of writing does not make you good at all of them.  It’s not as though the book was an impossible impetus for a movie, two guys whose names are Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass made a film called “Sleep Walk with Me” (available to stream on Netflix), and it is a great example of the sort of storytelling that was being attempted by “Jazz“.  It is also proof that autobiographical material is the stuff of great movies when handled with a clarity of vision.

I’ve always had a passing interest in poetry.  I’ve read a lot of it and even tried my hand at it a few times to dismal results.  It became clear that there existed a disconnect between what I thought the secret to good poetry was and the actual secret.  I longed to be a poet…I find myself drawn to their tortured disposition and stubborn reluctant attitude toward the commoditization of literature.  While I was at the  writer’s conference in San Francisco last year, I went to a class about writing poetry and prose.  I’ve since come to determine that while poetry and prose share many things in common, to lump them together and try and teach something important about them in the span of an hour and a half is, at the very least, obtuse.  But they had my money so everyone was happy…it’s not as though I came to this conclusion while they were talking.  Ignorance truly is bliss, at times.  The teachers, both professors, had very little to say about poetry I hadn’t heard before.  There was a great deal of time spent on metering and tempo and the use of vocabulary to accomplish the poet’s intended purpose.  Then came the most audacious claim of the class: “There is no right or wrong way to write poetry.”  While I can appreciate their intended message, that one’s voice is not validated or made invalid by another’s opinion concerning said voice, to say that there exists no right or wrong way to write poetry is as obtuse as the class’ syllabus.

I understand, on a certain level, structuring sentences and phrases in a way that both communicates and sings in one’s mind–I’ve written songs for a decade and a half now–some of which I’m quite proud, but I’ve never been able to write a single poem in a way that satisfies my curiosity with the medium and my grasp of it.  While listening to an episode of “What The Fuck?“, a podcast hosted by comedian Marc Maron, I was struck by this subject as it was being discussed by Marc and, his guest for that episode, Iris DeMent.  If ever there was a cross-over between the two disciplines of song-writing and poetry, she would be a candidate who could make the jump.  She was the daughter of a poet and college professor who, as her father, would constantly encourage her that the poems she thought she was writing were actually songs.  He also was of the unpopular opinion that Bob Dylan was a songwriter and not a poet, a distinction he thought was important.  Thank God he did so…the world is a better place because Iris DeMent realized that she was a songwriter.

My friend Matt is a poet.  He is the only poet that I’ve ever had the honor to meet whose poetry didn’t make me blush for lack of a response that was both honest and kind upon hearing one of his pieces.  I love his work.  Here is a piece he’s kindly allowed me to use in the interest of making my point:

CHURCH OF POST-LATTER DAY SAINTS

Saint Francis stands in the corner.

His eyes track the even click

of the second-hand around the face

of his wristwatch, his foot

impatiently tapping as if there is

some place he’d rather be.

The law of diminished expectations

was coined for an occasion

like this. Nothing, finally,

really means nothing.

Francis seems to know

it too, swatting with his Bible

at a mosquito, which carves

itself into the scene

like a demand or a question,

a tiny black angel

now crushed like a bug

against the silvery white of the walls…

This was one of the first examples of poetry that convinced me I didn’t get it, I’m no poet.  Later in life, Matt and I were talking about this.  He told me that he’d finally finished a grip of poems on which he’d been working for years but for which he’d struggled to find a suitable ending.  He said that in poetry the end is a delicate and subtle thing…it is not a punch-line.  Boom, there it was…my whole sensibility in communication is punch-line.  This isn’t to say I’ve quit the pursuit, why would I quit having learned an important piece of the puzzle?  It is to say that the cross-over of medium is not as simple as some would have you believe…as I’d have myself believe.  Recent efforts have produced this:

Suicide is painless the singer lies

in dulcet tones like lullabies.

But I’ve seen the pain in a daughter’s eyes

because her daddy chose to believe it.

I don’t know what that is per-se, but it’s something…and I’m not as embarrassed by it as I have been by previous attempts.

Maychance you’re asking yourself, “What is the point?”   Is this nothing more than a self-indulgent description of journey where-in I learned something about poetry?  Maybe.  But I do think there is a lack of respect in western culture for craft…an imprecise attitude toward tools and unique disciplines.  I once had the attitude that a poem was nothing more than a song with no music, and when I tried to write it as such, the result was not a poem.  It was a song with no music.  Looking back, this seems as foolish as trying to use a broken economic system to control a society…like communism…or, for that matter, capitalism…

My Voice: Two Point Oh…

Brewing beer=good timesBrewing contention=bad times

Brewing beer=good times
Brewing contention=bad times

I know what you’re thinking…it’s a figure of speech…an arrogant one; let me start again.  I was thinking: man it’s been awhile since I’ve written on my blog.  I think it’s been about three years.  I guess I could go back and look so I could be more precise about the length of time since last I wrote, but that sounds boring.  Let’s just agree it’s been longer than a month.  I tried to think back and do the math on the exact time, but in the midst of all that the numbers turned into red and blue monkeys and used the symbols of operations as weapons to beat one another, when last I checked the red monkeys were winning.  I couldn’t watch for long; I struggle with monkey on monkey violence, regardless their color.

I had an idea to write about Sandy Hook a few weeks back, I resisted that urge and I’m glad that I did.  It seems to be a topic mainly commented on by the mentally unstable who would use a tragedy to showcase their delusion.  I’m happy to be left out of the fray.  Call it a stroke of luck.  Instead I thought I’d share my reasons (Read: Excuses) for not writing for some undeterminable length of time.

I started to brew beer at a real working brewery with my friend Andy.  I had no idea how much fun I would have with that.  But it came at a price, my hours for writing were in direct conflict with the schedule of a brewer…this conflict showcased my inability to change my habits.  The solution was simple enough: write at a different time.  Trust me, I find no flaw in your logic, and really when you get right down to it, it’s probably the thing I like least about you: your flawless logic.  Anyway, that got more confrontational than necessary and I feel partially responsible; I’m sorry.  Let’s move on.  Andy and I brewed about 100 batches of beer (I’m almost positive that’s an exaggeration)  and like I said it was a lot of fun.  But there was more than just beer brewing in the brew-house, trouble was also at a rolling boil. (I know.)  My friends Andy and Jessica were only part owners of the brewery in which I worked.  Their working relationship with their partners had soured over the preceding year and, before long, talks of a buy-out were bandied back and forth between lawyers.  Eventually, my friends were bought out and I was dismissed along with them. It was a regime change and there was no room for an assistant brewer connected with the old-school.  I wouldn’t have wanted to work there anyhow, but really that sounds petty at this point.  I’m sure you’ll forgive me that indulgence.  About the same timeish I started another artistic endeavor, that of the podcaster.

Podcasting is nothing if not a stronghold of terminally self-involved despots with insatiable appetites for the siren-sound of their own voice.  So naturally, it was a perfect fit for me.  I’ve been in love with radio since before I can remember (completely impossible to prove, I know) and podcasting is the democratization of radio, and the audible evidence of democracy’s Achilles heel.  The great thing about podcasting is you get to sit down, either by yourself or with some friends, (I chose the friends route) and say whatever is on your mind.  The horrible thing about podcasting is that you sit down and say whatever’s on your mind.  This becomes a problem if you’ve nothing compelling to say.  It became clear to me I had little to say.  I wanted to make a show that was poignant, honest, and not afraid to go for the obvious dick joke here and there.  By not afraid I mean to say: not encumbered by one’s opinion of my intellect or ethos because I find dick jokes funny.  The show I made was definitely not afraid of dick jokes…but it lacked the other components, and that became glaringly obvious to me.  What wasn’t so obvious was the reason why, but I felt it prudent to forgo the recording of my thoughts in that format until such a time came that I could make the show that is in my mind.  That time is nowhere in sight but I will come back to podcasting one day.  It was just too much fun to stay away forever.  For those of you who heard that podcast, I apologize, it wasn’t the show I’d imagined it to be.  But my imagination, like me, is a shitty communicator.  There is a chance that that fact alone should disqualify me from the pursuit of podcasting all together.  I try not to think about that too much.

So here we are.  Those were the reasons I stopped writing.  There is the small detail about why the gap between those things ending and my picking up writing again was so wide.  Most of that can be explained by laziness.  The rest is a bit tricky.  Those of you who know me know that my brain is sometimes, some might say oft-times, controlled by an icy-veined cynic.  This cynic is a personality I’ve spent a large portion of my life trying to ignore, but alas, some of his thoughts escape my mouth and for every ten of those there are untold thousands that run around on a loop in the warm gray cul-de-sac that is my brain.  This means that whenever inspiration strikes, the process of getting said inspiration in writing is held up in committee as my cynic debates my mind about the validity of said inspiration.  On top of that I gave my cynic two fantastic failures (Brewing and Podcasting) with which to filibuster brain on the topic of inspiration.  So that took a couple of weeks to push through.  Last year I published around fifty-thousand words on this blog all in the interest of discovering my voice.  My voice is still an allusive thing after which I diligently chase, and having no evidence that I’m any closer to its discovery and having taken a break from its pursuit, I find myself every bit as afraid to stare at a blank screen as I was when I wrote my first post.  So it’s 2013 and I’m taking another shot at it…maybe it’ll be aptly described as futile as Dr. Thompson’s search for the American Dream.  I am left with the conviction that, unlike the American Dream and Bigfoot, my voice exists.  Also, I think Bigfoot exists.  I know that was confusing to you, but it was much more so to Bigfoot.

Fear, Laziness’ Beard

It seems to me the next thing a writer must overcome is laziness, this is something we all struggle with, to one degree or another, and it is something that carries a very shameful stigma in many (if not all) cultures.  I like to hide my laziness behind the guise of fear.  If I determine I’m afraid of failure, and that fear keeps me from committing any ideas to a page, then that might be perceived as a more noble roadblock than the fact that I just plain don’t want to sit down in front of a blank page and pound out my thoughts or feelings.  The tricky thing is that I possess both fear and laziness and, because these two concepts are not mutually exclusive, it is sometimes hard to determine which emotion is motivating me from moment to moment.  So the logical path to take concerning both motivators is to call bullshit on them and push forward…bold words from a lazy coward.

I recently heard a story that was being told by Stephen Tobolowsky about a Zen master and a bully, this story had also been told to him via The Andy Griffith show where-in the Zen master was played by most of Mayberry through Opie Taylor, and the bully was played by a bully.  The story goes that a Zen master is traveling down a road and comes across a man who tells the master that he cannot pass unless he determines whether the bird in the man’s closed hand is alive or dead.  Opie decides to take a different way home and process the problem through his known and predictable methods of navigating life’s philosophical potholes, he asks Andy.  The Zen master in the original story simply tells the man that the bird’s fate was in the hands of the man holding it, and walks on.

One thing that Stephen and I have in common is that the story seems to be missing pertinent information; for Stephen the struggle is “What happened to the bird?”, a question that the story could have answered providing the author thought it was a valid question to answer, my conundrum is more tricky; I wonder, “Am I the bird or the bully?”.  That is to say am I a bird being held back by the tyranny of my laziness and fear, or am I the one holding all the cards, and the bird of my thoughts, and waiting for the master to answer so I can determine whether to open my hand and allow the bird to go free, or crush the life out of it to fulfill my own selfish desires.  In other words, are my hang-ups nothing more than a simple-minded passive-aggressive form of control over my own mind and creativity?

Hubert Selby Jr said he began his writing career when he had a dream that instilled in him a fear of dying having accomplished nothing; I’d kill for that fear, not really, I don’t even think one could obtain a fear just by committing murder (I’ll look into that), but that fear is superior to my own fear of scrutiny.  Although I may not be afraid of scrutiny at all.  Perhaps I’m just lazy.