Just Write It Down

In honor of my 100th post, I wrote the following essay as a clarion call for ordinary people to enter into the writing life, whether that be journaling, storytelling, scriptwriting, songwriting, poetry, short story, novel, novella, hymn, an email you’ve been putting off, or even that yellow sticky that will make someone else’s day.

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There is something sacred about that first drop of ink on a blank page. It is a step of faith; an act of creation; a defiance against non-being.

It is boldness to put one’s life and ideas into words.

It is courage to swallow up the margins with presence.

Each word becomes an Ebenezer crying out “I was here! I have a voice!”

The ink becomes a trumpet blasting through the corridor of time; the words are sometimes heard and carried on in another melody, or another pitch, until time itself crescendos with a mighty peel from those who let their words become their voices: brave voices, bold voices, being read and whispered and shouted from the world’s rooftops.

Even the smallest voices carry. The ink bleeds into the hearts of children and grandchildren, mothers and fathers, brothers and daughters who place their eager ears against the earth, hoping to dig up the faintest syllables of those words you are writing now.

Write them your story. Write them your ideas.

If your fingers tremble at the first, if your hand holds the pen against the page haltingly, uncertainly, then breathe. Remember there is only one other who reads what you put down. There is only one other who reads the words etched in love and hate upon the fabric of your heart, and He is not surprised. Though your words be good, bad, or ugly, He already knows what your peevish hands would scribe.

Write for no one. Write for everyone. Write for one. It is all the same so much as you write it true. So much as what is waiting, like a caged-up fox at the gate of your wrist, is let out for a few wild moments to race across the empty plains of the page.

Maybe its tail was on fire and it has torched the life you knew. Then cage it again–those wild thoughts–and thank the Almighty for the ash it left to seed a new world.

You may not like the ash. You may not appreciate the wild fox that was your thoughts careening across the page. Maybe you want nothing more than to trap them, cage them, and lock them away in a dark cellar in your soul. Maybe you want to burn the page and hold it responsible for the words it has mirrored from your heart.

But the page is just a mirror. It will only tell what you tell it. And if you don’t like what you read, it is because it has shown you the contents of a room you were hiding.

It takes faith to believe that what is fallen can be made well. Maybe the thoughts on your page are bad. Maybe they are the worst words written in the history of the world (I doubt it). Do you believe that the Father who brought the Son up from the grave can give life to your dead words? Do you really believe that your children’s children will only care about your victories, in the midst of their defeat?

We write what is true as an act of love. First for ourselves, then for the world. If my thoughts are wild, I will love them, until one day even the fox may lie down with the lamb.

If ever you’ve had a thought, a story, or an idea, just write it down. It is a wonderful adventure to watch an emptying heart fill the margins of a blank page. And I invite you to this adventure.

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 3:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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Live Long and Prosper

A Brief Introduction to the Life & Works of Theodore Sturgeon

Dying at the respectable age of 67, Theodore Sturgeon did accomplish the first half of his shibboleth, “live long….” I wrote this post so you would explore for yourself whether–as a writer who left us a great many works–he accomplished the other half, “…and prosper.

Mr. Sturgeon, a name that many of you (and myself until recently) have probably never heard of, is credited with the Star Trek Episode (“Amok Time”) that gave us the Vulcan mating ritual pon farr, & the far more familiar Vulcan phrase (and title of this blog post), which, of course, was transmitted to us by the nerdtacular Spock (it was Mr. Nimoy himself who is credited with giving us the hand gesture/finger-yoga maneuver that accompanies it).

(Follow the link to a wonderful video interview of Mr. Nimoy describing, and demonstrating, where the Vulcan salute came from, including its Jewish origins).

I suppose it can be said of Sturgeon what was said of a writer from our own time, “The most famous writer you’ve never heard of.” (At his peak in the 1950s Sturgeon was the most anthologized author alive).

I must confess that I am a poor carrier of this literary gospel, as my sentiments toward the science fiction genre have, for the most part, followed those of Michael Chabon:

Most science fiction seemed to be written for people who already liked science fiction.”

Because I am not alone in this bias against sci-fi, I present the evidence for Sturgeon, obscure though the sources may be:

“Perhaps the best way I can tell you what I think of a Theodore Sturgeon story is to explain with what diligent interest, in the year 1940, I split every Sturgeon tale down the middle and fetched out its innards to see what made it function. I looked upon Sturgeon with a secret and gnawing jealousy.”

– Ray Bradbury

Sturgeon’s often tender explorations of alien minds were as carefully worked out as Faulkner’s exploration of the mind of the idiot in The Sound and the Fury. His emphasis on psychology instead of blasters prepared the way for most modern masters of the science fiction genre.

—Stephen King

Sturgeon is a master storyteller certain to fascinate all sorts of readers, not only science fiction fans.

—Kurt Vonnegut (Vonnegut also used Sturgeon as the basis for his fictional character Kilgore Trout)

A terrific writer; I enjoyed every word he published.

—Robert Heinlein (I thought we’d better hear from the sci-fi community, too)

If you are a lover of the sci-fi genre, you have probably already read and enjoyed Sturgeon’s works. If you are a lover of fiction, and not sci-fi, you have probably already enjoyed the works of those (like those listed above) who were inspired by him. And if you only love making fun of people who read fiction & sci-fi, and do not read such things for yourself, I am truly sorry for the unenjoyable life you have led.

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Because it can be overwhelming to know where to start with a new author, here is my suggested Sturgeon reader, though this is only a launching point:

Mr. Costello, Hero” – an interesting fictional commentary about the McCarthy era

Bianca’s Hands” – a horrifying little piece about obsession

A Way of Thinking” – an amalgamation of several genres with a twist to the voodoo-doll legend

Extrapolation” – a short story about troubled men and the women who love them

Slow Sculpture” – a great short story that won him both a Hugo & Nebula award

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I must give credit to the following sites for making this post possible:

Theodore Sturgeon – The Wikipedia article

Theodore Sturgeon – A Biography (you must forgive this site’s awful layout; it is filled with gems of wonderful commentary, though they are buried in a world of barren design elements)

Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 3:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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Maps & Legends: A Review (sort of)

Regular Rivene readers might recall a review I did back in August of Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union. I discovered Chabon through the recommendation of my ex, and began reading through his impressive bookography with Wonder Boys.

Recently, I spent a few weeks down in Phoenix where I had plenty of time to soak in the sun, and spend time with friends; but I also made a point of going solo long enough to finish Chabon’s Maps & Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands.

The following review was composed primarily on the flight back to Seattle, in-between mordibly curious glances at the couple making-out in the seats to my left.

(Honestly, before that flight, I hadn’t thought it possible for two people to contort themselves over an aircraft’s seatbelt-armrest combination..Well, you know what they say, learn something new every day.)

In that vein, I present you a review of the finest book on writing (with its added bonus on reading) I’ve read since Stephen King’s On Writing. Enjoy.

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If a writer doesn’t give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves; if she doesn’t court disapproval, reproach, and general wrath, whether of friends, family, or party apparatchiks; if the writer submits his work to an internal censor long before anyone else can get their hands on it, the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth.” -Michael Chabon

Maps & Legends, the wonderful set of essays by our national treasure, Michael Chabon, has crafted a cartography of the mind and soul of authors, as well as those who read them.

It has inspired me to read more deeply, write more joyously, and live more exuberantly than I have in many months.

I would have been content to enjoy the musical quality of his prose, like a finely arranged symphony that sweeps up and down the scales, each sentence plucked by his Muse-inspired mind; or, I might have simply journeyed across the wide historical range of the many books he has–with passionate delight–convinced me are worthy of the time to read, even as he handed me the map to understanding them.

But what I did not expect (and what is even now shaking the tender pillars of my own troubled soul) was to discover with what brutal, animal-like emotion his personal account of the travails of literary labor–crafting the Golem and speaking it to life–would pluck the tight strings of my own creative heart, and send ripples of delight and dread to the farthest corners of my imagination.

In this book, I discovered a literary brother who, though older, wiser, and more experienced than myself (and yes, like all younger brothers, I must resist the urge to hate and envy his literary success) has taken the time to pause, reflect, and pen a map of the road to writing for those just starting down its path– in the hope that others would follow him.

He could have buried it in the sand, left all these wonderful insights unpublished, or hidden them inside a harddrive or dusty journal. Instead, he has telegraphed them from the wild lands, sent it through the post, with the welcoming inscription:

“Follow the signs. Mind the snakes. But come on over. The view is wonderful.”

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 10:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How to Bait Your Muse

This post started its life as a tweet:

I want to find a ‘How to Bait Your Muse’ class, or even better, ‘Abducting Muses 101.'”

I wrote it using my Droid around 10:00am this morning. It then went onto Facebook where it generated the following comments:

…CREEPY!!! :P”

and

Put cheese on a musetrap

~~

Now, I suppose I could (should?) allow this tweet to disappear into the nether regions of twitterverse, consumed by the black hole of inanity that consumes most of my 140 constrained characters. But my inanity knows no bounds, certainly not those imposed by Twitter. Plus I still want to know How to Bait My Muse.

It perplexes me where ideas come from. I mean, the good ones. The ideas that keep me up (like this blog post is currently keeping me up) until 2:00-3:00 in the morning, even though I have to be up for work at 7:00.

I used to believe that ideas were like fireflies – a writer would go in the woods, alone, in the dark, and patiently scoop these glittering jems out of the sky, bottling them up for the world to see. But oftentimes (and maybe this is just poor me) they are not so obvious.

If it was this easy, if any old bloke could go bumbling around the woods with a big enough jar and cram that sucker full until it could power up the Bat-signal, well -any old bloke would.

But ideas are not like fireflies. Sometimes they light up in the dark, but if they flicker, they flicker slowly, almost imperceptibly, and it’s up to the writer to go chasing them down, hoping that he will be able to find his way out of the dark woods; hoping there really is a trail that led him in; and once he finds what he came for, that a trail will lead him back out; and more hopeful still, that he can somehow remember the way so he can tell others where he went.

Maybe ideas are less like fireflies, and more like the darker things lurking in the woods, the “semi-domesticated animal” that Stephen King writes of:

There’s a mystery about creative writing, but it’s a boring mystery unless you’re interested in this one small animal, sometimes quite vicious, that makes its home in the bushes. It’s a scruffy little thing with fleas and often smells of whatever nasty mess it’s been rolling in. It can never be more than semi-domesticated and isn’t exactly known for its loyalty. I’ll speak more of this beast — to which the Greeks gave the comically noble name musa , which means song…” – Stephen King, “The Writing Life”

It’s interesting to me that Stephen King describes the creative process in terms of waiting for a beast, as though the Muse were just some vicious animal, nearly feral, and that which can never be controlled, only caught for short periods of time, usually at the price of scratch marks and bite wounds.

I also think of the creative process in terms of a hunt, but it’s less like Buckmasters and more like eHarmony; less the bear trap metaphor, and more a courtship. In fact, I can almost picture the Muse’s eHarmony profile:

She enjoys walks on the beach under moonlight, followed by romantic fireside dinners with baked brie and blood red wine the color of former heartache. She enjoys dancing under undying stars where the Milky Way pirouettes into the infinite reaches of heaven. Her favorite colors are sadness, melancholy, exquisite delight, and loneliness. Her worst fears are too much happiness, too little joy, and being suffocated. She is looking for men (and women) who are content in their solitude, afraid in their fears, hopeful in their joys, and  generous with their lives. She also likes cats.

Mr. King and I agree that the only way to meet this Muse is by getting alone with her (standing on the edge of the woods, waiting for it to arrive), which really means getting alone with oneself. The greatest gift the writer can give to the world is solitude, for it is the price of meeting one’s Muse.

She will flirt in books; she will play coy at parties; she will send love notes throughout your day at work, even while you are out with the boys; but it’s not until you get back to your desk, back to that park in the bench where you’ve stopped to enjoy the sun, back to the driver’s seat of your car while trying to get from social event A to social event B – yes, that’s when she arrives. You won’t always know how she got there, may not even know she’s there at all until she bumps you on the shoulder, but you’ll always know it’s her – the world stops; time hangs on a single, yet eternal, thread of decision: continue along the way, ignore her and all she stands to give, or accept her in that moment, that moment that hangs in eternity.

Make no mistake, writer, if you spurn her presence here, there is no guarantee she will return. Oh, she may come back again, but not like she was in that moment, not as the sun caught in her hair just so. If you ignore it, you’ve lost it – whatever idea, whatever inspiration, whatever gift she would have given, it is gone.

So writer, woo her. Writer, cherish her. Writer, pause. Listen. Hear.

And writer, whatever else you may do

Wait for her.

Published in: on March 10, 2010 at 4:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions very well, but if I did, my first resolution of 2010 would be to write 5 blogs every week for my ravenous fans.

Of course, I don’t have any fans, ravenous or otherwise, but I read somewhere that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time; and the way to begin the journey of a 1,000 miles is with one step; and the way to properly brown cooked meat is to dry it with a paper towel. I don’t believe that that last one has much to do with writing, unless you happen to be Julia Childs, in which case, it will earn you thousands of dollars and many ravenous fans (literally).

However, if I did do New Years’ resolutions, here are what they would be:

1) Obey God at any cost

Sadly, I discovered in 2009 the very painful consequence of disobeying God, namely, a broken engagement. If you have ever had the misfortune of falling in love with someone, being engaged, and then having that sundered, I pray God heals your heart, for it is the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life. Fortunately, friends and family have been very supportive, and I am healing, though it is a very slow process.

2) Finish what I start

I am currently 2/3 finished with my novel Blood Children; 1/3 finished with an untitled (though very good) faery tale; 1/10 finished with an interesting fictional memoir about sleep paralysis; and 95% finished with a long short story called “The Choice.”

I am very excited to announce that my friend Wes has procured me 9 days in March at his aunt’s house in Lincoln City, Oregon, where I will seclude myself with a stack of books, another stack of research articles, a large thermos of hot chocolate, my laptop, and a bound and gagged Muse who will help me finish the middle third of Blood Children; whereafter, I can spend the rest of 2010 polishing it off, sending it to an editor, and thickening up my skin for the rejection letters soon to follow.

3) Write more poetry

I learned in the beginning of 2009 that poetry is actually very helpful for prose writing. I discovered a mathematical formula that equates the amount of poetry written to the amount of useful prose:

(y stanzas X z lines) X .037 = # of useful prose lines

Properly calculated, this means that I produce, on average, 2 lines of useful prose for every 54 lines of complete poetic dogshit, which is still far more efficient than all of the economic stimulus plans produced in 2009.

Now, as this is a writing blog, I think it would be unfair of me to talk about my creative work without giving you a demonstration thereof. So, here are a couple of stanzas that I wrote during a worship service at my church (and again, if you find any of these lines emotionally gripping, remember the above mentioned formula).

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Shallow pools hide deeper waters

and quiet streams flow to hidden caves

but my soul is a desperate Gobi

lapping at pools of mud

__

Peaceful dreams of kings

bring the din and roar of thunder

and only fools cry silence

to a night shattered by screams

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Finally, in a completely non-sequitur move, I leave you with a belated 2009 Christmas gift: my very cute niece Abby, producing her very first magic trick.

Published in: on January 4, 2010 at 8:35 am  Comments (1)  
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