A One Photo Tale

“A good short story is almost always about a moment of profound realisation. Or a hint of that.  A quiet bomb.”

Recently, I’ve been reading The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40.  About a couple months ago I realized I had a problem: I had a hard time sitting down and just reading a novel – any novel.  I tried classics, modern lit of all genres, YA, but nothing seemed to hold my attention.  Nothing captured me and drew me in to a world of gripping vitality.  Simply put, I couldn’t concentrate on anything long enough to get through more than ten-fifteen pages.  For me this is rare – and troubling.  I inhale books.  I read them in one sitting if I can, 300, 400 pages – no problem if I have a spare weekend.  But it wasn’t happening, and it made me feel disconnected.

Finally, I decided to change tactics.  I went to the short-story section of the local B&N and picked out a couple of options, one being The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40.  And, it worked.  Novels are complicated, drawn-out stories.  They can be intense at parts, drawn out at parts, morbid at parts, thrilling at parts, etc.  But they are created of PARTS.  And, while many of the parts may be wonderful and well-written and captivating, there are still several pieces that fit together, and you usually want or need to have all the pieces to truly grasp and end the novel.

Short stories aren’t quite like that.  I could sit down and read 150 pages of short stories because they came at me in short spurts of plots and emotions.  I didn’t have to hang on to and grasp an entire complicated plot and cast of characters.  Everything kept changing every 15-20 pages.  (Perfect for those with ADD, I might add.)  Still, I was experiencing different lives and places and thought processes.

“A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” ―Lorrie Moore
“A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” ―Lorrie Moore

Short stories usually fall into one of two categories, but with a common core.

1) A story that is one piece that could essentially fit into a larger story.  However, the tone and theme of its writing allows it to stand alone, and by standing alone, the story becomes more intense.  This story may not be neatly wrapped up at the end, having frayed edges that dangle here and there.  Questions are left unanswered, enhancing the tone and feelings of the story.  While there may be some closure, essentially the end is left open to different possibilities, as if awaiting a sequel that will never be written.  This type of short story can essentially be likened to a 1 season show or a season finale.   Who is left dead/married/drugged/moved?  But, while you want these answers, you don’t really need them.  The short story packed enough emotion and tension in it for a resolve, just not a concrete denouement.  This type usually focuses on building tension and emotion through specifically chosen language: repetition, intensely figurative and emotional language, often first person accounts with a dialogue tone that matches the characters frame-of-mind.  The story is gained through bits and pieces, but there is not necessarily a big BANG moment of action.  It is also highly psychological in nature, pulling and driving the story more from thought than intense action.  For an example, think “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

2) The second type is one that is more solidly a complete story.  You don’t question what happens next.  You have a complete ending (more or less).  These stories usually focus on the ending of something that can give you a conclusion (as in The Cask of Amontillado), or it can briefly give a full-length but less detailed tale (as in A Rose for Emily).  In the case of “The Cask…” the plot ends in a murder which the entire story had been building up to.  However, the reader was never fully informed of the reasons behind the murder, just that vengeance was required.  In “A Rose…” the reader is told briefly of the life span of Emily, from her father rearing her to her loneliness and her lovers.  However, at the end there is final “Aha” moment when the body of Emily and later Homer were discovered.  In these stories, while aspects of psychology are involved as they drive the action, the focus is on the action.  In these cases, the actions were murder.  I liken this type of short story to a complete series or a series finale.  There is a definite end.

This picture was found here.
This picture was found here.

However, what unites both of these types of short stories is their singular focus and tone.  In all three of the above examples, the tone remains fairly consistent (with a short bursts of intensity here and there to drive the focus) with a singular focus.  In both cases everything led to the end.  The authors basically started as they finished, bringing the story full round.  “A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” ―Lorrie Moore

Now, compare it to a novel like Gone with the Wind or Jane Eyre.  These books possess many parts, each part carrying a different tone.  In Gone with the Wind, each part of her life (pre-marriage, marriage 1, marriage 2, marriage 3,etc ) carried a different focus and tone.  Even though she was always chasing Ashley, the tone wasn’t always jealousy or rage or ambition.  There were happy moments, scared moments, inspirational and educational moments.  The same can be said of Jane EyreLittle WomenAtlas Shrugged.*  Short stories can be complicated or simple in their themes and philosophies and psycholgies, but whether it is mind-driven or action-driven, there is a single “bomb” that makes the story.

Your quote to think about for next week is this: “For the source of the short story is usually lyrical. And all writers speak from, and speak to, emotions eternally the same in all of us: love, pity, terror do not show favorites or leave any of us out.” 
― Eudora Welty

*Essentially, the closest novels to short stories that I have come across are all written by Dostoevsky, but even most of them are filled with “parts.”

!!!!!INTENSITY!!!!!!

Edgar A Poe“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”  Edgar Allen Poe

Think back over the short stories you have read, and you will realize the truth lying in these words.  When you think about Poe’s quote, it makes sense from a practical point of view.  In a short story, there is no time to waste with complete character histories or their litany of day-to-day affairs, their numerous ups and downs.  No, when writing a short story, being concise is important.

Short stories have a singular focus, a primary conflict that the entire tale centers around.  Because of this, tone is essential from beginning to end.  This primary focus is the essence of the story.  Whether there is an internal battle resulting in the characters riding a roller coaster of emotions, or whether it is an external struggle like a political confrontation, the entire story must build on the tone created in the first paragraph.  The ending result is to be an intensified moment of lucidity (for either the audience or the character or both) built on the very first notes that started the tale.  This means that your first paragraph is just as important, if not more so, than your last paragraph.  Short story writers do not have the luxury of several beginning pages, or a chapter, to drag readers into their stories.  They have a sentence, maybe four, to really hook a reader by the nose and yank them into the middle of conflict (notice I said MIDDLE of conflict, not beginning).  Their may be some confusion or questions on the part of the reader, use this to your advantage.

Since Poe is the author of the commencing quote, let me use one of his pieces as an example.  The proceeding excerpt is the first paragraph in “The Cask of Amontillado.”

“THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled –but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”

Cask of AmontilladoThis tale, not surprisingly, ends in death, but the death, in and of itself, is not the most important aspect of the story.  Rather, the how it happened was the most important part.  The reader could probably foreshadow death, or at least a huge calamity, from the beginning of the story.  They did not read the story for a predictable ending.  Readers of short stories read for the INTENSITY.  Essentially, it all comes down to this.  Stories, like the Arts in general, are popular for having readers experience new things – new places, new emotions.

From this very first paragraph, the reader is to understand that the mood is dark.  Furthermore, the dark mood is created by a tone laced with hints of bitterness, vengeance/vindictiveness, and even traces of slyness.  As you continue reading the story, these points are not only continued, but are used as the foundation for the plot, meaning they become a greater and greater thread in the story as the tale progresses.

If this were a novel, we would probably have been given more of a background on the characters as well as snippets from Fortunato’s point of view – his fear and anguish.  However, instead we get a singular view point focused on ONE agenda, ONE act.  This sole purpose assists in intensifying the dark and frigid mood that Poe was trying to create.  The reader has no idea what injuries Fortunato inflicted upon the speaker, and it really doesn’t matter to the story.  It’s not part of the mood.  Poe was not interested in justification on the part of Fortunato, so he left this character relatively silent and in the dark.  As Mark Twain once wrote, he “would like to have written a shorter letter but didn’t have the time.”  This is one of the problems short story writers often encounter during their drafting processes.  Too much information is included by trying to inform the audience, make this or that point clear, erase plot holes, make the characters relateable or understandable, etc.  Unfortunately, what ends up happening is the mood is killed faster than a call from your mother during a heated make out session.  Unplanned distractions end up being assassins to even the best stories.

To further expound on Poe’s quote, I’ll add to it a quote from Joseph O’Connor, “A good short story is almost always about a moment of profound realisation. Or a hint of that. A quiet bomb.”   Think on this for a week.  Think of how it relates to mood as well as what other implications it may have for short stories.

The Pity of Emily Grierson

Last week, I introduced my series on short stories and psychology in writing.  I ended by leaving a link to Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”  Here is a summary mixed with a brief character analysis of Emily Grierson from Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”  While I will admit to not being a big Faulkner fan, I do love this particular story.  Although the analysis is diluted to fit time and length constraints, it does hit on the basics of motive: Why does Emily kill the person she actually loves?  Why does she sleep near rotting remains?  Is she really crazy?

As you read the story and the analysis think of your own characters.  What drives them?  How does the audience know what provokes them to action or passivity?  Are their motives subtle or obvious?

The Pity of Emily Grierson

            As characterized by Faulkner, Emily Grierson alternately evoked pity and annoyance from her contemporaries, for just as Emily’s circumstances changed, so did society’s opinion of her.

Emily Grierson from "A Rose for Emily"
Emily Grierson from “A Rose for Emily”

Born into superior circumstances, Emily was reared on noblesse oblige in an upper-class household.  Conducting herself accordingly, she had the tendency to sit atop a pedestal and hide her personality, her mistakes, and her enduring attributes; as such, many of her peers considered her almost inhuman.  Perhaps she was shy, or perhaps it was the paternal influence dictating her life; despite the origin, people saw her more as competition, as something to strive to best.  Yet she did not help the position, never volunteering to come down off the pedestal which would have drawn people to her; instead she held them back.  They were jealous; they were annoyed; they were curious about this high and mighty enigma, Emily, but not enough to really know her.

Yet there were two people who never held back.  Emily’s father was an old-fashioned gentleman.  When Mr. and Miss Grierson were together (which was almost always), the townspeople believed they resembled a “tableau”.  With Emily, adorned in white in the background, and Mr. Grierson, clothed in black in the foreground, their class in society was unmistakable.  Unfortunately, in Mr. Grierson’s eyes, they were the only worthy two in the town.  No man was good enough for his daughter, and so Emily, abandoned by the town’s men, kept watch and companionship with her father, staying with him till the end.

It is regrettable that only the death of Emily’s father could cause others to see her in a new light.  Pity emerged as the women watched her break:  from denial to hysterics, they observed her clinging to a dead body; the only person with whom she had a connection had left her alone and penniless.  That was when she began to go crazy; that is when people finally felt she was human.

Sick, Emily hid herself from the world and from life.  Containing herself in her house, she left the entire maintenance in the hands of one mute Negro.  The appearance and smell of the house meant nothing to her.  She accomplished the necessary tasks in order to survive, but she never lived.  Yet that did not stop Emily from clinging to her past:  once reared superior, always superior, and that is how she acted.  Whether it was arsenic or taxes, she was Emily Grierson, and she always got her way.  Her attitude was the only thing she had left to connect her to the past, to her father.  She needed her place atop her pedestal because that was the only object in her life bolted to the ground.  Everything else could and would change, but not that altar.

Then one day Homer Barron rode into town.  Full of laughs and curses, he brought life back to Emily.  Seen riding together about town, the townspeople were overjoyed to see that Emily had entered the land of the living again.  Happy and boisterous, the two were always together, just like she used to be with her father.  Emily once again had a person in her life, and for the first time, it was a man her age that she could love and with whom she could grow old, but as circumstances progressed, others became more and more anxious.

Faulkner, in all his artistic glory.  The brain behind Emily's crazy.  I wonder what that says about him.... I guess we will see in a future post. :)
Faulkner, in all his artistic glory. The brain behind Emily’s crazy. I wonder what that says about him…. I guess we will see in a future post. 🙂

Whispering gossip abounded.  Considering her a fallen lady, the townspeople sent for her distant cousins to help her, rather than investing their own reputations.  She was no longer alone, so she no longer needed condolences.  She was a scarlet woman who would live with her own choices.  Labeled “poor Emily” about town, they no longer thought of her as unfortunate, because even when everyone thought she would kill herself, no one offered to stop her; rather they thought she would be better off dead than alive.

Everyone thought she would eventually marry Homer – until he disappeared.  Then once again she was eligible for pity.  She had sunk below their level and was once again left alone.  Now it was safe to be kind, to offer help, to ease their curious minds about the whole affair.  But they did not obtain much information, for once again Emily locked herself in her house.  Alone with the precious memories to which she so desperately clung, Emily blocked all else out of her mind.  No one else mattered except her father and Homer.

Clinging was a major aspect of Emily’s life.  Personally she had so little.  The house and money belonged to her father.  Women avoided her as much as she avoided them.  Her father kept her isolated from all possible suitors, robbing her of the option of marriage and family, so she clung to the only things that were left her.  Whether it was a dead body, distant memories, her upbringing, or engraved, silver mirrors, she hung on with all her might because these were the only things that separated her from the reality that she was a poor, desperate, fallen woman with no hope in life.

It was amazing how this fragile lady could outlast generations.  How she continued to survive without the light of the sun, but she made it.  A few remembered Miss Emily was still alive and occasionally tried to help; others simply forgot her, while to still others, she was just a fleeting thought, a person to be ignored.

If anyone had really know Emily Grierson, it would not have shocked them to find the decayed skeleton of Homer Barron in her bed, to see how she had made a museum of his last night on earth.  It would not have surprised them to see that his last gesture was an embrace or to find a long strand of silver-gray hair (hair that perfectly matched Miss Emily’s) on the pillow beside him.  Unfortunately, no one knew Miss Emily.  They knew the gossip, and a bare minimum of facts, but no one knew who she was inside, and that is the only true fact deserving pity in her whole life.

New Beginnings: To Psychology and Addictions

Inside the head are stores of philosophies that drive everything we do and say. Psychology at its most basic.

I had been planning on posting part of a new story I have been writing to celebrate my return back to the blog, but then my reason gave me a knock or two on the head, making me think that my short story may not make a very auspicious beginning to the New Year with its rather morose tone. I have never been a fan of New Year resolutions. But, I do love what the New Year symbolizes – a fresh start, a clean break, a revitalization of the spirit. It is not necessarily the best time for a story about a young girl lost in a world of brokenness and depravity. It seems to me that should come after all of the new resolutions have been broken, not before they’ve had a chance to begin.

So, in the spirit of fresh starts, I’m going to use this post to introduce/reintroduce myself to this blog and its loyal readers and to clue you in on my plans for my future posts in this coming new year. Hopefully, if I tell you my plans now, I will hold to them.

In the past year I have come to understand more fully the meaning behind, “Write what you know.” In light of this adage, I wrote “Asylum.” While I had been writing a page here and a page there on several storylines, nothing really came together quite as easily as “Asylum” came to me. Why?

Because I know pain and chemical imbalances. I know art and music. I am drawn towards darker subject matters, not because of the plots and characters themselves, but because of the psychology moving the characters and causing the plots. Even as a history major, my specialty was identifying causes and effects, tracing chains of events through hundreds of years. For everything, there is a reason. And I love digging into the emotional, and often damaged, depths of those reasons found in the human psyche.

Emily Grierson from "A Rose for Emily"
Emily Grierson from “A Rose for Emily”

I also love short stories, even more so than novels. I still remember reading Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” They were my gateway to short story addiction. Short stories offer the reader only a glimpse of a life as compared to a novel, which can span years. Still, within that glimpse lies a profound and magnified experience that can engage the mind in realm after realm of thought. Whereas a novel gives you a detailed description of point A to point B, short stories often retain a specific focus and minimalized plot which is often enhanced by the writing style.

So, over the next few weeks, and possibly months, I will be using my own writing to explore different aspects of psychology. I will be posting a mixture of informative blogs on various aspects of psychology in writing, short story analyses and summaries, and a few of my own short stories and short story excerpts.

In order to get the ball rolling, for those of you unfamiliar with “A Rose for Emily,” let me be the first to introduce you.  May it be your gateway to addiction.

Writing to the AUDIENCE

About two months ago I began a position working through the Washington Reading Corps, a branch of AmeriCorps.  The goal of Washington Reading Corps is to work with struggling students on their literacy skills, be it vocabulary, reading comprehension, speaking, active listening, etc.  In my specific position, I work with low-income pre-school children (4-5 year olds).  I have one specific classroom I work in, but I also work with the other 60 head-start sites in my area through special literacy events and projects.  Today I was one of about 30 people sorting through 20,000+ books.  That’s right.  Over 20,000 books.  The agency I’m partnered with teamed up with Bazillion Books for Kids, a Portland-based organization whose goal is to give books to over 100,000 kids.  Within my agency, our goal was to give 10 books to around 1,000 kids in our program.  Additionally, we wanted to create a lending library at each of the pre-school sites where parents had access to reading materials.

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day than to gather materials to increase literacy.  In our country, we keep hearing that grades are dropping.  Test scores are lower.  Society on a whole is getting more stupid. Well, to incredibly simplify the problem, it all comes back to literacy.  LITERACY skills are necessary to do anything in life, and the stronger they are, the better.  A huge part of literacy is the capability to read.  And yet, my generation, and the generations coming up behind me, are reading less and less.  Why? Through various discussions, observations, and researches done, here are the top reasons I’ve found.

1) Trouble reading and they get frustrated with trying

2) Lack of interest in material provided

3) Not shown the importance of reading

We have to walk before we can run. As one famous character is known for saying, “Elementary.”

As writers we should have a goal for everything we write.  Whether it is to entertain, to inform, to purge, to mock, or to uplift, every piece we write MUST have a purpose if it is to be anything of value.  However, more than having a purpose for the writing in general, we must also have goal of how that piece is going to reach readers.  If you are writing a book for a wide general audience, but the writing level and style in the book are at an advanced level, then the interest in the book is going to be low.  People will get frustrated and drop it.

And I recognize that people may disagree with me on this, but think about Twilight and Harry Potter.  Huge selling series.  Popular with both kids, teens, and adults.  Why? The reading levels were not complicated, which made the books accessible to general audiences.  However, in today’s culture, many classics with higher vocabulary levels and complicated syntax, such as Faulkner and Dickens, are not generally read.  If we are to increase literacy in our culture, is it going to come about through no reading at all or through the Twilights and Harry Potters?

Yes, it would be wonderfully nice if everyone in society read and understood Dickens, Dostoevsky, the Brontes, etc.  But we cannot start there.  Everyone has a reading level, and that’s where we must start.  When I was in school, we were regularly tested (about once every 6 weeks) to see how are reading levels were improving.  The advice given based on research at the time was that we should read 80-90% in our reading level and then 10-20% just above our reading level for optimum improvement.

Now, most natural readers do this automatically.  And yet, since most writers are natural readers we tend to have trouble understanding those who struggle with reading or who refuse to read for whatever reason.  But now, more than ever, it is important to write for AUDIENCES.  What stories will actually be read? What writing styles and genres will be reach the greatest number of people? What vocabulary will be understood?

To end, I want to encourage all of you to think and consider what you are writing.  There is a place for Dickens and Brontes, I cannot deny that.  All of my favorites are classics.  But, I also know that I would not have made it to the Alcotts and Brontes and Mitchells without the Nancy Drews, the Mary Higgins Clarks, the Madelaine L’Engles.

**SIDENOTE: All of this said, I do not and cannot excuse sloppy writing.  There is far too much of that due to poor literacy skills already.  Everybody wants to be a writer, a photographer, a whatever.  But they don’t want to put in the work to perfect their craft.  Sloppy writing does not fulfill a purpose.

Peace. Love. LIBERTY.

***Disclaimer: While this post does discus the duty of benefiting society, it in no way applies or connects this to any form of utilitarianism, socialism, or any other political or philosophical -ism. 😀

****This is the last post I will be making for a while.  I have many new projects in the works with the Washington Reading Corps, and unfortunately, as many of you may have noticed, I haven’t always had the time or energy to  get my posts up on time.  Luckily, Tobias has found someone wonderful to fill in during my hiatus. So, I’ll leave you with my signature “Peace, love, and LIBERTY*****

Work in Progress

My sincerest apologies to Tobias for my lapse yesterday.

To my readers, here is a little tidbit I’ve been working on.  It’s a little shaky, but I kind of like its formation, although I think it might work better as spoken voice poetry.  What do you think?  How many allusions are you familiar with?

A Plath Work

I am something out of a Plath work,

One of Wilde’s creations.

This Miss Eyre who travels the roads

Alone and friendless, not a relation to claim her.

And while many a day goes by

That I feel so young and insignificant

In this Peter Pan Syndrome that holds me captive,

I can only wish that I was half as courageous as dear Peter.

As split as two-faced Rodya

This Raskolinov awaits the arrival

of His Sonya, the one who keeps

the Demons outside, at bay.

But despite the waiting, inside-

Inside I know that no salvation awaits;

No Sonya will appear, and I’ll

Be left Anna. Anna Karenina.

Was I a Scarlett who lost her only Melanie?

Who chased the love of Rhett away through

The lustful longing of Ashley?

The passionate pride of a young girl’s fantasy.

Or was there more to it?

Scarlett I could handle, with her passion and her fire.

But, what if I was more?  What if at heart,

I was Lord Henry, pulling the strings on my own cast of Dorians?

I am something out of a Plath work.

Inside my Bell Jar, alone I wait

For what will come of this life.

For the grey seagull to bring me what it will.

Stream of Consciousness

One of the genre’s greatest heroes, Virginia Woolf

Sometimes just getting everything out there, down on paper, to be seen by the eyes not the mind is freeing.  Its a release to not worry about grammatical structures, transitions, and all of the little stylistic things that make writing come alive and give you an A on a paper.  No, writing itself, free and unhindered, when you hit that space and the mind flies blank and filled all at once, a zone of sorts that only you have the access key to.  Only you know the password because its your password. And that password takes you into that zone where everything is unreadable but it comes to you, quickly, needing to get out.  And only when you get it out do  you realize what you were feeling, what you were trying to say.  Its as if the damn of words in your head has broken loose and you can finally see through the waterfall of thoughts now cascading, because that’s what those words have now become: thoughts.  And those thoughts flow now, faster and faster as you move farther into your zone.  When you finish reading the thoughts that have somehow managed to find their way onto paper, you realize that the thoughts have become meaningful building blocks. An actual outline of half-finished sentences, somewhat intelligible to the random stranger if they know how to look, to read, the words to your soul.  This odyssey into your zone is like the ocean and all the waves moving back and forth, an ebb and flow, transporting you here and there and here and there, and your body gently sways because you don’t have to think, you just have to feel.  The thoughts are already there, but you are finally giving your mind the permission to release them, outside the normal confines of stress, of life, you are you now.  Exploring that safe place in your mind, connecting with the sounds you hear outside.  There is no parameter, no measuring stick, that judges some thoughts, some words useless.  Everything is permissible. Everything must be written down.

The above paragraph is filled with typos, grammatical errors, half-baked sentences, and randomly connected thoughts.  The above paragraph is a form of stream of consciousness writing.  I first began to explore this particular style in high school.  Then, I forgot about it for a while.  Recently, it has come back to my attention.

Stream of consciousness is a characterized as a more natural method of writing.  Or, at least it is supposed to seem that way.  It’s commonly utilized to show thought processes, add character personality, add a more personal narrative tone.  James Joyce and Virginia Woolf use various forms of stream of consciousness writing such as interior monologues and soliloquies.

From James Joyce’s Ulysses:

James Joyce perfected the the genre in Ulysses.

“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Now when writing a story, be it a novel or a short story, this style of writing will still have some boundaries, some cohesiveness keeping everything together.  But, it will still seem more natural.  There will be an ebb and flow to the general direction of monologue, but like most thoughts in our head, there will be some dissonance, breaking up the natural rhythm.  The lack or addition of punctuation, the order of the words given, and the level of the words, all become a part of who the character is, who the narrator is.

In the above clip, lack of punctuation gives prominence to Molly (the character thinking the above)’s descent into passion, the after-sex and before-sex passionate lethargy.  Her thoughts are all focused around this event in some way, but within that event they run wild between memories, associations, and desire, all culminating in that final “Yes.”

It is also a great journaling method when writer’s block hits.  What it does is get everything out onto paper (or your computer screen).  In writing there’s a cliche that many times we don’t know what we’ve written, what we’ve created, what we were thinking, till we read it on paper.  Often times, those “ah ha” moments come when we’ve given ourselves the freedom to write, just write.  No constraints on what we put down or how we put it down.  The purpose is to just get it down as it comes into your head.

When you have finished, you can go back and read it, and perhaps you may find that nugget of inspiration hidden amid the rambling run-ons.

The Unviewed Stories

So, despite all of our posts on different ways to defeat writer’s block, sometimes words refuse to connect.  No matter how long you sit and ponder different avenues, you cannot get your thoughts to form manageable meanings.  At least not meanings that another mind could decipher.  So, when this happens, as it is doing now, I go back to fount of comfort.  As I told Tobias today, I love books and written works, but my soul is currently craving music and visual art.  So, as per my usual when I can’t get to an art museum, I visit “The Artchive.” 

Browsing through the sidebar of various artists and genres, I perused my favorites: Toulouse-Lautrec, Cassatt, Kandinsky.  But, for tonight, my soul cried out for another of my all-time favorites.  Van Gogh.

Now, I know Van Gogh may seem like a cliched choice.  Next to da Vinci, Raphael, and the other Ninja Turtles, he’s one of the most popular artists in the popular world.  But, that doesn’t make him any less great.  Everything from his color palettes to his brush strokes demand attention.

So, here’s the uber-famous “The Starry Night” currently in exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in NY. (1889)

In this piece, the direction of the brush strokes speak more about faith than most crucifixion pieces.

 

Now, here’s “Trees in the Asylum Garden.”  Van Gogh actually spent time at an asylum.  In many ways, art was his therapy.  In many ways, he was a pre-cursor to literature’s Sylvia Plath.  Do you see any bits of the writer we know in the painter’s piece? What do the colors and stroke directions say in this piece? Faith, chaos, healing? (1889)

 

Thisone is “Road with Cypress and Star.”  Similar to “The Starry Night” it has an elegance to its natural simplicity. There’s balance and symmetry through colors and object focus.  Yet, the symmetry is essentially asymmetrical. The strokes are used to provide unity instead of dissonance.  Notice how they work together in cyclical manners.  (1890)

Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo

 

Now, the last one is one of my favorites.  The vibrant colors play against each other.  Drawing eyes here and there.  Adding interest to the focus of the work. (1888)

Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo

 

These are my loves.  These are the stories my soul retires to in times of exhaustion.  My mind flees to this streetway filled with couples strolling and diners dining among the star-lit sky.

Coming Home

My new series on love is proving more difficult than I had originally imagined.  Yet, it’s not difficult due to lack of thought or material, rather due to an over-abundance.   There are so many directions to go and sources to choose from that I find myself scanning through titles, poems, and thoughts thinking “Great! Even better! Oh, this one too!” There are novels, short stories, poems, song lyrics, movie lines, and even fine art.

With that said, the poem I posted last week, “In and Out of Time” is quite possibly one of the most perfect poems ever written, and it’s going to be hard to top.  But, I love challenges.  And I do have a few pieces I am definitely going to include – when the time is right. Still, it’s challenging. But, for today’s post, I want to include a more personal introduction on the topic: LOVE.

LOVE. It’s one of the foundations of life: not a luxury, but a necessity.  In fact,  it is included in the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and has even been known to come second (before physical safety) in many abuse cases.  When you create your characters, LOVE is going to be a huge part of who they are and why they do what they do.  Were they loved by their parents, siblings, extended family?  Were they abused as a child or as an adult? Are they in love? Have they ever suffered from a broken heart?  Love drives us. It is one of our biggest motivations from money, and as a result, it cannot be ignored in your writing.  So, as I continue with this series, think about your characters and their background.  Think about your own experiences.  And then, WRITE them.

And, I’ll be completely honest.  I’m a romantic.  I so completely believe in love, and the power of love (the idea, not the Celine Dion song) that I have become slightly cynical about it. Growing up, I had such a black and white view of love.  Every person had one perfect soul mate.  One spouse destined for them. That one spouse was the only person they would ever romantically love.  Now, this isn’t to say that they wouldn’t have had strong feelings for a past boyfriend/girlfriend, but I didn’t understand how it could be love, true love.  You love your spouse.  If you had loved anyone else, wouldn’t that cheapen what you have with your one and only?

It’s a naive thought, I know.  Still, I clung to that idea with a fierce tenacity, and so when I realized that’s not how the world works, I was stung.  Nevertheless, I still hold out hope for my Mr. Right.

That being said, I want to to introduce “the list.”  Let’s face it.  Most girls (and guys) have some sort of list that they have created about their perfect mate.  That being said, I have long hated the word “list” when it comes to people.  It traps your perspective in a box of sorts, making you close-minded.  And yet, there is some validity to it.  Whether we realize it or not, we have a list because we have STANDARDS.  Now, some have long lists detailing everything from hair color to occupation, but I’ll admit that my list is fairly short: 4 items + 1 fun optional item.

Still, at the end of the day, the idea behind all of the lists we create is the same.  We want someone we can be comfortable with.  Someone who we can love and who can love us back.  Someone who makes us feel like, at long last, we have come home.

So, that’s this weeks literary piece.  A song.  “Come Home” by One Republic.  Simply put, this song is about patience, faith, hope, and home.  Waiting for someone, calling them forth from their ashes.  Believing that they are beautiful just as they are.  It’s about realizing that home is about complementing and working with each other.  It’s about fighting for each other, not with each other.  Home isn’t always easy or pleasant, but, it’s HOME. Home is about calling someone forth, raising them up. Sometimes, it’s about being called, realizing that you are loved.

So, without further ado: Come Home

“Come Home”

Hello world
Hope you’re listening
Forgive me if I’m young
For speaking out of turn
There’s someone I’ve been missing
I think that they could be
The better half of me
They’re in the wrong place trying to make it right
But I’m tired of justifying
So I say to you..[Chorus]
Come home
Come home
Cause I’ve been waiting for you
For so long
For so long
Right now there’s a war between the vanities
But all I see is you and me
The fight for you is all I’ve ever known
So come home
Oh[Verse 2]
I get lost in the beauty
Of everything I see
The world ain’t half as bad
As they paint it to be
If all the sons,
All the daughters
Stopped to take it in
Well hopefully the hate subsides and the love can begin
It might start now, yeah
Well maybe I’m just dreaming out loud
Until then…[Chorus]
Come home
Come home
Cause I’ve been waiting for you
For so long
For so long
Right now there’s a war between the vanities
But all I see is you and me
The fight for you is all I’ve ever known
Ever known
So come home
Oh

[Interlude]
Everything I can’t be
Is everything you should be
And that’s why I need you here
Everything I can’t be
Is everything you should be
And that’s why I need you here
So hear this now…

[Chorus]
Come home
Come home
Cause I’ve been waiting for you
For so long
For so long
Right now there’s a war between the vanities
But all I see is you and me
The fight for you is all I’ve ever known
Ever known
So come home
Come home

In and Out of Time

For the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking more and more about love in its various forms, shapes, and sizes.  Tobias and I have had many conversations on this topic, and my thoughts continue to roam its intricacies.  So, over the next few posts, I’m going to be writing covering some different views, perspectives, and forms of love.  To keep this with the purpose of The Art of Writing, I will be relating it to various texts.  Please, take time to comment or share a story, thought, author, piece, or an aspect of love that you would like to be explored further in a post.

To start off this series, I’m posting one of my absolute favorite poems by a rather fantastic writer – Maya Angelou.

Poignant.  Heart-rending.  Heartfelt.  Simple.  Beautiful.  I have loved this poem since I first heard it, many years ago.  Every time I read or hear it, I get lost in the rhythm and the meaning.  In and out.  In and out.  In and out of time.

Kyle recently wrote a post on romance and quoted my uncle.  I have had so many great examples of real, life-long love in my life.  And I am so proud to come from that type of heritage where love isn’t just another four letter word.  Still, despite the numerous examples, for the longest time, I was a cynic when it came to marriage and love in general.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the concept and I had seen it live.  But I never quite understood how it worked, and I thought that eventually, something would have to give . . . in time.  Something would fall apart . . . in time.  Yet, it never has.  My parents.  My aunts and uncles.  My grandparents in their 56 years of marriage.

Yes, there have been numerous struggles, fights, complaints, near separations.  But the LOVE they have for one another, the EFFORT they were willing to put into their relationship, and the COMMITMENT they honor each and every day, keeps them together, fighting for each other.

 And that’s what this poem is about.  “The sun has come.  The mists have gone.  We see in the distance our long way home.”  There will always be another struggle when it comes to love that lasts.  There will always be pain.  Pain for the one we love.  Pain because of the one we love.  But, in that’s what makes it beautiful, when you realize that despite everything working to keep two people apart, there is something in this world strong enough to hold them together in and out of time.

In and Out of Time

The sun has come. 
The mists have gone. 
We see in the distance… 
our long way home. 
I was always yours to have; 
You were always mine. 
We have loved each other in and out of time. 

When the first stone looked up at the blazing sun 
and the first tree struggled up from the forest floor 
I had always loved you more. 
You freed your braids… 
gave your hair to the breeze. 
It hummed like a hive of honey bees. 
I reached in the mass for the sweet honey comb there…. 
Mmmm…God, how I loved your hair. 

You saw me bludgeoned by circumstance. 
Lost, injured, hurt by chance. 
I screamed to the heavens…
loudly screamed… 
Trying to change our nightmares into dreams… 

The sun has come. 
The mists have gone. 
We see in the distance our long way home. 
I was always yours to have 
and you were always mine. 
We’ve loved each other 
in and out 
in and out 
in and out of time.

-Maya Angelou