Category: writing


If you work in corporate America, you’ve been subjected to not just the opinions of others, but their weight. Ooph, that’s heavy.

Leia

She was not a committee. Be like Leia.

Consider your last project. Chances are you didn’t make it to the end without thinking, “What about my manager’s approval? Will she like this new direction I came up with?” Or “Maybe that other department will have an issue with the creative elements like they did last time.”

The illusion of “your” work

And don’t pretend it doesn’t weigh on you. Because it does. Even if you have a bullet-proof, bite-me veneer, you gotta admit it affects your work. Even if you end up taking the new direction or those creative elements, damn your boss and the other department and the torpedoes. You spent the time worrying, and that’s time wasted.

At its worst, you may find yourself unable to consider your work done until you’ve satiated others’ opinions…and egos. The lower down the food chain you are, the more satiating you gotta do.

Pay (attention to) yourself first

There’s a point where you should consider the opinions of others, sure thing. I’m not arguing to the contrary. But the more credence you give others opinions on your work — whether you have to or not — the less genuine it becomes. The less true. 

Each of us, particularly in the creative field, have to feel out when another perspective might help our creation shine and when it might take a sledgehammer to its foundation, sending its quality sliding down the hill and into the reservoir.

Personally, I’d rather have a work that’s all my own, even if it’s not all it could be, than wedge in the wonky and detrimental if good-intentioned “If I were you…” or “How about if…” or “Have you considered…”

You aren’t.
How ’bout not.
I haven’t and won’t.

WWKD?

Stephen King advocates writing the first draft with your door closed.

That is, write the first draft for yourself, deaf, dumb, and blind to the opinions of others. Then, made manifest by virtue of your own creativity, that draft is shared with a trusted few, after you allow them in through the open door.

Professionally, you can’t always do that, especially if you’ve a client to please. But when it comes to personal work. Be true to yourself, to your work.

Giving it away: Prelude

giving-it-away

Note to self, scratched in the back of “On Writing” by Steven King.

Lemme go ahead and put this out into the world: the prelude to my book.

It’s not perfect. It’s not edited (at least to any degree that I, as a professional editor, would admit). And it probably ain’t final. But it is. So there. Here. Read it, free of charge and with my compliments.

Early this year, I warned that this blog might not be pretty, so I guess this is one way of delivering on my word.

If you want to share your thoughts or impressions, feel free to comment and feel free to push it further into the world. With the caveat that I’m doing this for myself and my muse and not for others, I thank you in advance.

Prelude

Spires of smoke rose above the city of Kigaru, wedged between the twin mountains of Mizuyama and Kayama. Thicker, darker columns – from the larger kilns and blacksmiths – reached the greatest heights before dissipating in the cold winds of early autumn. Lower, lighter threads of smoke spoke of more humble origins, of temples and family hearths.

Surrounded by the mountains’ mist and the fog of the bay, Kigaru bore a shroud about and above it. The tops of its tallest trees were bare, exposed to the whipping winds – all but the ancient ginkgo tree inside the Himeji Temple grounds. Leaves yellow and gold clung to its branches, holding fast against an approaching winter. Proud, perhaps, but no less resplendent, they’d eventually succumb to the rhythm of the seasons, falling, with few exceptions, together.

One fan-shaped, yellow-gold leaf floated down, just missing the top of the temple wall and coming to rest just shy of the gravel footpath. It landed amid the ceramics covering a ragged tatami mat.

“Aren’t you lovely?” asked the old man, picking it up and studying the leaf. He cast his gaze over his shoulder to the 1,000-year-old tree in the courtyard. “And no doubt lonely,” he added with no hint of sadness. “Not to worry. You can stay with me for a time.” Between a weathered thumb and forefinger, he rolled its stem back and forth, back and forth before tucking it into a pocket inside his coat.

Voices and commotion rose on the other side of the wall. The throng of temple visitors, moments before meandering through the gate and along the pathway, quickly split apart at the insistence of three horsemen. The old man and other seasonal vendors like him gathered the goods at the edge of their mats, trying to keep their wares from being trampled by pilgrims who were trying to not get trampled themselves.

After the riders passed, the crowd reunited. Another vender, a younger woman – a potter, a novice as judged by her crafts – leaned toward Jinbei, who had already brushed dirt of his tatami and began setting out his crockery.

“Say, weren’t those Nakagawa riders?” she not so much asked as confided.

“Mm-hmm,” he mumbled an answer an agreement. “Didn’t expect to see them this early.”

“What? Early in the day?” she asked. “I hope I don’t have to make a habit of saving my goods getting crushed.” The young woman righted a set of thick teacups. “I thought I’d be less dangerous here than on Sochira Street,” she said with a bright laugh that reminded him of the leaf in his pocket.

“The season. I mean early in the season,” he said. “I didn’t expect to see their family crest before the Autumn Grand Ceremony, attended by all noble houses – the Nakagawa clan and lesser estates. That’s not for another three weeks.”

She arched an eyebrow. “And so?”

“And so, they don’t enter this holy ground except on such occasions, except when it’s expected, when it’s required of their station.”

The young potter had stopped setting out her goods to look at and listen to the old man. “Then why were they here?”

He was quiet for a breath. “Beats me,” he answered, then returned her attention. “But whatever the reason, it was important, judging by how quickly they left took off.”

She kept watching him as he got back to work.

“Who knows?” he said, allowing himself a grin before feigning reverence. “Maybe they all achieved simultaneous spiritual enlightenment, satori, and each of them wanted to be the first to brag about it to Lord Nakagawa.”

Such a jibe could get him struck down – he knew it, as did she. Yet she chuckled, covering her mouth with her hand and trying in vain to muffle her mirth, like the yellow-gold leaf in his pocket.

Until the end

Steal like an artistIt’s National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as #NaNoWriMo … I think. Otherwise known as 30 Days of Self-Inflicted Anxiety for would-be, could-be, perhaps should-be writers. I’m not in this year.

But serendipitously, on the first day of NaNoWriMo, I found myself finishing up “Steal Like and Artist,” which I had started months ago, stopped to blog about at a low point (with myself/career, not the book), and never completed reading.

Write between the lines
One thing that stuck was the idea of being creative within confines. Of time, of energy, of space.

Net: confines can foster creativity. So I gave myself a page and decided to fill it up with long-hand — no more, no less. What follows is what happened next. And what follows that is a typed, altogether more legible version.

until-the-end

…scribble, scrabble, drabble on the memo pad I babble…

If you start, you may not end where you wanted to go. But when you stop, you’ve reached an end. Not the end, perhaps not your intended end. But you’ve gotten to the Omega to your Alpha.

Maybe for this, it’s here.
Or here.

Apparently not.

So the push comes from the scratch inside your head. That in turn scratches the pen across the paper. Dang, my arm is tired already. Just this far in.

But there is an intoxicant at work here – it’s blue ink, lines no longer barren. Thoughts reaped, harvested across the line like bundles of wheat across a valley floor – gathered together. Upright, spent, but with life-giving power.

There’s an opportunity in each line. Tabula rasa is it? Blank slate? I dunno.

So as I scoot toward the end of the page – cresting halfway – between accomplishment and anxiety. What I’ve said vs. what I’ve written.

But I’m only pushing myself to fill the page. To reach that Omega.  This is my constraint. This is my Incredibly Shrinking Goal – not to be feared. It should fear me.

Stare long enough into the Abyss and it will stare back. I am the Abyss. I am the unfathomable. I am without limit. The lactic acid builds in my arm, as the ink drains in proportion. Here – take this last line and absorb my ink, my words, my creation, and retain it until the end.

Having just finished J.K. Rowling’s first Potter book that morning, I couldn’t help but smile at the cosmic timing of receiving a used copy of Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness” late last Saturday. New book, new adventure.

Cloudy_Sunset_at_Delicate_Arch_(8520706358)

“Cloudy Sunset at Delicate Arch” by Arches National Park

Mr. Weiss, one of our neighbors (and only immediate neighbor) had picked it up. He found it at a local book and comic store, the purchase prompted perhaps by his telling me about the book in one of our near-the-hedge conversations, reminiscent of Tool Time‘s Tim Taylor and Wilson W. Wilson. Side note: Were the worth of our new neighbors factored into the property value, we wouldn’t be able to afford this place. 

337 pages of loveliness, not loneliness
Desert Solitaire coverIt’s a book about the author’s time as a solitary US Park Ranger at Arches National Monument in the Southwest. Autobiographical and perhaps envirographical (if you’ll permit me a new word though it’s a wee bit early in the day for that kind of foolishness), the book’s about his series of experiences in nature, and arguably experiences as a part of nature.

That’s what I wanted to write about: that separation.

Well before noon, with C already at a lecture and G still snoozing, I’m making some progress in the book, when I’m particularly struck by a snippet:

“There’s a disadvantage to the use of a flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets, it tends to separate man from the world around him.”

Truth ages well
I’d never thought about a flashlight in those terms before, though I can see his point. But more than just the electric torch example illuminates, I’d say it’s important to consider how today’s mechanical gadgets tend to separate us from the world around us.

Take the Chromebook on which I’m scratching out these thoughts — mos def not part of Edward’s reality when he typed out his draft. Yet his observation still holds true.

IMG_20160518_195137You see, now, I’m looking at a screen, not the wild rabbits in the backyard, daily visitors in our little half-acre Eden, seen through the large kitchen window.

I’m using this electronic medium to (hopefully) connect with others, who will (hopefully) get something from these words, who might (hopefully) share them with others, perhaps helping them in some way and helping me make way as a writer in the meantime. All that hinges on my being in front of the screen.

But the cotton-tailed little darlins are still in the backyard, nibbling the grass to their hearts’ content.

I could be outside, grass between my toes, moving slowly, quietly, seeing just how close I could get before they dart off. What an experience that would be. What fun. How memorable and worthy of my time!

3-2-1-Contact!
So, yeah, gadgets can help us connect, but the original connection — that of humans with nature — it’s hard to come by. I’m of the mind that it takes effort to do so now more than ever. Similarly, we need it now more than ever.

I’d encourage you to take some time today, no matter how much, or where, or when and connect with nature. Doing so doesn’t mean you have to become a US Park Ranger.

Step into the woods and listen.
Stare at a houseplant and observe.
Hesitate before getting into the car and scurrying onto the next errand, close your eyes, breathe deep.

Nature’s there, waiting. Remember that, connect with it, and give it some love.

March was made of yarn

Scattered thoughts in my notebook and marginalia in the above were the only things I’d written of our visit to the coast until now.

In the summer of 2014, we visited Japan and stopped along the coast to see areas affected by the tsunami of 2011. Accompanying us were friends whom we’d thought we’d lost in that very tsunami. Ironic and reassuring at the same time.

What we saw, what we experienced, what we felt … it all made an impression. I can’t see someone sharing a space with such an occurrence — even separated by time — and not feel … well, something. I can only imagine what it was like to look up to see the ocean moving toward you, 125+ feet higher than normal at its peak.

Coming into focus
This is the first I’ve published anything I’ve written about the experience. A few years ago, I read March was Made of Yarn, a collection of literature (and even a manga) about the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011 and related events.

But recently I’ve had occasion to read articles on subject, some pieces coming from the fringe. Stuff like how taxi drivers along the coast report passengers who ask to be take to the coast and then disappear along the way. And others a bit more harrowing.

Another one — altogether grounded in this realm — was a report on tsunami stones, which were places along the coast to warn future generations of past tsunami catastrophes. This was the article that finally spurred me to attempt to share my experiences visiting the coast.

Ayukawa

Building, torn off concrete footings and set on its side, near Ayukawa

Not broken, just incomplete
This post … It’s short, incomplete, as I see it, but that’s fittingly one of the feelings impressed on me along the coast. Once complete, thriving, now … still many years afterward … incomplete, scattered.

To remedy things (at least from a literary angle), I’ll add more. Maybe more to this one, but likely additional posts of a more personal nature.


Aneyoshi’s stonemason

Tamashige’s calloused hands picked up the metal chisel and hammer again. Fresh dust, dry and coarse, blanketed the ground at his feet. Dust – so much dust. So much it formed a pale nimbus around the base of the short stone pillar that was his work today.

Japan 2014 slideshow (170).jpgHe looked at his tools and weary hands, but couldn’t stop. He had to continue. He loosely cradled the tools of his craft for a moment. Then glanced at the stone before looking beyond it, his eyes coming to rest on the ancient mountain laurel still clinging higher up the hillside.

A sigh.

He turned, back toward the resilient shrub, and looked down toward Aneyoshi Town. What was left of it. Its rubble now littered the ground at his feet – broken beams, ceramics, roof tiles, even a fabric doll.

These items didn’t belong here, not on the hillside above the town. They belonged near the bay, not pushed and crushed, scattered by the irresistible, adamant force of a rising sea.

These things didn’t belong here – didn’t deserve to be covered in stone dust. He did. That was his calling. But he couldn’t understand why he still … was. Perhaps it was because he, as the settlement’s stonemason, was the only one who could carve these warning stones, the only one who could ensure the fresh, rough-torn impressions of the tsunami would reach others decades after he was gone.

“Present melts into past,” he murmured to himself, turning back to his work, “and past — that becomes distant memory. Unless it’s carved in stone.”

Future generations would see the stones, and hopefully take heed of their recessed words, which implored readers not to build homes between stone and sea.

Perhaps that was the reason Tamashige, the Aneyoshi stonemason, still lived. Perhaps he could invest his hope in that.

Dig for your truth

I write. That’s nothing new. But I have a friend now who’s doing the same, trying to a put a story to paper. Her story. About herself and the struggle to get to where she is, and that entails the struggle to get through some caustic ka-ka. And perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to complete it.

On writing

This guy says to write about “anything you damn well want … as long as you tell the truth.”

I’m helping out — at her request, mind you. None of that unsolicited “Y’know <AHEM> I’m a professional writer, so you might consider blah-biddy-blah-blah”BS from me. No, I’ll save the unsolicited advice for subjects I don’t know anything about.

Writing truthfully about ourselves is, I’d say, one of the most difficult things to do.

Narcissists aside, if we really strip it down … throw varnish on our ego and are truthful when we write about ourselves — what we feel, experience, believe, are — we find that committing to that honest expression of yourself gives you pause.

Seeing yourself on the page
For me, writing honestly about myself is like a quick dip in hot vinegar. What the hell kinda simile was that? An honest one, but it sucked. Trying again … writing honestly about myself is scary. Yeah, that’s it. Scary.

Stephen King wrote “Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.” Because I don’t journal nor keep a diary, everything I write is open to others’ eyes. Even this very blog, which I tell myself I write for me, is available to others. Even here, where I assure myself it’s safe, I’ve a tendency to be measured in my meter.

Do I really want to admit to this?
What are they going to think if I end it that way? 
How does this word affect their perception about me?

I guess that’s what’s so self-damning about being in marketing: You’re trained to see your work, and I’d argue yourself, from another’s perspective before your own. Hell, you’re paid to forgo your truth.

The truth we don’t know
So enough of me (did somebody say “narcissist”?) and back to this friend’s writing. It’s bringing to light something more than just the question of being truthful.

okinawa-cape-manzamoThat’s because the facts are all there … from the solace of girlhood conversations with God through the trials of a distanced home life across the harsh reality and veneered independence of adolescence up through young adulthood’s discoveries to the resolution of her present reality and positive future. It’s there, and it’s good.

But she’s at the point — we are, I suppose, since we’re at this crossroad of tackling this draft together — of looking at the story and going deeper.

Asking the why behind the what.
Seeking the motives behind the motions.
And the soul-level drivers behind destiny-changing decisions.

To me that’s seeking the truth we don’t know.

BedrockI can’t do that for her any more than anyone could do it for me. It’s a sojourn that we gotta take; I can only consider the directions before her, talk through those, maybe weigh each one, but it’s she who heads down that path.

That truth we don’t know, too, can be scary, because you might just discover something you didn’t want to admit.

But then, and there’s always a “but then,” if you can dig deep enough, just like hitting bedrock, there’s a certainty to your truth that’s immovable.

 

 

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