An Arrow


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This isn’t a story about something I did.

I didn’t do it.

This is a story about something I’m going to do.

Tomorrow, I’m going to go do some free archery.

I don’t know anything about it other than my friends do it and they have wanted me to come for quite some time.

So I’ll go.

I’ll have to catch a ride, obviously. I can’t drive my car until I get my tax refund. Then I can finally re-register it.

I will ride with my roommate. We’ll pull up to the park’s parking lot, because I imagine it’s in a park, and the sun will be lazing over the treetops. I’ve been told there’s a lot of children who do the free archery.

From what I’ve been told, I think the class is probably intended for children.

I turned twenty seven yesterday.

Well, physically.

I’ll have to take a brief lesson in bow safety. It’ll be a cinch. They won’t know that I used to have a short longbow.

It was short because my dad got it for my sister and me when I was in middle school and she was probably in high school or something and we weren’t capable of pulling back a full sized longbow. This one didn’t pull as hard. We could shoot it.

We had a big yard when I was growing up. It was variously used for paintball, horses, motorcycles and, eventually, shooting bows and arrows at things.

You’re probably thinking I had quite the country childhood.

Not really. I spent most my time inside playing Age of Empires III and reading Terry Pratchett.

But we had a longbow. I had to string it every time I used it. I got good at bracing it on the ground and pushing the middle with my foot so it would bend and I could fit the string around its notched ends.

There was an old bird feeder in the backyard. This was before my parents found out how allergic to green things I was, so the yard was pretty well-mowed. Kathryn and I had found a paint bucket somewhere and she drew a face on it.

We’d stand about forty feet away from it and try to shoot the face.

We gave it a name and a backstory. We gave it a personality, too. I can’t remember what the name was, but I remember it was a he and he liked to be shot with arrows. They were like vitamins to him.

We obliged.

So yeah, I’ll have to take this class, which I will pass. It’ll take an hour or so, and then I get to go shoot stuff.

A lot of people don’t realize that bow shooting is very taxing. You’re bending a piece of wood over and over again, and the string chaffs your fingers and hits your arm. Most people forget this, in the same way that most people forget how sore your shoulder gets after a day of skeet shooting, but I won’t.

I’ll remember. I always remember stuff like that. Bad stuff.

But I won’t be going because I’m tough. I’m not tough, I just don’t like complaining.

I’ll go because there’s a group of idiots who want me to go with them, and someone else wanting to do something with you so badly that they bother you incessantly about it is the most special thing in the whole world. It’s how I vet my activities, not because I don’t want to do anything until I know it’s good, but because my default state is to not want to do anything at all.

At least when it involves other people.

It’s why I didn’t answer your text. I got nervous and put my phone away. It’s why I didn’t come to your party. I got uncomfortable before I got there, so I just played Call of Duty instead.

It’s why I missed your wedding. I couldn’t afford it and I was embarrassed and I was scared.

I’ll step up to the target, and it will be a paper cut-out of a zombie or something stupid, but I won’t care, because there will be a person to my left who does, and a person to my right who does, too.

I’ll let fly. The arrow will whisper through the wind and the smile will spread across my lips like the drawing of a bowstring. Like the bending of wood.

It’ll spread with a creak, and I’ll look at us.

Oh, you ragged band of fools.

Here we are, shooting borrowed arrows at stupid zombies. Here we stand, laughing and exulting, for a moment forgetting about everything wrong in the world and everything wrong with ourselves.

Oh, you stupid, young things.

We buy gifts for each other with money we don’t have. We hang out on balconies and smoke and talk about movies and music and politics and love as if we know anything about it, anything at all.

The green neon of the McGee’s self storage sign always makes Erich look like a goblin. He acts like one, too.

We play board games on IKEA tables and play music with instruments our parent’s bought us in high school.

We stay up late at night, alone, tossing and turning in our sheets, stunted fans lazily whirling overhead, and we dream. We dream of a world where we’re potent, where our opinions matter, where we get to do what we love and get paid for it, too.

We dream. It’s all we’ve ever done and, in the end, it’ll probably be all we ever did.

Oh, you ragged band of fools, you hopeless phalanx of dreamers. It’s on your back that empires are built, that planets are visited, that the world is changed. You haul the stones step by bloody step. You finish marathons inch by bloody inch. You write novels word by bloody word.

This isn’t about me. It’s about all of us. It’s about yesterday and today and tomorrow, too. It’s about what you’re going to do when you wake up and about what you did and about what you’re doing and about who you’re with and about who you want to be with and about the sky and the sun and the moon and the stars and it’s about an arrow.

It’s about an arrow that I’m going to shoot at a stupid zombie, and it’s about how I’m not even going to watch it.

Instead, I’ll just watch my friends.

I’ll watch the bowstring tighten across their faces, too.

And I’ll know, without even looking, the arrow hit its mark.

It Started


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It started like any other day.

The Sun rocketed toward Lambda Herculis at 45,000 miles per hour. The earth continued to rocket around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour. Any given point on the earth spun around in a circle at 1,000 miles per hour.

It gave the appearance that the sun rose. The sun does not rise.

Rather, we do.

Sabrina Adams rose from her bed at 5:53 A.M. She had only hit the snooze button once. For some reason it only let her snooze for eight minutes at a time. She had never gone into her  iPhone settings to adjust the snooze length. It was not something she had ever considered doing, or even thought was possible.

Outside her window, she was slowly rising to meet the sun.

Toilet Urine Water Soap Foam Teeth Brush Foam Water Deodorant Clothes Shoes Beans Water Mug Keys and she walked out the door and down the part of the hallway’s carpet that is a slightly lighter shade of putrid grey than the rest. It’s the part in the middle, where she always walks.

It wasn’t until she was halfway down Ventura Boulevard that she woke up. The road was clear, and she had somehow kept the Mazda’s wheels in between the narrow, white lines. She set the radio to a station that was playing something, and outside her window…

Outside her window she met the sun over the San Gabriel.

Rays shot past the peaks and made the orb look like the imperial flag of Japan. The pollution in the air glowed orange and pink. It had rained quite a bit recently, and she could see a peak that had some snow on it.

And she wondered.

She wondered what it felt like

And then she was at Van Nuys, driving past her turn, heading East. Her ear lobes tingled. She hummed along to something nameless and elusive.

Fifteen minutes later she was in Burbank, and the passenger seat started to glow. She looked at her phone. It said ‘work.’ She pulled over, stared at the buzzing metal, and then, after one second more, silenced the call.

The next time her phone rang, it was accompanied with the slamming of a door and the sound of no-slip shoes padding out of a parking lot and up a hill.

She’d never touched it before. Not really. She’d touched ice cream. She’d touched freezer burn. One time, when she was very young, she’d even gone to the park and ice skated on a frozen pool. They had to stop skating every fifteen minutes to refreeze the ice. No one there was any good at ice skating. It made clearing the ice problematic.

She sat on the wall next to a teenager who was tall enough to scrape the ice as they waited to skate again. She smoked a cigarette someone else must have bought for her and made a pile of shavings, and then slid it against the wall. Sabrina had touched that, later, when the teenager wasn’t looking. It felt like what she imagined snow would feel like.

She had to be sure, though.

She just had to be sure.

It was one of those mountains where you find out that you and your tinder date aren’t as athletic as you both pretended to be and, hopefully, that neither of you care. The specific geographic coordinate she currently struggled across hadn’t even traveled two hundred miles closer to the sun when she had started to sweat, and there was still most of the mountain to go.

She tried to see the snow, to get inspiration, but when you’re dealing with a mountain, you can only see the top when it’s really far away. Once you start climbing it, you can’t see the summit until you’re almost there.

So she walked, and she breathed in the fresh air, and felt the sunlight pelting her face. She heard a bird chirp from somewhere not too far away, and she was relieved to know that not all of them had left for the winter.

Come to think of it, she hadn’t paid attention to birds in a long time. She’d been working so much, rising to meet the sun and not going home until she had left the sun behind, she hand’t really noticed birds but now, now they sang, and she listened. Their song was nameless and elusive. Sabrina liked it. It made her nose itch. It’s normally a bad feeling but out here…

Out here it made her feel like she could climb a mountain.

Her phone rang a thousand feet below her. It said work

Thirty minutes later, she started to shiver. She hadn’t brought a sweater, so she just kept going .

She ran out of mountain an hour after that.

And at the top, there was snow.

She knelt in it. It was cold on her ankles. Her ankles didn’t count as touching it, she decided. Touching it only counter with her finger tips or, maybe, with her face.

She did both, just be sure. It melted and ran through her fingers. It liquefied and ran down her cheeks. It was just water, but oh, what water. It was hard, and it was cold, and it was solid, and it was wet, and it was white, and it was colorless and she finally just dropped down and rolled in it, covering her black jeans and shirt in white powder, and she hummed a song both nameless and elusive and a few thousand feet below her a phone rang in the passenger seat of a Mazda travelling approximately 1,000 miles in a circle that was spinning through a vacuum at 64,000 miles per hour caught in the orbit of a burning ball of gas that hurtled through the galaxy at 45,000 miles per hour and it started like any other day.

It had just started like any other day, when Sabrina Adams rose at 5:53 A.M. because her snooze only lasted for eight minutes and she met the sun.

*****

And this is me avoiding working on my screenplay.

Ah, well.

My mountain is now climbed.

Perhaps I’ll make that turn onto Van Nuys tomorrow, after I’ve slept through rising to meet the sun.

tmhnks

How To Start Something


This is a post about writing, and about startin’ somethin’.

I wouldn’t consider myself a writing guru, but talking about the craft of writing is one of my four favorite things to talk about. My other three favorite things are stories, music and Vikings.

(after having been publicly shamed in no less than two comments, i have since capitalized every instance of vikings except this one)

I recall the first time I actually fell in love with Vikings. I had told my German teacher that I used to be a huge fan of pirates. I would read about them and write stories about them, and dream about being back in the days of swashbuckling. Then the Pirates of the Caribbean movies came out, and all of a sudden overweight people who worked at McDonald’s were getting skulls and crossbones tattooed on their shoulders, and I felt sort of robbed.

It wasn’t like I was a pirate pariah beforehand. I was never beaten up for liking pirates. I just felt like… I don’t know. It was just annoying.

“Pirates are okay,” Dr. Ferguson told me, “but Vikings are better. They’re basically pirates but with a crazy religion and way more violence.”

Well, well, well.

If your interested in books about Vikings, I would highly suggest reading the phenomenal Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell.

This is all beside the point.

I wouldn’t consider myself a writing guru, but I recently watched two movies, and the beginnings couldn’t have been more different, and so I wanted to write about it.

The movies were Labyrinth and Singham. They are, strangely enough, more similar than you might think.

Everything has to start somewhere, and it’s your job to pick how.

When you talk about acting, you’re supposed to say “I really like the choice she made” when referring to someone’s performance. That’s because acting is about making choices. Writing is about making choices, too. Nothing is unintentional in a film. Even less is unintentional in a book, because someone chose literally every word on the page.

So when you wanna be startin’ something, when you gotta be startin’ somethin’ you need to make some choices. Both Singham and Labyrinth made choices, and what’s really, really interesting is that they couldn’t have been more similar and yet, at the exact same time, more different.

When you’re planning the beginning of the story, your job is the same job you have when you break out a board game for your friends to play: you need to make sure all of the pieces are on the board. Some games are really complicated, though. They’ve got a lot of pieces, but you really want to play, so you need to make sure you get all the pieces down as quickly as possible, or your friends are going to get bored and go do drugs or something instead.

You don’t have to be thorough. In fact, you need to be as brief as possible. If you tell to much, you use up all your ammunition for later in the story. Character secrets are like bullets, and you only have so many. You can’t come out blasting, you have to bide your time. Wait for the perfect shot, and then you’ll blow your audience away.

So the trick is to be fast, and let people know what’s going on.

In the first ten minutes or so of Singham, we meet an evil mobster who makes a good cop in Goa kill himself from shame. It’s clear the mobster is an asshole, and then we come to this song:

And now, all of a sudden, you know everything you need to know about Singham, the main character. He’s a man. He does manly things. He’s religious. He helps the week. He’s super strong. He has the ferocity of a tiger, and he never spares evil doers. He’s dashing as fuck, and can wear the hell out of a denim shirt. He’s Singham, and he’s going to beat the shit out of some people in this movie.

This is how Labyrinth starts:

And boom, we know (almost) everything we need to know about the main character. Anything else we need to know happens mere moments later, when she runs home and we learn she has a baby brother who she always has to watch and she hates so much that she wishes the Goblin King would come steal him away.

Both films put their pieces on the board super fast.

Then Signham… Singham just fucking drops the ball.

Don’t get me wrong. The movie rules. It has fight scenes like this:

That’s just some good, clean fun. The whipping is… a little disturbing, but, I mean, come on, the dude called out Singham. Insulted his future wife! What did he THINK was going to happen?

This fight happens after maybe twenty minutes in, where we’ve learned even more about Signham: he’s the head cop of some village and guards the villagers with his life. They respect him and shit.

Then the tale spirals out of control with a forty minute long love story that has nothing to do with the main plot at all. It’s not a bad love story, but there’s a big problem.

What’s this love story doing in the movie we just watched two clips from?

Here’s the beginning to one of the greatest cinema masterpieces of all time:

You might think this beginning is stupid, and you’d be right. But it’s also perfect, because it lets you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger can carry a fucking tree, he can pet deer and they won’t run away, and he loves his daughter more than anything. This sets up the plot of the movie (his daughter gets kidnapped) and the tone of the movie (Arnold is a tank that kills everything and it’s insane) perfectly.

What happens in the rest of Commando? Arnold kills everything keeping him away from his daughter.

What happens in the rest of Labyrinth? Jennifer Connely goes to a magic land and rescues her brother from the goblin king.

What happens in the rest of Singham? We have a forty-minute long love story and then get back to the plot we all came here to see.

So now we’ll talk about beginnings.

You’re job as a writer is to let us know everything we need to know as fast as possible, and then deliver us an amazing thing based on those things you just let us know. Arnold loves his daughter? Good. She better get fucking murdered or kidnapped. Jennifer loves this weird old book? Good. She better learn that she lives in the real world. She hates her brother for no reason? She better learn not to hate him. Singham is a tough action man? He better do tough action things.

Watch your favorite movie or TV show. All the stuff you need to know show up in. oh, about the first quarter of it. Any fun surprises or twists happen later, and if they are done correctly, they play off or use things that were brought up in the first act.

So why did I decide to do this?

I read a lot of stuff on wordpress. I talk with friends about a lot of writing projects. Beginnings are hard. They’re hard to nail, and so when I see something that does it really well, like Labyrinth or (parts) of Singham, I just want to share it.

Lastly, someone, and it could have been Albert Einstein, but it probably wasn’t, once said that if you can’t explain something well then you don’t truly understand it. Therefore, if you learn how to explain something well, then you will understand it.

So this post has a twofold purpose:

  1. Hopefully it will help some of you start something.
  2. Hopefully it will help me be a better writer.

Oh, and one more thing: Hopefully it makes someone watch Singham, Labyrinth or Commando.

A Song For David Bowie


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I was deeply affected by David Bowie’s passing today. I called my friend Rob to talk about it. We met up later and listened to some of the hits, and then bought a six pack and watched labyrinth. I’d never seen it before. It’s magical.

I tried to find a copy of Bowie’s new record in town, but every store was sold out, and that’s saying something when you live in LA.

Rob urged me not to go buy something. It’s not right, he said. For David Bowie, we need to make something.

So I did.

It’s called Quicksand:

 

*****

 

I was adrift, stumbling around London in a haze. I could tell you I wasn’t drunk, but that would be a lie. I could tell you I had better things to do, but that’d be a lie too.

I came across an out-of-the-way tavern down the east end. It was a tall old building. It looked like it could have been something many years ago, a rich merchant’s house or a church or maybe even a school. It was crumbling now. The top floors looked barely habitable. The dark front door had a worn, hexagonal brass doorknob in the center of it. Above the door, a large, black star that was back lit somehow. I didn’t care how.

I went inside. My buzz was fading and I needed a drink. Plus, I was trying not to go home.

It was a dive. I pushed past the purple curtains that shielded the interior from the cold and found a rotten palace of beer-stained hardwood. Crumpled cigarettes twisted in overfilled ashtrays. Pool balls sunk into deep grooves on the pool tables. The smoke was thick. It made my eyes wet. I was pretty sure it was illegal to smoke indoors, but I wasn’t about to tell anyone to stop.

I just needed a drink.

I stumbled to the bar and found a stool next to a garbage can, which was just perfect for me. It felt like a rock.

“Pint,” I grunted, and an arm slid a glass of something dark and bitter toward me. I downed it. It tasted like mud. Good mud. The kind of mud you could grow something in. It tasted like… like fate. I’m not really sure how, or even what, but that’s just how it was.

“Thirsty?” A voice asked me. I turned to my right and say that the voice belonged to a man. A woman. No… he was a man. He wore a bedazzled, leather 18th-century outfit that would have been right at home at a fancy dress party in West Hollywood, and he smoked a cigarette out of a long holder. You know the kind. Cruella DeVille had one.

Very Femme Fatale.

“What are you,” I asked him, “some kind of clown?” He smiled at me as he picked up a cigarette packet. He offered me one and I took it. I don’t really smoke. I just sort of suck on the things. If I haven’t been drinking, a get a little head buzz from holding something that can kill me in my mouth. I had been drinking, though, so it was all rather pointless.

“I’m the entertainment,” he told me. I glanced at him, and he jerked his head back at a dingy stage. There was an old, upright piano there with an orange and blue lighting bolt painted on it. I smirked.

“Classy,” I said.

“Hey, man,” he said, “just relax.”

I took a drag and signaled the bartender. He brought me something else. “Fair enough,” I said.

He watched me as I drained the glass, and then took his cigarette out of the holder and snubbed it on the counter. He crossed his legs and stared at me.

“What’s wrong, then?”

I swirled the backwash in the bottom of my glass. Then I drank it.

“I don’t have any problems,” I told him.

“Everyone has problems,” He told me.

“Yeah? What are yours?”

“One of my eyes is permanently dilated.” He showed me. It was.

“Huh. I never heard of that.”

“It’s called anisocoria. Got it when a bloke hit me in school.” He lit another cigarette. It couldn’t be healthy. “We were fighting over a girl.”

“Who got the girl?” I asked. He just shrugged. I laughed. It was short lived.

“So what is it?”

I looked at my empty glass, and signaled for another. “A friend of mine… well, not really a friend. This guy I looked up to. He passed away.”

“And you’re sad about it?”

I didn’t say anything. The man took a long drag.

“So what did you make him?”

“What?”

“What did you make him?”

“He’s dead, he’s not having a birthday party.”

“No, no. People die, so you make them something. It’s how you remember them, right?”

“I remember people by crying a lot and buying things.”

“Does it make you feel better?”

I didn’t say anything.

He shook his head. “No, no. Make him something.”

“Like… what, like a tribute?”

“It’s not for them, love. It’s for you.” He stabbed the cigarette on the counter and leaned forward. “You feel something, right? You admired this guy?”

“He was unique. He was brave. He was kind.”

“So make something unique. Be brave. Be kind. He made you feel something, so use that feeling and make someone else feel something. You know how people say if you remember someone they never really die?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s bullshit, love. Bullshit. They’re dead, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget. Use what you feel and make something that he would have said ‘yeah, I like this’ about.”

I reached into my jacket and pulled out my manuscript. “I think I did. It’s why I started drinking. I’m just… I’m not sure how it turned out.”

“So you’ve been carrying it around London?”

“Yes.”

“All night long?”

“That’s right.” I laughed. It’s the sort of laugh that you laugh when you’re really just begging for affirmation. “I was thinking about throwing it away. That’s why I took the stool by the garbage.”

He shook his head. “What are we going to do with you?”

“I just need to know.”

The lights dimmed. He smiled again. “There’s only one way to find out.”

He set down a clear, glass orb on the counter and snapped his fingers. The arm brought him two shots of something amber. He downed them both. I smiled.

“I never took you for much of a drinker.”

“Baby, I’m not even really here.”

He walked over to the stage and pressed some keys. I stared down at my manuscript. It was hard to focus. 

“Alright, ladies. We’ve got time for one last song.” He started gently pounding out some chords and singing. “Oh I ain’t got the power anymore, no I ain’t got the power anymore.” He dove into the verse, and I dove into my manuscript.

I read it. He played.

He was better. He was way better. It wasn’t even close, but then again, I didn’t want to compete, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t either. He played, and I read, and the music swirled around me, and I felt the power. My mind lit up like a solar flare with the sort of electricity you only get when you’re around someone who cares so deeply about what they’re doing that you end up caring, too.

“I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thoughts, and I ain’t got the power anymore.”

I looked at the garbage. You know how sometimes, in really dim light, you look into something that has volume to it, like a trash can, and it just yawns at you, and it seems like it doesn’t have a bottom, and it won’t ever, ever end?

Yeah, it wasn’t doing that anymore. The trash can, I mean. I could see a condom at the bottom of the liner.

I finished my drink and managed somehow to stand up. The room tilted and whirled so hard it made my brain hurt, but I found a path and made it to the door.

“Don’t believe in yourself, don’t deceive with belief. Knowledge comes with death’s release”

It didn’t really make much sense, but it worked, in a weird sort of way. We made eye contact, and he nodded at me.

I just nodded back.

Then I left.

I suppose I made it back to Bloomsbury at some point because I woke up the next morning in my own bed, wishing I would have died.

I looked at the clock.

Morning. That was being generous.

My roommates would be back from Wales soon, and I…

Had it really been four days?

I rolled over. There was a manuscript on my bedside table. It had a touch of glitter on it. Next to the manuscript was a clear glass orb.

I never did find that bar again. It’s gone now.

I went looking for it my last night in London. The weather was warm, and we took Barclay’s bikes and rode them around the whole fucking town. We didn’t wear helmets, so our hair streamed behind us, and we laughed at the sheer folly of it all, kicked our legs out and screamed like kids, and the blood raced through our veins and our hair was blowing behind us and we could feel the life throbbing through our temples and I never did find the bar again.

I never found it again, but…

Now that I come to think of it,

I’m not sure I ever did.

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The Most Productive Procrastination


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So I finished the rough draft of a novel, and I find it increasingly difficult to focus on anything else.

There’s a screenplay I should be writing right now. I started this thing called “Shut Up and Write”. The idea behind it is that you get four randomized screenplay ideas, created by randomly drawing note cards with actors, genres, professions and locations, and the combining those into little idea clusters, and then you write a screenplay with no planning, no personal stake, and no strings attached.

The idea is to not care if it’s good. The idea is to shut the fuck up and write.

A lot of people worry that what they’re creating is good. I don’t have this worry, because I don’t write anything that I wouldn’t want to read. Therefore, the first fan of almost everything I write is myself, and so I’m almost always confident that something in any project I’m working on has merit.

This isn’t a delusion. I’m also pretty good about abandoning projects that aren’t working. I don’t incinerate them, though. I just put them on whatever is behind the back burner. Anything I’m interested has something cool about it, and at the very least I can cannibalize the ideas from a failed project for a new one. Maybe this scene is nice, but it would work better in this story. This character would be more fun here. Etc.

But a lot of people, especially people who haven’t written as much as I have, never get passed development because they spend all their writing time worrying about if what they came up with is good.

This is unacceptable.

Something about it is good, because you are a consumer of media and have a very discerning taste, whatever that may be. You know what you like and, unless you are Ted Bundy or something, there’s probably a group of people out there who like what you like too.

Novels exist that are basically big foot rape fantasies. They are, quite literally, about young women who wander into the woods and get raped by big foot. I have read one before, and it was horrible. Horrible in that it was morally horrible and also just poorly made.

There’s an audience for it. At one point, Virginia Wade was pulling in sixteen to twenty thousand dollars a month from her erotic big foot stories.TWENTY THOUSAND. A MONTH.

If there’s an audience for that, then there’s an audience for whatever the fuck you want to write about.

And I think that’s why I like writing. Sure, I hate Big Bang Theory. I don’t like Cum For Bigfoot.

But someone else does.

And the fact that I don’t like it doesn’t make the fact that they like it any less valid.

Who am I to say that Big Bang Theory is a garbage show full of stupid, not funny garbage jokes? No one, that’s who.

So goal one of shut up and write is this: just write. The die is cast on the first of January, and everyone will shame you if you don’t finish. Who cares if it’s bad? There’s something in there that isn’t.

There’s something in there that’s good.

That’s the second goal. We write, we don’t care and then we celebrate.

A lot of times when I get notes, I think people are too critical. I’m not trying to cushion the notes i receive by shouting “you’re mean and you’re wrong” to whoever gave them to me, but I think a good note is when you try to figure out what the writer wants to do, and then help them achieve that, rather than saying that something is merely bad. Everything is there for a reason. It’s your job as a note giver to figure out what the reason is, and then think about what you are going to say rather than giving your first gut reaction.

I see gut reactions so many times in notes. Gut reactions are seldom useful.

So we don’t give notes for Shut Up and Write. It’s the only time in the year we won’t give notes. Instead, we celebrate. We’re going to have a big party, where the wine and beer will hopefully flow like the Mississippi, and we will read the writer’s favorite scenes from their work.

We’ll assign characters, goof around, and laugh. Then we all clap and take a drink.

This isn’t softening the blow, though it may seem like it. If someone wants notes, they can send me their screenplay and I’ll give it the ol’ ruthless treatment. Instead, this is encouragement. Everyone needs encouragement, probably even Cormac McCarthy and JK Rowling. Hell, probably even Stephen King.

So that’s what we do.

And here I am, writing a blog post.

The cards I finally settled on were: Tom Hardy, The Everglades, Psychiatrist and Mockumentary.

I love Mockumentaries.

I love Tom Hardy.

I love the everglades.

This one practically writes itself.

Practically.

The practically is very important.

So here I am. I’ve got to head to work in three hours, and I’m participating in the most productive form of procrastination.

I’m writing a blog post.

I don’t really believe in New Years resolutions, but the first is as good a date as any to start something new.

So I’m going to try to blog twice a month.

Calm down, it’s only so I can trick you guys into buying my book later.

Ay yi yi… this post is a quagmire.

Maybe that’s my point, though.

Look at this mess above you.

I hope it’s a beautiful mess, because something other than procrastination gave me this idea.

There’s a kernel of gold among the mud. Can you find it?

I’m not sure I can, but it’s there.

So I’ll leave you with this:

I’m not sure what you’re doing on this Sunday, or whatever day it is when you read this, but today is your day.

There’s a new David Bowie album out.

The sun is shining, at least here in Los Angeles.

You’ve got some free hours.

Don’t fuck around online.

Don’t watch TV. TV is dumb.

Don’t read Cum for Bigfoot.

Don’t clean.

Don’t ___ .

Shut up.

Just Shut Up And Write.

And now….

Well…

And now, I think I’ll take my own advice.

And Shia’s advice, too.

 

So Swellith the Legion


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The cops came by today. When I opened the door and saw them standing there, I immediately thought oh god, what have I done now? The truth of the matter is that I’ve done nothing that would warrant police knocking on my door at ten in the morning, at least nothing I was conscious of…

But then again…

Who really understands all the laws in their city? Certainly not I. Just the day before, I was talking to mom on the phone while I was driving home from work. I am fortunate enough to have Bluetooth in my car, so the whole thing was hands free, but as I pulled through an intersection and saw a cop on a bicycle, my heart jumped. He was in the shade of the mysterious grey building next to the Chevron on the corner, and he held a walkie-talkie and talked into it as if he was important.

I think talking on your phone while you drive is illegal in California. I know texting is. Is it illegal to use hands free technology to talk to your mom while you’re driving home from work?

I know not.

A red light. I stopped right in front of him, and turned my head to look out the driver-side window so he couldn’t see my mouth moving. I was in the middle of telling my mom a story, and my train of thought had just been detained by the fuzz, so I sort of filibustered until I could think again.

“And… uhhh… I… I just got a new… this magazine Stacy told me about… ha ha!  …” I stopped talking, suddenly afraid the cop could hear me. I hazarded a glance. There he sat, talking in his device, frowning and wearing sunglasses and a helmet it looked like he got from Walmart.

Jeez.

I leaned against the window and said nothing. My mom was being very patient. Or maybe she was distracted by something too. I think she might have been taking the dog out. I’d heard her say something along those lines. Apparently, He wanted to go for a walk, but she had to get dinner ready, and since my parent’s dog wasn’t raised in the wilderness, he is rather poor at catching and roasting rabbits. Therefore, a walk turned into a quick nip outside, perhaps to bark at a squirrel or retiree, and then back inside to the air conditioning.

The light switched green I was able to get the fuck out of there.

I wasn’t comfortable until I was sitting at my computer, clutching a bottle of expensive beer and blasting some orcs with my assortment of corrupting spells and faithful demons.

So when the cops were at my door the next morning, I was nervous. Especially since I was just wearing an unbuttoned cardigan and some old pajama pants. I had forgotten to close the fly, so when they had asked me how long I had known my neighbor down the hall who was in the middle of applying to be a 911 dispatcher, all I could was wonder if it would be indecent exposure if my penis flopped out of my pants and just sort of hung there.

Their eyes would travel downwards and, it being cold, they would probably laugh. Then they would arrest me.

Can you imagine going to jail like that?

“What are you in for?” The hulking Aryan Brotherhood member would ask me, cracking his swollen knuckles.

“My penis sprung out of my Ralph Lauren  pajama pants while I was talking to two police officers,” I’d explain. He’d look me up and down. “Not in a gay way,” I would clarify, “more in a ‘god hates me’ kind of way.”

“What if it sprang out right now?” He’d ask.

“I’d probably die of shame and then you could have your way with me, I’m sure.”

I’m not sure what he would do then, but most certainly it would be unpleasant.

Fortunately, none of this happened. It was a rather pleasant conversation, and then I went back upstairs to decompress, and saw that I had two thousand followers on this very blog.

I doubt half of them are even active anymore, and I doubt even half of those active ones check my blog on a weekly basis, and I doubt even half of those read anything, and I doubt even half of the half of the half ever like or comment.

But that doesn’t matter, does it? What does matter, is that we’re starting a movement here at corngoblin.com. What does matter is that my penis never flopped out in front of two police officers and I never had to find out what their response would have been. What does matter is that by using the word penis in an non-medical capacity, I have probably disqualified myself from being freshly pressed. What does matter is that using the word fuck probably did it, too.

Fuck.

What does matter is that I have two days off from work, and Star Wars is out soon, and terrorists haven’t attacked the mall I work in, and my parents are spending the holidays in my apartment.

It matters, these little things. The sun rose. The sky is blue. I have some nice tea. They matter, because small things build into big things, and big things build into monumental things, and sure, I was scared to talk to the police. I was scared they would find out any number of the probably illegal things I do on a daily basis and bust me for it.

But I did talk to them, and because of I did, maybe my friend will get a job. Maybe this tea will cure my headache. Maybe one of my followers will tell someone about my blog, who will then tell their friend who will then tell their friend who will then tell their friend who will then tell their friend who happens to be one of those penguins that publish books, who will then tell his supervisor who will then tell her boss, the biggest penguin of all, who will then give me call, and then…

well…

And then, who knows what happens?

But until then, the legion grows. It swellith. Thank you, my loyal followers, for loyally following. Because that’s important.

Oh, and so is this video of a Bald Eagle attacking Donald Trump.

Be Happy


happy

I came into work the day after finishing 50,000 words (hail to my nanos!) in HUNT!, my screenplay turned novel, in one of the best moods I’d been in in many weeks. I was elated, and everything seemed to be going right.

I started off on register but very shortly switched over to bar, and was soon thereafter approached by a woman in her mid-fifties. She smiled at me in a very motherly way and said “I wanted to thank you for your great attitude.”

I thanked her for her compliment and then told her I was so happy because of my novel. I made drinks and we chatted for a while, and then she glances over to my friends working on the register.

“I come in here every day,” she said to me, “and you are always over here, loud and happy, telling jokes and laughing. You make the drinks. These people, though…” Here she gestured at my coworkers. “They always have the sour faces. It’s rude. I’m a customer! I’m buying things from you! Be happy!”

She laughed and I, exactly like every time in my life where I don’t have a stored response for what someone just said, laughed as well.

I made her latte (decaf, nonfat, extra hot, no foam) and handed it to her. She left with a wave, and I waved back.

My mood wasn’t spoiled, but had shifted to more pensive territory.

‘Be happy.’

Much uttered, I’ve always thought this phrase was idiotic. Telling an unhappy person to be happy is like telling a frog to not be a frog. The only thing that will happen is that both the frog and the person telling the frog to be happy will both be less happy.

It’s a silly comparison, but ‘be happy’ is a silly statement.

Happy is western culture. People strive to be happy. You ask someone why they’re doing anything they’re doing, and, when you finally dig through all the lairs, it’s because, in some way or another, they think it will make them happy.

If i get this boat, I’ll be happy. If I fix this tooth, I’ll be happy. If I get a dog, I’ll be happy. If I get a girlfriend, I’ll be happy. If I get this job, I’ll be happy. If I pay my bills, I won’t be as stressed as I was, which, in a small way, will raise my current happiness level from whatever it was to whatever it will be, though most assuredly more happy than now.

It sounds silly, but that’s how people think. Hell, that’s how I think. But it’s pointless, though… isn’t it?

I mean, come on. What even is happy?

According to google, happy is “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” Pleasure is easy. It’s a neurochemical reaction in the brain, but contentment is harder to pin down, so I dug a little deeper. Contentment is a state of “happiness or satisfaction.” Unsatisfactory. Content was not much better, but satisfaction, “fulfillment of one’s wishes, expectations or needs, or pleasure derived from this,” was very fertile ground.

And that made sense to me. Happiness is contentment which is fulfillment of something you wanted to do. It’s why men build monuments. It’s how sports work. It’s why bored housewives shop with no other goal than to find something nice. It’s how the economy works… hell, it’s how capitalism works… hell, it’s how life works..

It’s why I write. It’s for contentment, not only for completing something I worked on, but for showing it to somebody, who then says “this thing, this thing right here, this thing you spent hours on, this thing you cried over, this thing that is you, more than you can over know. This thing is good.”

But that doesn’t work if that’s all you ever hear. Happiness is a state that only exists because of all the work it takes to get there. It is the light to toil’s shadow. One cannot be happy without first being sad, which makes a baby’s first smile somewhat of a depressing event, considering what it must have gone through to realize things are now better.

You can’t have happy without sad, and you can’t first be happy without first being sad. That’s life. That’s why rich people aren’t in a state of bliss. That’s why people in heaven probably aren’t in a state of bliss. They’re probably just bored, because, and trust me, as a writer I know this to be true: good things are boring. Who wants to watch a movie about a guy who won the lotto, and then everything turned out alright? No? Now who wants to watch a movie about a guy who won the lotto, who is then kidnapped by evil aliens who want his winnings? Probably more people.

Happiness is sadness is happiness is sadness is happiness is sadness. When you’re on top, you can only come down, and when you’re at the bottom, you can only go up. One’s just a set up to the other.

So now I know what to say the next time a mid-fifties woman comes up to me while I’m on bar and says “you’re happy, and you know what? I like that. But that group of people over there. They aren’t happy. Why can’t they be like you?”

I’ll turn to her and I’ll say. “They’re just getting ready to be happy. Give them some time.”

And you know what? It’s such an odd thing to say that I fully expect her to have no saved response.

She’ll probably just laugh.

Beachbody-Blog-Pumpkin-Spice-Latte

The Procession Of Death


   
I can see it now.

Geniuses, wearing their ceremonial garb of grey and blue, march out of the apple store. They hold the symbols of their order: A squat woman in the front holds an apple on a stick. She waves it high, announcing to the world this is a religious matter. Behind her comes the bearer of the iPhone and iPad, one held in each arm, ceremonially checking them every ten seconds for snapchats and tender updates.
After that, the elders arrive, the old MacBooks from the ancient times wheeled in on AV carts. Some say they can’t even process more that sixty-four bits. It’s just a legend, though. Surely, it is but folklore to scare the children. I must consult the geniuses later.

Behind them comes the effigy of Steve Jobs, rolling on a cart made of pure titanium and gold. Black turtlenecks burn in his honor. The effigy stands looking forwards to the future. Behind him comes the past.

My MacBook.

It is carried on a purple satin pillow. A black shroud hangs over it. Two geniuses in dark black robes carry the pillow. Their faces are concealed, but tears can clearly be seen staining their robes. In front of them, two similarly attired geniuses swing thuribles filled with the finest electronic components from the orient. They burn, releasing their toxic smoke so that the whole mall can smell it.

Mourners line the walkway to the exterior exit. They wail and gnash their teeth. They beat their chests and prostrate themselves on the ground. Why? They ask. What sort of god would do this?

What sort of god would ruin someone’s perfectly good MacBook with water damage?

No god of mine.

I take up the rear of the procession, dressed in all black, wearing a veil. I have already gone through one box of cleanex and, poor as I am, I hope my weeping will cease lest more money be put toward the tissue fund.

I am supported by my friends Stacy and Stephanie, as I can barely walk from the grief. They are sad too, though they could never hope of fathoming my pain.

To lose a MacBook…

It crushes your soul like a vice. It is an owner’s greatest fear to have to bury his MacBook. In an ideal world, my MacBook would have lived to a ripe old age while I am comfortably dead, but this is not an ideal world.

It is a dark one, full of terrors, full of things that go bump in the night and spill liquid on your MacBook when your not even there.
Damn whoever did this. Damn them to hell.

I weep as the procession finally reaches the dumpster. There are no dumpster women there today, and the only smell is the stench of death; the rot and decay of components; plastic wrap, burning.

The geniuses recant the five pillars of Agammom, and utter the sacred rhyme of Ulgoch, before they toss my MacBook in the dumpster. They reach for the compact button.

NO! I scream, breaking free of Stephanie and Stacy. My baby! My baby no! don’t put him down there! You can’t! You can’t!

I stroke its lid, running my hand over the humorous bumper stickers I stuck on it years ago. I can feel the air bubbles underneath the plastic. It’s comforting.

The geniuses try to pull me away.

I just need to say goodbye.

I wipe my eyes. My MacBook stares back at me, lifeless.

Remember London? I ask it. Belgium? France? Florida, remember that? The dorm room I brought you too after I picked you up from the student center? Remember the film school sets? The nights we drank together and spun dark tapestries? The rain on the windows of the old apartment? The rattle the air conditioner would make? Remember? Remember?

It remembers nothing, though. It’s hard drive is wiped. It’s dead.

I remember, though, and what is anything, if not a future memory?

I let the geniuses lead me away. I hear the compactor start, and they carry me to my car.

Stephanie drives. I’m in no state.

I write this to you know, gentle reader, on my old, old MacBook from 2008. The future is uncertain. 

What sort of computer will I procure? Will it even be a Mac? What will I do?

One thing is for certain, though.

My MacBook would have wanted me to go on.

So go on I shall.

 

Out Of Africa


funny ramen noodles

My blog has one reader from Burundi. She’s not a regular, but she reads maybe once a week. I have no way of knowing if it’s the same person every week or not, but I like to imagine that it is.
Even though I won the geography bee in seventh grade, I knew very little about Burundi, so when I was looking over my blog statistics, and I saw that I had a semi-regular reader from Burundi, I had to go look it up.
I learned that Burundi was one of the poorest countries in East Africa, and had suffered a series of genocides and civil wars that devastated the local population and economy. It’s been the focus of a UN rebuilding process since 2006, but it’s slow going.
My computer broke soon thereafter, and I wasn’t able to read any more.
I have a habit of never throwing away expensive pieces of technology, or at least always having one backup. I have all the iPhones I’ve ever owned scattered in boxes about my apartment, and I have a rats nest of power cables that would probably be better at bludgeoning intruders to death that charging any device. It only took a few minutes of rummaging through my bedroom closet.
I knew I had an extra computer some where, I just had to find it. It only took me a few minutes of rummaging to unearth the treasure I was searching for: my white, plastic Macbook from 2008.
The memories.
This little workhorse carried me through the end of high school and all the way through undergrad. Its documents folder is full of classics papers, Latin translations, and German workbooks. There’s a whole section of poorly-crafted stories from my early days, malnourished and deformed creatures who flinch and hiss at the light when you open the folder.
And the pictures. It’s like stepping back into high school. To undergrad, back to Birmingham, Alabama.
It was magical. Like opening an old box and finding treasure from when you were a kid.
When I was younger, the decree would sometimes come down from on high that we needed to clean the house. Invariably, my dad would go clean the master bedroom, and the rest of us would have to do the whole house by ourselves. It wasn’t big, but it was the principle that upset us.
At some point, though, we’d all find our selves in the red bedroom, huddled on the floor around several old shoeboxes. There were pictures in the shoeboxes. Thousands of them. We’d look through, and I’d see my dad’s navy friends I always heard stories about, or vacations I couldn’t remember, or family members I only met once.
It’s weird to think that your parents had lives before you were around.
I wonder if old computers are going to be my generations shoe boxes. Old pictures, old homework assignments, old dreams and fantasies, old games and videos. We’ll clean out our closets and stumble across these heavy pieces of plastic, and our kids will go “wow, that thing rested on your lap? Did it cut off your circulation?”
We’ll show them it didn’t, though it did singe the hair off.
Eight years. It seemed like forever.
It seemed even longer when I tried to get on word press. My computer was running browsers that were too old to use the word press web app. Worse still, my operating system was too old to upgrade the browsers. Worse still, I couldn’t upgrade my OS without paying for it.
Shit.
I felt like I was trying to use a brick as a flashlight. No matter how hard I tried to flip a switch, it was just a brick.
I didn’t have Final Draft. I didn’t have Scrivener. I was crippled.
You build your life around a profession. You spend every waking moment thinking about it, you sacrifice good paying jobs to give your dreams a try, you lay it all out on the line, and then your tool breaks. My computer. The one thing I needed, and it’s gone.
It was such a betrayal, like finding a spider in the shower. What was once safe and comforting now has poisonous things in it. Using this old computer felt weird. It felt dirty, too much like I was stepping back into my past, turning into something I used to be and loosing all forward progress. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to have to write in Microsoft word again.
And then I thought about my reader in Burundi. I wonder what she uses to read my blog, or the lengths she went to to even get access to a computer.
I thought about her, and the civil wars, and the ethnic cleansing. I wonder if she lost any family members. I thought about the rampant starvation, and I wondered if she was hungry. I thought about disease, and wondered if she was well.
My friend works for a company that, among other things, repairs macs for studios and production companies. He’s taking a look at the computer tomorrow. He thinks it’s just a corrupted disk image.
Until then, I’m back in 2008.
I’m using a plastic computer held together by duct tape that can’t even access my favorite websites, but I’m going to soldier through it.
If my reader from Burundi can do it, then I owe it to her to try.
It’s probably not as bad as all that, though. I like to imagine a leisurely afternoon stroll through Bujumbura, the streets alive with insects, the humidity oppressive. Spices waft on the breeze that blows across lake Tanganyika. Dogs bark in the distance, but not in a frightening way. No, it’s comforting.
She wears an orange dress and sandals, and she waves at everyone she passes. They all smile and wave back.
She gets to the café and sits down with a cup of coffee, and loads my blog.
I hope I don’t disappoint her.

p.s.

i wrote this on my phone. I hope it turned out okay.

The Light of Polaris


Office Buildings at Night --- Image by © Richard Schultz/Corbis

I like to write in the dark. I get home after ten more often than not, and the first thing I do is grab a beer from my fridge and head upstairs. Nighttime is when I write my blog posts and other non-fiction stories. The night is magic, it’s full of possibilities, and ripe for reflection. Night time is when you’re vulnerable.

I find music appropriate for the mood of whatever I’m working on, and then I write about myself.

I have really shitty blinds in my apartment. Honestly, they’re terrible: long plastic strips that hang down all the way to the floor. They break and fall off if a spider breathes on them wrong. I always have the blinds shut in my room, but over the year that I’ve lived here, three or four strips have fallen, leaving great gashes in my privacy. It used to make me uncomfortable, but I’ve long since stopped caring. If someone wants to spy on me, so be it. I hope they’re prepared for boredom.

I live behind an office building. Every time I get home, there’s one light on in the building, directly across the alley from my room, on the same floor. It’s almost always the only light on.

The cleaning people travel throughout the building during the night, normally up until twelve or one AM. I’ve watched them, sitting on my ratty couch I bought from Salvation Army for twenty dollars, a glass of Jim Beam in hand, David Bowie on the stereo. They’re very efficient.

Sure, I have a TV. There’s actually two in the house, but when the mood strikes me, there’s nothing as good as watching other people. Maybe it’s the danger in it. This is wrong. You know it’s wrong. That’s what makes it so much fun. It’s like spying. It is spying. It’s Rear Window.

There’s a new apartment complex further down the street. It’s sleek and modern, and the top floor suites have huge, multistory windows that provide a wonderful portal through which to view the occupants. The huge windows don’t have any blinds. I’m sure the owners assumed that since there aren’t any apartments close, no one would be watching the people living there.

They thought wrong. I have binoculars.

The penthouses are occupied by a couple twenty somethings who either hit it big or have very rich parents. They throw lavish parties and have people over all the time.

I watch it all. You’re fights, the slow dances with your girl when it’s one AM and everyone left, the different girl your bring over the next night. The shame. It’s all a show to me. You’re my amusement.

I see it all.

It gets boring after a while, though. Too much like TV. It’s too simple. I can turn on Hulu and watch the real world without having to hold binoculars to my face.

The light in the office building, though. That’s a mystery.

It stays on until two or three in the morning, every morning. I can never see anyone in the room, no matter how hard I look. It’s the angle, I think. There’s probably more to the room that I just can’t see.

Surely there’s someone in there, but why? What are they doing?

I wonder.

A workaholic is a safe bet, sure. I can picture him now, slaving away at the keyboard, crunching numbers, making a list of who to call tomorrow. There are movie posters on the wall. I can see that from my room at least. Maybe he’s a movie producer. He could be staying up late reading scripts, getting ready to call writers and give them notes. Maybe he’s researching other productions, trying to pull some deals together. Maybe he needs to find a tank for a shoot tomorrow.

Whoever he is, he’s a workaholic. I get workaholics.

I’ve always assumed you become a workaholic when you have nothing else. It’s you and your job. You’re a workaholic because you’re scared to go home, your scared to sit by yourself in your mansion or apartment or car or whatever because no matter how late you stay up, how long you watch TV, how high you blast the music, or how much alcohol you drink, you can’t escape that moment at three AM when you’re staring at the ceiling and all you can think is what else is there?

This is it.

I’m going to die.

It’s in those existential moments that we find out who we are. Your soul screams why?

Whatever you’re answer is you.

Stay at work though, he says to himself. Burn the midnight oil. To you, it must be a distraction. Keep working, keeping thinking about deals and packages and actors and scripts. Think about location deals, and music rights, and sponsors.

Avoid it.

I understand. I get the guy across the alley. He and I are a lot alike.

To him, his single lighted window is a distraction. He burns the light to keep away the dark.

I wonder what he thinks about when he looks at me. When he looks across the alley and sees an almost pitch-black room. What demons assail him, then?

I wonder if he can hear the keys clacking away. I wonder what they sound like to him.

I hope to see him one day. I think he’ll be standing in his window, tie hanging loosely, a cup of coffee in hand. There will be circles under his eyes, and the wisps of hair that he combs over his ever increasing bald-spot while be sticking out at crazy angles. He’ll have a white shirt, khaki pants, and a gold watch

I’ll be in my IKEA computer chair, sipping on a PBR and listening to death metal music. I’ll still be dressed in all black, like I always am when I come home form Starbucks.

Our eyes will meet, and what then?

Will he shiver?

Will he blink?

Will he nod?

No.

I think he won’t do anything at all.

Just stare, and then go back to work like nothing ever happened.

To him, his light is his escape. To me, his light is a beacon. A warning. An egg timer, counting down.

A calling.

It’s the north star, Polaris, and it leads me in new and exciting directions. It pulls at me, and my soul is compelled to follow.

You’re days are numbered, it whispers as I traipse over mountains, and sail over wine dark seas, and if your life flashes before your eyes, how much of it do you want to be in an office?

Not much.

Not much.

So I click away, and I dream.

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