Monday, 31 March 2014

The Most Beautiful Place ( Day three in the adventures of an old dog writer trying new tricks )

"Day 3: Write a setting based on the most beautiful place you've ever seen."

It's monday and I'm in a shite frame of mind. Utterly, utter gash. It doesn't help that the fucking hour went back or forward or whatever the fuck it did, the bastard. I'm completely out of sorts. What a complete waste of my time, literally, that hour change is. I'll spend the next three months as grumpy as an Irish politician in public, start slowly getting used to it, and then it'll go forward or back again, whatever the fuck it does in winter, and completely fuck me up again. I take it personally that this kind stupidity occurs, in much the same way as I take it personally that people don't like more of the same things that I like.

Feeling like I'm feeling makes it awfully difficult to care about beauty if I'm honest. It's like seeing happy people when you're pissed off. Or attractive people when you're feeling fat. 

But in the spirit of continuity, I laid this ugly challenge down for myself and so I'll do it. But it means I hate you, reader, just a little bit more than I used to.

Just kidding.

I couldn't hate you any more than I already do.

So. Beautiful then : "Having qualities that delight the senses, especially the sense of sight."

Okay, so let's take a moment to breathe, let's make that all important fourteenth cup of coffee, let's have a slice of chocolate cake, let's take a moment to watch daytime television and realise there are worse things in this life than beauty, and let's regroup. We're getting needlessly upset and it's only making us look like petulant and angry children. And by us, I mean you too reader.

Beautiful places. I don't know what that means, quite. These exercises aren't bad, not really – but like me, they're under-qualified. There's no explanation as to what we, I, you the writer are supposed to get out of them. They don't tie together, so far. Maybe they will. Why do I have to describe something beautiful when I'm feeling the way I'm feeling? Can't I describe something horrific? A car-crash, or the time I was interviewed by some children's television lunkheads and felt like I had died and was now in hell. They contrived happiness through loudly squawking and I hated them for it.

Beautiful places. Where can beautiful places be found?

Well I've been to a fair few other lands besides this nauseously claustrophobic small town I'm currently residing in, so I don't know, let's start there. Let's see what we can't find.

I've been to London. Great for CD shops and awesome for food, but an ugly city really. Always moving, festering, twisting and turning and never catching eye-contact when a good shoulder bump can do instead. I like London. It's my kind of city. But beautiful? Nice parks maybe, big buildings, pretty hectic art scene but nah. Not beautiful.

I've been to Vienna. Amazing food, amazing amazing food. Great sites but a grey, short city with people of similar personality. Not beautiful. Also I was there during 911, an inconvenient piece of timing that kinda wrecked an otherwise entirely pleasant day, and as such holiday. See it wasn't just New Yorkers that Osama's merry band put out. It was my holiday in Vienna, too.

I've been to Venice. Gorgeous, gorgeous city – to look at, to be a part of. Travelling everywhere by boat is far more romantic and stomach tingly that it has any right to be. I squeezed down the mono-streets, I caught up on my art, I ate McDonalds, and got caught up in a real-life low-rent mafia dinner party ( that's a fact my friends! ). I travelled to the hotel slightly sozzled, by midnight moonlight, by boat, and it was certainly exciting. But it feels like Disneyland after a day. It's a tourist haven and truly only exists to feed the beast of commerce. The people seem like robots and the tourists remind you that you are simply there for the ride.

I've been to Paris. I hated it and it hated me. It was mutually respective loathing. Never again.

I don't know, maybe I'm being too literal about this, thinking specifically about countries, cities, towns etc when I should be looking further outside the box.

I could go towards an extremity of obscurity : the night sky. But I live in Ireland and in Ireland most of the time the night sky is just that; obscured.

My DVD collection when I'm in the middle of reorganising it. No, that's panic inducing, I have far too many films I'm never going to be able to rewatch before I turn Ninety-Seven, and when I'm surrounded by the covers, split out across the floor, over the couch, on the table, and in the kitchen, anywhere in fact other than the shelves I stupidly took them from to re-order, they make my head spin like I've had too much Gin. And have too many DVDs.

Eyes-closed, listening to my favourite music? Not always a beautiful place to be, my head. But that's not somewhere I've ever really seen so can that count? And how do you write about that anyway?

Today I hate these exercises. I hate me for starting it. I hate you because, well, you're you. It's not your fault but that doesn't make it any easier. I hate conceptualism. I hate bananas. I hate everything and if anything's at fault, it's that stupid hour going forward or backward or left or right or up someone's arsehole, wherever the fuck it's disappeared to. Some people's phones and watches automatically alter the time without them even realising it. They just get on with it, never truly realising that time is fucking with them.

Mine doesn't. Mine just stares at me, waiting for me to acknowledge that I have to physically alter time myself. Maybe if I wasn't aware of this ridiculous, short-form jetlag, it wouldn't bother me so much. Maybe if...

AhHA!!!! I have it. The most beautiful place. It has occurred to me.

I went to Taiwan once. It was a hell of an experience. It was ten days of random, bizarre twists, turns and escapism. It was industrialisms clashing with traditionalism. It was people who looked Chinese castigating me for calling them Chinese, then calling me English because that's as close to Ireland as they understood. Ironically, I'm English. Fuck them.

It started with a panic attack and ended with the greatest sensation of zen I have ever experienced, based on my experiences in the country, a twenty hour flight home, sleeping pills and a strangely comforting jetlag.

I shall try to describe this then, as the most beautiful place I have seen.

"Number three "Do" in Blog writing : Use links within your posts. Whether you are linking to other blogs or websites that contain great information or linking to past posts on your own site, do it whenever you can. This will help not only increase your clicks but also help with your blog’s search engine rankings. Include images."

The Most Beautiful Place

I had lost all sensation. All emotion and feeling. The plane could have crashed right now and I would have merely smiled beatifically and accepted it.

Instead it glided gently, as the ground rose up to meet it. I closed my eyes and breathed. I let my breath join the roar and thud of the plane. I let them fade. Somewhere between Frankfurt and Dublin I had found this place, this gentle emptiness that happily accepted me without judgement as I curled up and climbed inside. It was a numbness that went beyond the tingling of pins and needles. It was a carelessness without guilt. It was as though I were laying on a cushioned travelator and being brought, slowly, forward. I had no need for worry. I didn't need to concern myself with triviality. Nor anything beyond my scope of reasoning. The travelator would take me there. Wherever there was. It didn't seem to matter.

Lost. That was the wrong word. I had become all sensation. In the space between deep sleep and stupifying consciousness, I was nestled. It felt easy. Everything felt easy.

The plane bounced as it landed. Around me there were gasps, someone clutched the knuckles of my right hand, someone I did not know, someone who shared only the outer journey with me. My eyes lazed open, and I closed my hand across her's. It seemed the right thing to do. I tried to focus on my fingers, on the blood pumping through them. I looked up at this frightened woman, her eyes darkened by her rising pupils. I whispered something to her and it ghosted from my lips to her ears. She smiled. When the plane began to slow, I let her fingers open and slide out from my own. I felt as though she were still holding my hand. She seemed embarrassed, now that the moment had passed. I felt only the warmth that had enveloped me as we crossed the ocean and had lingered, a whispering breath of lips upon my forehead.

Sound and images comfortably blurred around me. Moments compressed so that almost as soon as I had stood to remove my bag from the overheads, then I was standing outside in the cold rain saying goodbye to the friends I had travelled with, I was stepping from the taxi and saying thanks, I was lying in bed in the darkened room embracing every pin-prick of perception, even as I lay awake, jetlagged and over-tired, listening without trying to the sounds that enveloped me.

I had found a perfect moment of simple comfort. Of course it wouldn't last, it couldn't. But then what is joy and pleasure and beauty if not a fleeting moment to be savoured long after it has disappeared.

Something to chase when the travelator has ceased moving forward.

I lay awake until I drifted. I woke, groggy, grumpy, graceless. I ate breakfast and dribbled milk down my beard. I looked at my surroundings and realised the floating had been replaced by heaviness. Familiar faces felt too familiar. Those unknown to be feared. Even open-wide spaces felt claustrophobic. Bodily functions announced themselves with urgency. I spent that day, and the next, dropping things and cursing my stupid fat hands. People spoke to me. I couldn't understand them. I tried myself to speak and the words fell to the floor, bounced and rolled away. Nothing seemed to fit me, not my clothes, not my shoes, not my life. Sensationless beauty replaced by guttural desire.

It got better of course, but not since have I felt that sense of serenity, that inner calm, confidence and light. And even if I had, I'm not sure it would ever feel the same.

I close my eyes sometimes, when I'm tired, when I've lingered too long in a bath or I'm travelling on a far journey outside my control, and I try to recall, try to retrace, try to find that travelator once again.

I've yet to return to this place. I still try. Maybe I'll never get there. I still try.

The chase. I know that I should give up the chase, I know that in truth that is where the beauty lies. Beyond the chase. Somewhere else.

I also know that it's worth the chase, if only I can find that beauty once again.


"Twelve steps of addiction, step 3 : Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

So I don't know if I've described beauty, or faffed around in a memory I'd lost until today. It's made me feel slightly melancholic if I'm being honest. Bittersweet. I'm feeling a little bit of buyer's remorse now that I've written this, too. I wonder if I should have picked a place and just described it. 

Went to Venice. It was green and blue and beautiful. Seagulls and ice-cream, the ocean without a beach. Every sound carried by the lapping of salt-water in the sun-heated breeze.

I don't know. If beauty appeals to your senses, how do you quantify it? What's often beautiful to you, is hideous to someone else. How you often remember something, is not always how someone else remembers it. Our bodies and minds lie to us, tell us what we want it to tell us. Was it easier therefore to simply ignore the remit of the exercise in favour of writing what I WANTED to write about, all the while telling myself I'm being clever, I'm taking the exercise and subverting it?

Or did I take the exercise in its essence and do what I was told? Writing about it has done two things - it's left me with that feeling of melancholia, that odd and sweetly deflating sensation which comes with a happy memory that only exists now as a past moment; and it has made me determined to get beyond the Monday blues. What good is this fucked-off feeling, other than to surpass it with something altogether more pleasant and remind myself of the melancholia in passing.

So I'm gonna make my thousandth coffee of the day. Have another slice of chocolate cake. I'm going to ignore the rain, I'm going to ignore the hour in favour of the day, and personally, I'm going to listen to some god damn good music.

Maybe I'll find that travelator again, maybe I won't.

Remember that old saying, it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?

So fuck it.

Kettle's on.

Tomorrow, "Day 4: Write a letter to an agent telling her how wonderful you are."

That shouldn't be too difficult.


Saturday, 29 March 2014

Music I Can Walk To

I once owned a Beastie Boys best of. Two CDs under the title “The Sounds of Silence”. I don't know why but that sounds like a confession. It shouldn't. Everyone likes the Beastie Boys don't they? Not my dad but then, my dad thinks white rap is an invasion of another culture's rightful heritage; it's like stealing, he says, taking the musical and cultural identity of a race and subsuming it into one's own, bland culture. We always start off calmly, discussing the roots of hip hop, then usually get into an argument about the merits of sampling, and it descends into a kind of name-calling one-upmanship. Like an epic rap battle only whiter. More middle class. I don't know, maybe he has a point, but then Hip Hop was founded on sampling and found sounds so why shouldn't other cultures return the favour. Why can't well just get along? He won't listen to reason. But I like the Beastie Boys anyway. It's my job as son to rebel. 

Don't know where that collection disappeared to. eBay, probably. Remember eBay? It was like Amazon only it had a different name and instead of having a set price that made it easy to purchase the things you wanted, it made you bid with unseen foes for something you very quickly realised you probably didn't need. Like Japanese women's underwear.

As best ofs go, it was pretty good. It had their hits and singles but it's unique selling point was that all the songs were chosen by the boys themselves. You know, rather than some corporate conglomerate getting together in their suits and ties and long tied back hair and sunglasses even though they're indoors and laughing hysterically and drinking Champagne as they randomly select songs they've probably never even listened to, based on song titles and sales and trying to rip off you, the consumer. Down with capitalism, that's what I say. Boo capitalism.

So anyway, why I'm bringing it up is this – it used to be an amazing set list to walk to. The kind of set list that puts a stride in your pace, that when played loud on proper ear-phones to the detriment of all outside sounds, becomes the perfect accompaniment for that sojourn to whereever. I used to imagine that though no one else could hear what I was hearing, they could tell by the way I used my walk that I was listening to loud hip hop. And they would respect me for it.

I'm kind of obsessed with music. I need melodic noise, I can't operate without it in fact. Alongside coffee it's my main stimulant. First thing in the morning, last thing at night and almost all day. And I can't just grab a choon and listen to it either, absolutely no way. The music I listen to has to go with the moment I am existing in. It goes beyond happy and sad, I need music that fits the kettle. I need music that I can get dressed to, brush my teeth to, and reorganise my CD collection to. No scattershot whimsy in my musical world, hell no. I can tell you categorically that the best music to get dressed to is Techno. And the best music to fall asleep to veers between Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream, and any black metal album you can care to mention. Thing about black metal is, it's theatrical, operatic, it tells a story. And there's nothing better to fall asleep to than a bedtime story.

So obviously it stands to reason that I need music made to walk to. It's a perilous occupation leaving my apartment. There are other people out there, ready to impose their will and conversation onto your day. They may want to talk to you, they may want you to acknowledge them, they may want you to STOP AND CHAT!!!! This is a loss of control I'm not ready to handle without a soundtrack ( and earphones I can use as an excuse when someone later exclaims “you totally snubbed me in the street last week”. Oh, sorry bro – totally listening to music ).

I need a soundtrack. I need music to shut the outside world off while I go about my business.

Thing about music is, like any stimulant, it's a mood-and-mind-altering substance. I discovered this early in life when I used to spontaneously burst into tears whenever my uncle put on Ennio Morricone's peerless “The Good The Bad and The Ugly” soundtrack. I was overwhelmed by the sounds, by the busy and strange beauty of the music. The atmosphere. I still well up to this day when I hear The Ecstasy of Gold.

While I was in high school I discovered the joys of the Sony Tape Walkman. When not chewing up my favourite tapes ( I'm convinced that the proliferation of bootlegging originally occurred because tape users got so sick and tired of losing their favourite albums that they simply got used to bootlegging them and using the bootlegs instead of the originals ), the tape walkman was an absolute god-send. It allowed me, during what was a difficult couple of years at school, to shut off and disappear into my own world. I got and remain addicted.

This addiction began, as all addictions do, with experimentation. I would listen to Jean Michel Jarre while reading. That's where it always begins.

I quickly moved onto the harder stuff. Rave music while sitting on the bus.

The Prodigy in the back of the car.

808 State on the way down to the town centre.

Before I knew it I was slipping fast into the sleazy world of The Art of Noise while trying to sleep.

My addiction knew no bounds. It still doesn't. But here's the thing, the thing about choosing music to walk to. I discovered that certain types of music gave me extra confidence as I listened on my way to work. Sure, a part of that was peer based – it's a lot cooler, when asked, to tell your peers you're listening to The Beastie Boys, or Slipmatt and Lime, or Linkin Park or whoever, than to splutter out “I'm listening to Rendezvous by Jean Michel Jarre.”

But it's in the music too. Hip Hop, Metal, Techno, and Trip Hop are just great musics to walk to. They're made for movement so it's no surprise. I later discovered the joys of applying atmospheric music to the world around me, first travelling to and from college listening to The Black Dog and dark ambient music such as Scorn and the Aphex Twin's Volume Two, and latterly walking down Wexford main street listening to Alec Empire.

Getting up, getting out, doing things when, like me, you spend much of your day alone can be a chore. I have been told I exude confidence, that I appear laid back. In truth I spend most of my life terrified. Of what? Don't know. It hasn't happened yet, so maybe that's what I'm worried about. But I've learned to pretend. And part of that pretence is in realising that, when I leave the house, the choice of music blasting in my poor, over-used ears has a massive impact on my emotion, on my personality, and how I interact with others. I used to struggle with an inability, catching eye-contact with people. It's something I'm still working on. In certain, contrived circumstances, I can do it. In the pub. In my own home. Acting. Or with people I am close to. Elsewhere, in someone's else's home, in the street, in the shop, job interviews or with people I actively dislike, not so much.

The choice of music can make all the difference out there in the real world. In my cossetted womb-like apartment I can afford to listen to albums, to choose a body of work and spend a day listening to it. I can listen to “Music for Babies” in safety. I can listen to a full album knowing that, generally speaking, I won't be interrupted. I still have to choose specific music for specific moments though. Best tea-making music? Anything by Ozric Tentacles. Fact.

Out there in the real world I need that extra boost, I need music I can walk to. That walk might just be five minutes to the left, to Tesco. It might be a walk along the seafront. Or it might be a walk out to a rehearsal, to a job, or to the pub.

So what does a piece of music require before I can walk to it? Before I can air it in my ears as I'm pummelling along the pavement? It's hard to quantify, but being obnoxious helps, I think. It needs the bang and throb of rhythm, it needs a pace. It also needs an atmosphere, sometimes if not always upbeat. Well lookit, here's the thing - what works works, and what doesn't doesn't.

Here then is a list of those songs and choons that I have found, across the years, to work for me, to boost my confidence while walking in the real world. It's not in order. It's just the way I'm calling them.

And obviously, any angry hip hop song from the late eighties you can care to mention.

And here are a few more atmospheric pieces that can help alter your mood and perception if you're walking through a busy town, and perhaps feeling the claustrophobic pinch!

So that's it. I'm obsessed with music and addicted to the stimulus it provides. It is mind-pornography really.

But I'm okay with that if you are. And if you're not, I won't be able to hear you. I've got my earphones. I've got music I can walk to.

Sorry bro. Was totally in another world.


Friday, 28 March 2014

She Was Fat

Day 2: Create a character with personality traits of someone you love, but the physical characteristics of someone you don’t care for.”

She was Fat."

Wow. If ever three words could be used to sum up my entire personal outlook, there they are. I got up this morning with the task in mind. Had my breakfast, had my coffee, grabbed a piece of paper and a pen, and with Day Two's exercise printed at the top, I wrote those three words.

She was Fat.”

It tells you everything you need to know. “She.” A woman. The physical characteristics of someone I dislike, and without thinking I choose : woman! Didn't have to think about it. Just went ahead and wrote it. Automatic writing. Nice move Dom. Nice move. Freudian Slip much?

Was”. Well, that's helpful if I am in fact describing someone who used to be. Past tense, present tense, past tense, present tense.

Fat”. How tolerant, how perfectly delightful of you Dom. Speaking as a man whose bear-belly gut has taken on it's own persona, whose naval-cavity is no longer a cavity, who can no longer gather fluff without foraging, you have a cheek. You're no Adonis mate. You wear XL tee-shirts in a vain attempt to cover the rounded mountain that once was your tummy. You're not the one to be pointing your flabby fingers, sir.

She was Fat.”

Worst thing? I just wrote it. It's not based on someone I hate, or dislike, it was just a sentence. Something I wrote down without pause.

Second Do of writing a blog : Be relatable, be yourself. What sets bloggers apart from newspaper article feeds is voice. Your content is what draws them in while your personality, or your voice in writing, is what will keep them there. Let your readers get to know you.”

Well reader, you've gotten to know me and all it took was three little words.

Let's start afresh shall we? Let's have a second cup of coffee in as many seconds, and let's start again. Let's pretend I hadn't written “she was fat” or better still let's blame it on the coffee.

The truth is, contrary to popular belief I don't actually hate anyone. I really don't. Though I'm capable of a certain amount of obnoxious intolerance from time to time, the truth is, I just don't see the point in wasting that much negative emotion on people I dislike. They're not really worth it, are they?

But okay, that's what the exercise wants. It wants me to choose a person that I dislike, and describe their physical attributes. Maybe that's where I got confused, maybe that's why I unconciously chose “she was fat”, maybe it really was a self-portrait and I should start with ME and work out from there. Maybe the physical attributes should be long hair, smug beard, angry-mouth belly button and glasses.

Nah. Too easy. So the exercise is asking me to create a character based on someone I dislike's physical attributes, but with the personal attributes of someone I like. Have to be careful in this regard, too. Whenever one writes something and one has friends it's inevitable that one's friend's sees themselves in one's characters. Luckily one doesn't have any friends, so that's a help to one.

So before I get to work I have to break down the meaning of this exercise. With the debacle of the ten titles still ringing in my ears, I have to try and understand what this exercise should accomplish before I begin.

I guess the main thing to note is that we're trying to create a composite character. Something that will allow us to face up to the person that we don't like, but also forcing us to do so through someone we do. Trying to perhaps create a likeable character, a sympathy with the person that traditionally we feel negatively toward. A lot of times as a writer you have to do this, to face a subject or a person you dislike intently but do so from an empathetic, or at the very least objective point of view.

I don't know how difficult this really is; there's countless books, plays and in particular films that make attempts to humanise the “demon”. Yet where “Downfall” humanises Hitler, “The Woodsman” ( and countless other films, oddly enough ) tries to humanise pedophiles, and The Oscars try to humanise Woody Allen, we're simply being being asked to empathise with someone we vaguely disregard or actively avoid. It's easy to write a bitch, or a bastard, partly because most of us don't like to think of ourselves being this way in real life while using it as a moment of catharsis to say what we often really think. I think we generally reveal ourselves through the characters we would like to think we hate. Is it easy to write someone decent?

Over the last two years I wrote and performed as a character who I had originally created as a cathartic reaction to an “experience”. “Papa Bear” was a composite of two men I had known and either feared, or actively disliked for their outmoded attitudes and often misplaced masculinity. The type of man who becomes a bouncer, or a security guard, a low-to-mid-level ranking male whose only authority is his physicality. I fear and yet admire these men in equal measure and it was this bizarre mixed mind-message that I wanted to explore. So I created “Papa Bear” as a way to explore a realistically dislikable character that I could ultimately allow a sympathy for.

Yet it was my personality that I channelled through him; of course it was, as a writer it can only ever be ourselves we write about. So in essence I “became” this person – both in writing and then in performing him. To the point when someone who had seen the last show referred to him as a “dick”, I actually blanched and found myself defending him.

In marked contrast to the ten titles, I think this exercise is a good one, it's practical, but I think it needs extension. It needs explanation or at least an end point. However, given my past excursion in that regard, I'm thinking I'll play it safe and just do what is required of me.

Second step of addiction - make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.”

Okay, obviously there's no such thing as God but why not treat my understanding of the exercise, as that of my understanding of God...”
The Basest Ease

She stood and she waited. It was not something that came easily to her, but she reflected as the morning breeze tussled with the straw-like ( in her opinion ) straggles of her torn back and bunned hair, that waiting was never easy for anyone. No matter what we're waiting for. Waiting for the Dentist? Don't want to go in there. Suspense, drama, and at the end prodding and guilt.Waiting for a Candyfloss? Can't come quick enough. Why is it taking so long?

She wondered if those two thoughts weren't mutually exclusive. Candyfloss and Dentist, which comes first? Eat the wispy sugar-treat, face the pennance. Or get your teeth checked, drilled, and replaced, then treat yourself to a giant stick of Candyfloss! Two childhood moments simeltaneously struck, and together they brought a gentle bittersweet ache in her stomach which, given her situation, slowly ebbed into a continuous throb. Two childhood moments. She remembered a visit to the dentist; she had bitten through the floss into the stick. And she remembered that Charlie Brien used to call her Candyfloss hair. Her first and very unrequieted love. Funny to think of him now. She wondered where he might be now and discarded the thought. Who cares?

Not too many cars at this time in the morning. One or two, just enough to peak her attention and send her heart pumping, if only for a moment – although this morning the butterflies wouldn't stop their blurred flurry. She should know the sound of his car. But the beat of blood rushing through her body mutated each engine into the same, thrillingly monotonous drone. She didn't want to keep snapping to attention every time she heard that drone. She did it all the same.

She felt thin. She was thin. Too thin, cold, despite the sun's early attempts to comfort her. Wrong, this was wrong, this was very, very wrong. Why? She was risking everything for these moments. But what was she risking against her own happiness, however short lived it might be. That was the question, and there was the rub. She should have put on some make-up. She couldn't, couldn't alter her appearance for others; for him yes but not for others, they couldn't know. They couldn't. Too much at stake.

A car. Him? No. Someone she knew? What would she say, what explanation? She spent the wait composing excuses, knowing full well she would falter if actually approached. No one she knew. She could not rid herself of the tension. She was flexing her work-worn fingers. She should have put on some nail varnish, something just for him.

A car. Him? No. Had he forgotten? Was he running late. He would text to let her know. What if he couldn't? What if she – the “other” – knew? What if I'm standing here and waiting and no one comes because she knows? I should text. No. No, she couldn't. It was too soon anyway. Her mind raced through every possibility and her pulse followed close behind.

A car. Him. It was only when she exhaled that she realised she had been holding her breath until she'd seen his face. She smiled.”
Quick Deconstruction

So I'm trying to keep these blogs short. But did the exercise help? I think it did, I think again at the very least it helped me write.

Did I adhere to it? I think so. I'm describing people as I know and see them and I'm trying to create a certain amount of sympathy, if not empathy for this person that in real life I dislike thoroughly, one of the few people out there that I can just about get aboard the hate-train for, by applying the personality of someone I like. It worked, to a degree. For me, anyway. Has it changed my ideology? Of course not but then that's not the point, the point is to create a fictional character by creating a sympathetic headspace.

The situation is a perceived idea of something real. The memories are fictitious, just a manipulative way of creating sympathy. The physical traits are real. The personality traits, they're real too. Hopefully, they have allowed for a sympathetic character in what could be read as an unsympathetic situation.

It's an exercise that with a few tweaks can definitely be applied to the creation a new character.

Now, it being the weekend I'm taking a two day break, turning this into a fourteen day exercise. Live with it peepe. Live with it.


Day 3: Write a setting based on the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen.”

Does Jenna Jameson's bosom count?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Twelve Steps into Insanity and Acceptance - a writer's journey

I'm on the cusp of starting a new play and I've been blankly staring at my screen for two weeks. 

I know the trajectory of the piece, I know the characters, I know that it's titled “Rebecca Hall Saves the World”, it's satire ( though not on Ms Hall as I happen to have a major crush on her ), I know that every single day something new and funny hits me, a new situation or idea – I'm walking home from Tesco and something hits, something so funny to me that I'll crack a smile in front of strangers. I rarely smile in front of people I know, let alone strangers. This will really work, I silently state in absolute confidence. I smiled in front of strangers.

Then I get home and stare at my screen. It's not block. It's fear, a weird kind of buyer's remorse, a terror that even though no one will see this until I am thrillingly happy with it, everyone already hates it and by extension me.

I think every writer goes through this at some stage. Usually half way through a piece. Toward the end, when suddenly you realise that your arcs aren't arcy enough, your characters all sound the same, and worst of all – no one speaks like this! I haven't even started yet and I've become crippled by a peculiar panic. A cold sweat, a hovering, shaking hand, the knowledge that I could go and play Tetris Battle or Angry Birds instead. I can't write, I tell myself, because it's already written in my head. I can't write because people won't find it funny. They'll hate it. I can't write because I have to get past Hero Level 48 in Tetris. I have to.

In the spirit then of compromise, I've decided to challenge myself. I've decided to take part in a set of exercises guaranteed to keep me away from starting my play while simultaneously allowing me the pretense that I'm doing this to help me rid myself of the fear and finally start what will no doubt turn into my masterpiece. While diddling around on the interweb last week, I discovered a near-tongue-in-cheek, twelve-day set of writing exercises I have decided to indulge, and document.

As this is my first real blog, however, I'm kind of flailing in the blogosphere darkness. So I've sought guidance in writing this from a set of twelve blogging Do's and Don'ts I also found online. I'll try to adhere to them as I work.

Oh yes, and I'm working through the original twelve steps for addiction, too. Partly because it amuses me to mock, and partly because I recognise I'm suffering a kind of subversive addiction, that of beating myself up for not being able to write. I am indulging in a painful self-loathing which I have come to regard as my pal. I now place myself in front of the computer simply so I can hate myself, so I can tell myself I'm useless and agree. Will the addiction steps work? Help? No, probably not, but why not give them a whirl all the same...

“Number one do when writing a blog - find your focus. To do this, you must first ask yourself this question: Who are your target readers? Once that’s settled, you can home in on a niche category and be the expert on it.”

Writing exercise Day 1 – write ten potential titles of books you would like to write.

I'm not sure how this can help me, you or Dan Brown to write but I'm trying to hang my cynicism on the hat rack for now. It'll still be there on my way out to the pub.

The fun of this particular step should be, not in sitting down and studiously furrowing my face at a blank piece of paper until titles come - that won't work – but in taking my time. There's a reason this is a day-long exercise; and the fun of it is taking the day to take part and allowing your sub-conscious to do the work for you. The thrill is in the creation, the spark, the spontaneous collision of creativity and pretentiousness that comes with it. So I'm keeping a piece of blank paper on the dining table, next to my laptop, and only when an idea comes to my mind will I make the trek from the couch to write something down. Only when the spark ignites.

This exercise starts off as relatively fun and self-informative, and quickly descends into hell. Ten titles. Easy. Right? To start off with, sure. The first three titles kind of make sense in context, and though the exercise does not ask you to come up with plots, notions or ideas for each title, I decide at the start to see what I can come up to contextualise it. You never know...

1. Rebecca Hall Saves the World - 9.00am, this was always going to be my first title. Rebecca
    Hall is an actress I admire, who has graced some decent enough movies, most notably The
    Prestige, The Town and Iron Man 3. Generally speaking she does not play action heroes so my
    conceit for this play is simple – have her caught up in a situation, in this case a zombie-
    apocalypse – whereby she must become an action hero despite only being an actress. Not an
    original conceit but one rich with potential for satire and broad comedy-horror. Can't wait to get
    started on this one but I have a list to complete first.

2. The Worm That Turned - 9.35am, I don't know, I was watching the end of Star Trek into
    Darkness and it came to me. Possibly a play or a story, a put upon fellow who finally snaps. This
    one appeals to me as a male, something that could allow me to explore self-loathing and yet
    allow me to rant at the world in the same breath; a have Taxi Driver and eat it situation.

Shit. This is piss-easy this exercise. This'll be done in no time. I'm awesome. I start thinking about my target audience; who am I aiming these pieces for? What kind of audience? Then I stall. Who would want to read my crap?

3. Um. Okay so despite myself I'm actually concentrating now on the titles even though I should be
enjoying Fantastic Four:Rise of the Silver Surfer. Relax. Stop thinking, allow your subconscious
to do the work for you. Yeah, that's just like you isn't it you lazy prick. Let someone else do the
work for you. Don't actually sit down and work on something yourself! Nah, that would be too
much like work, you unemployed bum, you long-haired greasy oik. You just sit and watch a
kid's movie and wait until someone else does the work. 10.30am, come up with “101 films I
Hate and you Should Too.” A light hearted book about movies I hate that everyone else loves,
like Schindler's List. Hmm. Could work. Maybe. It's very negative though. Still, three down!

4.1 The Sting – 11.15am, at first I think, YES! That's a damn good title, that could be really cool,
      that could be about a heist or, like it could be a sort of Reservoir Dogs after the heist kind thing,
      or it could -

4.2. 11.20am, I realise my mistake. I am annoyed. I think okay, but it could be a play or a book
       about a swarm of killer bees that attack a small town like Wexford, the swarm could – shit. 
       It's already a movie, a disastrous Irwin Allen disaster movie. Called The Swarm. I come up 
       with “Acid Trax,” because I'm listening to a rave music compendium. I don't know, this 
       could be an Irvine Welsh thing about Irish clubbers, or drugs, or it could be a poem or 
       something. Shit, this is hard. This is stupid and hard. I'm hungry but I can't have lunch yet 
       because despite three years of redundancy, I'm still locked into the work-day mentality. 
       That means I have to wait until 1.00pm precisely before I eat.

So 12:00pm comes around and I only have five titles and I'm thinking well Jesus five titles in three hours isn't bad. Four, actually. The Sting is that movie with the tinkly Marvin Hamlisch score. Right, right, but four titles in three hours man! I don't know, is Acid Trax REALLY a good title? For a poem it is, sure, why not? The poem could be about anything and everyone will just think it's about drugs. It's layered. Job done. Move on.

But already I'm beginning to flounder. I decide to put my mind off the exercise until after lunch. I'll have a tuna sandwich at 1.00pm and maybe a packet of crisps and a yoghurt and by then something will have come to mind. I'll watch Rise of Silver Surfer, no that's a kid's movie, I should watch something a bit more adult-oriented. Irreversible maybe.

By 12.30 I'm staring at the blank piece of paper on my kitchen table with a studiously furrowed face, chewing the pen lid ( fun fact, did you know the hole at the top of pen lid is to stop you choking should you swallow it? Totally true ) and desperately thinking about titles to plays, books, poems, articles, anything just to get this stupid exercise over and done with before lunch. I've forgotten that the whole point of this exercise is simply to come up with titles for things I'd like to write. Focus damn it, focus on what you're doing. Stop furrowing and start focussing. What's the difference? I don't know. I decide to check what I look like in the mirror, furrowing, and then focussing. I can't tell the difference, mostly my expression is somewhat neanderthal, creased brow and over-arching eyebrows stretching forward on a lug-like forehead. Also I cross my eyes when I concentrate and I press my tongue into my upper lip which makes a wet splurch noise. Weird. No wonder I'm lazy. And vain.

As lunch edges ever closer I begin to feel stupid, frustrated, and increasingly angry. I feel like someone is constantly poking at the bottom of my spine. I don't like it. I feel trapped.

5. The Chair – 12.45pm. I mean, you know – this could be some kind of Beckettian thing about a
    clown and the chair he practices with, and how it gets the best of him in some kind of
    psychological, surreal and mind-numbingly stupid way. Audiences would love it because it's
    ambiguous and makes them think and has no real ending. The Chair. Good title, great catch-all
    title. The Chair! Shit, we're back on the right road now! We're trucking now!!!! We're god damn
    flying through space now!!!!!!!!

6. Ostrich Man – 12.55pm. Not proud of this one. But it's a title. I can eat lunch now. It's about a
    man who wakes up one morning and he's an ostrich.

At 2 pm I catch myself looking around the room for something, some object, some shard of light or speckled, foxtrotting pieces of dust to bring me inspiration. Nothing. Nothing. I decide to watch the rest of Rise of the Silver Surfer. Maybe I should write a book entitled “101 Films I like and You Should Too”. Seems very non-commital. Won't bother.

7. Shard of Light – 2.10pm. This is a play about something. With characters.

8. Blackjack – 3.30pm, I'm doing the washing up and this one comes to mind. I write it down.

I am on my second old-school compendium of rave music now. I make coffee, eat a second packet of crisps and then chew a rennie and do some sit-ups because I feel fat. I have to heat dinner up soon. Why did I eat those crisps? I'm fat. I'm old and I'm fat and my stomach hurts because I over-did the sit-ups.

9. The Crematorium - 4.52pm . Don't know, could be about a guy who works there. Might have
    to research this one though. Whatever.

10. Twelve steps – 5.00pm it's an article. I'm done. I did it. I came up with ten titles. Yes. I rule.

“We admitted we were powerless over addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.
    Step 1 : We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

I'm still none the wiser after this first writing exercise, I'll be honest. It was a slog. It enveloped my day so that, even when I was watching movies, doing the housework ( I do the housework ), listening to rave music, or just scouring pornography sites for celebrity sex tapes ( don't be fooled, most of them are lookalikes, and not even that close ), my mind was speeding furiously through possible titles, hoping that between the working-day hours of 9am and 5pm I could come up with ten. Just ten. I forgot in the end why I was even doing it. I just was. There was no feeling of elation when I'd finished, just a deflated sense that I had worn away a day and had only ten titles to show for it.

I think the idea is this : when you're stuck, go to your title list and work from there. I'm sure it works for some people. Stephen King seems to operate singularly on this premise. I understand U2 often come up with titles to their songs first. Producer Brian Eno has his whole Oblique Strategies set-up for the creation of music and art so there has to be some merit to this idea. But not alone. For me it's just not enough. It just doesn't seem that creative. For me the title is often the final piece of the puzzle. You choose a title to sell your play, sure, for commercial reasons – you choose a title that seems somehow original yet recognisable so that people will come and see your play, or read your book, or attribute meaning to your otherwise obscure poem. You choose a title that you hope describes the piece you've created, and as such sells it to an audience.

As it happens, and probably ironically I came up with the title “Rebecca Hall Saves the Day” before the idea for the play. It tickled me and I expanded it on paper. This will be the piece I'll be working on, and the other titles I'll most likely discard because they were created in an unrealistic and contrived manner as part of an exercise. They'll go nowhere. What did I get from this exercise then? A wasted day? No, I wrote this piece throughout the day. If no one reads it so what? It got me writing. Isn't that the point? I got something from it, so it was worth doing. But I don't think it's a worth-while exercise, ultimately, if you truly are stuck. It's contrived and will not help you create. It may even hinder you, it may even drive you insane if like me you're obsessive ( and isn't every writer? ). I'm still institutionalised into those working-day hours so luckily I only went insane nine to five. I'm all right now. Swearsies. I have discovered my niche, though – discovered what I'm an expert in. Writing about myself.

Oh, and that greater power that might just restore me to sanity – I've started my play. First three lines already written :

Dave : Have you ever noticed how sad Rave music is? I don't mean sad as in lame but sad, sad as in lonely, as in melancholic. Are you Rebecca Hall?

Rebecca : Yes and I have a boyfriend so please don't spend your evening trying to chat me up. Thanks for recognising me though.

Dave : Welcome. I'm not chatting you up, I swear. My ex-girlfriend just walked in and sat down and I needed to jump up and make it seem natural and you happened to be Rebecca Hall which helped. Can you sign something for me?

Tomorrow, writing exercise two - “Create a character with personality traits of someone you love, but the physical characteristics of someone you don’t care for.”

Something tells me this blog will be shorter...