Tag Archives: storytelling

“Being known is like a crumbling of my jurisdiction.”

I’m experimenting with merging music and fiction. This is the first in a series:

 

And for blogging points, I will include a new meme:

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Writing from the Heart

Last year’s novel was concerned with Memory and Mistake, and it’s greatest fault—and the reason it’s sitting in the vault, aging for a spell before I go back over it—is that it is largely written from a state of removal. From the first page, the “writer” states that he is writing about his writing more than he is writing about the life that his writing sprang from. And by the time the denouement starts to form, like a storm accumulated from the dust and wind and moisture of the traversed landscape, the Blackbird Variations, 3 retreats into a fractalling demurement of self reference, interpretation and critique that is so freaking dense and uncalled for that I’m sure anyone who made it that far would end up chucking it across the room, shouting: “What the hell is your problem, Benjamin? Why is it so hard to just tell a damn story?”

I let my mind guide my prose, and while some people can pull this off, I’m not one of them. My wheels spin so tight and quick that all too soon they spend the grist they’re fed, and begin to masticate their self-same mechanism.

Probably the greatest complement I’ve ever received, as an artist, was voiced 10 years ago by a four year old girl. She said to her mom, while describing the stories I would make up for her class while they ate lunch: “Benjamin tells stories from his heart.” And yet every time I tell a story to a blank page, my head steps all over the heart and tries to get the blood portioned out into a 42 fluid ounces, labeled and tested and siphoned of hemoglobin.

There has to be a way to cheat this.


“Faith, not religion, is the enemy.”

—opined the atheist. To which I replied:

Faith is unavoidable, for everyone is forced at points to posit unsubstantiated claims, even if only as stopgaps to gloss the transit from A to B. Now, being unable to modify these assumptions (or beliefs), that is a sign of mental or emotional calcification, which is caused by laziness, stubbornness, or in response to a perceived threat (for obstinacy is a form of armor).

I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but to discount the human capacity to have faith in what is not immediately graspable overlooks the role this capacity has in how we develop our lives, both personally and in the historic context.

Only experience can verify faith or knowledge. This hurdle seems to mock theists and atheists without particular prejudice.


Why I am Not Not a Christian

My first spiritual experience was most likely my conception, or “benception” as my mom calls it (I am kidding, my mother is not too hot on puns) — but as that moment of happenstance-laden and conjugal-sanctioned becoming is about as far removed from my conscious recollection as the goings-on in our Sun, I will move past that, and also past the childhood experiences which are neither completely accidental nor intentional in their selectivity — moving forward to my tenth year, where at a week-long Bible Camp hosted at the college where my parents met I was taken up — all 95(approx.) pounds of me — in a charismatic flowering of my heart.

The chapel in which I found myself on that warm Monterey evening was dark and filled with praise music. I’m not sure what triggered the sudden flood of emotion that came over me. It was something about God’s love for us. How amazing and awesome it is. But as the tears came, followed by strange movements of my tongue, I knew with certainty that God is real. This had nothing to do with belief or anything I had been told. It was a pure and powerful experience of a vibration that was beneficent and all-encompassing. When my parents swung by to pick me up the next day, I told dad that I spoke in tongues. He (jokingly) asked for a demonstration. That was one of those rare instances where I failed to find something funny. I shook my head. You can’t tell the Spirit when to come or where to go…

There was a couple more incidences that year or the next where I was able to know things that were marginally unknowable. Our church had lost its pastor, and after waiting several months for the right fit, a man with the correct qualifications came through, and the congregation voted on him, and I started bawling and bawling because he wasn’t right. Over the next couple of years that man dismantled the fellowship. Things like that—that can only be verified by retrospect—that have no true ‘gain’ to them, in the material sense… what is call Insight, is what I think I had a line on for a year or two, back then.

But then came the coarse hair and the itching drives of puberty. The hormonal crush of anxiety, self-consciousness and icky, icky change. That swallowed up my insight, obscured it with a dorky sense of humor and the need to cuss when out of earshot of my parents and pastors. Over my high school years I was very involved in my church’s youth group. I loved being in church—not the services necessarily, but the building itself felt like home to me. It’s odd that I keep finding myself working in them, though I haven’t been a congregant for a teenager’s lifespan, now.

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The Artist has a Split Tongue, too.

To have at hand a vessel

to restrain the dualness

of my heart’s polluted wrestle

its wisdom, foolishness.

I ever seek to edify

but in the wake of my creation

at once I criticize

my inspiration as inflation.

From The Blackbird Variations, 3 — Chapter 9.) Broken/Open


Re: 90% of Writerly Advice on the Interwebnet

It feels like most of the writing advice that gets bandied about the talkosphere, a la “Awesome Writer’s 9 tips of Howto” boils down to:

  • Be straightforward
  • Don’t not be straightforward
  • Various variations on straightforwardness
  • There’s no way I can tell you how to do what you want to do, so just ignore my advice and write harder

Straightforwardness is great and awesome and magnificent at getting points across and captivating the audience and building a readership and making a ‘sure thing’ — but why aren’t there any 9 tips from James Lookitmereinventinglit Joyce or David Footnotefootnotefootnoteaside-thatruns300pages Wallace? Where’s the bastions of ambition? Where’s the brave author who espouses cleverness and trickery and tells us: “Psst, kid. You wanna know what writing is? It’s the imagination, made tactile. And you know what that means? It means that writing is infinite, and in it, anything is quite literally possible. However, it’s gonna take you f’n years to pull off, but if you work your fingers to the bone, experimenting the hell out of plot and character and language, you are going to make something that quite possibly has never been before.”

To be straightforward: An increase in complexity causes an exponential need for mastery. And what does mastery require? Not much. Just your life.

And there is an audience for hardmode literature. But they just happen to be hardmode themselves—they are not easily amused.

“The fool who persists in his folly shall become wise.” —Wm. Blake


Going Pro (as an artist, as a critic)

There is a line between an amateur and a pro, and it isn’t making money, it’s realizing that one’s product is distinct from one’s person.

If a writer asks for your opinion, give it to him honestly. You do both your judgement and his work a disservice by pandering to the conceit of his “feelings.”

And beyond pointing out the wrongs and weaknesses, one might try to find what the other is attempting to do, and urge him to do it better; perhaps telling him to avoid X, Y and Z until he’s got A, B and C down.

But it is important, if one’s criticism is to be useful, to tailor it to the parameters of the work in question, and avoid the cliche’s of critique (i.e. “show not tell”) which, in a subtle way, exert a homogenizing influence on the creative process. Each work of art really only works well when it is in tune with itself. This is what makes writing so damn hard, and why critiques often miss the mark.

In the end, if his desire to be a good writer is stronger than his desire to be liked, he will buckle down and put in the time and effort required. And, should you strive to make your critique a work of art, then the art of writing itself will be enriched by your contribution.