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Lara Eckener

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Memories, Moths, and Money

I write myself notes. I leave them in my bullet journals and my writing journals and the notes app on my phone. I’ve got nests of blank receipt tape and folded church bulletins and geometrically torn sections of magazine pages squirreled away in the journals of the past. These notes are all pieces of my life. I use them to talk to myself about how I want to live and who I want to be, but most importantly I use them to tell myself to remember this, and this, and this.

These bits of writing are usually not about me, but they are very much of me. They’re stories or poems or plans for projects I want to work on down the line, reminders of the artist and writer I want to grow to be. And also, sometimes, reminders of the type of friend or lover I want to grow to be, whenever I stop being so afraid. I’m afraid of a lot of relationships these days, even the ones I have with my own words.

For instance, this is a note I wrote to myself the last time I was trying to remind me that I might already be the good and loving type of person I think my loved ones and my words deserve.

There’s a line in the sand
that curves like a rib,
arc of a bird
wheeling out from the shore,
sweep of a cliff over blue arteries.

All things with wings
can snatch the want from the wind,
so step off, heart,
cross this,
resist the urge to dig in.

This is the shore that
taught you its rhythm,
but history won’t let you
make it your home,
keep moving,
keep yourself in desire.

At every wingspan’s depression
you’ll think this was a mistake,
think this lonely fall
is all you know, think,
what’s the point of loving
the sky if it won’t hold you

It won’t hold you,
but step off, heart,
follow your purpose;
there is no shame in doing
what you were made to do.

It’s not a lesson I took to heart that time, but I will eventually. I do not always trust my future self, but I believe in her. I believe the memories and fictions and small every day beauties she carries with her will one day grow wings and that she will be able to comfortably move through the world with her head in the clouds and her coat fluttering with the moth-like creations she’s crafted and shared.

As with all nocturnal worries
one begets, one begets
until a black and grey coat
becomes beige and brown and slate
wings beading with rain, light like dew
embodying the magic that
young girls learn to yearn for
when the moon is the brightest
thing about them.

So I’m writing myself more reminders, only this time I’m doing them with focused care and purpose. This time I’m going to take a universe that’s lived inside my head for several years and let it go one small piece at a time until I can collect the sum of it into a chapbook. In the finished collection there will be poems and short fictions. There will be many characters with different concerns and priorities and relationships to the stars. Every one of them will yearn though, because I am still yearning, because the night sky is vast and there is much to yearn for.

I want to invite you to join me in seeing this through. Together we will explore different people and different pieces of my memory and the memory of the world. I’ve put together a Patreon that will house this project and hopefully many others. There’s a post on the page that explains the inspiration for this first work and talks about the stories and reminders it sprung from.

>>LARA ECKENER IS CREATING POETRY AND PROSE <<

There’s a double purpose to using a Patreon campaign over say, just collecting the work here and taking requests for hand bound books from those who might want them. Many of the notes I’ve written to myself over the last several years have been about how deeply I miss my home. I’m working to move back there and honestly can use any monetary help I can get toward that goal. The other part is about how I don’t always trust future me. I want to make sure she sees both this and the move through and the structure of the Patreon will help me better plan both. I’m going to make every part of this as beautiful as I can, because you deserve beauty and I do too.

That’s another reminder. Write it down. In a year we can both come back here and see how we’ve done with our remembering.

In which there is helplessness and hope.

This post is ostensibly about a short story anthology I have the honor of having work accepted into, but it’s also about how important I think this anthology is and what it means to me to have been accepted.

UNDERCITIES: A Short Story Anthology – An anthology that focuses on queer narratives in an urban fantasy setting, featuring queer and POC characters.

I have this recurring thought about my own stories. I worry a lot of the time that they’re not relevant enough, that nothing I have to say is important in the scheme of things. Why should my words be important when I am mostly a frivolity of a person—a scared little girl who grew into an anxious woman who mostly feels helpless in the face of the oncoming future? Why should I even write these things? I ask myself. Why do I furiously jot down poetry that no one will ever read or build convoluted histories for main characters in novels that I may or may not write? Why, when the words won’t come, do I collage instead?

Why do I find such comfort in manifesting my small, awkward beauties when so often they’re only for me? If I was the last person on the planet, would I continue to leave my words splattered all over every surface? Would I feel the need to prove that I was here if there was never anyone else to see it? I think I would. Writing has always been a mechanism of hope for me and I learned long ago that even if I’m not Writing I’m writing. The words will out whether I want them to or not.

Lately, I am made of helplessness. I wake up every morning singing a little song I made up about it in my head, because singing my frustrations to myself is a thing I started doing a while ago so I didn’t shout them at others. This is not the romantic young Elizabeth Schuyler in Hamilton helplessness. This is not beautiful or desirous or even in tune. This is the overwhelming sensation of fear that is not creeping, but that is already here.

I wake up feeling helpless and I check my phone to see what new fresh horrors were perpetrated while I slept: what gag order has been signed, which environmental agency has been targeted, which group of people have been beaten or incarcerated for displaying the rebellious unrest that was to be lauded when it shook up status quo two hundred years ago, but demonized when it tries to shake up the status quo now. I don’t have to tell any of you that the current status quo is dangerous for the majority of people living not only in the US, but in the world. It needs to be shaken. I should do more shaking.

So I wake up feeling helpless. Helpless for myself and my friends and for strangers who are stronger and braver than I am and who are being vilified for it. My friends, who are from different places and made up of different ethnicities, who are mostly female or non-binary or transgendered and mostly queer, who are mostly millennials, who are mostly no stranger to being told that everything about them needs to be cleaned up and trimmed down and beaten into submission. My friends who are entirely, bravely, proudly non-compliant in the face of all of it.

I should stop singing quietly and go back to shouting loudly. I should do it for myself and for everyone I love and everyone I admire. There’s power to be had in making yourself seen and the words you use to do it. There always has been and always will be power in stories. That sounds trite, but honestly, when the day is being ruled by “alternative facts” that are little more than falsehoods spun into pyrite, what else can you do but counter with fictions that show actual truths more deftly and completely than their news sound bites ever could?

Fiction has always been a vehicle for truths and a way for those who have a hard time shouting—or who have already shouted until their throats gave out-to be heard. It’s a tradition I’ve always wanted to be a part of and it’s for that reason that I find telling stories to be a mechanism of hope. In fiction I can sing for myself and for others. In fiction I can see myself reflected and subsumed and reborn. In fiction I can find the tools I’ll need to move past this helplessness and into strength.

The main character in the short story I submitted to Undercities exists in my head because she was someone who didn’t exist outside of my head when I would have needed her most. She is made of my fears and doubts about being a bisexual woman and also being a woman with no real connection to her family’s history. At this point you can just imagine me as Molly Grue and my main character as the unicorn in The Last Unicorn. Where were you when I was new? I shout. I’m here now, she says.

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No person should live in a vacuum. No person should be told by their family that they don’t exist or that they need to hide themselves. No person should have to accept a false narrative that overwrites their own lived existence, and yet, so many of us do. Anthologies like this are one small step toward reclaiming our voices and our visibility. Being encouraged to share my stories and allowed to write things that reflect my hopes and fears is one small step toward working past the helplessness.

I am very proud to have a story included in the Undercities anthology, and proud of the hard work the editors and other authors have done in promoting the voices of people who aren’t often allowed the breath they need to sing. We need each other and we need each other’s stories. Please support them when you can.

As of this posting there are 21 days left for funding in the Undercities Kickstarter. You can check it out here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dirtybirdspress/undercities-a-short-story-anthology

“We’re all going to have to learn to live with less oxygen.”

The river still runs and the leaves are burning,
regardless of this grey sky.

The river will run and leaves twist and fall away,
regardless of the value of a life.

The river will run and the leaves will fly,
regardless of a morning’s fear.

Your false family’s hatred will paint you as leaves,
ephemeral, frivolous, and made to burn,
regardless of this you are the river.

The river still runs.

I feel like I don’t yet have the proper words for my fear and disappointment, so instead, here are some words of support for other people’s fear and disappointment. If I can help you, let me know. We’ve always been in this together, but this is a good reminder of who we are and who we’re fighting.

.028 – The Year of Finishing

2012 was the Year of Doing Frightening Things, and I did. Some of them were more frightening than others, and some of them were entirely unintentional, but over all I think I challenged the way that I think about a lot of things in my life and that’s good. I even got a poem published and made some friends on the way. I can consider that mission accomplished. However, I cannot consider myself done with missions entirely. My princess is in another castle, you see. Time to shimmy down an improbably sized drain pipe and move forward. 2013 will be the Year of Finishing Things.

I am total shit at resolutions. I never keep them and I never complete them, so instead of setting myself up for finishing failure, I’m going to make goals instead. I’ve outlined them below. If you catch me slacking in the next year, please beat me about the head and shoulders with the closest non-lethal instrument and get me back on track.

Health-

  • Drink more water: This one is pretty self-explanatory. But seriously, I drink too much soda. It’s probably gross to anyone else who stops to think about it.
  • Walk to Rivendell: God but I love nerds. Some enterprising Lord of the Rings fans got together and worked out the distances between key locations in Middle Earth. It is 458 miles from Hobbiton to Rivendell. Armed with that knowledge, I am pledging right now to make it to Rivendell by the end of the year. I want to walk/jog at least a mile a day, not including time spent doing walking heavy activities like being at theme parks or in big cities. A mile extra. My writing partner, Alli, has put together a spreadsheet for us to keep track of our distances. For added fun, if you use this website and enter your total mileage, it will tell what you are seeing as you go.
  • Prep to run a 5k: Ideally, eventually, I’d like to be able to run a half marathon, but let’s not put the cart before the horse here. I would like to enter and run at least one 5k before the end of the year. Preferably in less than half an hour. Not that I have any idea how long you’re supposed to take to run a 5k, but half an hour sounds good.

Writing (fiction)-

  • (IE, I’m wasteful with my words, and in turn, my words are wasteful with me.)
  • Burst: I think I’ve finally settled on a time period and overall scenario for this novel I’ve been kicking around in the back of my head for the better part of the year. 1915, travelling sideshow, two young-ish girls just trying to figure out what they need and how they can leave. See also: makeouts, flocks of birds, rain of diamonds, and an old magician who doesn’t do magic. It should be fun to work on at the very least.
  • Volunteer Vampires: Guys, I know. I know that I’ve been saying I was going to finish this all year. It’s just a lousy short story. Why do I make everything so hard? I don’t know. Hence forcing myself to finish things.
  • The Steampunk: Alli and I got sidetracked on this because of life. Life is pretty lame. But hopefully in the next year we’ll be able to make some actual headway on it. It’s always nice to return to that universe, so I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Superheroetry: Sometimes I just have really dumb ideas that I can’t let go of! I like to think that’s part of my charm. In this case I think I’ll write a collection of poems about superheroes. Probably made up ones, since I can’t afford to be sued for copyright infringement.
  • Poetry (legit): I’d also like to polish up some of the poems I already have and work on new ones to submit to different places. You will not be able to escape me! Moo ha ha!
  • Submit to places: A short list of publications I’d like to submit work to over the next few months is: Yeah Write, Snake Oil Cure, Plunge, Spark Anthology, other things I discover as I bumble about the internet.

Writing (non-fiction)-

  • (IE, I’d also like to make sure I’m writing regardless of inspiration or cause, so there are several things I’m planning on keeping up this year outside of any attempt to really publish. Just so I don’t lose sight of what I want to be.)
  • This blog: Surprise! None of you are surprised. I need to be around here more often. I really struggled last year, trying to find a tone and a purpose for this thing. I don’t want it to be a writing blog, because I feel I have no authority there yet. But I DO want it to be a blog that writers want to read and than help me interact with other people who have similar interests. Because of this I think this year I will try to run it as the blog of someone who happens to be a writer, but who also does a whole bunch of other things that she likes to natter on about on the internet. That’s probably the most authentic tone I can strike right now. You know, since I DO do a whole bunch of things and I REALLY love to natter about them on the internet.
  • Friday Fours: I know the Friday Five is popular about the internet. I don’t want my Friday activities to be confused with being a part of any official Friday Five, mostly because I don’t want to disappoint anyone looking for such a thing. So I will do Friday Fours, based on, well, whatever I want to base it on. I’ll probably be taking prompts for those elsewhere. Hopefully they’ll ensure that I’m here at least once a week.
  • Research: Gosh, do I love researching things. Just the other week when I was doing some planning on the new Burst outline I learned that Inspiration (1915) was the first movie to include a nude scene from a leading female that was not pornographic. That’s the kind of information I feel like everyone should know! I’ll be posting things like that more often when they strike my fancy.
  • Wasting My Thirties: I only really mentioned it here once, thoguh I have linked to it from my twitter account several times times. When I turned thirty this year I started a Tumblr dedicated documenting the ways I will spend this monumental year changing and growing. That stuff is more personal than I think I want to have up here, so if you’re interested in my minor freak outs, ridiculous pictures, and occasional reblogs, then please come by and stay a while.
  • A Year With Hafiz: Have I mentioned I’m addicted to Tumblr blogs? Because I think I’m addicted to Tumblr blogs. One of my plans for 2013 was to make my way through the book A Year With Hafiz by documenting a reaction/reflection to each day’s poem. When I mentioned that I was thinking of doing this I was asked by a few people to make it public, so now it is: My Brother, the Light.

Well, none of that should be too hard, so long as I keep my wits about me and forget what it feels like to be lazy. I have some other goals, but they’re mostly money and clutter related and I realize you’re probably not all that interested in hearing about how I most certainly not allowed to buy any more cardigans, because Jesus Crimminy I have way to many cardigans and before I move I should really get rid of some of the freaking cardigans.  So yeah, it’s like that. Are there any things you’re looking forward to accomplishing finally?

Here’s to tomorrow and every day after.

.026 – Flight.

It’s that time of the year again. It’s the time of year where the annually new and improved NaNoWriMo forums open up and welcome all of the previously scattered new and old writers into their open arm chairs. It’s comfortable there. It’s nice.

This will be my eighth attempt at making the 50,000 word uphill slog, and if I can stay focused, my 5th “win”. The quotes are there because It’s been quite a while since I decided to work on one story over the course of the month. As of late I’ve been using the month to chat to interesting people while working away on any number of things that I’ll probably never finish. There’s just something that feels productive about failing on four things instead of one. Though I do notice, now that I’m looking at the site, that my win rate directly correlates with my decisions to actually work on one project through to the end. This year I’m bringing the focus back. It’s simultaneously comfortable and nerve wracking, because while I’m moving back to the novel format I’m also moving into a new genre. Or rather, a couple of new genres. It feels like time to focus on this YA/Magical Realism novel, and I’ve never really seen myself as a person who writes either of those things.

Of course, I’m not really a person who writes anything in the eyes of the rest of the world, since my finish rate is dismal and my attention rate is ADD lite at the best of times. I’m really good at research and scene development, I’m not so good at tying those things together into a completed manuscript. But there’s a first time for everything! There has to be, if I’m ever to become who I want to become. (A published author. And also maybe someone who owns a baby tiger. I’m still trying to talk the boyfriend into that one.)

I found this video while doing some light googling on flock mentality in migrating birds. It’s relevant to the story, I promise. But more importantly, it’s a beautiful piece of art that I wish I could see in person and want to share. The information from the video page says:

FLYLIGHT is an interactive light installation by Studio DRIFT that composes of a minimum of 80 glass tubes.The glass tubes that light up and respond to the viewer are inspired by the behaviour of a flock of birds and the fascinating patterns they seem to make randomly in the air.

Actually this behaviour is not as accidental as it looks; birds have to keep a safe distance from the other birds in front, below, above and next them. They all want to be in the middle of the group and no one wants to be the leader, flying in the front. And what will happen if an intruder interrupts this? This is what the viewer will experience when approaching the Flylight.

You can read more about DRIFT at their website, and see videos of their other work at their Vimeo page.

And so, Nanos, who’s ready to fly come November?

023. – In which the priest asks why we’ve left the candlesticks behind.

Sometimes I tell people I’m stealing things.  Little things: a tissue, a handful of M&Ms, sips of a beer from the other side of the table, a pen off a co-worker’s desk.  When I say this I’m kidding.  I’m not actually stealing anything.  Most of the time the things have been offered to me freely at some point or another.  It’s because of this that on occasion someone will respond to me very seriously and say ‘you’re not stealing, I’ve given it to you.’  These people want to shake me, I’m sure, because stealing is no laughing matter.  And it’s not, no matter how blasé I may appear to be about the concept.  I try to take very few things seriously, but as a writer who would like to one day be published, creative output is serious business.  It’s my second job, even as I’m still learning to treat it like one.

The things a person can show you about themselves and how they view the world via what they create are startling.  It’s almost a contract of understanding between the creator and viewer.  At times it’s tantamount to love in the way that we accept the things that creative people show us and take them into account as a whole.  To love is to open your heart and to trust, and when we’re mistreated by love or creativity and our trust is broken it hurts.

I’ve been reading the Jonah Lehrer book Imagine for work.  I probably would have read it anyway eventually, because of the subject matter, but my boss wanted us to read it as part of an ongoing curiosity initiative.  As of this typing I’m only about 200 pages into it.  I’ve been highlighting bits of quotes and observations as I go with the intention of placing them somewhere where I could find them after I pass the iPad on, but now I’m not sure I want to.  I’m not sure I can trust them, and I worry that that goes against my reasons for highlighting them in the first place.

When we’re presented with another person’s creative output we usually have an understanding of its relative true-ness.  Fiction is no less true than non-fiction within the context of the fictional world.  I frequently highlight things characters say, because I agree or disagree with them, or because there’s a small bit of myself to be found there, or because they’ve hit on an idea that I want to explore. I do this with the understanding of the author’s intent in showing us what they have about this character and what we are meant to feel because of that.  I went into Imagine feeling that that intent was to explore the parts and pieces of creativity via the way people go about creating things and to understand how to get the most from these bouts and push yourself to think of creativity as a muscle you can work instead of waiting for inspiration to strike.  And…that’s still true, right?

As someone who was closer than I wanted to be to a plagiarism to do several months ago, there’s a bit of visceral recoiling in my gut now when I think to read more of the book.  Granted, Jonah Lehrer plagiarized himself, which isn’t nearly as bad in my eyes—authors re-purpose ideas and concepts and the like all the time, though maybe not quite as literally—but he also completely fabricated facts and quotations, which means that my understanding of how I’m supposed to look at the ideas within the book is tainted, regardless of how the information is still more or less exactly what I expect it to be.  It’s made all the more troubling by the quote he gave to Stephen Colbert (emphasis mine):

 […]You fall in love with something and then you steal it. That you make it your own, you reinvent it, you in a sense misremember it. And that’s an important part of creativity which is why it’s so important to create a culture where people can liberally borrow from the ideas of others. […] And so you see this again and again among very creative people. They have very open minds, they read everything, they’re incredibly curious, and they steal a lot.

Creative people do have very open minds. They do read everything, at least the writers I know do.  I imagine as a musician it would be more important to listen to all the things and as an artist it would be more important to take in all the art, but dipping liberally into all of the wells available to us will allow us to draw connections we may not have previously, and to me that’s the most important part.  Creativity is not theft.  That is a very simplistic way of looking at a process that devours, synthesizes, and then releases something entirely new.  It’s not re-purposing or rehashing so much as it’s reconstructing from the ground up, at which point the foundation is no longer the thing that gave us the idea in the first place.

So my question is: Is learning from fiction that was presented to us as true any different than learning from fiction that we know is fiction going in?  Can this book still be useful to me in the way my boss wants it to be?  I think it’s probable that it can, but I’m going to need to go back and take a look at the things I’ve highlighted, just to make sure that the understanding I had of them before hasn’t been changed.  And of course, any Bob Dylan quotes I’m thinking of keeping will have to be attributed to the author as they are, after all, simply dialogue in a work of fiction.

.020 – The sweet spot.

***There will be spoilers for Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Seeking A Friend for the End of the World in this post.***

As of last night when Boogie Nights thankfully–finally–ended, I’ve seen 58 movies this year.  Most of those were for the podcast, or because of it in some way.  Some of them were because my friends talked me into seeing them.  (Hot Tub Time Machine is not a good movie, guys.  I don’t care if Sebastian Stan IS in it for a whole fifteen minutes.)  Some of them I made time to see simply because I wanted to.  (I am not a girl who turns down Hedwig and the Angry Inch sing-a-longs.)  I expected to love movies and hate movies, what I didn’t expect was that I’ve loved every single one of them, even the ones I hated and would never ask you to see.

When I first joined the Wrong Opinions Podcast I was worried.  My co-hosts love film and can talk in very specific jargon about cattywampus (Dutch, for some reason) angles and slow first acts.  I enjoy film, but don’t feel a particular affinity for it over any other kind of storytelling. In fact, I made it very clear in the beginning that all I could speak to was story and structure and characters.  That turns out to be enough sometimes, and I’ve learned a whole lot in the last year or so about film itself, but it’s still the story part that really interests me over any of the technical notes.  And when you mainline movies like I do, the differences in story start to stick out rather than blend in together.

Last weekend I saw three movies: Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Seeking A Friend for the End of the World.  Last weekend I felt like some sort of picky, sticky Goldilocks, and it’s because only one of those movies felt to me like it was trying to tell the right sort of story in the right sort of way.  It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the film I went into with absolutely no expectations.

Too cold. Friday night I saw Brave.  I feel like I should preface this, as I always do, by telling you that I haven’t seen most Pixar movies.  I’m just not that interested in them.  I’ll watch Wall-E eventually, because the boyfriend and several other people keep telling me to, but I’m perfectly fine living a life where I don’t cry over the end of Toy Story 3 twelve times.  (That’s what I re-watch Band of Brothers for.)  But even though I haven’t seen most Pixar films, I’ve been left with a very specific set of notions about what a Pixar film SHOULD be, just by virtue of knowing other people who have seen them.  It’s hard to explain these expectations, since I’ve never quite seen them in action, but I suppose Pixar films should be warm and emotional and adventurous and unsure.  Leave it to a race car or a space trash compactor to remind us of what the human condition really entails.  And Brave, even though the story does focus on a human, felt like it fell way short of that for me.  It was too simple.

That’s somewhat fatuous of me, I know, to call out a children’s movie for being too simple.  And it’s probably just nostalgia that colors in Sleeping Beauty and The Last Unicorn as richer in some way.  That movie’s target audience will feel great about being able to predict what needs to be done before the witch even appears on screen, but I was bored after the half way point because of it.  And it’s silly, because there is nothing wrong with simple story telling.  You can get more out of your emotional payoffs if you keep things focused.  I’m also not saying that it’s not fun to watch, because it’s genuinely funny, and I adore the father character.  I laughed out loud quite a few times.  I just wanted something more.

Too hot.  We saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on Saturday morning, and that just left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied and liked I’d definitely seen a movie directed by the guy who directed Wanted.  That movie did entirely too much.  Or it tried to anyway, it didn’t really succeed in anything.  A lot of the charm of the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter book lies in the fact that it takes a lot of factual information about Lincoln’s life and then just folds the vampires in.  Even when the book is delivering action it’s matter of fact and paced like a biography, not like an action-adventure tale.  The movie managed to strip away every last bit of that charm and then proceeded to shoe horn in a whole bunch of back story that the audience really didn’t need.  And then there was slow motion leaping off of burning bridges.  I mean, if you buy a ticket to something titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you’re probably going to be okay when it leaves out his days studying law and working in shops.  The movie should have focused on ten years tops instead of forty.  (On the plus side, Dominic Cooper is still a person doing things, which is always nice to see.)

Just right.  And I guess it’s about managing expectations, because Sunday morning when we went to see Seeking A Friend for the End of the World I had no idea what it was about except for what I could infer from the title.  I left that movie feeling like I haven’t felt since I saw I Heart Huckabees.  Someone made that movie just for me.  It was funny and touching and a little sad, but that’s going to happen when the world ends.  Most importantly, it was paced well and it pulled out the right part of the story to tell like I felt the other two movies didn’t.  We didn’t need back story for these characters.  Their traits were given to us naturally through dialogue and action and not through exposition.  We just happened to meet up with two people three weeks before the world ended and learned what we could in that amount of time.  And it was wonderful.

Choosing the right part of a story to tell is hard.  For me anyway.  I am a total whore for back story.  I want to know what brought the characters here.  I want to know why they react the way they do to things.  That goes for my own characters as well.  A lot of the trouble I have with prose is separating what I need to know from what the audience needs to know, as well as making sure I get across the things that are just sitting in my head.  Because it’s one thing for me to think ‘well of course Edmund would kill that man’, but it’s another for the audience to be on board.  What have I shown them of Edmund before?   What is it about his demeanor or his upbringing or his social standing that would make killing a man seem like the only thing he could do in any given situation?

Why did Merida not question the way the witch said the word ‘change’?  What drove Abraham Lincoln to be so selfish in his pursuit to kill the undead?  What made Penny force Dodge’s dad to turn the plane around?  I can only answer one of those questions in a satisfying way.  The stories that fall short for us can be fun and they can teach us a lot, but it’s the stories that sit in that perfect space that really affect or change us.  I want to tell stories like the latter.  If only I can figure out how to do it every time.

.018 – Just leave the cat!

I will sometimes, in the course of reading a book or watching a movie, demand that the story explain itself.  Not that the thing that I’m questioning really affects the plot, just that the idiosyncrasy of it will have pulled me out of my immersion in the world.   The Boyfriend likes to remind me of the time I verbally chided a Harry Potter movie because ‘water doesn’t work that way’.

“They have wands,” he said.  “They’re doing magic and you’re worried about the water?”

“I can’t speak to the magic,” I said, “but the world of Harry Potter is grounded in our world and outside of magic the physics should still apply and water does not work that way!”  At which point I probably threw up my hands and decided to forget about the whole thing.  I don’t remember the exact conversation, but that was the gist of it.

The point is that I freely admit that I have very little logical reasoning for the things that do bother me and the things I let slide.  It basically depends on what kind of story is being told and how I’m feeling that day.  Pulp scifi I almost never question, because from my standing point in the future it appears to be as tongue and cheek as old comics stories and it appears that it’s meant to be that way.  Scope and breadth of imagination are the things that I find most important in those stories.  Fantasy is next, depending on what kind of world it’s set in.  The Xanth novels are entirely ridiculous, so most of that passes by unnoticed, but urban fantasy might get a few eyebrow raises from me if some part of the ‘real world’ is broken without reason.

The whole point of this is so you’ll understand that last night, while watching Alien for the first time, I spent the whole movie going:

“Why is there a cat?”

“Does the cat get frozen too?”

“How do we know that cats need to be frozen the same way as people?”

“If the cat doesn’t get frozen, what does it eat for six months while everyone is asleep?”

“OH CHRIST, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IN SPACE, JUST LEAVE THE FUCKING CAT BEHIND. YOU CAN LITERALLY GET TEN MORE FOR FREE OFF THE STREET WHEN YOU GET HOME.”

There was also some girly shrieking and throat clutching and falling over,  because seriously, giant killer face eating alien, but that was what most of my commentary was about.  And I realize it’s a little silly that I so freely accept the conceit of deep space travel and mining and evil freaking robots and then draw the line at the cat.

I think I focus on these things because I’m still trying to figure out where some of my more grand notions really need to go.  I think that the Big Damn Existential Scifi Novel, for instance, should be realistic.  I want it to be realistic so that when the alien consciousnesses start flying it feels like they could be an extension of our world.  Volunteer Vampires, on the other hand, should be as tongue in cheek as the name suggests, but I’m having a hard time allowing myself to do that.  Strangely, it’s not the science-built-vampire portion of that scenario that’s holding me back, either.  I feel stuck.  I want to write science fiction like the science fiction I admire, both pulp and more realistic, but I don’t think I’m capable of it right now.  I would settle for writing science fiction like the science fiction I enjoy, if only I could get past the nagging questions.  It’s probably a good thing overall that I want to hold myself to the same standard I hold everything else to, but it can be frustrating.

The thing is, last night while I was peppering the movie with questions I felt more prepared and able to write my silly vampire in space story than I have been in a while.  I felt like I might even be able to get over myself and just enjoy writing in some of the elements of the genre, as silly as I sometimes find them.  It’s getting to ask those questions that so often makes me love science fiction as a genre at the end of the day.

I really enjoyed, Alien, by the way. A lot more than I thought I would, considering I hadn’t ever planned to actually watch it.  The set is amazing and intricate and tight.  A friend of mine pointed out to me some time ago that H.R. Giger did a lot of the design on it, and I can see that.  So much of it holds up to time really well.  The computers are probably the things that aged the worst, but I find that charming.  I especially love that they make noise when they’re running calculations, as if they were merely flashy boxes around a tape calculator.  I kind of wish my laptop would make that noise.

Heck, now that I’m thinking about it, I wish my laptop would sound like a mechanical typewriter when I was using the word processor.  I wonder if there’s an app for that.

.017 – This is a thing I said I would do.

I don’t like mysteries, but I like things that are mysterious. I don’t take great joy in solving puzzles, but I do take great joy in the puzzling of it. 

A couple years ago I decided that I was going to buckle down and learn to appreciate and understand poetry.  It’s not that I’ve spent the better part of my life hating it. I memorized Frost’s ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ when my 8th grade class did their reading of The Outsiders. I suffered through Donne’s ‘The Flea’ in high school, though I’m still not sure it means everything we were taught it means. I fell fast and hard for Rumi and Bukowski in college, because they put words together in ways that made me understand the things I was feeling. No, it’s not that I hated poetry, it’s that I’d spent the better part of my life taking poetry for granted. Why should these groupings of words, often simultaneously dense and spare, mean more to me than any other groupings? After all, I can’t put together words like that. Why waste my time on studying word groupings that I don’t plan on emulating?

For some reason, 2010 felt like a good time to change that. I don’t know if it’s because I was starting to be more proactive about my life in general, or if it was because I had words caught inside of me that wouldn’t be wrangled into long-form prose, but I decided not to take this beloved form of self-expression for granted anymore. I started collecting recommendations. I started reading everything.

Finally, eventually, I got a better handle on it. Though I felt like I still didn’t understand what gave my favorite poets and poems that spark. I thought, then, that maybe I needed to understand poetry from the inside out. Maybe I needed to try and write some of my own. Last May I quietly started a Tumblr blog where I intended to put one poem a day, regardless of worth or beauty. I needed to practice sitting down and corralling words, rather than letting them lead me.

Some of those poems are terrible, but complete strangers still liked or reblogged them. Some of them are pretty decent, but need a lot of work to make them worth their time. Some of them helped me to voice things I hadn’t been able to voice up until then. When that happened I felt like I’d finally gotten it. I felt like I finally understood why some people gravitated towards poetry rather than prose.  Some stories don’t need a full arc. Sometimes moments are enough to make another person understand. Some things can only be digested in moments, I think. Which isn’t to say that a poem can’t tell a whole story, because they often do.

The reason I’m making this post is because this morning I was considering doing a poem a day again.  I’m already a day behind to do it in May, but it’s not like I can’t run over into June for a day.  And a poem a day might even keep the therapist away. But as I was considering this I realized that I might not want to publish all of them on the tumblr.  I might want to keep some of them to myself, to work and render and turn into something worthy of sending out into the world officially.  I realized that, while I find I still don’t feel like I ‘understand’ poetry, I want to be a part of it.  I think I would like to be a poet.

That’s a scary thought.  But I have that poem coming out in the fall. And I have another that Alli pretty much refuses to let me send to a place that isn’t an actual literary magazine, because she likes it that much. I owe a lot to a lot of my friends and their belief in me, no matter how misguided I fear it is. So I might as well gather up some belief for myself. I’m just a blunt shovel, but I’d like to be a spade, I think.

It’s an ongoing battle.  If you’re curious the Secret Poetry Tumblr is here. Feel free to follow along or leave notes and crit.  I’m a pretty strong believer in crit for any form of writing.

For getting through that, here’s a poem by a living poet who inspires me gads. I still want to be Margaret Atwood when I grow up, but I’d feel pretty amazing if I somehow became Anis Mojgani on the way.

Anis Mojgani – Come Closer

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