Writing Wednesday 05

If you remember my old Writing Wednesday series, an earlier version of this poem made its debut there. I’ve reworked it to lengthen it and I’m quite fond of it!

shallow woman;
tiny heart.
tell me how you break the stars.

with moonbeams
and razorblades
smacking hard against the table?

with axeheads?
with rapiers?

with manicured nails
and proper knuckles
clawing through sable sores?

with bludgeons?
with kisses?

with fireflies
and firelight
blinding artisan work and whittles?

with a thousand bloated promises
filled with sluggish poison?

with care?
with spite?
with malice and bitter taste?

show me,
tiny woman,
amongst the dust and debris
glinting across static darkness,
what treasure you find within.

Writing Wednesday 05

Types of Writer’s Block: What Are Good Ideas??

What are good ideas?! I can’t do that. My ideas are all shit.

I’ve been there countless times. It’s not that I can’t think of what to write. Instead, I’m thinking:

  • This is cliche.
  • None of these ideas fit together.
  • This is terrible.
  • Who would want to read this crap?
  • This isn’t original enough.

I can deal with harsh feedback. I can deal with editing cringe-worthy writing. But I can’t deal with my own inner critique bashing my thoughts.

So I’ve taken a page from my cognitive behavioural therapy to work through it.

I want you to take a piece of paper and put a line horizontall across the middle. Divide the top section into two. At the top, write your idea. Label the two columns “Support” and “Opposition”; and name the bottom section “New Direction.”

I want you to distance yourself from the emotional association with your ideas. Adjectives like “stupid” or “brilliant” or “unique” or “overdone.” Thoughts like “Someone has done this better”; “Nobody would care about this”; and “This is cliche.”

Get back to the logistics and facts of your brainchild.

The spaces should be used to help you see the possibilities and the consequences of your literary idea. We all know what it’s like: one idea can lead to another, and another, and they multiply like a fungus. When we reject our ideas and still search for others, we have the drive to continue thinking. It’s your chance to seize that momentum and direct it somewhere useful. Instead of running blindly through a forest looking for a specific fungus, stop by the first tree and do a hard look at the fungus clinging to the bark.

Let’s work with an example.

My idea: In a world of vampires, a single human is born.

Support Opposition
  • Ability to explore vampiric life and society through worldbuilding.
  • Can work as a satire about eating meat.
  • Can also work as a satire about veganism.
  • Cannibalism?
  • Possibility for a thriller/suspense story.
  • Vampires have a slew of judgement attached to them in the literary world.
  • Romantic subplot would lead to “Twilight” comparisons.
  • Literary vampires have numerous cliches, such as being lusty, seductive, depressed.
New Direction
Here, consult the “Opposition” column and try to spin an opposing thought (or thoughts) into something else that might work. Focus on “What if?” to begin your contradictions to the seeming contradictions.

Romantic subplot would lead to “Twilight” comparisons:

  • What if the human is asexual and/or aromantic?
  • What if humans and vampires can’t crossbreed?
  • What if vampires and humans have different ways of attraction?
  • What if these vampires don’t reproduce sexually?
  • What if all vampires are aromantic?

Taking your idea and placing it in a non-emotional space is an excellent way to make yourself look at a different perspective, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to an initial thought. You’re challenging yourself to think about the idea. It stops your inner critic from being an asshole.

To make this work with multiple ideas, simply put them into the “Support” column and try to work through the Opposition, and then in a New Direction with the goal of finding a way to connect them. And hey. If you can’t, then you can’t. But you might be able to find something along the way.

Let me know if this helps you! I may even make a printable/downloadable template. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Some tips for brainstorming and working with your ideas to develop them into better ones, so you can continue writing!

Writing Wednesday 04

They came back every year to lay flowers at that spot. The wood had been overtaken by the weeds and brush. Each two-by-four plank from the old Fort has sunk beneath dry grasses; the long, star-like tendrils disintegrated under the heat of an angry sun.

Mid-summer, July, and they returned again. The abandoned Fort had been outgrown by its four, formerly 16-year-old members. They came back and brought a different plastic flower from the dollar store. Under the thin layer of grass, they opened the earth with raw hands to putt out the dark brown, wooden box—also from the dollar store. A padlock kept it shut. A plastic bag kept it dry through the moist spring ground and frozen winter dirt.

One of the members—a tall, spindly girl with a thick black braid—produced the scrap of paper with the lock combination inscribed on it. A boy with a bushy blonde beard squatted beside the boxed and pulled off the plastic bag. A short girl with three fingers on her left hand crouched next to him. He held the bag. The girl with the braid read out the combination. The ceremony had begun. As the lock was removed, they settled down on the parched grass and arranged their bags near them. The box was open, sitting with them in their circle.

They each took out their plastic flower and passed it around the circle, pausing over the open box, then continuing on to its original bringer. After each flower made its round, the box was slid into the center. Inside, photographs mingled with dog tags, and the flowers from the previous 8 years covering the bottom. Each was perfectly preserved, none of them having enough money or coming too far away for the luxury of real flowers.

“Wish you were here, bud,” the boy said. He placed the plastic orange rose into the box.

“The Fort gets drier every year without you.” The three-fingered girl kissed her bunch of hot pink forget-me-nots. “You completed this circle. She placed the flowers inside, then shuffled away to let the braided girl get to the box.

She held a neon yellow peony and wordlessly set it on top of the others.

“Ready?” asked the boy. He dove a hand down his pocket and pulled out a fat joint of weed.

The three-fingered girl sat next to the box, her hip pressing its side and her bare legs itching at the grass.

The braided girl sat on the other side and brought her hand to the lid. It felt flimsy against the pressure of her index finger. The boy pulled out a cheap lighter, rigged to produce a longer flame, and put the joint between his lips.

“I…” The lighter clicked and didn’t ignite. The braided girl cleared her throat. “Scott, I don’t want to this time.”

Before he flicked the light again, he looked at her and sat down.

“Why not?” asked the three-fingered girl.

“Beth, this is what we do,” said Scott.

“And what we did.”

“I know, Kim, but… it feels like blasphemy,” said Beth. “Like disrespect.”

“How? We’re smoking in his name,” said Scott.

“Well…” started Kim. “Beth’s got a point about it being blasphemous.”

Beth was standing, her bag between her feet. “We should make a new tradition.”

Kim stood and gazed at the box while she itched her thighs.

“I don’t know.” Beth squatted back down.

Scott returned the joint to his pocket and drummed his palms against his knees. He stared at the grass. “I just got my car,” he said. “We could visit him.”

“That’s still like ten hours away, Scott,” said Kim.

“So? We came this far already.”

“We can all drive,” said Beth, “And take turns.”

“Get a round going?” Kim smirked.

They all huffed a small laugh and, in unison, looked at the box.

“He would’ve liked a road trip,” said Scott.

Kim reached out and quickly closed the box’s lid. Beth knelt down and clicked the lock back in place. The sense of urgency passed between them all until they had bundled up the box again, leaving the hole in the ground, and scampered out of the forest. Beth’s nose and cheeks had started burning. Kim readjusted her shorts before climbing into Scott’s car. He got in behind the driver’s seat, while Beth sat behind him and pulled the seatbelt around the box. The engine ignited and Kim rolled down the passenger side window.

A brief fiction about friendship.

Therapy Diary: Day 4

Blue and white paint splattered and dripping down a black wall.

Pre-Session

I woke up late. I had a meeting with my employer and co-workers beforehand. My appointment is earlier in the day, which is alright. I don’t have a chance to feel anxious for the session. But I also don’t have much time to get ready for it, either. I eat breakfast and shower late, and then arrive 5 minutes after my appointment is supposed to start. At least this time around, the door is open and I don’t feel awkward approaching it.

Session

I have trouble focusing and being present. Some of what I say feels like verbatim repetition of earlier sessions, but again: patterns. The time flies by quickly, despite the long bouts of silence from me. In a way, my counsellor helps guide me through a meditative exercise. I tell her often that it is difficult, and that having difficulties learning something new makes me feel frustrated. My crying this session is less violent. Just tears and a head-filled sadness and emotional release.

I talk about my body image issues and receive tools for combating my hyper-critical thoughts and judgements about myself. She emphasises balance over removal of the thoughts.

A bridge analogy. Fluidity between extremes. A flow and an ebb between deep sea and shallow shore, rather than a metronome tick between left and right. I think of the moon and its cycles from full visibility to full shadow. Something in me feels peace, but I don’t know where and have trouble accessing it.

Post-Session

I feel like I learned the most in this session. It will be three weeks until I’m in here again, the dimmed light and green walls making me feel almost safe. Instead of leaving and feeling a little disoriented, unsure, and emotionally shuffled, I have taken away knowledge. I am more aware of how to be mindful.

I return to my journal, left closed after the page from the first session. I want to make lists and find the thoughts I need to balance out the ones I currently have. There is effort needed. Pure effort. A desire to make a change. Learning how to try has been one of the hardest lessons for me to start, let alone master.

I can think of a future.

I am motivated to look forward to something.

This is definitely progress.

The fourth session in my therapy experience.

Writing Wednesday 03

ebb and flow

I watched the swirl of
oxygenated foam—
green from chlorophyll and
dead flowers along the banks.

the rubber duck floats.

a cold dip across my hand
as I reach down into the
trickster water reflection:
this pebble looked closer
and now I grasp at silt.

the rubber duck floats.

a car whizzes on
the graffiti-lined bridge.
one-sided sidewalk to take me
to the library uphill.
I fear the speed and velocity
of headstrong drivers,
taking the slope and the curve
too fast.

the rubber duck floats.

my wet hand slaps against
my denim shorts,
but would have dried as quickly
still and stagnant under a burning
mid-July sun.
the freshwater creek
emits the scent of
waterlogged vegetation, clinging
desperately to rocks and
rotted, abandoned logs:
broken and floating downstream.

the rubber duck floats.

I brought him here three summers past
to walk along the steep ridge,
built up on layers of sand
supporting a forest reminiscent of
witch trials and cult gatherings.
but this village is too W.A.S.P. for such dark turns
when three churches—Anglican, Baptist, Baptist—
sit up on the hills around the corner,
one down the street from the
pharmacy/ice cream shop.
each one has two playgrounds
close by, in each direction.

the rubber duck floats.

a cool breeze across my sunburnt shoulders
urges me to step in:
just a quick dip.
it’s dirty, filled with trash and grass and spit and fish.
the water level is higher in the March thaw
when the snow collected from the hills and the banks
return to liquid to cycle through
the earth’s polluted air and ground.
I slink out of my flip flops
and goosebumps rise on my legs
when the water reaches my ankles.

the rubber duck floats.

A poem about the creek in my hometown.

Literary Tips: Metaphor

Metaphor: a word or expression that, without comparing, denotes one kind of thing is applied to a distinctly different kind of thing.

Examples:
He ran with cheetah speed.
Sunlight crept into the room.

Metaphors are generally made of two parts: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is what is being described. In the examples above, the tenors are “speed,” and “sunlight.” The vehicle carries the additional property. Vehicles can be nouns ( “He ran with cheetah speed”) or verbs ( “Sunlight crept into the room”) or any other part of speech if you can get clever enough. They can also be phrases instead of single words.

So that’s the technical part that I needed to know in order to analyse literature.

But what about what I need to know to write literature?

My thoughts on writing with metaphors: only use them when you have multiple things to say. Your metaphors should say more by association and contrast than with the words already there. Each of the vehicles for our example metaphors has additional association. Am I using this metaphor only to be A Literary Person Who Writes, or am I introducing something else?

Since I brought in the technicality, ask yourself: how much further can I drive the vehicle? Not only does this question remind me to be aware of additional meaning, it helps me remember which part of the metaphor does what. It feels nice to be able to look at your metaphor and have a word. #LitJargon—it’s a magical thingamajig to make the words stop being thingamajigs.

Let’s look at the examples I use~

“He ran with cheetah speed.”

A cheetah is a predatory cat, one of the fastest land animals in the world, and is animal rather than human. What does this say about the runner’s speed? Is he incredibly fast? Does he run as if he isn’t human? How does this affect the description—are we in awe of his speed, or a little bit terrified? Does it seem unnatural because it’s inhuman—or does it seem incredible, like a superpower?

Personally, I would consider this metaphor to be weak. The attributes shared between “cheetah” and “speed” lack a contrast. Cheetahs are fast. This is fact. The metaphor borders on cliche because the comparison and shared attributes are obvious.

“Sunlight crept into the room.”

Creeping, crawling, slithering—these verbs are reminiscent of, again, animal-like tendencies. There is hesitancy or even simple slowness associated with creeping. Is there caution? Is there fear? What does this say about the sun? What does this say about the narrator or focalising character?

And this is a metaphor I would consider technically better. Sunlight? An inanimate feature? If anything, it’s part of setting and not even an object. How can light-waves creep? There is a higher contrast between the vehicle and the tenor. The downside to this metaphor is that it’s almost a cliche. My love is a red, red rose. You are the light of my life. What would happen if “crept” were replaced with, oh, I dunno… Galumphed. Scampered. Breezed. Coughed. Waved.

Contrast. Contrast is good.

Depending on the voice and tone of your story (be it a novel, a novella, a short story, or even poetry), your metaphors can reflect on the narrator or character. If you have a third-person limited narrator with one character as the focaliser of your story, you can show the character’s thoughts, feelings, fears, and other reactions by way of metaphors. Here is a longer passage which includes our sunlight metaphor:

“Winona winced when her eyes peeled open. The sunlight crept into the room, slinking toward her face and the sable comfort under her head. A thunderous birdsong seeped through the windows and invaded Winona’s ears. The bed croaked as she rolled over and covered her head with the sheets.”

This is, I’ll admit, a bit overboard. Too many metaphors and similes and other literary devices can make your writing flowery (or “purple prose” as some say). This isn’t a bad thing, of course! Sometimes you need those hyperbolically literary passages, in first drafts or even in final drafts.

So what does this passage say about Winona?

A lot. And she didn’t do anything except open her eyes and roll over. But it is excruciatingly clear that this awakening is an unpleasant one.

Often when writers and other literary figures give advice about writing, they mention using strong verbs. Whether that means replacing, “Eduardo walked quickly down the hall” with “Eduardo sped down the hall,” or “Eduardo snaked down the hall,” you’re adding more information to your sentence. Anyone can walk. But what happens if that person instead starts snaking?

Metaphors give you a quick way to punch your readers’ brains with more information!

Summary (or, TL;DR)

– tenor + vehicle = metaphor
– tenor = “what is the thing?”
– vehicle = “what makes this a metaphor?”
– tenor + vehicle + contrast = good metaphor

A quick lesson on metaphors, what they are, and how they can strengthen your writing!

Writing Wednesday 02

dead end

checkerboard sign in dirt and metal
end of circle
top/side/edge of cul-de-sac
old butter yellow colour
halt before
the walking path forest clump

with large thick poles
not bars/fences/wires to
halt vehicles
larger than strollers
and dirt bikes
and bicycles
travelling in groups of family / children / friends

up into a mixed tree world
pine and birch and
maple maple pine maple
oak of fairytales

follow the path up and back
nowhere left/new to roam

A poem about nostalgia and a path.

Therapy Diary: Day 3

Blue and white paint splattered and dripping down a black wall.

Pre-Session

I don’t want to go today, but it’s too late to cancel without needing to pay a cancellation fee. I don’t know why I don’t want to go, but I’m not thinking hard on it.

I know I’m doing something good for myself. I am reminding myself to be patient, to be kind to myself, to be mindful of how I express and feel and react.

When I arrive on the hour for the beginning of my session, the door is closed. The meeting room adjacent, with its windows and boardroom table and multiple chairs, has a few people sitting around in it. I hesitate outside the door. Should I knock? I knocked last time, but something tells me I should stop. I kill time by going to the bathroom and then come back. My instincts were right. I hear voices near the door and it opens. I give a small smile to the person coming out of the door, and feel awkward standing right outside. I know how it feels to walk out of that room. She smiles but I can tell she was crying. I know the puffy face. I still don’t know the protocol. Perhaps, for future sessions, I’ll wait around, be a few minutes late, and see if the door is open when I arrive.

Session

At this point, I feel like I’m repeating myself. Didn’t I say this before? Didn’t I relay this information already? But these are patterns, not verbatim repeats and replays. And all these things I feel, all these parts of me, have one source. Not multiple sources. There are roots in a poisoned ground, and all these shaking leaves, these rushing winds past branches, come up from those series of roots.

I am a computer and my files are being defragmented. I am being rearranged, and it’s taking time, but once the process is done–not forever, of course; it will require maintenance–but once it is completed this first time, this long-haul and messy process, I can access things more easily.

There is nothing inherently wrong with me. I have just been broken so many times without any repairs.

Metaphors, analogies, comparisons. Because emotions are hard to talk about.

Post-Session

When I return home, I notice Netflix has added Inside Out. Watching it—this was the first time—was a serendipitous moment. Content from my session lined up with this beautiful, fantastic, and (I believe) important movie. I feel a bit better. I don’t do much else for the day, but that’s okay with me. I need to be alone and let my emotions do their thing, my files rearrange, my branches shed their leaves and regrow.

Still nervous and scared.

The third session in my therapy experience.

Bigender Basics

Some days are chocolate chip cookies: primarily sumptuous dough, but interspersed with rich, tiny clumps of semi-sweet chocolate.

Other days are full-on triple-chocolate cookies, with a cocoa-enriched dough, hunks of chocolate throughout, and a drizzle of melted vanilla sweetness on top.

And even other days, there are some none-chocolate cookies on my plate and other double-chocolate cookies that I pick from. I nibble at both, but never eat an entire cookie.

Another analogy: hot and cold. I put on layers of sweaters and camis and button-ups, or undershirts and t-shirts and sweaters and coats. I can wake up and the weather is below freezing. The sun comes out. The temperature changes. I become warm. I started the day cold, and tried to be warm. Then I warmed up, and now I want to be cold.

The basics are this: I am never one or the other. I am always two. I can lean toward one side of the spectrum, or I sway back and forth between them.

For me, being bigender means I am a boy and a girl. I can be both at once. Sometimes I’m one for the day, sometimes I’m the other. Sometimes I’m both all day, neither one of them exclusively.

Pronouns and gender-specific identifiers cause me the most issues. I can never tell on any given day which of the genders I’m more inclined to until someone identifies me as one of them. Sometimes the person who identifies myself as one is myself—when I look in a mirror, or when I feel my body move. In person, I’m only ever labelled one gender. I haven’t exactly come out to many people I know in person, mostly because they won’t see me very differently. (As my boyfriend put it when I told him: “You’ll still be you.”) And if they will look at me differently, in a negative light, then it doesn’t matter that they know or don’t know.

I don’t exactly correct people when they misgender me, because the majority of society I interact with associates gender with a body.

gender =/= body parts

I pass most easily as one gender on the spectrum, and not very easily as the other I identify with. And this disappoints me. I put in effort to make myself look a way that makes me feel comfortable when I look at myself and move around. But most people don’t notice this. I’m still gendered as the other one by people who don’t know me.

It isn’t easy to have people misgender me on a daily basis when I fluctuate so much between two of them and it’s very much an internal experience.

Sometimes I misgender myself because I’ve been told I’m one for my entire life, even when I started thinking I wasn’t just that one when I was 13.

The binary view of genders in modern society is my biggest obstacle, aside from my body dysmorphia. There’s a resistance to spectrum and dualities.

I feel like I can’t identify as transgender because I can identify with the gender I was designated at birth. I’m able to. But it isn’t the only one. Of course, I still hold internal transphobia and stigma; I’m trying to unlearn the “you can only be one” mentality in terms of gender identity. A transwoman doesn’t need to transition to be a transwoman. A transgender person doesn’t need to go from one binary to the other to be transgender—they can fluctuate along a spectrum, too, even if it’s between two socially enforced binaries (as I do).

Internalised bigotry. I think a lot of marginalised individuals still hold internalised bigotry, whether it’s sexism or homophobia, or transphobia or all the others. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

All I’m trying to do is make peace with myself and how I view myself. Being bigender is one of those ways I’m legitimately achieving that peace.

Basics of a non-binary gender: bigender.

Writing Wednesday 01

#WritingWednesday--01. A poem. Succulents. Abusive ex.

 

a grudge I can’t let go of

7 years / seven years
gone to a
South American
whose name I continue to forget.

toxic.
a different kind of
Internet Predator ™
whether he knew / intended / wanted
the title (or not).

I WAS SO SAD & HE GAVE
ME
ATTENTION
until I lived off
the words on the screen
from him ~~~~

and became even sadder
as my existence and
happiness
relied on HIM