Another Reason Why We Write

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I am in a wistful mood lately.

I am feeling at once intensely grateful and at the same time full of longing for things that only my heart understands.

Well, maybe.

There are threads and strands of emotion in all of us that seem so intensely personal, so uniquely ours that we are certain we are alone in the experience, that no one else could possibly understand the tumult going on inside, the visions of our core which are so abstract and original that the feelings don’t even have a name.

Perhaps this sentiment is immature. Something best reserved for the diary of a teen, something we surely have worked out in the process of maturing so that we no longer pine, no longer emote, silly to dare feel more than pain, pleasure or anger. Certainly we are not happy though we say “happy.”

So why write if all of this emotion is whimsy? And is this not the message of the cold and practical world? We are distracted by entertainments and technology so that we hardly know how to connect face-to-face with each other. We find it hard to say what we think, what we feel, and we shy from the risk of expressing things boldly, if not honestly, unless masked by the anonymity of cyberspace.

If my experience is anything close to the truth, however, then the writing life  - any creative endeavor really – is an antidote, even if temporarily, for staving off the loneliness of an oversensitive soul.

I cannot begin to defend my position to those who would disagree. In fairness the experience may be entirely different for them. If not for creative endeavors, someone might say, life would have been normal, long, full of ignorant bliss and a fine career in reports and files, meetings, weekends off, and television. Art, they might argue, has destroyed their sense of comfort and stability; failed them in their pursuit of joy and the easy life.

As if life were so easy.

But surely there are a few who would agree with me on this: art saves me from loneliness. I write because I seek to understand life. Through writing I explore the things that do not make sense, give a voice to the things inside that need to speak or else be condemned to haunts in the dark hallways of my claustrophobic mind. Through the process I have a chance to connect with others at the highest level – the emotional level. Through art we all have the opportunity to name the things we feel which cannot otherwise be defined by our known vocabulary.

We write to save ourselves from lies, misunderstanding, and the general malaise of the human condition – which is loneliness. Whether inspired by god or stoned by the existential void, we write to keep away the night, to summon the daylight, to expose deceit and come face-to-face with our collective humanness.

I do anyway. I write to find my way, to be introduced anew to the beauty of living, the surprise of discovery. I write to preserve my health. I write to remain engaged with the living, to partake in their danse macabre - perhaps even to provide the music which backs us, players all, who are otherwise separated by an invisible distance across the milieu of our temporal existence.

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The Update Blog: Just where have I been lately?

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I have to admit, it isn’t always easy keeping up with a blog. It’s not like I’ve been gone a lot (I was gone a little) or that my life had a major change (well, it sort of did) or that I was in the hospital.

I have been around, but . . .

What has kept me from keeping to a regular blog schedule? I blame it on Twitter. In this sea of information that we are all floating in, with the many platforms flooding our lives with information of all sorts, it’s more important than ever to try and say things that really matter. After all it seems everyone is saying something, so why should I be adding one more roaring thought to the information highway unless I think it’s worth being said? Carry that idea one step further and consider what one can (and cannot) do with Twitter. Rather than write four to eight hundred words every day I can write one hundred forty characters and be done. Off it goes, the best bit of wisdom I can muster in the smallest moment, and if it’s worth a damn then someone might notice.

At the risk of sounding jaded by overload I acknowledge that the blog is still a viable source of information. In fact, according to a recent article I read on social media, it seems the longer an article is the more likely it is to be shared. It seems the pain of reading a long essay is so masochistically intense that we all want to share it with those we love.  It makes me wonder whether everyone is really reading, and preferring, longer articles. I am suspicious. The imp on my shoulder tells me some of you are hoping your friends will read the behemoth and then tell you what it was about when you ask for their opinion. It’s a form of cheating on the exam, I suppose, but we humans are prone to taking shortcuts when we think we can get away with it. Still, Twitter has a lot of appeal and it’s where I’ve been spending a lot of my time . . .

One shortcut we cannot take is in reading the tome of a book I am attempting to read. As with eating an elephant (and truly that task might be far easier in the long run, though ultimately not as enjoyable) I am consuming David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The book is elephantine if you don’t already know, full of pages and pages. These pages contain characters, plots, subplots, lots of big words, looping inter-connectivity, and footnotes aplenty. I don’t know that I will honestly finish it, but it isn’t a bad read.  It’s just so hard to physically hold onto for very long.

I have been on a DFW binge lately. I recently read Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace and a book of interviews of him as well. I do this – I become infatuated with a writer every so often and I binge on everything I can get. This is one of the things I have been doing with my time rather than writing blogs. If you like Wallace’s writing, or even if you don’t, his life story is complexly entertaining and tragically sad. I do recommend it.

As it appears we are in the update portion of this blog entry I suppose I should mention that I have a short story coming out in January. I haven’t said much about it yet because January seems like a long, long way off. I’ll make a bigger deal about it in, like, December when things appear almost impossible to fall through.

And, finally, I have been revising the current novel in hopes of getting it to an editor this summer. It’s coming along fine – thank you for asking!

Meanwhile, my writer friends elsewhere are enjoying some successes of their own. J.S. Collyer is debuting her novel Zero this August, and David Michael Williams had his story “Going Viral” honorably mentioned in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest.

So stuff is happening. I hope everyone will keep sifting through the avalanche, keep reading. There is a lot to wade through but once in a while we find what we’re looking for and happiness happens.

See you out there.

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Tuning Fork Tuesdays – Get your groove on.

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If there is one thing that inspires me more than a good piece of writing it’s a great song. Music has been as much a part of my life as eating and breathing, and it is there that I’ve found a great deal of creative impulse over the years. The combination of melody and lyric opens emotions that are harder to achieve in static print, and it has long been my hope to discover some way to transition the feelings generated in music to similar sentiments in my writing.

I have written a few short stories inspired by, or interwoven with, songs, and as a I continue to explore this union I’ve also decided to incorporate music into my social media platform via a feature I’m calling “Tuning Fork Tuesdays.”  Each Tuesday I will post a new music video or link on Facebook and Twitter, either of a big famous band or musician, or of lesser known quality musicians still working to make a name.

It has never been a better time to be indie.

Please enjoy Tuning Fork Tuesdays by following me on Facebook and Twitter, and see where the phenomenon of music and writing intersect in your life.

Feel free to share your comments!

This week, MGMT – Indie Rokkers:

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Winning, Losing and Novelty: Art is not a competition

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When I was eight years old I ran with a pack.

Wolves, bears, bobcats – these were the icons of pack success, and as with the other packs I was subjected to as child, this one was based on a broad scale of achievements, predetermined and established for all members regardless of individual interests, needs, or talents.

The seasonal kite-flying challenge presented itself as yet another opportunity to fall in line with the rights of passage for becoming not just a cub scout, but eventually a full boy scout. But by the time I arrived with my diamond of yellow paper, embossed with the Boy Scouts of America eagle-superimposed-over-a fleur-de-lis, the competition had already begun. I was behind from the get-go.

I watched the other kites dance up vesper ladders dozens of feet overhead and felt immediately hopeless. There was barely a breeze at ground level, and my heart was hardly into the task, but the press of expectation spurred action. I quickly secured my kite to a spool of cotton string and took off running over the sloping grasses of the hillock where everyone was gathered. The stiff, short-sleeves of my blue scout uniform chaffed my arms, and the yellow neckerchief scratched the edges of my neck as the sun’s heat pressed down on the efforts I made to launch my kite.

My effort was embarrassingly futile. While the other kites flew, some reaching half a spool of thread or more in their victorious climb skyward, my kite could barely sustain a meager hover. The contest was over by the time my kite achieved lift off. With their day finished the other scouts peeled off while I remained behind to finish the flight barely begun.

Then something remarkable happened. In the absence of the other kites it was as if a lane suddenly opened. My kite flew. As the wind carried the kite higher the spool of string spun in my hands and the kite became inspired. The sky relinquished its downward force allowing the kite to soar like Icarus rushing to meet the sun’s embrace.

The line ran to the end of the spool, the cardboard tube lurched in my hand. An erotic ting electrified my body as I nearly lost grip on the kite line. In a nearby bag I fished out another spool and, struggling through sweat in the windswept sunshine, I affixed the second line to the first. Once secure the kite twisted and climbed even higher, the friction heat of the second spool spinning in my hands.

I was at first disappointed to see my kite reach such a great distance. All of the other scouts, peers and competitors alike, had left the scene. I had no witness. Then by chance the competition judge passed by.  A middle aged woman with dark hair and a masculine air, she confirmed with a patronly nod and a word that my kite had indeed bested the day. My kite had flown higher, gone farther, than anyone else’s. Thus dawned one of my first epiphanies – I had, in my way and in my time, surpassed everyone. I’d stood out from the pack . . .

As human beings we are taught from the beginning that we should compete against others for prizes designed to elevate the few above the many, in this way to earn the right to be part of the collective whole, and to fill a niche by being a winner, a competitor .  .  .  a loser.

As creatives, however, there is something that exists beyond the pack. When we create in our unique way there are no rules. The birthright of the creative person is the freedom to do things our way and in our time. The message here is simple: when the crowds have exhausted themselves trying to best one another, and the lanes are open, the creative person is then able to work in a limitless environment, and to the extent of their full potential.

As soon as anything becomes a competition it has lost its novelty. The goal of the artist is to create novelty in pursuit of an effect, and in this process each must operate within his or her own sphere. By stepping away from the pack the creative is free to explore the means of their process, and to produce something original, something beyond the scope of a moment.

There may never be awards at the end of this process – no badges or placards or trophies. But at a minimum there will be the satisfaction that a sincere effort can bring great individual freedom from the pack, freedom from the oppressive need to win, freedom to fly to the end of the line.

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Plum Picking – A tale of unexpected rewards

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I used to live on the edge of the desert in southern Idaho. In the summertime the fields behind my house were covered with great green carpets of alfalfa under an ocean of blue sky. The gravel-voices of pheasants called from the tall grass that grew along deep canal banks, and the hot days simmered with the steady ring of insects in the still and stifling air.

By fall the fields were trimmed into brown rows, and the shy pheasants scampered over the ground between the long lines as if auditioning for the upcoming hunt. The air turned cool, the insects died away, and the light changed from golden to white.

For five seasons I hunted the fields of my back yard. I could walk for miles across farm land carrying a double-barreled twenty gauge shotgun, often my dog being my only companion. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those treks out into the farm lands and to the desert beyond taught me a lot about thinking, about discovery, and a little about danger, too. Things I didn’t realize I would need to know about until years later when I reflected on them in quieter times.

Of the many discoveries I made in that time, one in particular stands out as the greatest. Despite the hours spent climbing over haystacks, walking the trenches of dry canal beds, spooking weasels and partridge, mice and pheasants, the greatest discovery I ever made was that of a lone tree standing in a dirt patch on the edge of civilization between the last farm field and an expanse of high desert scrub. What made the discovery of this tree so special was that at the time I discovered it, it was bearing fruit, and being the unprepared youth that I was, I never brought food with me on my expeditions and was always famished by the time I returned home. Here, then, was this tree.

The encroaching fall had begun stripping the foliage from its branches, and each limb was laden with the ripe and untouched ornaments of its yield. I hardly dared touch it for fear that the fruit might be poisonous. I had never actually seen such a tree, and considering the virgin status of the fruit I knew I needed to proceed with caution. I thought a long time about whether I should risk it. The hike back home was easily an hour. If I were to end up sick there was nothing between me and rescue at the end of that long walk. But the temptation was so great that in the moment I embraced the failures in the Great Garden of legend and indulged the sins of my forebears.

Reaching into the branches of that tree my fingers slid around the smooth skin of one of the red fruits and pulled gently to dislodge it from its anchor. I brought it to my face and studied the dull, waxen coloration. It looked like a plum. My stomach rumbled, apparently encouraged to take the risk for its potential reward. Still, I wasn’t a fool. I pierced the skin of the fruit with my thumb and tasted the juice that broke through. It was devilishly sweet. Emboldened to continue I bit through the skin and took some of the flesh of the fruit into my mouth. Still sweet – it was a plum. It had to be a plum! I took the chance further, eating more of the plum until it was gone. I plucked another. To be rewarded for having taken a journey, and for having found at the end of the road a harvest of sweet plums, a treasure perfect at the apex of my travels, was the greatest prize of any of those years prior.

I am reminded when I think of this story that the creative life is also travel. At times we are thirsty and starved, with many more miles to go. But we began the trip for the purpose of discovery, and the rewards often surprise us. When I am in the midst of this travel, be it via essay, story, poem, or painting, I am aware that the rewards are all around, like the fruit of that plum tree, waiting to be discovered by a traveler who had the will to find it.

This is what I seek as a creative; the unexpected treasure at the apex of a long and committed journey.

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What Colonel Kurtz Contributed to My Library (Or, How creative people watch movies)

snail I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream. That’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor . . . and surviving . . .” Colonel W. E. Kurtz, from the movie Apocalypse Now.

When Marlon Brando uttered these words over the voice-recorded tape of a reel-to-reel machine in the epic Coppola movie Apocalypse Now I was immediately engaged in discovering who this mad man was. I knew he was mad for two reasons: because I had been told through the perspective of Capt. Ben Willard by the U.S. military that Kurtz was mad, and because years before seeing the movie I had also read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the basis for Coppola’s film, and had likewise been informed through the person of Marlow that the merchant named Kurtz had been lost in the dark recesses of a foreign landscape. I had expectations of Kurtz’s madness.

And in my eagerness for the revelations of the story I discovered some truly tantalizing details in the movie Apocalypse Now, none more profound than those found in the books stacked about Kurtz’s dark den: Goethe, The Bible, From Ritual to Romance, and The Golden Bough. What had begun as a journey to discover the madness of Kurtz suddenly became a research project into the madness of myself. Though a fictional character, Kurtz expressed thoughts and ideas that made me wonder what the definition of madness really was. And when, toward the end of the movie, the camera panned over his stack of books, the details revealed in that momentary glimpse excited my curiosity beyond the end of the story.

What I discovered by paying attention to the information on the screen made me realize the critical and deliberate purpose of information in storytelling. What we are told in fiction writing 101 is that the details propel the story. Undoubtedly this is true. It cannot be argued. But what really makes the reading experience worthwhile is the way the story takes us beyond the confines of the moment. When the story ends on the page it does not yet end with us. After Kurtz’s death and Willard’s return to “civilization” the credits roll and the movie is over. But what has not been completed in us, if we have the mind to ask, is the question of what it was that Kurtz discovered in reading those other books?

Like a hidden bibliography the texts revealed in Apocalypse Now weighed in my mind like answers to previously unasked questions. Why those books? Did they make Kurtz insane? Did they make him a genius? Would they make me insane or a genius? Would they make me rich? Would they make me disintegrate into a pile of ash?

Although I did add the books to my library, and I even half read them, it isn’t important that I had these specific questions. What is important about those books, about that detail, is that I paid attention to it in the first place.

The creative person is deliberate (or should be) in what she adds to the story. The details need to do more than just propel the story forward, they need to carry the reader beyond the border of the page and make them think, make them spend money, research, or travel. Art is about ideas. One would hope that all people pay attention to the details so that the ideas can be communicated. This is the purpose of telling stories, whether through words, music, or visual arts. Look closely and see what is on the fringe. There is where we find the secrets to understanding the characters and actions exhibited in the work. As a creative person each of us stands to benefit from finding and contemplating these details, in allowing ourselves to be taken beyond the borders of the page and carried into the research of our own madness.

 

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An Open Invitation to Hackers, Demigods and Punks

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To those literary hackers bent on uncovering the sacred workings of great novels, the demigods of creativity spreading arrays of pigment over blank and impossible landscapes, and all sophisticated punks, demure in fashion and eloquence, who harbor rebellion and acidic wit cloaked in song, speech, image and sound, I invite you to join in an odyssey.

Follow me on Twitter: @tjamesmoore

There exists a vault of invocations that you are summoned to explore. Part college course, part entertainment, herein lies the chance to slay the demons of falsehood, to take up the cause of artful expression through savage narrative and rapid-fire poetics. We are a community. Will you lend your voice?

“Like” me on Facebook: T. James Moore

For those unashamed of truth, and in favor of right process, come join the fight and voice your individual war-cry. There is a rush on the wind, the whispering muse, and she carries us to our calling. Bystanders beware – the cliffs are steep, the chasms deep. Here the champion leaps without hesitation.

You play the central role on a stage preset for your performance. This odyssey cannot happen without you.  Will you join me?

Discover more: www.tjamesmoore.com

 

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