Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Writing”

The Theme of 2009

In theory, New Year’s resolutions are a good idea. It is in the realization of these resolutions where we discover that, in fact, they don’t always work out. How many New Year’s resolutions have you made in your life that you’ve never followed through on? How many people have you heard make resolutions to do whatever the hell it is they think they should be doing but then never do? If you’re like me, the answer to both questions is “A lot”. Sure, some people have success, but I’m willing to bet that the ratio of successes to failures is skewed toward the latter.

What are some of the problems with New year’s resolutions? Well, for one, they are often short sighted, setting a goal for the immediate to near future and not often considering 4 or 8 or 12 months from now. They are also generally too specific, not allowing for the person making resolutions to change their minds or to adapt to changing situations throughout the year. People and things change, so it’s stupid not to be able to adjust your goals accordingly.

A few years ago I decided to pick a theme for the upcoming year (2004, I think?) and stick with that for the whole year. The idea was that the theme should be broadly applicable with recognizable short term goals. That might sound contradictory, but hear me out. I wanted something that would provide many opportunities to express itself in easily accomplished situations, something that could apply to many things yet all fall under the same heading. Thus the idea of a “theme”, rather than a “resolution”.

Since putting this into motion, I have had a few years of success and a few years of not-success. Let’s look at some examples, shall we?

  • The Year of Trying New Things—This was my first theme and esaily the most successful. It exemplifies everything a year’s theme should be. Broadly applicable to many things (what new thing am I trying? It doesn’t matter, so long as it’s new) and provides short term goals (try it).
  • The Year of Writing—This year was moderately successful for a while but ended up being too broad. There were no goals to set except “to write”, which was enough for a while, but not strong enough for me to keep my focus.
  • The Year of Finishing Things—What? Serious? I broke both my guidelines here. Too specific and too long term. No good. Next!
  • The Year of Self-Care—Again, moderately successful since it was focused mostly on figuring out what I needed from my life, but not a great theme since it lacks clear short term goals.
  • The Year of Focus—Seriously? What the hell? Horrible.

For 2009 I am determined not repeat my past mistakes, but to really work on keeping myself occupied outside of work with personal creative work. And now that I have this blog running, I have something to keep my honest and not let myself slip into complacency as I am prone to do.

After a lot of thinking, I have decided that 2009 will be:

The Year of 5000 photos and 50 Short Stories

Right? It’s good, I think. It has short term goals (stories, photos) and is broadly applicable (stories about what? Photos of what?). It’s also enough to keep me busy throughout the whole year, but not so much that it is daunting. Originally, it was going to be The Year of 10,000 Photos after I was inspired by Bryan’s photo count on his site, which, if you have not seen, you should. But then I realized it didn’t carve out a space for the other craft which is important to me and not addressed professionally—writing. So a little bit of calculation was done to establish reasonable goals and the theme was changed.

But, you ask, what constitutes “a photo” or “a short story”? Well, I’ve thought about that too and here’s what I think.

Photo – a photo is counted when it is part of a set that was deliberately taken. I am not limited only to my selects from a given shoot, but at the same time, test shoots do not count toward the final tally.

Short story – a short story is any piece of narrative writing between 1500 and 10000 words. It can be about anything at all, but needs to fall roughly within those two limits. The upper limit is looser than the lower. 1500 words is a bare minimum, but ok since, once I get rolling, I’ll bang out 1500 to 2500 words in a sitting.

And you, Black Laser readers, will help to keep me honest! Follow my progress over the next calendar year. I will be posting every photo and every story to this site for you to enjoy. I also hope to make periodic comments on my status and how I’m feeling about my progress. Stay tuned, intrepid readers!

You can check my progress with this link: The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories. It will link you to every post with that tag, which will be every post I make with a story or photos. Let’s do this.

A funny passage from Peter Carey’s Theft.

I am reading Theft by Peter Carey right now and I must say that I am enjoying it. I like how he bounces between two imperfect narrators to reveal aspects of the story that might not come through just one narrator’s internal filter.

Anyway, I was reading on the subway as I do, and I read something that made me laugh aloud. Here you go. A passage from the book used completely without permission.

The taxis in New York are a total nightmare. I don’t know how anybody tolerates them, and I am not complaining about the eviscerated seats, the shitty shock absorbers, the suicidal left-hand turns, but rather the common faith of all those Malaysian Sikhs, Bengali Hindus, Harlem Muslims, Lebanese Christians, Coney Island Russians, Brooklyn Jews, Buddhists, Zarathustrians—who knows what?—all of them with the rock-solid conviction that if you honk your bloody horn the sea will part before you. You can say it is not my business to comment. I am a hick, born in a butcher’s shop in Bacchus Marsh, but fuck them, really. Shut the fuck up.

Creativity, Motivation, and Activation Energy

Activation energy is a chemistry term that describes the amount of energy needed for a chemical reaction to take place. This is about the only concept I took from my high school chemistry class, a class which I failed. As in F. So I promise that the science metaphors end right now. I don’t know why that one thing stuck with me, but it did.

Anyway, I consider myself to be a person with a high activation energy. That is, the amount of work I have to put into getting myself to actually sit down and work is incredible. It is a constant, epic struggle to force things to come out of my fingers, whether it is editing or writing or whatever. One of my favorite tricks is the “Don’t get up until the CD is done” trick. Unfortunately, about half the time it leads to 35 minutes of staring at the screen of my laptop. Another good thing to get me working is feeling bad. Not really bad, like “let me die, I’m ill” bad, but like “I’m physical exhausted but cranked full of caffeine” bad. Throw the trailing end of a hangover into that mix and I’m at my sharpest, most biting, most cynical, and I’m good for about 2 hours of work. There is a precarious balance with the hangover though. If it was too strong, or not strong enough, then the whole setup is shot and I am back to my starting point of not doing a god damned thing. My newest trick which is still not thoroughly tested is this blog. Perhaps if I write often enough in this thing for the small handful of people who actually bother to read it I will get my gears going and teach myself how to work on a schedule. We will see.

So what’s the deal? I feel motivated to create personal work. In fact, when I do manage to get something done, I feel great. I am amped up. Wired. I have a hard time getting to sleep which is usually bad since by the time I’ve managed to do something it’s 3am on a weeknight/morning. (I know that the excess of caffeine in my blood might be the culprit, but please just let me have this one? Thanks.) Maybe feeling satisfied isn’t enough? I’ve often noticed of myself that I perform better when I am beholden to someone else, when I am responsible for something that is being counted on by someone whose opinion I value. Ok, that’s good, but I don’t really owe my personal work to anyone but myself, and I’m pretty sure that I will understand my own excuse for not actually producing anything by my self-imposed deadline. I can be very understanding if I need to be. Also, we’ve seen in the failure of 3 attempts at the Greater Williamsburg Writing Circle that even the expectations of others can miss the mark as a powerful enough motivator. Let’s hope that the planned fourth attempt in conjunction with my friends and allies at Uncle Magazine and The Metric System finds more success than the last three.

I don’t think that creativity is something I lack. Productivity, yes. Absolutely. I produce at the pitiful rate of one decent short piece every millennium or so and at times less often. But, creativity no. It comes out of me at inopportune times however, like when I’m walking around alone without anything to take notes on. Or I have a flood of creative blathering at lunch that takes the definition of “offensive” to new heights (lows?), but it refuses to flow when I am sitting down with my headphones on staring at the blank screen in Scrivener trying to do something, anything, God please just let me write something good. I do have to say that fullscreen mode is invaluable to shutting out whatever distractions my brain keeps jumping to and the black background, gray text combo I set makes it much easier to stare at the screen for a long time without any eye fatigue. Black text on a white page is nice because the white page isn’t a light shining directly into your eyes for hours. I could punch a bitch for all the white page/black text the interwebs subject me to on a daily basis. But all the fullscreens in the world aren’t enough to keep my focus for very long. Distraction is only an Apple-Tab away.

With these data in mind, what is the solution to creating a healthy, productive working environment and schedule for myself? In the last few weeks I have put myself on drinking hiatus and it seems to be helping me have moments of electric inspiration which gets transcribed to the writing tablet I keep beside the bed. It is surprising that one wonderful beer after work is enough to dull my brain to a point where nothing smart or good wants to come out of it. Or not surprising, I guess. That is good, but I miss beers. I have also found that reading non-fiction is a great way to get my mind thinking about something other than what I am reading. Most of what I read for pleasure is fiction, and when I get into it, which is most of the time, I am totally wrapped up in what is going on in the story, between the characters, and in the text. My brain is focused. When I read non-fiction, especially dry non-fiction, my brain wanders and little bursts of goodness erupt, tiny undersea volcanoes of creativity. That is good too, but I can only take so much dry non-fiction before I want to throw up. I would love to figure out how to get my brain into that not-drinking not-fiction place while drinking and reading fiction. I also wish I had a unicorn and superpowers, but we can’t have everything we want, can we? And, if I magically am blessed with profound, focused creativity, how do I translate that into productivity? How do you spin wool into gold? There are a whole bunch of obvious answers to this—persistence, determination, perseverance. But I don’t care for these broadly applicable answers; I want something for myself.

The question remains: what magic thing does Joe need to learn about himself to overcome this creative slump he’s felt mired in for the last few years? Will writing about himself in the third person aid in any way? Does anyone even care? Will anyone even read this far? Tacos?

Philip Plays Hookey

 

The caffeine was coursing through Philip’s blood and making his heart dance in a way that made him regret having three cups of coffee and not eating anything before leaving the house.  The walk between his apartment and the 72nd and 2nd Avenue subway stop was not long, but it felt like hell in the mornings and especially so this fine day.  He had come to notice three distinct zones between his apartment and the entrance to the subway over his repeated morning treks.  The first and easily most pleasant part of his entire day was the fresh bread block.  That was the block that always smelled like fresh bread in the mornings and smelled like nothing at night, so, aptly, he named it the fresh bread block.  That is where the pleasantness stopped.  The second section was the block that passed the park which he referred to internally as Dog Shit Hell.  It wasn’t just that the block smelled like myriad piles of dog crap, but that the sheer density of dog crap that was smeared on the sidewalk left him in complete awe and disbelief that so many people refused to pack plastic bags when they took their dogs out to shit.  He ventured on more than one occasion while talking to girls and trying to look smart and funny that if someone measured the ratio of sidewalk covered in dog shit to sidewalk that you would very nearly approach one.  Sometimes he felt bad about his math jokes, but really he just could not help himself.  They never worked the way he wanted.  The third zone is the zone he referred to externally as fish guts alley.  This was, of course, a bit of a misnomer since it wasn’t technically an alley but a two block section along Second Avenue and they weren’t just fish guts but truly encompassed the guts of a large variety of creatures, fish, fowl and anything else that populated the sky, sea and land.  It did not make sense for there to be quite as much animal offal here as there was since the fish market was in the Bronx and the Upper East Side was certainly no booming culinary district sought by those who wanted to dine surrounded by the stench of their dinner’s remnants rotting around them.  It made no sort of sense that he could digest.  

The Morning After

 

When I woke I stepped out on the balcony and walked over some broken glass and looked over the edge to see Betty face down in the pool, bloated and pale, still wearing her party hat and I lit my cigarette and went back into the house.  Eric was still asleep at the foot of the bed.  My bathrobe smelled like smoke and had that unmistakable tangy hint of vomit.  Luckily enough, my sense of smell was so destroyed by the Columbian whirlwind last night that my house could be on fire and I’d never smell it.  I carefully stepped over Eric who, upon closer inspection, might not have been breathing, and opened the bathroom door.  I found a fresh beer in the sink with some toothpaste spit on the side which I washed off.  I opened the beer; the lukewarm flat piss lit up the pleasure sensors in my brain like flares at the scene of a horrible rainy accident.  I shut off the light to the bathroom as I exited, forgetting why I went in there to begin with.  

Sal’s Diner

 

Sal, convinced that everyone was out to get him, sat at the counter and ordered a cup of coffee from the waitress who was shaped like an orange with another orange on top of it wearing a blue apron.  He noticed that her skin was covered in decades of black heads caused by the flaring grease fire roaring behind her since the 60s.  She brought him the coffee and it was too hot; he knew she was trying to burn his mouth with the scalding hot liquid.  He asked her for those little pre-packaged cones of half-and-half with their tips flattened.  She pointed toward the little metal pitcher of cream, but he demanded the flattened little cones.  She rolled her eyes and took her time bringing them over.  She asked him if he was going to order anything, but he wasn’t sure yet so she would just have to come back in a little while.  He just wanted to drink his coffee and be left alone.  

The Ferret

 

The Ferret—he insisted on being called The Ferret, having eschewed the name his mother gave him except when at work or within his professional life that fucking bitch—dug through the garbage can in the Union Square McDonalds looking for Monopoly pieces on discarded fry cartons and soda cups and big mac wrappers to complete his collection and win the money car trip thing that was the grand prize.  In his pocket he had three of the four railroads, a Baltic thing, some Pennsylvanias, maybe a Lightworks and a Broadway.  The piece he really needed was Park Place, but the chances of that happening were slim at best.  He knew that.  He’d accepted it.  Yet his dream burned brighter than ever before.