Lighting the Tree on Fire

I once heard a breakdown of plotting. In the first act, you run your characters up a tree. Second act, you light the tree on fire. The third act, you get what’s left of them out of the tree.

Today I’ve been writing a hard chapter on a character that I really have been cheering for, but as the story demands, I need to put them in the tree, and…you get the idea. I don’t like doing it, even though they are a fictional character. I like this character. But for the sakes of the story, I need to show how far they have come in their development. It isn’t pretty. Writing isn’t always nice. Sometimes it is waking up in the forest, half-buried in rotting leaves with blood and strips of flesh under your finger nails. It is putting your characters through hell. It is letting your imagination take you to places nobody should have to go.

It is sometimes failure and disappointment and struggling. It is an infusion of real life, sometimes a greater concentration. An exaggeration. Though personal.

It’s a little like playing God. You have your character arc figured out. You know where they are going to be at the end of it. Redemption. Happiness. They’ve learned from hard lessons and impossible odds. But it’s going to hurt like a mother to get them there.

A few weeks ago, I was telling my therapist about a chapter I had been working on. The lines from Game of Thrones popped into my head as I watched her face fall. “Oh my sweet summer child–“

Where I was talking about the progress I had made on the book and explaining some of the things I was writing about, she looked at me with genuine concern and said, “You can write a whole chapter in a day?”

“Yes,” I said. I was very proud of that.

“But the things your are writing about are so…traumatic! How do you sit for hours and write about something like that? What do you do to recover from something so intense?” She suggested I take breaks between chapters. For maybe a few days at a time. Naw. I’m good.

Just to let you know, I’m not writing a horror story. It’s a story that I think just about anyone could relate to. It features plausible (if not traumatic) instances that could have happened in real life. The thing is that writing about a lot of these things is actually therapeudic. I get to ruminate these stories and ideas and even when they are unpleasant, even when they are intense of dour, I know there is a plan.

Life isn’t like that. At least not at a level any of us can really understand. My more Christiany friends would look at the world we live in with doe-eyed optimism and say “It’s all part of the Lord’s plan!” Depending on your persuasion, that may or not be the case. I tend to agree with the former, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about any of it. Life is tragic at times, unpredictable, disappointing, joyful for incredibly short moments, and I think at the end of it, it’s the stress of living that kills us. We all wind up in the same place.

At least with my characters I know that I might be running them through the wringer, but I plan to give them the ending they deserve. I don’t know if the Author of my story has the same in mind for me, and if that doesn’t give you a sense of existential dread, I don’t know what will. What I do know is I am deep into the second act of my life. The flames are licking at my feet, the tree is really high off the ground and riddled with rabid raccoons. Those ringtailed bandits are not happy to be in this tree. They might even blame me a little bit for it. I can hear their chittering and I suspect in their varmint language they are plotting against me. I suspect they are intelligent enough to figure that my blood could be used as a flame retardant.

Boy, that got dark in a hurry.

Nobody is coming to get me out of the tree. That’s up to me. I hope there’s a happy ending for me. The squirrels are pretty restless too. So many squirrels.


Drawing a Blank

I honestly have no idea what to write today. All I know is that I need to write something. It’s one of those days. I try to call up the Muse and all I get is static. Or that boing screeeeeee boing grrrrr sound the old modems used to make. I guess it’s a day where my brain is telling me to take some time off. To stop running like a horse in a barn fire. Last night I got off the zoom call with my son, and finished off a day of trying to be productive with six hours of playing Conan: Exiles on XBox. This morning, I woke up after a fretfull night of video game dreams to sore and red eyes. Weird dreams. Not even video game dreams. Just weird dreams. The kind where you are supposed to find something, but you lose track of it and it is gone.

I’ve been having those a lot lately. The other night, it was a dream where I was walking my my dog and her pet bunny, Sunny. I went around a corner, and they were both gone. Of course, I also had no idea where I had parked my car. So maybe they weren’t lost. I was.

But the grass was green and there were butterflies.

I’m going to give myself a mental health day today and I’m going to go see the new Dune movie. I’ve always been a fan of the books and the movies and even the SyFy channel miniseries. Though everyone claims this director is a genius, I have to admit that I did enjoy the asthetics of Blade Runner 2049, it wasn’t Blade Runner. It should have just been a movie on its own without Harrison Ford to muddle things up. It did look really cool.

Maybe I need to recharge my creativity. Though if the movie is good, you always risk comparing your rough draft with a finished story. That’s never good.

I’m coming up on an anniversary. Seven years ago, I had some very hard conversations, arguments, and fights with my ex-wife about ending our marriage. I read some old journal entries I had written about those times. The voice is familiar, but the man is different. In some ways, he is wiser, more comfortable in his own skin, but in other ways, he is no less confused. At times he feels isolated. Forgotten. He keeps wondering when his life is going to begin.

I had a moment of frustration seven years ago when I said I felt pulled in two different directions. I wanted a divorce, that much was certain, and my family was encouraging this. I had believed at the time it was for selfish reasons. Really they just wanted me to be safe. And my ex-wife was pleading for me to stay–as she often did (just before everything went off the rails). I said to myself that I wished I could just leave everyone I knew and move somewhere nobody knew me and just live out my days as the crazy guy who lives at the end of the street

Be careful what you ask for, kids!

I’m not sure how crazy I am, but I do now live alone at the end of the street. Hahaha! I’ve got my dog. I go places and do things, but I’m not very social in town. It’s a small town. There’s more than enough drama to be found if I want a piece of it. I think I’ll pass. I want to live in peace. I want to have adventures. I want to make up for lost time with good memories. You don’t have to do everything in one day either. You can pace yourself. Be forgiving of yourself. Know that sometimes life kicks you in the teeth, but each day, the sun will rise again. We get another chance as long as we make it to that new day.

Maybe today I just don’t have a lot to say. I guess I’m feeling a little quiet. A little lost.

But I do know that things are a lot better today than they were seven years ago. My forever just gets a little bit shorter with every day. So it’s important to enjoy life. Today I’m taking an old friend out to see a movie: Me.

Remember to be kind to yourself.

The mark of other

Have you ever wondered what propels certain people to create things artistically?  Whether it is visual arts, writing, music, or any other form of madness which some feel compelled to create out of nothing, something has driven these people to work and rework something until it takes on a life of its own.  Any art is a form of expression, usually gathering details from the world around them, and trying to make sense of it.  

As far as you can go back, people have done this.  In early times when some where struggling to not starve to death, or not be trampled by a giant animal they were hunting with a spear, one of their clan looked up at the starry sky and figured there was some sort of meaning in all of that.  People try to look for the patterns in things, and artists are the ones who really go to town when it comes to interpreting these patterns.  This is how we get things like religion, art, music, comedy, storytelling, and science (as much as science now tries to divorce itself from the rest).  It’s an inheirant flaw in the one creating these things who just isn’t satisfied with taking things for granted.  They have to fret and fiddle and tinker and tweak until it does.  Or comes close. And then they start all over again.

In ancient times, this sort of mental defect gave people holy status.  Shamans, oracles, soothsayers; this difference was noted and elevated to some other status.  The Other.  The Weird.  Seeing the world with a different set of eyes.  Nowadays, this sort of talk is consider pretentious.  Art is considered with deference to putting a coat of paint on a wall, music is something that guy in the town square does because he won’t get a real job, and don’t get me started on writing.  I’m sure I have half a dozen posts around here talking about how the work writers put into the craft of stringing words together is something lots of people feel like they can do (and they probably can) but probably not all that well.

So where does this defect come from?  I tend to think of it as a pearl inside an oyster.  Most oysters are happy being blobs of salty snot attached to rocks and piers by their hard external coverings.  But sometimes a piece of sand gets inside and to protect itself from this irritation, the ball of snot forms a calcium coating around it until it becomes something valuable to people right before they’ve slurped the ball of snot down right out of its shell with a little bit of hot sauce or lemon juice.

The idea is an irritant, and the artform protects the fragile mind of the artist from destroying itself from the absurdity or pain of such a thing.  The conflict.  The places only dreamed of, that would otherwise just exist and slowly drive this person mad.  Unfortunately, the artist is already sorta there.  After all, they are wired somehow to pick up these signals, while most of the rest of the species is fine with watching Real Housewives or focus on not starving to death in a hovel.

Is it a bad childhood?  A defining moment that rattled the artist’s perception?  Lack of kids their age to play with on their street? Some sort of defense mechanism that makes them look at details in some way that is different from others?  Something that makes someone bad at parties because they can walk into a room full of people, sit down with their drink and just listen to those around them, pet the cat or dog for an hour, and go home again.  Something that said to them it was hard to be around people for very long because it just reminded them of their own Otherness.  The drink or drugs are relied upon as a social lubricant, to numb those thoughts that would intrude in what most people would consider “fun” but to the Other are felt as much of a waste of time as a “normal” person would consider brush strokes, rhyming patterns, themes, or minor key.

Sometimes I feel like schools have been working against promoting this kind of creativity for a long time.  But thinking differently is why we have pretty much anything that isn’t rolling around in the mud for roots or fighting off competing predators for a rotting wildebeest carcass.  Even then, the first proto-human to figure out that a stick or rock to the snout of one of those slavering monsters bought you some time to get more food was an artist in their own way.  It’s just strange knowing that to see how little art and creativity is valued.

We take it for granted.  You turn on the radio and hear music you probably couldn’t play, that talent takes your mind off your monotonous commute between commercials for things you don’t need.  You eat a dinner at a nice restaurant you probably don’t know how to make.  You read part of a novel that someone spent two years of their life writing and chuck into the donation pile when you are sick of it.  You call that painting in your hotel room tacky, but could you have painted it?

All this taking things for granted devalues it.  Something not long ago that our ancestors considered holy is now just…not important.  Disposable.  Of no consequence.