Even Small Escapes Can Fuel Creative Dreams

It’s not often these days that I get a chance to say “Adios, muchacho!” to what I see as humdrum. Not often that I can leave my “yes sirs” or “no ma’ams” at the door and dress myself in my “that’s so cools” and “what the fucks.” Not often that I can leave my work uniform, my “monkey suit”, in the darkness of the closet, imagining that it will randomly obtain consciousness if I were to let it stay there for too long.

Life is funny in that we are told to enjoy it to the last, but yet we often have to do unenjoyable things in order to keep that life going. To the next person in retail or customer service who tells me with an earnest smile that they “love what they do,” I’ll love the Hell out of their face with my fist.

Perhaps I’m just being too impatient. I’ll graduate someday and then pursue my writing fully. It is hard though to find time now for my own personal writing when I not only have to keep a full-time job, not to mention having to read hundreds of pages a week for my English class and cram my head with French vocabulary to fulfill my required language credits. The prospects of getting my Bachelor’s next summer seems like an eternity away. At least I’m doing my best to keep my writing skills somewhat sharp with the reporting I do for The Beat (a comic and popular media news blog I contribute to).

That blog is actually why I was able to get away recently and immerse myself in the nerd culture of WonderCon, a convention run by the same people behind the well-known San Diego Comic-Con. I had a fantastic time; Walking the sales floor, reviewing and writing up panels for the blog, forgetting that I live on a budget and buying more books than that of my monthly food allowance. Life’s pressures seemed temporarily lessened. It wasn’t that I felt liberated by “acting a dork,” but more instead had the honor of mingling with other like-minded people and was able to “ride-the-wave” of this same “like-mindedness.” Others who enjoy comics, reading, collecting. I loved strolling the rows of “artists alley” and seeing all the art that was created with painstaking care (though I felt guilty that I couldn’t help everyone of them out with a purchase).

The highlight was when I had the surprise and delight of running into someone that I knew, though to be honest I knew quite a few people there. It was unexpected none-the-less. He and I used to teach martial arts in the same organization and always saw each other at tournaments. A very fit individual and my same age, he was there promoting his third fantasy book. I didn’t even know he was a fellow writer! We talked of his works, the series that was projected to be nine-books total, and of my works, the three rough-drafts of different novels that I hadn’t yet the courage to reread and edit. Of course, I had to support him and buy his three books (there went more food money). I was excited for him. He was living the dream, the writer dream that I wanted. My excitement wasn’t just for him though; This encounter rekindled my “writing-fire.” The old adage is still ringing in my head as I write this entry: “If he can do it, so can I!”

We exchanged information (I really wish I hadn’t forgotten my business cards at home) and promised to talk later. I even got his editor’s contact information, who was also there, and promised I’d contact her when at least one of my drafts was worthy to be seen by strangers.

Of course, I had to eventually come home and liberate my waiting suit from the closet. “I knew you’d be back,” I could almost hear the sentient garment say. Yeah, it’ll be a while still before I can just hang it up for good, where in its new sentience its thoughts will eventually drift onto greater-philosophical imaginings. Someday, that door won’t open again, and then you’ll have all the time in the world, buddy. “Will I dream?”, it will say from some raggedy seem, but no one will hear. Just the dark.

But of course, that’s some time away still. Regardless of that fact, my brief escape from the atmosphere was nice. You really can’t tell when something can give a nice jolt to your creative dreams; you just need to give it a chance.

 

New Year, new… me?

New Year, new… me?

It seems like the same routine every year: I resolve to write more, namely on this blog, resolve to work out more, resolve to live more. And I do so, strongly for perhaps a couple good months until I eventually fall off the edge like Wile E Coyote on that same old cliff that is life’s complications.

Don’t let me lead you to believe 2016 ended entirely poorly for me. There was a lot of positive things that went my way. In the face of fear that I would lose my primary, full-time job, I actually was able to keep it and see a slight raise. I had to leave the martial arts teaching job that I loved because my physical and mental health were at jeopardy, but now both of those are getting back in line again. The cherry on top is that I participated in November’s National Novel Writing Month with my “beastie-besty” Victoria and we both beat the 50,000 word deadline in 30 days!

Now just a couple weeks into 2017, I’m left with a feeling of accomplishment; Things are well at work, I just had a wonderful visit to the kung-fu school that I left, I’m so far doing well in my Spring semester at school, I’m well into editing the rough-draft from NaNoWriMo… things just seem to be getting back on track.

What should that mean then for the rest of 2017? Normally the new year is supposed to signify new beginnings. I don’t see that for myself. Instead, I see getting back to basics. Sure, I’m resolved to travel more. I want to see the sequoias. Since this is the 10-year anniversary of when I went to Japan, I want to go back. But I also see more than that. I see continuing the trend that I finally got a hold of at the end of 2016. I see avoiding all the mistakes and pitfalls that I dealt with in the year prior. There is indeed new growth, but they are from seeds that have been well planted before, and they are also from the cuttings made to dead limbs that were choking everything else around them.

I am hopeful. Ultimately, that’s the best start one could ask to have.

Runaway

Runaway

I’m sitting inside a local coffee shop with big picture-windows that look out onto the main-street. The morning light struggles against the fog, succeeding in a diffused illumination against the black-tarred street and the red bricks of the surrounding downtown buildings, as if everything was under the glow of a giant soft-light box. The trees that line the sidewalks sway back and forth, their green leaves invaded by the quickening march of oranges and reds. As I sit here plopped in front of my computer screen, I can’t help but stare out the window and watch the people walking by. “People-watching” has always been a hobby for my family. Today, there appears to be more cars than actual people.

The same can be said about the inside of this coffee shop. Okay, maybe there aren’t any cars lounging about in here, enjoying a nice cup of warmed motor-oil as they gossip about the Henderson car 2 miles down the road which rather recently received a very disrespectable pink paint-job. Instead of a multitude of people crowding in about this time for their morning cups of coffee, dispelling the weight of the weekend placed on their sobering heads on this now Monday morning, there are perhaps a collected dozen strangers milling about. Strangers to me that is, for they all seem to know one another. Greeting the barista or each other with friendly “hallos” and “how ya doins?” Things amble here. There is no impatience, no “fast-paced.” This isn’t the San Diego I know. This is Virginia. Salem to be exact.

Salem, Virginia is a small, independent-city situated in the Shenandoah valley, but was originally founded in 1802 as a town. Like much of the surrounding Roanoke county, Salem is steeped in rich natural beauty, while still celebrating its “ever-living” history. Nature, history, and people, none in conflict but all in co-existence. Local businesses line the streets. Roanoke college thrives here. It’s a city that lives in every respect.

How did I get here? Flatly, I needed to get away. I needed to get away from the monotony of San Diego living, as crazy of a statement as that sounds like. I felt stuck there. I needed to see how somewhere so far removed from my hometown functioned. Someplace with a different mindset and a drastically different past. And no, a “Disneyland getaway” wasn’t going to cut it. Nothing fabricated as to be a “safe-little-bubble” for tourists to be blissfully removed from reality where they can wonder if the $40 stuffed-animal that was made in Taiwan for $1 is a good value. I didn’t want an escape from reality, just the reality I had known all my life.

Virginia is so much different, but all in the best ways. I’ve done the touristy things; I’ve seen the small “roadside attractions.” I’ve taken just enough pictures to make my local tour guide cringe every time I lift my camera. No, I didn’t move. I’ll be back in San Diego soon, hopefully much recharged and with a different perspective of things. I’ll talk in length about some of the sights I’ve seen in another entry. For now, I’m just sitting here in this small coffee shop, watching the people and cars amble by. A customer somewhere behind me is saying, “Well it’s my birthday. I’m forty-five.” The barista at the counter squeals. “It is?! Happy, happy biiiiirthday! Happy, happy biiiiiiiiiirthday……”

Revealing the Art

Revealing the Art

One thing I’ve learned from my experiences so far is that writing just doesn’t “happen”. The whole romantic idea of sitting down at a keyboard, or your preferred writing medium, and just flowing with words isn’t real. If anything, you’re at the mercy of the literary spirits. Sorry. Your mental bubble is undoubtedly burst. How will you ever go on in life?

The famous artist Michelangelo once said in regards to one of his sculptures, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Writing I would have to say is quite similar. The work can’t be forced into the world, but rather the artist must quiet their minds and listen for the voices of their characters to make themselves known. Sometimes they will speak louder than avalanches, facilitating a torrent of words to paper. Other times they will be shy, silent as the grave. In these instances, you almost feel like a medium at a séance pleading for your characters to do something as simple as issue the smallest of whispers. Once this is done, it’ll become easier to coax the others into existence.

If you poke and prod beyond their liking, they’ll rebel and leave you in unnerving silence. Even worse, you might get the equivalent of writer’s diarrhea, where to your horror you’ll find what resembles utter, unequivocal crap.

So far, not only do we then find the process less romantic than we originally idealized, as well as more time consuming and tedious, but it also can be extremely nerve racking. Once the words have finally been divinely revealed, you’ll undoubtedly have a moment of clarity akin to when Dr. Frankenstein first looked on his monster with horror, repulsed by his ungodly work. A story is never ready to serve without a little mending. No matter how awesome of a writer you think you are, it’ll take a number of re-reads and editing until the words are arranged in a fashion that isn’t gibberish.

Years ago I was introduced to a wonderful poem by Anne Bradstreet. Her poem speaks about the relationship of an author with their book, and the feelings they have towards it. Because I feel it would be a disservice to “hack” the poem into a sample size, I present it to you in its entirety.

The Author to Her Book

By Anne Bradstreet (1678)

Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,

Who after birth did’st by my side remain,

Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true

Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view;

Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,

Where errors were not lessened (all may judge)

At thy return my blushing was not small,

My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,

I cast thee by as one unfit for light,

Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;

Yet being mine own, at length affection would

They blemishes amend, if so I could:

I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,

And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.

I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,

Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;

In better dress to trim thee was my mind,

But nought save home-spun cloth, i’ th’ house I find.

In this array, ‘mongst vulgars mayst thou roam

In critics hands, beware thou dost not come;

And take thy way where yet thou art not known,

If for they father askt, say, thou hadst none:

And for thy mother, she alas is poor,

Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.

Bradstreet’s poem speaks about her work, in this case either a book of poems or stories, given to her friends for review. In perhaps their poor judgement, or themselves being too kind in their critique, forwarded her work for outside criticisms, unknownst to Mrs. Bradstreet from what the poem implies. Upon its return with criticism, she was greatly embarrassed. Instead of trashing her book, having spent a great deal of energy on it already, she takes a little more to fix its flaws to the best of her abilities, though she herself admits she’s ill equipped in her writing tools to fashion it just the way she would like it. Never before have I read a creative description of a writer and their work that both was entertaining and true at the same time.

What should be taken out of all my ramblings is that writing is a labor of love. Often times there is no other reward than the satisfaction you get on making something that at least one other person may enjoy. Like any craft, it takes times to hone, hammering away at the dull blade of a novice until it becomes the sharp sword of one with experience. The process itself isn’t all roses and butterflies, but often times harsh reality. It’ll test you and make you question whether or not you’ve chosen to pursue the right endeavor. The finished product may also create more doubt, making you want to throw it out the window, sell your typewriter, make origami of your writing paper, and take a 9 to 5 job.

But in the end, when all the doubt is exhausted and the stars align, you’ll find yourself face to face with what you’ve been striving for; this child that was hidden in the paper and the ink, the writer’s blocks and the long sleepless nights, the doubt and self-loathing, and hopefully what you’ll see will make it all worth it.

Changes

Changes

Habits and routines aren’t made over night. Nor are they destroyed any faster, despite what people will have you think.

Up until rather recently I’d been working two jobs: Full time as a concierge and manager, as well as a part time martial arts instructor. I had been fortunate to do both for a good couple years, and I really loved teaching.

Change eventually happens, and I had decided I wanted to further my writing beyond what simply writing could afford me. What should I do? Go back to school, the voice in my head responded.

I had never really attended what would be considered a “traditional” college, always going through the two community colleges that were relatively in driving distance. Since I had gotten my Associate’s in Psychology, it had been years when I actually took my last class. Not because I felt I was finished with schooling; Too busy, too poor, too everything.

Though I had a buffer of years, a ghostly voice that seemed to reside in the back of my mind kept calling to me. They persisted, and when things in my life seemed stable, I had finally decided to take the plunge. Financially, I was okay to cover my apartment while I relied on financial aid for my classes. Work wise, I was into a grove that I felt I could manage around. Socially, well I’ve never been super social unless someone pulled me out of my comfort zone kicking and screaming, so what more harm could it cause?

For the record, I really do enjoy the company of people, no matter how much I might radiate an opposite vibe. I tend to wear “resting-bitch-face” while I’m either deep in thought or trying to nonchalantly be aware of my surroundings. Stemming all the way back when I was the miserable fat boy who did nothing but play Pokemon and video games, I don’t actively seek friendships or company. I’ve had my ego smashed and mangled enough times by others thank you very much. Some hurts never fully heal, only scab over to leave a deep reminder.

Back to the present. My first quarter of school went very well. All A’s and such. The Filipino blood in me rejoiced, as well as the shunned fat kid. It wasn’t until right before the start of my second quarter was to start that the routine I built for myself over the last couple of years began to crack.

Around the same time things were falling into place for me, other certain issues in my life began to take root. The certain things that we often care about yet take for granted in our lives; Health and relationships. My health wasn’t super for some time, but I managed to keep it in harmony. My relationship already had its share of baggage too. But again, it was manageable. Eventually though, everything has a breaking point. And when they broke, I broke.

Relationship imploded on the pressure. Mentally I was done. Soon after, my physical health began to sour. My life began to change away from what I was use to. When you begin to see your life before you fall like sand from an hour glass, the immediate reaction is to grasp before it’s all gone. I had to salvage something.

In my schooling, despite everything, I managed to keep my grades to 4.0. Keep that. My concierge job was steady and paid well. That stays too. My apartment was a little too big for just me, but I had things I wasn’t ready to part with, as well as a cat that likes his personal space. I could manage the cost myself still. That could stay.

Regretfully, along with some other things, my martial arts job had to slip through my hands. My sleep was averaging four hours a night. My stress levels were perpetuating my health issues. Still, it was tough to say goodbye.

I miss the people I worked with, that I trained with. I miss my students. I miss my teacher. Change is sometimes necessary, but it doesn’t make it easier. Some nights, I find myself dreaming that I’m still at the school, teaching alongside all too familiar faces.

Life right now is… different. But I’m managing; A day by day process. Some days are good, some days are bad. Before, I had a well-worn path where I knew largely what I was doing or where I was going. Now, it’s a more like finding a path among tall grown weeds. It’s unsteady and unsure, and will take time before my steps will trod another clear path. My feet still look for the places where it knew to step, only finding debris.

Never take for granted the sameness of your day to day, because eventually it will change. And that familiarity will be gone, replaced by unsureness. Find the things in your life that will keep you anchored against the flood of moving water, like deep rocks in a fast moving stream. If you choose the things that look appealing but with little root, you might find yourself swept in the torrent of change. Plan for change, but enjoy while the sameness lasts.

On a final note, if you want to give the biggest “f-u” to someone, try the old Chinese saying among enemies: “I hope your life is interesting.”

How to Text Hoard like the Professionals

How to Text Hoard like the Professionals

Here’s the scenario. You’ve started writing on that short story or novel, and you’ve completed a great deal of work. You keep on writing along until “BAM!” You’ve hit a dead end. You sit there for a few minutes, or maybe hours, staring at what you have and eventually realize that either the story is not recoverable from where it’s gone. Or, perhaps you’ve just lost interest in the story itself and don’t feel like forcing your way through it.

What now?

Some would be satisfied with trudging through just to complete it. But in my opinion forced work makes weak work. You have to be invested in it.

And I am definitely not saying to send off your hard work on a raft in the middle of a lake and set it ablaze like a Viking funeral. For you dramatic types, I know that’s how you feel sometimes.

When you’ve amassed some good work, simply put it away for safe keeping. If you’ve created a dynamic character or weaved a plot so cool that it kills you to bury it, it’s a crime to bury that six feet under. Time to become a Text Hoarder!

“Text Hoarding” as I call it is when you take work that you’ve either put in lots of time but just can’t see around getting it done, or simple ideas and scribbling that have nothing to do with what you’re currently working on but just can’t bear to let them go, and just file them away. You know, like rainy day savings. Later, it allows you to repurpose that creativity that you put so much of yourself into. We’ve all caught ourselves holding on to something, be it an item or part of something else, and saying we were going to get some good use out of it later. Recycling doesn’t have to be for paper and plastic anymore. And there’s no harm in it, as long as you don’t reuse the same text multiple times that is.

Now, don’t me wrong. I’m not asking you to do anything like collecting newspapers dating back from the early 60’s and walling yourself up with them like you see on the T.V. In today’s era of computers and digital word processors, we don’t have to worry about paper clogging up every little free space we have. All of our work can fit on a tiny USB flash drive. And as technology gets more advanced, memory sizes and its costs go down. So keeping all of that unfinished text doesn’t have to take any physical room. It’s all “1’s” and “0’s.”

I myself have a folder on my laptop with half-a-dozen unfinished short stories or just word documents of random inspiration I couldn’t let go to waste. I even have a black leather bound journal that I carry around with me just in case I get a great idea or overhear a snippet of conversation that I simply must write down at that moment. I can’t always trust my short-term memory on ideas, so best to get them down A.S.A.P. I’ve used a couple of those writings so far, so in my opinion it’s already paying dividends.

So really, hoarding can be a good thing. It may be a month, a year, or a few years till you get the chance to give a second life to that work, but it will be there waiting for you in its creative cryogenic slumber.

We all hate to waste something so good (like a piece of pie). So put it in that fridge called memory till you are ready for it another day. And as I always say, a story untold is a waste and a shame.

Wayward Thoughts

Wayward Thoughts

I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately.

Every time I say that to myself, I can’t help but think of “Kingdom Hearts.” Like a lot of people my age, video games have played a large role in my early life (when there was actually time to play them). I obsessively played Kingdom Hearts. The whole quote from the very beginning of the game is; “I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately. Like, is any of those for real, or not?” The whole premise of the game revolves around three young kids who dream of getting away and exploring lands unknown. Very befitting my situation if I really think about it.

I’ve been harboring ideas of wanderlust. Those unfamiliar with the term, it represents a strong desire or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world. To leave the familiar world behind and venture into the unknown. Those who “suffer” from it do so for various reasons: Boredom, tired of the sameness of the day to day, unhappiness, nothing left for them where they are, etc. I guess for me, I feel so overwhelmed with the our modern conveniences. I’m so tired of hearing people complain that mail is running late. So tired of the advertisements that constantly surround us, trying to shove down our throats the products or services that we for the most part don’t need or consciously want. The thousand choices of food that are all equally unhealthy that line grocery shelves. We’ve made things so complicated. I want something simpler than all this.

This festering idea of a simpler life can’t help but bolster the want of seeing more than what’s in my own backyard (which right now is nothing more than a brick wall, with another apartment building beyond that). More so, I want to know more. I want to know just how the rest of the world looks and feels. For me, traveling and living out of a van seems like a perfect option. There’s a romantic idea behind taking only what you need in your backpack, maybe a few choice books, a CD full of your favorite songs, a compact computer or an old typewriter for writing, and hitting the open road for new experiences.

I brought the idea up to my mom, feeling I wanted to share with her what’s been on my mind lately. I figured she wouldn’t be totally on board with it, but her full reaction surprised me. After I told her as we both sat on her living room couch, she looked at me for a few seconds in silence, the television playing in the background. She began to cry. “You want to be homeless?” she said in full earnest. I never really looked at it that way. I just saw the imaginary van in my head, as a home that I could take anywhere. This idea of an alternative lifestyle, living on wheels, greatly upset her. Frightened her even. It filled her with concern for my wellbeing. “So you’re telling me then that you don’t want the house when I die?”

I knew my thoughts were outside of the normal, but I never really dwelled just on how out of the ordinary it really was. Are we as a collective just in such a mindset that if we don’t submit to living in a house or apartment, that we don’t settle down in one location, are we really seen by others as strange and unusual? From my mom’s reaction, I guessed so. It wasn’t just her when I looked back. The few other people I had confided to, a couple friends, a coworker, they all gave me the same wide-eyed silent look. Like I was an alien that had dropped his human mask. Is it really so wrong to want to disconnect? To realize the things that much of our society holds as important is meaningless to you? To want “more than this provincial life?” I guess that’s why all the towns folk thought Bell to be strange in Beauty and the Beast.

Though I’m almost into my thirties, I still harbor just enough self-consciousness to care about what other people say. Maybe someday, when matters in my family life settle, and I’m old enough to not give a damn what others think about me, I’ll have the courage to sell all but a select number of items, and set out to places that reach far away from where I currently am. I guess until then, my weird thoughts will have to suffice, biding their time until they either decide to fully ripen, or die prematurely on the vine.