Category Archives: Rant
So you think your son or daughter or older brother is a writer? Is he or she exhibiting signs of seclusion, spending an inordinate amount of time reading literature, or making hieroglyphic and mysterious marks in a notepad of any kind? It is possible that a writer might have been born into your family, which can sound quite shocking at first.
Either, you’re not sure if you’ve been gifted a genius or should you rush the little scribe off to the orphanage immediately.
After all, writers’ lives are spotted with calamity, and rather he/she be a supposed orphan than you soon die of cholera and he/she become a true orphan. That’s what happens to writers’ families right? They’re always being murdered or killed in storms or dying of some Victorian-era disease.
Don’t fear. There are simple steps you can take to usher the scribbler onto glory without being inflicted by biblical plagues or suffering sudden and coincidental depression. Remember, you’re dealing with a crazy person. As in, someone who hears voice in his/her head, someone who maps out entire separate lives “for the fun of it.”
Certainly, do not take this task lightly. Writers are given to madness, bouts of emotions only word-minced poems in middle school will fix, and terrible vices ranging from alcoholism to drug abuse to Wikipedia surfing. It ain’t no easy path to hear the incessant scribbling of pen to paper, like the hand is making a bad dash for life or limb. The pendulum swings ever closer down, slicing at the knuckles as the modern-day quill moves.
Simply, allow them their crazy.
Let them scream through the house, sobbing because a character died (in the most epic way, but still).
If the door is closed and fingers whizz at the speed of antelopes, do not interrupt with trivial stories or requests to clean the
dishes. The writer is a violent creature, prone to creative paroxysms of rage when wrenched from the writing process. They may attack when called upon, caught up in the carnal need to tell stories. Seriously, blood could be spilled.
And indulge them their rants, their vast explanations. Before writers can ever make a story make sense to an audience, we must make it make sense to ourselves. Ignore us if need be, but pretend to listen like an overpaid therapist. Allow the writer to think aloud all his craziness, he’ll eventually shut up and begin writing again.
He will ask for your advice. Probably best to lie to him and tell him you don’t know diddly squat about writing or books, though your opinion might be good or bad. Writers are brash, foreign people who won’t really take your advice or criticism seriously. And if you scrutinize a character, remember that for the writer, the character is a real person and– “how dare you? She has feelings!”
But most of all, let him fail and fail again, and let him climb the grueling ladder of learning to tell stories, from the mechanics to the finer methods of sustaining suspense in a story about stationary sea crabs. Every writer fails at writing, but those that give up there don’t become writers. They become people who wish they had become writers. So encourage them no matter what drivel they produce, because eventually they’ll churn out something decent and then later on something incredible. Only with time can a person understand life and death, the only two things a book can be about.
Seriously, don’t freak out. They’ll write weird stuff, but they’ll probably end up fine unless, you know, they don’t. But a lot of people don’t end up fine, and that’s most people, so maybe they’re doing better than we thought. If you have any inclination to help them, give them your favorite book and leave it at that. The universe, generally a fan in my opinion of human success, will do the rest.
I read a poem today in which two boys played in the backyard, a deceptively simple poem. The more I pondered the two stanzas, the more concretely I realized how little the poem was about—childhood innocence, friendship, etc. Should poetry be so hushed, so calm, so unobtrusive?
Having grown used to brass, dramatic poetry, this caught me unawares. Why be so calm and cool and collected? Two boys running and throwing balls and pushing toy trucks around in the grass, all things I’ve rarely seen. Because childhood is rarely as innocent as we assume.
Why not write about two boys playing video games (we often played videogames), about how they shout at each other as each wins? Write about throwing the controllers at each others’ faces, knocking out teeth, bloodying their noses. Childhood is rarely flowers and sunshine and playtime before supper. It’s a constant war.
Children, in fact, are sufficient evidence that we as the human race descended from savages. They are cruel, selfish, and conniving.
And no one is as guilty as a child is. When a child steals, they spend the next few hours fretting over their sin, their black crime. When they lie, they burst with the need to say the truth. Adults do not share this tendency: we do not feel guilty about much past infidelity or murder.
I closed the book of poetry and put it away, thinking about times I might have played in the grass. Surely not as many times as I argued with friends over Pokémon cards or whether or not a certain Mario Kart race victory was considered fair. Do poems need to shout, to demand change, to radicalize, or can they fall light as clouds on your brain, invoking nothing serious, only the fabled innocence of children.
I read this perplexing article, which prompted me to respond.
I do not particularly like cats, despite the fact one has made a home out of my room. It is not so much that I own the cat, but rather, we co-inhabit the same area, a fact she too is not at all fond of. She forces her way in each night and perches on the windowsill, unblinkingly watching me sleep. Whenever I wake up in the dead of night, she stares at me intently as if daring me to close my eyes again, to let my guard down. Most nights, I suspect she is plotting her revenge for times when I have locked her outside in a rain storm. I try to exclude her, to leave her in some other, empty room, but she has claimed my bed as hers, my desk as hers, my clothes as her personal, extra-comfy throne.
However “cat people” came into being is still a mystery to me. I understand why someone might love a dog, who shows owners endless, unwarranted affection. Cats, however, disdain their owners. They are lazy and as tedious as taxes. They live to spite your efforts with a critical, demon eye. There can’t be much dignity in owning a pet who, in her eyes, owns you.
But there has been talk from Petrarch to modern day spinners that poets prefer the company of cats, as if we share their prickly self-obsession, their self-preening, egotistical ways. They do not demand respect either, but they expect it. I would certainly not allow Blake’s Tyger to lounge in my windowsill nor would I tolerate any of Poe’s black cats worming their way across my path. If one crossed the road, I would speed up to kill it before its bad luck infected me. And if I were Alice, utterly loss in the fantastical dreamland of my own adolescence, I would never act so kindly to the Cheshire Cat who seems to take great delight in confusion and disappearance.
Cats are not muses, cannot properly inspire anything but mutual distrust, especially when they swat your feet with sharp claws or when you kick them sharply in the gut. So I simply do not see why writing and cats should mix. I do not keep company with Crookshanks or Fritz or even Garfield. Jerry the Mouse might as well drop anvils on all their heads as well.
There is not much left to say on the subject, and I’m quite unsure why I brought it up in the first place. There is a common phrase, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” And if you don’t know why someone would want to skin a cat, you obviously have never owned one.
There is a thin– literally– line between healthy and dangerously skinny. Also between obesity and healthiness. There are two ends of an ever-expanding spectrum of the idea of “normal” body weight and image, but I am not– not today– going to address the issue of obesity. Instead, I’d like to discuss anorexia, body image, and modeling.
Modeling? Derek, you know nothing about that other than that conversation you had once with an Abercrombie model over Frosted Mini Wheats once and the fact that your girlfriend watches Project Runway. Well, sure, I don’t know much about modeling, but I do know what I find attractive. And the truth is, I don’t find many professional models attractive. Not so much in a sexual way: I’m sure most guys could be sexually attracted to a bag of rocks. But as far as character goes, modeling and the stigmas surrounding it make me a little sick.
There has been much conversation recently about modeling in general, the expectations for model, and how this translates for the psyches of adolescent girls. The most recent attack on a model was Kate Upton.
Let me introduce you to one of the foremost “thinspiration” blogs skinnygossip.com. While masquerading as a blog that helps girls lose weight, it really shames celebrities and young girls about their bodies. It promotoes ultimate skinniness, and when I say skinniness, I mean starving-having-eaten-in-days skinny.
What’s so unhealthy about aspiring to be skinny, though? There comes a point where being skinny becomes an addiction. I completely understand the desire to look good, be attractive, but when girls strive for “the xylophone look” with their full rib cage on display, I feel like that might be a tad ridiculous. What we try to write off as crazy, however, has become a normal notion for many girls, especially adolescents.
Now, I get annoyed just as much as others by the down-your-throat preaching of love-yourself gurus. It is a natural human instinct to try to improve yourself. If a girl or guy tries to became fit, that’s absolutely admirable. But we must understand that there just because you’re thin, that doesn’t inherently make you beautiful nor healthy.
I also am not just some guy with a fetish for big girls; I also think obesity has overwhelmed us, but shame, ridicule, and bullying is not the way to reconcile these problems. Instead, we need to approach building a healthier future with positive thoughts and energy toward exercise and good diet, not starvation and bulimia.
There is simply a misunderstanding involved, and the shaming creeps into our common vocabulary with phrases like “she eats like a man.” Sure, biologically men have higher metabolisms, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. I know many athletic girls who are very attractive but not exactly skinny– no, they have muscle and toned bodies that reflect a healthier way of living.
Magazines and modeling agencies glamorize only the skeletons, only those who live in misery because of their habits. I’m not saying girls can’t be naturally skinny; I think that too is attractive. But if a girl must starve herself into thinness, then that lack of confidence, that lack of self-esteem translates as unattractive. What we should really emphasize is pride in our bodies and their amazing feats, not an empty worship of the rib cage.
Because I work in a photography studio, I know plenty of tricks with Photoshop. I could warp anyone into a fig tree figure, but it would of course not reflect their natural look. It would instead be a pale shadow of their beauty and personality, an emaciated cardboard fake. So whenever you see these too-thin models on magazine covers, remember how easy it is to alter appearances. As far as airbrushing’s contribution to girls’ self-esteem, that’s a topic for another day, but still one that needs much discussion.
I just wanted to state my own opinion on this. What I find attractive isn’t particularly “thick” or “thin” girls, but instead the confidence to accept who you are and not try to the point of death to be what you may never be able to be. Instead, if you don’t like your body, attempt to keep healthy, not simply starve yourself; this twisted idea of beauty is simply unflattering, and the sooner teen girls see that those attacking their bodies are doing so only to make themselves feel prettier, the better.
Share your thoughts in the comment section!
For those who not live here in South Carolina or in the South, we experience a lot of heat in the summer. So hot a cannibal needs not to cook you when he approaches you on the street, since all of your organs have been fried, your meat browned to perfection. So hot you cannot use body spray lest you become combustive outside. So hot– well, you get the idea.
When the heat index spikes well over a hundred degrees for several days in a row, we finally feel summer arrive. Before, we enjoyed the cool upper nineties, a brief respite of solid heat for those of us like me who do not have air conditioning in our cars. On such days when I don’t go to work, we try to avoid driving. With the windows down, the wind blasting me. Every stop light is a fresh Hell to suffer through, the heat a pressing claw on your neck, drawing sweat like blood from your body.
It is not so much that there is high humidity but instead a wall of heat that passes through the atmosphere. An army of heatwave-fisted boxers punching you in the jaw again and again.
What we do on these days, we try to stay at home. Turn on fans to sit in front of with a book. We drink water, or at least in the South, sweet tea which is considered more nutritionally valuable by merit of having magical Southern powers. Yesterday, a Saturday, the movie theatres were so packed out, lines formed well onto the street, around the block. Inside waited cool salvation for the masses who are willing to shell out twelve dollars for the air conditioning– and some Pixar movie or a film about a potty-mouthed stuffed bear.
I made the mistake of going swimming at noon on Friday and suffered for it, dipping my body into a body of water that the sun had already rose to boiling temperatures. It’s so hot, Facebook friends from Maine or California complain, the temperatures there rising into the eighties. And here, the sun is a cruel fixation of summer, the indelible monument of the South, forever hovering above our heads. Wielding life and death, light and darkness, heat and exhaustion and cloudless sky.
Heat is a Southern tradition we cannot escape any more than slavery or the tendency to stretch our vowels. During deer hunting season, first time hunters smear their faces with blood; in the summer, the sun replaces blood with sweat and drenches not just our faces but our bodies. The discomfort of sweat is something you get used to, though. Even the rivulets of liquid sloshing in your armpits, perpetually streaming down our back, glistening on your chest. Sweat becomes a new skin that leaves us sticky, wet, and rancid.
It has not rained for more than three weeks, despite a tropical storm blowing near our coasts. The storms shuffled around our city, flooding Florida, sprinkling Georgia. But here, the land is dryer than Gizmo the Gremlin before he belonged to an irresponsible teenager. And each day, he hope for a downpour. Something so torrential, the pine limbs snap. Something so powerful, the buildings shake in the wind. Even if we fail to venture into the storm, we pray for the end of the heat.
Already it is hot, and it must only get hotter.
There’s something alluring about reading or writing about a character going insane or under the influence of drugs. Someone so lost inside their own minds that hippos prance across their dreams, leaves of fall graceful as ballerina marsupials in the stream of never going home.
I honestly have been considering the adventures of protagonists who are less with us mentally than physically. Sometimes, because the POV characters are snorting some serious stuff or injecting bee venom into their veins, their sentences come out uneven with the universe like gut-flavored Jell-O. Stories written in stream-of-conscious style are difficult enough to read without the character being so overwhelmingly addled.
Take for example Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho (spoilers ahead). When not describing what shampoo he uses and criticizing business card fonts, Patrick Bateman likes to violently murder people. Mostly hobos and prostitutes, though, so it’s okay. Toward the end of the novel, Patrick discovers he may not have killed anyone, simply having hallucinated the murders. Of course in the film this is hinted at far more heavily. In the book, reality is up in the air. Do you believe Bateman has murdered people or simply suffering gory delusions?
The unreliable narrator lends a beautiful obscurity to events in a story. Once you realize he is a liar, you question everything you’ve told him up to this point. A lot of writers use this vagueness– this unreliable because of insanity as a plot device that can either seem awesome or like a joke. A good example of how the unreliable narrator can completely change the outcome of the novel is in Fight Club, but I won’t talk about that because I’m not supposed to.
When the character is not insane, he may simply be on drugs while writing it. Imagine Alan Ginsberg’s poetry in prose form. Imagine Naked Lunch. If not the character himself, then perhaps the author is on drugs or drowning in alcohol. And while many writers swear by their personal “muses,” I find much of this incoherent and pointless.
Sometimes, an author can be utterly sober and make no sense. I’m not a huge fan of Joyce and find him overrated, so I’m not afraid to say I quickly gave up on Ulysses.
I’m not saying this cannot be enjoyable, only that by writing it, an author is taking a huge risk. How Anthony Burgess ever published A Clockwork Orange I will never know. On a first reading, this thin book brimming with made-up language, drooges, and psychosis makes very little sense. You need a lot of patience to dismantle and understand such books.
There are good and there are bad, but the question: Are they worth writing? Are they worth reading?
Can we learn anything from writing straight from the mind of a drug-addled lunatic? Perhaps. Though written in harsh grammar and strange language, Requiem for a Dream proved quite readable and interesting, dealing in how addiction takes over
lives. Then again, I would contest that the film does almost just as good a job, so there may not be a purpose in reading the book. Yeah, I said it: sometimes movies are better than the books they’re based on. *Cough, cough, Jurassic Park*
One such book I read nearly a year ago was published by a dark, edgy, experimental publisher Two Dollar Radio. The book was The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich. Reading it is like being doped up while tied to the roof of a train car as it races down the track at a hundred miles an hour. The plot is a mix of local lore, mythic teenagers, hedonistic helplessness, and strange hallucinations. Despite the fact that I still don’t know what happened, the book affected me. I enjoyed at leas the experience of delving into the protagonist’s mind to see things through her warped eyes.
What do you think about reading novels that sometimes don’t make sense or with such unreliable narrators that you question their sanity?
Also, check out this comprehensive list on Litreactor of books about addicts.