Poem: Cycle of Life

Helpless,

soft little hands,

curling instinctively,

grasping, searching, hoping,

for mama’s fingers,

or papa’s palm.

 

Helpless,

old brittle hands,

instinctively closing from the pain,

waiting, lonely, hoping,

for a warm embrace,

forgotten what mama and papa felt like.

 

Helpless,

born without consent,

die without consent,

the same soft hands,

hardened by life,

once protected,

now abandoned,

the old hands search for the waiting little ones,

together, the cycle of life.

Poem: Envy

Your eyes don’t see the rising sun,

casting itself differently across the skies each time

neither do you feel its varying touch.

Your eyes can’t see the drifting clouds,

never two the same

but your eyes don’t see the difference

the world changes around you

the barren trees coming back to life

blades of grass poking through the melting snow

the gentle wind blows for a few moments,

gone after that,

this moment never to be the same again.

You are blind to the preciousness of the now,

for instead, your sight dwells on others

seeing their happiness saddens you

around you is your own life

waiting for you to see it

but you only have eyes for someone else’s life.

Neil Gaiman & Generating Story Ideas

An ongoing difficulty associated with writing fiction is generating new ideas that can be used for storytelling. Often we look of inspiration in our own life, whether it be looking in the past, what we have been through, or seeking stories in our present, what we are going through. But such methods can be finite and also involves things that are too personal, which one may not wish to share or simply, perhaps you have not experienced something that is worth writing about. Additionally, we take inspiration from writers we admire. But such inspiration comes with its own issues of authenticity for we come to sound like other writers or write a story that borders on plagiarism even if that was not our intent. 

This is where Neil Gaiman comes in. Specifically, his Masterclass lectures. In those lectures, Neil Gaiman gives four techniques that can be used to generate new ideas and all four have one thing in common, approaching a familiar story with a new perspective.

One of the techniques involves changing the point of view of a story. By choosing a different character through which we, as the reader, see the story, it changes the story itself. Also, by imagining an old, familiar story through the eyes of a different character, you can open your mind to new possibilities.

Neil Gaiman cites the novel ‘Foe’ by J.M. Coetzee as an example of this technique. In that novel, Robinson Crusoe’s tale is told from the point of view of Susan Barton.

Another technique is to modernize the theme. This technique also involves changing your perspective. By interjecting modern themes into older stories you are able to form new ideas.

Neil Gaiman uses Margaret Atwood’s novella ‘The Penelopiad’ as an example of this technique. In that novella, Margaret Atwood interjected the modernized female point of view and told Homer’s Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective.

Switching of the story element is another technique that can allow for new ideas. Here you take an old classic story and simply have it take place in a different environment. By changing this one element you can get the idea of a new story.

‘Cinder’ by Marissa Meyer is used as an example by Neil Gaiman. Cinder is the story of Cinderella but unlike the classic fairytale, this one takes place in Beijing and with Cinderella being a cyborg.

Lastly, one can simply make the story their own. In this technique, you take a story that you are familiar with and then apply your own experiences and what you know to that story.

Neil Gaiman uses ‘The Godfather’ as an example of this technique. The author of the novel, Mario Puzo, was an Italian immigrant in post-war America and so, he combined his personal experience with the elements from ‘Henry IV’ by Shakespeare to create his own masterpiece.

These are all simple exercises that work one core value of fiction writing: imagination. You are essentially thinking “what if…”. What if we saw the Wizarding world through the eyes of Ron Weasley, instead of Harry Potter? What if the Odyssey took place in space? What if The Body had elements of my own experiences? What if our current understanding of trauma was applied to an older story?

Adopting a new perspective and view what you have already known in a different light can be all one needs as a writer to generate new ideas and hopefully tell good stories which can be used by others.

Short Story: Familiar Breakfast

It was dark out but the boy was awake. Eyes closed, he listened to the familiar sound. It reminded him of a beating heart, his own whenever he was in trouble, the pulse-quickening, thumping louder, clouding his senses with each beat, what started out as quiet and peaceful, rhythmically natural, changed, guilt-ridden, the sound was full of anger. Anger that seemed to have been there for years and was now being let out, savage, it came out uncontrollable. The familiar sound was outside his room. He turned to his side, turning his back to the door and to the sound, burying his ear deeper into the soft pillow which cocooned around him and he lifted the blanket, engulfing himself underneath, covering his other ear. The low moan of the familiar sound seeped through the door, through the cracks which allowed for the hallway light to crawl in, the sound came up from the floorboards, it stood beside him, yanking at his blanket, moving him aside so it can lay beside him and put an arm over him, the old familiar.

The boy curled his knees up to his chest, one hand still holding the blanket, pulling it tighter over his head, his other hand tucked underneath his hip, the nails digging into his skin, the pain used as a distraction but ultimately another failure like all the things he did. The familiar sound was oddly comforting because it was always there, reliable and true, never late for class, unlike him, always prepared, unlike him, always working, unlike him. The odd days, when the sound was not there, he would still think about it, the sound was in him, in his thoughts, the rhythmic pattern imprinted in his mind, the tune playing like his mother’s jewelry box which when opened always played a simple piano beat and just like that, each time his mind opened to those thoughts, the familiar sound would play, accompanying him in the dark.

Today, his mind didn’t need to recollect the awful, the sound was present on its own, it had come to serve. It was here to remind him of how poorly he had done in school. His mother had seen his report card. She didn’t speak to him much after that. He heard her tell his father and he didn’t speak to him either. No sweets today, no ice cream today, early to bed, lights off and for punishment, he had to hear the familiar sound much sooner than normal, much louder than normal but it was his fault, like normal.

The sound that was caused by him. He cradled himself underneath the blanket. He had noticed that each time he did something wrong the sound would be louder that night. Heavier too, playing longer, encore after encore for some time what sounded like clapping accompanied the sound. The lies he told his mother and father added to the sound, each time he told them he had studied for the test or that he was studying for it, or when asked, he said that he did well, it was easy, simple, not difficult at all, each lie building the sound, giving it strength, as wind does with engulfing fire. Those lies only made the familiar sound worse. If only he had done what he should have done, then the sound might have gone away. Drown the familiar. He turned his face, pressing it deeper into the pillow, hearing the heavy footsteps outside his room, thundering like the night it rains heavily, the distracting rain was comforting, when the drops tapped on his window then the familiar sound was harder to hear because he could imagine that there was someone there tapping on his window to take him away, fly away to somewhere magical, like the stories he read but then the skies would stop crying and the sound would still be there, familiar as ever before.

The familiar sound often started suddenly, a flash of lighting in dark clouds, it’s after image lasting much longer, however, but as suddenly it started, sometimes it stopped with a flash too or a loud crash. The boy carefully peeked his head out from the blanket, trying not to make any noise, thinking that if he did he might break the spell that had silenced the familiar sound. He uncurled his legs, stretching them till they reached the very edge of his mattress, his mother had said that they need to get a new mattress for him soon, her big boy was becoming a man, she had told him playing with his hair the way he hated it but she did it anyway. The sound was still absent after a few minutes but he had to make sure. Sometimes he had felt that the sound was gone but when he concentrated hard, he could hear the whispers. He had always wondered why the sound dimmed, barely audible as if it were self-conscious all of a sudden.

He left his bed, barefoot, the soft carpet masking his steps and yet he walked on his tippy toes, slowly, until he reached his door. He pressed his ear into the wooden face of the door and listened.

Nothing. No sound at all except that of his own breathing and pacing rhythm of his heart which had failed to understand that there was no soun—he heard it then, his heart had known before him, the familiar sound was there, just out of reach, but there, watching him and as if by him realizing the sound was there, it all of a sudden magnified, growing in size, the sound came rushing at him.

It drove him back in his bed, covering himself with his blanket, little child, he laid there, the sound speaking to him but he tried to think of how he could fix his wrongs. It wasn’t the first time he thought this, each time he heard the sound, at some point in the night his thoughts settled to fixing his mistakes and each time he promised himself that he’ll do better and make the right changes so mother and father could see and the sound could go away but each time he would fail in his promises just as he had failed in his classes. This time he didn’t want to make more false promises to himself. Instead, he got out of his bed again, went to the desk by the window where his books were. He picked up the history text and brought it back to his bed. The familiar sound kept the bed warm. He began to read it using the light from his bedside lamp. At first he read a page or two quickly and he felt the familiar sound quiet down but as he continued reading, the words came slowly, often passing through his mind without stopping, he had to double back, reread the passages, his eyes closing and opening, each time closing for longer and opening for shorter time and each time the familiar sound grew.

He told himself that tomorrow he’ll spend the day studying. He’ll take the books downstairs and read them in front of his mother and father so they could see that he was changing and they need not be angry anymore.

The next morning he went downstairs to the kitchen. The boy noticed the familiar scene. It was the kind he might have read about or seen at a school play. Everyone playing a role. The same scene followed the familiar sound every time and it tried to trick him into believing that the sound never existed. But he had heard it too many times to forget. His father sat by the window, his face shielded by the newspaper, his cup of coffee steaming beside him. His mother was busy making eggs for him. One might think it to be a perfect little family. He sat down on the kitchen table, his feet almost touching the floor now. His father asked him if he wanted to go to the park later. Mother hummed, her back to him, leaning one way on her hip, tapping her foot, the familiar sound of her humming could not replace the other familiarity. He sat with his head bowed a little, staring at the kitchen table, unable to look up to meet his mother and father’s eyes. Too ashamed to lock eyes with them but fathers eyes were covered too and mother’s as well. He remembered then that he had forgotten to bring the books down. 

Poem: How to live?

How to live?

when you’re a kid you’re told to be good,

to work hard,

“be a good boy”,

and so you do as you’re told,

constantly trying to please,

constantly trying to figure out your life,

with passing time comes clarity of who you are and what you want,

and then, randomness, that which is out of one’s control happens,

unwelcomed, undeserved, unwanted death,

hopes half fulfilled,

dreams half lived,

mid-breath,

life is gone and yet life continues,

mourning prayers go away, the leaves fall when fall comes, the sun unbothered,

you are no more,

but you were doing what you were supposed to do,

doing the right thing,

that should have counted for something right?

Karmic thoughts don’t occur in that flash that took your life,

Karmic thoughts occurred when you did the right things,

thoughts stuffed into a piggy bank,

thinking each transaction brings you closer to a good life,

but that good life is random,

some deserve it, get it,

some don’t deserve it, get it,

you might have deserved it but the universe cares not,

your stuffed piggy bank filled with empty hopes,

never thinking about the randomness of life,

but at least you were a good boy.

James Joyce On Beauty

In his novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce uses the main character, Stephen Dedalus to explore many themes associated with an artist who is becoming his own individual and encountering the real world. One such theme that is studied is that of beauty. Dedalus is an aspiring poet and so, he gives his thoughts on the three things that are needed for beauty. Those three being wholeness, harmony, and radiance.

Wholeness is apprehending an object with its context. Here, space and time play a factor, as does the sound that may accompany an object and the surroundings in which an object is found. The object is viewed as complete by understanding all which is brought by the immediate perception of the individual.

Harmony refers to analyzing that perception. Observing and seeing the different parts that make up the whole. How each thing harmonizes with the other in order to present a complete picture. If one thing is changed, then the picture is changed.

Radiance is the whatness of the thing. The purpose of the object. How clearly it is represented or created. It is the artist’s imagination brought to light.

Together the three, wholeness, harmony and radiance, create beauty according to Joyce. I tend to agree with Joyce’s interpretation of beauty. Individually a scene may not make sense at first or may not be considered good, but when combined with other scenes something truly good can be created. After which, the individual scenes can be viewed as special and important, once the large picture has been established. The point of this picture is of extreme importance, the radiance, perhaps the most difficult thing to create as an artist, the recreation of what is in your imagination. Without such a recreation the picture feels hollow but if one is able to transfer what is in the imagination to paper, then it is like an intuition, it just feels right. It is in that feeling that you understand the beauty of the piece that your viewing.

Poem: There’s Nothing That’s Meant For You

The absurdity of life,

waking up each morning with the previous night’s flames still burning,

the night before when the promises were made but not fulfilled,

“tomorrow,” you said even though the fire was alive in you,

waking up, the flame all but gone,

diminished by waiting, watching, passivity of your soul,

however, the weakest of embers is all that one needs,

it is enough to engulf the mind again,

but what one needs is absurd,

the need for old habits, when you are trying to make new ones,

sitting, drinking coffee, staring senselessly at a screen,

recalling the thoughts you had of running before you slept,

sipping, watching, thinking how good it’ll feel once the run is over with,

thinking of your promise,

the absurdity,

promise is alive in your head and yet the limbs don’t follow,

they conform to previous wishes,

the ones made out of weakness,

they are ingrained because they are easy, simple, pleasurable,

the new promise made is hard, difficult, and needed,

the promise to do better,

because that’s what you are supposed to do,

everywhere your eyes stare you see people doing better,

feel that you are alone, outcast, isolated who promises himself that you’ll be like that,

one day,

the absurdity,

mindlessly driving to work,

for if you thought, you might drive off a bridge,

at work, the repetition kills you,

repeatedly driving that nail deeper into your thoughts,

thoughts that came up with the promise as an escape,

as a hope for a better tomorrow,

for the nail digs deeper, hurting, a painful reminder of the slow self-inflicted death,

the absurd promise, dying sunshine, flickering light, waning embers,

the kind of life you used to hate to think about,

the life you are living now, stopping yourself from thinking so you can keep living,

the absurdity,

get home, eat, rest, not think,

get in bed and then think,

the promise is still there, unfulfilled, something to aim for tomorrow,

“I’m meant for a better life,” you say to yourself,

the world speaks back in crushing silence,

you sleep your earned rest,

the absurdity of your life repressed another day.