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There are “dream words” in the English language. While words like “are” and “is” presents facts, we also have words called “modals” that comment on how reality should, could, or might be. Maybe we concern ourselves too much with what “is” because our immediate truths are our way of reconciling and surviving in what’s always so coldly presented as the “real world.” Our culture, American culture, is so competitive that to look at anything else other than the other rat racing right ahead of you seems nonsensical, if not deadly. The shoulds, mights, and coulds of life get lost. Daydreaming becomes useless. They have no use because they just don’t “get you anywhere.”
Collaging is one of the most subjective forms of art, a deeply psychological process, that is at once a conversation with the broader “objective” world, a world of objects and symbolic meanings. It’s our way of talking back to our physical reality, allowing us to make an imprint upon it just as its made an imprint on us.
A collage may be analyzed and broken down by critics like any piece of art. But notice, the artist doesn’t lose their integrity. Nothing feels “missed” or “lost.” The interaction of the components in a collage are a psychic play that is deeply personal to the artist, even if they’re unaware of it. It’s the equivalent of children playing with toys and dolls: they look at the individual parts, customize it to the story they want to tell or aesthetic they want to show, and play. They don’t make the dolls. They don’t make the toys. Most of everything is made for them, but yet, a deeply personal journey unfolds.
Dear Dreamy Darling,
I hired new fire throwers
New golden-show lions
No audience member respects, I bet,
When they turn silver
The morning is so odd
With it’s lack of light or promise
It frees my memory
Of your gloss, jumps, and curls
Into the dense fog
Dreamy Darling it’s now so Dreary
We appeared wild but in domestication
Remember those rallied cries?
Now I’m left sorting, deporting
Wretched hows, whos, and whys
All forms of expressive writing aim to create a tension in the reader, an emotional and/or intellectual impact that begs to be attended to and evaluated. Deciding who your narrator is and exploring their unmet desires is what will entrance your audience. A poem is, after all, an aesthetic way of delivering a message, so shouldn’t your narrator be just as evocative as the message itself? Whether you decide that your narrator is… well, you, or someone else, here are five sources of inspiration and counsel to help you with narrative voice.
Like many others, I have talents that are very pronounced and weaknesses that are equally apparent. This hasn’t made rejection for me any easier or any less painful: when I sat down at our most recent employee meeting it felt like sitting down at the Last Supper. Jesus, our store manager, was at the forefront and I sat at the very end, the Judas brewing in the corner, unwilling to follow a direction that feels like I’m fighting against the current. To add some weight to the metaphor, none of my other coworkers looked nor spoke directly to me. Who could blame them? If I couldn’t be a cook, I was useless in their eyes. And without any use, who are you to a group of people, anyways?
The town bell’s creed
Some gated, faded pages
That never got to me
Coarse terrain, drunken sages
Sir, hand me your arm
Give me the common rule
I’ll study them I swear
But ain’t a sacred fucking fool
Never knew I was such bad news
These gears, they spin within
I only did what I had to do
So just pardon me my “mortal sin”
You’ve woken up today and see a very fancily written “Once upon a time” at the top left of an otherwise entirely blank piece of paper. It’s been there for a year, and you call this “decent progress” on your novella about…what was it again, you ask? Let me help you: “Once upon a time, there was an artist who failed to wage the necessary war against their lazy and relaxed tendencies that consistently holds them back in most, if not all, of their pursuits.”
You’re going to start being creative. Daily. Here are three ways to make it through the artistic trenches and come out on top.
This week’s writing prompt concerns the “realm of hungry ghosts.”
Gabor Mate, an addiction specialist who uses alternative spiritual frameworks in his practice, uses the term “realm of hungry ghosts” in his discussion of codependent realities and how a person develops addictive tendencies. Conceived in Buddhist spirituality, the realm itself is one among the several that we pass through in a lifetime and is described as hellish. Dr. Mate describes the addict as someone stuck being a
“hungry ghost,” like the one you see in the picture above, monsters with long, scrawny necks and huge bellies that will never be satisfied. Stuck looking to the outside to feed or satisfy them, addicts will use sex, praise from others, temporary highs from drugs or alcohol, consumerist endeavors, and all the like to try and satiate the insatiable.
Human potential. Karl Marx wrote about how society holds us back, that “free laborers” are slaves in disguise, summed up gleefully by the Verve’s lyrics: “Trying to make ends meet/You’re a slave to your money then you die.” So often, it feels like Marx was kind of right: we’re trying to run past what society demands of us so we can just have a moment to fall deeper into ourselves. To process. To make. To develop. Whether you’re the starving artist trope or a busy individual trying to develop a new scientific theory, we’re all fighting to get to spend time with our human potential, our estranged pet in the modern day (unless you’re denying it, then that’s a whole other story).
Their bottled sweat and fawning
Seemed like once a calling
A window shot in the night
Now high hopes’ fall is dawning
What happens when the wick’s done
The Atlantic winds blow strong
What happens when you walk on the wrong stone
Maybe you’ll learn to get along
I wish I could be your God
But to you, I’m a mountain top
The candles and charming assassins
Prepare their lowly crop
My moment of impact this week occurred after watching The Truman Show for the second time in at least a decade. This moment, which is still unfolding, occurred as Jim Carrey delivers his Oscar-worthy performance as Truman Burbank having a nervous breakdown in the process of hunting for truth in an entirely fictitious world. The rolling waves and thundering night sky you see in the GIF there are man-made, the product of a television set that Truman doesn’t even know he was raised on.
Was he looking at me?
Whizzy Annette, golly
Give me an answer, I guess, please
Guess who, guess him, give me
A word I mean
Give me a word I mean
Give me a vehicle I mean
I can only be me
And you, Annette?
Guess me, guess me
Find me, find me
Will he find me? Will he see?
The enclave, the dust
Of my privacy
That “upward” feeling is really what drives most of us, isn’t it? Food, yummy. Sex, good. The familiar “ups.” What about when we realize a dream? Isn’t that when we hit the sky’s ceiling?
I thought about this when revisiting the work of one of my favorite actors, Jim Carrey. Everyone knows from watching his adrenaline-charged, highly energetic performances that there’s got to be a different man who walks off the set. When he’s on, he’s on, flying above our heads, though Carrey himself has alluded to the depth of his lows in life:
When I give you the backlight
You stop, stumble, starryblind
I push on beyond the blurred lines
Hoping that these mirrors are spinning lies
When you ask me if I have the heart
I stop and stare and flick the dart
The demons rolling down the road
Those angels only look the part
The heat is breaking my skin
My seared eyes, I’m living in
Oh daddy, help me survive
Help me, my breath is caving in
He holds my arm back
From a strong sprint
The prancing gaslights
His berry-eyed glint
The saints of Arcadia
A candid serenity
Don’t talk back, boy
Are you my enemy?
So from whom do I run
On the Grand Desert Calypso?
The tumbleweeds ceased their cries,
and the drink chills the hows, the whos, the whys
Forget love. When the schedule says it will be there at 5pm, it arrives when we’ve already decided that an hour was too long to wait, so we hail a taxi with a odorous, gentle, beastly, but unusually polite man shrouded in cigar smoke. Unknown to us, we will end up marrying and loving this man perhaps until the day we die and think: “What if I had waited ten more minutes?”
Maybe you do. Maybe you get on the train, full of expectations. Will today be the day that Robert finally stops taking all the credit around the office? Will the invigorating start of a new phase in your life build up to something beyond fantasy? Ecstasy, even?
Maybe the people at the office start to take notice. Maybe you feel just a little bit better about yourself. Maybe it lasts. Maybe it doesn’t.
The neo solis rose—
He was just fourteen
Flat lawns, flat people
One violet, one steeple
A bowed head, ruddy veins
The dust rolling down
Their winded window panes
Oh! Forgo this sunset—
It was blessed by the cursed
He’s seen the neo solis
He’s seen Moroni at its worst
Their eyes watched
His alighted, singed wing
It was this day, this moment
They stopped hearing the lark sing
The plebeians accepted
With cruel condescendence
See Jupiter’s glare, the tense arcus
The dust stilled, dazzling heights
levity vanished, rotted, cascades
No longer thrashed
In yesteryear, they knew a rouge-colored sky
They knew of depressions and renaissances
They knew of the pitted brown winters
They knew of fresh fields calling
They now see vein’s maroon
From a high hope’s falling
Thank you for your interest in the University of Chicago. Unfortunately, we cannot extend an invitation for attendance this year…”
I stare at the screen while some Santa Cruz stoners blast Bob Dylan dubstep outside my window. My theater friend Katie, a spry optimist, thinks UC Santa Cruz is a hip place to be. Rebellious and deviant but laid back at the same time. All I see is laziness disguised with progressivism, lots of rich white stoner kids talking about how much they love Malcolm X. My classes have turned into reality television shows, people hanging on their seats while me and the potheads go at it. It used to be almost exciting.
Each year she waited
For the next year to come
Pomelo mojito mixes
Teased her sun browned skin
She loved Santeria
Before she met this pale man
Who served her hidden fruits
In this sad extension
Of the United States
She was in sugarcane land
Before her teeth
Sunk into the creamy flesh
Of Miami’s Atemoya
You wake up and you’re running late for work. Shit. You brush your teeth and you can barely stand to look at yourself in the mirror because you know that’s how you’ll look for the rest of the day. After throwing on your biggest coat (it is February in New York, after all) you run down the metal staircase to your trusty bike. As if your morning weren’t already full of alarming surprises, you find a feather, plastic compass, and a riddle.
I was in Santa Barbara for Spring Break when I heard the news.
Rough year, being a special needs assistant with a very strong-willed and off task child. What they don’t tell you when you first sign up for the job is that it’s on you to make everything work. The child, teacher, your boss, and the parent all must be happy in order for you to be happy. Those are the balls I had to juggle and many were dropped in the process.
So for spring break I run far away and don’t invite anyone to come with me.
The sunset was visible behind the crowd of palm trees as I walked back from Santa Barbara Coffee Roasting where I spent three hours staring at a wall, comatose from endless sand and sun. There has to be a way that all of these people confuse relaxation with depression, a fine line I was playing with myself. I get a call from my aunt Laura, and I take a deep breathe before answering. Having been a midwife in Nicaragua during the contra wars, sometimes she talked as if she was trying to run away from landmines.
A poem inspired by my uncle(s):
The dam gives
and Black Pearls
come rolling down
All the rangers watch
They wish it were otherwise
Some pulses go
To lay down, and quiet
Some pulses flee
To find trumpets or drums
I’ll watch the hawk
with green eyes
I’ll watch the treetop
The land of otherwise
I’ve written another response to writing prompt #2, and this time, it’s a little deeper than Smashmouth running away from the cops after he steals a watch. This time, I’m responding to Brandon Flowers’ “Playing with Fire” from his solo album, Flamingo Road. It’s incredibly soulful and reads like an epic of a young hero going out into the world on his own for the first time, knowing nothing beyond the limits of his incredibly small town, defying the wishes of his father, and whipped around in an inner turmoil. It’s a true story, based on Brandon Flowers leaving the tiny Mormon town of Nephi, Utah to live in Las Vegas and pursue greater heights just before he graduated high school.
Let me know what you think, or if you write a response on your blog, I’ll share it here on mine!
This should be a fun one.
Last night was a regular night, though something didn’t settle with you. Maybe you had the feeling of being watched but chalked it up to your usual paranoid tendencies. You fall asleep alone, soothed by the regular sounds of your town or city, be it chirping crickets or a constant flow of cars.
When you wake up, the only thing you see is white. Could this be heaven? Your head is searing with pain, and in the shocking heat, this is the only thing you can focus on. You know you’re not in your bed. And when you look around, all you see is a desert with no sign of humanity, not even in the far off horizon.
To many, Persephone is a scandalous love story about a young girl taken from her mother by an evil, dark god. Others might view it as a twisted coming of age tale, with some not-so-subtle-allusions between “womanhood,” fertility, and the bright red colors of pomegranate that Persephone eats. A more promising and philosophically poignant meaning lies underneath the tale. What makes Persephone’s tale so tragic is its necessity: the allure of death, and death itself, is inextricable in the continuation of life, rendering us all paradoxes in disguise. We live and thrive in our dissonances and conflicts, our beauty conceived by melancholy.
Creeping around corners
What is that I see?
Two big eyes staring
Staring straight back at me
Somber stories are worn
Somber stories be told
Of a child much wiser
That never grows old
The stairsteps, creeking
My thief’s gloves are peeping
What is it I need?
The warm heart that’s beating
Their secrets be theirs
My secrets be mine
To be stolen, unwoven, retold
By trepidatious time
Pick one of your favorite songs of any genre. Ask yourself: “Why did this singer write this song?” Was there a specific event that triggered the lyricist to write it? Write down your answer and get into the artists’ shoes. While you’re speculating about what gave this person inspiration, look for ways it could inspire you to write something else later on down the line. Investigate inspiration in and of itself, so that you can identify it and find muses hiding around in the cracks and corners of your life. But for right now, you’re writing about this particular artist and this particular event in the form of a poem, short story, brief explanation, poem, or anything of your liking.
Here is your inspiring writing prompt. Just as the sandwich you ordered at the second rate deli is only a suggestion of food, the writing prompt is only a suggestion of your final product.
You’re the only one who can bring this to its fullest potential.
I have always been personally fascinated with Miami. Ever since I watched all seasons of Dexter and read all three books, I investigated the cultural climate of the area, reading news articles and blogs, trying to ascertain what could produce such a violent but gripping drama. What I found were stories of trailer park revenge, of people using priceless art to smuggle drugs in their motels, of a man running into the middle of a freeway, naked, covered in peanut butter. And, more recently, a man receiving a court-ordered ban from ordering pizza ever again.
But then I discovered a strain of American history I hadn’t fully explored before, evoked in the show with the beautiful string music of the Buena Vista Social Club playing as Dexter roamed through Miami on his midnight hunt. With just a few Google searches, I found a large community of Cuban-American exiles, who came to Miami to escape the Cuban Revolution.
I am drawn to new journals and notebooks to the point of an obsessive and compulsive craving.
In the bookstore, Walgreens, and paper goods store, I walk directly to the shelves of Moleskins, Paperblanks, stenopads, Deuts187s and Piccadillys. A journal for me is not a just a utility to write. Before the writing even happens, a journal is loaded with meaning.
The binding and the covers claim a stake on what might become of its pages. Paperblanks’ cover images are restored century or even millennia old designs, whose aesthetic is orderly, geometrical, symmetrical, and intricate—foreign to the modern reductionist journal, one with a white cover and a tiny but rebellious black square plastered in the center. The Paperblanks images, which range from equinoxes, silk work from Lyons, the book of Solomon, to Paris Noir, imbues each journal with a sense of historical continuity and connection.
In a Marxist group retreat I attended in Berkeley, California, one man, a city college professor in U.S. History, sat us down at a picnic table to divulge his thoughts on mysticism. (In retrospect, I might have called this “mansplaining.”)
He shared that, when he was on the train to get there, a pigeon flew straight into one of the windows of his train car. This was, unfortunately, its last moment of life. Everyone on the train gasped, and the women sitting directly in front of him started discussing what this could mean. Could God be trying to communicate something to them? Could it be their “spirit animal” committing suicide to send them a message of impending doom?
You are being interviewed by a panel in front of an entrance that leads to your "Utopia." It's a place that meets all your expectations, satisfying each and every one of your desires, where a prolonged state of blissful intoxication waits for you every. Single. Day. Maybe it's a whirlwind of neon lights and casinos. Maybe it's the perfect blend of nature and urbanity with commuters riding on air-trams and 0% unemployment or homelessness to be seen. Have scientists cured cancer? Have they found a way to make fatty or rich foods nutritious? Maybe your Utopia waits for you behind a door in a forest, a dream you imagined when you were younger that you always knew was there. What will you do to prove you're worthy? Or... are you?