G – The Art of Going

“Let us go then, you and I . . .”

—T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

A character in my novel-in-progress has an inner universe filled with a series of gray, crumbling skyscrapers. But they don’t fall down, they decay slowly, sideways, glass and concrete and beams splitting from the foundations and simply extending. In a world of continuous motion—of people coming and going, places growing and disappearing, names and faces that simply cease to be—the sideways city is the one constant in her life, a place that time and gravity do not touch. That is, until an event finally causes it to come crashing down.

When my own inner world imploded last year, and I lost the one person I didn’t think I wanted to live without—I turned to words, and more specifically to poetry, to restore some sense of order. Poetry offers more questions than real answers normally, but at least it tends to keep me busy in the search.

I did this for days, trying to figure out where I should go next. Where I needed to go. I had to rebuild my city, sideways or not. One that could grow from the knowledge I’d acquired throughout the preceding year, however painful. Something more solid for the future.

One poem that I turned to was T.S. Eliot’s, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and I have returned to it—or a part of it—for this post. I think the poem speaks the most about the way we move within the shifting time-place dimensions of our lives—the way we are always in a momentum of no-return, with people and even ourselves. I have always thought of myself as a point within this coming-and-going paradigm, occasionally intersecting with other people and places at the crossroads. Sometimes these encounters end in “Let’s go, sometimes in let go.

In a rare stroke of luck, I found the answer I was looking for from the first line of the poem: Let us go then, you and I . . . Let us go, let us go. Let go. Life, like love songs, like love, ends. And indeed there will be time / to wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ And ‘Do I dare’. Indeed. Time until time is no more. So: Do I dare / Disturb the universe? The answer is yes. Always. Dare to being. And to end. To go, then.

Either way, we are our own sideways cities; it’s up to us to choose how to rebuild. We’re at the mercy of motion and at some point, for us, it will end.

However, no matter what may come of the crossroads, we still must step forward. We are going; and in going we learn to be.

What is the poetry that inspires you? What gives you a sense of motion?


E – Erase the Public Other to Emerge in Your Writing

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

The only reason I ever became even semi-comfortable writing in a public venue like the Sarcastic Muse is because I have always carried the above-mentioned quote with me.

Given the volatile nature of the Internet, the multitudes of trolls, and even the expectations of the writing community itself, I always want to edit my work, especially when I know that others may be reading it. Of course, editing is an important step to putting a piece before the public, as it generally makes elements better, but for those who worry about public opinion (and in some respect, this means everybody), editing can just as easily turn into over-editing, filled with self-censorship and self-doubt. Even the other Muses have taken the embodiment of our readership—the others—into consideration before formally scheduling some of their own posts, asking: Do you think readers will be offended by my talking about this subject? Do you think this is too forward to post? Am I on my high horse?

And before you know it, we start removing our original thoughts, replacing them with ideas we perceive as less radical, less forward, less open to controversy, less offensive, and so on and so forth—all because we want to avoid conflict with strangers.

I disagree with this, of course. As a principle, I believe that if I have something worth writing about, something I feel strongly enough to write about for the public (even while trying to imagine—for sanity’s sake—that no one will bother to read it), then I should believe in it enough to post it.

To write the truth, you must assume no one will ever read it. In the end, you cannot make everyone happy with your words. Undoubtedly at some point, you will get a troll comment or maybe a reader will (hopefully) politely disagree with your ideas. And that’s okay. That is the point of expressing ourselves to others: to open ourselves to the perspectives of other people, even those who may not think like we do, and in turn to be opened by others.

As long as we can express ourselves tastefully and respectfully, we are at the helm of our own creative work. We must imagine we are erasing our thoughts into cyber-space, rather than generating them—that in erasing the notion of the unseen other, we are actually emerging in our words. And we should be proud when those others, the unknown public eyes, take the time to read our thoughts and even to comment their own in return. Because in doing so, we grow: as a community and as individuals.

Good writing should be honest. Even if the truth belongs only within the realm of our own understanding. So speak boldly and emerge.

Assume the only person in the world you’re writing to is yourself.

What do you think? Do you censor yourself before posting anything to the public?

C – Chaos

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” 

― Friedrich Nietzsche

Stardust dancing. Chaos splitting. We’re spinning, spinning . . . And I once pondered—am still pondering: What are these symbols—these words—that grow from those moments of connecting the disconnected? What are we if not the clearest representation of the beauty of a broken world? We are writers. We endure our inner-workings falling apart—falling together. Falling, all the same.

Falling . . . words often give me that sensation, as if I am falling up, toward a far-away point-of-no-return. Toward a reality that’s waiting just around the corner. My reality, a star—or dust—or some flickering light in between.

I have always seen words through gradients of potential: my potential savior, my potential weapon, my potential pain, my potential voice, my potential a glimmering supernova: the death of a star, not the birth of one. Go out with a bang, right?

Chaos doesn’t require a map. Neither does writing. That’s my problem. I’m always trying to define it: this wordy existence. But words often define themselves in layers (more gradients). I once analyzed poetry as a connection of systems: weave together unrelated systems with metaphor, build these abstract and complex meaning patterns (that probably no one else but me understands) based on the familiar systems we interact with on a daily basis. But words, though systematic in nature, are derived from something more illusory and subtle (or not-so-subtle, depending on your muse), from meanings we grow from ourselves and then define for others. The goal is simply to contain the energy enough that at least one person sees the burning mass at the center.

And that’s why I write, why I’ve always written. Not necessarily to create—to give birth to new stars—but to write about the dying ones, the chaotic universe in my own head. To write about the in-between places, to create my own internal systems.

Words give me the means to evolve—to make potential my reality: spinning spinning and stardust all the same.

How does chaos find its way into your writing? Let me know in the comments!


A – Alive

 “Unbeingdead isn’t beingalive.”

― ee cummings, “POEM(or”

I haven’t been doing a lot of pondering lately, which is probably a reflection of my (non-existent) creative climate. We all have our cliché highs and lows, and I can honestly say after an all-time staggering low, my writing life has all but disappeared.

Normally when I find myself among the soil in those trenches, digging up worms, kicking rocks, trying to find a ladder, or a vine, or a hand, recreating wings, I have turned to words, not away from them. I have always written myself into life again, sustained my sanity, uncovered answers. I have whined and rejoiced and pondered my way into some form of better, hopefully more coherent me. Always. With words.

And then I quit. Suddenly those words, which had always sustained me, gave me no pleasure or respite or even pain. In a lot of ways, they had betrayed me, or I them. I had squandered them on an unbeing. I felt as if I had been erased. Or as if in writing those words to define this other person, to write them into beingalive, I had started unwriting myself. I was lost. Something was missing. A word or a letter or a sound. Some voice in my head had just fallen silent. So I did what I imagine some proud, annoyed writers do. I quit.

I quit writing on The Sarcastic Muse, I quit writing my own work, I quit writing myself.

I found other outlets, albeit not creative, to distract myself. I’d hear echoes sometimes, characters whispering. Sometimes I’d pause long enough to listen, catch a remnant of a conversation, distantly waiting, but I’d catch myself. Turn away. Resist.

I don’t have a solid reason or an excuse or even an understanding as to why I have avoided words. All I know is that they have sat in waiting, like a reflection on a dark pool. My ghosts. Writers can’t stop writing. We die. Or something in us does.

ee cummings wrote that “unbeingdead isn’t beingalive” and I find it linguistically interesting that he compounds two synonymous words in order to form an antithetical meaning that clearly forms yet another parallel antithesis: unbeing [the act of not being] + dead [not being] == [the act of not being not being] =/= being [the act of being] + alive [being] == [the act of being being].

In the act of not writing, was I unbeing dead rather than being alive? And in writing this now, writing a bit of myself for the first time in months, am I beingalive and burying a little more of the unbeingdead back into history? Is this the notion of rebirth?

I have started this A-Z challenge with Robyn. I am writing myself into Alive, a tiny stumble into the beginning, a swim-upstream kind of challenge, but I am relieved, almost, to feel beingalive: to feel Alive like a small particle in the river, to drift, to rush, to maybe hit a wordwall waterfall. Or to drown in that smooth river way.

But to be

Or unbe—


Are you writing yourself Alive? 

Do You Write What You Know?

What do you think about the old adage of writing what you know?Hosseini Quote

I asked that a couple years ago in a post, and I’ll ask it again. That question still conflicts me.

Back when I was reading Margaret Atwood’s biography, I remember pausing over her process, pondering the way she frequently pulled from the familiarity of her own life to write intricately woven stories. She used Canada as a setting, places she’d been, streets she’d walked, people (or at least an outline of them) that she once knew. Her experiences influenced her fiction—and still do to this day.

However, Margaret Atwood is also known for her speculative works, which are based in the future, just a few of many possible alternative conclusions (scary as her worlds would be) of our current trajectory. She doesn’t know the future or which elements of the future in her novels will eventually (if ever) come to pass, and yet, the fearsome thing about her work is that it is easy to believe it could happen.

So, going back to the first question I wonder: Which is better? A mix of “Write what we know” and “Write what we’d like to know”? Or should we change our approach entirely to “What can we imagine?”

According to BRET ANTHONY JOHNSTON over at the Atlantic, we should go with the latter. When he started writing away from the familiarity of his own life, he found that “the shift was seismic.”

Delving into the deeper unknown and pursuing the more difficult, untreaded path is never easy.  I am a notorious perfectionist. The problem I have with writing what I don’t know is that I run into the feeling that I should know it. Then I start researching. Then I expand that research. Then I have this tendency of trying to know everything about everything and nothing gets written.

But I also have frequently submersed myself into the speculative world, envisioned a future that is not my own, of which I know absolutely nothing, and it has been a freeing lesson in creativity. In this world, my characters and the environment have rules, but they are not necessarily the same rules by which I live. Instead of pushing my own agenda upon them, the well-lit paths of my own past, for instance, I get to witness a new kind of life: one that is not my own to live, yet one that I will live anyway, through them. One that I will come to know, time and again, through my characters.

In that sense, maybe our characters do know best.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pull from the aspects of your life that you do know. It’s entirely possible to bridge the gap between both worlds, writing authentically about the strange, abstract unknown while still drawing from familiar outlines: the sprawling sunset you witnessed on a mountainside, learning a language in a foreign country, meeting a person that all but confounds you. These are real experiences, but they don’t have to meet the same fates as your own.

Abstract elements are combined and reinforced within the tangible nature of fiction. It’s not so much about what we know—it’s about what we could possibly know, and what we continue to learn, with each and every day the we experience the mundane, the novel, the risks.

So my conclusion? Write about the possibilities.

Stories aren’t about things. Stories are things.
Stories aren’t about actions. Stories are, unto themselves, actions.

-Brett Anthony Johnston