Tense Beat, Bottom Line

Around this time last year, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, my 2016 writing goal seemed simple enough: start an online blog.  I hoped the self-imposed monthly deadline to write something (anything!) for Punctuated Equilibria would provide enough pressure to keep me writing regularly. I presumed the benefits would include both good practice and mental exercise. Furthermore, the public nature of blog writing seemed a means to gain confidence with the concept of “putting it out there.” A means to a thicker skin. Perhaps to a braver self.

Okay, okay. Neither brave nor thick-skinned enough yet to enable comments. But I digress.

Committing to this blog all year forced me into a deeper-thinking mode on a routine basis. Do you sometimes get the sense that “deep thinking” has lost its cultural value lately? Is there a Boromir meme for “One does not simply think things through”? I’m the first to admit, I could stand to develop better habits of mind. I believe Punctuated Equilibria has been helpful to that end. Of course, one could further debate the dubious cultural value of overanalyzing topics like dog bites and goth zines. Still, good mental habits develop from the exercise of analyzing a given topic—appreciating multiple perspectives, considering the devil in the details, and drawing analogous connections to invoke a message. Critical thinking expands awareness and increases understanding.

Ironically, sometimes the awareness is that one doesn’t totally understand. But that’s part of the work of thinking: there’s a reason it’s easier just to not.

Overall, writing here regularly for the past several months has been gratifying. Some entries stole many hours away from sleep and weekends; I dutifully traded the time. I consider writing a vocation. And for what that’s worth, keeping a blog has been an important experiment with a contemporary forum for personal writing.

As 2017 looms, however, my next New Year’s writing goal weighs heavily on my mind. Last year’s screenplay competition deadlines came and went. For all my revising and story-convention-contemplating and believable-character-flaw-development and all-around big talk—I still haven’t deemed my scripts ready to participate.

I need to cut the cord on one of these stories and, well…put it out there.

The artistic balance to strike: between putting-best-foot-forward and perfectionistic-control-freak-ism. Can I muster enough insight to know when to stop revising, say “good enough,” and move on? Sure I can, given all the time in the world. But in lieu of that, even better: give myself a 2017 writing goal.

With only so many available hours each week to devote, and with only so much mental energy to expend, I’m re-committing all my writing time toward the new goal of submitting a script to a competition next year.

Tense beat.

Bottom line.

This blog will go silent for a while—silent as I focus on the writing I consider closest to my heart these days. Silent, certainly until I upload something to Withoutabox and rightfully toast a completed goal.

Maybe it’ll be March? Okay, okay. Maybe October.

Best wishes to you with the New Year,

Lara

Overwhelming Questions

Overwhelming questions:

From a standpoint of compassion, from a position of immense privilege, what actions can I take to protect the vulnerable in my community?

How does one cultivate compassion while remaining vigilant and active in the fight against injustice?

 

Current steps:

Gathering information. Vetting veracity. Processing emotions.

Working toward answers to these questions.

 

In the meantime, I implore anyone reading this:

Please.

Please actively engage in street-level kindness and face-to-face compassion.

I’ll do it too.

Story Excerpt No. 5

If you know my kind, you’ll recognize the art of the creep. Front-facing chair at an innocuous angle. Trappings of homework on the little table in front of me, arranged slightly askew: pen, pencil, journal, assignment sheet, coffee cup. Me, seated in a relaxed-looking slouch position. It appears to the naïve onlooker that, whenever I gaze  in Sean’s approximate direction, I’m merely concentrating on my assignment. No, I’m not watching for his shy but warming smile. No, I’m not waiting for his dark forelock to swish in front of his eyes for a second before he pushes it behind his ear. No, I’m not yearning for a glance at that awesome goldfish tattoo, by which Eddie would be so cynically amused.

I’m contemplating. Oh, now I’m writing something down, see? Mulling it over. Jotting another note.

I’m none too proud of myself at the moment. I walked into Café Amor Fati with an armful of Mr. Crosthwaite’s homework, real work that needs to be done. But it’s impossible for me to concentrate with Sean working the counter. Mine is the self-defeatism of a true professional. I can make wrong choices in my sleep.

Amor fati: what an irony.

I sip coffee, Sean pleasantly positioned within my peripheral vision’s scope, as the entry bell jingles over the door.  A beautiful woman steps into the coffee shop, and I feel a twist in my gut, a flash of warmth across my face. I mean, beautiful. The epitome of self-confident feminine femaleness, my polar opposite, all pleasance and charm and sensuous simplicity with an air of tacit complexity and oh God I can hear his friendly, “What can I get started for you?” and my heart wrenches with ire and I feel like I might cry or be sick or scream and she orders a latte.

I flip my hood up to block my view, stretch it along the sides of my face like a curtain. “How’s your day going?” Sean asks her, and she says something witty and bewitching. “So far, so good,” as I grip my pencil, and then, “How about yours?” as I break the fresh, pointy lead on the paper. I glare at the rough-edged stump, a mere remnant of good intent. “Pretty good, sun’s still out,” he says. “Stormy weather’s rolling in soon.” I set the sorry pencil down, take up the proud pen. Stare down at my assignment sheet through the fabric tunnel of my own ridiculousness:

You have achieved Step One toward the dissolution of writer’s block. You have begun to psychoanalyze your muse.

I smirk, tapping the pen, recalling Crosthwaite’s class lecture. “’The geese do not wish to leave their reflection behind; the water has no mind to retain their image,’” he’d recited, strolling along the rows between desks. “You and your muse are not dependent upon one another for existence or significance. Nonetheless, the connection between you manifests in the art you create—which, once loosed upon the world, holds its own manner of self-sovereignty.” He’d stopped at my desk-side, freaking me out a little. Looked down at my backpack on the floor, considering the Filth band patch sewn on the side.

“‘Live the chaos,'” he read aloud. Classmates around me shuffled, someone laughed quietly. My face heated up. “Live the chaos, yes,” he said. “Let’s take that advice.” Smartass. Was he making fun of me?

“It’s just the name of an album,” I sullenly tried to tell him. But by then, Mr. C was already wandering through the desk rows again.

Per your prior assignment, you’ve now documented your primary sources of inspiration and personal influences. This five-item list itself becomes a resource for further discussion.

I suck down more coffee through my hood-tunnel. Turn to the first page of my journal, take a look, cringe a little. In class, Mr. Crosthwaite had demanded to know: “What makes an impression upon you? What compels you to action? What, by your very nature, must you love? What must you hate?” At home later, self-soothed by two cheap beers and one bad joint, I’d composed my list:

  • Babysitting (hate)
  • Airplanes/flying (hate)
  • Punk rock records (love)
  • Looking around in people’s houses when they don’t know (love)
  • Tales of heart-rending misfortune (love)

On Monday, we’ll relate your list of inspiration sources to the discourse of complexity. Be prepared for class by considering the following questions.

Monday. Tomorrow. Mr. Crosthwaite’s going to pick on me, I just know it. Stupid Filth patch.

Question 1: What do you consider to be the simplest item on your list? What potential complexity could arise from this simplicity?

Not rocket science. Concentrate. I lay my journal down flat in front of me, open to the page where I’ve jotted my list. Question 1, Question 1. Question 1 was actually two questions in one, dammit…

Relax. Think. I write the word Simple at the top of the next blank journal page. The simplest item on my list had to be punk rock records. Unlike the other items, which were saturated with context-sensitivity and emotional baggage, a Blatz or Op Ivy record simply was what it was—a specific and proper noun with no grey areas. It was pure. It had weight, mass, location. Its identity was not dependent upon opinion or circumstance. Satisfied, I scribble on the next page of my journal for a moment, then close my eyes to think.

What complexity could arise from something so simple? What could contaminate such purity? Scratches? Warping? The fact that you gave away all your duplicate LPs to your ungrateful ex?

The beautiful woman with the latte has passed my table and sits at a booth behind me. I push my hood back, eager for a tranquilizing glimpse of Sean. He’s still at the counter. Now he’s taking money from some high school kids and smiling that same warm expression that turns my center to liquid. What a genuinely kind smile he has. It is in itself a simple thing, unburdened by ulterior motives or self interest. Eddie’s smile was always more like a sneer. Eddie’s smile shone brightest when he was one-upping someone with a sarcastic jab.

I could enjoy many years to come basking in the warm, simple smile of Sean St. John.

Once more, I contemplate potential complexity of punk vinyl. I guess there could arise issues of authenticity—you might accidentally pick up a bootleg. Or rarity—finding a first pressing or limited edition is cause for celebration. I jot these down. What about the fact that I won’t even walk into a record store if I have no money to spend? Collecting records can be something of an addiction. Complexity arises from issues of temptation, of self-discipline. I write, Coping with desires. I stare at it, uncomfortable with the wording, and scratch at it for a second. Coping with material desires, it says now. I scribble it out and write, Coping with obsession.

Question 2: What do you consider to be the most complex entry on your list? What potential simplicity could arise from something so complex?

Suddenly I’m attacked at the lower buttock by an insistent buzzing vibration. I jump up with a “Whoa!” and rattle the little table, splashing coffee over Mr. C’s assignment sheet, the tabletop, the floor. I manage to brace the little table before anything falls, but I don’t dare check to see if I’ve gained Sean’s attention. I turn away, toward the back corner of the room. I grapple in my back pocket for the stupid cell phone, which has been on vibrate since I’d missed Mom’s last call.

“Honey, how’s everything going?” Mom asks. “I heard you had dinner with Aunt Mir last night—that’s great.”

“Yup,” I say. News sure gets around fast.

“She said you’re looking happy and healthy. Sounds like this Kansas visit is doing some good. Helping you get past this whole Eddie thing.”

It bugs me, hearing my mother say that name just now. I chew on a response, then swallow it. Turn my head slightly, stealthily: Sean’s profile is visible at the espresso machine. I look back down at my homework, eager to change the topic. “So did you go on that date with Frank yet?”

“Francis. As a matter of fact, we went out last night for the first time.”

“How’d it go?” I write the word Complex on the next page of my journal.

“It went well. We had tapas on Capital Hill, caught a jazz band downtown. A couple of drinks….”

“Wow, that’s quite a first date.” I flip back a couple of pages to my inspiration list.

“I was pleasantly surprised. He’s funny and friendly. And handsome too.” I metabolize this last comment with a shudder, turn to my assignment page to write, Other people’s houses. “How about you, honey?”

How about me? Tread carefully. It’s a mom-ism, emotion-laden and context-sensitive. “Oh, I’m just fine.” I look across the room again at Sean. Feeling bold, I actually watch as he wipes down the countertops. The goldfish tattoo moves subtly along the muscles of his arms as they adjust and stretch; the forelock of dark hair hides his eyes for an instant, and he brushes it back with his palm. A perverse train of thought pops into my head right then—Just go for it, for once! Be one of those liberated one-night-stander women! Break the Eddie hex! You’ll leave for Seattle in three weeks, and you’ll never see him again. Be crazy, go wild… Live the chaos! I shake it off.

“I should go. I’m in a café now and I’m probably bugging people.” I cross out the line I’ve just written in my journal, and replace it with a new scrawl: Tales of heart-rending misfortune.

“I love you.” She says it, I say it back. It’s our thing.

I stare at the page again, the words there. Consider the infinite complexity of the lovelorn, the unlucky, the wayward, the lost: timing is everything, for better or worse. The root of so much we take for granted can be traced to sheer coincidence, woven into a mad tapestry of complexity as robust as the universe and all of time itself. And love? Love above all! At essence, it emerges from complete chaos, no matter the medium: a blind date—high school sweethearts—work partners—tandem seats on a bus—it’s all random, chance. Amor fati, indeed.

Love is just an accident, an outlier, a by-product.

Its dissolution, therefore, must be as natural, all-pervasive, and law-bound as entropy itself. The simplicity that arises from the tales of heart-rending misfortune? I write it down: Predictable but inevitable.

“I’ll take that, if you’re done with it,” a voice says at my shoulder.

I whirl around. And I mean, whirl. Like a ballerina on her toes. Or maybe a tornado ripping through a quiet Kansas wheat field.

“You’re about empty.” Sean St. John is standing right. Next. To me. Pointing at my coffee cup. He glances at the splatter of coffee on the floor. “Oh, did it spill? I can get you a refill.”

He turns to walk away, and I say “No!”

No is such a heavy word. It can be so emotional. Contextual.

“Well, I don’t want to take it if you’re not ready.” He smiles. Is he making fun of me?

Tense beat. He’s not. He seriously is not….

“You can take it,” I breathe. “I’m ready.”

Finite

When I was a kid, time seemed infinite. In those dreamlike years before junior high’s end-of-innocence reckoning, summer breaks were an annual stint of freedom: three full months of 70s-era-childhood, running free range in a small town. Meanwhile, each elementary school year endured eternally; graduation to the next grade was a personal evolution.

I had no concept of the finite back then. Time was a vast ocean. I floated, buoyed and boundless. I recognize a similar mental paradigm in my own kids’ assessment of time, change, and future plans. Yes, they are impatient, and often bored as children are prone to be—things consistently take “forever,” and rewards delayed in any way will “never” happen. Yet these very words themselves belie childhood’s core naivete: sweet oblivion to the gristly existential meat of what forever and never really mean.

Through later childhood, this sense of floating in time gave way to a new mental paradigm: movement through time. Forward trajectory. The precise analogy varies with the environment of the era. A sense of transformative growth accompanied new creative pursuits and many years in school: upwards, outwards. Caterpillar to butterfly. Seed to tree. Tendrils of a vine, expanding in many directions, intertwining and combining with its environment to climb higher.

During a dark period of change in my late twenties, time’s forward-movement analogy best befit a tremulous walk along a tightrope in the dark. Only my most immediate steps were illuminated, and I had no confidence in my final destination. One wrong move seemed to threaten disaster. In such anxious times, excitement for the future was exchanged for dread and uncertainty.

In the earliest years of new parenthood, time flowed like a powerful river (please forgive the cliché). Control was surrendered to new-infant chaos—which was, in truth and retrospect, not chaotic at all, but rather a discernible pattern of feeding, sleeping, and growing cycles. These were sweet little cycle-patterns of eddies and swirls, all moving together in the general direction of time’s rushing river. Oh, man. Time’s rush is everything with a baby in the house. Exhilarating. Exhausting. There were moments when I felt in harmony at last, flowing with All Time. There were also moments I felt myself drowning, crushed by the rush, unable to cope.

The concept of time’s finiteness has loomed dark and imminent lately. Just in the past year, my mental paradigm began to transform again, although I struggle as yet to identify the best analogy. What triggered this change? Perhaps returning to school last year—being on campus again, participating in a creative classroom setting. It was a pleasant if bittersweet re-experiencing of a youthful tradition. Or perhaps it was the onset of new, degenerate effects of age, beyond the occasional grey hair and laugh line. I hear it just gets better….

In anticipation of my forty-fourth birthday, I’ll call this new looming finiteness a midlife crisis of mind. Maybe a midlife epiphany. In all recent considerations of time, awareness of the finite has lent a new sense of exhilaration—if alongside a twinge of morbidity. It has invoked a life-affirming restlessness—or maybe it’s panic, dulled by midlife exhaustion. Time’s running out! Only forty-four more years to go! But I’ll still be in bed by ten.

In all recent considerations of time, the sense of time as finite has, for better or worse, replaced previous paradigmatic concerns. It has replaced worry over the crushing river’s rush. Replaced dread over the trembling tightrope in darkness. In the first mistaken analogy, the river rushes on forever. In the second mistake, the tightrope never ends.

Sometimes it seems like life is taking forever. But listen up, kids. It isn’t.

Time is running out, and it is never guaranteed.

Ghost Gallery Group Exhibit

I’m excited and honored to be included in the upcoming group show at Ghost Gallery in Seattle. Four of my Tarot-themed mixed media art prints will be included in the exhibit, and additional prints and greeting cards will be available as well.

The show opens during Capitol Hill’s First Thursday Artwalk, Sept. 8th, 5 pm to 9 pm.

ace of wands email-postcard

Blue Cats and Goal Posts

This August, I’m participating in the BlueCat GoalPost screenwriting challenge: write three pages each day, with the goal of completing a movie screenplay in one month.

In terms of sheer motivation to write, GoalPost is absolutely working. I start each day eager to touch base on my script, ready to get some words on virtual paper toward my daily allotment.

However, it’s Day Seven, and I’m already behind. This is no shock. But I’m cheating keeping up by recycling chunks of verbiage from previous attempts at similar scenes. Although resorting to old draft work to speed things along was not my original plan, I rationalize that it’s fine toward my ultimate goal. My intent with this month is to complete a substantial rewrite of my first completed screenplay, which has been cooling on the mental back burners for a few months now. Including those scenes that worked in prior drafts is just a matter of efficiency.

Right? Sure.

Here’s what else I’ve learned so far:

  1. Gaining more comfort with conventional formatting will help me write faster, and that will come with time and practice. So with that in mind, I plan to continue working at my own pace, practicing until sheer repetition (hopefully) ingrains this knowledge.
  2. A time-sucking habit it would pay to shed is the tendency to re-read entire swaths of script-so-far, going back to tweak previous sections. If I were working toward a professional deadline, the tradeoff would be worth it. But I get such a kick out of doing this, it’s proving to be a tough habit to break. Speaking of tweaking:
  3. I must create a better system of recording what I need to fix in previous sections. I have a couple notebooks. I type stuff in my phone. I write on my hand with Sharpie. I’ll be investigating options for my best single-source brain-dump system in the near future.

After the August challenge is over, I’ll follow up this post with any further lessons learned and new strategies.

Good luck to any readers out there participating in the challenge.

For the Love of Zines

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When I encountered my first zine, it was love at first sight. A punk kid was handing out Xeroxed copies of his masterwork in the halls of my high school between classes. As I leafed through those stapled pages, I knew instantly: I wanted more. This was something I wanted to do.

The year was 1988, the beginning of my sophomore year of high school. In this pre-internet era in Topeka, Kansas, underground music culture was barely accessible. Having the university town of Lawrence half an hour up the highway helped. All breeds of underground music fans shared space at the Outhouse punk venue just outside Lawrence. Love Garden Sounds opened its doors in 1990, and swiftly became a sacred weekend destination for Topeka alt-rocker teens in search of rare vinyl.

Topeka had its bright spots, too. The Basement all-ages club spun a decent New Wave selection, making for an appreciated gathering place. If resourceful, one could special-order Fields of the Nephilim on vinyl through World Records on ‪6th Street. Mother Earth just down the road carried Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy on cassette.

And for those inclined to reach out and network beyond Kansas borders—inclined to make contact with that romantically (over)-idealized “world beyond the Fly-Over-States”—well, there were zines.

Being so inclined, I started my own goth fanzine in 1990, which came collated and hot off the Kinko’s press in ’91. The world of zine crafting and trading became a primary creative outlet and collaborative platform that lasted for years. Zines were my main means of expanding awareness of underground subculture. They were a resource for learning about bands, fashion, and even films, as well as sharing art and writing.

Perhaps most importantly to me personally, zines were a means of establishing a unique brand of friendship. Although also bought and sold (usually for a dollar or two), zines were typically traded among their creators through the mail. We shared pieces of our lives and loves with one another through this medium both literary and artistic—both privately inspired and motivated, and yet vulnerably, purposefully public.

In this digital age, online communities are instantly accessible, focusing on any area of interest of which you could possibly, wildly dream. For every networking desire out there, it seems there’s a corresponding social media opportunity to connect and self-validate. But in the late 80s and 90s, zines were the primary way of connecting folks who shared arcane and under-the-radar interests. They networked bands, fans, penpals, artists, and zine-traders all across the world.

Today the significance of paper zines has shifted as their purpose has changed. But their status as an art form remains—perhaps holding stronger now than ever, emphasized by their survival in this era of immediate electronic engagement.