Analysis, Narrative, Quasi-fiction, Reflection

IHOP ‘Max Tomato’, ‘Hyperbolic Time-Chambers’, and my Dani…

Blogging at its truest: I “process-wrote” at Starbucks for over three hours. I’m accepting this. I have a novel pitch for readers to respond to but first I need to do some reflection — something ‘normal’ preceding a BIG lump of weird.

Inspiration is a powerful reason to live. I want to be inspired and inspire. I want my writing to do that but I am still working to accept the amount of time and practice necessary to reach proficiency. Proficiency itself is not ‘the problem’… it’s a piece of ‘the problem’.

Kirby returns to full-health by virtue of the tomato.

My mind continued chewing on ‘the problem’ as I washed storm-windows this morning, allowing smooth-jazz to massage the deeper, malleable folds of my brain. Precocity is the problem, not proficiency or perfectionism (if I were feeling stronger, I would reread that entry — tell me in the comments if I should). Proficiency comes with patience and practice; trumpet proficiency saved my life, once I let go of being better than others, faster. I imagined perfectionists as ‘too slow’, bogged with details, while I lashed myself repeatedly to do more, faster. It’s an anachornistic brand of proficiency; I have expected so many things from myself within finite, arbitrary bandwidths of time, under difficult psychological circumstances, that I might as well wish for a hyperbolic time chamber: more & faster by cheating. I really do need a set of goals that are not accomplishments: maintenance goals. Survival goals.

I needed to leave the house but I lost my car-keys — they were attached to my peace-of-mind, unfortunately. I went mad for ninety minutes then discovered them in the pocket of my bath-robe. Thirty minutes later I prowled on four-wheels around Olney shopping-center parking-lot in search of Starbucks, ravenous for caffeine. The second time I passed IHOP, my survival instincts revived. I felt like Kirby eating a max-tomato after my breakfast platter.

I hope to build proficiency as a fiction writer. My experiences with music taught me that putting more pressure on myself to reach proficiency only interfered with my ability to practice patiently. At some point, I accepted that no regimen was going to compensate for whatever leverage I missed as a youth; yet I continued to practice and never stopped improving. I needed to let other things be part of my whole, in the mean time. Irrationally, I thought writing HAD to be different — I wanted to magically “get hot” and feel… well, like The Smart Kid again: precocious. I still wanted every minute of life to count, to waste nothing… unless I was playing music, which automatically ‘counts’ whether anyone hears me or not. Music continues to be a miraculous, therapeutic concession to my inner-self and needs. I cannot deny that patient practice makes… bursts of happiness. The next time someone compliments my singing or my playing, I am going to say “I’m so happy that my music inspired you for a moment.”

My stories could be inspiring people, if I let them be therapeutic for me. At risk of being vulnerable, or of risking intellectual property (paranoia?), I need to start inviting people into my fiction writing process. As of right now, I haven’t been writing fictional prose regularly. That can change. Several story ideas never quite ‘died’ in my imagination and one of them could become my first, badly written novel. I never wanted to accept that as part of my journey but every writer produces an utterly un-precocious stinker on their way to gaining proficiency. My fantasy-novel idea seems most promising (speaking of hyperbolic time-chamber experiences). I first conceived of it while preparing for a thwarted 2010 NaNoWriMo attempt…

…my computer died and I relented…

My protagonist is named Dani (Danielle). She is a linguist struggling with, of course, trying to find a job after graduate school while coping with depression and processing an estrangement from her mother. As of right now, Dani is living with her married friends, Naila and James– in the spare room (like me). In the past, I imagined Dani being lost in the Grand River during a big storm, washing-up in another dimension; I’m considering a suicide attempt as the device, perhaps she eats the ‘wrong’ mushroom on purpose, lays down in the stream to die, then wakes-up in…

…the dungeon I dreamed of when I was eighteen. I have carried that place in my unconscious for thirteen years and I believe this is the story-line to wield it, since the short-story I originally wrote may be unusable. Dani escapes the dungeon, an allegory for morbid depression (obviously). She soon meets Geemo, a supernatural maternal figure borrowing from Grandmother Spider imagery in indigenous literature; that could be changed, if politics demands. Geemo is the wisest, most powerful figure in the story so I hope the allusion is welcomed. Through Geemo, Dani learns that she has entered a sandwiched world (working name is “B-realm”) — visitors from our more stable world (C), as well as from a chaotic, more magical dimension (A),  regularly wash/drop/erupt/whatever into Geemo’s domain; Geemo is the daemon of B-realm by virtue of skill, not birth-right. She isn’t royalty; she’s like a mayor, a priestess, and a CEO wrapped-into-one.

Initially, Geemo cares tenderly for Dani but it does not take long for her to see that Dani needs an assignment. Serendipity intervenes when Geemo hears of another young woman marooned in the B-realm: Tori (Victoria). This friendship is super important to the novel and I recognize I will need help writing about two women. Frankly, if I need characters I will be kinder to than I am to myself. If I create a male protagonist who shares so many attributes with me, like Dani, it will be too tempting to either ridicule him or else inflate his abilities to precocious levels. I want to harness what I felt the day I watched three action movies with my sister. We watched the first Thor movie and the third Batman movie together after I returned from Palestine. I was entertained. Then we watched the second Hunger Games film and I had a PTSD episode. Thor and Batman were distant ideals of masculinity; Catniss connected me with the vulnerability I felt while experiencing civil unrest during my service-term. Dani should be a character we can all bleed with, not a beta-male at whom we laugh. Plus…

…there could be a parade of male characters that represent my unattainable ideals. Dani might ‘try them’ one by one only to discover none can fill her Void. Her literal Void. Drawing from ideas of the Elements in Chinese Medicine, Geemo reveals to her that she has an exterior element and an interior element. The exterior element informs her talents naturally: she is Wind and she speaks easily with everyone and everything. Her breath is charmed, a linguist. Throughout the story, Dani is sensitized to her lack of strength and general ineptitude while everyone around her envies her ability to simply communicate. She has trouble appreciating that her speech gifts are what keeps her posse together; she feels like she isn’t “enough”. Her inner element is Void, an element whose true powers are difficult to predict. At unexpected moments, she is able to manifest another’s ability by virtue of her ‘inner void’ and its terrifying openness. Later in the story, she sets her mind to the task of mastering Metal as an element…

Tori is Earth with a Fiery center. Imagine the possibilities with me. Not to spoil too much, but I have fond ideas about what kind of woman Tori is. Short but gorgeous. Feminine features but in love with the outdoors. She is strong and kind but also guarding vulnerabilities wrought from past wounds.

Meanwhile, the primary antagonist of the story drops-in from the A-realm just as Dani is rising from C-realm. It is a mysterious being who Geemo surmises is Void with a Wind inside. Dani describes ‘it’ as a ninja, shade gray by night and cloudy beige by day. This visitor might go unnoticed if not for the fact it obviously wants to consume Dani, believing that she contains what it needs to — do what? If I speculate too much, it could under-cut the ominous vibe of this main antagonist. As the story progresses, ‘the ninja’ also seems to be gaining Metal power. But why? *wink* And does Tori need an antagonist — a being that is Fire on the outside and Earth within? Perhaps neither Tori nor her ‘balance’ are seeking each other…

Better be careful of spoilers *chin-rub* I’m having fun right now…

I want to throw around some character ideas. Does anyone have feedback?

Dani might meet a llama-like character early in the storyline, with whom she discovers her gift (she rescues him from a paddock outside of the dungeon). She names him Frank because he often says what he means. Frank’s mental age ranges somewhere between 15 and 17; he reminds her of theater friends from high school. When Dani is unkind to herself, Frank treats her sweetly and tries to cheer her. As she starts to take herself too seriously (becoming a Metal Mage), Frank begins teasing her in a sassy manner, straining their relationship.

‘Bruce the Dragon’ is two really old ideas of mine given new life as one. Tori and Dani acquire a mysterious egg that we discover only Tori can incubate because of her elemental combination of Earth/Fire. Geemo instructs them that the emerging creature is a supernatural modification of an animal borrowed from C-realm’s Permian period — its an enchanted therapsid, giving it a fusion of mammalian and reptilian features. As he bonds with a person, Bruce channels more of their gifts. He may channel some power (if any) from creatures he eats as their bodies digest in his gut! Dani insists on calling ‘him’ Bruce after a childhood friend who died at age 7 or 8. At his apex, Bruce the animal has the same mental age as Bruce the boy had. Expect Bruce to propel the story during a middle period of the novel, as Dani and Tori parent him together. His unnatural growth-rate will be a challenge.

Tori’s motivations are fuzzy to me right now but I know she must be the character with whom Dani spends the most time and energy.

Azrael: a white-knight-savior archetype; Nordic, of course. Geemo raised an infant boy for whom metal skills come easily. Dani will later go to train with Azreal’s sensei. Azreal is what Don Quixote believed himself to be: romantic hero. Dani is initially impressed with him, while he is enamored on Tori. Scorned, he leaves in a huff early and word of his great deeds reaches them now and again… met by shrugs. “Good for him, I guess”. Azrael IS his next conquest, whatever it may be.

Adnan: a poet-philosopher archetype; central Asian features, probably Persian. Geemo found him at the mouth of The Dungeon, too. He could present opportunities for me to write densely/cryptically or in poems (as Silko did in her book “Ceremony”). I haven’t decided what kind of quest he joins the two women for, or why, but something about it will change him. He will descend back into the dungeon, determined to re-enter B-realm and find his true origins. He might believe that he MUST understand EXACTLY from where he came before he can EVOLVE… an idea I still need to relinquish. If he succeeds, how can we ever know in the scope of this story? Should Azrael and Adnan be simultaneous to maximize their contrasts? I never plan to tell explicitly how old they are but Azrael should impress us as closer to twenty and Adnan closer to thirty… even though they are both approximately twenty-five.

[Phoenix]: a trickster archetype. This might be one too many characters for this story but I’ve considered introducing this character as a third ‘son’ of Geemo’s from A-realm and a ‘gray’ character. Shape-shifter. Double-agent. Working variously for The Ninja, for Geemo, for God-knows-whom. I want to keep him in-reserve so I am breathing him into life. His ultimate fate is unknown to me. His motivations might be ambiguous even to himself, despite his ability to become almost anything. He could be indecisiveness incarnate.

Okay. I’m running out of steam, now. I’ve done an unusual amount of character and concept development, things I would normally do without letting anyone see? Rather, things I haven’t done very frequently because I recognized the long process inherent in a project like this. When I wrote snippets from this concept in 2010 and 2011 I spent hours on tiny parts of the story-arc. The arc is slightly different now, though. There is one more character that must be included.

Patches, Dani’s stuffed rabbit. Dani cannot be without her well-worn companion during her suicide attempt. Patches comes to life during a strange event at the mouth of The Dungeon. The Ninja is able to enchant Patches during an early encounter, causing him to become a ghoulish wraith feeding on Dani’s insecurity. I haven’t decided how she parts with him but I know he returns. At almost the end of the arc, a Samurai with long ears introduces himself as Patches — though we are not allowed to see his face. He offers to aide Dani and Tori on their final mission; Dani is overjoyed and accepts but Tori has deep reservations. Afterall… if this really is Patches… from what emotion is he feeding, now? When my computer died almost eight years ago, I sketched Patches the Ghoul and Patches as the Dystopian Sumarai. I knew my depression (the ghoul) well at that time but the latter manifestation of Patches was something theoretical. Now, I have experienced that version of myself: the Megaman.

Did I say I was running out of steam? I anticipate that I will be tempted to judge all that I have created… and I need to accept that I am in a creative process which will be therapeutic for me. Still… I’m sighing for parts of my past life that I’ve lost. Yet I feel less overwhelmed by loss right now, high on coffee and sculpting my pet-project. I love Geemo, Tori, and Dani — learning to love Dani could mean so much. She has trouble seeing the ways she is already so proficient, so close to making an impact, so dear to the cast surrounding her. Like me, she’s going to lose her soul to her own armor first… trying to master an element that just isn’t her.

I didn’t always appreciate this but blogging is for my writing what my practicing was for my music. I mostly hear myself but I do grow, slowly, as I engage with this practice. I trust that as I read old entries and dare to write creatively more, the slow process of gaining proficiency can continue. In the mean time, will be able to stop myself from self-destructing? I think I’ve spent more than fifteen years wanting a psycho-spiritual and emotional revolution when what I needed was a healthier evolution. Is it still possible? I fear so much that I will just get sicker and sicker, coming closer and closer to my own self-inflicted death.

We’ll leave Dani and Tori for just a few chapters in the middle while Naila and James embark on a search that will cause them great distress as they face suspicion, as African Americans, from law-enforcement and medical personnel. Will they ever find their friend and clear their own names? How will they interact with Dani’s previously estranged family? How does this affect their working lives? Their marriage? I’m taking feedback on this aspect, too…

Thoughts? Please comment

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