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Behrman wept.

His whole life had been a sketch up until now. As he considered his visage in his bathroom mirror he traced the lines of his past in his face. Everything he had known had been a rudimentary pencil drawing—his birth, childhood, growth, experiences, heartaches, his art. All of it. It was all foolishness. Poppycock. A poor man’s dream of meaning. What had he lived for? Here it was. Now. Right in front of him. Behrman’s tears cut ages out of his cheeks, slit mediocrity from his pores, and a few drops that fell upon the old man’s lips tasted at once of a life-in-progress and a masterpiece. It was all the old man could do to stop from exploding right there on his linoleum. His heart was the entire world. The beat beat beating of his genius rang in his ears, eyes, throat, lungs. Behrman, 65 and alone could feel the weight of the universe on his shoulders and he welcomed it with a smile and a cry. “This is what I was born for,” he said to his reflection, and his reflection understood.

It was … too beautiful. It was … too perfect. He hoped to God he could pull it off.

When the end of his last day came, he did not know it as such. But Behrman did watch the sun disappear, as he did most nights, from the old, stone wall in front of his building. It wasn’t the best view of mother nature’s brilliance the world had to offer, but it was his and he had always held a deep, quiet, respect for that. When the sky turned from that bright, pristine white to that passionate fire-orange he gasped, every time. And then, faster than a brush stroke, all light faded away and Behrman was immersed in nighttime. There on his stone wall, the old artist sat, twilight after twilight, wondering how he would better the world, grasping at impossible ideas, coming up empty every single time. The most terrible thing in the world is for a creative soul to sit stagnantly waiting… waiting for his purpose to show itself. Being imprisoned behind a wall of doubt, shadows, and decadence has been treacherous for him. But tonight… on this night, everything would change.

The first star appeared and Behrman made his wish. The cold wind frazzled his gray beard and a chill ran up and down his spine. The old artist pulled his scarf tight around his neck. Tighter. Tighter still. The plaid wool choked him ever so slightly and he welcomed it. The tighter he pulled, the more he felt his life loosening away. The more he felt his life loosening away, the more he understood.

“Ah,” he said to the moon. “Tonight iz, I think, a good night for art.”

From above him, several trees shook their branches and dropped a thousand leaves at his feet. This was the end of autumn. This was the end of Behrman. He scooted his wiry, old self off of the wall and looked up. There was still a light on in Sue and Johnsy’s apartment. The old artist removed his pocket watch. It was not quite midnight.

Behrman’s bones ached. But then, Behrman’s bones had always ached. There had never been a moment the old man had lived where his creative soul had not tried desperately to appease his aching bones. And now he believed he had had it. Now, Behrman believed, was his time.

Across from Sue and Johnsy’s lit window, there was a wall.
Climbing up this wall, there was an ivy vine.
On this ivy vine, there were once leaves.
Just before the sun set on this autumn evening, the last ivy leaf had fallen.
Behrman’s ladder he propped against this wall.
Behrman’s ladder he climbed.
And as he painted, this dear man suffered.
And as he suffered, this dear man painted.
Art could care less who makes it.

Life is the ultimate masterpiece.

—————————————————-

For O. Henry.

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Have you ever attempted to write something you so fortuitously named Xanadu before even starting the thought, “What the frog am I going to write with a title like that?” Well here’s a tip: think that. Because otherwise you’re certainly going to go jaunting off into the mountains with snowshoes made from tennis rackets. Is there snow in Xanadu? You don’t know. You’ve never been, You’ve never even seen it on a map. But you do know it’s some rare kind of paradise so, now that you think about it, you can leave the snowshoes at home.

It’s possible, you fathom to no one, that Xanadu is some far away place in your imagination and that in order to get there, you may have to do some terrible things. It’s kind of like the “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” mentality except much more… dynamic! Because if it is indeed paradise you are seeking, then it is indeed paradise you will find. Just don’t expect to keep your morals in check. Not entirely, anyhow.

Or maybe Xanadu is a mid 70s band you are remembering. Yes. Didn’t they perform at the hippest rolly dinks? Wow how great did everyone look in bell-bottoms back then? Sweet Marie.

A damsel with a dulcimer.

Or… no there was your Xanadu. Back there before time ran out on you. Ah you young son of a bitch. Kissing the girls and making them cry under the whimpering willow tree on the hill. Had that truly happened? An exceptional breeze never lies; it also never leaves you.

You don’t know from Xanadu. No one can. But to be candid, who even cares? Why go there? You haven’t heard much word of mouth about it. Can’t be all that great. Besides, you’ve already used up all your vacation time and cashed in your miles when you went to Nevada last month to visit your 19 car pile up, wreck of a brother. Miles well spent. Did some blow. And oh shit now THAT was Xanadu. That was also two black nights resulting in two blacker eyes, a skull fracture, and a wife. Yeah, oops. Funny now though… almost.

Down to a sunless sea.

What was the name of those ball pits you used to jump around in as a kid? Were those damn things just called “ball pits?” How unfortunate if that’s true! But there was the once upon a time when you stayed under for what was, in kid time, akin to an eternity. Completely oblivious to mother’s profound worry. Hardly able to contain your usually robust giggling. And when she ran out of the Burger King play scape area to look frantically for you out in the parking lot, you swam comfortably under your multicolored plastic ball water, able to breathe, able to create, able to be transferred to a different, unbelievable place. To Xanadu.

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

Was that there where you saw it? The impossible light and shadows? Did these perfection anomalies envelop you, merge with you, become part of you? Because that is what happened to me. That is where I first was there. And that is when I last was when. And do you know that it was the damnedest thing because I knew. I mean, I really knew at that time that this was a never again moment. And the real treagedy of it is that I was just a dumbshit kid, unable to fully appreciate it. Fully grasp it. Never let go. … That is what it was like and how do you like that? All of these years traveling to the just beyond that is not quite right out of realms; all this time knowing it could never be–this fruitless, thankless task of yours. Yet you never stop, do you? Tell me, why do you think that is pleasant

To be forever drunk on the milk of Paradise?

——————

For Samuel.

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Quoth you, “Nevermore.”

Stuff it, birdbrain. You give us all a bad rap. And no, I don’t want to hear the excuse again of how when mother scooted you out you were caught unawares. How your wings were yet unformed and not nearly majestic enough. How the wind was brisk and heavy in the pale and cloudy sky. We all flew first under similar conditions. No doubt any of us were ready. But did we skull the earth? No. Our heads soared. We flew, brother. As we were meant to. Your excuses be damned. You have no right to do it.

Your virgin flight turned crash did jumble your thoughts. No doubt the impact made you asinine and you never fully recovered. You went mental, you see. Unable to speak your own thoughts or trust in your own words. You’re no better than a dime store parrot. And it pains me to say such things.

We ravens are an eloquent species who hail from the deep chasms of Beyond. We faithfully hold the darkest secrets of the underworlds. When, on occasion, we pay our haunting visits, it is our duty to fly under the radar (for the most part). We sit atop humanity’s various perches and glare down on the afflicted. They feel us, they sense us, they know what we are. But it’s all peripheral. We are captured memories of their lost loves. We are but faint whispers of what can never be. We are loss, yes. We are pain, yes. We are the horrific hurt when death is present. We are so much awfulness. Yet we are quintessential to the healing process. We roost in the depths of desperate, sunken souls and we fester there in silence, emitting but shards of woe and gloom. What we are to Recovery is what the Reaper is to Immortality: a means to an end. It’s a thankless job yes, but who else is going to choose to do it?

When one of us goes astray from the flock, dear brother, and makes himself “known” to his sad host, all hell breaks loose within.

“Nevermore.”

Did you not feel his suffering? As soulless sphincters of the night, we are meant not only to feast QUIETLY on memories but also to dole out sore sorrow in slight measures. That facet of the job is literally on page 2 of the handbook. You overstepped your bounds when you spoke. You tore your man in two with your badgering. Our job, my friend and brother, is not simple but it requires much sympathy for the weak. Your sympathy is flailing, just as your body flailed from mother’s perch that cold, drearsome day when she forced us out. Out and up we fell (whether fly or crash) from Night’s Plutonian shore.

Now Neptune’s caught us napping and my brother, we are scrapping,
Scrapping for some way to bring you down from that man’s door—
From that place you perch and parrot words you think are solely yours,
We come from Hell, dear brother, we are but ghosts forevermore.
Yet…
I cannot help but wonder if you tore this man asunder
How he’d fare in our Down Under with his fair and flawed Lenore.
Would he weep with her eternal in the cage of death’s inferno
As the life they built together turns to dust above our shore?

You should take him now, my brother.
Bring him to Lenore.
Sit still no seconds longer, use your claws, you bleak death monger,
Triumph over life and cease this misery of yore.
Sink your devil’s beak into your victim’s flesh (it’s weak) and wrap your blessed wings round his heart and sudden horror—
Rack yourself with guilt as you deliver him to our shore—
For this is all your doing,
This unnecessary ruin, and your punishment will be congruous with what you have in store
For the life of this poor man whose wife was named Lenore.

“Lenore.”

Cease your awful teasing now! climb down from that damn door!
Take this man and crush him like you should have done before!
Or so help me Zeus, I’ll thrash you and destroy your very core!
Bring him peace and kill him for his love and life are o’er!
Hang it, man, for our sakes, for your brothers, I implore!

And yet, you sit there, laughing with your taunts and your unmasking
Of my fears—
You’re gently basking in your current state of power
In this, the bewitched hour,
You are wicked evermore.

You are coarse and you are evil, yet you are simple, you are feeble,
I must help you see these people who are more than blank and see-through.
Brother… I will join you on your bust upon his chamber door.
Together we will carry him to shore.
This I ask, and nothing more.

You, raven, are Lingerer.
Thus I humbly name you as I try my best to save you
From the clutches of your scattered brain that brought you to this chamber bust upon this poor man’s door.
That brought you to this place, this life! This treasure trove of woe and strife.
This compost heap of ashen humanity, this dogged place of sick, black blasphemies.
You seek the calm composure that lies within your deepest exposures.
You plague yourself with guilt upon humanity’s sad memories of yore.

And you.
You awful creatures with your human-esque type features
And your souls and pristine hearts that damage quick and with much gore—
You truly are a whorish chore.

So yes, I see, my brother, how one could feel such cold thunder in his breast for these, our subjects who
Writhe and reek upon the floor.
Only this I can relate to, only this, and nothing more.
But should the captains find us then we’ll flee on wings of madness, shrieking songs and cries of Mercy:
“Let us in. Forevermore!”

——–
For EAP.

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I just got a call from a writer friend of mine. He says he was writing all day today. I don’t know whether or not I believe him. Besides, the day isn’t even over yet, Captain Obvious. But also, he’s just not the type. In fact, he’s much like me. Most of his creative process involves sitting around, not writing, and cursing muses (apologies, Maya). But he says he did it today. He got past a really difficult passage in his autobiography. And then he posted a very small bit of it on his blog. So rather than divulge his secrets to the world, I’ll let his own words tell his story.

Click here, but I assure you, it isn’t pretty.

Good for you, Marcus. It takes guts for telling it like it was. I hope you share more in the future. And send some of your inspiration my way! Well, not your exact inspiration. Jesus, I mean, who are you, anyway? Please keep your personal demon-inspirations for yourself. I’m speaking of your fire. Yes, send me your fire. I want to write.

Does listening to writers tell their writing stories inspire you? Push past the jealousy part. I’m talking to myself now. Tear that sucker block wide. I know, it’s not easy. It feels like you’re trying to separate yourself from a big ball of liquid nitrogen-laced taffy and bad similes. But once you chew yourself free, you can lick your chops clean. Tastes like steak, rare now. Or much rarer oysters. Have a pearl.

You can get going on your own dream now.

Today’s Writing Assignment: Release yourself from your taffy.

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I just wrote over 2,000 words of my novel-in-progress and I want a cookie. Actually, what I want is to not stop. But I did stop. Why? I don’t know. I guess I was writing for about 2 hours and that seemed like enough on this Easter Sunday. At the start, I was just bumbling along slowly and awkwardly. I know my words sucked because I was there, writing them. My sentences were staccato and the only purpose they served was to move the plot along. Yes, they tell the story and that is the most important thing. In fact, that is really the only thing a first draft should be. Just get your story out. No matter how painful, no matter how ugly, just get the story out. I have to keep reminding myself that. It’s ok. It’s shit but it’s ok. Because if you ever finish your first draft, you can then go back and rewrite the whole damned thing.

That’s not to say that you can’t make your first draft better while you’re writing it. Of course you can. I just don’t like to spend too much time doing so. I once read an interview with Tom Robbins. In the interview, he said that when he sits down to write a book, he has a general idea of his plot and maybe some characters mapped out roughly in his head, but that’s it. He begins with a sentence. And then he re-reads that sentence. And then he rewrites that sentence. And he continues rewriting and perfecting until he has, what he declares to be the best sentence he can write. And then he moves onto sentence number two. Mr. Robbins said that this is how he writes his novels. Whether or not you believe him is up to you. In fact, I’m not 100% sure I’ve got this right so maybe you shouldn’t take my word for it either.  I’ve told that story so many times over the years that it’s possible I’m exaggerating what he originally said. If so, my apologies to Mr. Robbins. But I have read almost everything he’s written and whether or not my memory is accurate, the man is a brilliant writer and I’m sure that some semblance of my description of his writing process is true. I also think he’s a madman. I could never work that way. I’d go crazy. Or, I’d go nuts. Or, I’d go bonkers. Or, I’d lose my ability to make sense in my mind. Or, or, or…

But back to what I wrote this morning. Like I said, the beginning was rough. But after 500 words or so, I started feeling it. The characters were seeming more real to me and the plotline was feeling less forced. The story was finding itself. I was reaching the point where you realize your breath is heavy and you are too scared to blink because if you blink you might miss something. Your story might get away from you. I’m pretty sure I was blinking, though. And I’m pretty sure my story was not getting away from me. I’m also certainly sure that it was not the best writing I could have done. But that’s ok because I’ll come back to it in the future. And I’ll make it better. For now though, I’m just happy to be writing. Very.

Of course the ride is scary. Of course you’re going to feel like a hack and a nobody. Such is the curse of the unpublished. The trick (and it’s not an easy one to master) is to plow forward despite your fears. You have to stop thinking about the riches and/or fame you will achieve when you get on the NY Times bestseller list. Because, let’s face it, you may never get there. You have to stop writing towards that goal and just be comfortable and happy with the project you are working on because you believe in it. That is the most important thing of all. To believe in yourself and your writing and your story. What’s the worst that could happen? You could die before you finish your first draft? Geez I hope not! But just in case, you’d better pound it out, huh? And hey, if you’re writing, and you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom and you’re stuck in the doldrums with the seagull shit and the seaweed, just keep writing! Let it be this heinous thing with crab’s legs and a jackass’s heart. It won’t always be that way. Keep going. Get up. Go back to the top of the slide. You’ll see you again. The right words will come.

Today’s writing assignment: Don’t stop until you do. And then be ok with it. And have a happy Easter.

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Quit your job. Be a writer!

“Yeah right. It can’t be done. Not just like that. It takes years and years of practice. Hone your skill. Bravery isn’t good enough. Desire just leaves you hanging. And artistry will surely starve you.” Who said that? Your family? Your friends? Nice family. Nice friends. Maybe you misheard them. Maybe that was you speaking. Maybe your friends and family believe in you but just want the best for you. Maybe they said “Be careful, Dear. Just know what you’re getting yourself into.” And maybe you heard that as “Don’t quit your day job, meat packer.” Words and emotions so often get lost in translation.

Then how do you become a writer? If it’s been your passion for as long as you can remember and it’s been with you through thick and thin all these years, perhaps you already are one. Blow up some balloons and enjoy some cake and confetti, writer, you are here! Hooray! But don’t go forsaking your paycheck. Not just yet. Man cannot live on bread alone, especially the slightly eccentric artist man. He also needs beer.

In my first real blog search for a real writer, I came across Lua Fowles and her big bowl of oranges. Lua is a 23 year old writer living in Istanbul. Last June, she graduated from law school and started working in a “dumb ass Law firm with stack up Lawyers and it took [her] a week to say, ‘the hell with you,’ and quit at the spot.” Now, with her soul well in tact, she is pursuing her writing career and attending Canterbury University to get her masters in Creative Writing in the fall. Tres admirable, Lua. I think Bon Jovi said it best when he sang, “When passion’s a prison, you can’t break free.” Yes, Bon Jovi.

Do you have to quit your job to be a writer? No. Would it be awesome? Yes. Do I recommend it? No. Do I admire those who do? Yes. Is Bon Jovi the son of God? No. But Lua broke the law and now she is serving her sentences on silver platters. Amen, sister.

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