Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Cannot Overstate the Preposterousness of This

A theme of this series—'this' 'series' being me, humble scribe (hello. it me.) writing about the process of channeling the work that you, Reader, know as Erra's Throne

a theme of this series is:

things that many people,
your humble scribe most absolutely included,
have had the good fortune to be taught
about writing
since they were in many cases rather young;
things like 'show, don't tell';
'don't overwrite; or, if you do, go back and edit'; or, conversely,
'your best arguments and material may be buried behind many words of much less good material; be disciplined: sit down and work your way through';
all these things that, honestly, your humble scribe
has been blessed with the extraordinary good fortune
of having been taught by teachers
and even guided on by peers
since a very young age...

a theme of this 'series', perhaps the theme of this series,
is what a hard f#*king time I still have with these things.

This is why, Reader-friend, your scribe (me) is 'humble'. I have many faults, as a writer and person, but I promise that—at least in this case—affectation's not one. The humility's true and extremely well-earned; I am a broken vessel, and the best I can hope for is to patch, somewhat, some of the cracks in my making.

Thank you for journeying with me as I do!

I'll return, further down, to one of these simple lessons and my (latest) failure to learn it. But first,

A Digression about Putting Words in the World
I've written eight (8) posts about the process of writing Erra's Throne, including one in November 2017 (fourteen months ago) in which I first articulated and embodied this persona in this space.

I have drafted 49 posts, some of them hundreds or even thousands of words long (I originally typo'ed that to "hundreds of thousands of words long" which...l0l. It's not that bad), as part of 'this' ostensible 'series' of observations about the process of &c.

And, in fact, in addition to those 49 unpublished drafts, there are...wait holdon lemme...twenty (20) drafts in a Scrivener folder dedicated to this ostensible u get it.

The backlog of posts is not quite so bad as summation implies; there is some overlap between these two collections, and therefore the total of unpublished work in this vein is not quite 49 + 20 = 69. But, it is close. Close enough that the point, as I'm making it, stands: there's a lot of writing sitting around in some digital shed gathering dust. And what is striking about this, to me, for today, is that it is this kind of writing we're talking about:

loose, experiential, first-person commentary; the kind of writing that is supposed to (and does, indeed) flow rather easily and—more to the point—not require fine-tuning, chiseling, improvement;

writing that is instrumental and communicative rather than experiential and/or immersive;

'just talking 2 u' writing, rather than the carefully wrought (for worse, and for better) prose that shows you, dear Reader, the story of Emmy, and Stang, and of Erra.

I'm not sure why this is: why even this casual side-commentary seems to be trapped in the bēt ṭuppi of rigor and effort that still houses the prose of the story itself. I'm not sure why I have held onto it in this way. It's understandable with the prose of the story; perhaps not right, even in that case—that's another topic; let's not get diverted—but absolutely understandable: I can give an account for why the text of the story (for worse, and for better) is precious and takes certain work, certain iterations (many) to be ready.

But this stuff? Right here? This is meant to be not precious; meaning, in this case, both the positive and negative senses of that word (hopefully, with respect to the prose of the story itself, the negative sense attains...minimally, if that. I'm trying. ). It's easy, not hard; this. And it is: easy.


I've got dozens and dozens of these posts, unpublished. Long posts, complete thoughts. Because they...needed a little more work, or weren't formatted yet, or...whatever! wutever.

I'm not sure I can articulate—in a real, useful way—what the holdup is. With any of this; certainly, not with this part. I was and am eager to open the process, to open myself to you, Reader, in this way.

I don't have more to say on this. That's where this is. w8, no— one thing, one more thing. That's pretty important:

Amidst all the work and the months and the years, it has also...not 'always', but 'usually' felt, in such a way that yes I think the feeling-of-this is real:

It's usually felt like I am making progress at something. ('At what?' Separate question.) That I am doing something material and real and that, in fact, the day may arrive—unexpectedly, perhaps—when the dominoes all are aligned and...tip:

down they go.

Okay. Enough of that. Back to:

"What is the 'This' That's 'Preposterous', scribe?"
⇑ That is you, Reader,
asking me—scribe—a question.
Here goes:

So, yes, the title of this post could apply to the section above: to the strange mystery of these posts, themselves, still being stuck in a locker. But don't worry, it in fact has a more defined and specific contextual meaning that

oh gosh Todd Snider has a new song that's fantastic

applies to a particular 'this' that's et cetera.

Lemme just plug it out; it'll be rough but hey hey here we go at least we're 2gether.

"just get there, just do it
and then…write something else"

That's the note I wrote. What it means:

"just get there, just do it..."
This is me saying to myself "don't mess around, don't write in extra stuff or digressions along the way, just get to the main story event and tell that, quick as you can."

I have 'realized' this so many times. So, so many. Honestly, I 'realize' this with the force and weight of a great new insight...mmm, two or three times a week? Honestly. I'm not kidding. I'm emphasizing both the repetition and novelty of this because what is 'preposterous' is the force and durability of its contrary, of this other thing in me and my...creative reflexes, let's call them. What I mean by this latter, 'preposterous' thing is

"and then...write something else"
Meaning the fact that, no matter how well I know that it's a bad idea, this impulse I feel
to 'build up' the story for the reader;
thicken it with events, with world-stuff—
all of which is done in a spirit of creative reflex (ugh) and 'inspiration' (UGH)
this impulse is powerful and often commands me.

And my point here
is that this? This impulse?
It is bad. So bad that, @ this point, let's call it 'preposterous'. 

It's 'preposterous', yes, (a) cuz I already know it. And the...fortitude of my ability to make the same mistakes over and over is shocking.

But why is it 'bad'? What's the substantive reason? I'm not just saying so, or kicking myself for no thing. It's bad because it is hard enoughmore than hard enough—to just tell the absolute essential story. You may have to write a bunch to, y'know, find that story. But once you've found it, even then — it's still hard! You're not done! It is not like the hard part is like...even half done! There is still lots of challenging (for me, at least!) work to do.

(I feel I may have written this sentiment, or a very similar sentiment, before in this space. I probably will again. Which...that's the point, right? Preposterous.)

And since I know this by now
since I know that
just writing the story is hard
this impulse to stack things above and before it
becomes not just 'bad'
but 'bizarre', 'perverse',
et cetera.

Putting in an extra little setup fight
before the main fight ("just so it's not y'know klunky, abrupt");

adding some detail
of lore or world-building ("just so y'know it's not just flop: 'heyhey, all dun'")'

all that,
is bad!
uses time!
lessens story!

And you have to go back, take it out — make things better.

Yet despite this awareness, I'm continually doing it.
Add a thing; throw a paragraph in that oh, okay; two paragraphs...three
because it's not as if these digressions and distractions need to be long to be damaging to the story and the flow and the reader's attention;
a switch on a train track is a tiny, small thing
when compared to the miles, miles of track all around it
but a mis-aligned switch...
well, you get it:

train. lost.

Putting things into stories or art makes them...different. It is not just additive; it never is, just. It changes and reconstitutes everything in them; things that go before, even, and absolutely things ager. You put in more stuff: the story itself changes — it becomes a new thing.

So you have to be diligent, 'bout what goes in.

Here's the specific occasion that set me off on this (this time).

We're in Column Two.

What's 'happening' is reasonably simple, or should be.

The action-y climax of this part of the story
is a long sequence in which

  • Emmy seeks Rich out at school, cuz she thinks she may need him to do [important thing]
  • She talks him into doing [important thing] with her 
  • They succeed! They do [important thing]
  • Which leads to [climactic battle]
  • Which leads to [Emmy's key realization in this column],
  • which leads to a [Big Choice which has Big Effects].

Now I started this riff by calling all that simple. is. Those literal plot-beats above are plot beats; you could do that with lots of stories at this level of detail and you'd get this bump-bump-bump sense of this "this, then this, then this..." (It's actually worse in narratives that aren't 'plotty'; try doing a beat-by-beat breakdown of Hamlet).

But it's not that simple, either. Of course: I know that. Especially because all those [things in the brackets] are crucial story moments that really need to land with you, the Reader, for the story to land. And for that to happen, it will really help if you—the Reader—have been served by the prose thusly:
  1. equipped with the knowledge (even if you don't 'know' it) required to make [thing in bracket] make sense; and hopefully more than just 'make sense', but matter;
  2. guided into an affective or emotional state such that you're receptive to whatever kind of [thing in brackets] is happening (exciting! tender! et cetera); and
  3. not freaking distracted by a bunch of other stuff that might clog up both your intellectual and emotional relationship to what's going on!
And now, again, we get back to 'preposterous'. Because: this is what I mean. (1), (2), and (3) are all...fundamental. Right? A good sixth-grade teacher with solid classroom resources could get his kids to come up with this list in discussion.

And yet! And yet...astonishing, frustrating, "preposterous": I add superfluous stuff to the flow! To the bulleted [things in the story], above, I add [off-track other things]! Details! Freaking...extras. In this specific case, my main (and repeated. repeated.) mistake has been to be like, "Oh okay cool good. Emmy and Rich did the [important thing]. They're heading to [climactic battle]. Good, great. Hey: I better put some [extra battle] and [stuff] in there."


What am I like this? Reader, honestly, how? What on earth the matter with...what you write the story about is what the story is about. So, um, don't write the story about things that are not the story? Maybe? Might help? Dunno.

And look, yes I know, there are things that I'm...papering. Exploration is important; so is making mistakes. Because they're not mistakes, lots of them; they are steps in a process. But. The reliability with which I do this, is past that. I think? Or is it, a form of...

honestly. i don't know.

Let me wrap this, here. But: there you go. This is one reason why, when people gently and carefully ask if the reason that Erra is taking so long is 'writer's block' or some metaphor for lack of flow, action, volume — when people (gently! carefully! understandably!) frame this, I tend to give something along the lines of a harsher-than-intentional blast of grim laugh. It has edge in it that I never intend at the person — though I know I still shouldn't do it, and am still sorry if I've ever done it to you. No. The issue is not, not blockage in that sense; there are plenty of words and actions and events; even plenty of character moments, choices. And plenty of 'world-building'. 'World-building' is junk.

No: the issues is burning off all of that excess. Getting down to the thing of, just...story. words. Reader. So it's all strong and legible. Affecting. And clear.

Okay! That is it! 4 real now: I am done. I've done my best to make this clear; I am sure that I've failed and that it's still riddled with errors and infelicities, as well as being sprawling, strange, discursive, and odd.

And so I thank you, always, for coming along. Even if you just skipped to those big words, below. You can have them. Even if you're not reading (though: not sure how that'd work).

Thank you.

Here's to talking more in this new year.

game, game on.

Friday, January 11, 2019

HliAT #31: Yeah, You Walk Back to Get the [Thing] WITH BONUS META HliAT

How long it actually Takes to...

realize while walking on Old Street, right here
that you forgot the plastic bag with your workout clothes here
deliberate for a second (that darn Old Street roundabout), and then
"yeah of course" walk back
get the clothes (of course: right there in the bag, on the bench in the changing room)
and get back to the spot at which you realized your error: 12:29.68 sec

This is part of the recent trend (well, two HliATs going) of "yeah, it's not that long but it does take some time." Which I guess is the thing of HliAT, really -- I'd pushed it around to the counter-intuitive position of this commentary usually being about "hey, it's not that long!" But that was an overlay atop the increasingly unspoken assumption: $h1t takes time.

Try not to forget your stuff, therefore; it'll take "about 15 minutes" (exactly what I would've thought) to get it.

That said, if you do forget your stuff...a favored set of workout clothes while traveling -- probably worth "about 15 minutes", yeah?


Bonus Meta HliAT...

post this post, which is based on a HliAT timing you took on February 17, 2018
and which--this post, I mean--in basically this current form
has been in your "drafts" folder since...February 20th, 2018 (why in drafts? why did you not just publish it???): 
325 days, 6 hours, 35 minutes and 28 seconds

I used this handy site to work this out.

Update: I actually think it was a technical issue. Sort of a relief. I was like...what?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Tickets: 2 of ...2 (??); also a dream about dogs

Okay so clearly I threw a bunch of these out at some point; I remember it vaguely, they were so worn I literally couldn't read the words on some old movie tickets, etc. I probably wrote about it here? This blog is a weird repository for things I no longer remember that I take the time to share with some folks like [TBD] # of times / year. Communication is strange.

Here's a Dream About Puppies I had (I know. u r welcome)
I slept a little fitfully for the last few hours of my rest last night, because I was really really convinced--like, I woke up and had to walk myself why this could not really be true--that I had (a) acquired two puppies, one of whom my brain called "Boxer" as in was a Boxer but, in fact, was not at all that breed (I had a clear mental image of the dog in my mind) but looked a lot more like a pug / shar pei mix. And there was another puppy, as well, though this one went both unnamed and unseen. And I had (a) acquired them, as noted above, and (b) stashed them--responsibly--at a friend's house. There's actually a specific friend, a nice family, whose house they were at in my mind. And I did this with this family's clearance, of course; or perhaps because they (the family) were actually somehow the keepers of these new dogs and I was just looking after them? And it was okay, I hadn't messed up, but I had left the Boxer / ??? pup in its cage for like not-nice too-long; like I should've gone by their place last night to feed it, walk it, etc. But hadn't, and I really needed to get there soon, now. And it was this rumbling unease through my sleep and my waking. One effective tool was to note that I knew this could not be the case because I had seen a member of this family posting on social media that day about hanging out in Santa Monica, so clearly they were still home and I had not (a) acquired two puppies etc. etc. But that's actually what it took. I'm not usually seized by limn hour fantasia; and anxiety wasn't even the driving force behind this one. I just...thought it was true. For a couple of hours.

(It's not true. I have acquired 0 puppies lately, boxer or otherwise).

Okay Back to these Tickets
I know you're not here for puppy dreams, but because: riveting tickets. There are many fewer than I thought! I think we can just...I think we're getting this done, fam!

First I am going to do a bonus digital round because it seems basically unfair that things I watch digitally--which is, like, most things at this point--have no tickets and do not get archived. And one thing in particular seemed worth noting to wit

The Surprise, by Mike van Diem
This is the sort of comedy that we're meant to call "dark" or "edgy" or something, because it's ostensibly about death although of course it is not about death, etc. But really, it's not. It was also really interesting to watch it through the veil of cultural filter -- it's Dutch, and seemed very...that. To me. Not that I'd know. I think what I mainly mean is that it was (plot-wise) about a sort of shaggy-dog speculative fiction crime-n-caper plot where a man and a woman both sign up for this high-end service that will end your life for you in a way of your choosing: with a loved one, by surprise, etc. The idea is that it is a relatively humane way to go, although the examples we see are not super-humane (although, certainly, the film is not about body suffering). But in addition to not being about the body-suffering, it's has this skating-over the basic engine of the story quality that I actually liked (and that might have been what seemed a bit "Dutch", to me, although what the h. do I know), which was that these people's feelings/reasoning/motivation were touched on but really not the point; the point was this kind of antic madcap stuff surrounding "when's it going to happen? can we change our minds if we fall in love or whatever?" etc. And I liked it, a lot, despite a final final beat that seemed out of step with its general nice-spirited-ness and general treatment of its subject. The stars were terrific. It was well-plotted. Oh! I also thought it was cool that Mike van Diem, the director, won an Academy Award in 1998; and then...this feature in 2015. It could well be that the story behind that is a decade-plus of frustration, but also maybe not. Maybe he was active, happy that whole time, doing stuff; and then has these moments where he emerges to me, along whatever no-doubt very idiosyncratic vectors of marketing and artistic diffusion bring things to my attention. People can do their stuff for a long time, I'm saying. That's cool.

Okay now physical tickets. There's just a few left; it's more than is going to be fun, and that's what it is. I'm just going to lean into those feelings and do it. I will try to surface any negative feelings. I am ridding my life of these small bits of paper.

Aero Theatre
April 1st, 2018 7:20pm
I saw this with one of my oldest, best friends. He's a person who often goes to see old movies; I'm a person who very occasionally does, with him. It's always nice to talk to him about them after, because sometimes we argue but it's generally pretty productive as long as I can master myself and not be a childish jerk. I think we kind of strongly disagreed about things on this one, but I can't remember what! I was really struck by this movie. I was struck by the gravity and weight of the physical bodies (horses, people, buildings) in the gigantic scenes; I remember how people say about Tony Scott (I have no idea if it's true) that he disliked CGI and preferred practical effects, really filming real things, and how that gave his movies' action sequences weight and impact. I first heard this after seeing Unstoppable with a friend, and it certainly scanned for how we saw that movie. And  I always think about this when I'm seeing something like Ben-Hur because...yeah, I mean yeah. I think that I do feel and see it; it feels crunchy and tactile and real. I was also struck, at least at the start of the film, by how lived-in the characters seemed. I think that this is a function of era. Meaning: even as it was very clear that what I was seeing was almost crazily trope-y, movie-acting, movie-character stuff of this bromance between these two men, now movies we still just used to let people talk more. We'd less perfected the art of a four-dialogue-line disposable scene that needn't exist except to goalpost for the audience, "hey, this guy's brave" or whatever-whatever. It's interesting because these are the very same tools -- in Ben-Hur, they clearly were telegraphing to us: "hey, these guys are close." "hey, they're both very masculine." "hey, there's political tension." It's not like any of this was handled with the delicate touch of pure organic storytelling. But just keeping the camera on people, flat, and letting them talk a bit more; it can be really nice. It's old-fashioned, at least in a big entertainment like this. And I liked it. It's maybe why that scene at the very end of Avengers,when they're eating, is so nice. Cuz it's nice! It's just the camera, on them, chilling! Crazy! Anyway. And there was stuff that my friend and I disagreed about, qua the famous homoerotic subtext, which I think...I don't even recall? Maybe one of us thought it wasn't subtext at all? I don't really remember. I don't think this was one where disagreed because--this is a motif, with me and this friend--there's some aspect of the film that we both acknowledge as problematic (racism, sexism, etc.) but I just refuse to look past it and I'm like, "yeah so it's trash" meaning just: junk to me; and he quite reasonably is like, "okay yes, its values are trash, but still XYZ," and XYZ are generally reasonable points one might make about the film but I'm less receptive to them because I'm so jarred by the problematic stuff. In my defense, I can definitely take pieces of art in their different aspects and different...layers of achievement. But I find it very hard when I feel that there isn't adequate widespread acknowledgment of how terrible some aspect of the piece of entertainment is; like that it's fundamentally, grotesquely racist at its heart but that kind of gets skated over in how people discuss it. This is not my friend's fault. And also, I don't think this happened with Ben-Hur! Okay anyway next ticket:

The Landmark
May 13, 2018 3pm
Oh good not much to say about this one. In a good way. I liked it! I thought it was all those adjectives critics use: brisk, sharp, funny, 'smart'. It moved along at a good pace and told an interesting story with some ramification and thought outside itself. disclosure: I'm acquainted with someone involved in its production, so I'm primed to like it. But, well yeah: I did like it. So, ticket.

Three Days in the Country
Antaeus Theatre Company
Sunday, July 8 2018 at 2pm AND (!!) Sunday, August 5 2018 at 2pm
Whhhhhaaaat? I saw this twice? Yes I did and on purpose LET ME TELL YOU WHY. I totally wanted to. I never want to do that. I don't really re-watch or re-read things; I probably could benefit from doing so much more, in fact; at least, great things, things I've loved. But I don't really do it. But here's where I saw this production twice.
I thought it was terrific
I thought it was terrific and wanted people to see it; so I was happy to say to friends, after having seen it once already with a different friend, "Oh yes we should go to that together let's go."
I was very interested in seeing it twice (!?). Because: it is not a plot-driven play; it's Patrick Marber's adaptation of Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country and, while Marber does a lot to make it quicker and snappier and more contemporary-feeling than the source material, he also leaves the source material alone: this is a play about people wallowing around in bourgeois (mostly) malaise and heartbreak, and it's melodramatic (on purpose) and about the minutiae of their interactions and the moments between characters. It's a very lived-in type of play. And I wanted to see it twice, therefore, because (a) I probably wouldn't be bored; the "point" of this play is not what "happens", so knowing what "happens" would spoil very little; and (b) the production was good good good, and Antaeus often DOUBLE CASTS big plays like this (I assume because actors in LA are wont to flit off for lucrative gigs in filmed entertainment), so seeing all these interactions and characterizations and tiny little sharp beats between human desires with a whole different cast might be like A WHOLE NEW PLAY! And it was. The experiment was 100% a success. The casts were really different. The characterization in each performance, of itself, was quite different; how they interacted of course differed; even casting accidents or non-accidents like how two people looked alike or did not drew comparisons between characters that seemed thematic, etc. It is really rewarding to watch robust material like this performed by good actors, guided by steady and disciplined and pacey and specific direction. I'm really glad I saw this twice; both times were great.

2018 World Series: Boston Red Sox @ Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 4 (Home Game 2)
Dodgers Stadium
October 27 2018, 5:09pm
This was the most fun I've had at a baseball game in LA, even though it was a pretty disappointing game. The Red Sox were favored to win the series this year, and did so handily. But there's always capacity for big surprises in post-season baseball, and while my main baseball allegiance (such as I can claim to have one, at this point) is to the Yankees, I was rooting for LA certainly. And LA had given all of us reason to hope, with an historically long, insane game the night before: an 18-inning game that LA won 3-2, making the series 2-1, Boston. Meaning that this game, the game I was at on the following night, was the game that would show whether that crazy 18-inning game was a wild fluke, or if LA would even the series to 2-2 and it really would be a real series, and maybe we'd all reconsider Boston walking away with this thing. And LA took an early lead, so it looked possible and was very exciting! And then LA gave up that lead, and then really gave up the lead (the relief pitching was not very successful), and Boston...walked away with this game and the series. But we had fun! It was a nice night; I was very glad to be there, and with a cool new friend who was excited to be at a series game.

so...close... (actually no negative feelings. just saying).

Native Son
Antaeus Theatre Company
Sunday April 22, 2018 2pm
My ticket says "Native Son 2018", but I just checked the website and it doesn't look like it's one of the things where they slap the year onto a thing to emphasize that it's an adaptation or whatever; it seems like the show was just called Native Son, like the source novel. This production did not work for me! And I'm so glad I went! It didn't work for me because it's hard to adapt a novel like this to the stage (obvi), and I thought that the production and adaptation made bold thoughtful choices that didn't click for me. There's always this risk when you take a very internal character from prose and put them on stage or in film; because their interiority (which in prose can be fine, because you can be inside them in various ways) can be really alienating to the audience. The adaptation and production are way on top of this; the script has this embodied inner-monologue for the protagonist (who is a man who, externally, is not well seen or known by others) and allows us to see him talk out / argue out / act out his inner tensions, desires, impulses -- and how his environment impinges on his inner life in this way. I definitely have no thought on this choice, or no conclusion rather; I don't know if the production didn't work for me because that basic choice didn't fit for me, or--also possible, as the staging seemed good and the actors were excellent--if it was that it just somehow didn't for me convey the same tensions and level of thought or, in fact, drama of the novel's prose portrayal. Antaeus always does 'good theater' and this was no exception; it was a challenging theatrical enterprise (adapting a novel that is very rich and complex in its own right, as well as having the status of being an acknowledged classic an important testament of American culture and history) that a bunch of talented people took on with skill and thought. I'm glad I saw it.

City and Cosmos: The Arts of Teotihuacan
Saturday April 21, 2018
I had to kind of root around to figure out what was up, here. This is the slip of paper:
Pretty dramatic, right? But so I was confused because I knew it was one of two trips I took over the summer to LACMA with N., my mentee, but I was quicker to remember the exhibit we saw on the second trip -- not this trip. This trip we saw a collection of Mesoamerican art from "the ancient city of Teotihuacan," which "flourished in central Mexico in the first millennium CE. This multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan city was the largest urban center in the Americas in its day." That's all from LACMA's site on the exhibit, which both N. and I enjoyed. I really enjoyed it; I think N. did as well -- hope so. We also went, later that summer, to "3D: Double Vision", an exhibition about the development of the art and technology of 3D imagery. At that exhibit, I saw this, which amusèd me some:
What I liked about this, which some of you will recognize, is that the object on the left is a Nintendo 3DS. That's a terrific portable gaming system that is currently, if not sunsetting, in its senescence; I on-purpose linked to Wikipedia for the product and not some Nintendo site because I'm not sure if the Nintendo site will still be good in a year or two. It's a great little system, and made me smile in this context because it wasn't being featured as an example in itself; its 3D-imaging feature--ironically, an aspect of console which is viewed, I think, as having had an unclear impact on its success--is just being used to show a picture in 3D can do it.

There's nothing funny or interesting about this, actually. Or to you, maybe. That's totally reasonable. I just found it funny.