the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

what’s so scary about writing?

In humor, life, observations on December 8, 2012 at 5:55 am

Heck if I know.

That’s all I got, folks.  An abstract question and a really silly answer.  There’s nothing scary about writing, but you wouldn’t know that from the way I put off writing today.  I had a solid hour and a half–a veritable bonanza of time nowadays with The Boy and work X 2 and the other crazy things I keep trying in order to make the dinero.  But what do I do with this gift of seconds and minutes?  I squander it.

I wanted to write.  I have a 52nd story to finish.  (For those new to my blog, I made a goal in 2011 that I would produce for better or for worse, 52 original stories.  I got to 47 and The Boy was born.  Then, I wrote what I will call the Crappy 4, which brought to story 52.)  OK, now that we’re all up to speed, I have the new goal that I will write my final story before the end of the year.   I can do that.  I should be able to do that.  I should have gotten a start today.  But no dice, Rollo.

It would be one thing if I were just being a lazy-ass, preferring to play Bike Barron or Temple Run instead of doing the work.  That’s be kind of lame considering I’m a 41-year old man, but at least, I’d get some joy.  Today, I felt no joy, only fear.  But what was I scared of?

Heck if I know.

If I dig down, I guess I fear the effort involved, but I don’t mean the effort required in writing.  What I fear is the cut-off, by which I mean, when I write fiction, I cut ties with this world in order to make up another.  Problem is, I’m not part of that world.  I’m making it, but I’m not part of it.  I almost always get a kick out of writing once I start, but those first few minutes as I’m starting to disengage from my concerns, from my daily self, I feel the difficulty, and the difficulty is caused by…. in a word, loneliness, a loneliness I don’t seem able to get myself accustomed to.

Does anyone else suffer from this?  I’d love to know I’m not the only crazy person out there.  Come on, folks, share your craziness.  I needs me somes crazy.  Give it over.

a rejection letter to be thankful for…

In career, Uncategorized, writing on November 26, 2012 at 10:29 am

I am not one to be thankful when it comes to writing.  Even when I get published somewhere, the euphoria only lasts so long.  Soon enough, I’m starting down that sad, useless road of comparisons.  If, by chance, you are not a writer/artist of the neurotic persuasion, this road is full of distracting signposts along the way. Ones that tell you that of course you got your story into X or Y magazine.  X or Y are not The New Yorker.  They aren’t even some top lit mag like The Missouri Review or Zoetrope.  X or Y magazine aren’t good; in fact, they are desperate.  As the road keeps going, you see another signpost: if X is a print-only mag, the next signpost tells you that you are never going to get read by the piddly few readers who actually subscribe.  If Y-Mag is web-only, the next signpost on the road tells you to turn off and cry because you aren’t good enough to get into print.

You get the idea, I think.

It might be a sign of where I am now; perhaps I have learned to ignore these unhelpful signs along the way.  But that’s unlikely. Still, just a couple days ago, I received a lovely email from the editor of The Fairy Tale Review, a mag that is especially open to the kind of fantastical (not to be confused with fantasy) fiction I tend to write.  I am going to quote the complete note here because…oddly enough, I’m proud of it:

Dear Mr. Martinez,

Please forgive this atrocious lag in response time. FTR is a small operation – my pair of eyes only!, unless you include my glasses, of course. Whereas I absolutely loved your story (I read your submission many times and found it more and more sophisticated and smart with every read!), sadly, we are going to have to pass on it right now. Please understand that this decision has nothing to do with the quality of your writing. I have struggled to create the most balanced and delicate issue, which means making impossibly difficult decisions, heartbreaking ones, such as not taking your story. Please please please consider submitting to us again in the future!

Yours, with admiration,
Lily

This isn’t about bragging.  It’s just to share a nice point of light in what can sometimes seem like the bleak silence of putting words on the page.  How many days/weeks/years do artists toil in obscurity?  The hardest part for me is not the work.  It’s the sense that no one aside from your friends and family think your art is worth a two-penny damn.  How can you know–really know–if you haven’t hit it with readers/publishers/agents because you just haven’t found your way OR because you just suck.

The answer, the sad sad sad answer is that YOU do not know.  You just write/paint/sing and you put yourself out there.  And then, you wait.  AND wait. And wait some more.  But sometimes you get a nice email, and you add some hope to all the wait.

Here’s hoping!

ps. if you want to read the very short fairy tale, check out my portfolio site:

9 Months and Out, Lesson 2: DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR AGE….

In career, humor, life, media, observations, Uncategorized on September 1, 2012 at 6:15 am

I’m middle-aged, and I’m not happy about it.

The other day, I went some place for coffee.  It’s right across from a Starbucks, which I don’t pooh-pooh as a rule.  Starbucks is fine.  It’s good.  It’s ok.  I just felt like changing things up.  This other place is more hipster.  The lines are longer.  The people better looking–no tired looking middle-managers in khakis sitting around with their PC’s in this here place.  This was a Mac crowd, which if nothing else means the coffee is fair traded, cold-brewed with spices from the Himalayas and infused with Madagascar fairy dust–ingredients you pay for through the nose–pierced nose, naturally.

So, surrounded by all the new hipsters and the new shiny Apples, I ordered my Madagascar fairy-infused brew on ice and noticed that the barrista (hate that word) was wearing an LA Kings t-shirt.  In San Francisco, you don’t do this unless you’re looking for abuse.  For Angelinos, San Francisco is a quaint town up north.  In San Fran, LA is all pollution and water-theft and Satan.  Anyway, sensing a fellow Angelino, I asked the man where he was from.  He said Venice.  I grew up in next-door Santa Monica.  We smiled.  We were both Angelinos and Westsiders, to boot.  Cool.  Then he tells me he went to my high school.  Holy ducklesworth!  A fellow Viking!  I almost broke into our school song, which I, as a choir member back in the day, sang many many times at all kinds of events.

I decide against the singing, but still we’re all smiles at this point.  We’re on the same wavelength.  That is until the guy asks what year I graduated.  I feel a tightening around my smile.  I say, “I think I might be a little older,” and then, I tell him the year.  And that’s when he does the same.  He’s 16 years younger.  16.  Oh, fuck you, Mr. Coffee.  Go choke on your Madagascar BS coffee that gives me the runs.  He probably doesn’t even know the school song now that Prop 13 has removed music from the school.

Now, I wasn’t really pissed.  I just felt a little awkward especially because it seemed like he got awkward.  Of course, he probably got awkward because he sensed that I got awkward. Oh, who knows?  It doesn’t matter.  Why do I care?

I probably wouldn’t except that when you’re looking to build a new career as I am, you’re surrounded by young people by definition.  Usually, these young’ns don’t care about me.  I’m just another guy.  But in my head, I assume that they must be thinking  I’m some middle-aged loser.  My issues.  Not theirs.  Which is the moral of this little lesson: go and reinvent yourself if you need to and don’t let yourself be limited by the number of candles on your cake.

I’m 40. So take that, Mr. Coffee?  I can appreciate cool music and non-exploitative coffee like you.  But I have also lived long enough to know Starbucks is ok in a pinch.  I’m older.  Life has made me flexible and ready to drink any cup of coffee life’s barrista throws my way.

9 months and out–LESSON #1

In career, humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on August 29, 2012 at 5:30 am

 

If you want to succeed at something, stick to it.  OK, obvious, I know.  But let me start with a story that will show you how I have not followed this very obvious truth.  I call this little ditty, Curse of the Dumb-Dumb Who Keeps Wondering What Other People Think of Him.  Here it goes.  I hope you like it–really, I do.

(See what I mean?)

When I was 15, I discovered tennis.  This was before the Williams sisters, mind you.  On paper, I had no real business with the sport.  Tennis is not quite golf and it’s a good bit under polo in the rich-person pantheon of athletics.  And yet, it certainly has a little bit of the country club vibe to it even to this day.  My father at the time, classic immigrant that he is, was happy about my discovery, telling me that tennis was a good sport for making connections with rich people.  (My father’s strange views of American society are another story.)  Anyway, I loved tennis.  I spent a summer going from one public court to the next all over Santa Monica, looking for people to play.  I was what I am not usually: without fear or apprehension.  I just wanted to play.

I say all of this, but this month was the first time I picked up a racket in 25 years.  I stopped when I was a sophomore because even though I loved tennis, the sport was not going to get me cred with the girls–at least I didn’t think I would.  So, what did I do?  I switched to basketball, which was a joke.  I’m 6′ 3″, and I liked playing pick-up games.  But my heart wasn’t into it.  And I didn’t have a head for the game in a more organized setting of league play.  So, basically I sucked it.  And after getting through Hell Week, I quit the team.  By that time, I’d gotten rusty at my tennis game, and then I hurt my shoulder trying to serve and it was over.

Now, do you get the point?  I left what I loved out of some concern of what others would think.  And I’ve been repeating the same mistake for years. You’d think I’d learn by now, but you’d be surprised how hard it is to see that you’re repeating the same mistake.  Every situation seems new.  Even now, I feel the pressure to give up on writing. I’m not going to, mind you.  This is it for me, I know that.  But sometimes, I have an idea, and I work through it, and as I sit with the project, I start to have doubts.  I start thinking no one will like what I’m doing or that I will fail (which also comes from a concern for others) and I want to run away.

I tend to think that most ideas, if you stick with them, can bear fruit.  Part of success is telling that inner-critic that tells you to quit because you might fail or because no one will like it or because you will end up penniless and friendless (and probably toothless as well) to shut the f&*& up.  There is success to be had if you just stick to what you’re doing and not listen to others.  I think that’s clear enough.  Right?  You agree, right?  Come on.  Agree already.

Damn it!  I’m doing it again.

cause it’s hard out here for a p…, i mean, reader

In career, life, media, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on August 20, 2012 at 5:11 am

It’s a chilly night here in San Francisco, and I spent the evening catching up on some good old blogging-goodness.  Specifically, I came across a lovely post at Blood Ink Diary about books, owning them, reading them, not lending them–basically, loving them.  So if you love books, too,  I suggest you read the post.

As for me, I should’ve just enjoyed the prose and the message.  But I often do not do what I should do, and as I snuggled against my fleece blanket (I think San Francisco thinks it’s in the southern hemisphere), and read the post, I felt a shiver that was not caused by the fact that I live in a town that summer forgot.  Part shame, part remembrance of things lost would be the best way to describe what I was feeling.  The first because at some point as I’ve tried to write and write and get that writing out there, I’ve forgotten the power of great words, of slow-moving words for words’ sake.  It’s been months that I’ve read a book for joy.  A good half-year since I’ve read a long work of fiction.  Why?  It’s like I’ve become some kind of puritan who pooh-poohs the novel for its lack of “usefulness”.  Sure, my pilgrim brethren didn’t read books about branding and social media campaigns instead of reading fiction, but they dismissed the novel and the poem because they could not see the point to reading anything that didn’t build the soul–aka, scriptures.  Idle hands are bad enough, but an idle mind taking in words over the novel-version of the boob-tube, that was just too much.

It’s cliche, and I’ve already said a million times in this blog, but the Catch-22 of loving words enough that you actually want to string some along in new and weird ways for some imagined group of readers demands that you not do that creating very often.  It demands that you do a lot of selling, of yourself, of your concepts, and maybe, your body, which wouldn’t be bad except that I’m married–sorry ladies.

It’s an impossible situation.  That’s right, Joseph Heller, your little war book is nothing compared to the dilemma of the modern writer.  I was going to say that we writers trade our creative time for money so that we can write more words.  But the truth is that it’s not only the time; it’s also the head space.  To create, to dig the foundation of our imaginary worlds, one has to be kind of pure-minded.  You gotta be focused on the story, not on what that book might do for your wallet after it’s done.

I think that’s why the post I referred to above shamed me a little bit.  Its author is devoted to the words inside all those lovely books on her shelf.  She doesn’t care if they are useful or practical or if they fit the world and its ideas about utility.  A great book focuses the mind, and if you allow me a moment of operatic hyperbole, it focuses the soul.  The same is true of the writing process, of course.  And that’s what I have to remind myself of.  No matter what happens with career or my lack thereof, I cannot forget.  I cannot.

should a blog be focussed or should it be all over the place?

In criticism, media, observations on August 2, 2012 at 6:28 am

I’ve been reading Ryan Holiday‘s book, Trust Me, I’m Lying, and let me tell you, the experience is depressing.  In the book, Mr, Holiday not only talks about how he’s manipulated the media countless times, he also argues over and over again that the world of social media is not based on value or truth or quality writing; it’s based on tricking readers to view more pages.  It’s worth noting that as I read this book, I started to wonder if I was part of some kind of meta-experience set up by the author.  I wondered if the book itself was just a trick in that it repeated the same basic point over and over again.  Was my buying the book–a book that promises to describe in full detail the ins and outs of the media landscape–a trick?

But the most depressing part of reading this book has more to do with where I am than where the book or its author is.  I heard Mr. Holiday interviewed on Brian Lehrer‘s public radio show, and I bought his book because he said that in it, he would give away the tools of his trade. In other words, he would teach his readers how to manipulate social media.  I’m not saying that I wanted to do anything dishonest, but I was hoping to learn something I hadn’t known before–some trick of the trade that would help my blog, my career as a writer.  Kind of sad and lame, I’ll admit.

The only thing I really learned from the book is to ask this question of myself an of all of you bloggers out there.  Mr. Holiday repeatedly quotes big-time bloggers all saying the same thing: focus on one thing and become an authority on that one thing if you want people to come read you.  As a generalist, this troubles me, but at the same time, it stands to reason.  People like to know what they are getting, so if they want spots, they go to that blog or channel or whatever, and likewise, they want to know about food or clothes or relationships.  Blogs, so Mr. Holiday argues, are all about consistency.  That sells, by which he means, that’s what readers want.  Is that so?

What do you all think?  Do you care if people read or if they comment? Do you write for yourself or are you trying to get your stuff read by as many people as possible? Do you force yourself to post about a limited amount of topics or are you all over the place?

i’m a loser, i’m a genius, i’m a loser: a writer’s dilemma

In criticism, humor, observations, Uncategorized on July 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

It’s a sign of age that things are not one extreme or the other. When I was younger, if I failed at something,  I would almost certainly tell people I sucked.  I didn’t mean, I suck at this or that.  I was trying to make more of an existential statement, as in I am a person who just lives in a state of sucking, i.e., a loser.

I was never so confident or clueless to say I was a genius when something went my way.  But I’ll admit that somewhere in the back of my head, I was hopeful I might find that thing I was amazing at. If I’m really honest, I’d add that I wanted to find something I was amazing at without having to put in bone-crushing effort needed to make amazingness.  Of course, even geniuses put in effort–I’m assuming this though I cannot say for sure since, if you haven’t figured it out on your own, I am no genius.  (I know. Big surprise.)

I bring all of this up because a couple weeks ago, I experienced a pretty big failure and a nice success back to back.  The first was a screening of my second short film (the trailer appears above).  The screening happened here in SF at a big theater as part of a festival that happens out here regularly.  As part of the festival, after the screening of each movie is over, the crew and cast go down in front and take questions.  Often the questions are pretty slight, i.e., why did you you use that logo for your production company; do you think you’ll make a sequel to that romantic comedy with the happy ending that couldn’t possibly go anywhere else because it is a short with a happy ending; I love chocolate, and the main character was eating some in that one scene, what kind of chocolate?  You get the point.

But when Cherise, my strange little Cinderella story in reverse, was done, it was like ghost town silence.  We went up and looked out into the vast audience (over 600 people) and you could feel the rampant indifference. What I would’ve given for a question about chocolate?

On later reflection and because my director reminded me of this, I realized that we made the movie we set out to make.  We wanted to make something that was lovely to look at.  We wanted to tell a story with dance and music and through minimal dialogue. We wanted a visual experience more than we cared about story.  Well, we hit those marks.  But still, there was a part of me sitting in that theater harkening back to my younger days, the younger me that often told himself, Jesus, dude, you suck the big one.

A day later, I had a reading. It was the first time I’ve ever been asked to be a featured reader, and I was excited.  But there was also a part of me that was fearful.  Would I suck at this, too?  Would the crowd, mostly poets, look at me and my little fables/fairy tales/ urban micro fiction about old ladies popping happy pills and would they reject what they saw? Would they get all aggro the way poets at spoken word events often do?  What is the opposite of snapping fingers and saying, groovy, man? As it happens, they did not hate me.  In fact, they were very enthusiastic. Some people might have even  snapped some fingers.  And for a moment or two that night, I felt like like I had arrived. I was a writer.

I’m no genius. That thought never crossed my mind even with the snapping, but I’m ok with that. The violins will never soar as I write the great American Novel. I’m no Mozart.  I’m not even Salieri. But with practice, I hope I write something that gets close to great. That’s a realistic goal–I hope it is.

As for the sucking part, the truth is I know I don’t suck, either–not in existential way.  But ironically, that’s almost more disappointing than not being a genius.  If you tell people you suck and you believe it, there’s always a way up.  There’s always room for improvement. And more importantly, if you fail at what you’re attempting, you can wrap yourself in the Sucky Blanket of Low Expectations.

You think I sucked that night?  You think my movie was shite?  Well, of course my dear man/woman, I suck.  I suck the big one.

NO MORE!  It’s time to grow the hell up. I’m just too old to be carrying the Sucky Blanket around. I need to work and not worry. I might die with nothing to my artistic record, but I’m not going down sucking, goddammit.

 

writing as a spiritual exercise

In humor, life, observations, writing on June 27, 2012 at 6:20 am

I can’t say I’m religious, though I hate saying that I’m spiritual because, A. that sounds lame and B. a lot of lame people say that and C. I like to think of myself as not being lame.

But here’s the thing: I write, and I think that writing, which I love and sometimes don’t, has something to do with what most people would call spiritual.

Years ago, many many years ago, I was a violinist.  Because I’m biologically unable to do things just for fun, I was a serious violinist.  VERY SERIOUS!!  TOO SERIOUS!!!!  Which meant I sucked.  True, that through shear force of will and discipline, I became good enough to gig for a couple a years in LA.  (I played pick-up orchestra gigs, weddings, and more Bar Mitzvahs than any other gentile I know, but I wasn’t really cut out to be a musician.  I loved the the craft; I loved locking myself in a room and sawing away, but I couldn’t translate that work onto the stage.  Still, all that practicing did leave a real effect on me.  I learned what it was like to be silent, truly so, and to be comfortable with that silence.

I might have taken that impulse a little too far.  I know I stopped being friends with most people from high school because as I got serious about being a violinist, I came to believe that I had been a fraud to them.  In the solitude of my practice room, I realized I wasn’t the clown I pretended to be.  I was quiet and shy.

OK, so what the hell does this have to do with writing and spirituality?

Fifteen years after quitting the violin, I find that I get the same joy from being alone with my thoughts when writing that I once did from my time practicing.  But the difference is that as a writer, I work alone in order to connect with others.  As anyone who writes knows, this back-and-forth between the deeply private time doing the writing and the hunger for connection with others is not easy.  Especially when writing fiction, I often struggle to get in the mindset needed to write.  Sometimes, it’s almost painful to start writing because of the hunger I feel for connecting with others.  But without the alone time, that time when I have to focus on the matter at hand,  the feelings of my characters, the craft of putting words to the page, I cannot feed the hunger I feel for connection.

Sometimes, most times, I fear this struggle.  I fear the hard work it entails, I’ll be honest.  But at a deeper sense, I also fear the silence that writing requires.  Or maybe it’s better to say, that I am in awe of the power of that silence, the way I have felt looking at a storm blow in or at a huge wave crashing against rocks.  That silence is powerful, humbling, and it’s vast, and even though I fear it, I want to be in touch with it.

Is that silence God?  I don’t know.  But I can say that the words I am using to describe my sense of it are pretty similar to the words that people from another time would have used for the divine.

That is a discipline, no one will argue.  But

should writers fear pictures?

In humor, observations, writers & books, writing on May 31, 2012 at 9:23 am

Today I had coffee with a wonderful illustrator named Jonathan Silence.  It was a meeting of like-minds, and I’m not saying that because we’re both Libras–that was just gravy.  We might collaborate on a project this summer, which I am very excited about.  All the more excited after meeting Jonathan and realizing that we have similar views about what good stories are.  In short, we seemed to agree on two things: 1. that the type of stories we want to tell, what we would call the best types of stories, are stories for children–at least they are labeled as such, which as anyone knows, also means they are pretty good for adults, too.  (I’m going to talk about that idea in the next post, so don’t freak out, adult writers. There will be time for debate.)

The other idea we agreed on was less an idea than it was a shared concern about the current push to digitize everything, especially books.

though I am not eating the pickle sandwich in this picture, I hope you can imagine that I would be eating that pickle sandwich at a later time

Now, allow me to make an Evel Knievel leap of logic and say the following: for me, a digital culture is a visual one, by definition.  Think about it.  The web pushes images.  It is what It does best.  It’s what it’s for.  Everything from YouTube to the very graphic interface you are reading these words on is based on image.  Jonathan and I spoke about what that means for storytelling, and though he is a creator of images, he was concerned that this need to have pictures all the time is destroying our ability to imagine. I agree (to a certain point). Look at an episode of CSI or a doc on History Channel and you see the sad trend.  Two people talking is never shown for more than a few seconds.  Even if what’s being said is completely inane, you can rest assure that what’s being said will be shown in images.  So, for example, if you filmed me talking to my wife about eating a pickle sandwich, then you can bet your life that before I showed you that video, I would have my editor fade in an image of a pickle sandwich. You, as the viewer, could not imagine a pickle sandwich, so the picture of a pickle sandwich would be necessary.

God I hate that.

Now, don’t worry.  I trust that all of you can imagine a pickle sandwich.  But then again, just in case, here is one:

Though I could see Jonathan’s point, the writer in me is not so scared about the digital world and its super-need to rely on images. I will admit that somewhere along the line, I became a little snooty about what is and what is not good writing, by which I really am talking about good storytelling.  I am going to avoid trying to define terms, partly because I’m not equipped for that kind of thing and even more to the point, I have learned not to care so much about definitions.  They are helpful, but they can also limit you.  As in I once thought I could only be a professional writer if I published a proper novel. (I have three versions of 2/3 of a book to prove it.)  That idea was definitely tied to my understanding of what literature was, which in a few words can be described this way: character-driven sadness in which nothing happens except for someone dying towards the end.

My way out of that intellectual crapper has been to think of myself as a storyteller, which I know is a bit hack, but it’s no less true for being so.  Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses.  There are some stories that I think work best for the page.  But contrary to what I used to think, the written word is not the only way to be deep.  Jonathan Silence’s images are just as deep as a Ken Kesey novel.  It’s just that the stories being told are different kinds of stories. Along the same lines, I’ve been reading a blog called Little Commas, which I recommend highly.  I don’t know who hosts it, but every day, the blogger puts up drawings or graphic art or photography, and in so doing, makes the case that images are stories.  Even a company logo is a story. You just have to know how to look at it.

For the writers out there and the visual artists, too, I’m wondering what you think.  Can a digital culture make great stories? Or are we doomed to seeing pictures of pickle sandwiches?

52 stories in 52 weeks: a writer’s goal…

In writers & books, writing on May 22, 2012 at 11:30 am

 

 

For almost a year, I’ve had a goal of writing one piece of flash fiction a week for a year.  And for 41 weeks, I was on task.  But in the last month, with a baby and a short film being born, it’s been tough.  Boo hoo!  I know.  Whine, whine, whine.  But hey, I’m a guy, and sometimes we do that.  In fact, where would romantic comedies be if it weren’t for whining men?  Think about it.  It’s especially true of that new sub-genre of Rom-Com about couples having kids.  What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Friends With Kids (for a good review of that movie, see the good folks at Spotless Minds.)

I digress.

SO, now that I’m not whining anymore about my cool baby and a dance movie that I am working on that I think will be quite lovely, I will get to the point of this blog.  I’ve slightly adjusted my goal.  I’ve reassessed.  And this is my goal: I will have the 52 stories done in 52 weeks.  I have one month and 10 shorts to write.  I’m not promising greatness, but I am promising odd, quirky, and, if not that, words.

I’d love to know if any writers out there have similar goals.  If so, please share.  I’d love to hear what you are all up to.  If you want to follow me on my journey, then please come along.  You can see me struggle through the finish line at the end of June.  Here’s my fiction site:

www.g-martinezcabrera.com

Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

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