Above water. (On writing.)

Let me confide in you what it is to be a writer of a novel. You’re at the end of your book and terrified of what you wrote: a 350-page shit-storm. You laugh at yourself as you find a selfie that came out expressionless, crop your image into a head-shot, harden it with the angstiest filter you can find – the one that turns the dark bits darker and deepens the shadows in the corners – because suddenly, you need digital armor. It won’t help. You think, I had a moral obligation to write this, and it’s been 30-odd years in the writing that began, in earnest, 18 months ago.

 

Life in two minutes.

 

The drama, the irony, the cliché! You can look at this image once and never see it again, or you can look at it once and see it every day. It’s worse than a mirror, so you share it with the world… especially easy to do when the world makes no sense.

We all have a dark side. Most of us keep it hidden, because it’s our business and no one else’s. Artists tend to display theirs through their work, whether others can see it there or not. Art unravels from buried places, taking form in every medium and genre from comedy to Shakespearean tragedy, capturing curiosity and beauty in music, writing, visual arts, poetry, photography, dance, dramatic arts, and so on, and so forth. Products of our creation spawn out of our darkest secrets, reflecting them in worlds we create… and we do create them, because we can. We can create art that belies the angst from which it springs, art that makes people laugh, even. “Tortured artists” have the means to express what others need to express. Then a step further: everything is okay. But the world, we know, doesn’t need our reassurance. We’re talking to ourselves, but it’s not about us.

So if just one person can find something of value in our work… something that helps… it’s worth it, we feel. One person includes everyone. We believe.

Lingering: A Ghost Story. (Non-review movie review!)

A Ghost Story isn’t a horror film, but it’s haunting nonetheless. It’s haunted my thoughts since we first saw it last week.

 

 

Why do some spirits choose an afterlife of haunting?

A Ghost Story  raises a multitude of questions. I might as well start with that one.

As far as haunted house movies go, I’ve never been compelled to consider the fate of the ghost, or how lonely it must be for a ghost tethered to his place of haunting. But then, I’d never seen a haunted house movie from the perspective of the ghost.

It’s a despondent ghost who’s unable to leave his place until he gets his answer, or achieves his goal, whatever that may be. Time glides endlessly and the ghost goes along with it. It’s the only dimension he can traverse.

Watching this movie was a profound cinematic experience.

We begin with a married couple, but we never learn their names. I suppose this is because the humans in their physical bodies are more or less props, there to set in motion a possibly infinite journey. In the middle of the film, another nameless person passes through to hold forth at a social gathering. The scene ends and we never see him again, but we’re left thinking.

We fall deeper into introspection. What does it mean to be alive, to exist? What does it mean to be not-alive?

We witness the pain of grieving, but we feel the ghost’s pain more than the pain of the one still living. It’s the bereft ghost whose story we follow.

A Ghost Story is a ghost’s story, yet the ghost is not the protagonist. If the film has a protagonist, it’s the place to which the ghost is fixed. Or it’s the universe. Or it’s time.

If the ghost has a voice, it’s the sheet he wears, its movement, folds, and appearance; even the shape of its eye-holes as they seem to alter with his emotion. That’s the thing about this ghost: he’s emotional, even to the point of throwing the occasional tantrum. The ghost’s sheet is his voice, and Daniel Hart’s exquisite musical score – the most sorrowful voice in the film – makes it devastating.

Thus, the driving forces of A Ghost Story are inhuman. And yet, in this inhumanity, we perceive the timeless plight of humanity. This is brilliant writing. It’s poetry.

In my humble opinion, writer and director David Lowery succeeded with his experiment in mixing mediums to tell his story. Film as poem, or poem as film? When a work of art is effectively both, it doesn’t matter how you assign its primary medium.

Speaking of mediums, I’ll touch again on the expressiveness of the ghost’s sheet, because its authority is so striking in its simplicity. I was fascinated by the way the ghost stands or sits still and turns only his head to look to the side or back, so the folds of his sheet twist with the turn. The effect is dramatic, and that is the point. Facing forward, but looking elsewhere, the ghost’s sheet conveys that he inhabits temporal realms in a transcendence of future and past. We can perceive the enormity of this by merely looking at the drape of a sheet.

A Ghost Story is a highly visual film. It’s maybe 80% silent movie, if not more so. As the ghost lingers, there’s lingering in the silence; we linger on what there is to see. There’s lingering in the sustained notes of the musical score.

There’s more I could say about the significance of music in this film, on how it helps to speak for the ghost, and why, but I’ll hold back. In this aspect, though, A Ghost Story calls to mind The Piano. In The Piano, the instrument serves as voice for Ada, who can’t speak. Also silent, Ada expresses herself through her music.

Watching A Ghost Story, tears collected in my throat early on, and they stayed there until the end, the aforementioned musical score by Daniel Hart partially responsible, I’m sure.

Callaghan was mesmerized, too. When A Ghost Story was over, we looked at each other at the same time that we both said, “I want to see it again.” And we did see it again. I would see it yet again.

A Ghost Story is a beautiful film, a story to ponder and discuss. It’s an elegant study in the philosophical discipline of metaphysics, and it’s a poem. Maybe more than a moving picture, it’s a moving poem with pictures.

 

The writing.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a dear friend who asked me how the writing was going. From the start of this endeavor, my answer to that question would’ve been different with each passing day. Responding to the question yesterday, though, I realized how much the answer has evolved. I’ve arrived at a point of understanding some immutable realities of big-project writing, which include knowing that the learning process will continue, and I’ll continue to grow and adapt.

I said to my friend that the writing is hard. It’s harder than any work I’ve done in my career of sitting behind desks in the professional capacities I’ve filled, and it’s led me to learn a lot about myself that I wasn’t expecting to learn.

Not to my surprise, I’m also learning a lot about the writing process in the framework of a serious commitment, though I am surprised by the extent of this education. For instance, I didn’t suspect that writing would demand more thinking work than actual writing work. For me, the most significant work happens when my fingers are nowhere near a keyboard. In the last six months, I’ve spent endless hours thinking and strategizing, researching and making decisions, trashing those decisions and making new ones.

One stereotypical image of a writer’s life is a frustrated writer sitting at a desk, perhaps with a case of writer’s block or blank page syndrome, as you will, and a wastepaper basket across the room. The writer types, rips the page from the typewriter, crumples it up, and throws it in the direction of the basket. At the end of the day, the basket is full to overflowing with trashed balls of paper, and the writer is still sitting at the typewriter, surrounded by more balls of paper scattered on the desk amongst empty coffee mugs and tufts of yanked-out hair.

We have computers now, so if I had a wastepaper basket on the other side of my writing room, it would be filled to overflowing with discarded decisions and ideas and word choices. I would be buried up to my throat in heaps of writing debris left in the wake of my learn-as-I-go process, strategies trashed along with my premature glee at having surmounted some impasse.

Writing (as a primary occupation) is not a nine-to-five. It’s a 24/7 job, and one has to be self-motivated. I’m working in my head when I’m in the shower and in the car. I’m working while I’m pacing around the house, and when I’m talking “to my cat.” I know it sounds funny, but some of my conversations with Nenette and Cita have resulted in big progress gains. Fur-babies are excellent soundboards; talking through problems with them has produced many a solution. For me, at least 40% of the writing work is thinking work. (Okay, in all honesty, I do talk to myself more now than ever.)

Some days, I write for four to six hours. Some days, I write for 10, 20, 30 minutes. And a day with no writing at all isn’t a day off. A day with no writing is a day of thinking work, and it’s exhausting. The whole project is exhausting. I have sparks of inspiration at midnight and sparks of inspiration before the sun rises. I’m up at 5:30am every day, if not earlier. My posts in this blog have been more likely to be late since quitting my nine-to-five, and I’m still not sleeping enough.

But I’m not complaining. I love this work. It’s my passion, my art, my livelihood, and by that, I mean the thing that makes me feel alive. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m grateful that I’m able to do it full-time. I’m grateful for the support and encouragement lent by family and friends, especially by Callaghan.

I suppose all writers live this way… obsessed with their projects day and night, agonizing over the smallest details. All artists, may I add.

Here’s what an honest pie chart representing my writing “day” looks like:

 

kristis-typical-writing-day-pie-chart

 

A few points about the chart!

  • The chart represents my main-project writing day. It doesn’t include blogging and other writing.
  • “Thinking” includes NOT thinking. I find it necessary to not think about the writing for a period of time so that I can return to it with a clear head.
  • “Procrastinating” doesn’t feel so much like procrastinating, since my mind is working on my project while I’m doing things around the house that need to get done, anyway.
  • None of this is to say that there are never times that I’m not working. I do my share of errands, appointments, lunches out, social media, etc.

I can stop thinking about my project when I’m at the gym. I can stop thinking about it when I’m engrossed in a book or in a movie or an episode of some television series or another. I can stop thinking about it when I’m with Callaghan. I can leave the project behind to be in those moments.

The short answer to the question How is the writing going? is “The writing is hard. But it’s going well.”

“A night with Venus, and a lifetime with mercury” (Haiku 10: Syphilis)

One thing I’ve learned in the last few months is that the mind, left to its own devices, can wander and dwell on bizarre things.

 

Haiku 10: Syphilis

(by Kristi Garboushian)

1.

Romantic aside:

Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci,”

blown-glass femme fatale.

 

Dead rose

Dead rose

 

2.

Hedonism spawns

creation: le maquillage,

acerbic beauty.

 

Beneath the skin

Beneath the skin

 

3.

Artists, dictators

(brilliant cast of “The Great Pox”),

poets, writers, kings.

 

Thomas Hardy's Ale

Thomas Hardy’s Ale

 

4.

Voltaire’s Candide smirked.

Syphilis an affliction?

Tout est pour le mieux.

 

Candide, Voltaire's famous satire

Candide, Voltaire’s famous satire

 

La Fin.

I’m still obsessed with the syllable, infatuated with the value of these units that make words. It’s strangely soothing.

Skeletons in the closet (Office revamp – the unabridged version)

At present, joyous times are being had with our houseguests (my in-laws) from France, who will stay with us a few more days yet. All manner of general housecleaning needed to be done before they arrived, but I spent the better part of last week taking apart my office, sorting through unwanted miscellany (“garbage,” “recycle,” “Goodwill”), and putting the room back together.

Most of the action took place beneath the surface in the closet and drawers, so the room itself doesn’t look much different now than it did last week. Even so, it’s different to my eyes, which had beheld the spectacle of the room’s innards strewn about on the floor and piled up on furniture over the few days it took me to analyze it all. I felt like a forensics investigator. What has been seen cannot be unseen, as they say. It was a lot of crap.

The terrain of my desk changed slightly when I added a lamp, which makes all the difference. This is now my full-time work environment, so my office needed a desk lamp more than the dining nook did. (Another lamp has taken its place in the dining nook, anyway.)

You knew where this was leading… I’ve got the photographic tour here for anyone who may be interested, such as you fine readers who’d asked about my Table of Death when I mentioned it a week ago. It started as a raucous, dark joke with a friend when I showed her the table and realized just then that a Dia de los Muertos bag hangs in that corner (pure happenstance, which prompted the hilarity – you had to be there). Laughing about it helped to mitigate the somberness of that part of the room, but it helped further when another friend asked to see the table and called it a “Table of Remembrance.” So, yeah. I like pairing that brighter perspective with the dark humor one.

Enough about that. 360 office tour ahoy!

As seen from the doorway:

 

inside left corner (desk)

inside left corner (desk)

 

Desk (top view)

Desk (top view)

 

Desk corner detail: Valentine's Roses 2014, original art by Callaghan "not cal" by Not Cal, California ex-pats in Arizona

Desk corner detail:
Valentine’s Roses 2014, original art by Callaghan
“not cal” by Not Cal, California ex-pats in Arizona

 

Long wall to the left (with tapestry and twinkle lights)

Long wall to the left (with tapestry and twinkle lights)

 

Window wall across from the doorway (with futon)

Window wall across from the doorway (with futon)

 

Far right corner (Table of Death/Remembrance)

Far right corner (Table of Death/Remembrance)

 

Wall to the right (closet)

Wall to the right (closet)

 

Behind the door (Lucha Libre poster, boxing gloves, bags, hats)

Behind the door (Lucha Libre poster, boxing gloves, bags, hats)

 

Door-frame (pull-up bar overhead)

Door-frame (pull-up bar overhead)

 

This concludes our tour. I won’t be needing to cover a door window in this office, but the door here stays open, anyway.

My week in Haiku (Haiku 5: Emancipation)

[** This personal haiku discipline I’ve started has become something of a pleasurable habit. Helpful hint, if you’re so inclined: I’ve grouped my growing collection of themed haiku sets here. You can also click the link in the “Poetry” category in the sidebar. **]

I’m coming off of a fantastic and unusually creatively charged week, probably the most so of 2016 thus far. I wrote this set of haiku to sum it up…

 

Haiku 5: Emancipation

(by Kristi Garboushian)

1.

Disingenuous

snakes boiling over it all:

Laissez-moi tranquille.

 

"The Art of Strategy" (R.L. Wing, new translation of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War")

“The Art of Strategy” (R.L. Wing, new translation of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”)

 

2.

Serendipity.

No secret provocation,

no sly dorsal fin.

 

Newly created path.

Newly created path.

 

3.

Bear witness: Too much

blinding white noise, stochastic

resonance. Failure.

 

Live a great story (and learn).

Live a great story (and learn).

 

4.

Current volition:

auspices of Minerva,

prosaic temple.

 

My new office set-up – at home. Blessed.

My new office set-up – at home. Blessed.

 

There is not a paper on that desk.

Installation (Haiku 4: Car, pendulum, bougainvillea, interactive art)

Callaghan woke me up 25 minutes after the alarm should have gone off this morning. The alarm – my phone – failed to function one time before, and I couldn’t figure out why since I knew I’d set it. I didn’t understand why it happened this morning, either, and I was going to ask Callaghan if he’d heard the alarm and I somehow slept through it, except he was busy reading his email from Cècil the Goat in France (I asked him three times if the guy’s name was really La Chèvre because I was half-asleep and could have misheard him: Is his name really La Chèvre? Yes, it was), so I double-checked my phone and found that I’d accidentally set the alarm for tomorrow. Saturday. I SO wanted the week to be over that I subconsciously set the alarm for Saturday?

Anyway, I wrote another set of haiku last weekend in my mostly muted state (re-occurrence of laryngitis), and I was going to post it on Tuesday, but UFC 196 happened on Saturday night and I wanted to talk about that, instead. So here are the haiku.

This set of haiku was inspired by some pics I took on a stroll around my work campus.

 

Haiku 4: Car, pendulum, bougainvillea, art installation

(by Kristi Garboushian)

1.

Curved mannequin, all

disintegration, gesture,

all black-framed, rasping.

 

"Society of Automobile Engineers Formula 1992 Restoration Project"

“Society of Automobile Engineers Formula 1992 Restoration Project”

 

2.

Brass validation:

rethinking embodiment,

limbic perversion.

 

Foucault Pendulum

Foucault Pendulum

 

3.

Equatorial

skeletal recognition

(kaleidoscopic).

 

Towering wall of bougainvillea.

Towering wall of bougainvillea.

 

4.

Critical dissent

momentarily vocal,

avoiding earshot.

 

Multimedia art installation (Todd Ingalls)

Multimedia art installation (Todd Ingalls)

 

I must say, I’m enjoying writing these haiku.