Bunkie [Short Story]

By: E.E. Blackwood

“Sitting here, thinking about it – talking about it – with you … I dunno, it – it makes me wanna go back. Try it again. Maybe this time, I dunno, maybe this time I could do it. Things were different back then, you know? I dunno. Maybe now it’s something I could do. I mean, it’s right there. Looming. Every time I drive by, there it is, looming at me in the near distance. Like it’s laughing at me, or – I dunno – daring me, or something.”

And that was it: biggest fear, maybe biggest regret of my life, out in the open waters of verbal existence. No going back. Just out there, drifting off with the echo of my own voice between my ears. Nothing else left to do except maybe sit back with my beer, take a nervous swig or two, and wait for a response.

Aunt Dorothy just kinda sat there like, with squinting eyes and an oval mouth, a wilting cigarette at her ear,  like the question of the universe was bashing at her front door. It was something to ponder, all right. Something I pondered, and have still been pondering ever since, ten maybe twelve years now. And now it was something ol’ Aunt Dorothy pondered as we sat in our fold-up camping chairs at the open threshold of her two-car garage, filled not with cars, but with decades’ worth of trash and junk she and Rick had been collecting since marriage.

“But it’s just right there, ain’t it?” she asked.

“Every single day, yeah.”

“Every single day.” She took a drag off her dart, eyes squinting deeper than before, and took a good minute for the dragon smoke to rise forth from her forward-jutted lower lip. Aunt Dorothy leaned back in her chair and went for another beer from the cooler between us. “You’re a grown man, now. It’s just a kid’s thing. Does it really bother you that much?”

“Some days, sure. Other days, not so much. But it’s always there with me, hangin’ there. More so now, than ever before.”

“It means that much to you.”

“It does.”

Then that was it. Silence now, for us to imbibe the blessed taste of ice cold beer on a day hotter than the devil’s Sabbath. My pain was out in the open with it, just floating, the echoes a long-forgotten thing.

“Summers make these things feel kind of worse. Thinking about it, yearning for it, makes me want what I could have had back then. The innocent summer, the carefree summer. Yearning for the feeling I once held so easily back then. The butterflies in my stomach, the glow in my heart whenever I think back, ten or twelve years ago. People say sappy things about going back with the wisdom of today’s experiences, but all I want is to go back, way back, and know what it may have been like to climb that Bunkie.”

“Nothing’s stopping you now, you know,” said Aunt Dorothy.

“But I’m an adult now. You said so, yourself.”

“A foolish thing for an adult to do, but who’s going to stop you? Let’s go.”

Aunt Dorothy was giving me this gesture, an excitable little motion as she half-lifted off her chair, a master calling her dog towards an open minivan door.

“Let’s go!”

“Wait, but we’re going to walk?”

“It’s not too far from here.”

“But what about our beer?”

“Where’s it gonna go? Chug what you got and come on.”

I didn’t want to, didn’t feel there was much of a point in it now, I mean, how’d it look, a grown man climbing up a Bunkie – a few beers and maybe a joint in him, especially. But Aunt Dorothy, the adamant thing she is, had herself shuffling down along the drive and into the setting afternoon light, bent over with her left snapping at me to follow, drunk to be had by any of the neighbours around her.

But I dunno, it was one of those things where you regret saying shit to people, like they lord it over you or something, family especially, and I mean, Aunt Dorothy is the only one I have right now – Rick too, I guess, when he’s not swingin’ ‘em back while the Jays and Leafs swing ‘em forward. But I mean, having someone who believes in you more than you do, yourself, that’s a damn thing, in and of itself, and embarrassing.

I sort of felt sorry for her, to be honest, and in spite of myself, rose to scuffle along to satiate this sense of rogue responsibility she likes to have for me so much. Maybe it was kind of exciting, I dunno, thinking about that Bunkie, and climbing up there with someone alongside me, believing I could be a kid again, so long as I aimed for it, myself.

It sounds so stupid, really, but it was happening, and the walk across town felt like a breeze in and of itself. And the closer we got to the Bay, the more it sort of made sense, that climbing that Bunkie was just the right thing to do, no matter the age, and with that came a sense of fear and hopefulness, I guess. A silly thing to admit, I know, but ten or twelve years is a long time to sit on something you wish you did back when those ten or twelve years were available at your disposal.

The dying sun was peeking around a tip of the Spirit Catcher’s wing when we crossed Kempenfelt Drive into Centennial Park. Couldn’t help but think: hey, there’s nothing quite like the setting sun. Many beautiful things in the world, but the setting sun? Eighth wonder of the world.

Then again, if the sun setting over Kempenfelt Bay was the eighth wonder of the world, the Bunkie, standing there just off the playground, had to be no better than the Ninth – as far as I could be concerned, no doubt.

The Bunkie is the tallest thing you’ll see in the playground, I guess apart from the cedar trees,  I guess you can say it resembles more of a tree house, but when you’re kid without much of a grasp on the English language yet, it’s expected to call a tree house a “Bunkie” because “Bunkie” is a word that makes you sound like a grownup. To us, it’d always and only ever had been known as the Bunkie.

Or, maybe, I guess it’s more akin to a giant-sized birdhouse. Yeah. You know the ones, they’re made of wood, painted up all folkart-like, and they stick in your garden on tall dowels or pipe. The Bunkie looks just like one of those, except with a ladder up its shaft, and a proper door and windows enclosed by a little wrap-around porch.

“Well there it is,” said Aunt Dorothy. It were like she were in as much awe as any kid seeing it the first time over. And really, I couldn’t blame her.

The Bunkie’s been a thing that’s awed me for years: nothing like it existed except for the littler bird houses I just described, and just gazing up at it with her brought all the excitement and horror and anxious feeling that crept through me back in those ten or twelve years was flooding through me like something I thought I’d long forgotten.

The only thing that kept me from climbing up that ladder back all those years ago was the rickety rungs, no better than flat slabs of splintered wood nailed into the shaft, all the way up, up, up, until the sizable-square-shaped gap directly above allowed for a kid to pull themselves up over the edge of the wrap-around porch.

And damn, I’d not thought in a long, long, time until now just how high up that porch looked.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Aunt Dorothy sent a hard shove against my shoulder. It was one of those urgings, like she was excited for me to chase after my dreams, but to hurry it up, because the beer back home was getting warm.

“I don’t know if I can.”

“Why? There’s no one around. All you have to do is climb right up that ladder, and you can finally say, I’ve been to the Bunkie. That’s all there is to it, so get going! Go on.”

“I don’t think I can.”

She gave me an astounded look of frustration, but nothing could be helped. I was right. And I proved this by pointing her glowering attention over to a signpost neither of us had noticed upon initial inspection of the Bunkie. It was one of those waist-high black aluminum chalk board signs. You know the ones, they sit outside classy restaurants with the daily specials tied to clever, but forgettable, food puns. This one had white frilly lace that enunciated a cursive-written prohibition written on the rectangular board:

Use for Children Only. Height Restriction  4’8. – Thanks, Mgt.

“Who’s going to stop you?” Aunt Dorothy protested. “Someone gonna call the cops because you’re climbing a tree house? Climbing a tree house that’s smack-dab in the centre of a public park grounds? How is that against the law?”

The sky was dark and brown now, the sun almost completely vanished across the edge of the Kempenfelt Bay. Any daylight left crept with it across the golden sea, leaving all away from it a husk of what daylight kissed.

“It’s too dark now. I don’t want to fall.”

“You don’t want to fall? You don’t want to fall, it can’t be more than a ten foot drop. If you fall, you’ll hit the grass, great big deal?”

“I could break my ankle. What if the rungs are all splintery? What if my pants cuff catches on the edge of some bark, and I lose my balance?”

“So what if it happens? You fall and you get back up and try again. What are you so afraid of?”

Aunt Dorothy didn’t understand. She just didn’t get it. I mean, this was something haunting me for years now, not her, and I mean how could a person like Aunt Dorothy understand so easily from a single conversation?

“I wanna climb it,” I said, “But I don’t know that I can.”

And even if I could climb that Bunkie, the fact was, I wasn’t a kid – I was a grown adult, well past the height requirements, and who’s to say there weren’t cameras set up around the place to ward off your typical A-grade hooligans?

There was a parks grounds office just off the edge of the playground. I thought bathrooms were supposed to be there, and you know, I’m sure that building was, at one point, bathrooms, but it since looked remodelled to suit the needs of a groundskeeper. I headed that way without any kind of hesitation, and Aunt Dorothy was shouting at me from behind about the place being closed up for the night, but I saw lights were on in the windows, and I knew if I wanted to climb that Bunkie tonight, I’d have to talk to whoever ran the park this time of night, so there’d be no mix-ups and possible accusations of trespassings, or what-have-you. I mean, it’s an open park, I’m sure people taller than kids try to climb the Bunkie every night. What’s the trouble in seeking solace for just another stranger wishing to do the same?

So I went into the office expecting to enter into a lobby of some kind, but first step in, and I come face to face with a woman in dark business wear, whose size rivals that of the Buddah, both in girth and height. She’s there behind a desk, her whole body looking like it could spill out over the top of her work area if she took a breath the wrong way. And like, it was clear to me that the bathrooms were renovated to become this office, but for whatever reason, the size of the building itself remained the same, so the walls are so tight that the woman behind that desk looked like her shoulders could reach wall-to-wall easily, and the top of her neatly-tied hair bun nearly brushed the dust off the ceiling’s stucco.

“Can I help you?” She was gazing down at me behind menacing spectacles, like she had more important things to do.

“Yes you can!” Aunt Dorothy was calling out from behind me then. I didn’t even get a word in edge wise, she was so to the point. “We want to climb the Bunkie.”

The Groundskeeper gave us this look, like what the hell. “Why do you want to climb the Bunkie for?”

“Do we need a reason to climb the Bunkie?” Aunt Dorothy sidled up beside me, ready for a gun duel. She was being so stubborn now, and God bless her soul for it, but at the same time if you go in, guns blazing, right out the gate, who knew if I’d ever get a chance like this ever again?

The Groundskeeper thought this whole display was amusing, because she burst out laughing, a wicked and wild sound that shook the walls and made me, for one, almost deaf in one ear.

“What makes you think you can climb my Bunkie? The Bunkie is made for children. Childhood is a thing that has long-since left you in its tracks. So, what gives you the right to try to reclaim it now? If other adults see you climbing the Bunkie, then other adults will try to climb the Bunkie, too. That’s not why the Bunkie is here. What kind of image would I be projecting if I let you go and do that?”

“Because it’s something we’d like to do!” Aunt Dorothy protested.

“And so you come here, seeking approval, seeking permission when you could have gone and done so before?”

“It was the right thing to do,” I finally said. “Every day I pass the Bunkie by, and every day I think about that time when I could have climbed it, but was too scared to. And today, just talking about that fear and desire helped me come back to this place, and now I’d like to climb that Bunkie, just so I can say that I did, and feel proud of myself.”

The Groundskeeper was listening to me, she was nodding away like she completely somehow understood. It became obvious that what I was saying to her – she’d heard this spiel all before. That this hadn’t been the first time someone in my position went to her and told her their woes of regret and desire to climb that Bunkie. The Groundskeeper looked like she really, truly, understood.

But then she let out another wicked laugh and said, “No.”

“What do you mean, no?” asked Aunt Dorothy.

“I have an image to uphold,” said the Groundskeeper. “A reputation, don’t you see? As I said before, if I let you climb the Bunkie, then everyone else will want to climb the Bunkie. And then the Bunkie will be crowded at all hours of the day – no space left for the children to go. Where do you suggest that the brave children, who wish to climb the Bunkie themselves – where do they go? What do they do? Do they grow up, regretting the fact that they could not climb the Bunkie themselves, and come to the next Groundskeeper after me, and beg him or her to climb the Bunkie then?

You see the unfair position you corner me into, don’t you? The never-ending cycle of entitlement and regret. All because you weren’t brave enough to climb the Bunkie when you had every opportunity to. That’s not my problem. It’s yours, and yours alone. Do what you were meant to, and grow up. Move on. Get a hobby, for the sake of your pathetic self. A hobby that does not include climbing Bunkies, that is.”

Aunt Dorothy, she started to protest loud and angry now, but what else could be done? That was it. There was nothing left of it. We left the Groundskeeper’s office with her maniacal cackle in our ringing ears.

As soon as we stepped back outside, a door locked behind us, and when we looked back at the office, a closed sign flipped into view over the sidelight. Then all windows went dark, and there was only silence between us.

When we turned back to face the Bunkie, it was no longer there among the swing sets, and the jungle gym, and the tetherball court, or the picnic grounds, beyond. It was like the Bunkie was never there to start with. But I could see its outline, burned so deeply into the folds of my memory there. But it wasn’t there.

Not anymore.

There was just Centennial Park now, and the outline of the Dream Catcher looming in the distant night. It was staring at us as we trod the grass, all alone with nothing to show for doing the right thing. The Dream Catcher just loomed at us. And with it came the lull of the distant waves against the ringing in my ears.

“Oh well,” I said.

And that was it: biggest fear, maybe biggest regret of my life, out in the open waters of verbal existence. No going back. Just out there, drifting off with the echo of my own voice between my ears.

We crossed Kempentfelt Drive out of Centennial Park, and headed back to Aunt Dorothy’s place. The walk was long and quiet between us. What else was there to talk about? Our beer was probably bugger warm now. We’d left the garage door wide open for people to snoop and pick at the ten-or-twelve years’ worth of trash and knickknacks horded away like emotional safety blankets. But what could be done about it now?

Nothing else left to do except maybe sit back with a beer, take a nervous swig or two, and wait for tomorrow to come.

 

The End

 

5 Tips for Unfocused Artists

authorday

 

It’s ten minutes to 1pm on a Sunday afternoon, and the last thing I want to do is sit here at this computer and form words together on a word processor.

At least, that’s what my body is telling me:

There’re dishes to do.

Laundry to put away.

Brunch to cook and eat.

A shower to have.

Groceries and hormone medication to purchase.

And a mother to go and visit – long, long, overdue.

And yet, I have been aching — physically crying out — to sit down and write, all weekend. I want to be here. I want to sit down at this desk (technically breakfast bar?) and reconfigure the last problem area in Book of Wind, so that I can finally move on to something else (Hopefully, Eri book 2).

I’ve been sitting here since 9 o’clock this morning, listening to the Happy Console Gamer and the Diablo 1 OST with pieces of a new chapter spread across three different open documents, Wikipedia tabs open pertaining to the geographies of Scotland and Ireland, a dictionary.com definition of ocean firths, a Google images search for “firth” (resulting in an endless wall of Colin Firths), not to mention bringing up inside jokes with my live-in partner about Shinji Ikari’s cousin from the southern states, Corncob Ikari, to which I am being verbally assaulted for merely mentioning here and now in writing (“How dare you reveal our secrets? I’m mad right now.”), and nothing to show for this newly-revised chapter other than mental exhaustion and a bladder full of coffee and Jade Citrus Mint tea.

I know what this chapter looks like. I know what needs to happen and where it needs to go. Its contents are easily-visualized in my imagination. It’s just a matter of sitting down and doing it. Putting the time in, powering through, distraction-free.

 

corncobikari

And you bet your buns I took necessary time away from writing so that I could make this picture of Shinji’s American cousin, Corncob Ikari. He’s a farmer from Nebraska.

Except, of course, it’s not that easy.

In my last blog post (I’m going to pretend it was last week, because this is supposed to be a weekly blog, right?), I mentioned the struggle of diverging focus on building a social media audience, when all of my energy wants to go to writing. Ultimately, this leads to mental exhaustion.

I want to write, I physically need to write. So I sit down, put on some music, and stare at a blank screen for as long as my body will allow until the sudden urge to get up and make a tea, or go to the bathroom, or snuggle with my cat, or joke with my partner, or all of the above, takes over.

Most every artist who dabbles in throwing words at a page struggles with procrastination and focus. My background is in journalism, and this problem was prevalent with myself, my peers, backed by evidence supported by our collective professors and mentors in the field. It’s no wonder why so many writers struggle with substance abuse: drugs and alchohol sometimes help bring down the internal walls guarded by Inner Critics and Overanalyzers.

And as someone who has recently discovered that she’s more than likely been living with undiagnosed Inattentive-Presenting ADHD for all of her life, the temptation to drown my unhinged thoughts and lack of focus with a brim-tall glass of wine and a few puffs of the ganja are pretty strong right now. Because, haha, Heaven knows downing twelve cups of tea and coffee in a row does the complete opposite of what I need my body to do, and I start to feel sleepy.

I’m sure some of you can relate to this sense of artistic frustration in one way or another. And it’s easy to be frustrated with one’s self-imposed expectations for “productivity”.

But I think the imporant thing to recognize here is that it’s happening, and to forgive yourself in the moment, and most important: try to maintain good humour about these frustrations.

When you’re able to recognize your “faults”, and laugh at yourself, the dehibilitating power of these issues we face when it comes to starting, and finishing, our art projects ultimately become lessened. At least, I like to think so. Sure, we’re still going to procrastonate, and become frustrated, and absentmindedly leave a wall of Colin Firths open in our Internet Browser (because fuck that’s funny to click on when we least expect it). But recognizing these patterns and why they are happening (be it internal or external forces vying for your attention) allows us some grace as artists to step back, have a chuckle, and utilize our imaginations as a problem-solving mechanism.

I mean, part of our job as artists is to problem solve, right? Whether you’re a painter, an author, a sculptor, what have you, we are all ultimately sitting down with a dozen or so intellectual pieces of a potential puzzle we’d like to solve (the puzzle being whatever project we’re working on, and the pieces being the literal vague or planned ideas we would like to incorporate into these projects). The only difference is that we are trying to solve a much bigger project: our ability to create in an efficient way.

So, for the sake of keeping myself on task, and hopefully try and help some of you who also struggle with these issues, I’ve come up with five ways to help refocus attention on the creative process. Here are some strategies I use:

Meditation: I’ve been meditating on and off since about 2014. My then-business coach  introduced me to mindfulness meditation and Buddhism at a time when I knew things in my life needed to change.

I love meditation because the practice isn’t so much about emptying my mind (like the media often portrays), as it is recognizing my thoughts and separating myself from them; recognizing thoughts as things that are independent from me as a person, and allowing these thoughts to simply pass by as I focus on the relaxing effects of deep breathing.

I typically can’t bring myself to meditate for more than twenty minutes at a time, and it needs to happen in a dark and quiet place where I can close my eyes, seperate from the rest of the world. Even a quick five minute session helps to ground me in a way where all stress and tension seem to just evaporate.

 

Listening to/humming instrumental music: I’ve always used music to write with. Even as a kid, writing stories on my brother’s pentium work laptop (he was a door-to-door salesman for Kirby Vaccum Cleaners), listening to shitty MIDI-quality songs from favourite video games and cartoons was an integral aspect of my creative process.

I say instrumental music works best, because of how distracted I can get listening to anything with lyrics attached to them. There are plenty of artists who can throw on AC/DC or Drake, or Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album, and create to their heart’s content with relative ease (Stephen King is my favourite example of this; the guy rocks out like nobody’s business when he’s creating.) I can’t do it, though. My ears focus on the lyrics instead of the words trying to form in my brain, and it’s just a disaster from there on out.

Instrumental music sets tone and mood of the scenes just as well, in my opinion, and because there are few to no words attached to said songs, the music itself helps focus my thoughts in a creative direction, driving out any other sort of mental intrusion.

At the time of this writing, I’m a Starbucks barista in my spare time, and the same tactic applies: because there can be so much to do and keep on top of (you’d be surprised how much there is to keep on top of, for a job that revolves around the serving of coffee), that I often find myself humming high-octane themes from some of my favourite video games (Final Fantasy II, Phantasy Star, DOOM) to help focus my attention and keep pace with my coworkers.

 

Smoking the ganja: I have a complicated relationship with cannibis. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it makes things worse. Cannibis has wonderful healing and coping properties, but I will be the first to warn anyone that its effects (both for better or for worse) differ from person to person. Sometimes I hyperfocus on otherwise neglected tasks (doing dishes, getting back to people’s texts…). Sometimes I’ll overthink every self-percieved flaw and have an emotional breakdown because I’m a horrible human being who should have recognized the signs that my ill cat had contracted something months ago, and should have taken her to the vet ASAP (Don’t worry – I did, and she’s doing just fine).

When I use cannibis, typically it’s for making art and writing. Because of the way my brain is wired, cannibis helps focus me in a way that nothing else can. It breaks down self-imposed limiting barriers, which for an artist, can be a supreme obstacle to overcome. There are no inner critics, there are no imposing thoughts of, “I have to do laundry, I have to make lunches, I have to pay the bills” — there’s just the hyperfocused ability to enter into your art in its rawest form, and simply create, or see problem scenes/characters from a different perspective.

The Master of Monsters was a project I struggled with for over a decade, until I discovered cannibis, and it’s no wonder why so many creative people use it. The stuff helped me realize a lot of problems in MoM’s narrative, and aided in the creation some of the best and most memorable chapters and plot developments not present in previous drafts. It’s still not a perfect book by any means, but it is a book that I can now proudly stand by as an artist who has matured and honed her craft.

In that regard, cannibis is an amazing tool for the creative process. It’s just important to try to not rely on it as a tool. Good writing comes from practice, and great writing comes from opening your work up to external constructive criticism and subsequent revising. Cannibis might help lower self-imposed walls, but it doesn’t make you a better artist; being in-tune with yourself and your projects makes you a better artist.

 

Working in a closed-off and/or uncluttered area with a lot of space around me: This one’s really important, and to some of you readers, is likely a no-brainer. Personally speaking, I need a lot of space to create. The table or desk needs to be at the perfect height in ratio with the seat of my chair, there needs to be a ton of natural light coming in from somewhere, and a tea kettle needs to be near-boiling close by. Working in a wide-open, distraction-free, area helps alleviate any chance of me feeling suffocated and needing to constantly get up and move.

Perhaps this point is more about harnessing healthy rituals than it is finding the perfect place to sit and work on whatever project is at the top of the list. Creating routine in your life as an artist is just as important as creating art. 

Whether it’s simply about getting dressed in the morning and having a cup of coffee before you create, or limiting access to all WiFi-enabled devices, or going for a brisk walk, or throwing on some amazing hip-hop beats, it’s important that you find what works for you and your muse, in order to be at the top of your potential that day.

 

Practice patience and self-forgiveness for the days that just don’t work out: This is a tough one. And is quite honestly, the most important point on this list. Some days you’re going to sit down at your desk with good intentions, only to stare at a blank screen for hours at a time. Sometimes external factors will demand your focus and attention on days you’re feeling most creative. Somtimes your body, or your mind, or both, will work against you in ways that will make you feel defeated and filled with resentment.

It’s easy to get frustrated with the lack of productivity. Being a creative person comes with a term I learned in journalism school, called “hurry up and wait”. Waiting for the ideas to come, waiting for inspriation to knock on your door, waiting for the caffiene to kick in, waiting for the end of this long and grueling process to be over, so you can move on to the next fresh and exciting idea that keeps knocking on your door.

Sometimes you have to buckle in and drive through these moments of inactivity. Sometimes you have to sit back and say to yourself, “Listen, today didn’t happen. I’m not okay with that, and this is why, but I realize tomorrow is a new day. I’ll try again then.”

Being real with yourself is the key point here. And for most of us, tomorrow will come, and tomorrow will offer new opporotunities to try again. And if it doesn’t, then it’s important to try not to be so hard on yourself.

When I’m feeling this way, I always know my partner and my close friends will be there to support me, and talk sense into me. Shit happens, right? Life will go on, and your project will get finished, so long as you keep plugging away and don’t give up on it.

Accept the day for what it was, recognize where you can improve, but most of all, be patient and forgive yourself when you think you’ve failed. In the grand scheme of things, you are likely more productive than you actually believe you are.

 

grumblegrumble

Chasing Readers, A Fundamental Flaw

So, I’ve realized I hate blogging.

This is an especially problematic thing to admit when you’re a self-published author struggling to build a devoted audience. The thing is, writing is an extremely personal thing for me, as you can probably expect, and sitting down to do such a thing for an extended period of time often leaves me feeling emotionally-drained.

I’m quite good at what I do, even though writing fiction in and of itself comes with its own Santa’s sack of stressors and spectrum of insecurities. But at the end of the day, if I’m going to write, I’d rather direct that expendature of energy towards long-term projects, such as The Quest for the Crystals or Eri, the Monster Sealer (The former of which is going quite well in its second installment’s drafting).

If I’m being honest, blogging is easier in some regards, because I don’t really have to think much about structure or formatting — everything just seems to come together pretty organically, whereas writing fiction is rife with overanalyzation, underestimation, and copious amounts of self loathing and theraputic alcohol.

Fact of the matter is, when it comes to blogging, I just don’t have a lot to say. Or at least, it certainly feels that way.

If I’m writing for a larger audience — or attempting to — there’s this sense of pressure on my shoulders that demands that everything I write must offer my potential readers something. Giving stuff away for free has been the go to mantra of bloggers, artists, and dot-com entreprenuers since the dawn of Internet Capitalism(tm), because when you give away something of value enough times, people will begin to pay attention to you. Apparently.

This includes tutorials, advice and insider secrets, webinars, e-books, behind-the-scenes insights, et cetera. Look no further than Geoff Goins, Mark Manson, Tai Lopez, and every other web-funnel guru with an e-mail list giveaway (Yes, I realize I’ve only listed men here — they’re the first number of folks who popped into mind. Don’t have a cow). These guys make a killing by giving stuff away for free, because people value what they have to say, and wish to pay them for whatever services they have to offer.

All I want to do is write fiction. I don’t care about maintaining Facebook adverts. I don’t care about chasing after whatever trendy hash-tags are available on Twitter. Nor do I really desire to spend every waking moment vlogging my way across Youtube John Green-style when I should be sitting down at my word processor.

All of these things feel like superficial distractions to me, that may or may not aid in building in audience — but only if I have a solid audience already established. Which I don’t. These things aren’t guaranteed. I know plenty of struggling authors and artists in the same boat as me, desperately chasing after someone — anyone — to pay attention to them. And I kind of can’t help but pity their desperation.

I’d rather spend what available energy I have focused on telling honest and engaging stories that entertain the most important audience to date: myself. This is a somewhat scary thought, because I know deep down that the stories I have to tell are important ones, that need to be shared far and wide, except I just don’t have the emotional capacity to sit down and whore myself out online for a smidge of traffic.

I’m an introvert by nature. I’ve always been a lone wolf, and the idea of forcing myself to engage in social media-centered fellatio in dire attempts for Sempai to notice me feels somewhat unproductive and exhausting. Just thinking about logging into Wattpad or Twitter makes me want to take a nap and avoid anything related to the Internet.

I feel like I’ve rambled in a few directions here, and ultimately, I’m not sure what the answer is. I don’t like blogging, and I hate social media even more. But as a self-published author I feel almost obligated to take part in these acts, because every other self-published author and dot-com success story tells me I have to, in order to be viable and relevent.

But what about all those other artists and authors I know who believe this, and are still total unknowns?

Obviously it boils down to genuine connection — but I’ve never been very good at putting myself out there, pushing myself into public spaces and being the centre of attention. Most people get on my nerves easily, and I’d rather not have to John Green my way to success if I don’t have to.

Part of me really envies John Green though, and every other content creator out there who has enough of an outgoing personality to pump essays and vlogs out at a consistent rate in order to satiate whoever throws a couple bucks towards their Patreon account.

I just don’t have the energy to expend that kind of effort. What do I give away that’s useful to other people? I don’t have a lot to say, nor do I see myself as an effective mentor-figure. I’m just a spooky YA author who cries like a baby at opening credits to Don Bluth films and consistently has Doom 64’s title theme stuck in her head.

It’s a lot to consider.

How about you? What would you like to see from me? Off the cuff journal entries? Short stories and poetry? Reviews? — What kind of advice do you have, if any? If you’re also a content creator, what’s your experience been like in this frontier? I’d love to know.

 

Art is Pain

Someone I once knew in my old life pushed away friendships that weren’t “emotionally easy”, because she was too afraid to share herself deeper than skin-level. She was quiet and awkward, and intelligent and confident, and caring and angry.

I knew her as well as she’d let me, but at one time I considered her a best friend. We’d met in college and spent the first two years of our friendship getting stoned or drunk and bonding over cheesy ’80s movies, midnight adventures with our dorm-mates out in the campus arboretum, or sitting quietly around her kitchen table, gleefully roasting toothpicks over an open scented candle flame.

She was a person who protected her heart behind sky-cutting walls, but wrote beautiful agony inside her notebooks. Her poems spoke of deep and cryptic musings that flowed from the sorrow of her heart. Death. Love. Hurt. Confusion. Pain.

Very few people were granted access to her poetry. Not even her lovers were allowed inside. Distant and guarded face-to-face, it was clear to me that what she wrote was what helped her heal and to sort things out and try to find perspective in life.

The reason I bring her up now is for the simple fact that she’d come to mind recently.  Thinking of her brought on feelings of pain for myself, grief for what once had been. Thinking of my friend caused me to reflect on my own life up to now, how much pain I’ve faced in thirty-one years. How much pain I’ve run away from in thirty-one years.

Nobody enjoys the experience of pain. Real, heart-wrenching pain.

Loss.

Regret.

Embarrassment.

When given the option, we run from pain like it were a sickness – a common cold, the flu. We mask it with alcohol and drugs, with a bright smile and a gregarious nature – sometimes helping others feel good about themselves. Sometimes, we mask our pain with arrogance, overcompensation in our achievements to attempt to showcase a false perception of emotional perfection, that we have our “shit” together.

Many times, we mask our pain with our credit cards and bank accounts.

We do everything in our power to maintain a fleeting sense of happiness. To not be happy means that there is something wrong with us. That something deep within the woodwork has malfunctioned. And instead of putting on our work gloves and hard hats, ready to search within ourselves to fix the problem, we are expected to be stoic. “Pain is weakness,” people with bravado complexes say. Visual vulnerability within a person is taboo. To be genuine with ourselves is almost blasphemy, invokes feelings of shame and guilt.

But pain is a part of life, as natural as all positive emotion we share on the contrary – even if pain is unpleasant and messy, and sometimes shows us harsh and honest truths we would rather not be privy to.

The fact of the matter is that pain shows us who we really are. If we let it, pain can help us to grow and to help others who are in search for a guiding light.

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.

~ Brené Brown

As artists, it is our duty to peel away the flesh that keeps all that is safe and secure. Emotion is the birthright of humanity, and our exploration of the deeper self – while in no way an easy task – is what allows us to speak to our audiences. This is because artists are obligated to express themselves honestly. Most of us have something evocative to say, we stand for something that resonates with other people. Therefor, it is our responsibility to speak from a place of soulfulness, worldly experience gleaned from the experience of pain.

Whether or not our audiences realize it, we relate to their pain through our own pain. As my friend displayed, art in and of itself is healing. Music resonates with the teenager going through a world-ending breakup. Television, movies, and video games offer cathartic release to wound up adults after a rough day at the office. Books and comics fuel hungry imaginations, and often inspire change.

Art heals, because art is art is pain – and pain is honesty. This is how some of the greatest works in the world, including our own, are created. [Tweet this!]

I started writing this article out of a sense of pain. Grief has been heavy on my heart over the last year, and thoughts of anger, regret, sadness, and ultimate confusion and loss threw me headlong into a hurricane of wavering depression. Some days I have an all right grasp – others, not so much.

Truth of the matter is, the friend from my old life is no longer my friend. We were too different. Needed different things than what the other was willing to offer or compromise for.

We always said our friendship was the type that “you could go years without speaking, and reconnect like nothing separated us.” I believed that.

But I had to move on.

A lot of mistakes were made on both sides. A lot of regret. It hurts like a son of a bitch, even a year later, but when I’m being honest with myself, I know letting  go and thinking on the good memories was the best decision – for the both of us. I hold no anger. No animosity. She was good to me, the best she could be. I am grateful for what we had.

But it still hurts. A fuck ton. I sat down and started to write this article in an attempt to help aid my pain to heal. And this soon became an article about developing your inner pain into art.

It’s important to do something creative and constructive when you’re feeling emotional. It’s healthy. It’s therapeutic. My friend knew this, and so do many artistic geniuses. What I especially love about this process that I feel like the reins are being given back. The emotions have relinquished their control and something tangible, shareable, is carved and fired into existence.

Our emotions are part of who we are as living, breathing, entities of this universe. When we push away our emotions and try to mask our pain with distraction, nothing is solved. On the contrary, our pain will only manifest deeper within our souls, and over time – if we don’t release it somehow – our bodies and mind will be caught in the crossfire and will pay the price in the end.

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The Art of Self Forgiveness

Last week, we discussed matters of regret as an artist, and how everything would eventually be okay and work itself out. This week we’re going to delve deeper into this hopeful notion with the first in a series of companion pieces.

When I wrote that all of us artists are in this journey together, it wasn’t coming from any hokey place of optimistic naivety. The fact is, no matter the medium, no matter the level of expertise or apprenticeship, we have all faced the mental and external obstacles of insecurity.

Mental illness is a hot button topic now, and artists tend to be notorious for self sabotage and destructiveness to their own well being. Depression and anxiety are among the top noted symptoms among struggling artists. Despite what you may think, what the media and masturbatory social platforms such as tumblr and reddit have told you, these symptoms are in fact beatable, if not manageable. All it takes is a little self awareness and a push in the right direction.

So over the next little while, we’re going to work together to explore a few steps that are easier said than done, in order to achieve successful artistry. Remember: you cannot be truly successful in life unless you build from the inside, outward.

During this time, I will be compiling a resource page that has aggregated various online utilities and mentors that will help you discover your innate creative self, and build confidence to stem from that.

Let’s begin.

Step one: The Art of Self Forgiveness

This is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to achieving your true potential. For most of us, it feels impossible to even fathom such a thing as self forgiveness, because we are so used to living an existence of constant internal and external criticism,  lacking self confidence and self worth, and torrents of disappointment despite our output of effort.

One of the most important first steps in this process of self forgiveness is to recognize that everything that has happened to you in your life is a result of your own doing.

When we are faced with failure in life, it is easy to blame our parents, blame our business partners, spouses – even children. We blame mental illness, financial insufficiency, the very cultures we were born into or assimilated with. It is so easy to pass the buck onto other people when faced with the reality of our own undoing.

But the fact is, the only person who put you in those situations is you. Despite what you want to think, the gun pressed against your head is in your very hands.

And most people will refuse to believe this. They’ll scoff, and maybe write a comment down below to justify their detrimental behaviour, and close the browser tab to move onto Facebook or YouTube or something else completely vacuous and unproductive. And that’s fine. Hopefully they will come to the realization a little later on.

But for those of you who want to take responsibility for yourselves, there is nothing stopping you from personal growth; from pushing yourself out of your comfort zones – to stop, take a breath, and say aloud, “No. No. I deserve better than this, and I will not settle until that happens.”

We are our own obstacles in life, and as you sit on the edge of your bed late at night reading this, feelings of guilt and regret are sure to have set in. The inner critic comes around and shows you everything that has gone wrong in your life. But you’ve made plenty of excuses to last an eternity – it’s time to forgive yourself and push onward to greater things.

The first step is self forgiveness. And self forgiveness is responsibility for the self, to reflect on one’s own actions without anger, without remorse, without guilt or judging. See your actions for what they are, and learn from your mistakes.

The mistakes you’ve made will serve a great illumination for the path you must follow. And from that, self forgiveness.

 

 

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NaNoWriMo and the Truth About Inspiration

It’s been a super long while. How’s it going, Internet? With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) just around the corner, I figured it would be pertinent to touch on something many novice writers find themselves at combat arms with.

Inspiration.

It takes a lot of guts, courage, and time management in order to pound out a 50,000 word manuscript in as little as 30 days. But for many writers, they cannot help but eagerly face the opportunity. However, like winged ants in search to begin a fledgling colony of their own, many writers will rise to the occasion, but very, very, few will succeed to reach their goal.

In fact, even outside of NaNoWriMo, you’ll find many writers (perhaps there are those among my readers who can relate) who very rarely finish what literary ventures they start. We grow weary of our projects; they become a bore, or cumbersome, or we’ve written ourselves into a corner and don’t know how to find a guiding light. New, lustrous, ideas tempt us elsewhere, and some of us fall victim only to be left feeling just as unsatisfied in the long run.

It’s a vicious cycle. And that’s where “inspiration” comes into play.

Many writers (myself included for the longest time until only recently) swear by the creative muses. If we did not feel inspired to write that day, we did not write that day. If we did not enjoy a current project, we would set it aside, claiming “Oh, I’ll tackle this later when I feel more inspired.” Then weeks pass, then months, sometimes even years, and very little would ever get accomplished.

The bare bones truth is that very few novice writers finish what they start. Unforced creativity very rarely swims to our artistic senses. The fact of the matter is that you have to sit down and just do it. Just write. Write though the pain, and the agony, and the lack of inspiration. At the end of the day you’ll thank yourself, you’ll feel better, and each and every day you do this it will become easier and easier (for the most part).

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo, I want to leave you lovely creative types with the following, below. I want to see you succeed at your works. Not just your NaNoWriMo projects, but with all of your creative and non-creative ventures. If you are absolutely serious about being a novelist, or a journalist, or whatever else the writing field has to offer, I encourage you to take this advice on “inspiration” to heart:

Inspiration is a hoax. You want inspiration? Plant your butt and start typing. Type until you reach 1,000 words or more. Every day. I don’t care how hard it is to do that; I don’t care that you’re mentally exhausted after three sentences. I don’t even care if you’re bleeding out of your fuckin’ eye sockets. Whatever you do, don’t get up. Just write. Just do that. Inspiration? Romanticized bullshit. You want your inspiration? Paycheck. Advance. Royalties. There’s your inspiration. Now quit your bitching and get creating.

With much love,
E.E. Blake

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HERE ARE SOME RESOURCES TO HELP YOU BUCKLE DOWN AND GET SHIT DONE:

Write or Die (Online writing prompt that eats your words the longer you procrastinate – I found this very handy during my first NaNoWriMo venture.)
Focus Me (Blocks distracting programs for a set time, total customization. Free trial, full version is about 20 bucks — but totally worth it)
Cold Turkey (Handy social media blocker)

For more, read this Mashable article, “6 Apps That Block Online Distractions”.