Sunday, August 24, 2014

Music - Covering The Script's Breakeven

(Even pop) music can capture the deepest of our innermost feelings, the ones where when we're having them it feels like we're the only ones having them, but actually are universal, shared across people, no matter their place or time.

The best songs are about those universal feelings and situations.

These past few days, I've been listening a lot to the song Breakeven, by The Script.  It falls in that category.

It's about a break-up, where the guy is "falling to pieces," because he's still in love with her, and she has moved on.  Sounds trite. The lyrics alone aren't breathtaking, and the music is by no means complex or deeply original (a repeating pattern of four simple chords). But the combination of the lead singer's voice with the simple guitar strum and . . . the universality of that feeling. . . it just works:

I'm still alive but I'm barely breathing
Just prayed to a God that I don't believe in
'Cause I got time while she got freedom
'Cause when a heart breaks, no, it don't break even

Her best days were some of my worst
She finally met a man that's gonna put her first
While I'm wide awake she's no trouble sleeping
'Cause when a heart breaks no it don't break even... even... no

What am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you?
And what am I supposed to say when I'm all choked up and you're OK?
I'm falling to pieces, yeah,
I'm falling to pieces

Late last night, I was listening to music while doing some reading and searching online, and I came across a treasure-trove of covers of Breakeven.  (Though admittedly I hadn't thought about it too much, these days I'm sure there are people covering every popular song.).

Men, women, girls, and boys.
All ages.
From all around the world.

Musically, some are great and others are terrible.  But I enjoyed almost all of them.

Playing guitar, alone in their bedrooms. They are simple musical renderings of a shared emotion, a feeling we have in common, video recorded and then placed out there for all to see:

Setting Images to Words: Pre Sunset

"Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky." 

                                                                                                                         ~Rabindranath Tagore

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Setting Images to Words: The Art of Beauty

"The best part of beauty is that which no picture can express." - Francis Bacon

(Some pictures come pretty close. . . )

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Depression. Mine.

I started this blog because I wanted to try my hand at storytelling - fiction and poetry. 

But it was more than that. I also wanted to - no, I viscerally needed to - tell the story of me at my lowest and most frightened place.

And I did.  

I called it Introduction to Alone. You can read it on this blog in a handful of posts that began with this one and continued in the posts that follow it. 

It was non-fiction, a true story. About a severe battle with depression. Mine.

The worst episode happened last year, when I hit rock bottom and almost didn't come back. When I wanted to "disappear." When my pain built and built and built until I was so overcome with hopelessness and anguish that I tried to take action to ease the pain. When I ended up in the hospital, confused and alone and terrified.

Introduction to Alone was a raw description of my experience down at the bottom. It was not a pleasant story. I set it down on paper because I needed to pin down my depression, to remember it, to examine it, to try and figure out that part of me. It was a first step.

I later published Introduction to Alone anonymously with an online magazine as a single article.  This time, I added a short epilogue where I began to reflect on depression:

In the not-too-distant past, I was one of those people that believed that there is no such thing as depression. That everyone gets sad. That it was a cop out. A sign of weakness, by those who can’t cope. I was wrong. As I experienced, its real. Very real. Over a period of months, I became absolutely paralyzed. Every day was too much. Everything shut down. I couldn’t write. And I couldn’t think, except for the cycling fears and the anxieties. I wouldn’t interact with those around me. I didn’t want to be around anymore. This piece was written in an attempt to share the feelings and thoughts I had during this period, the lowest period of my life, the nadir (or perhaps the culmination?) of my battle with depression....

* * *

Coming to terms with my depression has been incredibly difficult.  

I didn't begin having periods of depression until about five years ago. The truth is, I still feel confused about why it happened. I still feel shame about it. I still often feel that it's "not me," and that it makes me a weaker person. I question why this happens to me, what is wrong with me.

In these past five years, I have had recurring "episodes" that vary in intensity and length. Sometimes they last for months. Some of these episodes - like the one last year - have been cripplingly paralyzing and excruciating on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute level. They seem to be triggered when a number of stressers occur at the same time, situations that seem impossible, that I can't think my way out of. Perhaps it's my mind powerfully saying "I don't like this," but at the same time not seeing a path forward. So it rebels. I'm not sure.

What does it feel like?

Being depressed is the most lonely feeling in the world. It's almost like an auto-immune disease of the mind. You turn on yourself. You tell yourself you are worthless, you are ugly. The brain simply shuts down and takes with it the centers that you use to make decisions, to be funny, to be interesting, to feel love, to see beauty, to experience joy. It's full on lethargy, and a powerful malaise takes over. It's absolutely exhausting, both physically and mentally.

I withdraw completely from friendships.

It's hard to motivate myself to do anything.

I can't check emails without great fear and anxiety.

I cannot make even the most basic of decisions.

And it builds on itself; undone tasks stack up, as time passes it gets harder and harder to reach out to friends, harder even to get out of bed. Even though I know its illogical, even though I know I should reach out to friends, stop procrastinating, exercise, do the things that make me happy, I simply can't. Worse still, when I am in its clutches and those around me try to help by suggesting I do all those things, the fact that I can't makes me feel even more hopeless, more worthless. It's a loneliness feedback loop, and there seems no way out.

And then it just stops. For me, coming out of depressive periods happens suddently and for no apparent reason. It's not like I have all these wonderful tools and use them to work my way out of it. Nope. I just hold on for dear life until it ends. And it does. When it's ready, the fog lifts, the sky clears, and I feel strong and energetic, creative, playful, sharp, and intellectually curious. I feel "myself" again. Within a few days. Thank God.

* * *

Before this, I didn't believe depression was a real thing. I thought it was just people who were really sad. I didn't understand that it's not an unhappiness, but a hostile take-over then suffocation of your mind, a constant feeling of being overwhelmed by every aspect of every day. 

This past year, I've been thinking and reading a lot about depression. The many articles and videos have shown me that the feelings I experienced that were so devastating are not unique to me. Others know what it feels like.

Among the best discussions on the topic is a TED Talk by Andrew Solomon in which he describes his depression, his conversations with others about their depression, and his thoughts about depression.  It's called Depression, the secret we share, and its worth reading the transcript in full.  In it he said:

"The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment."

The powerful grip of depression was also captured all too well by the brilliant author David Foster Wallace, who himself suffered from depression. David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will ...kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

Yes. That's what it felt like.

* * *

I was inspired to write this post by the death by suicide of Robin Williams last week.  He was dealing with acute depression. As with many of us, it hit me hard for a number of reasons.

Williams was a comedic dynnamo and incredibly talented actor who was ingrained in our collective consciousness. Williams was a genius, a virtuoso. His frenetic energy was palpable and delicious, a one-of-a-kind mind zooming forward and then making impossible hairpin turns at a million miles an hour. ("Are you thinking faster than the rest of us? What the hell is going on!?"). He was a unique talent in every sense of both words.  He was also genuinely kind, caring, and gentle man. For all these reasons, he had a unique ability to bring happiness to so many people. You couldn't help but to smile around him, and usually you had to laugh out loud. 

The juxtaposition of his happiness and vitality with his deep private struggle and deep depression is difficult to comprehend, and darkly sad.  As many noted, the "joke" about Pagliacci the clown from the graphic novel, The Watchmen, poignantly captures the seeming paradox of Robin Williams:

A man goes to see a doctor. Doctor asks what seems to be the trouble.

The man says, "Doc, I'm depressed. Simply, I can't sleep sometimes, I can't eat, I feel down and irritable most days. I just can't feel 'happy.'"

The Doctor says, "I've got the perfect fix for you. In town tonight is the great clown Pagliacci. He's hysterically funny and will make you laugh til you cry. You will experience a joy unprecedented."

The man bursts into tears. The doctor, confused asks why. "Doc, I am Pagliacci."

It emphasizes that depression is all too often a lonely and private struggle.

* * *

Robin Williams' death and the resulting discussion of depression and suicide took me back to my own depression. This was both bad and good.

Bad, because it was a dark time, and it was not a long time ago. Because when I look back I can hardly believe it was me, but I also know it is me. That's uncomfortable. 

Good, because much of the talk about depression lined up with how I felt. Because there were so many people -- SO many -- talking about their own depression who "got it," who understood, and so many others who spoke with such compassion and love. In fact, hearing other people describe their own battles with depression, hearing people describe what it feels like, and hearing people describe their feelings about depression, was amazingly therapeutic.  It felt good not to be alone, to know that there are so many people out there who understand.

The public outpouring that followed Williams' death not only celebrated his life and expressed a deep need to understand and help others deal with depression.  There were so many eloquent and beautifully conveyed pieces on depression, on what it means, what it feels like, on what it is and isn't. Some of the thoughts and posts that moved me:
  • "Twitter was full of people saying things like, "If you know someone who's depressed, hug them! Love them! Don't let this happen to them!" But like practically any topic, depression and suicide is something that takes more than 140 characters or a hug to fix. I have an incredibly loving family, many fabulous friends and a job that's a dream come true. I could have 100 hugs a day if I wanted them. None of that stops me from being depressed...There's no single weapon—positive thinking, faith, shock treatment, yoga, medication, hugs—that can vanquish depression on its own ... I don't need your pity; I don't want a hug. (No, really, don't hug me.) But depression needs to be acknowledged—and respected, because it's a powerful, tricky opponent that's bigger than us all. Still, our individual battles against it are worth fighting. I know that, because I'm here, writing this column, and today, I feel happy about that." - Rachel Piper

  • "Suffering from mental illness is not an issue of willpower. It does not respond to a desire to be different or be rid of it. It has nothing to do with how much someone does or doesn't want to be a normal, productive member of society. Depression doesn't go away through "finding laughter" or even meaning in life...Social stigma is still so powerful, most continue to suffer in silence..." - Bill Walsh

  • "Yesterday, like millions of others, I had to stop and catch my breath when I heard the news of Robin Williams’s tragic and untimely death. How could a man who filled us with so much joy be filled, himself, with so much pain that he chose to take his own life? What caused him to feel so desperate and helpless that the only option was to commit an unthinkable act that would ultimately stop his pain and suffering? I looked at the endless stream of photos and videos of him on all the social media outlets and did not find a hint, behind his infectious trademark smile, as to how deeply he suffered.  None of us did.  Because depression is a secret that no one wants to talk about. And it is my dirty little secret too...People often think that those of us who suffer from depression are downers who have difficulty functioning in everyday life. These are just some of the myths that create stigmas and often prevent people from being honest about their own mental illness. For me, the truth is I function very well and, most often, I am pretty upbeat—typically the life of the party. And no, I am not bipolar. I simply am not depressed every single day. But when I go down, I go down hard. And once I am down, it is very hard to get back up...The darkness was so severe and so intense that I could not see my way to clarity. I did not think the clouds would ever pass, that the winds would ever let up or that the rain would stop pouring down. But, as is always the case with storms, they do pass and the sun shines through the clouds offering the hope for a brighter tomorrow." - Tammy Palazzo
Other statements demonstrated that many still do not understand depression. To those who say that Robin William's suicide was "a selfish choice" or "cowardly," I say, you do not understand depression. Period. To say that shows an utter lack awareness of mental health issues, and perpetuates the misunderstanding and societal stigma about depression that causes so many to suffer in private and to not seek help. So does labeling people suffering from depression "crazy." It's the opposite of what we need. That's what we need to change. We need to work destigmatize mental health issues. Depression is part of the human condition. We need more widespread understanding of suffering. We need compassion.

* * *

I'm learning that depression is part of me. Andrew Solomon has gone even further. He has found a way to go beyond acceptance and to see beauty in his depression:
  • "The question is not so much of finding great meaning and deciding your depression has been very meaningful.  It's of seeking that meaning and thinking, when it comes again,"This will be hellish, but I will learn something from it." I have learned in my own depression how big an emotion can be,how it can be more real than facts,and I have found that that experience has allowed me to experience positive emotion in a more intense and more focused way....I think that while I hated being depressed and would hate to be depressed again, I've found a way to love my depression. I love it because it has forced me to find and cling to joy. I love it because each day I decide, sometimes gamely, and sometimes against the moment's reason, to cleave to the reasons for living. And that, I think, is a highly privileged rapture."
"To love my depression." Wow. I can't say that see it that way, as much as I'd like to say that I do.  I don't love it. I don't even like it.

I hate the fact that I can get overwhelmed to the point that my body and mind shut down; that I can feel it coming but I still can't stop it. I hate that when I'm in it, my brain feels so slow and fuzzy; God is that terrifying. I hate that it's wholly irrational yet all encompassing. That it's impossibly hard to have a simple conversation. That nothing brings any joy. And that there is nothing but an overwhelming urge to do nothing.

But I have accepted it.  Through this, I have learned more about who I am.  I know myself more deeply, and I recognize that I have light and also darkness. And that they fit together in some weird way. I am richly complicated. We all are. And this makes me feel more whole. 

Though I hope to never go through another episode, having been through this, in a strange way, also makes me feel more alive. It has forced me to be more in touch with my emotions. I feel like I've grown, like my focus on what's important and what matters to me is sharper.

I have also learned through this that the best thing we can do is to be open about it and be kind to each other. To watch our friends and our loved ones. To support each other. To be patiently loving. At first glance this may sound like a platitude, like some pollyanna, kumba-ya notion. It's not. Depression or not, that's truly what its all about.

I can't tell you how many people I have been open with this past year about my depression only to find out that they too have been through it or are struggling with it. They are so empathetic, so caring, because they know what its like. And it's not only others suffering from depression, but friends who simply understand the need for patience, kindness, and love. Who know they can't just tell you to "get happy," "enjoy life," or"snap out of it." Who stick with you, who reach out persistently, even when you seem to fade away.

That has been incredibly soothing. It has let me know that I'm not alone, that others have been through this same thing, felt these feelings.

Finally, this experience has also made me more sensitive and aware of the pain we all carry. Everyone. We all carry pain. We all carry sadness. We all get confused. We all struggle.

David Foster Wallace captured this aspect of our humanity so well:
  • “The next suitable person you’re in light conversation with, you stop suddenly in the middle of the conversation and look at the person closely and say, “What’s wrong?” You say it in a concerned way. He’ll say, “What do you mean?” You say, “Something’s wrong. I can tell. What is it?” And he’ll look stunned and say, “How did you know?” He doesn’t realize something’s always wrong, with everybody. Often more than one thing. He doesn’t know everybody’s always going around all the time with something wrong and believing they’re exerting great willpower and control to keep other people, for whom they think nothing’s ever wrong, from seeing it.”
Or to put it another way, as the now-popular Internet meme states: "Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.

Being sensitive to the pain and needs of others, makes me feel more human. It makes me feel more connected to the world; not less.

When you think about it, that's really incredible. Because that feeling of connection, it's the exact opposite of loneliness. That this feeling can spring from the ultimate loneliness and pain of depression is hopeful, invigorating and impossibly delicious.

(An edited version of this post has been published anonymously with The Good Men Project, and is available here.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dead Poets. Living Poets. What Will Be Your Verse?

"We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. 

We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.  And the human race is filled with passion.  

And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. 

But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. 

To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” 

Answer: That you are here; that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. 

What will your verse be?"
                                                                                    -- Robin William, Dead Poets Society

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shakespeare Is In Dire Straits - A Love Story For the Ages #Mashup

What light through yonder window breaks?
I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
It is Juliet.
Juliet is the sun.

He's underneath the window: "With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls"
A lovestruck Romeo steps out of the shade.
Says something like, "You and me babe—how 'bout it?"

Juliet says, "How now, who calls?"
"Hey it's Romeo.  Hey, la, my boyfriend's back."

"Juliet, when we made love you used to cry.
Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs.
I love you like the stars above, I'll love you 'til I die."

Silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night, like softest music to attending ears.
Now all I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme

A pair of star-cross'd lovers, two of the fairest stars in all the heaven.
I'd do the stars with you any time.

A #mashup of lines from Shakepeare's classic play from 1597, Romeo and Juliet, and The Dire Straits' hit song from 1981, Romeo and Juliet.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Found Poetry - From Wall, A Prologue --> Something Else

Here is my first attempt at "blackout poetry:"

 Unfortunately, the image isn't the greatest.  It reads:

It was black-and-white neatly trimmed sorrow.
She was smelling the rain that fluttered down from the autumn sky.
The two, each eyeing the other,
wondering which of them was to begin the conversation. 
The evening air was grey cotton.
A girl.
A boy.
She shook her head;
Now ignoring each other, scanning the wet grass.

If you are curious, here is the original page:

Saturday, August 9, 2014

MemoryBlurs - Part 1

"Life goes by so fast
You only want to do what you think is right.
Close your eyes and then it's past;
Story of my life"

-- Social Distortion, Story of My Life

I turn 3 years old.

White-blond hair and a rainbow striped shirt.
My mother's technicolor smile.

I turn 6 years old.

A green tricycle with a small orange reflector sticker,
rumbling down the sidewalk in Rockville Centre.

I turn 8 years old.

Next to the jade chess set, a china dish of multi-colored crystal sugar,
No one sees me lick my index finger and dip it in.

I turn 9 years old.

A menagerie of glass creatures, kiss them all goodnight,
The whole house smells like kasha in the morning, as I shuffle down the stairs.
You had to be quick, or the birds would eat the cherries.
But it didn't matter. The cherry tree in the front yard was great for climbing.
My hands grip dark bark branches.

I turn 11 years old.

I walk Heather every day after school; Carolyn Landes' dog, a Westie.
We talk for a while in her kitchen, a linoleum floor
She pushes a crisp dollar bill into my hand
After Mrs. Landes died, I kept walking the dog, but Mr. Landes, he was quiet.

I turn 12 years old.

My skateboard is orange and black, and it wobbles as I begin the downhill.
Wobbles become violent shakes, and I don't have a chance.
The asphalt burns my elbows and knees.

I turn 15 years old.

The Doors on the giant screen;
popcorn and sticky floors, and we're in the back row
She tastes like cigarettes and cinammon chewing gum.

I turn 17 years old.

Salted beach air through open windows.
"Jane says she's done with Sergio;
only knows when someone wants her."
Waves crash in darkness, cold sand, bare feet.

I turn 18 years old.

She sways. Her body wriggles to the music.
Closer and closer. She presses her body against mine.
I'm confused.
Her lips brush my neck.
I tingle.

The Hero's Journey

"While holding down
A job to keep my girl around
And maybe buy me some new strings
And her and I out on the weekends

And we can whisper things
Secrets from our American dreams
Baby needs some protection
But I'm a kid like everyone else"
                                                         -- Hero, Family of the Year

On Writing - Show and Tell

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
                                                                                                                              ― Anton Chekhov

On Found Poetry

A form of poetry that I'd like to try is "found poetry," also called "blackout poetry" or "subtractive poetry."

This is poetry that is created by choosing words from a piece of writing, e.g., a newspaper article, or a page from a novel, so as to construct a completely new work of poetry.  (I thought it was just poetry you happen to find, like the Google search poems.  But I was wrong.)

It's the idea that poetry is all around us - hidden in everything; you just need to coax it out. It's like sculpting, where you etch away the marble and what remains bursts forth as art.

An excellent primer on the methodology and how-to guide can be found here.  The New York Times also has a clever blackout poetry creating tool that you can play with. Below are a couple of examples of found poetry that show the power of this technique:

From The Great Gatsby:

From a New York Time's Article about living in micro-houses, entitled "So Small But Already a TV Star":

Setting Images to Words: Sunrise

What breaks in daybreak? Is it the night? Is it the sun, cracked in two by the horizon like an egg, spilling out light?
                                                                                                                            ― Margaret Atwood

Friday, August 8, 2014

Fiction - True Lies

"We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living.
 But they are good lies that say true things . . . ."

                                                                              Neil Gaiman

(NB: "Fiction is the truth inside the lie." ― Stephen King)

(NB II: 

“Grayson: Fiction is just a lie anyway.

Brianna: But it's not - it's a different kind of truth - it would be your truth at the time of the writing, wouldn't it?” ― Nora Roberts)

Begin the Beguine - Epilogue

"Ella begins to cry.  She knows that she is alone. 
 He's not there.  And he never was."

Cole sits back and lifts his pen.

We may not start stories at the beginning, he thinks, but neither is the ending the end.

After that, he now knows, we begin again.

"Ella walks through Washington Square Park and onto W. 3rd Street.  She's alone, but the city is before her. Her camera is slung over her back, and the sun is shining."

The End.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Beguining of the End

It's 4:30 AM. Early. Lost in thought, Cole travels the familiar path from his apartment to Ella's building. He is standing on the sidewalk, looking at her building. Three months, he thinks. It has been over three months since he had last been here. Three very hard months.

He hesitates at the base of the stairs.  Like the first time he saw her, he thinks, at Lincoln Center. He doesn't know what he is going to say. He walks up the stairs and rings the bell.

The door opens, and she's there. Ella cocks her head to the side and opens her mouth to speak but doesn't. She had woken up a few minutes ago, like she knew he was coming. This - and not his arrival - made her feel uneasy, confused. Getting over her surprise, she looks up at him and into his eyes, trying to get a read on him.

 Cole looks away. Then back at her. "Sorry to come by so early," he says. "I mean - I know - its been a while." He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks down, now unsure of himself.

She smiles sweetly and - in a familiar gesture, an Ella-ism - sweeps her hair from her eyes, "No. I - ... Just come in. It's good to see you.  Really. It's good."

She puts up water for tea. They sit on the floor next to each other, with their backs against the couch and the other three sides surrounded by last evening's black-and-white photos.

"These are really good," he says quietly.

"Thank you. Nice of you to say."

They are tentative. Slow.  It feels like they are wrapped in gauze; the space between them where there should be nothing is stuffed with a barrier layer of cotton. It's uncomfortable, but it also has a calming effect. They feel their way through.

Two cups of cold tea sit next to them on the floor.

"I miss you, Ella."

"I miss you too. But." Her last word hung out there for a few seconds that seemed like minutes.


"But it wasn't working. Remember? You weren't happy. We weren't happy."

It was hard for Cole to remember. But he did. It was true.  He hadn't been happy. 

"I know," he said, "But..."  He reached his hand over her shoulder and rested it on the nape of her neck. Reflexively, his thumb moved up and down the length of her neck. It soothed him.

"Cole, I'm really confused." Pause. 1-2-3-4-5. "It's nice to see you, but I'm not sure why you're here."

"Yeah," he nodded, "I know. Let's just sit a while.  OK?"

Ella takes a deep breath. "Okay," she sighs.

They sit quietly. They move next to each other, so their legs touch. Its easy and familiar. She reaches over and drapes a knit afghan over both of them.  His fingers graze against the back of her neck and against the back of her head.

They sleep.

* * *

Moving from night to morning (or in this case from early morning to the waking-up part of morning) often bends time. It compresses and elongates like an accordion. You wake up mere seconds after falling asleep only to glance at the clock and find out that seven hours have passed.  Or, like today, you fall asleep at 3:45 AM, and rise at 5:50 AM, feeling restored, like you've been asleep for days.  Ella's eyes open, green and brown.  The memory of his hand on her feels like his touch. A small smile.  A big stretch.  And she sits up.

She knows that Cole must have been watching her sleep, but she doesn't see him.

As she presses her hands against the floor to get up, she brushes against a photo.  One of hers, but one she hasn't seen before.

It's black and white, like the rest of them.  But this one is of Cole.  He is sitting on her floor, surrounded by her photos, watching her sleep.  His eyes are calm, but sad.  Because he is with her, but he is also alone.

She walks over to the record player, and brings the needle down. The sun pours through the window. Dust motes tumble in slow motion. The music begins, scratchy and haunting:

"let the love that was once a fire 
remain an ember
let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember

when they begin the beguine"

Ella begins to cry.  She knows that she is alone.
He's not there.  And he never was.

Beguine The Middle

As he glanced downward, she caught a glimpse of the dull flecks of loneliness he'd been hiding. He had such sad eyes. She started to cry....

She blinked out a first tear. Then another. She tasted the salt on her lips. Finally, she gave into it, and the waves of full-body sobs came. When the tears ran out, Ella breathed in deeply through her nose and pushed the air out in short bursts. She regained her center, sat up on the couch, and reached back to slide open the window.

The night air was cold, but it felt good. Ella suddenly got the urge to get out of the apartment. She took her camera, and hung it around her neck.

She walked outside and looked up.  Grey clouds obscured the stars, but a low-hanging near-full moon gave the night an muted glow.

It was 1:30 AM, and there was a thin layer of snow on the ground.  Ella swung the camera strap around so her Canon dangled from her back.  She shoved her hands into her pockets, sighed, and began to walk.

*      *      *

At 2 AM, Ella is standing across the street from a dimly lit crowded bar, watching the people as they shuffle in and out. The snow is coming down now, but gently. She slides the Canon off her back, leans on a parked car, and begins to shoot in black-and-white.

Though colorless, the city hums with a raw energy under her gaze.

Ella's face scrunches up in concentration.

She captures a tall black man laughing among a group of friends. Click.

A woman, wobbling unsteadily, with her girlfriends flanking either side of her, until she disappears in a yellow taxi. Click.

A middle aged man in a plaid shirt and worn jeans leaning against the wall and speaking intently to an unknown person on his phone. Click.

A young couple, oblivious to the scene, bodies close, arms wrapped up in each other, a jumble of open hands resting on each others hips and shoulders. Click.

A man in a blue blazer and khakis, standing alone smoking a cigarette. His face is obscured, but the ash glows orange inches from his lips. Click. He is looking in her direction, but appears to be disinterested, distracted.  He finishes his cigarette, flicks it to the ground, and heads back inside.

A yellow sliver of moon, poking out from a pillow of dark clouds. Click.

Ella shoots for about thirty minutes, until she realizes the tips of fingers are now freezing. She heads down the sidewalk towards home, the snow now crunching underfoot.

* * *

When Ella reaches her brownstone, a soft layer of snowflakes covers her hair.  She is cold all over.  Despite the time, she is wide awake. Inside her apartment, Ella begins to warm up. She downloads the pictures from the camera, and then prints out all of her pictures from the evening. She looks at each one, and then scatters them around her as she sits on the floor.

Ella flips onto her belly, and rests on her elbows with her legs sprawled behind her. She studies one picture at a time, taking in one face of stranger at a time. She tells herself their stories, and falls asleep just as the sunrise is marked by a bright patch of light on the hardwood floor.

Begin the Beguine

"As he glanced downward, she caught a glimpse of the dull flecks of loneliness he'd been hiding. He had such sad eyes."

This was Cole's first line.

Cole was writing a love story. His love story? Someone elses? The beginning was a love story, anyway. But he was already past that part. Now somewhere in the middle, the story would be all longing and sadness.

He hadn't yet sorted that the ending in his head. Frankly, he admitted to himself, he hadn't sorted out much. Just some pieces in broad brushstrokes. Disjointed short scenes, with lots of gaps.

* * * 

The mysterious "she" was a woman that Cole had noticed a few months ago.  He had stopped by the fountain at Lincoln Center. It was just before 7 PM.  Lincoln Center at dusk was a favorite people-watching spot of his. Cole sat with his back pressed against the outer lip of the fountain and his arms around his knees.  He was wearing a grey zip-up sweatshirt and a pair of jeans.  Couples bubbled and buzzed all around him.

Except for this one woman he had noticed. She was standing alone on the opposite side of the fountain. She was pretty in a pixie-kind of way, with short blond hair, wearing jeans and a white tee. She had Canon SLR camera on a strap around her neck, and her eyes slowly tracked the scene before her. He noticed that her eyes were different colors, one green and one brown. Cole was looking right at her as she snapped a picture of him sitting against the fountain, checked it in the viewfinder, and then looked back up at him with an amused half-smile.

Cole reached his hands to the ground and rolled forward and popped to his feet. He hadn't thought about it, but he realized he was walking over to the pixie photographer. He would later learn her name was Ella.

The summer sun began its descent and the edges of the sky were a soft burnt orange.  The crowd retreated to the air conditioning and classical music.  She was still looking at him, directly at him.  And she was standing, watching, waiting.  Her right hip was slightly shifted to the side.

Her confidence, real or imagined, was off-putting, and as Cole approached her, he realized he had no idea what he was going to say.

* * * 
Ella liked taking pictures.  Especially taking pictures of people when they weren't looking, and was particularly gifted at capturing a look, a thought, a feeling. She saw their story in her mind, she could feel its truth. 

This man that was walking towards her now had friendly open eyes. And he was looking at her.

She couldn't tell with this one, who he was. Where he came from. But she knew he was also a watcher, like her.  A story finder. She wanted to know him.

And she smiled.

* * *
It was a chilly Sunday in September, and Ella was sipping on a hot tea. They were at a coffee shop in the West Village, sitting next to each other at a small metal table outside. On a plate between them were two thick pieces of fresh baked bread and a ramiken filled with honey. Cole watched her dip the corner of a piece of bread into the honey and push a runaway strand of honey back onto the crust with her index finger. A yellow-green leaf from a nearby tree helicoptered onto their table.

They had slipped easily and comfortably into this . . . togetherness.  It felt good.

Back at her apartment that afternoon, he rubbed her naked back. 

She liked old records. Vinyl. Him too. Her turntable spun, and the music played softly.

He drew small circles on her skin with his finger, and she closed her eyes. He was gentle. He kissed her neck. He rested his head in the curve of her back.

* * *
The snow was coming down outside, and Ella was wrapped in a knit blanket on her couch. Cozy. Her Mac lay open before her with a collage of her photos on the screen.

When she came across the picture of Cole from the summer, she blew it up to fullscreen. His eyes were so bright, so engaging. She sighed. He had changed so much from that first day. He wasn't the same man. And they weren't the same either.

When they decided they would no longer see each other, he couldn't even look at her. The empty space that was now between them shocked her. And as he glanced downward, she caught a glimpse of the dull flecks of loneliness he'd been hiding. He had such sad eyes.

She started to cry.
* * *
Cole looked down at the paper:

As he glanced downward, she caught a glimpse of the dull flecks of loneliness he'd been hiding. He had such sad eyes. She started to cry.

Begin the Beguine - Prologue

We think that we start our stories at the beginning.

This isn't true.

Usually we start somewhere in the middle. It's not something we mean to do or even think about very much.


Cole wasn't sure.  For one thing, when we start, we rarely appreciate the full arc of a story, especially our own.  That, and it's hard - as a matter of writing and thinking, and even as a matter of geometry - to sketch out a story from one point to another, when the end is unknown.  This much Cole knew.  Maybe it's easier to see the end from the middle than from the beginning? Cole wondered. Maybe we forget our beginnings. Or we are in a rush to get to the end.

Of course, none of these thoughts were helping. With the blank page in front of him, his mind cycled round and round: "Where to begin? - Where to begin? - Where to begin?"

"Well," thought Cole as he sat up and straightened his back, "let's get on with it."

He picked up his pen, hesitated and then wrote: "Where to begin?"

He waited.

Another pause.  And then music.  His mind had drifted to song lyrics, to that odd REM power anthem, "Begin the Begin." Birdie in hand. Miles Standish proud. "The mythology begins the begin. . ."

Not helpful.  Cole sighed.  Not helpful at all. It wasn't even the right song.

He put the pen down.

Monday, August 4, 2014

#Remashed Songs

More playing around with song lyrics; slightly tweaking, revising and rearranging them into little essences of songs.  Here are a handful of them:

Ana Ng (They Might Be Giants) #ReMashed

Listen Ana, hear my words.
"I don't want the world, I just want your half."
Is there a me for you?

Lola (The Kinks) #ReMashed

Champagne flows like cherry cola.
Under the electric candlelight,
she gives me a thigh-breaking squeeze.

Give Me Love (Ed Sheeran) #ReMashed

The taste that your lips allow, lately I've been craving more
Give a little time to me, or burn this out
I just wanna hold ya, and turn this around
Oh, give me love.

Your Body Is a Wonderland (John Mayer) #ReMashed

Discovering you; your bubblegum tongue, your candy lips.
Want love?
We'll make it.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


I recently came across a form of writing in which a short story is told through a series of Tweets.

This writing mechanism is a modern day form of serialization, but where the serial story is told almost line-by-line.  While it may appear a bit gimicky, it can be done in a way that it has interesting aspects that distinguish the form from that of a "regular" short story.  This includes the 140-character bit-by-bit pacing, the self-contained nature of each Tweet standing alone, and a uniquely choppy pasting together of the lines into an edgy whole.

So far, I've read two #Twiction short stories.

The first is "Black Box," by Jennifer Egan, which I loved.  It was a hyper-cool female spy story that was compelling, funny, and exemplified how this form can create a different sort of short story.  It can be read in its entirety here. (A review of the piece, written in the same tweet-by-tweet format can be read here.)

Some of my favorite sections of Tweets from Black Box:
  • You are a lovely girl” may be meant straightforwardly.
  • Ditto “I want to fuck you now.”
  • “Well? What do you think about that?” suggests a preference for direct verbal responses over giggling.
  • “I like it” must be uttered with enough gusto to compensate for a lack of declarative color.
  • “You don’t sound sure” indicates insufficient gusto.
  • “I’m not sure” is acceptable only when followed, coyly, with “You’ll have to convince me.
  • Throwing back your head and closing your eyes allows you to give the appearance of sexual readiness while concealing revulsion.
  • You will reflect on the fact that you must return home the same person you were when you left.
  • You will reflect on the fact that you’ve been guaranteed you will not be the same person.
  • You will reflect on the fact that you had stopped being that person even before leaving.
  • You will reflect on the fact that too much reflection is pointless.
  • You will reflect on the fact that these “instructions” are becoming less and less instructive.

The second is "The Right Sort,"by David Mitchell. I found the story itself to be incredible and fascinating. Narrated by a young boy, it begins as a very ordinary tale but morphs into a terrifying dream-like journey that quickens in pace and grows weirder as the story progresses.

It was far less choppy than Egan's piece and drew me in immediately. While perhaps it is a more sophisticated and whole-feeling story, I didn't think it used this form in a way that made it much different from an ordinary short story. It can be read in its entirety here.

One of my favorite sections of Tweets from The Right Sort:
  • We get off the Number 10 bus at a pub called ‘The Fox and Hounds’. ‘If anyone asks,’ Mum tells me, ‘say we came by taxi.’
  • ‘I thought lying was wrong,’ I say. Butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth. Mum gives me a look. ‘It’s called “creating the right impression”.’
  • It’s a grey afternoon. Rain’s forecast for later. Through a front window, I see wrestling on the telly. Mum walks ahead. I follow.
  • I hope to God nobody from school sees me in this tweed jacket and tie Mum bought me from Littlewoods. I look like a total ponce. 
  • If any of Gaz Townshend’s lot catch me dressed like this, life won’t be worth living come Monday. His gang shits on me enough as it is.
  • It’s all very well for Mum to say, ‘You shouldn’t care what people think’: kids have laws and if you break those laws, you’re dead meat

Yeats - Tellers of Tales

"Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart longs for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet."
                                                              - William Butler Yeats, The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore