Still can’t find what keeps me here.

27/09/2013 at 23:26 (Anorexia, Personal) (, , , , , , , , , )

Never there. Never there. NEVER THERE.
So fucking empty. Who knows what’s real and what’s not, what’s past clawing back up the throat to sing the same barbed song again?

I want to help. I don’t see how I can, but I’ve been in that place, the black heart of the fire, the ice chamber, the cut-off zone where breath freezes in the lungs and no one hears you scream.

This girl is my sister’s partner’s little sister. She’s around the age I was when admitted to the inpatient unit, when the shit got real. The story is the same familiar routine, it makes me laugh and beg inside for something different, a change of scene, a shift in the script … Theatrical, creative, introvert, worrier, guilt-trip, frightened waif in the face of the world. Me, not me. Her, not her. Where do we start eating our own tails?

My older sister is going out of her mind with worry for this girl. As well she should; they all worry, but oh God they’re not afraid, as much as they should be. Terrified for her, when she goes out of the house for a powerwalk, after being made to eat three extra butterbeans on top of her fat-free tomato sauce. I know it so well, This path full of shattered glass, this clawing soul and dialed-down mind. That pain which can’t be articulated, except to wither the body down to a single point in time, when birth trauma is but one atom and you’re the next, into the grave.
It’s why my sister contacted me. Why she asks my advice, when I barely know how I’m still alive. Why I survived, and others didn’t. As I told her, it’s pot-luck. My body didn’t give out, when others did. Well, fuck me if fate doesn’t have a laugh coming on.

My head is so loud tonight. Not with old routines, not with that creeping daemon come to catch my eye and trap my mind again. Pity. Revulsion. Such deep-wading waters of sorrow, for another life taken by its foulness; for another child lost to her own darkness. For all we lost souls, wandering.

No one can save her but herself … and still, I hope to try. I hope to stop my own lamb screaming, if I can comfort hers.

And why the fuck should I care, why should I bother? Who wins in the end? The world gains one more human being back. Big deal. Too many of us as it is. I’m so tired of being here sometimes, it’s like staring into the blackest mirror and finding your eyes are the only reflection.

This pain is just too real.
In so little time, I have become a woman. In so many words and thoughts, I have learned love. Insofar as I know, I lost both in the space of a year. The lump in my chest grows larger, pains me more every day. I don’t know how much more I can take. Waiting lists are but one fact of life, with mosquito bites and politicians.
But I can’t not help, can’t turn my face away from the glaring fact that someone is, once again, tearing at my heart. Trying to gain my attention, when all I want to do most of the time, is disappear.

Why the fuck won’t the world let me go.
Because you’re not ready.
I was ready from the start.
You don’t know where beginnings end. I know you better than you think.
You don’t think; you feel, and steal away what I was owed.
You are owed, and owe the world nothing.
I am nothing.
You are nothing.
That makes us equal, at least.

So it goes. The song remains the same.

They need to fear it; they need to fear for her. Accept that she will die without intervention, that the chest pains won’t go away, that the food won’t magically disappear off her plate unless it’s into her hair, the flowerpot, the bin. Their family will tear itself apart with love and terror, and I see it all happening as a vainglorious parody of my life, ten years ago.

I can’t help as a professional. I can help as one from the other side.
That’s what this stupid thing called love is about, right. I’ve never met this girl, and I love her already, this tiny, frightened soul I know so well.

Daemons haven’t got shit on me. I will burn them.

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I want Fantasy

25/09/2013 at 21:41 (Method Writing, Personal, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m in a black-purple mood tonight. My head is a beetle’s back, a monochrome night. Bonelight, moonlight. You can try and follow, but the cats have business of their own, and I follow around corners.

My shadow creep-claws the way.

My eyes are restless as my feet, it’s not something I wonder at too much. Intro to outro, extro to invert and back again. Keep the streets for me.

I was an introvert raised by extroverts. An endless parade of parties and sorority-like gags, dinners and hiding behind floor-length curtains with my nose in a book. Hiding with the cats, down by the mud-gullies and creeks, wading and climbing trees, while they sipped tea and talked Nothing.

Lonely child, now come with me
Into the wood, the dark to find
The light shall fail within your eyes;
The sweep of love is only lies.

I did not fall, nor did I stare
But found the path that we all know
Now tremble, Time, for all is fair
In love and lust, and bonelight glow.

…My darling, the story has yet begun to take hold.
Abide with me, in
Peace (something like it)
Through the mirror, the cracks
Of time, the broken watch
The sentry fallen asleep
His round not yet done, but Time
Is an angular thief
And we are but stickmen in his gaze

A puppet, a clown, a fool
A black rose, blue
A thought, turned to you
A mental shroud, an illness tau(gh)t
With what must be, with all, without.

Come. Walk. With. Me.

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No one to point the finger

24/09/2013 at 22:39 (Personal) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s just you and me, and the rain.

As it once was, before our shared time spun away in toxic-beauty droplets. No more the red kites counted, the hikes through all weathers, our faces burned bronze with time spent alone and together and apart.

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It was only one hour ago, it was all so different then. Five years and counting nothing, because that put it to a timeline, a calendar – an End Game. We were younger then, stupid with the world and lust and red wine. We found ourselves in the face of shared life, on and offline, down rail line, up streets fine; lost ourselves in over-priced shopping and London roads and rain-filled afternoons quietly asleep, dreaming of a time we’d be published and famous and aloof and awake and over the hill. Never married. Never childbirth. Never divergence, of thoughts and things that mattered … until they ceased to matter. Until I couldn’t hold your eye. Until you couldn’t keep my feet still.

I grieve for you. You live in me.

The future is a blue rose, full of mystery, the unobtainable and the longing, the shared ice and anecdotes and memories frozen in a place none can follow. We’ll be buried as best friends and confidantes, but my soul will wander, as ever it did in our waking dream of real life. No one would riot for less.
You kiss my mouth.
Hell is here.

You were my All, and thought and dream and time, until none of these seemed apart or a part of myself. Until this year broke us. Until our shared time faded out in mosquito bites of cash flow and supermarket runs and broken hearts and shattered trust. Did I dream this belief, or did I believe this dream?

Grieve for us both, world, and move on. That’s the way of things; when friends become lovers, and back again. We drank to ourselves then, as now, as ever.

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Distance doesn’t count for anything, unless it’s in the heart. Our hills have been climbed, our storms outrun. The Beacon will always be there, waiting. The Downs will probably call us back someday. We’ll pass the barrows of your forefathers, and laugh at the times we fell down rabbit holes and mistook sanitation for cigars and fell asleep with our mouths catching flies. And recall those old-gold afternoons by the wretched train station, when I listened for the Mini’s whine, and the sounds of a weekend-life just beginning. No, distance meant nothing. We surpassed it.

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But when together, we couldn’t overcome distance of the heart, the wandering mind. So it goes. Five years, to me, is a long time … a relationship’s lifetime. Not one memory regrettable; even the hard times were bittersweet pills. We learned ourselves in the face of the world, and each other; though we chose our own times to look away. Now it’s mine, and it’s for good, and somehow that’s OK. Friends part with tears and a smile, not mouths of hate.

I’ll send you North, you’ll keep me here.
I love without capacity. You love without remorse. Somehow, it worked; and through the nightmares and flashbacks and illness, the silent rage and writer’s block and doubts of fidelity, from that first daft kareoke night (when we cried together from laughing) to running for the train, to Evenstar and swords and bad emails and Love Will Tear Us Apart, in the pub that’s since burned to the ground and lies as an ashen stub of its former glory… we part as friends.

There’ll always be the Downs, the barrows and the red kites.

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Writing Reality: Connotation and Denotation (AKA was that Really what you meant?)

23/09/2013 at 05:45 (Reviews, Writing, Writing Reality articles) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Have you ever handed your writing to a beta reader, and – despite careful editing – been rewarded with an interpretative summary completely off-kilter with the intended message?

This might be clear in your own mind. Your characters know one another as well as you do their credentials, innermost fears and hatred of broccoli. A setting could be a photographic copy of real-time surroundings, or indeed, drawn from an image pulled off the Internet and studied for every nuance, to try and capture its spirit in words.

But what if the word choices were wrong, when placed in context?

This may come across as a little blunt, but what you see, feel, emote etc for everything you write, is your own business until it’s shared. The audience comes fresh to the scene. They haven’t been with you on field research, haven’t sat with their elbows propped at the bar while you earwigged on dialogue-drops. Most pertinently, they haven’t broken sweat and maybe tears for your characters, known their foibles and lusts as you do. It’s your responsibility, as a writer, to give them the means of approaching and accepting your literary universe. Their suspension of disbelief is in your hands, and the tools to make it happen are of of course your words – more specifically, the choices you make when stringing them together.

This is where Semiotics are involved – and if that’s technical gubbins to you, bear with me. It’s important stuff where linguistics are concerned.

Semiotics “is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign … the study not only of what we refer to as ‘signs’ in everyday speech, but of anything which ‘stands for’ something else. In a semiotic sense, signs take the form of words, images, sounds, gestures and objects.”
The site highlighted (Semiotics for Beginners by Daniel Chandler) is top-notch if you’re looking to take things further than this article. It elaborates on the many technical structures that literature/linguistics are built upon. We’re going to focus on word meanings and associations, otherwise known as connotation and denotation.

This is a mnemonic taught to my Media studies class in school, by one exasperated but canny teacher:

“Connotations connect and create
Denotations define and dictate”

Put simply, Denotation is the literal definition of a word. The dictionary pull-out. It’s about as plain as it’s going to get, the reality of fact. It’s one side of the coin, while its flip – Connotation – is the projector of image(s) via “socio-cultural and ‘personal’ associations (ideological, emotional etc)… typically related to the interpreter’s class, age, gender, ethnicity and so on.” In essence, what an individual / audience takes away from what the creator gives, as referenced in this article of Show and Tell.

There’s an overlap between perceived Intentional meaning and perceived Personal inflection. This is art in its purest form, the interaction of concepts. But if the Creator’s angle was off in the telling, the correspondence goes awry. A scene intended to be frightening can at best fall flat, at worst seem unintentionally funny. You may not have wished a character to be aligned with demons or perceived to have a demonic nature, no matter how antagonistic their actions – but if you’re going to use words like “devilish smile” and “forked tongue” in their narrative, don’t be surprised if the afore-mentioned images are invoked in the minds of at least some of your audience. Likewise, a character may take on accidental predatory connotations if described or aligned with words of this nature – “Alpha”, “wolfish”, “stalked towards.” A positive/beautiful setting may become subverted if the sky’s compared to wallpaper paste, the grass to barbed wire.

Studying adverts is a great way to gain a handle on Connotation and Denotation. The company is not only looking to inform the audience about their product – its specifications, the plain facts – they’re looking to sell the product, or more specifically, the projected image. This means persuasive and/or figurative language; linking one concept to another at whipcrack speed, so the audience is absorbing and computing at a subconscious level. It’s only when the ad is slowed down and carefully studied, that the methods used reveal their truths.

Notice the repetition of the word “car” – a key persuasive trigger, ingraining the denotative message in the minds of the audience, while the connotative overlay gets to work.
Other words appear. Nuts, bolts, leather, cogs, steel, wood, glass. All pretty dull on their own, but when set to the beautiful images appearing onscreen, their respective meanings are enhanced. They become abstract concepts, shining metal, a vibrant night-drive through woodland, sumptuous skeins of material, unfolding blankets of light; the darkest pools, so gorgeously thick you can almost taste the toxic beauty. They become, in and of themselves, important. Their purpose is full of clarity, linking one image to another – safety, comfort, intelligence, durability, style, class. Above all – every small piece, making up the whole. Every one word, forming an appealing message in the mind of the audience. A persuasive package, tied up in a clever bow of simple words juxtaposed with carefully-chosen images.

Your writing intends to do the same – to sell images, to persuade the audience to believe in the construct. The projected images may not all be pleasant ones, but they’re required to convince just the same. Your word-choices need careful consideration to gain the effect, and with minimal fuss. This is where context comes into play.

It still staggers me how often a company can shoot itself in the foot with its choice of brand name. I’ll paraphrase a few to give a general idea, and hopefully avoid lawsuits.

– “Mud Pie Pottery” – OK, kudos to them for the rhythmic alliteration of P’s. That’s memorable. But so too is the sticky, messy image of playing in the mud as a kid (or indeed, cleaning up after your own.) The splattergram-image might work for a play area, but in the context of trying to sell fine ceramics and pottery, it doesn’t quite fit the bill. The connotations of “mud pie” are child-associative at best, crude and amateur at worst. Not a great start for sales.

– “Blurred Lines Printing” – Though their precision and output might be admirable, the company’s name is a let-down in terms of public image, simply from a lack of context-consideration. It’s only on a subconscious level, might not even take the form of a thought, so much as a feeling of wariness in the audience. One linked image to another, through the connotation —> context of blurred and printing.

Used carefully, a juxtaposition of positive/negative connotations can actually progress narrative, and inform characterization. Anne McCaffrey’s sci-fi novel The Rowan tells the story of a young woman born with inherent psychological powers (telekinesis/telepathy, among others.) As the sole survivor of a landslip in her home-territory, Rowan – aged three – is taken on as a Ward of the Planet.

‘”You’ve done marvels with her, Lusena,” Interior said warmly. “You’ll find a tangible reward from the Council when you’ve delivered her safely to Earth.”
“She’s a taking little thing, really,” Lusena said, smiling with affection.
“A bit odd-looking with that whitened hair and those enormous brown eyes in that thin face,” and the Medic looked uncomfortable.
Gorgeous eyes, lovely features,” Interior said hastily to cancel Lusena’s dismay at the Medic’s blunt description.’ – pg 29, The Rowan, Anne McCaffrey

Odd-looking, whitened, enormous, thin. None of these words are particularly positive when strung together in a description of the child. The Medic might have taken a more tactful (and positive) view with words like “striking”, “pale/snowy hair”, “large/luminous eyes”, “small/slim face.” Instead, the connotations of the words chosen create a projected image through his perspective, of a strange-looking little girl who has an unnerving effect on him. This is a Show of characterization in the scene; clearly, Rowan has got under the skin of the Medic (backed up by the Tell of his looking “uncomfortable.”)

Interior’s swift annulment of the Medic’s negative assessment – with far more positive-connotative words gorgeous and lovely – Shows the audience that the former has a high empathy and consideration for Lusena’s “dismay”; it also exposes the Medic’s tactlessness in the narrative. This is emphasized when set in the context of Rowan’s predicament as a small orphaned child, as well as her obvious inability to change how she looks. There is also her primary carer Lusena’s previous comment, of being quite taken with her, to consider.

It’s worth considering narrative voice when it comes to choice of words. In third person-omnipresent, the voice is yours as the author; whatever descriptions are laid down, are assumed to be your opinion. When placed through the filter of a character – over shoulder or first person – the perspective switches, and immediately assumptions are made on the part of the audience, everything from the character’s intelligence to their ethos, their feelings about others, experience of settings etc. Consider carefully – what is the primary message of the scene you’re creating? What is the subtext, if any, beneath dialogue; and can context itself manipulate the connotations of words uttered?

“‘Let’s take our good host here. What is he? He is a gentleman… A classic English gentleman. Decent, honest, well-meaning. But his lordship here is an amateur.” He paused at the word and looked around the table. “He is an amateur and international affairs today are no longer for gentleman amateurs.”‘ pg 106, “The Remains of the Day,” Kazuo Ishiguro

As adjective or noun, amateur is defined as “engaging or engaged in without payment; non-professional / a person who engages in a pursuit, especially a sport, on an unpaid basis.” So far, so neutral. But placed in the context of world affairs, as delivered in the dialogue of Senator Lewis – attending a conference at Darlington Hall during the run-up to WWII – and the message becomes one of quiet desperation, frustration and scorn.

Decent, honest, well-meaning – all work to present the sign of Lord Darlington being a “classic English gentleman”, until amateur is put into the mix. Synonyms range from casual participant to dabbler to novice; none of which are particularly abrasive when stood alone. But filtered through context – the severity of the situation – and when aligned with more negative-connotative words like hog-wash and meddle, a pejorative anchor is laid on these positive connotations. Their message becomes subverted, implying Darlington and his fellows are only clueless fools, in danger of losing their grip on the situation.

“All you decent, well-meaning gentlemen, let me ask you, have you any idea what sort of place the world is becoming all around you? The days when you could act out of your noble instincts are over… Gentlemen like our good host still believe it’s their business to meddle in matters they don’t understand. So much hog-wash has been spoken here these past two days. Well-meaning, naive hogwash.” – pg 107

Words of authoritative connotation in this context are brought up – world, business, matters. These enhance the impression of there being a higher game at stake than any of the Lords realize.

“You here in Europe need professionals to run your affairs. If you don’t realize that soon you’re headed for disaster.”

Lord Darlington’s response is framed along the same inference-structure (both are far too polite and well bred to delve into crude slanging matches), with connotations turned on their heads when filtered through an individual’s perspective:

“‘What you describe as “amateurism”, sir, is what I think most of us here still prefer to call “honour.’
This brought a loud murmur of assent with several ‘hear, hear’s’ and some applause.
‘It appears to mean getting one’s way by cheating and manipulating. It means ordering one’s priorities according to greed and advantages rather than the desire to see goodness and justice prevail in the world.’ … This was met by the loudest burst of approval yet, followed by warm and sustained applause.” – pg 107

Ishiguro uses applause as a paralinguistic signal of approval, much as the adjective “warm” works to frame the action in connotations of intimacy as well as approval. On a universal-subconscious level, it speaks to our earliest instincts of keeping close to preserve heat. If you were writing a similar scene in which the applause was instead sporadic, insincere, doubtful, what alternative word-choices could you make to draw on the senses, to deliver a negative-connotative message?
* Cold / cool – as of the feelings of the gathering towards the speaker and his opinion; lack of intimacy and unwillingness to engage, to accept the message delivered
* Half-hearted – lacking impetus, enthusiasm, not wishing to engage
* Scattered (especially in a room full of people, where applause from all present would be thick and loud, rolling off the walls, tumultous, energetic … not described with a word that has connotations of being loosely strewn, haphazard, quiet where noise would be preferred.)

Also worth noticing is how Darlington – in a progression of characterization and narrative, showing the now-taut relationship between the two men – turns Lewis’ word “professionalism” back on itself. By juxtaposing it with negative-connotative words like “cheating”, “manipulating” and “greed”, a wholly different meaning is pulled from the Senator’s word, subverting his message. In this case, mimicry is not a positive affirmation, but a riposte.

A single word can have many associative-images when standing alone; imagine its impact when framed in the right context and strung alongside words of equal power and direct meaning. This is particularly important when it comes to paring down your figurative language and imagery, for a smoother reading-experience and more succinct message:

“It was the same looking out; the green-tinted window glass was so old and so thick that everything on the other side seemed like a dream, including the sky and the trees.” – pg 4, “Practical Magic”, Alice Hoffman.

“If only she could believe in love’s salvation, but desire had been ruined for her. She saw craving as obsession, fervor as heated preoccupation.” – pg 31, “Practical Magic”, Alice Hoffman.

If words are an author’s medium – the brushes of their art – then the colours alive within each one are surely the meanings laid upon the canvas, for audience interpretation. Consider your mixtures and blending; all it takes is one poor choice of colour for the image to be spoiled. Your word-choices affect the balance of the overall message, by virtue of association and context.

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Rain is Coming

16/09/2013 at 20:21 (Personal) (, , , , , , , , , )

That’s how it feels.

I can’t get enough of Sam Baker’s new album, “Say Grace.” It has the spreading wings of autumn that I live beneath these days. Not sure if I’m huddled here to keep out of the rain, or if they’re suffocating me. Such a dark place to be, but warm and safe. I’m numbing myself from the inside out, to deflect whatever else comes about this year. Wont’t be caught by surprise Again.

There are some things that can be guarded against, where others slip out of our control. I can throw myself back into writing the novel, get into that mindset of twisted fairytales and thickly clustered brambles; the nightly runs to the quarry under a bone-blood moon, and blue roses growing on the graves of those loved ones who leave behind living souls in torment. Blue roses speak for eternity, keep that desolate feeling of the Only One, alive… Blessing and curse, high on thorns and strung up in blood, in a gorgeous sky.

I’m so tired inside, and at the same time very much awake. Dark times at work, darker days, as the year dials down. This is the time of the suicide. Precursor to a festive season when lights strangle the thoughts of those in no mood to celebrate.
The wind is keening outside, and my soul echoes it today. It’ll pass, like it always does.

I don’t mean to be rude. To be cold, savage, bitter and sweet all at once. It’s my panhandle winter, come early. It’s how I’m made, what I turn into, and the beautiful brutality of it is, I can’t even say it’s something I like or control.

A warm heart, a warm house, not a wind-burned prairie farmhouse; good whisky, and the smile of a friend.

It’s not self-pity, so much as self-rage. A low burning, sullen thing inside, not wanting to become bitter as the wind outside. It’s about seeing my now-ex partner of five years disappear off my horizon for months on end, maybe years, given what our lifestyles are like. It keens through me like that once-was blade. We don’t realize what we have until it’s gone. The love left a while back, but he’s a constant presence in my life; a ready pair of arms for an embrace after a poxy day at work, like today. He’s kindness, effortless, despite my shitty attitude; and a grey complacency I always promised myself I wouldn’t fall into.

Promises are mundane things, especially made to the self.

He’s torn my soul ragged in his own way, especially at the start. We didn’t know each other until 18 months had passed and we’d begun living together, and then … It’s the presence in the room, the ready humour, the consistency. It’s becoming accustomed to these things, after years of being alone, out of preference and necessity and isolation.

It’s trying to concentrate, and hearing every tic, every breath, every thought. It’s finding ways to become angry for no reason, irritable. It’s hating yourself, and him, and the world, for not putting things in the right order that you once thought they should fall into. Marriage was never on the cards, nor kids… And I find myself looking into the new-coin faces of the latter these days, and knowing a bullet hole in my chest where none existed before. What might have been, for what could still be, if I got my shit together and my body didn’t clap out on me too soon.

No. I’m a writer, not a mother. A traveler, not caught in the reins of any one place for long; not trapped in the eyes and heart of another, who might just make these things so much more appealing, and hold me still, and know the nightmares that keep me awake and in need of the night to walk in, the rum to drown in.
No one needs that kind of shit, on either side.

So says my head. My heart begs to differ.

I’m a girl and child and woman and ex-lover and friend, a writer and a daemon and so much more besides. Such a feeling of Self these days, it frightens the hell out of me. So much more aware. So wryly ironic with it, laughing in my own face, cutting my lip with these teeth. Hating the changed figure, while embracing it as something novel, independent; the final evolution of my body, perhaps to keep it alive a bit longer than was expected.
Hating distance more than anything in my life, except perhaps my reactions to it. Silence. Changing moods with leaves. Whoever heard of a writer without words, without meaning, because it got lost en route around fear of Self?
Well. Just about everyone. Get over yourself, girl.

Letting go is easier than clinging on tight.
So my head tells me.

My heart begs to differ.

The year will end. We’ll sing Auld Lang Syne, and dance on the rocking tables to Fairytale of New York, and things will be put right over a midnight whisky. And I’ll find a peace in turning my face to the new year, the new raw wind that chafes off the old skin, sets my eyes watering to clear them of old dreams. I look forward to new beginnings in the same way that picking up a new pen and setting it to a fresh page, is cauterizing.

In the meantime, I abide, and listen, and huddle up with my back to that acorn-bitter wind, and love my friends and miss the ones gone, and find ways to keep warm. And watch the horizon, because you just never know.

Oh this is passing, is all that she said.

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