Tag Archives: writing

Telling a story about telling a story…

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Look Comrade! I’m speaking! I’m speaking!

Last month I finally got up the nerve to get up in front of actual, non-cat, people and tell a story. I went down to a function called Speak Easy, got up on stage, and told a story about a closet case me stumbling into a donkey show at a cinder-block brothel a few miles outside of Ciudad Acuña, MX in 1991. People seemed to find listening to my Psychosexual Corn Maze™ somewhat amusing. And, really, what more can you ask for?

A day later I was on the phone with my ex-fiancée and part-time muse Lynda. After the requisite convo about politics and cats and the politics of cats, I told her about my experience.

“I like it. It’s an other-directed activity, but it’s still all about me.”

“I don’t think you understand what is meant by ‘other-directed,” said Lynda.

Normally, I concede all matters of semantics to Lynda because she is so much brain-having. However, I think I’m right. Storytelling is too other-directed. For five minutes or so last Thursday I took a break from skating on the Möbius Strip that passes for my psyche and interacted with people in a manner that didn’t involve me standing off to the side with my arms akimbo at them.

[Actually, my arms moved way too much; I need to work on that.]

For the first time since I moved to Columbus, I actually felt like I was doing “something.” I was putting something out into the world instead of reacting to things. I did something concrete, and people did something concrete in return.

Whenever I’m feeling all cranky and Gen-X, I imagine snarky listicles in my head on the subject of why popular music sucks now. (And how Millennials are ruining it, natch.) Number one reason is always the fact that pop music now seems to consist of notes that never existed out in the wild, in the actual air, as vibrations. It goes from machine to machine. It never breathes.

It’s been the same with my writing ever since I moved to Columbus. When I was in Brooklyn, it was easy to find writing workshops full of like-minded women interested in Creative Non-Fiction. (More often than not, I would be the sole male. I hope I represented properly. So many stories about doulas!) I would work on a story up until the time I would have to print out copies. It’s that finalizing of output that was so satisfying. It’s done. Do what you will with it, world. But lately, my wordsmithing has only existed in some Tron-ish (yet sadly Jeff Bridges-free) hellscape. It is never more than ones and zeros battling against all the other ones and zeros. My printer broke over a year ago. I haven’t needed it. There’s been no opportunity to print something out and feel that sense of pride that comes with using a stapler for a concrete purpose. I am stapling things for other peoples’ convenience. I am part of a society! All my output recently has gone up on the blog to wait and wait and wait for little red notification numbers to appear. Or I enroll in online workshops, and all that changes is that the little numbers sometimes are blue or green.

It took me a long while to get up the nerve to try the storytelling thing. It’s not stage-fright. I actually have no problem with getting up in front of people and opening my mouth. I’ve acted before, done improv, even some stand-up. I’ve taught college students. There’s been retail. Nothing like a nice fourth wall. Put me in a structured setting where the roles are defined and I’ll sing. (I won’t actually sing. I suuuuuck at singing. It’s important to know one’s limits.) Teacher/student. Dillard’s associate/creepy guy who needs his inseam measured to get jeans. Storyteller/audience. I’m good, thank you.

However, I’ve never had a comfy time with free-range conversation. I am certain that the only reason people engage me in small talk is to humiliate me:

What do you do?

I have become very isolated in Columbus because I fold under the withering onslaught of “What do you do?” I have no good answer to this. Thanks to the “interesting” way my brain likes to interpret most human interaction as an existential threat, I’ve never really cottoned to a recognizable career path.

What do you do?

I disappoint. Professionally.

Self-deprecating snark is not an effective socialization skill. But sometimes it’s all you have. I would say it beats shame, but that’s like saying a pugilist’s right cross is more effective than a boxer’s uppercut. Either way, you’re getting punched in the face.

So you close down. It’s gets exhausting dealing with the linear trajectory of most small talk when your brain is decidedly non-linear.

[Earlier this year, at a homosexual dancing event, a young man with facial hair AND nerd glasses shimmied up to me. He was wearing a hooded vest made of some sort of white mesh. The hood was up. Smile. Respond to smile with mouth. Eye contact. Look at nose because it’s close enough to the eyes that people tend not to notice. “So, daddy, what do you do?” “You look like a futuristic bee-keeper.” And he shimmied away.]

My therapist likes to tell me I’m under-stimulated. Under-stimulation is the devil’s DMV. I need to seek out the non-linear. Instead of “What do you do?” I need “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra much?” [It’s a cromulent Star Trek reference. Deal.]

Stimulation means actually doing something. So, after a year of excuses, I rushed out to Speak Easy.

At the Speak Easy, before I even told my story, I was waiting in line for the restroom. On the wall near the queue was a black velvet painting of a wonderfully plush woman in a loving post-coital cuddle with a swan. And to my delight, I got into spontaneous banter with the woman in line behind me about the finer points of the myth of the Leda and the Swan and whether Leda would cuddle the swan. I said it might be a different swan,a nd that’s how Zeus knew Leda had a thing for waterfowl. Greek myth riffs are way better than “What do you do?”

[What do you do? Oh, thanks for asking. I’m trying to disrupt the whole transforming into a rapey swan UX.]

This interaction put me in the right headspace to tell my story. I knew the audience would understand me, could follow my shaky relationship to the conventions of linear storytelling. [Don’t worry… there was a beginning, middle, and an end. There was a hero’s journey.]

When I was finished, I didn’t have to wait for little red push notifications. There was immediate applause and laughter, not to mention the occasional AWWWW.

I drove somewhere, did something, and people did something back to me. And I did things in response to the things they did. I am stapling things for peoples’ convenience. I am part of a society!

Then last week, I returned to Speak Easy. The subject was Roommates. I’ve lived with people. A long time ago. I could handle this. I made non-linear small talk. I told another story from the Psychosexual Corn Maze™ I managed to squeeze four roommates into the telling. I need to edit. There were positive responses which I believe were free from ulterior motives.

I will be back again.

What do you do?

I’ve been trying my hand at storytelling. It’s something that I’m actually doing.

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I’m moving my hand so much, it’s a blur. Work on this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five existential horrors found in this Halloween picture…

1971, Long Island, Exit 50
1971, Long Island, Exit 50

#1)

That is not a Road Runner costume; that is a THE Road Runner costume. At this point in his life, the boy is waking up at 7am in order to make sure he is in position for The Bugs Bunny Show to start at 9am. He knows what Road Runner looks like, and he has a yellow beak. This THE Road Runner looks like a radish. “It’s says ‘Road Runner,’” says anyone who will listen. Even if one buys the argument, Mom, that there are probably lots of different road runners, the use of the definite article, THE, implies that this road runner on the boy’s blouse is Road Runner from the cartoons he watches. It is not.

All interaction is deceit.

#2)

The blouse itself… Even if it was Road Runner, which it’s not, there’s no way Road Runner would wear a satiny blouse proclaiming he was THE Road Runner. As it was once said by those far more learned than the boy: “Disco Stu doesn’t advertise.” A five year old shouldn’t have to worry that his costume is too meta. “Trick or Treat. Smell my feet. My costume is dialog about the nature of the signifier.” Besides, Road Runner is naked, free, and fast. THE Road Runner pictured on this blouse doesn’t even have a body to be naked with. Again, he is a radish.

Culture is a ravenous ouroboros that feeds off the assimilationist dreams of children.

#3)

When were these pumpkins carved? Labor Day? This child has not yet learned to delay gratification. Now all is decay. The child wonders, “How long before my teeth rot and fall out and I die?” Culture gives him candy as an answer. The candy is called Life Savers. The boy clutches them because he is pretty confident he understands irony.

Entropy will eventually rend asunder even the bonds between the molecules in your face.

#4)

The price tag is still on the big pumpkin.

All joy is commodity.

#5)

The flash of the camera’s un-blinking eye also illuminates the back inside wall of each pumpkin, giving each gourd a two-dimensionality that masks the trauma they underwent weeks before. They scream, but no one hears. They are now just images of pumpkins, trapped in a chilling rictus. A child can only ape their frozen grins as he, too, has been flattened by the gaze. Also, his hair looks stupid, and it will look stupid forever.

Guy DuBooooo-ord put it best: “…Imprisoned in a flattened universe bounded by the screen of the spectacle, behind which his own life has been exiled, the spectator’s consciousness no longer knows anyone but the fictitious interlocutors who subject him to a one-way monologue about their commodities and the politics of their commodities. The spectacle as a whole is his “mirror sign,” presenting illusory escapes from a universal autism.”

Why ORNAMENTAL ILLNESSES?

As I was typing the introduction, I knew the name of the blog was going to be an issue. For 30+ posts, it’s been just been a cute little bit of wordplay, shiny stories just hanging there. But now that I’ve declared the blog’s dual purpose of being a writing blog that also deals with my struggles with mental illness, it just seems about four clicks past cute… Continue reading Why ORNAMENTAL ILLNESSES?

Welcome to ORNAMENTAL ILLNESSES…

Back in the early 90s, I was in Los Angeles embarking on what was sure to be a promising and lucrative career in arranging words on pages. A screenplay I had written as a masters thesis at Michigan won the Hopwood Award. With the hubris only a 23 year old could muster, I took to telling everyone that this was the same award Arthur Miller and Lawrence Kasdan won when they were at Michigan. I took the prize money, plus a thousand dollars I won on a 900-number version of Jeopardy! while drunk at 3am, and moved into a bougainvillea-encrusted dingbat apartment building called The Pink Flamingo in Studio City (but really North Hollywood). And, most amazingly of all, through some tenuous connections I was working with an agent who went on to be Jeremy Piven on Entourage. There were meetings in Burbank and a desk on the Universal lot between where the Classic Hollywood impersonators hung out and the Backdraft ride. Rhett Butler reeks of weed.

Then I went crazy. And I left. And I stopped writing. Continue reading Welcome to ORNAMENTAL ILLNESSES…