Tag Archives: creative nonfiction

Eagle Spots Dog

The hum of power lines like whistling oblivion. In the middle of a yard. Over there the fields stretch and hump one over the other. An eagle swoops, but I do not stand in awe at the eagle’s majestic wingspan or it’s white head, knife beak. Instead, I run for the little dogs that chase each other in the yard: knit toy, muddied paws, chewing bark. They do not know that eagles have been known to snatch small animals from yards. I imagine the worst. They do not know why I run close and call them with angry voice or with arms flailing and wrap myself around them. The eagle circles above, dipping low, but I am not a small animal and the eagle has kept its course, has passed me over, has spared me. I do not see the eagle. My body has that electric feeling like when you round the corner and see a celebrity in the shoe store or smoking on the corner outside the coffee shop in New York city, that moment when the lights dim, go black, and then, with tremendous force, shoot on to reveal the spectacle of something live, something living. Another bird caws above me, but it is not an eagle, it is a seagull, the rat of the air. My wife, who has never seen a seagull, says, “look at that one. It’s beautiful.” “Did you see the eagle?” “No,” she says, “but I watched you run away.” “Go inside,” I say to the dogs,” go and play and I’ll feed you soon.” We stand and wait. I am waiting for the eagle again. It does not come.

/// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// ///

Advertisements

On Fire

Image

She says four cars burned last night–“you can’t imagine the front, there is nothing here”–and I can’t help think of my mother’s leg leaping on fire, how orange spreads up ravine slopes when the air is dry and no one is at home to douse it with water.

*

He walks me through the five floors of the office complex. We are in Shinjuku. He has been instructed to show me all the fire exits and a rope ladder bundled that will extend to the street. I wonder if I would be the last to leave the scorch. But he speaks in a different language and I only understand the word “fire,” so I smile at being young and we walk to the roof and stare at the city for hours.

*

I’m checking crime reports for a city I might move to in America. When I hover my mouse over the icon of where a crime took place, it reads, “arson.” Another hover and it seems someone is starting fires in trashcans, parks, lighting houses on fire. I wonder if someone was sleeping in the house that burned or if they had a ladder, but it does not say. Maybe no one was home. Maybe they were asleep.

*

I want my child to sit in front of a fire, but not too close to be burned by fire. I want my child to see a bonfire, to hear crackles and simmers or even to throw a log on the fire so it burns longer–so it burns away the dark. We will sit there, just sit and be fire-watchers. But I don’t want to think of how fires destroy buildings or legs or faces or rooms without escape ladders.

*

He orders a microbrew and I order a Coke, because today I am driving and the wind has picked up. We are at a bar in a mall. There are booths to my left and one young man is covering his mouth, looking away. He is not eating the food that has been served to him. A man next to us is talking about the sea and about going to sea, working the sea and how many books he reads before he sleeps below deck in foreign lands drifting, afloat. I see why the young man is not eating his food. Across from him, his friend or a relative, another young man, has had his face almost completely burned off, melted, leaving but a fleshy pink sheen to where a nose or a forehead or a mouth should be. His whole face is a blur of smeared skin.

*

“If it wasn’t for the old man,” she tells me, “all the cars would have burned and maybe even the apartment building, too.” The old man, I think, the one who watches over the cars, who helps us park when the lot is full, who finds a space or makes a space for all the cars to park. He must have a family, too or knows how it feels to watch things burn.

*

But we are not prepared when fire happens and how could we be? Should a life be built around the possibility of what could happen and how should we keep these things in mind when in the end everything burns?

*

My child is growing and her warm hands hold mine tight. She has a strong grasp. And in my mind I am back in Shinjuku at the office when a fire hits. She is there, too, but although she is the youngest, she does not have to wait until the end to climb down the rope ladder, because ladders like this one were made for her. Yes, there is a ladder that will carry her safely to the ground and I will make sure that ladder does not break, even it means dipping my face in the flames or stamping out brush as it burns from orange down to black. I will be water. My arms must be water for her.

/// /// /// /// /// /// ///

Link

A Mysterious Form

I just started in on this interview with Lia Purpura. Seriously good stuff here on the craft of essay writing:

Lia Purpura: The issue of how one discernible genre grows from another is utterly mysterious to me. I’m certain that I’m writing prose, though my essays are called “lyric essays.” In fact, I’ve just written an essay titled “What is a Lyric Essay?” for Seneca Review. In it, I’m making a plea for allowing the form to remain as mysterious as possible. I do mean “mysterious” though in the best way – challenging and magical and able to work on a reader and knit up above the page. I don’t mean at all “unclear” or “sloppy”. The language ought to be as precise as possible in order to affect the most unlikely moves. When I’m writing, an impulse makes itself known as a prose itch or poem-itch. Some failed poems have extended out into prose and found their musculature that way. I don’t think a derailed essay has ever turned itself into a poem.”

As I’m currently re-reading Purpura’s “On Looking” for enjoyment and craft technique, I find passages like this illuminating when itching to craft my own pieces and extend my grasp on how an essay could be. If you have any great examples of lyric essays that move you with their magic and/or that you have written, please drop a comment or two. 

Brian Oliu’s Favorite Video Games

Image

I asked Brian Oliu, whose LEVEL END I recently wrote about, to give a list of his favorite video games and why. Oliu’s work in the creative nonfiction sphere has often utilized video games and game themes in startlingly fresh and unique ways, so to me, this list is a beautiful entrance or hidden tunnel behind Oliu’s game pieces. Enjoy. 

And I present Brian Oliu’s favorite video games: 

Ninja Gaiden: delightfully impossible, yet it’s not like I mind. 6-3 is what nightmares are made of.
 
Super Metroid: Easily one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played. Great story, great atmosphere.
 
Earthbound: Probably my favorite game of all time. Weird, quirky, & incredibly emotional.
 
RBI Baseball: Still quite possibly the best baseball videogame ever made (with the exception of MVP Baseball 05)
 
A Link To The Past: Blew my mind–the changing between the light world & dark world was incredibly innovative.
 
Dr. Mario: I met the majority of girls in my dorm room freshman year because I would play this with the door open. The best puzzle game out there (sorry Tetris/Wario’s Woods)
 
River City Ransom: All Beat-Em-Ups wish that they were River City Ransom.
 
/// /// /// /// ///

Lia Purpura: “the form is a necessity of thought.”

Split Pink

Although this article of notes on the lyric essay is from 2011, I am only now just discovering it and find this particular passage most engaging and illuminating–helpful in the craft of composition:

This is Not a Lyric Essay (Robert Root, read by Harvey) The lyric essay might be considered as a kind of blurting of words: unplanned, spontaneous, first and final draft, charged. It has a kind of inadvertence. The lyric can be felt in the blood. Place is a lyric essay. Deborah Tall said of the lyric it partakes of the essay in its weight, in its desire to engage with facts, in its passion. The form is simultaneously essay and poem and music; attends language with precision and rigor but with a different vision from poetry about what it might achieve. The lyric is an entity in itself; embodies a sense of wholeness; is an essence; is not decorative. As Lia Purpura says: the form is a necessity of thought.

via AWP Nonfiction Cheat Sheet: Friday Afternoon.

Specific phrases that I admire are:

1. “The lyric can be felt in the blood.”

2. “…embodies a sense of wholeness; is an essence; is not decorative.”

3. “As Lia Purpura says: the form is a necessity of thought.”

I have read certain essays, felt them on a level below the intellect, a level that pierced the skin or stayed stuck on the skin, skin sticky with how the essay just wouldn’t fade after reading.

Certain works, too, shine with a wholeness and a brevity, a sheen that bubbles up around them, a lasting power that incites more questions than answers. Textual power via ambiguity, images, fragments, the slice of a thought or a thought too wide and fragmented, that it must be cut to lend more power to the content it is expressing.

“…the form is a necessity of thought.” By this, is she suggesting that the form crafts the thought or that the thought crafts the form? How do different forms influence or meld the way a thought’s meaning is attributed? Or, is this merely a call out from the traditional five paragraph essay of composition textbooks, a call to experiment with how, for instance, a personal narrative shifts and shatters under varying forms?

A Ship Sails to the Edge of the Sea: On Brian Oliu’s LEVEL END

You read LEVEL END by Brian Oliu: the end, point of change, point of loss–the loss of love, memory-blur, or like the way a house sounds when it is emptied of what it possessed before you awoke, alone. It is in and through spaces such as water, sand, foreign lands, or a children’s song park where you slip into the labyrinth. Yes, this is the end. It is here where you confront final bosses, save points where hearts help, but fade, too. The music is always changes when you enter. The levels that you have completed, the missions and journeys along the way, are told in the context of this level end, this final boss or save point–the most crucial spot for reflection, for it is here where you could die or lose. In these zones of confrontation, a pixel-tapestry of story (it’s all story) emerges, a mind in recollection, “re-membering” a life into something other than it was or a life as it is recalled–skewed, blurred, beautified, something solid yet watery, fleshy and transparent. You will not hold this in your hand, for how can you palm a labyrinth without balance? This is not a platform from where you move jumping across grassy fields, down chutes, up gold staircases to rescue princesses, squash foes, and gain life for more power. The platform has morphed into a network of mind-tunnels sewn loose enough for you to catch glimpses and trails of Oliu who hides himself under the shadow of a final boss. But do not come too close, for as you approach and try to grasp the treasures, you will fall into yet another tunnel of dead flowers, jeweled sugar, a garden. For, although you won’t know it until you reach the end–this level end–there is a magic in these lyric essays that outlasts the slim number of pages you receive. A text is deceptive when you must put it down for fear of losing yourself in the puzzle it presents. Approach with caution and caution is given. You may want to rest, you may need a hard bed for the night or an inn to rest for lack of a church. Heal your wounds. Here is where things burrow up from the ground, where women made of feathers dance with self-seeing eyes or brothers who control weather. If you are like me, it will not be enough for you to read this only once. There are lives within these pages that give the reader more life and that, when it comes through a book, is magic and do not think of dogs or how dogs die in water as if Oliu is only speaking of dogs, which he may be, but he may be speaking of how children die or of how things and girls and people go away and die and the words we use in the sense-making of such loss are never enough, too much to say. It is better to be silent. It is better to know that when you enter the room where the final boss awaits your coming, the music will change. I tell you this so you will know that what you are entering into when you enter into LEVEL END is more consequential, more beautiful than a peaceful end. It is an experiment in attempting to give weight to a complicated mind, a mind that feels the ways in which things fade, die, drown. When you were living in Japan, you came across a word in the Japanese language called “yugen.” It is an odd word that denotes the way one sees a ship sail to the edge of the sea where the sky meets that sea and that ship grows smaller and smaller to a speck and then gone. It is the feeling of wandering into a woods and not knowing whether or not you will return–you will not. It is something to be treasured.

/// /// /// /// /// /// /// ///

Creative Writing: How I Wrote Electric Delirium

Image

Last month I published a series of ten lyric essays at Fictionaut. The collection, ELECTRIC DELIRIUM, was an experiment that I undertook for the sake of better understanding the work of two influential thinkers. Here was the basic approach:

1. Take one page of notes from Lee Thayer’s, LEADERSHIP: THINKING, BEING, DOING noting interesting phrases, ideas, questions, diagrams, etc.

2. Take one page of notes on one precis from E.M. Cioran’s A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY noting interesting phrases, ideas, questions, diagrams, etc. 

3. Read the notes separately and taken together. What happens when these two mental models rub up against each other? What thought-path bubbles to the surface? How can I make a connection between Thayer’s, Cioran’s, and my own thought?

4. Make the connection. Make it work. Make is real. Make it strong. 

5. Write the essay, but let the mind express the manifestation of the thoughts as it will. Blend story (both personal and fictional) with idea (sticking closely to the previously made connection) to create a piece that revolves around the intellectual connection between the two thinkers in the context of some unfolding narrative (in this case, a troupe of actors preparing for a performance). 

6. Edit profusely: trim fat, grease, skin, gristle. 

All in all, the results are satisfying, although I found myself making last minute edits even minutes before uploading each piece to Fictionaut. Now that they are public, I feel I can let them be, but fleshy essays like these, for me, are perpetual works-in-progress. I received some constructive and positive feedback from certain essays and for that I am content. 

Although the link to my Tumblr where I have neatly arranged all of the essays has been given above, here it is again, if you are interested in reading ELECTRIC DELIRIUM