Writing Practice and Reflections, April 2 2020

Another day, another bunch of quick-writes. Standard five by five minute writing sessions, but this time they’re divided into three stories, one stand-alone and two sections of two writes each. The final two quick-writes are extensions, nominally, of the Renee story from some of the previous quick-writes.

Really feeling like this was some good practice, even if the output is a little weird. I’ve been trying to get through Carl Jung’s Liber Novus, even though it’s a tremendously difficult text for me to engage with and try to understand in any meaningful way, and that definitely rubbed off a little on these.

Image 1: Snow-covered pine trees against the backdrop of a bright sky.

I wandered through the forests, waiting for a sign.

“Come to me from afar.

Come to me from across the world.

Come to me from the distant corners.”

I listened, but I did not hear, because I could not understand the words that the wind carried.

They were too foreign to my ears, the distance between my mind and my soul too great to gap.

So I stood and stared at the trees heavy with snow, the white clouds overhead, and listened to the whispers.

Nellie was standing next to me, and she saw me stop.

“Is everything alright?”

I did not know, but I answered yes.

We continued onward, each of us listening. If she could hear the sounds I heard, she said nothing of them, both of us continuing in a silent fraud. Or maybe I was the only one who held lies in my heart.

The valley opened up before us, and we passed into it, and I felt naked under my clothes, because we were in the open.

There was nothing to fear that there had not been to fear in the forest, but in the light of the open field it was unbearable. Reflections from the white snow, filters of light through the white clouds, they pressed into us.

I looked into the open sky and saw that it was indeed open, perhaps too open, that there was nowhere left for us to go after we reached the end of the valley, that we would only be staring into the void.

When I had gone to Sunday school as a kid, they had told me that the void was formless and without light. That did not mean that it was dark, I realized. The absence of light is darkness, but what is absence of light to absence of form?

I reached out for Nellie’s hand. She looked at me, but I hid my eyes, looking forward to the task ahead. We would pass into oblivion.

I may have been listening to a dark ambient song while writing this, which definitely inspired some of it.

Image 2: A building in which many individual rooms can be seen through windows.

The ultimate question of reality is not what is real and what is not. That question is dependent on a narrowed framework, a presupposition that it is possible to discern between the real and the unreal.

The ultimate question of reality is where things differ. It is differentiation that drives us.

Joseph turned the car to follow the road, feeling himself at one with both of the entities that were not himself. He was the car, from the foot of his heel resting on the floorboard to the crown of his head, mere inches from the ceiling.

He was also the road, in a way that was more complex and which he would not be able to explain clearly. Perhaps it would suffice to say that his relationship with the road differed from his relationship with the car: the car was his, but he was the road’s.

Recent conversations had led him to think about what belonged to him and what he belonged to. Two-in-the-morning conversations that he’d had with eyes bleary and sleep hammering at the edges of his skull-consciousness.

But this was midday, and not a time for conversations that could shatter him, so he was the road’s and the car was his and they were all three in union.

It felt right to him, and sometimes he fantasized of quitting his job, of turning in Monday’s report with just two words and walking out the front door, and just driving and driving until he could see all of the world, of finding someone who would pay him to drive places and maybe even switch to driving a truck. Of course he could not do this; he was born into the wrong family and wrong zip-code to do this.

They’d wonder what was wrong with him.

Image 3: A Ferris wheel. Background is blue sky.

One of the things he loved about the drive was the cycle. Even if one didn’t start in a particular place and end up back in that same place, though most of the time one did, one could always view the process itself as a cycle.

Get in, turn the key in the ignition, put the car in gear, and press down on the pedal. Turn the wheel. Eventually, he’d press the other pedal, put the car in park, take the key out, and leave.

Joseph found something comforting in the repetition.

That’s why, when the road came to an end with a white and orange sawhorse, he decided to keep driving anyway, ignoring the roadblock. The sign said there was a bridge out, but there weren’t any bridges around here; he’d driven this road a hundred times.

There wasn’t anyone watching to stop him, anyway, and he’d be careful. He slowed to half the speed he usually took, letting his eyes take in the whole scene.

It was less pleasant, a disruption in the unity. He was no longer the road, though he was still, to a lesser degree, the car. He began to feel the jet of air from the fans, slightly cooler than that of the rest of the car. He got uncomfortable, had to shift in his seat a little, his legs just a tad too long to fit comfortably in the space between the back of the chair and the pedals. His head bumped the ceiling of the car as he shifted, his height too great for the car to contain.

And then he was alone on the road.

Image 4: A man alone in the forest. A ray of light shines through tall trees.

Sometimes, when Renee was in school, I’d go out to the forest and just wander there alone. It was a good time to think, and the paths gave me some direction. It was quiet out there; the town scared away or drew in most of the local wildlife, and the forest was in just the right interstitial spot to be uncomfortable to either category of animals.

It wasn’t a curated experience like the Japanese garden in the center of town. I’d take Renee there, as I’d taken her mother, and we’d look at the fish and all the plants and bonsai trees and every little thing. That was beauty, order, maybe even perfection.

Out here, it was the sublime. The forestry department came through once in a while, tried to keep things the way they liked them, but it was a losing battle fought between state budgets and the natural world.

And, truthfully, I prayed that the natural world would win every time I went out there. Something about unbridled nature kept me going, put fresh air in my lungs.

After Renee’s mother died, I’d spent a lot of time out in the graveyard. Her parents had taken care of Renee for a while. The grass was always kept short, always neat, like it was some offense to the dead if there were anything that truly lived around them.

She ought to have been buried out here in the forest, where there was life. Maybe that’s why we lose the people we love, because we don’t let ourselves surround ourselves with life. We go for clonage, fashion, expendable things.

Image 5: More forest, looking up through tall trees to a green canopy and white sky.

I saw a raven perched over something I couldn’t quite make out at first; a nondescript brown lump that stood out from the dirt. I realized as I followed the path that it was a rabbit that had been killed in some way. I’d never know how, because the raven was just a scavenger.

I bowed my head to it as I passed, showing some reverence. I never knew why, it just always felt right. Same thing as when I passed a cat out on its own in the early morning. There’s a purpose that animates things.

The raven just watched me as I carried on my way. My mother had been afraid of birds like that, but I’d never felt fear from them. They were majestic in their own grim way, and smart.

I wondered what Renee was learning in school. My watch showed that it was half-way through math class. Of all the subjects, it was the one I was pretty sure we’d probably work through at the dinner table each night. Renee took after me in that way. I don’t think I ever appreciated everything I learned because the journey to it was so difficult.

I reached the end of the trail, which was something of a misnomer because it looped around to head back rather than truly ending.

Tried doing some stylistic changes just for a breather.

You might be able to notice the influence of Milan Kundera on the Phillip story. The start of The Unbearable Lightness of Being has left a major impression on me; I don’t claim to be at his level, but I wanted to try a similar thing by starting with a philosophical statement and then moving into a story that illustrates the concept (such as it is in ~500 words).

Continued the Renee story, though these parts feel disjointed. I’m not sure I’d put them in a final version of the story, but stuff like this is fairly common for me whenever I work on anything longer than a couple thousand words; I’ll spin off parts and bring them back in.

Looked over some of my upcoming writing classes’ coursework and I’m really getting into a point where I have to write some longer scenes. I don’t think that’ll impact my practice; the point of these is just to stay versatile, get some practice in whatever comes to mind in the moment.

I’ve been finding that some days’ prompts are better than others. You can tell today that I kind of had some ideas floating around going in, whereas the ones on the 29th were more prompt-driven. Of course, some of this is also the level of free association that went into things.

For instance, Image 2 today made me think of the Matrix, which made me think of questions about the nature of reality. That then led me to Milan Kundera, which is where the philosophical question at the start of the text came from. The actual scene was entirely constructed from whole cloth on the fly.

There’s also a lot of inspiration from real life here. I like driving, which was a good motivation for Phillip when I needed one in a pinch. The carrion raven in Image 5 is actually drawn from a real encounter with a raven I had a few months back (at Strawberry Hill in San Francisco, no less; I remember a fair deal about it), and my own personal affinity for the birds (not to mention my mother’s distaste for them) factored in as elements to draw out the scene.

There’s a healthy medium here. Write what you know, but don’t make your works autobiographical in a boring way. I try my best to be boring in my daily life, which makes this particularly hazardous.

As a result, I think that this scene wouldn’t really fit in the Renee story, both because it’s somewhat out of the tone and texture of the story, but also because it’s something that is rambling and vague. The forest scene that precedes it might work, especially with some modifications.

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