Film Influence No. 4: Dazed and Confused

        I’ve always been fond of of anything that explores the topic of what Pete Townshend called the “teenage wasteland.”  In fact, my poem “The Wasteland” probably has more to do with my formative years than the dusty Central Oregon landscape.  In my mind, Dazed and Confused is one of the best films to ever explore the topic.  It also doesn’t hurt that the film has by many accounts achieved cult film status, and features a number of actors and actresses who went on to become stars.  One of my favorite lines in the film is spoken by the character Cynthia: “You know, I’d like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor insignificant preamble to something else.”  I couldn’t agree more.

        When it comes to “A New Beginning…”, there’s definitely a “teenage wasteland” component.  Divided into three parts, “A New Beginning…” delves into the past, present, and future.  Sound familiar?  The past, of course, is where the “teenage wasteland” component comes in.  By contrasting that component with both the present (middle age) and the future (old age), I explore the human psyche in its three most prominent forms.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes I feel like my writing process is a psychological experiment gone awry.  That, of course, is what I’m going for and what makes it fun.  Every now and then, though, I have to take a break and just enjoy life.  I’m on a deadline, however, so I suppose I should finish up Part Two.  While I’m working, enjoy the “Baba O’Riley” video below:

Film Influence No. 5: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

        When it came time to narrow down my top five film influences, I had no idea how difficult that would be.  Given what passes for movies these days, I would have thought it would have been a much easier task.  I was wrong, however; I’m not sure why that keeps happening.  Oh that’s right, I’m human….  In the end, I reworked my list several times and even wrote a post about a film that I had to cut.  That brings me to my mantra for this post:  I love to write, it’s the rewriting that’s a pain….

        I suppose it’s time to discuss a film that did make the cut, which is Cave of Forgotten Dreams.  I loved this film.  I’ve watched a lot of good documentaries lately, (I Am Bruce Lee, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and The Buddha, just to name a few) and this one tops the list.  One of the reasons that I liked it so much is that I have always been a history buff.  Personally, I believe history deals with the central question of asking yourself what it means to be human.  As you may have noticed, historical references pop up from time to time in my poetry.  History has always fascinated me, and the story of the Chauvet cave in Southern France is quite amazing.  The film captures the oldest known pictorial creations of humankind, which I find to be astonishing.  Admittedly, though, history isn’t for everyone, nor is this film.  The film blew me away, but my wife and daughters all fell asleep and we were watching it in 3D.  I would have thought that would have kept them awake.  It didn’t bother me that they all fell asleep, though, because I know that everyone has their own tastes.  Whether it be food, music, films, fiction, poetry, religion, or really anything else, we all have our own preferences.  As long as you’re not harming anyone, I believe people should be free to express those differences; even if it means falling asleep during a film that I find to be enthralling.  I am no Caligula….

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Photo by Elizabeth McCullough

        Another reason that I liked this film, is that I like caves.  There are just so many good metaphors that can be drawn from a cave.  That’s probably why I included a poem titled, “The Dark Cave” in “A New Beginning…”  It is one of the five lost poems from “The Past, Present, and Future” that crossed over into the novel.  It’s probably why I also describe my writing process as crawling into a tunnel in my mind.  I’ve also had some very interesting real life experiences in caves.  Those stories, of course, are for another day….  Today, I would like to leave you with a pair of questions.  In the film, the archeologists discuss the fact that one of the cave artists had a crooked little finger.  Naturally, I looked down at my hand and noticed that my little finger is in fact crooked.  I then asked my wife about it, and her little finger is crooked too.  I looked it up, and according to a 1964 study only 1% of healthy newborns are identified as having bent, or crooked, little fingers.  Admittedly, to be counted the little fingers had to bend inward at an angle of 15 to 30 degrees.  I’m not sure if mine, or my wife’s, bends that much.  Still, though, I find the whole topic to provide an interesting link to the past.  That, of course, brings me to the questions: Is your little finger bent?  If so, does that mean anything?

And so it continues…

        Crawling out of the metaphorical tunnel that is my writing process, an epiphany occurred to me: Time is irrelevant, it always has been.  “A New Beginning…” has always existed, will exist, and has already ceased to exist.  That being the case, I have nothing more to write; yet everything to write.  February 3rd will arrive, and fade, just as all days eventually do.  When the time comes, I have no doubt that it will fade the way I always knew it would….

        With regard to my writing progress, the novel is now 1/3 of the way to completion.  Go figure, that 2/3 of the novel still floats around in the backwater of my consciousness….  Each chapter that flows from my mind, frees my focus.  In the end, my mind will be clear and ready to tackle seven adventures.  That, of course, is a story for another day….

        In the meantime, I seek to wrap up what began more than half-a-year ago.  “The Past, Present, and Future,” eventually will come to a close.  From every ending, though, there is “A New Beginning…”  Next week, the journey continues on its path to what can only be described as its ultimate climax.  The reader, of course, will be the final judge.

        As of yet, I have focused on verse.  Prose, though, has always been a shadowy figure lurking at the poker table of life.  Finally revealing itself to be a chimera, the figure has called my bet.  Now, it is my turn to answer.  In the upcoming weeks, I will unveil my film influences followed by my literary influences.  Each of which, will shed new light on my novel and my writing process in general.

        Years from now, this little project may only be a footnote, or a non-starter.  On the flip side, it may be everything that I always purported it would be.  If you’ve liked my poetry, you should know that I have worked to make the novel its perfect genetic match (or if you like, the Yang to the poet’s Yin).  It hasn’t been an easy task, but it sure has sparked my creative juices.  I suppose there are worse ways to indulge one’s self.   “A New Beginning…” will be finished in the coming months.  It is only a matter of time….

        Join me, starting on August 11th, for a weekly countdown to the end.  Five film influences, followed by five literary influences, followed by yet another project.  In the end, much will be revealed.  Still, though, only the novel will illuminate the true meaning of: “The Past, Present, and Future.”  For now, I leave you with one more poem:

Life Springs Eternal

laying on
the floor

an epiphany
occurred

death becomes
the man

life forsakes
existence

yet we
press on

today I died
tomorrow I rest

peace becomes
a reality

that I cannot
enjoy

honest expression
releases

all that is
within

and all that
has escaped

revealing a truth
not yet realized

and not soon
forgotten

life springs
eternal

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Photo by Elizabeth McCullough

Musical Influence No. 1 “More Than a Feeling”

        A long time ago, I heard someone say “it’s easier to swim downstream, than upstream.”  That statement was based on the idea that we need to find the things in life that we are good at doing, and let them carry us downstream.  That, of course, is much easier than constantly fighting the current.  I suppose, though, it all depends on where the stream is headed; as it’s always a good idea to swim away from waterfalls….  Boston’s song “More Than A Feeling” reminds me of this philosophy, and consequently has greatly influenced my writing.  I’m sure I’ve heard the song many, many times, but it was only a few years ago that I made the connection.  I suppose you might say:

“I looked out this morning and the sun was gone
Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song
I closed my eyes and I slipped away”.

        After making the connection, I decided that writing was one of the things in life that I was good at doing (or, at the very least, enjoy doing).  Not long after, I started writing my collection of poetry.  Since that day, I have to admit, I’ve had the feeling that I’m flowing downstream instead of upstream.  As it turns out, though, occasional rapids are impossible to avoid.  Fortunately, I’m used to them now.  No one is perfect, nor is the world, and occasional bumps are to be expected.  It is easier to deal with them, though, when you’re facing the right direction.  Even then, however, you should never underestimate the value of proper training.

        One of my favorite poems, “The Cool Morning Air,” deals with a similar theme.  On the surface, the poem appears to deal with the morning waking process.  Going deeper, though, the poem addressed the awakening of one’s consciousness.  Through this awakening process, the hidden path, or the current you are meant to follow, becomes visible.  I recently wrote another poem that dives deeper into this idea.  That poem, though, is an integral part of “A New Beginning…”, so I can’t discuss it yet.  In the meantime, I leave you with these words from Boston:

“It’s more than a feeling
(More than a feeling)
When I hear that old song they used to play
(More than a feeling)
I begin dreaming
(More than a feeling)
‘Til I see Marianne walk away
I see my Marianne walkin’ away”.

Musical Influence No. 2: “Madness”

        Sometimes ideas have strange beginnings.  The idea for this blog was indeed strange.  Of all things, it began as the result of a soccer competition with the band Muse.  I was chosen to be the goalie for the competition, which involved Chris Wolstenholme and other members of the Muse entourage versus some lucky fans, myself included.  Needless to say, I had a great time.  So did my wife, who was my guest, and she wasn’t even a Muse fan before that night.  Here’s a link to a video of the competition.

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        I had finished my poetry collection a few weeks before the Muse event, and was in the process of researching avenues to publish my poetry.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that 99% of literary agents do not accept poetry.  That weekend I celebrated the Muse event, and the upcoming culmination of the American version of football, with some rum.  When I woke up, “The Past, Present, and Future” as a blog had been born….  When describing his writing process, Hunter S. Thompson once said he was a “binge writer.”  You’ve got to love dual meanings.  I suppose I’m a bit of a binge blogger. Definitely a strange beginning.

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        When it comes to the music of Muse, two of my favorite songs are “Uprising” and “Madness.”  I selected “Madness” as this week’s influence for two reasons.  Since writing and publishing this collection of poetry, I have definitely felt as though “some kind of madness has started to evolve.”  Additionally, I have come to the conclusion that the past is the past, the future in unknown, the present is all that we get, and love is what we all need.  In the end, I suppose that is what the whole collection is about.  Anyway, thank you to everyone who has read this blog.  Without you, I would have closed it down long ago….  Until next week, enjoy the “Madness” video below:

Musical Influence No. 3: “Trojans”

        Every story has a beginning, and an end.  The same can be said for my collection of poetry.  Last December, I found myself searching for a way to end the collection.  My writing philosophy centers around the idea of letting ideas develop themselves.  It can be frustrating at times, but every time I try to push an idea forward it doesn’t feel right.  This process has led me to develop the mantra: It’s not about you; it never was.  I like to think of myself as an idea generator.  Once I’ve generated an idea, I try to separate myself from it as much as possible.  From that moment on, the idea becomes its own entity.  I then go back to the familiar role of reporting.  In that way, I try to stay as true to the idea as my ego will allow.  Of course, sometimes its easier said than done and at times can bring the writing process to an abrupt halt.  That is exactly where I found myself last December.

        As it turned out, I found the cure at an Atlas Genius concert in Portland’s Crystal Ballroom.  I don’t know if it was the music, the beer, the “floating” dance floor, or something else entirely, but I do know that I found what I was looking for.  That dark December night, I found the inspiration for the poem “The Convergence.”  Not long afterward, I wrapped up the entire collection with the last two poems.  Little did I know at the time, the idea was merely a seed that would continue to sprout in my subconsciousness.  Eventually, that seed grew into the climactic scene of “A New Beginning…”  Truth be told, the idea and theme behind “The Convergence” is what the entire collection of poetry and “A New Beginning…” are about.

        I would explain further, but I can’t give everything away….  For now enjoy the music video for “Trojans,” which was the song performed by Atlas Genius when I first became aware of the presence of the seed in my consciousness.  If you like, you may also contemplate how it was that I stood alone in a sea of people as “The Convergence” overtook me.

Musical Influence No. 4: “Satisfaction”

        Mick Jagger and Keith Richards may not have been thinking about the writing process when they wrote “Satisfaction,” but in many ways they summed up what the writing process has been for me lately.  As I continue writing my book, I can’t help but think of The Rolling Stones singing:

“I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no”

        They, of course, were referring to a different kind of frustration, but the parallels to the agony of the writing process are all I can think about currently.  Indeed, I can “get no satisfaction” when it comes to writing my book.  The problem that I have is that my brain never stops polishing the story.  One day I’ll write what I think are perfectly good pages.  Then, inevitably, the next day a new idea will pop into my head.  As a result, I’ll have to go back and change my outline and the story.  Every once in awhile, I have to throw out perfectly good pieces of writing because they no longer fit into the grand scheme.  I suppose that is what the writing process is all about: polishing everything until “you get what you need.”  OK, I couldn’t help but add in another Rolling Stones reference.  In the long run, I know that all of the agony is for the best.  Sometimes, though, I wish my brain would take a break and stop trying to fix things that I didn’t even realize were problems.  Of course, if my brain did that I probably wouldn’t be a writer.  I’ll just have to live with the nervous breakdowns for now (I had to add in another reference for good measure)….  Enjoy the “Satisfaction” video below:

Musical Influence No. 5: “Radioactive”

        I’ve always been interested in apocalyptic themes, which is probably why such themes show up in my writings.  This interest may also explain my fascination with the new song from Imagine Dragons titled “Radioactive.”  According to the song, “this is it, the apocalypse.”  Just last year, many people believed that the apocalypse was in fact upon us.  Aside from generating a few hokey movies, the Mayan apocalypse that was supposed to materialize was a bust.  Fortunately, for writes such as myself, apocalyptic projects still seem to be very much in vogue.  This year alone, films such as Oblivion, World War Z, and This Is the End have or will hit theaters.  There’s also a chance that Jaden Smith’s performance in the post-apocalyptic film After Earth will actually cause the apocalypse.

        My best apocalyptic work has come in the form of “Population Zero,” and “The Empire Falls.”  I also have a few apocalyptic story ideas floating around in my brainstorming notes.  A New Beginning…, though, doesn’t focus on apocalyptic themes.  Similar to my collection of poetry, they exist but only on an ancillary level.  Like the poetry collection, A New Beginning… is a coming-of-age story about a boy and his dog.  OK, I couldn’t help but crack a joke since I didn’t get to do that much in my poetry.  A New Beginning… is an existential journey about awakening the humanity within us all, of course, with a little bit of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll mixed in for good measure.  Speaking of which, I have some writing to do….  For now, enjoy the Imagine Dragons video for “Radioactive” below:

Poetry Influence No. 1: “Traveling Through The Dark”

        Undoubtedly one of Oregon’s most famous poets, William Stafford is one of my favorite poets and I have selected his poem “Traveling Through the Dark” as my number one poetic influence.  Stafford has a style similar to Robert Frost in that it has been described as deceptively simple.  Similar to Frost, Stafford’s poems reveal a distinctive and complex vision upon closer examination.

        I’ve tried to follow the example of Stafford and Frost as much as possible with my poetry.  I believe my best examples of this style are my poems “The Cool Morning Air” and “Fly Away.”  Stafford’s poem “Traveling Through the Dark” deals with nature, death, sadness, and making tough decisions.  My favorite lines come at the end of the poem:

“I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.”

        Two wonderfully simple, yet complex lines of poetry.  I couldn’t have written them better myself.  Just like the entire poem, these lines tell a story in and of themselves.  Below, I have included a YouTube video that is an excellent rendition of “Traveling Through the Dark.”

Poetic Influence No. 2: “An Eternity”

        Archibald MacLeish’s poem “An Eternity” heavily influenced my obsession with time, and the idea that the present is all that we ever get.  I addressed this concept throughout my entire collection of poetry, and specifically in my poem “The Present.”  Like MacLeish, I see the past and future as realms only reachable through the present, or now.  Without this moment, there can be no past, or future.  That being the case, both past and future flow from the ever progressing present.  Like holograms projected from the present, the past and future both exist and do not exist at the same time.  Here is how MacLeish delves into the topic:

An Eternity

by Archibald MacLeish

There is no dusk to be,
There is no dawn that was,
Only there’s now, and now,
And the wind in the grass.

Days I remember of
Now in my heart, are now;
Days that I dream will bloom
White peach bough.

Dying shall never be
Now in the windy grass;
Now under shooken leaves
Death never was.

        One of the great aspects of poetry is that like art, it can be interpreted multiple ways.  I see this poem as dealing with time, and the present, and containing a seize the day element.  Others, though, may see a poem wrestling with faith and rational comprehension.  In the second scenario, MacLeish’s poem may relate more to my poem “The Journey Concludes…” than to “The Present.”  Just like beauty, though, interpretation is in the eye of the beholder….

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Photo by Elizabeth McCullough