Sunday, November 13, 2011

Condemned Beauty

For some reason, I've always found myself attracted to decaying architecture. Today was no different. I was drawn to this building, and inspired to take a photograph. There is just something about the torn, rotting wood, that I find absolutely captivating.

Perhaps it is the possibilities that it holds for revival and renewal.

Perhaps it is the history; the stories that could be told.

Perhaps it is because I feel sympathy for the building, sad, forgotten, and lonely - not unlike myself.

Perhaps it is because of the mystery it holds; the unknown goings on that might take place inside. A summoning circle, a séance, a drug deal, a squatter down on his luck, a door to another dimension, a hideout for kids to imagine adventures in - it could be all or none of these things. It may be home to a family of stray cats, birds, or bats. A vampire lurking in a coffin.

Perhaps it is the beauty of grunge. I have seen "dirty sexy" work its way into the media over the last decade or so. I find fascination in this "new" desire to make new things look old, worn, dirty. Distressed jeans, dirty hair care products, purposefully antiquing wooden furniture - these are the things that immediately come to mind.

Perhaps nothing.

It is each and every one of those things.

And I find it beautiful.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Important Day

Below, you will find a short story that I wrote in January of 2010. I remain proud of it to this day, and so it is going to live here for all to see, rather than just my facebook friends.


Today was an important day; today was the day I was finally going to get my time machine to work. I knew this because it had finally happened. I had gotten a stain on my blue Transformers shirt - not just any stain, a special stain. It was an orange stain - the kind you get from spaghetti sauce - in the shape of fireworks right over my left breast. Normally I wouldn't be happy about such a stain, but today it meant something - something special.
I had always believed in time travel - rather, I had always hoped to believe in time travel growing up. All my favourite movies centred around the subject, and I'd watch them over and over again, wishing I could one day do the same and have incredible adventures. However, even as a child I was a skeptic, and knew it was only science fiction. I could never time travel, except in my imagination. When I was seven years old, all that skepticism was washed away. Then I believed anything was possible. When I was seven, I was visited by a traveler from the future.

It was a bright Sunday afternoon in early June, and church had just let out. Karis and I were just about to get a game of soccer-baseball going with some of the other kids in the field behind the church. There was a strange whirring noise, and someone tall stepped out from the bush - the little cropping of closely-knit trees behind the church that I so often played in. She had long, dark hair, and a friendly face. Her eyes were filled with hope and wonder - an emotion very evident to a well-versed seven-year-old. Even then, I could tell she was excited, nervous, and maybe even a little scared. She walked over to us. More specifically, she walked right over to me.
I was a well-trained kid. I knew I shouldn't talk to strangers - they usually weren't safe. But something about this strange adult was trustworthy. She was special. She kind of reminded me of my cousin, or something. She walked over to me, carefully, keeping at least five feet away - presumably not to scare me. She got down on her knees in the fresh-cut grass - something most adults would be afraid to do because of the stains, and got nearly eye-level with me. This was when I realized why she didn't care about staining her jeans. Besides, she's an adult, it wasn't like her mom would yell at her for getting dirty or anything. She was cool. She leaned over a little, and she told me, quietly...
"Time Travel really is possible. I'm from the future," she tried to smile, as if she knew I wasn't going to believe her. "Just trust me, Christine. I have to go now, I can hear your dad coming." I turned around because I could hear my dad's voice - how did she know? When I looked back again, I just caught the back of her as she ran the last few steps into the bush. She was probably trying to be all cool, and look like she just disappeared or something... I rolled my eyes. I heard the whirring sound again. I shrugged it off. Obviously she knew my dad somehow. Maybe from Chrysler's or something. Maybe he was playing a prank on me. I crossed my arms as I headed over to my parents car, and glanced over at Karis. She pointed a finger at her head and made a couple of circles in the air with a smirk. As crazy as that strange woman might have been, for some reason or other... I believed her. And I went on believing her for the rest of my life.

I always loved Science class. And Drama class, too. All my teachers said I was a big ham. So naturally, I chose to take both all the way through highschool. When I was applying for University, however, I had a dilemma. I had to choose. In the end, I chose Physics and Engineering. I could always take a couple of acting classes as an elective. It was kind of neat, really; both programs shared the same building. Like me. I mean, I guess you have to be a dreamer to pursue either career.
At the time, I was hoping to study Theoretical Physics - mostly because of my favourite TV show of all-time, Sliders. I was also hoping that it would give me the Math skills necessary to figure out the formula for time travel. I hadn't forgotten that day after church. How could I forget such a day? I studied long and hard, and after first year began developing my own theorems. I showed some of them to one of my professors once, but after he said that I was showing promise and he would like to see more of my work, I began to suspect he wanted them for himself. I couldn't trust anyone on this project. It had to be me, I had to do it myself. This, of course, made working on my time machine more difficult. I began spending less and less time working on anything else. I finished University with Honours. I was unemployed for a year, then, I got a job as a cashier at Wal-Mart - certainly not a position worthy of my degree. After a while, I began spending less time with friends. A few of them knew what I was working on, but none of them seemed to believe that it was possible. No one, except for Karis. She had been there that day. Over time, we grew apart... only seeing each other once a year or less, but last year when I saw her at Christmas she was the one to bring it up. She gave me a weird look when she first saw me, but then that look melted away when she greeted me with a hug.
"So what are you up to, building a time machine?" She asked half-jokingly, but I knew she was serious. We didn't call each other our soulmates when we were 10 for nothing. I knew that I could trust her, even after all this time apart.
"Yes," I whispered, barely audible in the loud potluck room.
"I knew it..." she smiled in earnest. "If anyone can do it, you can." Karis grabbed herself another pita, filled it with vegetables, and went on to tell me about her last semester of paramedic training. She was just starting to do ride-a-longs... I listened on with eager interest, but in the back of my mind I was troubled... How did she know?
I had been working seriously on my time machine for the past five years in my parents' basement, even after I had finally moved out. I had to keep the equipment there - there was no room for it at my new place, and I didn't wish to send one of my roommates' cats through time. Besides, they'd probably think I was crazy. They'd probably think I was crazy anyway.

I woke up late. I had been up well past four A.M. the night before installing my version of a flux capacitor - because everyone knows that's what makes time travel possible. Okay, so I pulled that out of Back to the Future, but can't a potentially "mad" scientist have a little bit of nerd pride? I looked at my clock. One-thirteen. In the afternoon. It was a good thing I had today off. I pulled on my favourite shirt - a blue Transformers shirt featuring Optimus Prime, Goldbug, and Prowl. I had bought the shirt on a trip to California two years ago. It gave me a sudden wave of nostalgia, just seeing it there in the Hot Topic. More than that, it reminded me of the woman I had seen when I was seven. I couldn't really remember what she looked like, anymore, but I remembered her cool shirt... with the spaghetti stain.
As soon as I had returned from my California Awesome (which was what I decided to call the vacation pre-empting the good time I was certain to have) I returned to my time machine full-force. I had the shirt! I had THE shirt!!! At first nothing I was doing seemed to make any headway. But then it hit me. A vision in my head. A vision of this! (When you're a mad scientist you can take certain, over-dramatic liberties.) The stain! I was missing the stain!
I began a series of experiments with pasta and nachos... eating them almost constantly for the next month while working on my time machine, hoping against all probable causality that I would make the perfect stain on my shirt. I even tried dragging my spaghetti over the shirt while I wasn't wearing it a few times. Nothing. Whatever I tried it never looked right. That, and I was starting to get sick of two of my favourite foods. I must have been wrong, it couldn't have been me.
This morning (er, afternoon) after I had finished pulling on a pair of jeans to go with my shirt, I stumbled into the kitchen just like pretty much any other morning as of late. I didn't feel like eating a bowl of cereal this late, so I absentmindedly grabbed out the first container of leftovers I saw and began eating while looking out the back window at our garage. My mind wasn't there, it was somewhere else entirely. It was re-playing the events of nearly eighteen years prior, while simultaneously thinking back to a few months ago when I finally decided to build myself a flux capacitor out of sheer nerdom. And then having the realization that it was necessary a few weeks later. And then making the plans to include it in the design, figuring out which flow of electricity should pass through it, which -
Something had fallen on my left breast. Something wet. And kind of cold. I looked down.
There was spaghetti on my shirt. On my favourite -
I dashed to the bathroom and flicked on the light. I pulled off the couple of strands of spaghetti.
It was a false alarm. It didn't look quite right. I grabbed a few sheets of toilet paper and sprinkled it with warm water. I rubbed at my shirt with a tight, circular motion. It wasn't coming off.
"Damn," my eyes glanced upwards at my reflection in frustration. That was when my peripheral vision caught something. Staring myself straight in the eye, I slowly removed my hand away and dropped the toilet paper - probably into the sink, I wasn't paying attention.
I ran out of the bathroom, slid on my sandals, and ran out of the house.
It was freezing outside; it was winter. I ran back inside, grabbed my winter coat, shoved on my hat, grabbed my purse and keys and borrowed my roommate's car without saying a word to them. They were getting ready for work. This was more important. This was probably the most important day of my life - and if I was right, I could have their car back to them in a matter of mere seconds. If I was right, today was the day I would perfect time travel.
I pulled out of the driveway and sped down the street. And then I slowed down, because I'm a good driver, and only had my G1. I wasn't supposed to be driving by myself. If I were to get caught now for speeding or anything it could ruin everything - but then again, I couldn't get caught for speeding now, because I was right. I knew I was right. This was the most right I had ever been.
I roared into my parents' driveway, fumbled with the old key, practically twisted my ankle on the way down the stairs, and reached my time machine.
There it stood. Practically a metal closet. Only large enough to fit one person, or possibly large enough for two people if the other person was as small as me. I had converted an old refrigerator and removed the doors. When it was turned on, electricity pulsed in strange lines up and down the front.
I took off my coat and hat and jumped inside, turning the time circuits on. (There was no time for testing - okay, so it's a time machine, there's always time for testing, but sometimes you just have to have a little faith.) I set the date for June 7th, 1992 at 12:05 P.M.
I pressed the red button.
The power went out in my parents' house. My dad started stomping his way down the stairs to check the circuit breaker. He was about halfway down when the lights turned back on.
Then eerily familiar footsteps clomped over towards me.
"You'll want to plug this in," I heard myself say, as a thick black cord was passed to me by a small hand. I leaned out of the machine and saw myself, with grass stains on my knees, bent over some of my more delicate equipment. My eyes were wide. My eyes, not hers... or, rather, not future me. "When you're done going on your little trip," I said to myself, "come back two hours ago. Get yourself a direct line of power from the pole in the backyard. Give yourself these instructions, and then drive back home and return the car to Rob and Justine." I blinked. Future me looked impatient with myself. "Well?" She... I said.
"Right, come back two hours ago, get myself power from outside, wait 'til dad comes a couple of steps down the stairs after the power failure, turn the breakers back on, hand myself the cable and give myself instructions. And look kinda haughty and impatient with my hands on my hips." I smirked as I stared into my own eyes. "Check."
"You catch on fast," I said to myself. "I always knew I was smart." I ducked back into my time machine and flipped the time circuits back on again. I smirked again as I admired the homage to Back to the Future once more. Now that I thought about it, the machine was kind of phonebooth-shaped, as well. I grinned. "Have a nice trip!" I heard myself say, as I once again pressed the red button. (It's always the red button.)
"I will," I replied a fraction of a second too late. My surroundings were different. I was outside. I was in the bush that had been torn down to make way for a new apartment building complex a couple of years ago or so. I had made it!

"YESS!!!" I wanted to scream - but I couldn't. I hadn't heard a scream when I was seven, so I couldn't scream now. I had to do everything the same. My heart brimming with pride, hope, and possibility, I marched confidently out of the woods into the tall grass and then towards the kids setting up to play soccer-baseball. Suddenly a whole whack-load of thoughts hit me at once - all about the negative side effects of time travel from so many Science Fiction shows and movies I had watched over the years. What if I melted into myself? What if I fainted? What if I caused some sort of paradox? I faltered, briefly, slowing my step. Then I remembered seeing myself only minutes ago, myself from a couple of hours from now. Surely, if I was going to collide with myself, it would have happened then, right? Either way, I shouldn't get too close, or touch myself, just to be on the safe side... But then again, it has already happened. I continued at my slowed pace, after all, I didn't want to freak myself out. I was a stranger, of sorts, after all. There I was, right next to Karis. I smiled. My seven-year-old self watched as I approached with trepidation and curiosity. Karis looked about ready to beat me up, if necessary. The other kids steered clear.
When I was about five feet away, and only myself and Karis were within hearing distance, I knelt down on the grass.
"Time Travel really is possible. I'm from the future," I said, smiling - at least, I thought I was smiling. My dad was talking to Pastor Doug just on the other side of the small church; his voice always carried well. Mostly because he was always extremely loud. "Just trust me, Christine. I have to go now, I can hear your dad coming." My young self turned around to listen for my - her - our dad, and that was my chance. I got up and ran off, back into the bush. As much as I wanted to look back, I knew I couldn't.
As I flipped the time circuits back on, I wondered why I hadn't heard any whirring noise. Maybe the noise was only audible to those who were outside of the machine, perhaps it was the noise of the hole in time being created by the machine, of the machine appearing and disappearing. I set the date back to Tuesday, January 26th, 11:13 A.M. Sure, it was a bit before the two-hour mark I told myself, but it was exactly two hours before I had woken up earlier, and a couple extra minutes might be necessary in case I couldn't figure out a way to tap into the city's electric grid directly. I pressed the red button. The next instant I was in my parents' backyard, surrounded by melting snow here and there. I ran around the house in the cold and knocked on the door - my key was inside the - my key was still at home for another two hours. My dad answered it, and let me in. I had to take a couple of minutes to explain to him why I was outside in just jeans and a T-shirt... with sandals in the end of January. I told him, briefly, that I had been working on my time machine. Basically, it works. I'm from a couple hours in the future, but I have to fix it before I can come back. He seemed skeptical, and said that it was a paradox. It wasn't a paradox, I had already done it. I didn't have time to discuss it any further for the moment, I had to get back to work. For the next couple of hours I borrowed my mom's coat while my dad and I worked on getting a power line down from the pole in the backyard. That was when he noticed my time machine between the garage and the shed. Then he believed me. When I was almost done I told him to go upstairs and watch some TV or something, I could finish the rest myself - besides, my lab was a mess and I didn't want him stepping on anything. He begrudgingly agreed, and went back upstairs. I promised him I would show him later - even later today if he wanted. I could hear a car pulling into the driveway. A key in the door was being turned, un-clicking the tumblers (I had locked the door on my way back down the stairs). I heard a familiar rushed clomping down the stairs seconds later, and then the power went out. Already poised at the circuit breaker box in the laundry room, I waited 'til my dad was halfway down the stairs and flipped the breakers back on. Then I walked back into my lab, picked up the thick power cable off the floor, and handed it to myself, and had one of the most interesting conversations of my life.
"Have a nice trip!" I said cheerily. Then I heard a brief whirring noise. So I had been right, the noise was made by the fabric of space being... cut open. Grabbing my coat, hat, and purse, I smiled as I headed back up the stairs. My past self would have them waiting here for her when she got back... after a couple of hours, of course. As I got back into Justine's green Corolla I smiled some more. I had done it. I had really done it. And now I could go and have any and every amazing adventure in time I had ever wanted. I didn't have to worry about paradox, either. I couldn't screw time up. Anything I was going to do, had already happened.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Writing for NaNoWriMo is like Performing Improv

So it’s day two, and you’ve gotten a good start yesterday. Or, perhaps you still haven’t started yet. Here are some of my tips for you, to get you writing. Because, really, writing for NaNoWriMo is a lot like performing improv. It takes guts. It takes moxy. It takes energy, creativity, and support.
Here are some specific ways that I can use the rules of Improvisation to improve your NaNo, or at least to help you reach that 50k goal:

If you haven’t started yet, START. And start in the middle of the action, or in the middle of the story. Somewhere with high-tension will get people interested and suck them into your world. You can always flashback to the beginning later, or forget about it – your choice. People will understand the narrative as it unfolds around them.

Do you want to reach the 50k mark faster, or have you struggled with your word count in the past? Keep writing! Be descriptive! Describing the environment can take up a lot of words. Even if that’s not your regular style, you might find that you like some of it, and if not, you can always edit it out in December. You can also think of this as “and then…” and then this happened, and then that happened…

Make bold and strong choices. Don’t be afraid to do something out-of-genre to your character(s). Don’t be afraid of MOVING THE PLOT FORWARD. In fact, this brings me to my next point:

Don’t be afraid. Just do! Write with reckless abandon. NaNoWriMo is the perfect time to experiment and try something new.

Okay, now for this, I don’t mean actually going back and editing your first draft in the middle of writing it – on the contrary. To “wipe” in the middle of an improvisation set is to run across the front of the stage, essentially wiping it clean of actors and story, to start fresh with a new idea. How to apply this to your NaNo writing? Simply this; if you find that you are getting bored with the scene you are currently writing, or you feel like you’re writing yourself into a hole, and you don’t know how you’re going to get out – just stop, and start writing a different scene! Don’t be afraid to use the *** kind of symbol, to take the action somewhere else. The scene you were just writing can either be resolved off-screen, or you can always go back to it later, maybe when a better idea has struck you, or after a new character has been introduced, who might further the scene in some way.

If you feel it in your gut that something should be a certain way, it probably should. Go with it, even if it doesn’t follow certain conventions. Especially if it involves “wiping” as explained above.

Don’t worry about spelling and grammar so much. That’s what December is for. If you keep going back every 5 seconds to correct something, you’re going to lose that momentum. Besides, even if you’re anal about spelling (like I am) many programs you’re typing with today will auto-correct them for you. EVERY time I’ve typed the word “Improv” it tries to make it “Improve”, for instance. In the case of you notebook writers, just don’t look at it. No squiggly red line appears under YOUR spelling mistakes, so it should be less irksome. And if it’s still haunting you, turn the page, and get on with your writing!

Remember those bold choices you made earlier? Well don’t drop them. If you’ve decided that a character only has one leg, and gets angry when it’s pointed out, stick to it. Every character has a THING, and they should each stick to it. This isn’t to say that they can’t transform at some point, when it makes sense for them, but until they’ve “seen the light” or whatever, keep their thing going! This also goes for styles of narrative. If you started off writing like ye olden faery tale, keep it going that way – even if your novel is SET IN SPACE. Whatever your thing is, STICK TO IT!

Okay, so while this one isn’t really a “rule” of improvisation, it’s something that I’ve found helps me perform my best. When I react in character to the other people in the scene EVERYTHING matters. Don’t forget that someone just mentioned they have a son. Have the characters react to that-even if it’s in a small way, or is a somewhat delayed reaction. If everyone is constantly reacting to EVERYTHING, you’ll find yourself writing more words than you thought possible!

If you’re not having fun, why are you doing this? Go away, relax, take a breather, play some videogames, do something else that is fun for you, and come back when you’re in a mindset to write. When that creative urge is tugging you, come back to the PC or paper, and get writing!

In improvisation, you’re never doing a set alone. There’s always someone else there to back you up in your scenes. If you’re starting to struggle, or a scene is lagging, at least one of your other performers will jump in and rescue you. For NaNo, it’s the same. There are plenty of people here on the forums, and in the chat, who are here for you. There are specific forum sections to help you with grammar, ideas, genres, and more! We have links to free downloadable programs to help you out. There’s a mentorship program for people who want extra help. We’re all here for you, like a family.

Well, that’s it from me! HAPPY WRITING!

(This post was a donation of 993 words.)

(Also, is it weird that I was singing the TETRIS theme while finding the links and formatting this post? AH, but that's all part of NaNo. Don't be afraid of going crazy. All artists are inherently at least a little crazy, anyway! Haha! HAVE FUN!)