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Things Melvin Has Learned; or, Why I Write

Posted by Melvin, 04 January 2009 · 102 views

Here's the deal. Recently, like all of America's bright youth, I've been applying to colleges. Tedious, and, given my need for procrastination, a slight worry about quickly approaching deadlines at times, and at other times a decidedly sharp worry. But, as a writer, I always find the essay portion of any such task a hidden joy. See, I love writing. Fiction, mostly, but I'll take what I can get. Even essays. Maybe someday I'll walk down Orwell's path and write a good fiction novel or two and my own "Shooting an Elephant". One can only hope. The reason I love to write is because, for me, I find a sort of catharsis there. Personally, I believe behind all the greats who sat down with a pen or a typewriter, there was a mind that stared down at the paper that just wanted to see if it could make itself feel. Orwell, I'm sure, felt a great deal of scorn and hope, mixed together in constant equipoising eddies, so that when one began to tip out of balance the other ran quickly to remedy the situation. Tolkien, I like to think, felt faith and wonder. Tolstoy felt, I'm sure, simple, unequivocable sorrow. Thoreau felt justness. My cathartic means, then, is side by side with this, my other purpose. One, I want to feel. I want Tolstoy's sadness, and I want Tolkien's wonder. But two, I want to know that others will feel. I want to know that my word got out and that, statistically, someone who reads what I have written will feel the same way I do. I want to know that, in all my flaws of interpersonal communication, I can say things in writing that I just wouldn't be able to in person, whether because I can't or because I won't. The thing that I want is to look out a window and not just see myself looking back in the reflection.

Writing does a lot of things for me, a lot of very personal things. Through writing, I discover myself. I delve into the heart of darkness that is my subconscious, and, like Coppola's depiction of Conrad's Kurtz, I do so because it is in the jungle that I find myself. It is the snail that crawls along the edge of the razor blade and survives. The jungle is where we will meet our ruin, but it is the jungle that forces us to look at the things we refuse to see. It's where we discover what we are, and it's where we don the mantle of emotion, and it is where we rescue damsels and fight demons, some demons fictional and some that are our own, that are very real, and that we must fight, because when we stop fighting and start running there we don't stop. We can't stop, it's not in our nature. Fortunately, when we feel safe, we'll slow down. We get back our thought, and we reevaluate the situation. But it always comes back, and you have to make the fight or flight choice again, and believe me, when you've chosen flight once, it's all too easy to choose it again and again until you really don't think there is another choice. Eventually, if we are mature enough, we learn things. If we are even more mature, we can learn to stop fleeing and fight past the demons and implement the things we have learned. That's the last, most valuable step. I haven't reached it yet. The things I am about to tell you, all of them I know, but some of them I don't practice. Because I think that, in the end, they simply don't apply to my case. I spent so long telling myself one thing that I became convinced it was axiomatic, and that there was no refutation, and if you really asked me whether or not I was worth something I would know to say, "Yes," but I would really say, "No." But writing has gotten me so far, and writing will get me the rest of the way.

So, what I'm trying to say is, in the course of writing more than a few essays, I learned some things about myself. I learned what philosophies I adhered to, and what I thought of my craft (and that's what I learned as well, is that it is my craft, that the thing I define myself most as is a writer), and how I thought I need to live my life. Purely for the sake of your own edification and enlightenment, I'm going to tell you what I think. I very, very, very strongly encourage you to write your own blog about it (Ter, I know you read this, and I expect one from you most of all) so that I can know you as you soon will know me. So, and without much further ado, I give you the terrifying list of

Things Melvin Has Learned

#1. Be serious when you have to, be sad, be laid back, but whenever you have nothing else to be, always default to silly. I learned this one a very long time ago. In my life, I've had ups and downs. A lot of downs, and I seem to like to think about them more than the ups. So, here's what I have learned. Life is not, in any way whatsoever, at all serious, unless you make it that way. Let me repeat that. Life is cruel. Life is rude. Life is callous, uncaring, spiteful, and above all else, life wants to hurt you just as badly as it can. You may ask how I got through that part of my life. The answer is that part of me didn't. And you may also say that my constant, insistent cheer is simply a defense mechanism, designed so that I don't have to put up with the really truly scarring parts of my personality, the parts that tell me I'm worth nothing at all and that nothing I could do will ever make me happy. You could say that, and you'd be right. But here's the cheery flipside, because there always is one: it works. Oh, man, does it work. And let me tell you, I am always making jokes. I want to make people laugh. I want to laugh. Why are you looking at life seriously? It's boring, is what it is. It's really no fun at all. Because here's the thing: you can't cry when you're laughing. Well, if you want to pick nits, I guess you technically can, but here's what I have to say to you: shut up. You're not enjoying life hard enough if you really have the time to point out something like that. Go jump out of a plane or do some other thing you've always wanted to do since you were a kid. Go ahead, it'll make for a great story. Which brings us to our next point...

#2. If it'll make for a good story, do it. We know the person. Probably someone in your family, if it's not you anyway. They show up. Everyone's happy to see them. And over dinner, they start talking. Or maybe they wait until you and your cousin are alone with them in the basement, just listening to music. And then they break out the story about how one time they smoked dope with one of Bob Marley's Wailers. I'm nothing without a story. And until not too long ago, I thought that writing stories was enough. That I could do that and be happy. But stories are everything. You need to live a story, too. And, the most important part, you need to tell it. Contrary to point #1, it doesn't have to be a funny story. A lot of good stories are, but humor is not the only emotion in life and, something I almost constantly fail to realize, if you're not feeling them all, you're missing out. As long as we're back at point #1, let's say someone jumps out of a plane. Everyone wants to hear about that one. Because you want to know why? If you've only jumped out of a plane once, you lost a bet. Somewhere along the line, you made a pretty hefty wager, and the loser had to jump out of a plane and things did not go in your favor. That's the funny part. The funny part is where you playfully moan, wishing you'd never bet anything. Then you tell the story, which doesn't have to be the funny part. It's a tiny, rickety plane that was probably left over from freakin' World War I the way it's flying, and after waiting about a half hour, you've got to step out of the door. And, to your terror, you don't just jump out. Because that's not the way they actually do it (people love hearing that part). No, you've got to step onto the freaking wing, clinging to some rope they kindly bolted to the exterior, and then you jump. And that's a good story. And people love hearing good stories and when you've got a lot you get to tell a lot. And the best way to get a good story is not to balk when something interesting comes along. You've got to actively seek out the story material. And the nice restaurant may be a lot nicer than the ratty bar you're about to get thrown out of, but years down the line, the bar makes the better story. Because you don't hear people turn to their brother and say, "Hey, remember that time in college when we ate at that really nice restaurant?" On to point #3...

#3. A wall can keep barbs out, but it also keeps things in. So don't build that wall, please. I did. Sometimes I think it's too late to tear it down. Especially by myself, and the wall is so high no one can get in to help. So, here's the thing. I talked about it in point #1. There are many things in this world that will hurt you. The lucky ones learn how to shrug it off. The unlucky ones don't. I fear a lot of things. Heights, for one. But then, there are the dark fears. The fears that live deep inside us. They feed off us. If they are too many, they suck you dry like leeches. And when we stay inside for fear of pain, we never find happiness. And sometimes that means dropping down the drawbridge and charging out of the castle, without hope or faculty of escape or retreat. That is life. There's pain for a reason: so we can feel joy. Point #4.

#4 There is a reason we feel pain. This is when we get serious. I'm going to tell you a story. It's what I am, a storyteller. It's what I always will be. Keep in mind, this story is entirely true. As much as I see the need for stories in this world, some of the best are entirely made up. They never happened. But, it doesn't matter sometimes that they didn't happen. I am a firm believe of the sentiment put forth by Minnesota writer and Vietnam War veteran Tim O'Brien: Story-truth is sometimes truer than happening-truth. He says there are some things that don't even happen that are truth. And some things that do happen that aren't. I believe, sometimes, that there needs to be a larger-than-life, Big Fish-style, completely untrue story. But this, this is not. This is a very true story.

I was helping my sister move. In a way, as long as we're being personal, she's largely responsible for why I'm so completely screwed up. If you read this, and know her, or ever do know her, don't ever tell her. It's not her fault. We are, after all, human. And she was the most stunningly human person I have ever seen. She was wrong in every sense that she was completely right. I saw around her people who were, for every intent and purpose, good people. Maybe better people. And yet, they talked about her behind her back. They thought poorly of her because of things she had done. They were not better people because they thought they were better people. They were, according to everything that I have ever felt and every barb that has ever been cast against me, utter, deplorable, inexcusable monsters. And she was human. I don't understand it and I never will understand it. It was because I loved her so much that I was hurt. And that kind of hurt I never ever wanted to feel again, so I built up my own wall. That's not every reason. But I feel like it should be enough.

I was helping her move. God, I never meant to say so much about her. But it was a story. And I'll keep it there. Maybe some day I can tell it again.

While I was helping her move, I saw a simple hole in the wall. It was...mmm...I can't describe it. I got an idea. It was the same kind of idea I get for every story I want to write. Some of them make it, some of them don't. Some I carry around in my head for years. This one, I think, I will carry forever. Because the hole was, to be blunt, the single most beautiful symbol I had ever seen or created. It said everything. Everything. Everything that I felt was there in that hole in the wall. I put it in a story. I don't know if it's a story I'll ever finish. I'd like it to be the first novel I ever wrote. But there is a line, and I wrote it there, and I didn't realize it at the time but it was me. And the character was me. He was a man driven to insanity by the things he had seen and felt, and to cope he set up two worlds in his mind. One was a happy world. It was a world where he didn't know his pain. He believed that it had never happened. It was cheery. It was worth saving. And the other world was a world that was gray and dreary, and it was where he was insane and it was where he was sad. And that world was the real one, and the other one was the fake. Why? Because the real world had the hole in the wall. Well, the line. The line I wrote. It went, "Warren used to stare at it every night before sleeping because he saw himself in it." And, I think, if I had to choose the single greatest line I have written, it would be that one. I didn't know it at the time. But it was me. It represented everything I write for. The feeling of emotion and the trip into the jungle to fight demons and confront my own. That hole in the wall is my demon. It is my craft. It is my demon, and it is my savior. It’s funny, that something forged with mindless passion could speak so much about the human condition, more than a thousand poems written by the fading light of a thousand candles by tragedians and comedians and lost souls and wanderers and romantics and sinners, that something destroyed could tell so much more than something created. We feel pain...for a reason. The hole in the wall. Someone made it. Someone in pain. Someone who had to live with it for the rest of their lives because it was a mistake, and mistakes are human, and so is having to live with them. And that's why I do it. Because of the hole in the wall. I most definitely learned something then. I learned what fear was, and it wasn’t anything that went bump in the night and it wasn’t anything under the bed, it was silence that terrified me most of all. Simple, pure, awe-inspiring silence. Think, if no one said anything. If no words were written. No songs sung. These are the things that tell us we aren’t alone. They say that someone out there knows. They know who you are. They know what you think. They put into words everything you’ve wanted to say but couldn’t. And if they were silent? Worse yet, if no one listened? If no one stopped to consider the hole in the wall? If, in the end, the speakers and the singers and we writers were only screaming at a silent wall? Because it goes both ways. We, in our desperate catharsis, are trying to know we’re not alone, too.

That, I think, is the true worth of the pain we feel. In destruction we find more than we can in creation. That’s why it must be felt. Because without it, there would be silence. Without it, no one would listen. There would be no one to contemplate the poetry of the hole in a wall.

Please. If you read this, and read it all the way through, write something of your own. Pour yourself into it like I did here. You may not be a writer. It doesn't matter. It's emotion. Some of you are writers. You may feel inadequate. You're not. I feel that way all the time. I feel inadequate. I don't hate everything I am, but there are a lot of things. Maybe you hate something about yourself. Don't. Don't ever. If the tears I am crying right now mean anything to you, don't ever. I don't think I'm a better person than you. Nobody is. And I love you. Do you want to know why I love you? Because you're human.

Respond. Please. If only a few, blog. PM me so I can read it. If in multitudes, create a thread for them all. So others can do the same. I want to hear the story you have to tell. That's something else I learned, and it won't be a separate point because I haven't learned it, I just one day knew it. You have to listen to stories before you can make your own.


Well-written, and I know exactly where you're coming from (maybe because I'm your brother...). I agreed with #1. It's kind of early for me, so I'll hold off on writing anything just yet, and also I don't know what to write. For the record, you're a much, much better writer than I am. And I want you to know that whenever I'm writing something I always ask myself what would you do when I'm stuck. I truly hope this is what you can make a living doing because it's a passion that's rare, and you can see the passion in your writing. Send me everything you finish because I want to read it.

Oh, but I still think I'm a better story-teller... tongue.gif Maybe I can't make the words all pretty what the way you can with your book'lurnin', but I think I'm damn good at crafting a story, imho.
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I fI could fly North to hug you I would. Can't wait to share melvin.
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I feel like I don't know you half as well as I should by now, Melvin. I feel almost guilty, and quite inspired. Thank you.

You said you wanted people to read what you write, the simple reason being that such was the purpose of its creation. In the past, I've asked, perhaps not assertively enough, to read more of it. I'd like to take the opportunity now to remind you that these offers still stand.

And I'd like to dedicate a musical toast to Melvin. Beethoven's 14th piano sonata, for its beauty, it's ugliness, it's ups and its downs, and for all the pain we all feel every day. To Melvin, the bringer of the sound and the fury that signify so much more than nothing in all of our lives.
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@Apoco: Thanks. And I know we went through a lot of that together. The only trick is with writing, you've got to practice. Nobody jumped in and was immediately good. Or, in fact, any good at all. I think I wrote a comment on Ter's blog that was the best I could say it...I'll find the link.

@Ter: And I can't wait to read.

@Plaz: I don't share anything about myself and if you ask a personal question I will do my best to avoid it. You know, back to the defense mechanism thing. Don't feel bad that you don't know me very well, because no one does.

P.S.@Apoco: That, I think, is the spark. We both can think of damn good stories, I am very sure. That's part of the reason I love to DM, not because I really like to actually do it but because I love to make a story, and D&D is actually one of the easiest ways to make and continue progressing a fantasy story. I just took my storytelling and made it writing and I loved it.
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I managed to sift through the right/write puns dry.gif and got the gist. The thing is, I already knew that tongue.gif
I find my writing to be adequate. It's not good or bad, I think. But I realy do pride myself on creating a story, whether or not I can accurately put it into writing. I've got that one story I started for NaNoWriMo which I think was a great story and better writing than usual on my part, and then I've got the super hero thing I've been thinking about, which is only in the early planning stages. I don't think the Writing Contest submission I entered regarding that was very good because a ) I wasn't able to capture the emotions I needed to with such a short submission and b ) not only does it lack the rest of the story for plot and thematic context, but I haven't yet written it so I wasn't completely sure what I wanted to do.

That and I wrote it in 3 hours and hardly edited it...

Edit: I hate how it turns my b ) into cool.gif because I don't put spaces in between usually.
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Well, you've got me thinking, Mel. That's for sure. I don't know if this reply is gonna make much sense cause I got several trains of thought going at once, but here goes.

First, on the subject of writing. I find your thoughts on it interesting, because your attitude towards it is radically different from mine. I recognize that writing can be a means of sending messages, of gaining new insights, and of confronting your own inner demons and issues. I recognize that it is an art form, and that it is all of the above things when at its best. But I've never really looked at it the way you do, because I think that philosophy risks losing sight of something else writing is: entertainment. (For the record, I'm speaking in general here. I'm not talking about you specifically.)

Let me give you some examples.

One is a sci-fi book I read several months ago, "Blindsight" by Peter Watts. It was much praised by critics, and it was, in many ways, a truly brilliant book. It was well thought out in the extreme, it made me think in many ways, and I have great respect for the amount of effort the author obviously put into it. But I don't think it was a good book. Why? It wasn't entertaining. The characters were unlikable, the ending was unsatisfying, and it lacked any sense of fun.

Another is from my own writing work. I'm just finishing a novel, and it has ended up being a very deep and meaningful experience. It's chief theme is humanity. I've spent a great deal of time in my life thinking about the human race. I've often wondered if we are, ultimately, good or bad. I've been helped along this journey by both Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica (it's so nice to be around a bunch of people I can actually say that to). Both talk about humanity, but they do it in opposite ways. Trek shows us at our best and inspires to achieve. Galactica confronts us with our darker aspects and forces us to be honest with ourselves. With my book, I've tried to create an honest picture by doing a little of both.

Er, I got a bit side-tracked there. Anyway, my point is that my novel has evolved into a very detailed study of humanity and ethics, but it didn't start that way. When I started it, all I wanted was an exciting piece of adventure that involved giant robots smashing things. That's it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm very proud of what I've achieved. But I don't think it would be worthwhile without the explosions and high adventure.

I've also confronted one or two aspects of myself that I'm not exactly comfortable with, but again, that was never my goal, and frankly, if I could have brought my character arcs to a satisfactory end without doing it, I would have.

I hope that none of that sounds arrogant. I don't mean to toot my own horn. For the record, I do realize that my book has a great deal of flaws.

So, the point I'm trying to make is that I'm an advocate of looking at writing simply. It's fun. And while it can be analyzed to a much greater degree than that, it doesn't need to be. IMO, of course.

But I can see the points you've been making too. And as I've often told people here, I'm very narrow-minded person, so when I can see someone else's point of view, that's fairly impressive.

I can see the value in the way you look at things, and more importantly, I can see your honesty in what you say. Honesty is very important for a writer. I can't say I agree with your philosophy in the general sense, but I sort of do in the personal sense. If that makes any sense. tongue.gif

You are right when you said that it's about feeling. When I think about it, that's what I look for as both a reader and a writer. The main feelings I seek are awe, wonder, and a sense that the people and events within the story matter. That's why I like epic stuff. Frodo mattered. Adama mattered. Picard mattered. Unfortunately, in the greater scheme of history, most of us real life people don't matter.

Okay, next topic.

I'm a bit hesitant to address this, because this could get very involved, but I disagree with your statement that we should never hate aspects of ourselves. Maybe hate's not the right word. Hate's a very strong thing, and I'm not sure that it can be a positive. But, certainly, I think it can be good to dislike parts of ourselves. None of us are perfect; we all have flaws. Should we not dislike those flaws? Should we not fight and reject them? Should we not aspire to be more than we are?

*Phew.* Well, you wanted a response. Be careful what you wish for, eh? (tongue.gif)

(Oh, and thanks for writing this. It got my mind working. That's always a good thing.)
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Where do I begin? I'm told that short and sweet is the best response, but my mind is swimming and my thoughts jumbled and conflicted. My first, very first thought was - I really like you. I like your honesty, thoughtfulness, openness - but it goes beyond that. I can't quite find the right words. It's almost like trying to describe a Pacific sunrise to someone who's been blind from birth, or defining the taste of milk. So, I think I'll sum it up like this:
ONE: Your ability to define who you are is something not all of us are able to do as fluently as you. I'm not sure I want to look that closely.
TWO: Though I agree we are all very human, there are parts of my character and personality that I truly dislike. Aye - even hate. Very strong language to use, but those roots run deep, yeah, to the very depths of my soul.
THREE: Covenant matters. There are times where I've said my life doesn't matter in the scheme of things, but that's a lie. There are many people in my life that are woven into my heart and I in theirs. Breaking those ties is like destroying the spider's web without understanding or comprehending what it would take to remake the web; to not see that the web will never be quite the same again. There is a time to be serious and to take life seriously.
FOUR: Consider researching UTSA or UTAustin in your choice of universities as their English department is A+.

I'll stop there. And if you ask, I'll p/m you the rest of my thoughts. closedeyes.gif
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