Category Archives: Methods and Techniques

The methods and techniques of writing.

Researching Characters- An Example of Diving into the Rabbit Hole

In 2011, I was in a writing program called the Athenaeum through The Attic, a writing school in Portland, Oregon. I focused on my novel Zizkov as my “opus” of the writing mastery program. (If you want to check it out you can go to the category labeled The Novel- Hello from Zizkov, and that will I give you a general idea of the style.) I remember one of my teachers telling me that he never published his first novel. He wrote it. Put it in a drawer, and basically never looked at it again. I had thought at the time, “oh no, that will not be me. This baby’s gonna see the world.” Yet, it turned out to be me, but I think today I understand his point. It’s the lesson of writing. So, why am I writing this now? Well, I have been going through many old blog postings and cleaning house. I came across a post on researching characters for my novel. Since, I have been spending tie here breaking down processes and techniques and methods for writing (particularly creative writing) it seemed that this was a perfect platform for that old post.

It follows many of the points I had made on my blog posts about character development. It’s very detailed, and if I may say, rather impressive. I was surprised with the research I had put into building backstory and characterizations. Admittedly, I do enjoy research, and as some writers have pointed out research can be a distraction or form of resistance to writing your story. So be aware. That said if you read Game of Thrones you know that George R. Martin puts some serious time and research into his characters. Epic amounts of time equals epic stories.

Asking the questions

In the first part of this old post I reflected on some questions I needed to answer about the time and place of the setting (Prague) and what it would have been like to be a young person during that period.

I know a lot about Americans living in Prague since I was one of them, but I have some Czech characters to write, and where do I get the perspective on them? This has posed a challenge in the sense that, sure it has been easy to find a lot of books on Prague, and the Czech Republic which gives one a basic understanding of what it was like to be there between the year’s of 1939 to 1989, but what if you were too young to really know what it was like to live under an oppressive regime? Your parents did; your grandparents did; you know your history; but by the time you became a young adult it had already been 10 years of a new democracy.  The main Czech character is 24, and would have been 13 when the Velvet Revolution took place. My huge question is: what was it like to be a teenager growing up in a new democracy with opportunities? Opportunities your parents and grandparents never had, yet at the same time, experiencing an overwhelming flood of consumerism, and influx of foreigners, and a struggling economy. What would that have been like? (2008)

The Character and the Research

Next I wrote about one of the characters for my book. A character based on a real person I had met the first time I had lived in Prague. This real person’s history gave me a starting place for my first round of research.

My story is fiction, as I mentioned before, but the characters are based on real people. I remembered a conversation with the woman that Zuzana is based on; she had told me that her father was a member of the Czech Philharmonic– this is a very different upbringing from someone whose father worked in an industrial plant (which is where many people worked). So I started with music. I went back through Czech History dating all the way back to the 5th century when Bohemia and Moravia were first formed through separate tribes. No, I do not expect my characters to know this far back into their own history, but I felt that if I wanted to avoid making stock characters of Czech people why not know the birth of those people? I skimmed of course until I got into the 20th century, and along my journey through Czech/Czechoslovakian history I found what I wanted to latch onto- it was called Charter 77 and then something called the Jazz Section. (2008)

Imagining the Characters

At this point I imagined a scene with this character and the history of her life. I even included a little quote from the book that I had written at the time.

As I would go for a walk, I would imagine the main character’s, Annabelle, conversation with Zuzana as they visited a small town outside of Prague. On these walks Zuzana would to speak in my head, and she would tell me the story of her family. As soon as I’d return home I’d sit down and hand write out Zuzana’s family history dating back to her grandparents on both sides: When they were born, how they met and married and the years Zuzana’s parents were born. From there I moved onto her siblings and so on. It was a lush history that took me through 6 decades of Czech History. Will I write any of this history down in my novel? Hardly, but without a doubt I know who Zuzana is and why she is the way she is, and although a small character in the book she is a rich and beautiful character. (2008)

When the women get off the train in the small neighboring town, Zuzana tells Annabelle that when she was a girl her mother moved her and her two brothers to live here.  It was after her father was arrested. She says: My family is of a long line of teachers and musicians. It is almost expected that myself and my brothers will also be teachers or musicians but now that Czech is open, my brothers do not agree. They both have left  the Czech Republic. Which no one has done since before 1930. Even before the war I don’t think anyone had wanted to leave. Not from my family. It is good in Czech to be a teacher or a musician, at least it was.” (2008)

The Music, The Books, and The Research Links

I ended with sharing what music I was listening to at the time to help influence my writing. I also wrote about who I was reading at the time, again to help influence and inspire my writing. Then I added many links to the research on the history of Czech jazz and music subversion during the communist era. If you have the time allow yourself to fall down the rabbit hole. There’s some fascinating stuff there. Maybe you’ll find yourself inspired to write your own story.

Since I was basing a lot of Zuzana’s family history around the music of Jazz, that was what I decided to listen to while I wrote- so once a again thanks to pandora.com, along with this line of incredible musicians; Charlie Parker, John Hendricks, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis, Lester Young, Shorty Rogers, Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, Al McKibbon, Thelonius Monk, Sonny Stitt, Kai Winding, Gerry Mulligan, Lucky Thompson, and  Joshua Redman.

And of course,  always following with Mr. Stephen King’s advice, I’ve been reading. My reading material has been of course from Czech writers. I just finished Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal- it is a perfect book for a lover of books. The main character/narrator compacts trash and has spent his 35 years saving books from the hydrolic press, he has been unwittingly educated. It is a beautifully written book and at some parts disturbing, I’ll leave you with this quote from the book:

“I can be by myself because I am never lonely, I’m simply alone, living in my heavily populated solitude, a harum-scarum of infinity and eternity, and Infinity and Eternity seem to take a liking to the likes of me.” Too Loud a Solitude, Bohumil Hrabal

Here is a link from the NYTimes about the Jazz Section.

Here is a link from the NYTimes about the Jazz Section.

Here is a link about the 1986 trial when seven people of the Jazz section were arrested.

An article on the Prague Spring of 1968

A blog with music info (among other things) in Prague specifically and the Provakator a webzine that the blog spot mentions in a post. And lastly an article about the The Plastic People of the Universe another dissident musical group out of the Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia

How ever you go about your writing, taking the time to do some serious development on your characters will make your characters more believable. The degree of that development is up to you, and as you can guess you can get lost in it, but don’t skip it.

Keep writing those stories.

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Dialogue- How to Write it. Some Advice from Old Professors

For some writers writing dialogue is the worst part of writing. they feel like they just are not able to write a believable conversation. This along with all techniques of writing is a practice, practice, practice, and read, read, read, exercise, but a few tips on how to write good dialogue is also useful. As with everything in crafting your writing there are techniques. I taken many writing courses in my past (my present not so much), and I’ve collected and kept most of my notes. I took writing courses in the 90’s at Chico State California University, and in the 2000’s at Portland Community college and Portland State University. Many of these notes on dialogue are taken from various writing courses. I’ve carried these notes with me over the years, and looked back to them from time to time to give me some advice or insight into my writing. Unfortunately, I can’t attribute which part came from which professor as everything slowly over the years mashed together. 

Why use Dialogue?

Dialogue can be used to move the story forward. It serves a purpose, y ou want it to revel tension between characters. Ideally. (But, you can do whatever you want.)

Use dialogue in creative non-fiction if:
A) It focuses on a moment of explicit tension between people-or
B) It focuses on a moment of suppressed tension between people-or
C) The dialogue revels someone’s character, either through expression of what they believe, or through their idiosyncratic way of stating something.

One of the most important things to remember when writing dialogue is to avoid meaningless preamble to a real exchange (unless you feel that it is essential to the story to put in meaningless preamble- kind of like David Lynch putting a white horse, a giant, and a dwarf in Twin Peaks- what was that all about?) For example read the boring exchange written below:

“Hi. It’s me.”
“How are you?”
“All right. How are you?”
“I’m all right.”
“What are you doing?”
BORING
Yes, sure people really do talk like that because let’s face it most of the time we have boring interactions called polite fiction, but no one wants to read it (unless you have a true purpose for it).

Get to the point:
“I want to talk to you about last weekend.”
“Last weekend never happened.”

OOOO Tell us more.

There are three possibilities for how dialogue can be delivered:
A) Summary dialogue, or the brief report.

It’s efficient and suggests conversation, but doesn’t give much of a sense of how things were said:

Mary said that she had never seen Star Wars and she was happy about that decision.
Mark said he was destroyed.

Literally destroyed, but not literally because then he would be dead and wouldn’t be able to say anything.

B) Indirect dialogue, which is more detailed than summarizing but is not directly quoted:

Mary said that she despised Star Wars and everything it represented so much that she had destroyed Mark’s entire video collection, and he deserved it. After all, he had begun to call out for Luke Skywalker when they made love, (what?) and why should she put up with that? Mark said he was crushed; he had no idea she was so upset, and saying he called out for Luke Skywalker was a slanderous lie.

(Yeah, he didn’t call out for Luke Skywalker while they were making love he called out for Han Solo)

Video collection probably gives an idea of how old these notes are.

C) Direct dialogue, the most dramatic form, happens in real time as opposed to the other forms:

“I’m so sick of your love affair with Star Wars I could scream,” Mary screamed.
“I’m so sick of you!” Mark screamed back.

You can intermix the three types, with good effect.

Some extra notes on dialogue:

The writer Jerome Stern says that adverbs in speech tags sound corny.

For example: “she said kittenishly; he responded sneeringly; she hissed angrily.” If the dialogue is well chosen, the feelings of the character will be clear. If it isn’t no amount of adverbs will help the reader feel the character.

So listen to Jerome Stern unless you are writing a detective or a romance novel then keep the adverbs because it just wouldn’t be the same with out them. Here’s a nice blog post that high lights some of his views on dialogue. You can also read one of his books on writing. 

A good way to “tag” dialogue so you don’t have to say “she said/he said” is to follow the lines with an action or a thought by the speaker:

“Did you really think I’d be willing to spend my life with a Star Wars freak?” Mary pulled off her engagement ring and threw it across the room.

Or you can write like James Joyce and really confuse the hell out of your readers as to who is really talking. “Is this the narrator or the speaker?”:

Stephen looked down on a wide headless caubeen, hung on his ashplanthandle over his knee. My casque and sword. Touch lightly two index fingers. Aristotle’s experiment. One or two? Necessity is that in virtue of which it is impossible that one can be otherwise. Argai, one hat is one hat. -Ulysses,pg. 192

But you should probably know what you are doing before you make the readers work so hard.

Point of View-What is it? How Do I Pick it?

What is a point of view? He said, She said? It’s all about perspective. You have to pick a point of view from which to tell your story. 

A) First person point of view happens when the person narrating the story is also a character in the story. “I woke up. I had this feeling. I am telling this story.”

B) Second person point of view happens when the writer chooses to refer to the main character as you. “You wake up. You have this feeling. You are telling a story.”

c) Third person point of view happens when the characters are reported on by a narrator who is not present in the story. Characters are described, and are called by names or he/she. “He woke up. She had a feeling. Sara wrote this story.”

  • Omniscient third person means that the narrator sees and knows all of the characters thoughts and actions in a god-like way. Sara woke up with a feeling of unusual dread. This was not the first time she rose with anxiety. Pete pretended to sleep as he felt her shifting beside him. He was tired of her anxiety attacks. He didn’t know how to deal with them. It was better for him to not respond. Sara watched him sleeping. She wondered why he no longer woke up with her like he used to. He used to be there for her. 
  • Partial omniscient (limited) third person means that the narrator tells about the thoughts of only one character. There are some things this narrator doesn’t know. Sara woke up with a feeling of unusual dread. This was not the first time she rose with anxiety. Pete remained asleep beside her. She stared at him as he slept. She wondered why he no longer woke up with her like he used to. He used to be there for her.
  • Objective third person narration means that the narrator does not allow himself/herself access to any thoughts or feelings, but describes only actions including dialogue. This is sometimes referred to as minimalism. Sara rose quickly from her bed. She was visibly shaken and put her arms around herself as if to comfort herself. She sat still for a moment and then looked at Pete who was still sleeping. She stared at him for a moment. “Are you awake?” She whispered. He didn’t move or make any sound. “Do you hear me anymore?” She whispered. She sighed softly. Then looked slowly around the bedroom.

Choosing a point of view also involves determining which characters in the story you want to tell has the most interesting vantage point, in your opinion. Sometimes, you can only find the viewpoint after telling it from numerous characters’ viewpoints. I once wrote an entire story in first person POV then switched to third and then back to first. That was a nightmare. Maybe don’t write the entire novel before you decide the POV is all wrong.

With the view point you have to choose your tense. The basic choices are past and present tense. Past is the most common and useful tense but present can add immediacy and excitement to a story. So what point of view will you pick, and how do you know if it’s right?

It’s all about how you want to tell the story, and how you want the readers to receive your story and feel about your characters. Do you want them to know they are reading a book or do you want them to forget they are reading a book? Do you want your voice to be heard or do you want to create a new voice as a narrator? Who is driving the story? Who is telling the story?

There are many resources from which to read for ideas as to how you should approach the point of view, but at the end of all the research you are ultimately the one to decide. Below I’ve added some links to blogs/articles that say much of the same things I am saying but also elaborate in other areas of the subject.

At this Writer’s Digest post if you scroll to the end of the article they have some nice tips on how to choose your perspective. They also use the terms 3rd person close and 3rd person distant, but those are the same as omniscient and objective. Different terms for the same things.

At Ink and Quills she goes into a couple other terms I had not heard of before in my old days of University. These include Deep Point of View and Multiple View (although I have heard of multiple just not deep).

On The Balance Careers blog you can find a nice writing exercise to use to play around with POV. It suggests you use something you’ve read which is great, but you can also use something you’ve already wrote. Write it in a new POV and see what you think.

 

See ya!

 

A Final (but not truly final) Note on Characters

Many years’ ago I took a screenwriting class. Amazingly enough I still have some of the notes. These notes focus on asking yourself development questions. It was a screenwriting class, but the genre doesn’t matter. These notes can still apply to any other writing format.

  • Whose the main Character? Why? What so great about them that they get to be main character?
  • What’s the character look like? Who are they what are they like to the other characters in the story what are they like to the readers? To the narrator? What’s their history?
  • What do they want and and what’s in their way? What do they need to do to get what they want? I was watching the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch which he gave at Carnegie Mellon and he talked about things that we dream about. Things that we want out of our life. He described obstacles as the brick wall- Randy said, the brick walls are there for a reason- they are there to see if you want it enough- they separate those who do from those who don’t. You can break down, climb over, do whatever as long as you get over that wall. What is your character’s brick wall, and do they want it enough? My teacher expressed this idea as the “spine” in a film story. Actors use this too- it’s the ultimate goal, what drives the character.
  • What are the conflicts? They have a problem but they can’t just solve it easily, there are all these tiny obstacles that lead up to the main obstacle- the devils in the details, right? Try to think of it from every angle, think of the idea prompt- the most unlikely thing to happen. Make a list-a list can turn to a scene in a film a scene in a book and scene on a stage.
  • How do the characters change? How do they grow? This is something I’ve asked myself and oddly struggled with, I’d write something and then ask myself, but did they change? How? This is where you can build structure. What happens along the way to move the character towards change? Again my teacher had described the structuring of events as what builds the plot- and yes there are stories without plots or where the plot isn’t the main driving point, but most stories have plots. What’s it all about?
  • What is the dramatic situation that sits at the center of the story, around which your plot will form? So I took that one word for word from my notes. Those are my teacher’s words. The dramatic situation is the set of circumstances around the plot that are the events that affect the character as they try to achieve their goal- like what are the circumstances involved in the characters life at the moment that something happens? What does he/she want and what brought him/her to the place where they are now?
  • How does the character affect the dramatic situation- if the character wasn’t the way he/she is then how could things be different? What is so unique to this character to this circumstance that this story is being told?

Why tell your story? Because you must.

What drives us? What’s our obstacles? – And of course there is the eternal why? WHY? Why is it this way or that? Why am I living? Why are any of us living? Most of the time there isn’t even an answer in our own lives, but this is your story, your character, your world. You can see the purpose and the outcome and it’s up to you to let us know if we should see it or not. Isn’t that exciting?
Go be exciting.

Character Development 2

We are returning to some ways to build a great character, a believable character. In the last post I wrote about some ways to brainstorm for your characters. Questions to ask about your characters, and of course the always important, researching your characters.

Now what about the deep inner life of your characters? Do you really need that? Sure, you’re building human beings (and other creatures) out of words. You want your readers to be lost in a world that you created. You want them to put down your book, and forget where they are for a few seconds as they adjust back to their own reality. You want them to believe your characters. One way to do that is to give your characters inner life, dreams, a backstory, and supporting characters that are just as real.

The inner workings, relationships, supporting characters and backstory

The inner workings of your character

  1. Were there any traumatic incidents in your characters past that may affect their present behavior? Are there good influences from the past that may affect their present behavior?
  2. What are the unconscious forces that are driving your character? How do those forces affect their motivations, actions and goals?
  3. Is your character too nice, too bland, too normal, too bad? Is there anything abnormal about them? How do their abnormalities cause conflict with other characters?

Character Relations

  1. Is there conflict between the characters? Is the conflict shown through the action, attitudes or values?
  2. Is there contrasts between the characters? What is different between them?
  3. Do they have the potential to transform each other?
  4. Will the reader understand why they would be together? Is the attraction clear? Is the impact they have on each other clear?

The Supporting Characters

  1. Do the characters have a function in the story? What is the function? What is the theme of the story? How do the supporting characters help the theme?
  2. How did I create my minor characters did I give them enough attention? If I used types did I avoid the stereotypes?
  3. Do I have contrasting characters? Do they add texture to the story?
  4. How have I defined the supporting characters and the minor characters?
  5. Do I have villains? What are their backstories? What drives them? Is there a good that they pursue but use evil actions to get that good?

Backstory

  1. Is my work with backstory a process of discovery?
  2. Does the backstory unfold in the story?
  3. When giving backstory am I only giving information that is relevant to the story?
  4. Am I writing the backstory in short sentences that can reveal within the action of the story or am I heading off into tangents?

 

That should give you enough to work with.

Character Development 1

This post was originally a page, but I’ve decided to turn it into a post as I think that is a more effective and appropriate placement for the post.

Anyone who has ever crossed over this blog knows that I am a bad writer. I don’t mean as in bad quality. I write some decent stuff, I have a good imagination, and on a spectacular day I can even wow my self critic with some of my writing. I have potential. The same as anyone. Writing is a skill. I know this. You know this. We got this knowledge.  I’m not a bad writer, I’m a misbehaved writer. I don’t do the work. I know how to do the work, and I know I could do the work, but I don’t do the work. So there you go. I’ve admitted it. As I’ve admitted it many times before. Supposedly its the first step to recovery. No one tells you that it’s the second step that’s more difficult.

Although, I am an undisciplined, somewhat self destructive, and self sabotaging, but filled with potential (no matter my age) writer, I still know a thing or two about writing. Like I said, I have the knowledge, I just lack the will power. I feel like I’m a whiskey bottle or two shy of being an aging, pathetic, failed artist. Don’t feel bad about reading this because, there is humor in my words. You may not get the humor, but I’m smiling. I enjoy the verbiage. So picture me, sitting in my sweat shirt and leggings sunk into a chair, holding my whiskey glass, and slightly tipsy, yet working on wasted, as I extol the wisdom from my student debt inducing English degree with the writing minor.

Let’s develop a character. Part 1.

Development or Who is this being that you are about to create?

This should take you a lot of work. That’s why I don’t do it, but I’m not telling you to do as I do, but to do as I don’t do. As I said, if you want to make a believable character you need to do a lot of work. Make them real to you and they will be real to me. I watch Game of Thrones and I’ve read about four of the books and one thought that keeps coming to my mind is this: My god, the world he has created! Really, it’s incredible. We won’t even talk about the settings, and the storylines, but just the characters alone. The thing about the characters is that they have history, a long rich deep, deep history. Your characters should too. You are building a world, and even if you are writing about a real person you still need to give that character a life with a history, and life events, and likes and dislikes, you are basically building a replica and you want it to pass the Voight-Kampff test.

So where do you find this person, this being or this talking animals/object? You have two choices internally or externally. You decide.

  1. Your ideas; observations or experience or both.
  2. Inspiration from outside sources.

Okay, now what? Brainstorm and or create an out line. I used to describe this as the vomiting out words. Literally, I would just blahhhhh all over the page. No stoping just writing out all the ideas in a great big mess to clean up later. Here’s some basic questions to ask yourself about you character.

  1. what is the character’s core, what makes the character consistent?
  2. what are your character’s paradoxes? what makes them complex?
  3. emotions, attitudes, values to round the character out.
  4. add details that make them unique and specific.

You have your idea and or inspiration now what? Research the Character. If it’s a real person then by god, you need to do your research, but if it’s an imaginary person then…by god you need to do some research. Below is a list of some questions to think about as you do your research.

  1. What do you need to know about the context of the character(s)?
  2. Do you understand their culture? What is their culture?
  3. Rhythms, beliefs, attitudes that are a part of their culture.
  4. Do you know or have you met or spent time with anyone from their culture?
  5. How is the character different or similar to you?
  6. Do you feel you know enough about people from a culture and have spent time with them so that you don’t create a stereotype based on a few encounters or others outside opinions?
  7. Do you know your character(s) occupation?
  8. Do you have a feel for the occupation, an observation of what the work entails and how people feel about their work?
  9. Do you know the vocabulary enough that it comes out naturally and comfortable?
  10. Do you know where they (characters live) live? Do you know the lay of the land, what it is like to walk the streets of their neighborhood (city, country, seaside et.) ?
  11. What is the climate, what are the leisure activities, what are the smells and tastes of the place where they live, their setting?
  12. How is their location different and similar to your own?
  13. If your story is set in another time period, do you know the historical details, in regard to language, living conditions, what they wore, how they behaved in relationships, their attitudes and influences?
  14. Have you read literature or any other sources from the time period that might help you understand how they spoke and what words and terms they used?
  15. In your research have you reached out and been willing to reach out to ask for help with resources from knowledgeable people from a specific area?

Whooo. Are you done yet? Nah you’re just getting started.

Next post.

Cut-Up Method for Creating a Short Story

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William S. Burroughs was the first writer I had ever heard about that did something called “the cut-up method“. I think it is a well known practice by now, and in fact, many famous songwriters and modern writers follow the same example of writing or exercising of the writing mind.

I had tried it in the past, and never got too far, but looking back on the experience I think my obstacle had to do with control. I really wanted to craft the “perfect story”. A story that could be award winning, and because of this need of perfection when I wrote I could never really let go. This cannot work when doing a cut up. In the art of the cut up you must let go. The cut up can be likened to staring at clouds, only when you relax your eyes can you see the multitude of images and stories rapidly unfolding above you. 

I didn’t follow Burroughs guidelines exactly but I followed the basic idea which was to see what could be created out of what was already there. It isn’t plagiarism, the story is completely new, it’s just the words that are taken from a context or source and then put together like a puzzle.  The following short story is completely created from the cut up exercise I did recently using the same concept as the cut-up. I had taken and article from a magazine and I began placing words next teach other based on how they sounded in a sentence. Sense did not matter to me. In fact, the more illogical the more freedom I had in the creation. When I did I revision that is when I put in a little cohesiveness and order, but not much. I worked quickly, not allowing myself to “craft” a story and just allowed the words to find the best fit. It was the most fun I had writing in a long time.

As I had mentioned in the previous paragraph, the story posted below is a cut-up story.

Lessons From Hilla

Passing Hilla on a street in Potsdam, a visual figure came to the stages of my mind, and because of this image of a figure, I decided to follow her on her lifelong postwar journey.

You may ask me what war is she post of? She is post all wars. She is the story teller of struggles, she is the recorder of our destructions, and she holds the secret to our peace. Her oeuvre is inextricably fused to her backbone like a lamppost, and I walk secretly beneath her light. If she had been a photographer trained in the art of lighting she would have noticed my shadow as it swung beneath her feet or off to her side, but she was not, she had studied typography, and had no interest in looking at what blocked the light. If you are asking yourself with a snide sharp snuffing that comes from the top your nose, “how can a topographer have an oeuvre?” I say to you: ask yourself, if you can not see the subtle and sublime in the surface of the earth then how can you say you know what art is?”

Hilla hopped from one region to another like jumping puddles the primacy of which was to discover at what point of oppression does the artist reveal itself to a person if that person never believed they were an artist in the first place. Hilla believed great works of art came from the oppressed as a form of final expression of the human condition.

 

You may wonder how one can survive when they spend their life following in the shadows three to five feet from another human being in order to find the answer to the great questions because one, myself as the one, believed with reverent faith that no other than Hilla could carry those answers. It may seem an unusual occupation to you, but I had obtained labor in the business of carrying umbrellas on particularly bright days. I will admit that in the moment I had found the proposition unusual, but it payed me well enough to survive and it did nothing to interrupt my followings. All I had to do was await a call early in the dull light of the day that would inform me of what umbrella to carry, and where to procure the chosen umbrella of the said day. I had never thought, under my obligations of carrying umbrellas on days that it never rained, that is was Hilla who hired me to carry the umbrellas. I was under the impression that I was stealth and invisible. I often muttered thoughts out loud because  Hilla never listened to me because I was not really there. I was invisible and had always been so.

“All my future friends are artists who comprehend the complexity of a simplified map situated between historical contradictions of east and west,” Hilla was speaking her voice hard and Germanic in accent, “—notice how no one ever says North or South, other than the Americans of course because that was their only on-soil war. If you listen carefully you will hear people say that all the wicked witches are from the east.” Hilla was giving a lecture to the pigeons, and I was taking notes under my umbrella. Obviously, it was a bright and sunny day and my unknown employer had requested I carry the light coral satin umbrella which coincidentally matched Hilla’s shoes. Remember reader, I did not at this time know who my employer was and therefore still felt that I was a man hiding in the shadows inconspicuously holding a light coral umbrella on a sunny day.

I had just written down the words, all wicked witches are from the east, when I muttered to myself, “she wasn’t the most wicked; she was heartbroken, after all her sister had been murdered by a house.”

“Halt-“ Hilla barked. “Stop with the melancholia of cultural continuity and bring me some euphoria of resuscitation— you post-fascist cosmopolitan.”

 

I must clarify that at the times that Hilla did speak to me I only believed she was speaking toward me as if I were a photograph that she did not take. She spoke to the aspect of me which in her limitless archival of archetypes broke down to her speaking to herself or the pigeons or whatever she was standing beside. This is what I believed. Paradoxically, I was aware she was speaking to me by the architecture of her language, especially when she built sentences with words like post-fascist. I thought she had often mistook my compassion for misused communism commonly regarded as socialism and never looked at as pacifism, but truly was only compassion —wasn’t it compassionate to see the witch as mourning her sister’s death? The ruby slippers were only a side-note.

“You are making excuses for pedophiles and murderers because you like their paintings.” Hilla shouted. “He makes great literature, he diddles children. It is yes indeed great literature, but he still diddles children there is no excuse to make for the behaviour of that madman or her cruelty accept that you love the work of a pedifile. The art and the deed have been done and neither can be changed regardless of how influenced and inspired they had at one time made you. Were you inspired by the crime or the art? Lines in the sand, lines in the dirt everyone drawing lines for others, for themselves and no one being honest.” Hilla threw a handful breadcrumbs to her rapt audience of pigeons each one flapping their wings in grand applause. They always gave her standing ovations.

I had supposed she may have been correct.

 

As I continued to follow Hilla through the industrial mapping of her language I noticed my own structure of vocabulary was beginning to breakdown or perhaps it was already broken and crumbled; washed away by a chromatic ocean searing tonal cliffs and swallowing too many sailors. It came over me like a prophetic revelation that Hilla was rigorously imposing enforced limitations to my thought patterns and therefore she was creating a little oppression in my mind, perhaps to test the capacity I had for finding expression under her personal regime. She could do all this without ever acknowledging my existence.

“You should learn to spell.” She said as she made drawings of bees gathering pollen. “Your writing looks like a holocaust of the English language; each misplaced vowel and consonant is a massacre of the alphabet. You should be accumulating languages not slaughtering your own.” Hilla was at the top of her game in the absence of humans and often criticized the pigeons and bees of their misuse of the English language. I had always thought this was a little insensitive since english was not their first language.

 

I have yet to describe Hilla. What could be so compelling in a woman that one would follow her across a post war world while suffering at an angle her slings of insults and accusations of post-fascist beliefs. Physically she was a goddess of imagery. She was built like a water tower and had hard nipples the color of coal that you could see through her light colored and often times white linen blouses. Her nipples may have been pink and soft at one time only darkening when touched by the cold or excited fingers, but she dyed them black so many times they stained and eventually hardened. I had heard her say that it gave her great pleasure to watch the leering faces rotating in lust to get a better look at her breasts only to quickly dissolve in expression to that of horrored discomfort with the realization that there was something very unnatural about a pale white woman with onyx volcanic nipples. If those uncomfortable with the discovery didn’t quickly avert their faces with their potential quips stuck in their throats, but instead lingered on her appearance a little longer they would realize that she was really very white, but not that of a natural skin tone. She had painted her skin the color of canvas so that she was blank and new and always ready to create herself. The average man and woman did not understand this and you could see it written on their faces. Often times, since I was a few steps behind, carrying an umbrella of whatever color was requested for the day, I would quickly pass on the following comment, to a person who had completely taken in the look of Hilla, as I wanted to contribute to the novel on their face.

“You should see her vagina.”

It was a marvel to me as I think she would sometimes hear me, this was of course before the days that I had discovered my employer, and she would turn to the overly shocked and pre-disgusted person and say, “You should see my vagina. It is the most beautiful cerulean blue like a deep sea waiting to swallow too many sailors. I have a penis as well and it is as grey as a whale.”

She always used the words vagina and penis so that she could easily create the acronymic anagram VP for very perfect. It was a part of her architecture. No one knew what was true because her lovers never spoke about her they only blushed at the mention of her name.

 

“A minimalist in thought is a minimalist in the mind, but a minimalist in space is a purist of ambivalence.” She said tossing more crumbs to her loyal birds. I continued to copy word for word her lectures. It occurred to me that I was recording- in my own dystopian way, a catastrophe of enlightenment. I was on a mnemonic journey after a woman with nipples like coal and a vagina with a whale of a penis. Very pretty.

 

“It is no longer adequate for you to appear so uncannily close to my shadow.” She said. This time I knew she was addressing me, in fact I felt quite, certain as she turned to face me and looked directly into my face. It had been many years’ since I had passed her on a street in Potsdam, so many that I had forgotten how old I was and where we had traveled. I was struck with dumb sentiment when she had demanded me to hold her umbrella directly above her as she was tired of the sun. She was aware of me, so much so that she had been my benefactor. My keeper.

“Tell your own stories”, she said. “Mine are the literalization of my heart and mind. You may inquire clear-eyed with unrestrained curiosity to the sources and inspirations of my literature; you are even welcome to decode them, but don’t fool yourself into believing any of my thoughts are your achievements— after all is said and done, when everything’s right with your world you’ll uncover your authenticity of your fetishized trauma and lick the scabs of your wounds till they heal. I propose you find you your child-self.”

And with that, she knocked the umbrella out of my hand and left her puddles of regime for me to reflect. She turned on her heels like the Morton salt girl, my childhood crush, and faced the streets of music of which she followed all the way to Latin America where the colors are brighter, and left me on a monochrome street on a day of heavy rain in Stuttgart where the tanks had once rolled in and out.

 

“Don’t fool yourself about the tanks”, she had once said, “they are everywhere.”

 

I was wounded and plagued at her sudden parting. Assemblages of my twenties self that had shattered while I was attempting to tell my child self what to do, confettied the ground at my feet. I felt my fear of a million years flood my face in an ephemeral shower, and that’s when I saw it– my enlightenment- suspended between water and concrete; those were not regimes they were only puddles spinning out my illusions of desire.