Thursday, January 31, 2008

Band-Aid recursion

I have a 10-page short story to write tonight. Due by 1pm tomorrow. I haven't been putting it off or procrastinating or anything like that. I simply have not had enough time to work on it because it hasn't been as urgent a priority as work of my others classes simply because of due dates.

And now I'm going to be reaping the consequences of my decision to take 17 credits this quarter. And let me note that 5 of those credits are for a Computer Animation class that is really 10-12 credits worth of work. If I was taking only that class, I would still feel like I was taking a comfortable, not difficult though, full-time load.

That said, I made a conscious decision to take 17 credits, including this prose class, knowing that animation would be as much if not more of a bitch than last quarter--at this point, I'd say it's more of a bitch. But what's undeniable is the sheer amount of shit I'm learning in it. That is mos def true.

Of course, because of my ridiculous schedule, I've hardly had much time to spend wiht Marie, especially this last week or so. Naturally, it's been pretty rough for her. And when things is rough for her...they're rough for me. At the moment, I'm locked in a bit of an argument with her about whether or not I should come home tonight--

I'm at the undergrad library at uw, which is where I do my emergency writing, and I'm leery of going home because of the enormous amount of writing I have to do. If I went home now, I'd be surprised if I started writing before 2am. And I need to try to be half-finished by two, not getting started.

To be sure, I have a "plan" and two.five pages already written and I am something of a fast writer--but I have really bitten off quite a bit for myself this time.

To wit:
The story is a metaphor for the unending cycle of war, using the model of the myth of Sisyphus, transplanted onto the life of an aid station combat medic in an unnamed combat zone. I've also thought of leaving his name un-named as well. I'm still debating that count.

The story moves in cycles of three: Three incidents of trauma, three incidents of mundanity, bookended (as of this moment) by a first a scene in a mess hall where we meet the medic and his ill-fated medic buddy, and a final scene where he essentially becomes aware that this cycle of his daily routine, is for all intents and purposes, unending. The final line, I'm not sure if this is spoken or not, is : "All bleeding end eventually. Be patient."

That's it in a nutshell.

Some thoughts I've had today on it:
- The story is already rightfully episodic, I should embrace that and really highlight that as an attribute by adding perhaps chapter-breaks dare I say it, episode breaks?
- To reenforce the cyclical nature, I could keep flashing back to the mess-hall scene throughout, breaking the linear monotony of the episodes by, Lost-style, having flashbacks that reveal a truth about the current story.
- I'm not sure if I want to have the entire scene during the first flash-back, and with each subsequent one, just pare it down more and more until it's a purely graphical image
- Or if I want to break it up into relevant parts. I kind of think it could work either way, though it really might be better the latter way. That way the story's always moving forward.
- I think to help differentiate the flashbacks from the real-time stories, I'd like to have each one told in a different voice. Same character, just first person in one, 3rd in another.
- Should one be told in past tense and another in present? The perspective may help determine this...Though, do I want to be contrarian, or linear?
- The end, regardless of which way the perspective changes go, needs to be a sublimation of the two. And I think it ought to be told in first person.
- So if the end is in first person, present tense too, then perhaps the hospital scenes should be in first-person past tense, and the mess-hall scenes in third-person present
- I still need to figure out what to do with the bloody hands. It's a nice image, but it ultimately may not work

This is easily going to be the most flat-out ambitious story I've ever written. In terms of story, I've had to do a fair amount of research (both on technical stuff and on similar prose-efforts at extreme irony). Technically, this is going to be massively ambitious as well. And my slowly growing desire to make the arrangement of words on the page have a purely visual graphic quality as much as it has a linguistic quality will also be taken many steps beyond my last attempt. And I don't think I've ever had a more perfect marriage of theme and content in any of my work. I'm not sure I've ever had any fore-thought marriage of theme and content though, now that I think of it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Researching Band-Aids Vol. 1

The last post resulted in an idea for a short story that riffs on Camus' interpretation of the myth of Sisyphus by implanting his logic of the absurd and the notion of the infinitely looping, self-aware though it be, existence of man into a story about a medic who spends everyday tending to the mundane and the dramatic, and ends everyday trying to wash the blood from his hands but failing to do so.

The problems are as follows: 1) Balancing an appropriate level of detail with the overriding allegorical elements (hence "realistic allegory") which of course implies...
2) Research. I have to get my facts straight and my ideas concrete and my situations realistic (there's that word again), which in turn leads to...
3) Blood. The bookends of the piece are him trying to wash the blood from his hands but, failing to do so, giving up and finding a way to live with the blood on his hands. At the beginning, we don't know whose blood it is. At the end, he's washing the blood of his best friend off...The problem: blood doesn't stain...
5) But does iodine?
6) Place/time: How to root it in a particular level of detail sufficient to be richly evocative without embedding it in a specific conflict that has specific contexts...
7) Which brings us back to #1 (how appropo!): Balance the story's allegory with it's need for credible detail.

Anyway you swing this axe, it all comes down to research--which is exactly what I'm about to commence.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Writing is a Sisyphean Task

The problem with a Rashomon-riff is that Kurosawa's film said pretty much everything there is to say about truth being a many-sided object, including that there can be no ultimate truth if there is no one truth.
What was I thinking earlier? Back to Iraq but...the VBIED I was nearest to during my deployment was actually kind of humorous. They hid the explosives in a potato truck, so when the thing detonated, it flew mashed potatoes all over the street. Luckily, it malfunctioned. It blew the driver in half, and I think some shrapnel killed an Iraqi guard or two. But the thing I remember most was the street just being literally covered in potatoes. It was completely surreal. I wish I'd gotten a photograph of it, I really do. But at that point, I was so exhausted and sick of photography, that I couldn't even think creatively anymore with the still image. That coupled with the fact that I spent at least part of my time at the scene fending off guys requests to be photographed with body parts from the suicide bomber left me kind of de-motivated.

But what was I thinking earlier?

I was remarking on how one can easily lose their compass when confronted with such a disparately absurd tableau as the one I've tried to construct above. How do you react to a suicide bomber whose bomb malfunctioned but still managed to kill himself and possibly two others and left the road covered in potatoes? How do you react to something so utterly ridiculous? The potatoes just completely removes any sense of drama. And yet it can't be completely superfluous and comical because--hey!--there's a piece of an ear and--hey!--there's a trail of blood and--oh yeah!--that's where his foot went...I guess the way I worded it makes it kind of morbidly humorous, but nevertheless it's certainly not comical. Gallows humor? A certain kind of savage humor, definitely.

I think Camus answered this proposition best by (very paraphrased) saying something to the effect that when man is confronted with the reality of the absurd, his lucidity is what makes him happy. That even at his moment of greatest defeat, he can have his greatest triumph. Though he knows that his life is meaningless and all his efforts fruitless and futile, this clarity of vision is a victory over the absurdity of life in and of itself. So in that little epiphany lies man's transcendence. In the Absurd World, man cannot triumph over his fate but by accepting it...That's a very Zen philosophy.

Now the questions: how can I construct a story to embody that insight, deeply felt though it is.


So we start with a character. A man. What is a properly Sisyphean fate for him in the context of a realistic allegory? His fate must be one that embodies infinite repetition. Something can't motivate his appreciation of his fate. It must be a self-realization or its worthless. Infinite repetition, with a break in the repetitive act that allows a moment of reflection before willfully charging once more into the breach.

So, parameters so far:
- Man
- Infinitely repetitive action
- Break in action to allow for reflection
- Realizes his fate every night and rises every morning to accept it

What is the ultimate repetitive occupation?

A medic in the army -- no nation, no conflict, just a medic -- wakes up everyday to triage the wounded and save the dying and goes to bed every night knowing that when he wakes up in the morning he will be doing exactly the same thing tomorrow --


And we're golden. Huzzah!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Writing for Writing's Sake Vol. 2

So I've kind of ditched the "writer's block" headings for the above--mostly because I don't need the bad juju that comes with uttering those words. So I'll keep it at a more reflexive heading while I muse about what the fuck I'm going to write about...

I have to come up with a "Story Preview / Plan" for tomorrow (in addition to the parable I've already written), and the field is wide-open as far as ideas go. I think the one thing I'm going to try my best to avoid is Iraq-anything. The intent is for it to be a "realistic allegory"; so I could touch on philosophical issues raised by my experiences, but nothing directly Iraqi. Realistic allegory also means no talking pigs a la "Three Little Pigs" which, incidentally, we had to study this past week in the class.

I've internet-ed away the past hour ==> which means I'm leery of doing actual work. Probably because ideation is always the hardest fucking part. Starting with a blank slate and all...and I feel fresh out of good ideas. I had two good ones last night, between the revision of the story for my animation class and the parable that I wrote.

But tonight, tonight.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Writing for Writing's Sake

I only have a few minutes before I have to depart for CSE Movie Nite Round 1 (starring Troy: the Director's Cut!?--we'll see if it makes any difference at all), but I've got a whole lot of writing to do tonight. However, since I don't have the time to get into any sort of groove in 10 minutes, I thought I'd just muse over it a tad.

Well the first part of my writing assignment for 384 involves writing a parable--that's the great thing about this class, by the way: we're not just given readings in a vacuum, we're given very specific readings with very pointed things to be studying towards to end of creativity. It's kind of nice actually, to not be given some massive tome, be expected to read it in a manner so fast that you might remember a sentence every other chapter, and then asked, "Well, what did you think?"

At any rate, we have to write a parable, a simple, effective, utterly concise story that carries some sort of metaphorical meaning(s). One I'm toying with is tentatively titled "The River" about a journey downriver by two(?) people. One of whom, for some reason, desires to go back up the river, but is reminded he cannot by his companion(s). I still need to work out the motivations and the ending, but I want the story to be slightly humorous, and very, very short. I'm aiming for 250 words, give or take. Definitely no more than 500.

The metaphor I want to play with is the notion that time lost cannot be regained. So regardless of how you spend your time, that is the only time you will be spending that time. It's kind of cheeky, and I'm not going to externalize this in the story, but essentially: "Life is a river that flows one direction. It has eddys and rapids and waterfalls, but always it flows downstream."

Kind of sweet, huh?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

An Observation

Now that I've gotten into to 384, and will likely (hopefully) get into 487 "Screenwriting" next quarter, I've seen a curious and welcome pattern emerge:

Fine Arts: DX200, 201, 202 (in progress)

Cinema: DX450, 451, 452, 453 (complete)

Animation: CSE458, 459, 460 (in progress)

Research: DX400 x 3 (in progress)

And finally:

Writing: ENGL284, 384, 487

With 384 bridging the gap between my completion of 284 and 487, I'll have a full-year's work in fiction writing that culminates with a study of screenwriting. Since I've done a full year's work in filmmaking (not counting 450 "intro to video"), am currently doing a full year's work in art-research and computer animation, and will complete a full year's work in broad-strokes digital arts and experimental media when I complete DXARTS 202 this Spring, it's fitting that I should add to that a full year's work of fiction writing. It feels good--it feels right.

And of course, all of that will culminate with a year of intense work on a single thesis project next year, likely to be a video of some epic ambition (though videos plural is a possibility).

Now it's just a matter of doing the work. Right, that thing.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Quarterly Update

The new quarter's begun, and not a moment too soon: I think around 1030 this morning as I got my ass out of bed, I finally shook the last vestiges of my fall quarter hangover. Every quarter my ass gets handed to me, I always think that's going to be the worst of it, and man is it ever downhill from here! Well, of course, I've had about five or six such moments over the last two years, and last quarter was definitely the heaviest of them. So it's likely that this quarter will be worse, yeah? I'm okay with that though, if I know that going in. And honestly, all it's going to compel me to do is manage my time more effectively...(which I just had trouble doing)...but more on that later.

The hard work was worth it though. I earned the highest GPA I've gotten since high school. Maybe higher than high school. But I also got more out of last quarter than I've yet gotten out of any quarter at UW. To wit: I went from zero knowledge of Maya to being somewhat comfortable with it; I co-animated a short animated film; I wrote and designed 5+ stories-for-film/animation; I made two videos--one vignette and one short film; I finally created a website for myself; and I wrote 5 prose short stories in the span of about three days. Now that it's all listed out and I can take a look at it--it's really not bad. Really, really not bad, what I accomplished in the span of two-and-a-half months.

But lets not start sucking each other's dicks--er, rather, my own--just yet. As I said, a new quarter's just begun. And it's likely to get more difficult, not less. So no dick sucking for me.

Speaking of this quarter, I got back-doored into English 384 "The Craft of Prose" literally just before I started this post. It's the next step up from English 284, the short story class I enrolled in last summer, took an incomplete in so I could go get fired off of a film in New York (still worth it though), and then finished up in a mad dash of writing this last quarter so as not to get a 0.0--which an INC converts to if it's not completed by the end of the following quarter. I'm actually looking forward to 384 quite a bit. It should be quite challenging, but when it comes to writing I'm not one to shake in my boots at a challenge--it's my natural talent. Still, my main concern is that it's going to be difficult and coupled with my computer animation class, I could have very, very little free time (a.k.a. sleep time) this quarter.

-- Just cut-off my first real time management violation. Typed the URL and hit ENTER. But I managed to cut myself off just before the page finished loading. I dig the website, and find the writer's opinions entertaining and sometimes even enlightening, but the days where the words of critics were gospel to my sensibilities is over. And incessantly checking their site for updates over and over again does not get me any closer toward being a good filmmaker. If anything, it deters me by forcing my to give up sleep and TLC with my lady in favor of a website that I can handily check once a day for a few minutes and get all the info I need from it. Instead, my habits tend toward the "Let's see, I'm getting bored with my current activity, I'll take a quick break." Except that this habit is so ingrained, the afore-written thought-process is barely an after thought now.

This is surely the scatter-shot epicenter of my time mismanagement tumor, and one of my primary goals this quarter is to surgically remove it from my afflicted habits.

Speaking of goals, let's talk tangibles (in no particular order):
1. Continue my exercise/diet routine
2. Manage my time more effectively by cutting out needless internet surfing
3. Narrow-in on improving my fiction writing
4. Regularly take notes in my notebook
5. Maintain my website
6. Post regularly in this blog
7. Pace myself in terms of homework, doing more now so I can do less later
8. Take the initiative to pro-actively engage with the learning opportunities presented to me this quarter regardless of their apparent degree of relevance to my cinematic pursuits (e.g. Maya minutia, prosaic writing (as opposed to image writing), non-cinematic digital and experimental arts
9. Being when it's time to be, doing when it's time to do--and knowing which is appropriate for when