Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category

For your reading pleasure this afternoon, I give you the polished poem “Why I Can’t Find the Derivative” as a sample of the portfolio I am currently banging my head against revising.

I know it’s a stereotype, but it is a stereotype for a reason — most writers or artists in general have a vendetta or just plain hatred of math. Is it because it deals with logic and reason rather than imagination and creativity? Or is there something else to it? While I do have a definitive distaste for math, I seriously respect those who can do math, especially the more ‘creative’ math with all of the proofing and the calculating and the words I don’t know…
But, without further adieu, the poem:

 Why I Can’t Find the Derivative
Because my mind is not crossed into numerical maps,
but painted into murals on the canvas of my synapses.

My eyes see colors and textures,
unable to decipher the volumes and depths.
I sit, frustrated, as I pour hours into meaningless problems –
each passing equation siphons another minute from my life.

I erase the paper until it tears,
destroying the object of my frustration.

Dreams are coated in language and acryllics,
resisting the binary of the arithmetic realm.
I look out into the world I long for,
sitting in the left cobwebbed corner of math class.

The window teases me,
locking me in but hinting escape.

The teacher calls on me and numerical
vomit spews from my mouth.
I get looks of disappointment, sadness –
shame encompasses me.

Factorial silence as letters are forced
to transform into numbers,
their functions no longer to
create but to clinically state.

I am illiterate in this continent of logic
and reason. The numerical maps only lead me here,
to pain. I can only pray for exile,
when at last I can follow the painting of my imagination.


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It may have been the twelfth or fifteenth time I slipped that tape in the VHS player; I wasn’t keeping track. The lid closed on the grey box with a click, and the gears inside began to groan and whir. The large TV, covered in a thin layer of dust and a train of greeting cards from my Memere’s collection balanced on the top, flashed blue and crackled into life. My stomach twirled with excitement. Sparks of anticipation flew down my legs, tickling my muscles and bones. I danced a little to squash the itching sparks. I dove onto the navy couch – it smelled like warmth and vacuumed carpet. My eyes were latched onto the screen. Advertisements began with the iconic blue Disney screen. My excitement mounted. And, finally, the blue screen I had been waiting for: Studio Ghibli. The film was starting.

            Kiki’s Delivery Service is, to this day, one of my all-time favorite films. Since I was young, curled up on the beaten navy couch in my Memere’s stuffy-hot house, I have watched that film upwards of thirty times. Each time, I pick up on another detail, another nuance. Screenshot from Kiki's Delivery ServiceAs I small child, I wanted nothing more than to emulate the protagonist, Kiki, and soar up into the sky on a broomstick to find myself. I didn’t see the gorgeous artwork of the seascape (with frothy whites for the seafoam painted meticulously) or notice the complex narrative that unraveled a young woman’s coming-of-age story. Now I watch the movie and see these things, which do not subtract, but add, to the experience. The music transcends my physical self, plunging me into the past when my stomach flipped as though I, too, was a high-flying witch-in-training.

            Different now, too, is how I end the movie. I was sad, bitter even, when I was seven and saw the credits begin to roll. I speedily trotted to the VHS player to stop and rewind it. Now, I look at the credits and appreciate them. These are the people who brought me this joy – no, this external piece of me. After the cast list rolls, in order of appearance, I begin to notice one man’s name recurring: Hayao Miyazaki, the writer, director, and animator. What kind of God-like man could almost single-handedly envision and execute an animated film? It seemed preposterous, really.

I discovered, some way or another along my life in the Information Age, that this mysterious Hayao Miyazaki had many other films he had directed, and/or written, and/or animated, and/or produced. It was not until 2002 that I would watch another one of his films, marking a severe obsession with his work.

Princess Mononoke Spirit           Hayao Miyazaki has been in the international film spotlight since around 1997 with the release of his film Princess Mononoke. The film follows a Prince on his journey to try to lift a curse put on him by a demon he killed trying to protect his village, and in traveling discovers a forest inhabited by ancient Gods that are warring with the encroaching industrial civilization of humans. The story is visceral, violent, and yet beautiful while commenting on the deforestation and war between industry and nature. Miyazaki has said, “I often think about the relationship between nature and me, a human. I exist within nature, but also there’s nature in me…that is somehow connected with Mother Nature. We neglect the fact that we are products of nature.”

The movie reached critical acclaim and spread across the globe, quickly stamping a record in Japan’s box office as the highest-grossing domestic film of its time[1]. This man-beast of an animator — no, storyteller – blossomed from a small animator in Tokyo to a world-worshipped artist and cinematic narrator. I am still curious, to this day, whether this man possesses super-powers.

His birth, however, is quite normal. Born to an aeronautics engineer on January 5th, 1941, Miyazaki was quickly infatuated with lighter-than-air-travel and flight in general. His artwork early on in childhood and school focused on planes and other imaginative aircraft. His love was consistently spurred on by his father’s business, Miyazaki Airplanes, which produced fighter planes for the war. Inevitably, World War II left a hefty effect on young Miyazaki which has carried through his adulthood.

Hayao Miyazaki and His Creations

From 1944 to 1947, his family had to leave Japan. Upon their return, his mother contracted spinal tuberculosis, leaving her bedridden for eight years. She had a profound effect on him (as can be evidenced by My Neighbor Totoro, where the two young leads move to the country to be closer to their hospitalized mother). In high school, he showed great promise in art and had already fallen in love with the manga (comic) art style of Japan that was popular at the time. So what does he do? He goes to Gakushuin University to study political science and economics.Miyazaki, the artist, the storyteller, is in fact carrying around a degree in political science and economics.

Luckily for the world, instead of using that degree, he may use it as a paperweight for his desk or a bookend to hold up his Academy Award and Berlin Film Festival Award (and countless other baubles and statues attesting to his phenomenal art and skill). Ever the practical man, though, he had studied in those fields with the intention of helping Japan’s economy back on its feet after been ravaged after the war. Respect is due for the practical thinker, especially when I decide to major in writing and minor in religious studies. He went for the realistic, while I go for the idealistic. Different paths to different individuals, I suppose.

[1] . This record would only be broken by Hayao Miyazaki himself in 2001 with the release of Spirited Away.

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In Pre-Dawn Revelations, I contemplated my own practices when I get into the groove of writing and tried to make it more general. Primarily I played with form, blurring the line between poetry and prose. Unfortunately, due to my limitations the form-play did not translate well. I think as a stand alone piece, though, it is still amusing.

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Good grammar must come before stylish syntax. One cannot create snazzy-dazzling words without first having the skeleton, muscles, and nervous system of the written language structured. After all, an architect doesn’t start with the crown molding before putting up the walls.

In today’s spell-checker loving society, I feel proofreading and self-editing is taken for granted. Many of us, too lazy or too faithful in technology, finish a draft and feel that if there are no squiggly lines uglifying our paper, it is good to go.


And I will have Taylor Mali tell you why in a most entertaining and creative way. (Be warned, there are adult themes. Which make his performance that much funnier, but use your discretion.)

Indeed, the red pen is our friend. Or just simple re-reading and editing within a word processing program.

Personally, I like editing on a physical paper. It is typically easier for me to see my mistakes, whether it be grammar, structure, or style. I can add scenes physically and see the layout of a story or essay. Others, I know, prefer to do the entire writing, proofreading, editing, and revising on a word document. I myself have done it, but there is something about the physical paper that makes editing easier and more enjoyable for me.

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Not a Poet

I’m not a poet, and I know it.

Poetry is one of those fickle beasts of literature. There’s a thousand and one different methods of writing a poem, and then a google more topics. (But you forgot google was a real number, huh?) It’s a flexible art form that can capture reality and dreams with perhaps more precision than visual art at times.

The texture and flow of the words, the shape of the poem, the rhythm of the syllables as they fall from your tongue, all create a surreal experience in which you immerse yourself in the world or event of the poem.

I am not gifted with this talent. I can work hard and chisel out a decent poem, sure, but I am not a poet. Poets are cousins of the novelist, but when it comes to word economy and imagery, they come out on top. What’s interesting is that novelists and poets each lament their own art form and long for the other. In reality, the two literary forms mirror one another.

Poet Thinking

Without a plot, a premise, or a designated voice, a poem would be flat. Dead. It heavily focuses on words and images in order to move along a particular plot or idea, just as a novelist does with a book-length piece. And as for the novelist, without flow, movement, or strong imagery, the story will become stale and tasteless. Prose needs to be poetic, and poetry needs to story-tell.

It’s good for poets to try stories, and novelists to try poetry. In the end, it can only improve one’s natural affinity for either art form.

But I sure as hell am not going to become a poet anytime soon — and wouldn’t want any poets to suddenly become novelists, either.

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The modern man or contemporary woman has the attention span equivalent of a goldfish suffering from dementia. This isn’t an evolution of nature, but an evolution of technology.

The creation and popularization of film makes people expect to be shown plots in a concise, powerful, and timely matter where the end resolves the conflict adequately. Writing rarely has room for the previous Thoreau interludes and tangents, or the literary tapestries of vivid description and imagery.

Readers don’t want “his eyes are azure skies that stretch elastically over the globe” — they want “his eyes are blue.” This is not to mean creativity and artistry has completely evaporated from the attention span frying pan. It simply means writers and poets today have perhaps a more difficult job than in previous years — to condense imagery and description into short, simple, but powerfully sensual phrases or sentences.

An excess of adjectives or adverbs isn’t a commodity anymore in the economy of the written word.

I learned this the hard way after years of writing flowery descriptions and cascading paragraphs of imagery. To this day, I still search for the right balance of pace, length, diction, and image. Every writer embarks on that search, and as far as I can tell, no writer reaches a definitive destination.

I’m no poet, though poetry does give me some good exercises in word economy. It is said that, ironically, all writers wish to be poets, but all poets dream of being writers. The two are close cousins which share secrets, but are always distinct individuals from one another (except, maybe, in the case of the epic poem or the lyric essay).

With cinema, photography, Internet, and radio (or podcasts) grabbing for the attention of would-be readers, writers need to get to the point and punch it — hard. Otherwise, perfectly wonderful stories and essays will elude the seizure-inducing speed of people’s wandering eyes.

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There are times for creativity, there are times for languages, there are times for translators, but then there is the moment of fail.

In fiction (and perhaps nonfiction as well, depending upon what it is exactly you’re writing about), there are times when characters may be very different from us, the author. In fact, if authors only wrote characters who were mirrors of themselves, we’d have much less interesting novels in the world. Characters may be of different races, ethnicities, cultures, or religions. And in such cases, a character’s first language may be your second language. Or a language you’ve only heard spoken in Indiana Jones movies.

Needless to say, this little road bump should not be triumphed by immediately pursuing fluency in Swedish or Swahili or gaelic or what have you. This is actually a distraction from the writing (and your subconscious procrastinating the completion of it)! I myself have had a suave man from Valencia in a flash fiction piece; while I am bilingual, I am not fluent. Luckily for me, I could finagle some pretty woman-killing lines from him.

However, I am not at all accustomed to or knowledgable in Russian. But I found myself writing about my protagonist’s father who once worked for the KGB. I didn’t have time for classes — I didn’t even have time for “Russian for Dummies”. I had a story to tell, but the dialogue in this section had to be in Russian. Not only for aesthetics, but for the feel and authenticity of the moment. The characters themselves would have had altered personalities had I not written a short but poignant dialogue in Russian (and English). Besides this, I needed exclamations and key vocabulary in Russian for the main character.

MyGoogle Translator Can Fail solution would seem simple to any personal familiar with the Internet: a translator. There are many out there, and one of the ones considered more reliable is Google Translator. Yet, caution is the moral of this tale. Languages are very specific and fickle beasts. An electronic translator is about 50% of the accuracy, power, and personality of any given physical translator. Let’s say I wanted to know what year was in Spanish. Well, that’s año. But if it comes back ano…well, prepare to be the laughing stalk of the hispanic and spanish community.

So what then? Should translators never be trusted?

No; they are a great resource. They should be utilized. BUT they are not the end all answer to your linguistic needs. I suggest using multiple translators for verification, but most of all, attempt to find someone who is familiar with the language. Even just purchasing a small phrase book in a language can severely improve your ability to implement a foreign language into the dialogue of your writing. It definitely helped me — especially when I didn’t have any ex-KGB members hanging around to interview or study with.

Do svidaniya!



*Ano in Spanish translates, in English, to anus

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