Tag Archives: writing

Research – Warm-up

 

Research

 

* For an explanation of this project click here

‘Huh, I feel like I’m being interviewed on television,’ he said, sinking back in the chair. He allowed his shoulders to kneed around the back of the chair for a comfortable space. ‘So what exactly are you going to ask me Julie?’

I smiled at him. He glanced at the notebook in my hands, and then shuffled his shoulders around again against the back of the chair. He crossed his legs, and then uncrossed them again. I glanced at the question written at the top of the otherwise blank page. I dragged a finger down the page, over the lines. I watched his fingers drumming nervously on the padded arms of the chair.

I leant over to the tape deck beside the fireplace and pressed the red record button. I relaxed back in my chair.

‘This is Julie Roth, interviewing Douglas….’

‘O’Hara’ said Doug.

‘Douglas O’Hara. Okay Doug, we’ll start with your earliest childhood memory. Can you tell me about that?’ I said.

Doug looked up to the light and narrowed his eyes to slits. I’d started to notice that people looked to light bulbs for answers deep in their past. Perhaps there was something about the bright light that could expose these dormant memories from the dark corners in which they sat. Doug seemed to squish his face up, even clasp his jaw little, and I could tell that the exertion the recollection of this memory was taking was pushing Doug somewhere he hadn’t been for a while.

‘I was about three, or four maybe-‘

‘Which was it Doug? Three or four?’

‘Eh, three.’

‘You’re sure?’ I said.

‘Yes.’

‘Okay, so what happened Doug? Don’t worry, you’re doing great.’

I gave him a quick smile to reassure him. He was still rolling his shoulders around, doing things with his legs, desperate to find the seated equivalent of crossing his arms.

‘I remember being outside, sitting the empty driveway, in fall.’

‘Whose driveway?’

‘Our driveway.’

‘How did you know it was fall?’

‘There were leaves everywhere. Brown, orange, fall leaves.’

He leant forward and took a drink of water. I could see him shaking a little. He sat back in his chair and looked again to the light.

‘And who was there with you Doug?’

Doug kept looking to the light. He squinted at it again before pinching his nose and ruffling his brow.

‘I don’t recall.’

‘Doug, who was there with you?’

‘I don’t recall.’

‘Try harder.’

‘I, I…don’t….I can’t remember who was there, I can’t. But, but there was, someone.’

I looked down to my notebook and quickly scribbled my thoughts. I kept my exterior completely stoic, but inside I beamed.

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Sir Alex Ferguson, and the Dog

Today has been a very peculiar day for me. I rose a little earlier than I normally would, egged on by my weekly cross-country-and-then-the-Atlantic phone call to my mother, and felt a little dusty. I called her and listened to the Skype tone as I thought about coffee, and work, and writing, and all of the things that sat before me that day. She answered, and within seconds knew that everything was not well. You get to know the inflections in your own mother’s voice when they are often the only markers of mood. Being as far away as I have been for as long as I have been, your senses become mostly dormant when pointed towards home. I can only hear my mother. Her tone of voice tells me so much.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, taking a moment to pause and quickly scan over her feelings, “we, eh, we had to take Mollie to the vet today and have her, eh…and have her put down.”

I heard how difficult the last few words were for her. I almost cried at the sound of her almost crying, and at the thought that she had been crying but thought it necessary not to for my sake. I wasn’t really affected by the dog. It didn’t matter much to me anymore. She was old, and it was best for everyone. But I was sad for my mother. She let go of something a little sooner than she hoped to.

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We got that dog when I was eleven years old, one year after my father died. I think mum felt that she needed to have something around. She told me later that she thought about a cat, but we’d had one of those when dad was around. And a cat isn’t the same as a dog. There’s something inherently sad about a cat. So one day we went to Stirling and picked out Mollie, a tiny Cocker Spaniel puppy out of a chaotic, yelping litter of seven.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the dog represented my father, or that my mother sought to preserve his memory through canine affection, but there was something in that dog that helped all of us. For a little while it distracted us. Suddenly there was something exciting, something newborn and fragile to focus our attention on. In a house that spent a year filled with a sense of loss and expiration it was so refreshing to have this little black and white ball of fluff and ears bouncing around, so upbeat, innocent and tangible. But after the excitement died off it was a companion to my mother. She had someone to run with, something to cuddle into, a fourth mouth to feed. The dog filled a void that lay desperately open for the year after my father’s death.

Fast-forward fifteen years, and the dog is now in a box in the back garden, buried by my mother and my step-father. Le temps détruit tout. Did she let go of something today? I don’t think so. I don’t see there being some kind of emotional burden of grief attached to the poor animal anymore. It shed that a long time ago. Mollie’s roll changed over the years, and yesterday she was just a dog.

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Ta’ra Mollie.

After coming off the phone to my mother I looked on the Guardian’s website, as I do somewhat compulsively everyday. Now, I’ve managed to trim a lot of the fat from my lifestyle over the last few years. Torturous levels of self-discipline and a panting notion of replete failure nipping at my coattails keeps me focused on my goals and working as hard as I possibly can every single day. But, I am prone to daily slip ups. And these slip-ups typically appear in the form of football (soccer) journalism. I don’t even watch the beautiful game anymore. I just like the new breed of football journalists. I take a sickly pleasure in reading suppressed authors douse an often tedious sport with effervescent language and stuff it with philosophical undertones far beyond the contemplative abilities of the “artists” that craft it on the field. I just like imagining their smiles as they write. Reading about football is my equivalent of reality TV. My harmless little vice.

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And today, if you’re someone that knows anything at all about football, you will have heard that Sir Alex Ferguson, the purple-nosed, knighted Scottish manager of Manchester United, retired from football after 56 years in the game, with 27 of those spent at the helm of United. He took Manchester United from being a rusting, once-great side scrambling in a deep rut, to being one of the richest, most successful and consistent teams in the world.

I’m not going to get into the psychology of the man, the controversies he courted, or even try to dwell too much more on belting out a verse upon verse of praise to the tremendous weight his legacy is sure to wield over the game. There are many more talented writers than I doing those very things at this very moment, and my words would ultimately contribute very little (mostly because I would be merely paraphrasing the writers I wish I didn’t read). But I find it hard to imagine life as a football fan without him.

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Since before I was even born, Sir Alex Ferguson was in complete control of my football club. The only team I have ever watched have only ever had one person standing at the touchline berating the players and referees. He’s the craggy faced ogre that flashed flaccid pieces of mangled chewing gum as warning signs between exasperate sighs to the journalists that asked him “stupid bloody questions”. He swept the old boys out and nudged the new ones in with the butt of his broom. But most importantly, he didn’t succumb to the modern trappings of football management, like player egos, result-based success, reactionary fan pressure, or trigger happy billionaire owners, often because he was smart enough to negotiate his way around them, but occasionally because such things simply did not apply to him. There were football managers, and then there was Ferguson. He was the last of the old school, and the world will never see another one like him.

But how does that relate to the dog? I’m not sure that it does. It seemed profound in the moment I declared it significant, and, despite all the sadness, I was tingled by a precisely serendipitous feeling. Perhaps it’s that relief. I have finally buried something I have been subconsciously reappropriating for years. Football once defined me. As a child I was a footballer, and I was a Manchester United supporter. But today I’m nothing more than someone that finds an incubated feeling of removal in reading about a team I once loved. Every day I make the decision to read something innocuous about Wayne Rooney’s goal drought, or Moaninho’s future over becoming versed in US politics, or the escalating situation in the Middle-East. I should no longer seek an escape route from the news, but a feeling of empowerment through knowledge.

Like the dog, maybe we’ve all served each other well, and can pleasantly move on with our lives. Thanks for everything. Maybe it’s time for me to let it go, and let the past be just that.

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Mental Breakdown #2 – Writer

Two

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Date: 03/14/2013

To the ceaselessly trending you,

This morning I posted a single paragraph blurb about some pop-up gluten-free cupcake store in the Arts District, and two hours later posted a 1500 word satirical essay I wrote last year about technological developments being directly proportional to the gory death of masculine identity. The cupcake scoop presently has 34 ‘likes’ and 16 comments on the magazine’s Facebook page. The essay received two ‘likes’, one of which was from our tech guy in Bangalore, and no comments. At what point can one legitimately begin to blame the audience for one’s shortcomings?

I am presently being smothered in the clutches of a hateful relationship with myself. I work in an industry I thought that I loved for people that I loathe, for an almost-negligible sum of money. I worry that my boyfriend is fucking all his skinny actress friends, but I’m possibly just being all #overlyattachedgirlfriend about everything and that he’ll realize he’s better off without me. And despite the fact that this is going to sound like such an LA-thing to say, but I’m worried that I’m just a big ball of negative energy that people want nothing to do with.

A few days ago I could barely afford to make the repayment on my enormous school debt. It’s really beginning to sink in now that I voluntarily put myself into thousands of dollars of debt to attain a qualification that does nothing but feed itself back to itself. I have an MA in Creative Writing. So in order to find work that actually pays actual money I will almost certainly have to join the education system, and start teaching more kids to be teachers in order to pay off the debt that their silly little passion lumped on them. Perhaps as a result of my extensive online fieldwork with GRIT/SHINE magazine I will one day be considered the preeminent authority on Twitter Literature (#twitlit), and will be able to explore the bowels of minimalism, teaching undiscovered Hemingways and Salingers to consider vowels implied and punctuation frivolous.

There are lots of reasons I despise my job, but the biggest one at present seems to be that our priority has shifted from print towards the internet. This means gouging the bottom of the dried-up superlative well for more innocuous praise for ‘cool’ things we found whilst trawling Gawker, or Fader, or Hypebeast, or Pitchfork. But once we’ve declared something to be ‘super-sick’, it immediately becomes, oops, ‘super-[sic]’, and we’re, pfffft, over it. God forbid you should miss out on a ticket to today’s Super Rad Flying Lotus Circle Jerk because you were busy standing in line for yesterday’s Gnar Gnar Kendrick Lamar Pants Festival. We, the Damp Hype Journalists, armed with an ‘@vice.com’ email address and right-click button for synonyms, build careers to tear them down, and have smugly reinvented ourselves as ‘Trendspotters’. And I’m dreading the well-earned irony it would be if my work was one day fed through the ruthless system of fragile hype that I helped to facilitate for almost no reward, other than the initial weightless euphoria of my career freefalling the second after said epitaph was declared ‘of note’.

I guess it was last night’s party that really brought me to you. It was at some kitschy street art gallery in Hollywood. The art was by another purposeless stoner that found his calling in life wallowing somewhere on the surface level of ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’. It was a ‘VIP’ event, despite their being a large number of people in attendance that I knew to be anything but important. The all stood around, schmoozing and fawning all over one another, then moving on to the next. I watched conversations dip into awkward troughs as people blanked on names before being saved by the exchange of deceptively marked, Bateman-esque business cards. From my vantage point of the deepest corner, every single smile in the room seemed fake. I could see it in their eyes. I imagined every time someone looked at their phone they were wishing the hours away until they could be alone and curse themselves for falling for the gag again.

I slipped out of the party early. Darryl asked if I minded if he stayed. I didn’t want to say ‘yes’, but I did mind. I wanted him to come home with me. I said, ‘No. Stay, if you want to.’ He smiled, gave me a kiss, and walked off into the crowd. I left, and let the tears fall out onto the street. I took the subway most of the way home. I got off at Westlake/MacArthur Park and walked the rest. I just walked, dabbing tears, laughing and swearing at myself, looking like another crazy that came here and lost. But I didn’t care. At that moment I was far too worried about what I thought of me to worry about what anyone else thought of me. At least that’s a start.

Help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anonymous

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How to Make a Message in a Bottle

Message in Bottle

So for the last week or so I’ve been obsessing over the idea of sending messages in bottles. In the coming weeks you’ll see the full extent of my obsession and the reasons why I love these little floaters so.

But to day is not about the ‘why’, it’s about the ‘how’! So here is a very simple tutorial on how to make a message in a bottle for basically no money. A wonderful way to spend a rainy recession day in.

What you need:

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  • Paper (Medium weight)
  • Printer
  • Traditional White Wine bottle (cork stopped)
  • Thin circular shoelace or string
  • Teabags (Tetley’s preferred, but any kind of English breakfast tea should be fine)
  • Brown rice
  • Oven
  • Water
  • Pretty shells (Optional)

Estimated time: 30 minutes

Step One:

Write a letter and print it off. Be creative. Think about the context of message in a bottle, or perhaps you just want to tell someone special that you think they’re lovely and that you want to jump their bones. Either is fine.

You should choose a great font. I mean, you could handwrite it but let’s be frank, your handwriting is probably terrible. We don’t get calligraphy training at school anymore, and since we’re artificially aging paper to make it look old, that bubble writing you learned to do when you were thirteen years old is going to stand out like a dildo in a cake shop. So choose a nice font. I’m a sucker for A Song for Jennifer. This is similar to the fonts used on newspapers about seventy years ago. Perfect for this kind of thing.

Column your text and print it landscape. It fits better in the bottle this way.

Step Two:

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Crumple your letter into a ball like it’s a piece of shit and you hate yourself for ever thinking that it was any good, and then flatten it back out like a coward, unsure of his own ability to judge his own material.

Step Three:

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Stick a really strong brew on. Like six teabags. This will make the tea dye very dark. If you only want to slightly age it, less teabags. Or more water. Compromise is all around us.

Step Four:

Skin your wine bottle. Chardonnay, fuckin’ Pinot Grigio, Riesling, doesn’t matter, just get rid of it’s identity entirely. You can just dip it in hot water and peel the label. Or you can use a peeler if you’re the sort of person that likes unnecessary challenges.

Step Five:

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Plug your wine bottle with toilet paper and turn it upside down to absorb the moisture. After a few minutes the toilet paper should be damp.

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Remove it and put some rice inside the bottle. Aesthetically it looks like your message has bobbed its way from Sri Lanka. Stick some saffron and chewing tobacco spit in there too to make it look really authentic. But the rice is predominantly in there to absorb any residual moisture left in the bottle.

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Step Six:

Take a teabag (Careful now!) and rub it on your crumpled letter. Teabag your letter. This will give it texture. Do both sides.

Teabag it.

Teabag it.

Pour a little tea over the page. Just a splash. Gently pick up the paper and turn it over to get the other side equally wet.

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Step Seven:

Stick the paper in the over at 250F until crispy.

Step Eight:

Have yourself a brew and listen to this.

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Step Nine:

Check your paper. Do it carefully because this stuff is hotter than balls. Turn it over. Use a spatula if necessary. The paper rips easily.

If she’s good, get her out.

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Step Ten:

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Folded

Bob Marley

Bob Marley

When the paper is dry, remove it and roll it up. In order to get it into the wine bottle you have to roll it really tight. Warning: You’re going to rip the paper a little because it’s brittle like an old man’s shin bone. Try to get it rolled as tightly as possible (joint rolling experience is certainly beneficial) and tie it tight with your string.

Slide it into the bottle and jam the cork in, keeping the paper hanging in the bottle.

Optional Finishing Touch:

Throw a scrap of teabagged paper into the oven with your paper. Stamp it with a Staples stamp.

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I know it’s stamped in the future. I’m from the future.

Or you can get a few of your favorite shells and drop them into the bottle to give it that nautical theme. Or just stuff some tuna in there if it’s a letter of spite.

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And you’re done. Go find a body of water to launch it into and help litter the oceans! Or just give it to someone.

* Special props got to the people at WikiHow that taught me how to age paper. Check out their site for a more detailed method. *

Enjoy your weekend!

Lots of love,

Ross x

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The Hotel

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Anyone that is familiar with my writing habits will know that I often write for writing’s sake. I hope that you enjoy reading it this much as I enjoyed writing it.    

*

          There was a time, I wouldn’t like to say ‘long ago’, but long enough ago that it could merit that sentiment in the heart of a story teller, that the Tigh-na-Ghuna Hotel was indistinguishable from all others in the Highlands. Black Watch tartan carpets coated the ground, their lines and weaves worn by years of trodden sodden soles that had leisurely strolled the arid and craggy landscape. Brass chandeliers hung from the ceiling, painting long garish shadows on the eerily placid expressions of the big game animals that hung as trophies from the wall. Those shadows would sway and twist in the draft that perpetually blew through the hotel, treating corridors as tunnels, and the bulbs as flames.

The warm red wallpaper was interrupted by dense molded frames wrapped in light gold metal, housing dark portraits of brooding lairds and lawmakers, and lush Gaelic landscapes that would lay themselves bare for watercolored compliments. Every piece of russet hardwood was marked with the concaved brass handles and fixtures describe everything they saw with form skewed and details bent, but all with a buffered golden layer of tone, like the sickly nostalgic memories of a glorifying old yarn spinner. And each room had an intricately layered scent as if its walls were assembled from the seasoned oak of retired malt barrels, dried and aged in the brined sea breeze of the north Atlantic.

In truth, I’m glorifying it because I love to write like my lover’s breath is blowing against my neck, swaying the tiny hairs like rushes in the autumn breeze. There really was nothing particularly remarkable about it. It was just like every other hotel in the area. That was of course until Wendy took over.

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Descriptions – Part Two

You can read part one here.

*

“You got something good there?” I heard someone say. I dropped the postcard into the box and closed the lid.

“No. Just things. Nothing valuable.” I said, as I pressed my hands hard onto the top of the box. I felt my shoulders arching up a little, and the lid depressed into the box. I felt the paper inside crunch a little again.

“Old boy had some nice suits,” he said, leaning over me and pawing through the jackets. The smell of mothballs and dust whipped up, past me in a breeze, masking the smell from the shoebox as he pulled out a blazer. “What do you think?”

I turned my head around. The man was about 60 years old. He had a magnifying glass around his neck. In his hand was a porcelain swan. He held it by its neck. His other hand held the tweed jacket up to his front. His bottom lip was pushed out, waiting for me to say something.

I tried smiling.

“Suits you.” I said.

His lips curled into a smile and he turned to the mirror beside us. I looked at him holding the man’s jacket.

“You know, I think you’re right. Not for me though. This is Harris Tweed. Quality.”

He folded the jacket over his arm and walked away.

“Happy hunting, There’s some great stuff here.”

I nodded and tried smiling again. I watched him walk towards the door. He stopped and looked at the pretty porcelain models on top of the almost empty bookcase. He lifted up his magnifying glass and bent into a long, thin ballet dancer. He checked out every angle. He turned her over and looked at the bottom. He put it back down and shook his head as he walked out, into the crowded hallway.

I opened up the box and looked inside. I tried to find the postcard again. My eye was caught by a glossy, once bright blue sky shining at me. I pulled it out. It was a photograph of a man standing on the beach by a lake. He was a little tanned. He had been in the water. His hair looked like it had dried in the sun. He wore these blue and red shorts. I looked at his face. He was squinting in the sunlight. He had a slight smile on his face, like he was about to stop.

I lifted my glasses to my forehead and pulled out the little diamond loupe I picked up from a sale I was at way back. The photograph turned to group of soft edged blurs. I brought the magnifying glass to my eye and looked for his face. I put the loupe away and slid my glasses back down my nose, bringing clarity back to the room.

I turned the photograph over. Right in the center read “Bill and Me on Lake Erie”. The handwriting was different. It looked feminine. The letters curled. They were careful and perfect, but slow, almost regal. There was a date written in the corner. July 3rd 1971

“Bill, and Me” I said to myself

I turned the photo over again. I looked at his face and that faded smile. He was ever so slightly out of focus. Like one of them had just moved. I turned and looked around the room. There were people picking at Bill’s clutter, deciding if they wanted to make it their own. I looked at the pictures of people that he knew that hung in frames on his wall. There were lots of people smiling. I imagined those people coming through this house after Bill died, taking the things they wanted. I wondered if they’d missed this box. I looked back at Bill, on his own, almost smiling. I looked back at the faces in the frames on the wall.

I went into my jacket pocket and pulled out the photograph of Margaret that I’d brought with me. I arced my back a little. I cast a shadow over the two photographs. I looked over each shoulder. I held them next to one another. Margaret’s picture was taken maybe a year or two before. Something about her look told me that much. Bill looked a little more modern. But I couldn’t be sure if I was mistaking age for modernity.

As I looked back and forth between the two pictures, keeping an ear on the people behind me, I thought that they worked. I imagined Margaret taking a photo of Bill, and Bill taking a photo of Margaret. Their expressions weren’t so different. But Margaret’s was a little happier. Like that smile probably continued after the shutter was closed. Maybe that’s what made me think her picture was older.

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TOP 4 REASONS WHY I HATE LISTS

The #list is still #trending. This must cease! And here are my top four reasons why:

1. You’re all doing them



Everyone is making lists in lieu of structured, narrative driven content. It seems that absolutely everything must be in list form or no one will read it. Cracked seem to be the first super blog to base almost all of its content off of its ability to organize things, but so many other media outlets have been tempted by the once-modest, now-contemptuous ‘list’. I’ve caught the column sections of every major news outlet dropping their narrative arcs in favor of spiking you repeatedly with information.

I’ve decided that if I can find a few more articles that share our bitter tone I’ll make a list of the top [however many people have already had this hack idea] lists that detail why lists lack originality.

I could probably create a list ranking the many fragrant pieces of irony that are housed within this list.

2. These lists feed people’s inability to concentrate



Putting these Lunchable sized pieces of information into a bullet point format with a photo break every second sentence is like allowing an extremely fat person to rest on the hood of every car he passes on his long jog towards a safe blood pressure.

We’re reading, but reading extremely badly.

This form is ruining our ability to digest simple narrative structures. You can scroll down the page, look at the headings, look at the pictures, get the outline and move on, learning almost nothing in the process. In fact you probably pushed out the last of the French vocabulary you learned at school and replaced it with the opinion of some twat that a dog is better than a cat.

3. They’re desperate



They are. The casual list is currently the cheapest form of blog writing (and that sentence really carries weight) and it pains me to see online publications that I used to avidly follow resort to pandering Top Ten lists that beg for social interaction and grovel at your top ten toes for ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’.

I recently found myself reading a top one hundred list of books that you should have read before you die. It made me sad to know that most of the people reading that list, and almost certainly myself included, wouldn’t get to read all of those books before death allowed its spiders to weave cobwebs on their lives. It made me think that someone should probably restructure each of those iconic novels into a three point, 500-word list.


4. They always get so much weaker towards the end




By the time our blogger gets to about number seven on the list his gusto is almost shot and he’s left deflated, stumbling roughly towards the end, before retiring in a saggy heap a few points short of an acceptably round number.

*

“The Top Nine Household items one can use to hit a nail into the wall if one has misplaced his hammer?” asked the editor, raising a brow to the timid young contributor.

“I couldn’t think of anymore,” he replied, shuffling in his spot, “I already did book, shoe, stone. I even put Bible in there, but technically that’s just a thick book.”

They stood in silence for a moment, their eyes glancing around the office for inspiration.

“Force?” said the editor, squinting at a ‘Phantom Menace‘ mug on a nearby desk.

“Is ‘Force’ a household item?”

The editor stared deep into his thoughts for a moment. He started nodding earnestly as he handed the slim list back to the young contributor.

“Force is definitely something that is used my house.”

*

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My New Haircut

My new haircut is fucking horrible. It’s so horrible that I can’t show it to you. I would love to be able to to make this whole thing a lot funnier, but I can’t stand the shame. I’m writing this with a paper bag on my head, wishing I had a plastic one. It’s a horrible haircut. It’s like Stevie Wonder did it for me.

I’d been putting off getting it cut for a couple of weeks. I was waiting until something gave me a good reason. A job interview for something that required me not to look like I was the bassist in a high school rock band for example. But nothing had pushed me into getting the cut. Eventually I just got sick of looking at the world through late-teens bangs and went out looking for a hairdressers.

I’ve always gone to salons. And I’m extremely picky when it comes to the salons I go to. I like ones that have someone employed for college credits to dry hair and distribute free coffee. The music needs to be vocal-light and ambient, and there should be at least six plants carefully arranged around the room to make me feel like I’m being pampered in a field. There has to be a well-stocked selection of women’s magazines to flick through while I wait for a woman with tin foil in her hair to stop complaining about her job as a dental assistant to the stylist. This is what I want.

My stylist (not hairdresser) should be called something sexually ambiguous, like Jayson or Darryn. He should be as gay as twelve Christmas trees and should be dressed like he’s just jumped out of Elton John’s birthday cake. He should bite his lower lip as he lifts and drops my hair, checking it for bounce and volume. He should ask me if I’m a model, and sound shocked when I tell him that I’m not. He should pause midway through giving me a cut to take phone calls and texts because no part of his fabulous social life can wait for me hurry up and start looking good.

I never go to barbershops. I hate the environment and I feel uncomfortable surrounded by men with go-faster stripes shaved into their goatee beards. The place that I get my haircut should not have sun washed pictures of men with the Air Jordan symbol branded in hair on the back of their bald, scarred skull. It should not have suspiciously unruly children sliding across the floor with LA Gear trainers blinking epileptically on their feet. There mustn’t be a picture next to the staff room of a partially nude Playboy model from January 2003 (with frayed bindings across the top from where it’s been torn from someone else’s calendar) or a customer walking into the staff room empty handed, and walking out with a half a hot dog.

My butcher (not stylist) should not go by his initials D.T., and he should not be playing Angry Birds on his phone when I ask him if I can get a haircut. He should not ask me what I want done midway through my haircut, and he shouldn’t be touching my head when he has what look like prison tattoos on his knuckles. He should not assume that I want the same haircut as him just because I’m too scared to tell him to stop cutting go-faster stripes into the side of my head.

*

But I got my haircut at a barbershop that I walked past on the street on my way to a comedy club. I don’t know what possessed me to walk inside. Perhaps the place looked reputable through my sweeping teenage bangs. Maybe it looked like the sort of place that would be able to give me the no nonsense, steam-pressed, Mad Men extra haircut that I needed. I was given the worst haircut I’ve had since my cousin tried to shave my head when I was 17 and the electric razor died halfway through the cut.

But this butcher hacked off at the finest cuts of hair from my head. The prime sideburns, the rib eye bangs and the rump that hung from the back. All that was left was a worthless load of gristle and cartilage, desperate to blasted clean with a power hose and thrown into an incinerator.

He cut my entire head with an electric razor. I’m not joking. I have been exaggerating a few things along the way for comic effect, but I’m serious about this. Not once did he pick up a pair of scissors. When I noticed this I realized that I couldn’t see a pair of scissors in the whole shop. They only cut with electric razors. That’s like being a painter and only ever using potatoes with shapes cut in them.

“Wow, I took a bit more off than I was meant to there didn’t I?” he said, smiling, holding the electric razor, looking for any remaining morsels of hair left that needed chopped.

Yes you fucking did, I thought.

I smiled and nodded.

“Nah, it’s fine” I said.

“Oh well, you’re a new man” he said, putting down the buzzing razor and picking up a bottle of green stuff in a greenhouse spray bottle that was so old that it could have once contained DDT.

I winced as the chemically perfumed substance slapped the raw pores on the back of my neck, because I knew that I would not only smell like a widowed pensioner trying to court a grandmother at a dominos club, but I would have to walk the streets for the rest of the day, looking like a cancer-riddled version of Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber.

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Untitled Scene

So who are we waiting on?

It’s not important.

How the fuck ain’t it important?

It just isn’t.

This is bullshit.

Just stop talking.

;

You got any money?

No.

Just give me a dollar.

Where’s your money?

Just gimme a mother fuckin’ dollar.

Will you shut the fuck up if I give you one?

;

You want some?

Get that away from me.

Suit yourself motherfucker.

That fuckin’ stinks. What the hell is that?

Fuckin’ dried squid.

What? Get that the fuck out of my car.

;

So you ain’t gonna tell me who we waiting on?

I already told you.

No you fuckin’ didn’t.

I told you it ain’t important.

That ain’t a person’s name.

It’s this person’s name.

;

That him?

Who the fuck said it was a him?

I did. Just then.

Oh yeah?

Yeah!

Well, it ain’t him.

;

I’m bored man. Can I put some music on?

No. I don’t like music.

Who the fuck don’t like music?

You deaf nigga? I don’t.

Obviously I’m not deaf or I wouldn’t be askin’ to play some music.

Oh you not deaf? Then hear this right here: Shut the fuck up!

;

So are we just gonna-

Hold up, hold up. Did you fart in ma fuckin’ car?

No I fuckin’ didn’t. It’s these stupid leather seats.

Ma seats don’t stink like your fuckin’ asshole!

How do you know it wasn’t you who done fuckin’ farted?

Nigga, what the fuck does that even mean?

;

You an ass man or tittie man?

You’re drivin’ me fuckin’ crazy foo. I’m an ass man! Okay!?!

Ha ha.

Shut the fuck up!

Oh shit, that the nigga we waitin’ on? That nigga a Chinaman!

Man, will you just shut the fuck up and let me do the fuckin’ thinkin’!?!

;

Okay, so what we gonna say?

We ain’t sayin’ shit. I’m sayin’ shit.

I ain’t got a speakin’ part?

No. You an extra.

So who the fuck are you then?

I’m fuckin’ Steve McQueen.

;

Knock Knock Fuckin’ Knock.

;

Can I help you?

Mr. Han, we’re here to talk to you about a man, who saw a man about a dog, sometime ago.

Okay, eh maybe eh, maybe you should come in.

Maybe we fuckin’ should bitch.

Please excuse my business associate Mr. Han. He’s murders people for money.

That’s fuckin’ right. After you, mother fucker.</

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What I Write About When I Write About Writing

“What’s going on here Ross?” I said aloud, in the café, staring at the highlighted blue words on my screen as I hit the delete button again. The eject button on another shit idea I tried to force out of my head.

“I don’t know Ross” I wrote.

*

I’ve been coming to the same places for the same reasons for months now. I’ve been looking at blank screens as I take the first sip of my coffee every single day. Deleting sentences on the second sip. I keep going, sip for sentence, until my coffee cools, I get frustrated, take a mouthful and then just stick with something. Sometimes I just force a sentence out of my head and then square up to it, sparring with it, line for line, until it runs its course and I knock it out. Or it all gets highlighted blue and I go home to lick my wounds.

I’m sitting looking at what I’ve written so far. I’m trying to stop myself from taking the cap off of my highlighter and dabbing that delete button again. Because I should be writing short stories. Because that’s what I want to do. Because if I don’t try to write one every day I might not ever write the story I want to write. That story I know that’s inside me somewhere that will define my life as a writer and give me a point of reference for all future stories. But on some days I have to be honest with myself. I have to look down at all of the word documents open and concede that ‘today won’t be that day Ross.’

I’ve only been doing this for a little over a year. I’ve been writing different stuff for a lot longer. I wrote stand-up comedy for years before I ever thought of writing fiction. They both involve pens and paper working together is a desperate search for appreciation and acceptance. But the similarities end there. Comedy is a different beast entirely. The transition between writing for the eyes and writing for the ears was a difficult bridge to cross. But I had to find a way to do it because I suddenly found that I didn’t feel like being funny all the time. Funny can be a difficult thing to squeeze out of you at times, because even when you’ve injured your funny bone and only barely have enough breath to breathe, let alone laugh, you have to push through it. You have to find your angles and spew your sadness onto someone’s lap and hope everyone finds it hilarious.

I was a storyteller on stage. I had a very tight formula for telling stories. I would start the writing process with the punchline. The last big laugh. For example: I shit myself outside a comedy club five minutes before I was due to go on stage. I would find that big laugh at the end and then work backwards. Because comedy is all about twists. You have to protect your punchlines very carefully because if the audience sees them coming, they fall flat. This is particularly important as a storyteller. You can’t invest ten minutes of the audience’s time taking them on a journey and then give them an ending they all saw coming. That’s a combination of bad writing and bad acting. But you get your end point. Then work back. You build the story and work out how to cover the conclusion. This can be done through the plot or tone. For example:

“The big tranny saw me look around the bar and noticed that I was uncomfortable. I knew that I was uncomfortable. She knew that I was uncomfortable. So we both just decided that the best thing to ease the tension would be for us to kiss each other.”

Given the fact that this was written in bold and your eyes were probably drawn to the punchline before you read the set up, this doesn’t work on paper. Nor is there enough of a set up to do it any justice. But on stage, told in full, this works. Trust me… The idea here would be to take them one way by making yourself seem uncomfortable even recounting the situation. You do this through your body movements and your tone. You stutter a bit, squirm on stage, and then smack that punchline like a pornstar’s ass. Confidently, forcefully and unapologetically. The change in your mannerisms is enough to get a reaction, but blend that with a hidden punchline and juicy ending and you’ve got your standard formula for a comedic story.

But remember, if you are telling a story, and this isn’t specific to the stage, this can be in social situations, or on the page, you have to remember that a story needs to move like China’s GDP graph. It needs to grow over time towards the point it’s at today, taking peaks and troughs along the way. People need smaller laughs before you get to the big one at the end or they’ll get bored. So give them a funny character, a little simile or metaphor, a turn of phrase and then move the story along. Repeat this all the way to the end, building pace and laughs as you go and you’ve got your comedy. It’s really simple, but it takes practice.

But this isn’t what I set out to write when I sat down with my coffee this morning. I brought out a cheat sheet with writing prompts on it and I told myself that I’d sit down with it and try to skud something out. But I got distracted writing about comedy. It’s like reminiscing about your first love. You remember her fondly if you grew apart, but hate her intensely if she pulverized your feelings. You either remember the good and forget the bad, or vice a versa. Comedy broke me over and over again but in the end we grew apart. Writing fiction is doing the same thing to me, but I can’t help but feel I’ve got a life partner by my side now. I can put up with the crushing blows because I don’t have to suffer them in public.

*

I write because I have to. I feel my brain cramp up if I don’t use it every day. Writer’s block is the scariest thing I come up against. It’s the only common thing that can throw me into a spiral of depression. I’m pretty thick skinned with most things and normally handle my shortcomings with maturity and positivity (thank you stand-up comedy), but writer’s block is something different. And because I fear it so much, I fight it every day and force myself to write something.

But as I mentioned earlier, this is all new to me. I’m not an English Lit grad who thought that he could do it better. I didn’t do a course in Creative writing and sit in coffee shops armed with a style manual and Macbook. I have absolutely no training in this art form and know very little about the rules and structures in place. The only things I know how to do are turn a phrase inside out, weave imagery together in a tight web, and tell a story (thank you stand-up comedy).

I’ve flirted with the idea of getting some formal training in the past, but the prospect of it always worried me. I don’t want to know the reasons why I write the way I write. I am a sucker for the mystique I feel when I’m writing. I like the feeling that it’s coming to me naturally. I like the challenge of growing my own editor inside of me, someone who knows how I like my stuff being edited. But I know that everything I know has seeped in gradually from reading other writers, but I don’t want to know the ins and outs. I’m happy enough cooking from taste, know what I mean?

Basic grammar is something I would encourage everyone to ignore when writing fiction. There is no place for it in writing. You can start sentences with ‘because’ or ‘and’ if you want to. You can have sentences with only one word. You can put line breaks in anywhere you like. Using punctuation as a form or timing and pacing is one of my favorite things to do. If you find yourself applying the freedom of poetry to the style of prose you can do some pretty interesting things with cadence and rhythm. Using lots of full stops in a paragraph can slow your stuff down and give the reader a chance to think. But using a lot of commas can keep a rolling speed going if that is what you’re trying to achieve. I’m an advocate of forgetting what you know and doing whatever feels right.

I’m working on a style right now that I hope to get into full swing in the next few years. I’m not going to go into the details of it because I’m very excited about it and I hope that it will be something that will help to set me aside from some other writers and will hopefully drag me away from emulating Raymond Carver! But in the last couple of weeks I have been putting covers up with each story. I am going to keep doing this because I have been drawing a lot recently. Every time I feel writer’s block working away at me, I start drawing. My desire to create stuff can be a blessing and curse sometimes. But I like the idea of building up a strong sense of aesthetics and using that to strengthen my writing.  I like to think that the drawings that I’m doing support my stories and give people who might be coming to my writing for the first time a good idea of what my writing will be like.

*

What I’ve written here is a cop out. I didn’t have any stories to work on. Well, that’s a lie. I have plenty of unfinished stuff I could have been doing, but when I don’t feel that I’m in the mood to tackle a particular thing, I just write something else. And I don’t have any ideas today. I spent four hours working on a drawing last night and my head is in pencils not pixels.

I understand that some people might interpret what I’ve written as being deeply arrogant. Others might overlook that and think that what I’ve said is of no value. And I know that I’m not in any position to tell anyone how to write. I’m just telling you how I do it. One word at a time. Fading the word ‘delete’ on my keyboard every day.

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