Prose

writing challenge reflections

Today marks the end of my 14-day writing challenge (though this post might not actually end up making it online until day 15, since it’s currently storming and the internet and things don't like that too much), and I can honestly say that working through these two weeks of writing definitely was a challenge, but it was also incredibly growing from a creative standpoint as well, which I’m thankful for. I originally decided to start this project because my creative reserves were basically empty, and I had recently had a good conversation revolving around the idea that sometimes simply stoking the fire of whatever you might be struggling with might be exactly what you need. So, instead of taking some time to think and brainstorm for creative purposes, I chose to force myself to write something, anything, for two weeks instead, to see what I could come up with, and it was surprisingly effective.  

Over the course of the 14 days, I found myself writing in a couple different genres and styles, which was stretching and growing from a literary standpoint, but I also found myself enjoying some of those styles more than I thought I would, especially given my previous experience and history with styles like poetry. Prior to performing this experiment, I always would’ve told myself that I wasn’t a poet and that I’d probably never write poetry, but my perspectives have begun shifting ever since I forced myself to write even when I wasn’t feeling like it. I think something about that internal pressure caused some of my ideas to seep out in forms they wouldn’t otherwise would’ve taken. At the same, I justified dabbling in poetry because poems could be shorter and maybe wouldn’t take as long as writing a longer piece of prose, but I ended up spending roughly the same amount of time composing the various lines and stanzas of my poems, polishing them until they conveyed precisely the messages I was aiming for. By the time I more or less ended my poetry phase of this writing challenge (though I will doubtlessly return to writing poetry, since I’ve discovered I actually really enjoy it now that some of my own psychological inhibitions towards it have been cleared), one of my friends pointed me to a quote saying that poets are poets because they enjoy the interplay between words, not necessarily because they think they have good things to say or because they’re exceptionally good at it, and I found that to be true while I was writing poetry. I definitely didn’t think I was a poet, adding that very line as a disclaimer to some of the pieces I published here, but I did take a certain pleasure in seeing how I could get the words to play off each other and how they sounded to the ear, and in the end, I suppose I did become an amateur poet through that, something I never would’ve discovered if I hadn’t taken part in this challenge to myself.

 

Beyond that, it’s been so rewarding to see where inspiration comes from for all the various pieces that I’ve written under the time constraints that come with trying to get myself to put out a quality or semi-quality piece of work every single day for a specified period of time. I think part of that comes from being able to prove to myself that I actually can write something, and write something good in a short period of time if I’ll actually be dedicated enough to finish it.

 

Finally, I would say that this challenge accomplished the one goal I set for myself when I first conceived of it: causing me to actually like writing again. In the weeks leading up to my creative dry spell and my decision to force myself to write no matter what, the mere act of writing had started to feel like a chore and I was dreading sitting down at my computer or with my notebook more than I should. Though I would still call myself a writer, I could hardly discipline myself enough to take the time to actually write something.

 

The first couple days of the challenge were brutal, because I still felt like I was dragging my heels through the metaphorical idealess swamp, but by the halfway point in the challenge, I was beginning to have more ideas than I had time or energy to write about, something that hasn’t happened in quite some time. More than anything, I rediscovered what it feels like to enjoy sitting down to write and to take satisfaction in creating a string of words that communicated an idea the way I wanted it to. And now that I’m at the end of this challenge, I think I finally like writing again.

 

At this point, I’m sort of just rambling, because there’s so much more I want to say about this writing challenge, ideas I could convey more eloquently if I had time, but it’s currently 9:41pm and I have to wake up at 4:30am in order to get to the airport, so I suppose this will have to suffice for now. Time is never really on a writer’s side it seems.

 

I’ll hopefully have some time tomorrow to reflect more on this writing challenge and/or perhaps write another nonfiction piece I was planning to write, but for now, I suppose I would just say that sometimes pushing through the creative blocks and the hard spots really is the best way to get back on your feet. I felt like I had nothing left to write, nothing left to give when I started this challenge, and now I’m reinvigorated with, at the very least, enough creative energy to keep me going for the near future *cue infomercial testimonial music*.

 

Funny side note: this piece is probably one of the least polished I’ve ever written; it’s basically stream of consciousness, but that’s sort of cool in a way. This piece is the written equivalent of a YouTube video, so if you ever wondered what it would be like for me to make one of those, it would probably sound a little like this post, haha.

inhale, exhale (you're okay)

Sometimes, I think fiction is one of the hardest styles and genres of writing to want to excel at. Maybe it's just me, but I think the inability to churn out piece after piece of fiction (since I've been finding that even short stories are challenging to mass produce, for lack of a better term) makes it seem almost like the loftiest of writing goals. Unlike poetry, nonfiction, or other types of essays, it takes time to develop the voice, style, characters, flow, and all the other elements that go into crafting quality fiction, which I think frequently prevents writers from being able to showcase their fiction ability regularly. It seems to come down to actually publishing a popular novel or getting a short story published in a good literary mag, and that can be discouraging for a lot of writers I feel like.  

This has been something that's run through my head a lot as of late, especially since I've mentioned that I've been doing a good deal of storyboarding and outlining for fiction the past few days, and it almost feels like all of that work has nothing to show for itself, since I haven't actually written anything yet, just conceptualized ideas and thought through them.

 

At any rate, that's some of my internal process I've been going through while trying to write fiction the past couple days. So, today, I'm publishing another piece that I wrote a little while back. Even reading through it now, it sort of seems all over the place, but that makes a little sense since it was originally born out of a sort of literary pep talk I was trying to give myself at the time.

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inhale, exhale (you're okay)

You said it. It’s done. It’s out. But somehow, it still feels almost as heavy as the first time. Or maybe it always does.

 

You inhale and tell yourself it’s okay. Then you exhale and let the silence tell you’re okay. Because the stillness isn’t tense. There’s no thickening of the air. Instead, the quiet invites you to continue telling your story.

 

So you inhale and tell yourself you’re okay, and you exhale and let the empty air affirm that you are indeed okay. Because there’s no hesitation. There’s no held breath, no ellipsis, no comma at the end of the sentence. For once, a period and its finality are comforting, because it means you’re okay.

 

Your emotions are okay. Your feelings are okay. Your desires and every unspoken thing are okay. And by extension, that means you are okay.

 

So you inhale and exhale nervously.

 

But you’re still okay.

 

There are no arguments. There are no reasons. There’s no theological rhetoric or overspiritualization. There’s just stillness.

 

So you inhale and you exhale. You’re okay. Because there are no questions, no comments, no concerns. You’re just okay.

 

So you inhale and you exhale, letting it sink in, to the depths of your soul and being, something so fundamental, yet something so often misplaced.

 

You’re okay.

 

You’re okay. You’re okay as a person, and your love is okay too, not bound by binary systems or arbitrary rules. And your heart is also okay, not strange or out of place because its love pulls you toward an identical set of chromosomes.

 

It’s okay.

 

So you inhale and you exhale. You breathe it in deeply so that it settles in your lungs, so that it puts down roots, so that it fills every empty space of your being, so that it echoes within, constantly reminding you that after everything you’ve even been told:

 

You’re okay.

breathing bones // return to fiction

Wow, writing this piece was definitely more of a struggle than any of the others I've written recently, but it does mark my return to fiction writing or fiction style writing for the first time in a while. Figuring out transitions and how this piece was going to flow from beginning to end were probably two of the hardest things I had to overcome while writing this one, which sort of threw me for a loop.  

At any rate, this piece is based off a passage from Ezekiel 37, and I thought that adapting and reimagining something already in existence would be a good exercise to stretch out my stiff fiction writing muscles. Hopefully this will spur on some more fiction writing and energy in the next few days, but for the moment, I'm just glad I was able to get through this piece.

 

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breathing bones

Warm streams of wind spiraled around me as the mist cleared from my eyes. The churning air beneath my feet ceased its whistle and began to settle as the familiar edges of gravel and stone greeted me underfoot. Safely on the ground again, I turned and surveyed the land from where I stood at the southern mouth of a brown, deadened and dry vale, craggy walls jutting upward at steep angles on either side. All along its entire length dirt-stained boulders and rocks were strewn, of many strange shapes and sizes, some elongated, some round and smooth. Only when I started into the gradually widening corridor formed by the stone walls to my right and to my left did I realize they were not stones at all. I raised a hand to my mouth in shock as my eyes widened. Littered throughout the valley bed was an endless pit of bones reaching as far as I could see, a mass grave completely dehydrated from a years’ long bath in the sun’s rays. Skulls lay with their faces turned toward the heavens, and a thousand hands poked through the skeletal debris, futilely grasping for the sky.

 

As I traversed the desert basin where a river surely must have once flowed, brittle calcium fragments cracking and snapping below my feet, a golden light shone down from the cloudless expanse above, taking the form of a ball of light flanked by soft, hazy halos of the same color. Startled, I recoiled from the light, but a warm voice emanated from within its brilliance.

 

“Child of this earth, tell me, can these bones once more return to life and breathe in the air I’ve created to fill their empty lungs?”

 

“Father of Lights,” my voice began, shaking but gaining stability, “you alone know the answer to this question you pose.”

 

“You have spoken wisely, my son,” the voice replied. “Now, lift your arms to me and turn your face heavenward as these souls have done. Prophesy to these people of dust with the words I shall give you, and you shall see for yourself the answer.”

 

Turning from the light to face the valley of withered bones, I lifted my arms to the sun above and began to speak. At the same time, the earth below trembled and a slab of rock heaved itself away from the surrounding dirt, forming a platform for myself and the ball of light above the rest of the ravine so that I could see all of the lifeless bodies I addressed.

 

“Dry bones and thirsty souls, hear the words of the Father! Look now, for he will restore the breath to your lungs and cause you to live once again. He will rebuild your bodies with flesh and muscle and wrap your sinewy frames in skin, and then he shall breathe his breath into your sleeping souls again to call you back to life. By this resurrection, you will know who he is.”

 

Once the words had left my lips, the entire valley began to rattle and shake, all the bones knocking against each other, moved by a force I had never before seen. All at once, the bones were drawn to each other like magnetism and began to assemble themselves into complete bodies, erecting a ghastly skeletal legion before my eyes. Stepping back in awe, I watched as ribbons of red and yellow light then whirled around these incomplete frames, drawing tendons and muscles onto the bone as they glided between the ranks, and when they were finished, they flew over in a second pass, dressing their humanoid features with flesh. As the lights spun around themselves into the sky, dispersing over the barrenness of the canyon, an assembly of fully formed bodies was left standing before me, heads bowed in submission. Yet, they were still. Though restored in body, lungs still lacked breath.

 

The sphere of light pulsated at my side, drawing my attention, and then spoke again. “Now, prophesy to the winds, child of earth. Tell these children how they will be restored and it shall be done.”

 

Stepping to the front of my little platform once more, I held my arms out at my sides and called to the multitude before me. “As the Father of Lights has spoken, let life and breath flow in from the four winds. Come and breathe into these dead bodies so that they may life again and the light be returned to their sleeping souls!”

 

Before the words were even off my tongue a thunderous current rushed through the valley, roaring between the earthen walls on either side of me. Steeling myself against the force of the air, I looked to the light beside me as dust and stone cut through the air, carried by the hands of the wind. The gusts threatened to throw us from the stone pillar we stood on, but the light only pulsated, as if to nod towards the valley below.

 

Throughout the deadened basin a white mist had rolled in, led by the gale. Weaving between the undead bodies, streams of mist twisted about each of the figures, adorning them in battle clothes and forming swords, shields, and bows and arrows in their hands before funneling themselves into the mouths of the soldiers, filling their lungs and beckoning them back to the realm of the living. At once, the soldiers’ eyes opened with a piercing gleam in each one, and they once again turned their faces to the sky. Inhaling and gasping for breath like a swimmer saved from drowning, the whole crowd began to cough and heave and breathe all along the length of the valley where their bones had once been scattered. Now rather than a sea of bones, they comprised a great army as they regained their breath and stood in formation before the risen pillar on which I stood.

 

The light then lilted to my side and pulsed again, as if to put a hand on my shoulder, before saying, “Child of earth, these bones represent my chosen people, a people that was once dead and a people that I am now restoring to life. While they were still asleep, they called out to me, saying that they had become nothing but old, dry bones, all their hope evaporating into the desert air like the moisture from their deceased flesh. They believed their nation was extinct, like creatures of old, but I have a new message for them, so prophesy to my people once more to tell them what I have to say.”

 

With the light beside me, I once again stood before the army gathered in the valley below, looking over the now endless crowd of living and breathing bodies, with light once again shining in their eyes and the air they breathed in once again nourishing their newly revived spirits. Closing my eyes, I felt the words well up inside of me, allowing them to flow out of me as I looked over this crowd.

 

“Listen to what the Father of Lights says, you dry bones who have been restored. He says that he will exhume your graves of exile and desolation and cause you to rise again. He will bring you back to the land you one inhabited, and when this comes to pass, you will know who he is. He will return his spirit to your bodies and you will live again in your homeland. Then, you will know that he has spoken and done what he promised he would do, for this is what he has spoken.”

 

At these words, a tremendous cry swelled from the ranks, quickly filling the valley until the sound burst up from the fractured earth. All the soldiers lifted their faces to the heavens and jabbed their arms in the air as the ball of light cast golden beams across the valley, dispelling any shadows from the walls and shining on every face. And as the cheers died down, each one in the army mirrored the next in turn, bringing one fist to his or her chest and then kneeling in the dirt and dust before the light that illuminated the valley that was once filled with corpses but was now filled with rejuvenated souls.

 

the phone call effect

As I've been working on a couple short stories based on prompts I've been given by friends, I think my mind has also been reflecting back on a lot of the posts I've written in the past several days. Specifically, I've been pondering the effect technology has on our relationships in this day and age, since so many of us (myself included) practically treat our phones as an extension of our bodies at this point.  

At the same time, I've been trying to organize my thoughts and divert more energy to these short stories so I can actually get them done (beside the fact that I haven't written fiction in quite a while and those creative muscles are still a little stiff), but going through my old archives, I discovered this piece talking about relationships and technology that I had written several months ago but for some reason or another had just never put up anywhere. Its style is a little different and a bit harsher than some of my more recent pieces, but I think it's still relevant, and I definitely still resonate with the original point behind it as well.

 

Side note: The next couple days are going to be packed, so I'm really hoping to churn out those short stories in a timely manner, but I suppose we'll see.

 

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how we use our phones now

It’s 2016, and I think Americans have developed a new fear, one that honestly makes me a little sad. In the age of smartphones, it seems like people have become afraid of using them. Yes, we have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Pokemon Go only a tap away, but no one really seems to use their phone for its original purpose anymore. Phone calls have become scary. Besides, why would you actually call someone if you could text, dm, WhatsApp, tweet, or Snapchat them anyway? Or at least that seems to be the mentality of a lot of people today.

 

Perhaps that’s part of the reason for the immense gravity we seem to give phone calls now. You just don’t call people anymore. Phone calls are reserved for urgent or important things: job interviews, college admissions, dentist or doctor’s appointments, or accidents or tragedies. It’s true that phone calls are probably appropriate for those things, but why aren’t they considered to be for things of lesser severity anymore? Why does your phone actually ringing suddenly imply that something major must’ve happened to warrant it?

 

I, for one, don’t really like this new attitude regarding phone calls that much of the population has adopted, but I do understand it. Phone calls aren’t convenient, at least not in the sense that many people understand the word convenient today. Texting and messaging give you the freedom to respond at your leisure and take your time in composing your response. (I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories or at least the Tumblr posts about girl squads writing text responses as a group.) Phone calls are the complete opposite. They’re immediate and on the spot. You don’t get unlimited amounts of time and you don’t get to rehearse what you’re going to say before you actually say it. Oh, and trying to get out of something by pretending you didn’t get the message or didn’t see the notification isn’t really an option in that case either. And then of course there’s the layer that the tone of your voice and actually speaking add to your conversation. The stress of it all has apparently become too much for some, who have sworn off talking on the phone and will only respond (or perhaps not really respond) to text messages and other forms of communication.

 

But why? What ever happened to calling just to hear the other person’s voice? What ever happened to endless conversations late at night? What ever happened to racking up a crazy phone bill because of going over your minutes instead of going over your data? Why does calling just to talk suddenly seem like such a foreign concept? Why does dialing someone’s number to make plans suddenly make you seem too impatient? And is it even possible to get back to a place where making a phone call might be considered a normal thing to do again? Or is this how we use phones now?

 

People keep saying that they want more intimacy or deeper connections with other people, but maybe this is part of the epidemic. We mask ourselves with screens and use our thumbs to say things that we would never say in person. All of a sudden it’s so easy to let toxic words flow from your fingertips because you’ll never see the other person’s face, while at the same time, it’s too hard to confess your love to someone standing in front of them because you don’t have a text bubble to hide behind. To me, that’s messed up. Spoken words give meaning and spoken words give life. Just think about the difference between saying “I love you” or “I’m sorry” and typing those same words. There’s a big difference in the difficulty level, whether people want to admit that fact or not.

 

So remember that the next time you reach for your phone. Obviously, texting and other kinds of messaging have their place in this world, but I don’t think that’s every place. There’s just something so unique and so special about hearing someone’s voice as opposed to seeing a block of text with their name attached to it. That might be the way that we use phones now, but it doesn’t have to be the way we use them tomorrow. So, dial someone’s number next time instead of pulling up their message thread. It might just change the way you use your phone.

broken iPhone screens

After a couple days of writing almost strictly poetry, it feels a little strange to be writing in more of a prose style again today, but then again, I think my prose has always skewed a little more flowery and poetic anyway. The process of writing this piece was almost the reverse of when I wrote 'roses,' trying to originally put this piece through a poetry filter when it ended up emerging as more of a prose piece.  

The initial idea for this piece came to me when I accidentally dropped my phone out of my locker while I was at the gym. At first inspection, all seemed to be well, but as I was getting ready to leave, I noticed some light refraction (really no other way to put it, haha) and realized that I had cracked my screen. My heart sank a little, seeing as I had already shattered my screen earlier this year and gotten it replaced, but my fears were quickly assuaged by a closer look that revealed it was only the glass screen protector that had a crack along its width (at least I think...I put it on slightly crooked, so it doesn't cover the entire right side, and the cracks only extended as far as the border of the glass screen protector, with the actual screen underneath not appearing to have any cracks, fingers crossed).

 

With a sigh of relief, I hurried home and almost immediately ordered another glass screen protector from Amazon to soothe my OCD, which was when I started to think about how much we worry and think about our phones, because any damage is readily visible and because we look at our phones dozens of times every day, while forgetting about so much of the invisible pain and suffering that people around us have gone through that we might never see, especially if it was in their past and they don't talk about it anymore, either because they've overcome it and it's truly behind them or because they live under the pressure of our American society which stigmatizes mental illness or any severe emotional trauma that people may have experienced. Out of those reflections, this piece was birthed.

 

Final thought: I've always been fascinated with pieces of writing, whether entire books, poems, essays, etc. that are titled after one single line or scene from its body, so I played with that a little with this piece.

 

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broken iPhone screens

Maybe the most painful wounds we endure are the ones we cannot see, and the longest lasting scars the ones hidden beneath the surface of our skin. Because while sticks and stones may break our bones, words are the weapons that strike the soul. But the visual modernity of our minds is completely blind to these battles, and the casualty count is starting to rise.

 

If only we paid as much attention to broken people as broken iPhone screens, we’d be aware of these cardiac spider web cracks reaching into the pulmonary, fracturing our breath, dividing sighs from sobs. No insurance covers these kinds of operations, because this cancer hides beyond the infrared and the ultraviolet, existing in the invisible spectrums where they can be denied out of our conscious thought until they remain only as friendly shadows that cling to us, following us wherever we might dare go. Though banishable by light, our ethereal companions persist with us, because we don’t dare ask for help until, under the weight of these ghastly wraiths, our own selves are on the verge of shattering.

 

Instead, we scorn any outside aid and become the epicenters of our own internal earthquakes, covering up the cracks and emerging hairline fractures with masks made up of coping mechanisms and painted on expressions in an attempt to elicit other emotions from the depths of our being instead. We hide the damage inside to comply with the de facto laws that legalize blood and broken bones while prohibiting sapped spirits or any type of tears as permissible perceptions of pain.

 

Is it any wonder then that attacks to the heart are the leading cause of death, both external and internal, when we hear the death of data behind the sound of shattering glass but remain deaf to the fragmenting of that frail thing within our chests? Perhaps instead of spending so much time studying two-year upgrade cycles, we’d be better off investing in increasing the integrity and resistance of our own race, because while we gain less susceptible strains of Gorilla Glass to surround our screens, we lose the ability to guard what’s truly fragile, and remains of that revolution then is a world where we value external aesthetics and surface sheen while neglecting the internal necrosis that may never be seen and dares us to die from the inside out.