The Black Flag

She conquers me with her legs,
we sink, under the waves of Agami.
I’ll drown now, under the black flags,
if it means I can watch her.

When we reach the bottom, we find old things,
memories,
a merry-go round,
its two horses rotting,
she wipes away a layer of barnacles,
the way she wipes away homesickness.

And it’s there that I find her,
riding, she’s leading or I’m following,
spinning in circles,
slapping the horses’ backsides – ‘faster and faster!’ –
into a steady blur.

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The Oak Trees

The machine that builds the machine,
steers its own life,
raises its hands and prays for me.

After one hallelujah and two virgin Marys,
it takes a seat at the wheel,
turns right when I ask to turn left,
and forward we drive.

Through the woods,
into the hills,
we speak to one another in his language,
words older than the trees.

I ask him about God,
and the things in between,
he smiles, turns the radio knob,
as slave and master sing.

A New Addiction

Too many ideas and intentions have been percolating for some time in my head. It’s been almost two years since my last writing challenge when I forced myself to write a poem every day for thirty days straight with no clear goal. Surprisingly that challenge kept going longer than planned and turned into a monster collection of one hundred poems.

Clearly the habit tapped into a deep, rich well in my imagination I didn’t know existed. I remembered things I had forgotten. I sewed together symbols from my fragmented childhood into some kind of narrative. And some of these mysterious verses have even cross-polinated into my ‘real work’, into the writing of my screenplays.

Occasionally I continue the practice, writing scraps of poems on napkins until they make a complete thought. But nowadays I rely more on the crutch of inspiration than on habit. And so I’ve decided to give myself a similar challenge, but in a different medium – the Essay.

I’ll be writing a blog post everyday, without worrying about the results or the overall theme of the short pieces. There’s no community that I can rely upon, as I did with NaPoWriMo, except for the small, patient audience of this blog. I predict it will be an eclectic collection of thoughts and musings. Some of the posts will be housekeeping in nature, posts I had meant to write or complete but never got around to. But once I exhaust those old ideas, will I be able to continue creating something new every morning?

There is something ‘professional’ about showing up daily to work, even if the results are amateurish at first. There is something therapeutic in creating a quiet space where you can make sense of your own observations and distill them on paper instead of always being bombarded with the voices of others. There is something exciting about a new challenge.

Line & Circle

The body drops,
like autumn branches,
through the air,
clouds
and oak trees.

Down a freefall,
collecting in her hair,
to make a crown.

She wears me high,
a source of pride,
like the tingle of metal,
the forger pounding me still.

I say to her:
our boys will find our bones
underneath this oak,
find my ribs stuck in your hips,
and how to separate father from mother?
Like a two-headed monster,
like a four-handed lover,
as if God created the Earth
so Adam could be her shelter.

What One Hundred Poems Taught Me

This past April I participated in National Poetry Writing Month. After summarizing that experience, I decided to continue the challenge and go for hundred poems in a hundred days.

I’m unable to articulate my reasons clearly, it just felt right. Sometimes we chase strange goals because they resonate and it’s better to simply feed these odd cravings instead of rationalizing the dream away. As far the benefits and lessons of pursuing such creativity challenges, I think there are several:

YOUR IMAGINATION IS ENDLESS:

Our capacity for work and potential output is significantly greater than we think. Right when you think the well of your imagination is dry you come up with something else. I had no idea of the number of verses and poems I had lying in wait in my brain prior to starting the challenge.

If you produce this quickly, with little time for reflection, your work will be of mixed quality. But it’s far easier to strengthen those raw ideas when you have them on paper as ‘prototypes’ of their future selves instead of waiting for something to be close to perfect in your tiny brain. Only when things are physical can you refine and curate the best of your ideas.

For more about the need to constantly create in the face our fears, you can read my previous post on this topic.

YOU ARE ALREADY ‘READY’:

Prior to the challenge, I had wanted to take poetry seriously for some time – and the word ‘seriously’ for me usually translates to reading a book or taking a class on the subject before actually doing something. In the past it’s been easy for me to create prerequisites to physical action, a clever way of justifying procrastination.

But by bypassing any kind of ‘curriculum’, I accomplished significantly more on my own than I could have under someone else’s guidance. I was inspired by other poets, visitors to this blog and my own mistakes – these were my teachers.

ANCHOR THE DAY:

Not only does working this way mean you increase your output, put you also become more fluid in your medium. After a while the daily work become a part of your daily rhythm and you start to feel wrong without it. It becomes a kind of meditation, a morning jog, a holistic force that sets the tone for the day, that reminds you that today matters, so use it.

CONSUME THE WORLD:

Seeing and experiencing the world through the filter of the medium you’re working in is very exciting. My morning walks in Amsterdam became like scavenger hunts, where I’d search for an image, a detail that could inspire that day’s work. The city and my thoughts became a precious thing that I was constantly trying to put into words.

I am now more convinced that as creators we must consume the world around us and respond to it, in the voice and medium of our choosing, on a daily basis.

But it doesn’t have to be all serious work. Play with your process when your stuff gets stale and you get tired. You can change up things by experimenting with different tools. For example, I tried writing out poems on paper cups, with tape recorders and apps (like OmmWriter).

During the challenge, I obsessed on quantity – not quality. And ironically a side-effect of shutting off my internal editor is that I did produce some things I was proud of. The challenge combined with blogging created a kind of sandbox where I could mess around with no real intent or ‘master plan’ – yet I was extremely productive and surprised myself with the results. Odd.

I wonder if our insistence on making ‘one of a kind’ work right out of the gate prevents us from eventually making one of a kind work one day? Final outcomes we can be proud of are the result of constant experimentation and wrong turns as we find our way down a foreign road. And sometimes you have to lock your ego and editor in the trunk just to make some real progress down that foreign road.

I still need to give some more thought on how to apply this kind of experimentation on my career as a filmmaker. In the meantime, if you decide to pursue a similar challenge this year, please leave me a note in the comments or email me – I’d really like to follow along on your journey, regardless of your personal or professional goal.

Also, I encourage you to journal these daily artifacts you create – via twitter, tumblr, wordpress, etc. – opening yourself to the feedback and inspiration of others; allowing some transparency to your bungles and successes. I promise you that kind of transparency is not as embarrassing as it seems. It’ll give you some accountability to finish your challenge and be a great reminder not to take yourself too seriously.

P.S. You can view some of my favorite poems from the challenge here.

What Thirty Poems Taught Me

This past April I participated in National Poetry Writing Month where I had to write a new poem everyday for thirty days.

It was an ambitious goal and I was worried if I actually had thirty poems in me. Would I even have time to write everyday? Would my tendencies of being a perfectionist and procrastinator get in the way of the work?

Well, I discovered in the first few days I could consistently write a poem/day if I  ‘lowered my standards‘.

I didn’t think in terms of making a masterpiece everyday, rather the goal was simply to write a poem, good or bad, it didn’t matter. Because of this, ‘success’ was a lot more achievable, all I had to do was consistently show up at my desk.

It also helped that I was posting my daily poems publicly on Facebook & Twitter. The few friends that followed along helped me stay accountable and consistent.  And I think it offered them a window into another side of my creativity.

So, besides accumulating thirty little pieces, I was reminded of some basic writing habits I had somehow been neglecting:

  1. The power of 30 days: I was surprised by how quickly a difficult habit can become commonplace in your routine and the unpredictable side-effects that new addition can have on the rest of your life. This can be a habit that is central to your career goals, like in the case of Jerry Seinfeld and how he used a simple wall calendar to become a better comedian, or it can be an opportunity to try something new and strange as encouraged by Googler Matt Cutts.
  2. Being playfully creative: it was great to have a writing outlet that I didn’t have to take as seriously as my other work.
  3. Daily creative work/exercise: most of my day is routine, very little of it is actually creative and/or challenging. Very little of my days or even weeks are spent on some project that involves my senses and memories. That kind of work is usually reserved for the hours before a deadline or when I’m in the rare creative mood. It was great to do something everyday that exercised my writing muscles. It reminded me that I need to be screenwriting every single day if I’m serious about being a filmmaker.
  4. The power of language: using poetic phrasings to evoke imagery and emotions improved all forms of my communication. I could feel its impact in all my exchanges, from simple email messages to verbal conversations with strangers. I was somehow braver with my ideas and feelings and because of this my words felt a lot more authentic and meaningful.
  5. Save certain creative ideas for more appropriate mediums: I am a visual screenwriter and think because of this I sometimes lean towards using poetic or novelistic language for script exposition. I’ve seen in the past few months that this gets in the way of a new reader or potential producer trying to understand and imagine the film for themselves. Saving that kind of language for my poems made it a lot easier to be less extravagant in my screenplay exposition.

This was such a great experience that I’ve continued past the thirty poem mark and I’m currently headed towards 50 poems in 50 days. Who knows, I might go all the way to 100?! [UPDATE: I actually made it all the way to 100 poems, check out what that journey taught me]

I’ve found that past thirty days I’ve exhausted my brain’s ‘surface’, the imagery and phrases I had sitting in my immediate consciousness. Now, I’m having to really dig into my memories and observations to produce new work.

My daily strolls through Amsterdam have taken on a new purpose, they are now daily scavenger hunts to find new poems.