Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Talking about Monsters

“Why? Why do you read such things? You’re sick in the head; do you know that?” My aunt pointed at me with an accusatory index finger as she brought her tea to the table. I was already sitting there drinking my green tea to calm my nerves.

“I’m not sick in the head,” I said calmly sipping my tea.

“You think it’s healthy to watch things like that? All that killing, killing, killing. You’re going to screw up your mind! That’s why you can’t sleep at night.” She accused me falsely.

I looked at the clock. The hour hand was at the nine. Did she consider this late?

“I stay up at night thinking.” She didn’t know my characters talked to me.

“Thinking about what?”

“Nothing, you won’t understand.” I sipped the warm, honey-induced waters.

We sat in silence for a moment. Both of us just stared at each other. What I saw was an old woman, who had experienced many atrocities in her life. Clara, my aunt, was almost like my second mother. Her hands were covered with tiny brown spots and scratches from cleaning. Her eyes said many things in a different language that I had yet to understand. The language of experience.

“Why can’t you watch nice things?” Clara took a cookie from a plastic container, dipped it into her tea, and ate it.

“Sorry I’m not interested in happy bunnies flopping around in Happy Land.” The mood tightened, but she was calm.

“What about American Idol?”

“I don’t want to watch wannabe singers. I want to watch wannabe screamers.”

“How about Dancing with the Stars?” Another from her list of suggestions.

“I don’t want to see dancing with celebrities; I want to see people dance on graves.”

The Bachelor?” She took another sip from her red tea.

I was beginning to get tired of all these suggestions. I didn’t like reality television at all. My entire family watched these shows; the only person who didn’t was me. “Look I don’t like reality TV, because I want to escape reality with these scary things. I thought television was an escape, right?”

From her eyes, I understood she didn’t understand the word ‘escape.’ It had so many meanings to her, but ‘escaping reality’ wasn’t one of them. She sat in silence thinking and staring at me.

“I don’t like all that love-dovey stuff anyway. I like things like The Twilight Zone.” The Twilight Zone was an old black-and-white fictional documentary about the paranormal, weird, and unexplained that ran in the early sixties.

Her eyes lit up, “The Twilight Zone?”

“Yeah, you know ‘Da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum, you are now entering the Twilight Zone.’ It’s on like every channel.” The tea in my cup had finished, but she still had more.

“I watched that.” She took another cookie from the plastic container. Crumbs fell down on the tablecloth like pieces of a building that falling to the ground by a powerful force. Was the force an earthquake? An attack?

I decided to turn the tables on her. “So, now you’re crazy for watching shows like that.” I smiled.

“I’m not crazy,” she probably felt a sour taste in her mouth as she bit into her cookie. “I watched it when I was a little girl, when we first got a TV in our house. It was a big brown box and had a tiny screen. No remote, we had to thumb the channels with a knob. All the shows were black-and-white then. We only had a few programs back then.”

“What about The Twilight Zone?”

“Oh, yes, sorry,” she said lost in thought. “It was when I was a little girl; my two sisters, your papa, and Uncle Andik, surrounded the television watching the man in the trench coat.” The man in the trench coat was Rod Serling, the mastermind and the narrator of the show. “He talked with the most soothing voice about the weirdest things. I always wondered how he could be so calm talking about things so scary.”

“Maybe because he knew that things he was talking about were fake?”

“But to a little girl of seven or ten. There was no such word; nothing was fake.” She smiled as she remembered. She didn’t stare up at me, but at the chandelier that hung over our heads. What did she see in those crystals? Was her face reflected back? Or was a little girl about the age of seven or ten staring at her?

“Clara? Are you there?” I asked waving my hand.

She awoke from her daydream and almost spilled the remains of her tea. “Sorry, sorry, what were we talking about?”

I smiled thinking how much of a moment we just shared together. She and I connected to something together, but on different levels, different wavelengths. I just watched The Twilight Zone for the fun of knowing what else Rod Serling could come up with next, but Clara had a deeper level. Clara when she thought about the show, she thought about hiding in the covers with her brother, Andik. When she thought of the show, she imagined herself looking at the small screen and seeing a small girl from an opposite world stare back. She imagined her older sister, Marie, turning off the TV because everyone was getting scared of the monsters.

I smiled and said, “So are we normal or crazy?”

She smiled back, her tea finished, her hunger for both food and answers quenched, “We are human.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Diagnosis: A Creative Mind

Previously Posted on the Saroyan's Ghost Blog

One day, one of my readers asked me, “How did you come up with this story?”

I told them, “A little girl came up to me and whispered in my ear, ‘Tell them my story.’ Her name was Sandy Clancy.”

“But Sandy Clancy was a character in the story?!” the reader gasped. “Is she real?”

“No, my characters talk to me.”

Ray Bradbury suffers from the same thing I do: a creative mind. I remember going to UCLA last year and Bradbury telling me that his characters came up to him and told him to write down their story in Fahrenheit 451. I was amazed to hear this, because now I knew I wasn’t alone. My characters come up to me all the time while I’m on the computer.

Don’t misunderstand me. I do not take any drugs or hallucinate.

I see my characters without the need of anything but my mind’s eye.

They tell me the story as I write it; I don’t have it planned out ahead of time. I am as much a reader as you are now. These characters pop out of nowhere. Sandy, the character the reader asked me about, came up to me and said, “I have to tell you something that happened to me. Please, I want to share it with other people, but they won’t listen. Can you be my voice?”

And I started to write about Sandy.

Sandy told me about the dreams she was having, recurring nightmares of a dark man chasing her.

I wrote them down.

The conversation she had with her dad—I scratched it on a notepad. I wrote all her adventures down on those pages.

Characters sometimes don’t just pop into my mind, but images, too.

An accident.

Two people dancing.

A girl waving good-bye.

Anything is possible, but that’s just a piece of the mural that I create. Those images add up to the big picture that becomes my story. My brain just functions differently, I guess.

I saw a girl the other day waving at no one (at least from my point of view) and that image stuck in my mind. Why was she there? To whom was she saying goodbye? I didn’t know, so I invented a story based on the situation. Before I knew it, I started writing down a story entitled, “The Final Goodbye,” about an urban legend where a person, right before he dies, sees this little girl known as the Goodbye Girl.

Sometimes a creative mind doesn’t have as many advantages as you might think. I stay up some nights thinking about the worlds I create just by typing words on a page. The characters do not know when to call it quits.

Sandy tugged at my shirt. “You’ve got to finish my story. You’ve just got to.”

“Let me sleep. I’ll write another chapter tomorrow.”

“You promise?”

“Promise.” She let go of my shirt and disappeared.

I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling. I see another character staring back at me. It is Monte. He is a character I had already written about last year in a story called “Rules to Live By.”

“What is it?” I ask him.

“Can you rewrite my story?” He has his jacket hanging by two fingers on his shoulder. Inside the jacket is a list of rules that he has broken, rules that show him his friends and enemies, rules he tries to live by.

“Why?” I ask.

“You’ve grown as a writer, Vatche. My story has grown, as well. I just remembered some things that I forgot to tell you to write down. Please come back with me to Hillsworth High.”

“Ok,” I tell him as I put my hand over my eyes. “You’ll be after Sandy.”

“Thanks, see ya later.”

Then another character taps me on the shoulder.

“What is it?” I say, annoyed. “Jeez, can’t you guys let me sleep?” I peek out of the gaps between my fingers. There is a line of people waiting to talk to me. I know at that moment that I suffer from a sort of disease. My mom, the doctor in the family, calls it the disease of a creative mind.

Day and night, I write down stories, characters, and images: my calculus book, literature book, assignment book, hands, arms, and post-its, all covered in notes for stories. I have to store the ideas somewhere and keep them safe. I begin ripping out the pages, one by one, and make an idea book. There, in that book, they will stay until the time is right, until I am ready to tell their stories.

By the way, Sandy’s been tugging at my shirt for a while. She wants to say, “Hi.”

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Love Life

Previously Posted on the Saroyan's Ghost Blog

“How can you write in a world where books are extinct? Technology is taking over; books are deadwood,” my friend said.

“Don’t you mean why do I write?” I smiled.

“Fine, why are you going to a job that doesn’t have any future, that won’t pay the bills? Why go into something like writing novels when novels might not exist in a few more years?”

“Love.” I bit into my sandwich. We were having lunch in the quad-area, a great place to enjoy the scenery of the school and the people. My friend Michael and I were discussing what to do once we graduate.

“Love?” He sounded confused.

“Love,” I repeated. “I love to read and write. I love to read stories that aren’t ordinary and to write about the strange and the unknown. I write so that I can release my imagination onto the paper and put it somewhere where it can be safe and imagined over and over again.”

“And where’s that?”

“In someone else’s mind.” I drank some water and cleared my throat; I was preparing myself for another all-out discussion with my friend.

“So you love to write?” he asked and I nodded. “Then, what about your parents? Don’t they want you to become a doctor or a lawyer or something?”

“Sure, what Armenian parent doesn’t want that for their child?”

“But you’re smart, you’re in all advanced classes and you’re going to go to a university to write?”

“It takes great skill and knowledge like any other field of work.”

“Aren’t your parents angry?”

“Angry, they are not. They are just slightly disappointed that I don’t focus my attention in areas of business, or to be a physician or dentist. But you know why?” I asked him.

“Why?” He stopped eating and was fully attentive.

“Because they don’t understand immortality,” I whispered.

“Immortality? What does immortality have to do with writing?”

“Think about Shakespeare; he was born in 1564. Yet over four hundred years later, we are still reading his works. That is immortality, Michael. I want to be remembered. If I was just another doctor or lawyer, I would be like a grain of sand on a beach.”

“You said you love to read. What’s that got to do with writing?”

“Good question. To be the best, one must read the best, right?”

“What a cliché!” He waved his hand in the air as if pushing my sentence away and out of his mind.

“I bet you didn’t want to be a writer forever, now did ya?” he asked.

“No.” I answered.

“So you might just change your field of work as soon as you get tired of writing, won’t you?”

“No. Because now writing and reading are my life,” I said.

“Your life? Come on, man, you just decided to become a writer, what, a year ago?”

“Four years ago. However, I have been reading since I was three years old, and that’s how the seed was planted.”

“The seed?”

“The seed is my idea of becoming a writer. It started at an early age when I was reading. I loved to read books of fantasy and fairy tales. I still read today, don’t I? And that seed has sprouted, grown, and turned into the flowering idea of me wanting to be a writer in the 21st century.”

“Writing in the 21st century won’t exist.” I felt attacked by his comment.

“Writing will always exist. How else do we communicate? Telepathy? What are the movies you watch based on? People need scripts to read because not everything can be reality TV. You catch my drift.”

“I guess you’re right.” He smirked and shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ve been thinking about this all my life, so I’m prepared for all these questions you have asked me here at lunch. I’ve prepared myself for the hard, long road ahead of me with a dim light at the end, but the thing is I know it’s there.”

“Cliché!” He began eating again.

“Shut up! You don’t know what it’s like. I’ve been through so many difficulties in my life because of this career choice.”

“Like what?”

“I’ve been bullied, because I love to read.”

“Why? Isn’t reading a good thing?”

“Not to my peers, apparently. They sometimes think I’m a nerd, geek, dork, whatever you’d like to call it. I’ve been made fun of because instead of watching TV or playing the newest video game, I was reading Stephen King or Ray Bradbury.”

“Stephen King? He’s so overrated.”

“Well, I read the classics, as well. Stephen King is like junk food to me. You know it’s not good for you, but you still eat it. I read the classics like Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare, and William Golding.”

“So back to this idea of you being made fun of: is there any other reason?”

“It was back in tenth grade. I clearly remember it was a Monday. I came back to school after attending the Festival of Books held at UCLA.”

“Festival of Books?” Michael didn’t know much about me. We had our discussions during lunch, but that’s as close as we got as friends.

“It’s a thing where authors come to California to talk about their next upcoming book or talk about writing.”

“Ok,” he said, “I get it.”

“So it was Monday and I took pictures with this guy named Joe Hill, who is Stephen King’s son and also a writer. I felt like the happiest guy on earth. I got my book signed and told Joe Hill how much I wanted to become a writer.”

“What did he say?”

“He told me to keep on writing.”

“Go back to the Monday you got bullied,” he pushed.

“A few my classmates saw the picture and called him a pedophile for giving me a hug in the picture. They said I was a nerd and so on and so forth. Then, I went into class with my dreams crushed. I stood silent in the classroom wishing that my English teacher would not ask me how the festival went. I was praying to God that I would hold it together, not to crack.”

“What happened?”

I had finished eating my sandwich, so I held out the plate right in front of me, and ripped it in half. “I cracked.”

“What was the catalyst?” Michael was intrigued.

“We were beginning Ovid’s Metamorphosis and then my teacher asked the class about our weekends. Other students talked while I remained silent in the back corner. Then, he suddenly remembered that I went to the festival and asked me, ‘Vatche, you went to the festival, right? How did that go?’”

“What did you say?”

“I said nothing. I cried out tears instead of words. They were not tears of the happiest man on earth, but of the most broken-hearted child.”

“What happened next?”

“My teacher took me outside and talked to me. He told me that I had something the other kids didn’t.”

“What was that?”

“The determination and heart to become a writer, that’s what I had that those students didn’t. He told me that some of those kids just didn’t understand what I have and that’s why they make fun of me.”

“What happened after that?”

“I washed my face, came back to a class of worried faces, and listened to the words of Ovid. After that, I decided to keep my dream of becoming a writer to my friends and family and to never give up on that dream. That’s why writing is my life.”

“So do you still go to the festival?”

“Every year,” I said proudly.

“Who else did you meet?”

“Well, last year I saw Clive Barker and Ray Bradbury. I’ve been going for only four years, so I haven’t seen many. Only the top people on my list of writers I want to meet.”

“You have a list?”

“Yeah,” I threw away the ripped plate, while Michael continued eating his sandwich.

“What do they talk about at this festival?”

“About my love: my love for writing, my love for reading their books and about the ideas they had when they were my age about becoming writers. I learned from the best.”

“What else do you do to enhance your writing?” he said, “What do you write about?”

“I have enhanced my writing by writing down every idea I get in my Idea Book. I write stories almost everyday after my homework. I write and write until I get my thoughts out of my head and onto to that blank white paper. I also enhanced my writing by going to a writing workshop held by a guy named Al Martinez.”

“The LA Times columnist?” Michael has read newspapers a lot because he wanted to become a historian or a politician.

“Yes, that Al Martinez, and what I learned from him is that characters are what drive a story. However, I did not just learn from him. I’ve learned from a variety of experiences and people. I’ve learned from Clive Barker that one must have great imagination to have a story. Al Martinez told me about the character. Joe Hill told me about the determination and plot. Ray Bradbury spoke to me about the love to write. I’ve learned from what I consider the best.”

“You have the determination, I can give you that.” Michael said, “So what do you write about?”

“I write to escape my life and become a different person, in a different time, a different place, a different world. I write about the known and the unknown, the loved and the hated, the good and the evil. I write what I believe to be a good story. I write what I believe that the reader might enjoy and say he wants more. I want my readers to be satisfied by what they read, but to have an appetite for more of my work.”

“Who are your readers? You’ve never given me any of your pieces.”

“Well, my readers are people like my closest friends, my mom, and my neighbor.”

“Look there’s five minutes left before the whistle blows. Tell me a quick story of one of your readers.” Michael looked at his watch.

“Fine, I met a girl who enjoyed my art in ninth grade. Her name was Angeline.”

“You’re using a fake name aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

“So, Angeline met me because I also draw. She met me when one of her friends noticed my drawings and pulled me away to talk to her. Angeline said she was amazed by my art style and that was the last I saw of her in the school year.”

“Wait, what?”

“Hold on, let me finish. You’re always rushing aren’t you? Anyway, so I met her at a summer SAT practice course called LIM’s. She noticed that I was the guy who drew the picture she liked and started talking to me. I told her that I wanted to be a writer and not an artist, though I draw occasionally for the relaxation. She said that she had to read my writing and compare it with my drawings. So, I gave her a story I just finished at the end of the school year called, “Rules to Live by.” It was a twenty page piece and I didn’t expect her to finish it, because I thought she would put it down and tell me to become an artist instead.”

“Well, what happened?

“She came the next day to LIM’s and sat next to me. I asked her if she read the story. She didn’t speak. She later told me it was because she was thinking of what to say. She sat there for a good five minutes in silence. Then, she burst into a talking frenzy like all those words that she didn’t speak in those five minutes were exploding out of her. She told me how she loved the story and especially the characters. She told me how she wanted to laugh along with a character, slap another, and cry during a scene.”

“Then, what?”

“She became one of the closest friends I ever had. She talked to me everyday. She told me about how I gave her goosebumps and then she asked the most peculiar question.”

“What was the question?”

“Was it real?”

“What did you tell her?”

“Obviously, it wasn’t real because it involved a guy burning down the school and seeing hallucinations of the dead.”

“Was she crazy?”

“No, she wasn’t. However, I knew I did my job as a writer. I made her believe it was real, that all the emotions I put into the story were correctly triggered in her reading of my story. I got the exact reactions that I wanted. I told her no, but I wish it were true. By the way, she then asked if my story was based on anyone and I told her no. Then, she was in awe; she believed that it must’ve happened, because how else could I write such a story? Any other questions?”

“Can I read one of your stories?” The whistle blew.

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll bring one tomorrow.”

I went home that day and sat in front of my desk staring at the infamous blank page of my laptop staring at me with its blinking cursor. I wanted to give Michael a new piece of writing, one that would leave him in awe, so I started typing. I finished the story later that evening and handed it to Michael the next day.

He read it during his English class, “I was hiding it from my teacher,” he told me at lunch. He read it the entire period thinking that he was in a world I created rather than at school, on earth, in our universe. He brought the story back to me during lunch and stood silent much like Angeline. I ate my sandwich in silence. He exploded into words.

We had yet another discussion that lunch, but not about politics, books, school, or TV, but about the story. My story. I felt like an accomplished writer once again.