Presenting: The Present Perfect!

February 15th, 2019

It’s back!

This sometimes Friday feature examines language quirks and oddities. As I am currently teaching English to international students, I’ve had a lot of exposure to the sometimes random nature of this language.

Present perfect
What a crazy tense this one is. It is among the distinctions of the English language that we have this cool tense. It represents an action that began in the past, and continues right now. It also refers to an action that began in the past and may – or may not – be continued in the present or near future.

I have been to France = I went to France, and I may go again. My life isn’t over yet!
He has eaten breakfast = he just completed it, and we’re still thinking about it right now. I think he’s still wiping the toast crumbs off his face.
Have we got enough money? = We want to do a thing and need to know before we get started.
They haven’t paid = They need to pay right now!

Notice the subtle differences:
I went to France = I went one time and I can tell you about it, but that chapter has closed.
He ate breakfast = so what?
Did we have enough money? = Who cares, it’s over now
They paid = Again, nothing to see here

The present perfect gives a vivid, active connection to the present. That tense enlivens our conversations, and gives our language additional life, vigor, and immediacy.

Next week: More fun English language tenses

When focus is both needed and unwelcome

February 5th, 2019

As a writer I’ve often talked about how creativity means letting go of our foothold here, to drift and dwell in vaguely defined places of our mind.

I am nearly finished with a new short story, and yet to execute the last 2,000 words I know I’ll need to leave this place for at least a day, if not two, in order to follow these haunted characters to their conclusion.

In the meantime, here I am, in a way also haunted, by living in this cramped physical world with its requirements and obligations.

Yet to finish it, I must contend with the real-world obligations to make sure I have Internet, power, water, and food. To make sure my animals have their walks, meals, and head pats.

At the same time I need to cut ties with all that and pursue the waking dream I call writing.

As typical in this world, I am walking the tight rope. I hope to publish a draft soon on this blog. Working title: My Secret Song.

I’ve updated my web page too with items from my professional portfolio, as well as the enormous independent study I completed in graduate school. That paper resulted from semester-long research into global laws protecting farmed animals.

Have a look at www.marionblackburn.net

Vortex

January 30th, 2019

I’ve written a few times about what it feels like to write fiction, the sensation of falling into darkness, of dissociation, of becoming “unhinged,” or untethered from the concrete world of sensations.

As we await the polar vortex being pressed into the U.S. from the Arctic, as heavy air pushes it down, there we feel time slow down. We feel something coming, and we must wait for it to arrive, with undetermined consequences.

Much like writing, which descends on us, subsumes us, and causes us to wait for the unknown effects. Once it lands on us, if we invite it in, we disappear into its vortex, just as Chicago and the midwest, really into the South, become encased in Arctic temperatures.

The freezing can feel a lot like death, but we know there is life even in the desert of ice. Mostly it holds on for signs of life, and with writing, that is you, Dear Reader.

The Dark Side

January 28th, 2019

I am working on a short story exploring fears, nightmares, and dark images. It feels uncomfortable to write out thoughts we’d rather hide, images inside us we deny. If we dunk ourselves too much into darkness, can we emerge? Does it change us? That explains why I rarely write about dark thoughts; I fear becoming consumed somehow by them, that they will become real, and take over.

Still, they form a part of my creative mind, and writing at its most interesting examines every part of being human, living as a sentient being part spirit part body part thinker. To see what’s hidden, yet what makes us complex, and to portray it – but artfully.

Another aspect of short story writing is the ability to finish within a clear period of time. Working on the novel for years now it has become almost overwhelming. Every time I pick it back up I have to review my characters, what’s going on, where we are heading. By that time, I’ve used up a half hour at least, and it all seems for naught. And I go wash dishes or walk the dogs instead.

With a short story, I feel able to accomplish, to complete, a work. So I will wrap up this dark story this week, I hope.

The work life-life’s work balance

January 25th, 2019

I’ve written about the difficulty of writing and having any other type of activities in a day. Another aspect of writing, perhaps less known, is the mental disappearance that can happen.

When we sit down to write, we willingly break with the so-called “real” world, that is, the world that appears solid to us. The world we can touch, smell, hear, see. The world that has bills, meetings, and schedules.

To write means to cut ties with this world, and have the mind entirely free of any other thought. That’s self-evident.

What many people don’t know – including writers, that is, until we’re neck deep into a novel or story – is that writing also requires a break with another world, the world of our own mind. The world of our own sanity. The world where we are in charge, and events happen in someone predictable, or logical ways.

When we let go to submerse ourselves in writing, the break required to really create shifts our inner identity off its base, then shatters the base, and leaves us hanging.

When we are hanging in that way, adrift, maybe terrified, that we find art.

Disappearing Writer

January 15th, 2019

One aspect of writing that’s difficult to describe, is that we disappear when we write. That’s one of the toughest requirements, or should I say fallout, from writing. To do so requires a person to vacate their own life, their own mind, their own daily activities. In their place, the writer inserts stories about other people, and their struggles, goals, and nightmares.

In the meantime, the real person, the physical writer, sits at a desk. Hours pass, even days. Dishes accumulate; the floor needs to be vacuumed; the bed sits unmade. Calls go unreturned, and of course, bill pile up.

Life outside the writer’s mind continues.

But the writer agrees to exit life, to create this other thing, this other living body, this story, this novel, this essay.

It’s an uncomfortable choice, but a goal that compels me to it.

Niched

January 14th, 2019

I’ve started a new short story. It started as a look into a recurring nightmare which over time I realized was also my worst fear.

It seemed interesting to explore it, to examine all the thoughts tied in with that recurring dream. I also described what happened in the dream, as well as my responses to it.

Once I explored the recurring dream, people emerged, deep ideas, fears, and emotions. I found the short story has taken off.

Yet what I’ve figured out is that the story will be a chiller, a “suspense” piece, and clearly a niche work.

Why do we do that? Why do we consider Science Fiction, Horror, Detective, and other types of stories to be “genre” fiction?

Is not one of our greatest writers, Edgar Allen Poe, a “genre” writer? Have you actually read Poe? Today, his work would be shunted into a category, and never see daylight.

So my horror story is in progress. When I have a draft, I’ll put it up.

Walking into My Dreams

January 3rd, 2019

SPOILER ALERT: This post is about a process, so I won’t write specifically about my dreams or nightmares. Not yet. The novel will comprise these images, sensations, and events.

I have a nightmare. It haunts me, in the way dreams can. How do dreams unsettle us? They put us in a world we do not choose and we must suddenly make sense of. In dreams we sense a presence of beings who impart to us general sensations. In turn, we feel vague responses.

My feelings in dreams come fast, and they are of two kinds:
POSITIVE
– an overwhelming sense of peace
– knowing I am loved
– romantic love
– subsumption in the divine

NEGATIVE
– terror
– unease
– sadness (such as dreaming one of my dogs or cats dies, family member)
– THIS ONE IS HUGE: shame

Shame forms the basis of my worst, recurring, nightmare.

TO BE CONTINUED ….

New Year’s Day 2019

January 1st, 2019

Update: I had a sudden urge to run and got in 5.3 miles this morning after all.

The New Year rolled in, and I saw it this year. I spent the last day of the year running 11.25 miles through Charlotte. Last night, I attended my cousin’s wedding, then enjoyed a vegan dinner, dancing, and revelry.

I hoped to run this morning to start the year, but it’s just not in me this morning. I only slept a few hours, and today is the long drive home.

Tomorrow I plan to really start my New Year. I hope it is a time of personal change and growth. Among my goals are writing more, eating better, and reaching my running goal of 1,500 miles (that’s 500 miles by April, and 1,000 by August).

I’d also like to be more focused in general. Pare down material possessions, spend more time with friends, family, and my beautiful animals.

The first part of the year brings a couple of concerts – Sean Lennon in DC, then Shaky Knees Festival in May.

I’m looking forward to spending 2019 with you, FD readers.

Running Out the Old Year

December 28th, 2018

The winter solstice, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and other holidays this season give me a chance each year to run long, in the cold. Often those runs take place in other cities.

Last year, I experienced my dream of running through Washington D.C. That morning’s run went way behind my dreams, starting with the night before when a lovely, quiet, soft, snow fell everywhere. I remember looking out of my hotel window and seeing that beautiful fluffiness coming down. I was also especially stoked to have found a park on the street – saving myself about $20 in parking deck fees.

The next morning I woke to amazing clean whiteness everywhere. D.C. is busy during the week, but on holidays and weekends, remarkably quiet.

I took off about 8 a.m. in fresh, unmarred, snow. I ran along the waterfront, across to Virginia and the Pentagon (where an officer stopped me for trying to jump a fence. I know, the Pentagon, what was I thinking).

Back from Virginia, I crossed into Georgetown, through Dupont Circle, across the Mall and along the beautiful public art there, and back to my hotel at the Naval Shipyards.

You can read a bit more about my run at this FB link.

Did I mention, I saw Spoon at the 9:30 club? Yes, and wore my high-heeled leopard-print sandals too. In the snow. It felt like as much of an accomplishment as running 15 miles through DC that morning.

This weekend, I travel to Charlotte for my cousin’s wedding. My plans include a long run through the Queen City. Snow or not, I am looking forward to closing out the year with another long run, in another city.