Some Thoughts on Restriction and the Freedoms it Has Provided For Me – By: mOUNTbRENDON

I had an amazing conversation tonight (and in conversation I mean mostly relying on the others’ conversation) about loneliness. For some silly reason, I think that loneliness is my biggest strengths. Here’s my last writing assignment for the semester for my Nonfiction class. It explains why that is. Enjoy.

Assignment # 13: Develop a braided essay that weaves together your thoughts on three abstract concepts (such as time, travel, distance, language, memory history, etc.)

Some Thoughts on Restriction and the Freedoms it Has Provided For Me

A human is not a book. Growing up, I thought that, to be a good person, I had to form myself in the shape of a book and write the letters, B-I-B-L-E on my chest. I had to look like all the other walking, talking, and preaching books that surrounded me. At times, I tried to inch my way out of the pages, the box shape, that I had placed myself in and to allow the ink and the thin leafed pages to escape from the leather binding that became my skin. But each time I tried this, I was met with a subtly severe backlashing from the other books, so I climbed back in and I chose not to think about it. When you’re shaped like a book, you can’t help but feel extremely restricted, so you have to choose not to think about it.

All the while, a steady ticking sounded all around me as I rode a large swinging pendulum topped by stiffly printed Roman Numerals, watching me like attentive prison guards. The two large black hands constantly circling my consciousness always found a way to fill my mind with a panicking sense of claustrophobia. This feeling resurfaces nearly every day, but when I remind myself about the subtle beauty of those Roman Numerals, keeping me safe from free falling down into some kind of meaningless abyss, the claustrophobia goes away.

I feel a claustrophobia in language as well, but this never really goes away. I wonder what it would be like to live outside of language and to release the cog in the portion of my brain that translates signifier into verbal signified. It has forced an anxiety that I seem to carry with me in my every day life. But then I think about the passion this anxiety has created and how reliant my passion has been on the claustrophobia of language. A reliance that I have slowly come to embrace with open, but still rather restricted arms.

This embrace was made easier thanks to my arms reemerging from their former leather bookbinding. I learned to walk without a waddle, which seems simple, but when you’ve lived in the shape of a book for so many years, it takes practice. I was free to evaluate myself and to open up my own pages inside where I learned that no one should live in the shape of any kind of physical book. Instead, everyone should take his or her own shape and let the pages roam free on their own accord, because if you allow yourself to become shaped like a book, religion can be awfully restricting.

It can seem equally restricting to have to constantly stare at those pesky Roman Numerals guards as you try to fit your ever growing list of to dos and desires in that circular setting within the clock. But I’ve recently learned to find the beauty in this setting that has been forced upon us, because the things in life you love the most can be met with a much higher sense of importance and gratitude as you are forced to organize and prioritize around them.

Language is always there, always to be prioritized. It can form isolation, but is yet our greatest tool for community and relationship. As anxious as its restrictions make me, its uses are also my greatest motivators, my greatest passions. Without its restrictions, there would be no need for poetry, which I believe to be any attempt to reach beyond the constrictions of language, yet within its very words. Language and its restrictions are necessary, for without it, I would not be writing this very essay, and I would not find the joy in writing that I do. Because language, like life, is what you make of it.


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Introducing a new series: Lazy Saturday Poetry– By: Charles Westerman

When I started this blog, I said I was going to write a little bit of everything I really like to write.  And there is some stuff that I get absolutely jolly writing.  There’s nothing like capping off a sports column with that perfect last sentence, that last neat little stitch to bring it all together.  There’s nothing like learning something big about your faith and then finding a way to put that life-lesson into words. There’s nothing like inventing a new fictional character in your mind that even you yourself find interesting, funny, complex and mysterious.

But to be honest, sometimes my column feels like a chore.  Sometimes I go months without telling people what’s going on in my walk with God.  And most of the time, I want to punch my main fictional character in the face, because he’s just a bad metaphor for my life and he can’t gain his own independence and have his own unique personality (which is what good fictional authors can do).  When it comes to those forms of writing, I often have to dig down deep and pull something out of myself… and though it’s exhausting, when I find the discipline to do it, it’s always very rewarding.

Yes, readers, I’m going to finally admit one of my most awful secrets to you: my favorite writer is myself, and my most loyal reader is me.  I get a tingling feeling when I read my own stuff; I’d imagine it’s sort of what doing crack is like.  Nobody thinks I’m wittier and craftier with words than I do.  Seriously if anyone has a good shrink they should call me, because as you can see, I’ve got some ego-issues going on.  But hey, admitting it is the first step right?  But even more seriously I think all writers have to have this confidence and satisfaction on some level (although my levels are admittedly are a little high).

Personal Hamartia aside (if you don’t know what Hamartia means, Wikipedia that bitch) I’ll get back to the point.  That a lot of the writing I do sometimes feels like pulling teeth.  But even though it feels like I have to dig a lot of this stuff out of me, there’s one form of writing that has always just flowed out of my pen onto the paper, or came in a text message to myself, or that taps itself out on a little document I’ve had open on my computer for four years saved under “Playonward– Cause for Effect” (playing on the phrases ‘pause for effect’ and ’cause and effect,’ you have no idea how much I stroked my ego when I came up with that one).”

What I’m talking about is the writing form of poetry and lyrics.  Since my freshman year of high school it’s something I just have to do or I’ll burst.  Come to think of it, it’s a lot like peeing.  I never really know if I’m writing poetry or song lyrics, but when it’s three in the morning and my mind is roaring like a Harley, I know I won’t be able to get some Z’s until I grab my phone, open a text to myself, and see what knots my head is trying to untie.

What happens as I furiously tap those little button on my En-V3 is a rush I can’t explain.  A kind of trance or orgasm of the brain.  What I’m left with is an explanation to myself I’ve been working out for days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years.  I wrote a poem about my relationship with my late-father on the 20th anniversary of his death that I’d been trying to capture the complexity and feeling of since my freshman year of high school.

If my other writings are what crack is like, poetry is to me, the brief moment of clarity I’d imagine someone gets when they smoke meth.  I still remember the first truly satisfying poem/lyrics I wrote in a text message to my brother one day the summer after my freshman year helping my Dad fix fence on the ranch.  Back in 2005 I’d just got my first iPod and was finding my own unique taste in music– listening to a lot of Dashboard Confessional, Fall Out Boy and The Starting Line.  That angsty teenage music about how girls are the source of all their pain and all their joy.  And though it’s childish, I remember thinking that Chris Carrabarra (the lead singer of Dashboard) was like the Hemingway of angsty teenage music. So naturally I wanted to be like Chris (I don’t so much anymore).

I opened a text to ‘Mitch’ and wrote the following lines, “What goes around comes around and kicks you in the back of the head, I’m chasing your tail, which has me chasing mine instead.”  Yes it was very 15-years-old of me. But hey, that’s what 15 year olds do right?  I had officially started my mission to figure out how to deal with this angst and ultimately conquer it. Once I hit send I didn’t stop the rest of the day.  “Alright bro, here’s another one: ‘Your skating on thin ice and I’m under water with a blow torch to bring you down.'”  It was a bad imitation of Chris Carrabarra, but had Mick not been a good older brother and texted me back telling me they were really good, I’d probably still be looking for some form of my identity to this day.  In fact, I owe most of my confidence as a writer to Mick (and for that bro, I can never repay you).

Eventually I became competent enough with a guitar to start writing songs.  I wrote my first song the second semester of my freshman year at WSU and haven’t gone three months without writing one since.  I’d estimate I’ve partially written about 40 songs and have finished about 25 of them, putting me at about a completed song once every six weeks.  It’s something I have to do to keep my sanity.

With that in mind, I’d like to start consistently sharing with my small handful of faithful readers, where my true heart for writing came from.  I’ve posted a few poems on here before, but I’d like to make it a more regular occurrence. So I’m going to start a series title, “Lazy Saturday Poetry.”  One poem will be posted by yours truly at 12 pm Pacific Time every Saturday.

And when you read them, know that the writer your interacting with felt nothing but bliss and exhilaration as he wrote the words.  That he was refreshed and not drained as he hammered them out.  That even though writing his sports column was like doing layup drills, or writing about his faith felt like practicing free throws, or the short story your reading came from countless hours studying film– the poetry your taking in, was to him like all that hard work paying off as he took the court for the big game.

Below is the first ever edition of the Lazy Saturday Poetry series.  I wrote it in church last week.  It by no means stands out from the dozens of other poems I’ve written on this exact subject; trying to motivate myself to conquer my pride, and remind myself that only Jesus Christ has the power to do that.  But in a way it’s kind of a classic Charlie poem.  A good way to introduce you to my style: pure, flowing vulnerability.

Lately I’ve been trying to write some poems that have a rhyme scheme that’s more complex than my natural Mother Goose style.  I’ve been playing around with structure, punctuation and capitalization more, and learning how to make something flow that doesn’t necessarily rhyme, or at least rhyme all the time (you see, I can’t help myslef).  And though I’ve made strides in this department, I’ve come to the realization that sometimes a poet just needs to be true to himself and his natural style. I hope you enjoy it.

Why The Wine is Red 

See your face, and I shake like a quake.

The center of the flock breaks,

And the lambs disperse in every which way.

But the shepherd speaks a stern command:

We can be united again,

When you come back and feast from the palm of my hand.

Will you wait for me to find you or will you wander in the land?

If you’d ever stop screaming you could hear me calling back.

Calm down and come back.

You get a little closer with the tiniest of steps.

Deliverance will find you when you eat the bread,

And remember why that wine is red.

Go back to all the times where you thought your soul was dead.

And you prayed that sweetest phrase,

“I swear I’ll start living it.”

I don’t want another start, I just need another chance.

One more day to sing a song, strip off my clothes and dance.

Another night to ponder stars and praise how small I am.

I’m just a man without a plan because instead I chase my dreams,

That Christ would take my life until there is no more of me.

So I bid good riddance to that sore in my eye.

That swollen, black, pride.

Show, Don’t Tell– By: mOUNTbRENDON

 

There is statement that has become a cliche in about every writing class, seminar, workshop, etc. “Show, don’t tell.” It is perhaps the most significant advice a writer can receive, and I don’t think a writer can be reminded of this enough.

If you’re writing a poem about love…

Show, don’t tell.

If you’re writing a novel and want your main character to have a certain character flaw, say maybe obsessiveness…

Show his obsessiveness, don’t tell it.

If you’re writing a song about a man dealing with brokenness…

Show it, do not tell it.

It’s a simple statement, but it is extremely difficult to actually apply to your work. That is why we read Steinbeck, Frost, and listen to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. They mastered this craft and learned the art of great storytelling.

People respond and react to stories that give them the room to respond and react to. If you are telling a story and not showing a story, the audience is left little room to connect with it, and any  connection that is experienced is only surface-level.

Therefore, when you think of your life as a story, why would this not apply?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t say things, that would be severely misinterpreting the statement, but even when you do say things, you should be showing. If you want to help attract other people to live great stories and live a great story yourself, you must show and not tell.

I had the  fortunate to grow up under one of the best dad’s anyone could ever ask for. The guy radiates greatness and anyone who has been around him long enough to get insight into his character immediately recognizes this. He is a freaking general in Army National Guard. And anyone who has been around him at all, will also realize that he is a man of few words. It’s kind of a Mount thing.

And so, growing up under his mentorship, leadership, example, etc. I was shown how to be a great man in a way that telling never could have equalled. I think I owe a lot of my understanding of this concept to him.

One of my fondest memories of him was when we were preparing for what was called the Half Pint Rodeo. I think I was around twelve years old at the time, maybe slightly younger, and this was my second year participating. The previous year, I had won what was the equivalent to the middle-weight event, the shetland pony, bare-back riding event. There was also the sheep riding and the cow riding. Looking at it now, the cows probably didn’t do a whole lot of bucking, but at the time, they jumped ten feet in the air with every stride. I was terrified of getting on one of them, but my dad knew that I was capable. He tried to talk me into it, but I wouldn’t budge.

“They’re HUGE,” I said something along the lines of. “I like the size of the shetland ponies better.”

My dad knew that words just wouldn’t do it, so he jumped on the back of the cow, grabbed the rope, and had his friend open the gate. He rode that thing like it was child’s play.

Unfortunately, I still didn’t budge, so it was all for nothing aside from a good laugh from all of us bystanders. I still regret not even giving it a try, especially now that I realize the implications of his actions. But it was just one small example of millions other like it.

And it was because of such actions, that I was able to see what he was serious about. It’s one thing to tell your kid that you’re proud of them for the numerous hours spent in the driveway playing basketball, it is another thing to try and learn the sport yourself when it was something you had very little knowledge of beforehand, so that you can show your support and your pride.

And I am ever thankful for that. Because I think I responded to such actions in a way that, at the time I couldn’t explicitly recognize.

Every little boy wants to be just like his dad. My dad may not have articulated what his values in life were as much as other dads, or what he might have wanted mine to be, but he was an expert of showing me those values.

And in not being explicitly told many things in life, I was forced to observe and to think about his actions. The moralities taught by my dad did not go in one ear and out the other, instead they started with my eyes and became deeply rooted in my brain. They became something more than language could articulate, which motivated me to live not by words, but by action, something I’m still and always will be trying to improve on.

I think that’s what well-told stories do and why I have found a love for reading. There is no music to queue you when to feel empathy and sadness for the characters. There are no special effects that allow you to sit back and have the intentions of its makers thrust upon you like a giant queue card. The readers are trusted to make that connection themselves. You put yourself into the story and that story, in a sense, becomes a part of you and vice versa. You invest yourself into it.

It’s personal and it’s intimate.

As a result, the influence is stronger and, once again, more deeply rooted.

There is a youtube video that has gone viral the past week or so. It is a man reciting a spoken-word poem. It’s title is Jesus > Religion. I think that this is what he is trying to get across and why it’s topped over fifteen million views. Because he is calling people, amongst other things, to show and not tell.

There seems to be a subtle movement creeping out of the American Christian church, because people are sick of others talking about being “a good Christian” and talking about loving others as they love themselves.

They long to for it to be shown.

Talk alone is not genuine, just look at politicians.

Actions are genuine, and that is where a large portion of the church has begun to fail. Because no one on the outside of any way of life where talk trumps action wants to join in.

Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see.” The key word is “be.” The more individual stories we have like my dad, where showing takes priority over talking, the more we are inspired to do the same and the quicker this overall story improves.

And so, my message to you,

Show.

Don’t just tell.