how strange the blank page
how strange the blank page
how strange the blank page
readers sample grief
wade ankle deep in longing
hold love in their palm
only the writer succumbs
becomes the other in truth
“I was enjoying my usual immunity while working, my invisibility to Chilton and Graham and the staff, but I was not comfortable in the presence of Dr. Lecter, not sure at all that the doctor could not see me.”
– Thomas Harris, Forward to a Fatal Interview, Red Dragon
the beast writhes within
restless and ravenous thing
with a blow, bone splits
and so in a fit of petulant despair the creator extends one hand and rains down wrath and ruin upon the land, summoning the seas, dragging down the skies, razing and salting the wasteland earth in an altar sacrifice to appease for a moment the yawning emptiness which is blood, bone, soul deep
[ WRITER ANGST. Uugghhh. ]
I dressed you in silk
crowned you in silver and gold
and for what, darling?
tragedy loves best the blessed
for they fall farthest of all
This is the scene I can never quite bring myself to write. The difficulty itself isn’t daunting; it’s just hard for me to commit words to something so central to the story, so pivotal in the lives of my characters. I don’t know how many thousands of times I’ve imagined this moment yet every time the words, the gestures, the silences differ slightly and it feels wrong to make them so… official. There’s so much here to commit to text: Tanim revealing the past of sin and sex he finds so shameful, the sick desires he’s so sure will drive Daren away forever; and even more than this, the love he bears for Daren but would willingly ignore to keep the man in his life. And while Tanim is revealing all of these awful secrets, fearing that soon he will be alone again, he has no idea Daren has already chosen, and chosen him. But the man waits until Tanim has run out of words and stands braced for inevitable rejection before taking his hands, or maybe touching his cheek, and admitting his own burden. It isn’t easy for Daren to acknowledge something as intrusive as love even to himself, let alone to Tanim, yet he forces the words just the same. Doing so changes everything about their lives, their individual futures now forever intertwined for better and worse. I suppose in a way it is daunting, trying to do right by them, to honor this moment of such intense vulnerability and intimacy. Maybe one day I’ll manage it; until then I will let the fear and revelation and beautiful wonder of this scene remain theirs alone.
[ Although Tanim and Daren exist in hundreds, if not thousands, of different storylines spanning who knows how many genres, settings, and time periods, there’s one I consider the “main” or dominant storyline. This one has been around the longest, is the most established, and is the one which I write about most often. I decided since I refer to different parts of this storyline so much I ought to give my readers a basic outline of the whole story. ]
First, a brief sketch of Tanim and Daren’s lives before they meet. Tanim is born the eldest son of an affluent family steeped in the rules and trappings of high society. He is raised with the understanding that he will follow in his father’s footsteps and eventually take over as president of the company which his father himself built. Tanim begins his training from a young age and is in every way the obedient, proper son – that is, until in his late teens he begins to develop alarming, inappropriate desires. He feels a near constant longing to surrender himself that is at once sexual and yet transcends physical need and becomes something almost spiritual, an all-encompassing impulse to give every part of himself to another. Living with such a shameful secret becomes unbearable, and when Tanim’s father dies while his son is in his early twenties, Tanim chooses to flee the city and cut off all contact with his family instead of entering into the business. Ostensibly this is to protect his loved ones from any public humiliation should his proclivities ever become known, but it’s really to free him from his own responsibilities.
Daren, only a few years Tanim’s junior, leads a far different life from his high society counterpart. However, as Tanim (and therefore the reader) never learns the whole story, I’m not going to give it away here. Suffice it to say, experiences and circumstances in Daren’s childhood leave him emotionally scarred and physically damaged, so withdrawn from the world he barely bothers to function beyond immediate necessity. He is a cold, uncaring man who wants nothing and gives even less, who long lost the ability to fend off the nightmares of his past and now lives with their constant torment.
Tanim’s self-imposed exile to a city far from his own will eventually bring their worlds together. When they meet in that same city some years later, Tanim in his mid-thirties and Daren his early thirties, both are miserable yet unable, or unwilling, to change their situations on their own. For all that Tanim lives in a lavish penthouse apartment he has become a wreck and a recluse, spending half his time drowning his guilt in alcohol and sleeping pills, the other half in the arms of anonymous lovers. Daren, meanwhile, calls a dismal basement apartment home, or at least residence, and is too physically and mentally unstable to hold a job. They cross paths at a local coffee shop, though it’s Tanim who notices Daren, not the other way around. He keeps his distance for a while, yet finally manages to earn Daren’s trust enough to strike up a strange sort of friendship.
Over the next several months their relationship develops, both unwilling to admit to the other that they may want more than mere friendship. However, eventually Daren’s physical condition begins to deteriorate, as it does periodically. Not wanting Tanim to realize how precarious his situation is, Daren decides to end their acquaintanceship by abruptly cutting off contact with him. Predictably, this doesn’t go well. While Daren, unable to care for himself alone, slowly worsens, Tanim tries to numb his concern, confusion, and hurt with his usual mixture of alcohol and soporifics.
Things take a turn for the much worse when a week or two later Daren returns home to find he has been evicted from his apartment. With nowhere else to go, and still refusing to face Tanim in such a condition, he ends up on the street. When Tanim finds him a few nights later in an alley near his own apartment building, Daren is so feverish he’s senseless and nearly unconscious. Tanim manages to get Daren up to his apartment and nurses him back to health as best he can over the course of the next weeks. Eventually all of the unspoken, messy feelings between them come out and they decide to start an actual romantic relationship.
Barring the bumps expected from two damaged men trying to sustain a functioning relationship, their bond continues to strengthen and for the next year or so they’re relatively happy – or at least much less miserable than if they were alone. That is, of course, until Daren’s health begins once more to deteriorate, and with it his emotional stability. This time there is no nursing him back to health, though; he is on the downward slide now and all Tanim can do is care for Daren as his body slowly fails. After Daren’s death Tanim is left utterly bereft and lacks the will to fight such heartache. Succumbing to grief and loneliness, he follows his lover soon after.
[ If you actually read all of that, holy shit. Thank you, and I’m sorry. That really is the super super short version. ]
[ Warning: haiku dump. ]
this love/hate relationship
is more hate than love
wind brings clarity
in the distance mountains loom
sharp enough to cut
one cup buys a moment’s warmth
melts away winter
how hipster is this
sitting in a coffee shop
scribbling down haiku
words drift through lazy fingers
[ I often suspect writing is just someone's sick experiment to see how long it takes me to stare at a blank screen before I go completely crazy. It's not long. ]
Some aspects cannot be exorcised from the basic essence no matter the number of iterations, alterations, reincarnations undergone to reach the current state. Bound within the spiraled libraries of sleeping cells the original coding still remains preserved, latent possibility awaiting a will to unlock and unleash. I can see that potential in the darkness of his eyes, which once reached far deeper inside and yet still drew more into itself in mindless consumption; I can hear that potential in his voice, which recalls even now the ash and desolation which spread from his footsteps and poured out in each breath; I can feel that potential in his very presence, in the stillness of one who has seen and accepted his part in the end already, who has no concept of desire or drive and acts only to fulfill his purpose. That which was created to destroy cannot be turned to something other than its original function. As fire is made to burn, as the blade is made to pierce, so he remains a thing of waste and ruin even now, though on a more subtle scale. Yet you must admit there is a fitting beauty in the realization of his purpose, an elegant similarity in the equality of mass annihilation and the slow, orchestrated devastation of a single heart.
[ If you think the current version(s) of Daren already suggest a man at times not entirely stable or pleasant, you should have seen his very first incarnation way back in the beginning. He’s a kitten now compared to that. ]
“Why Do You Keep Staring At Me Like That? WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
like a fickle cat
the muse desires attention
yet swipes at fingers
The act of writing, of alteration, of creation, is in a way itself the act of worship, of prayer, of submission. Why need I my words upon the shelf or myself upon the pulpit? Do others’ eyes lend the text greater strength, the altar attune the ear of Providence more closely to my voice? I am one of the faithful no matter where I stand, be it before the congregation or within its gathering, and words given freely are no less true than ones hardbound and sold for a price. I am content to let those with louder voices than mine preach from their podiums; it is enough for me to create for the sake of creation, to write for the sake of words.
the writer draws to himself all manner of metaphysical flotsam and jetsam, the wayward spirits and homeless ideas that, drifting by, are caught in his gravitational pull and become satellites in orbit, left untouched on the periphery of consciousness to be studied for days or months or years until some spark of creativity flares and he snatches them down to dismantle, rework, trash some parts and steal others, melt and weld and polish until from this captured debris a new creation is sent forth once again into the oceanic universe
“Amber was the greatest city which had ever existed or would ever exist. Amber had always been and always would be, and every other city, everywhere, every other city that existed was but a reflection of a shadow of some phase of Amber. … Of Shadow I have this to say: there is Shadow and there is Substance, and this is the root of all things. Of Substance, there is only Amber, the real city, upon the real Earth, which contains everything. Of Shadow, there is an infinitude of things. Every possibility exists somewhere as a Shadow of the real.”
- Nine Princes in Amber, The Chronicles of Amber (Roger Zelazny)
There is a way to go “behind the scenes”, so to speak, to reach a disconnected meta-fragment. It does not function like a normal fragment; there is no definite setting, no passage of time, no fixed aspects beyond the unalterable definitions of its inhabitants – the characters, as they may be called. Instead, you might think of this place as a convergence of every other fragment, or perhaps their jumping off point, the original draft or line of code on which every new repetition is based. The nexus lies at the center of everything and from it every other fragment radiates outwards like the shards of a broken mirror, the reflection in each jagged piece altered slightly from its companions. The center is possibility and the fragments are its realization.
Only within this particular fragment does the fourth wall bleed and blur, allowing the scribe crossover in some revenant form, the observer made flesh outside itself. Only here does perception tear and fray, allowing the… muses, if you will, or characters, fictions, spirits… an awareness of their condition. In this place they, like the author, may stand at the center and gaze out over the myriad iterations of their own existence. Here a minor change, there a world so different their forms seem hardly recognizable; and yet still at that base level they and the story remain unchanged. Tragedy and betrayal reflected a thousand times in a thousand ways. It is a mercy, really, that they may only be privy to such knowledge in this one fragment. What must it be like to touch on your endless individual lives and know no matter how they differ, the end will always be of blood and sorrow?
[ P.S The Chronicles of Amber are fucking awesome, just FYI. ]
To understand the muse completely you must be willing to relinquish all claims to yourself. First your body dissolves, flesh and bone breaking down to scattered atoms which sink into the other’s form as if superimposed upon their own miniature solar systems. Then your conscious mind submits its individuality to embrace another’s and your own thoughts, desires, and memories are lost to a foreign stream of perception and reaction. Finally your subconscious mind concedes, the very core of your spirit extinguished before the will of a greater flame until even your name is lost. You surrender all physical and psychological identity to the other in order to become them completely, albeit temporarily. Their body, their mind, their spirit are all yours for a time and in that time you understand everything they ever were and ever will be. It is only after, when you have returned to your own mortal form, that you realize no amount of words can adequately reconstruct this other existence.
“Do Things Better, Dammit”
haiku are not meant
to be one broken sentence
you’re doing it wrong
[ My new writing pet-peeve is haiku that are really just one sentence broken up into lines based on syllable count irrespective of whether the final flow is actually poetic. I just feel each line should be able to stand alone as its own image, action, or concept. For example, “haiku are not meant” sounds incomplete on its own, doesn’t it? Or maybe I’m just a haiku bitch. XD But I’m not immune to this myself, so I’m working on it as well. ]
It’s not time.
Daren turns his gaze away from the sleeping man and down to the blade which rests easy in his hand. “Maybe I want to break the rules for once.”
For a moment he stares at the knife, almost as if wondering how it has come once again to his palm, then back to Tanim’s relaxed form. “No,” he concedes with a sigh. “I don’t have it in me right now. I’m tired of watching him die.”
You don’t have much choice.
His fingers twitch around the weapon. “Why not? It’s my doing, isn’t it? So what happens if I just… refuse? What happens if he doesn’t die this time?”
Death finds a way.
“You find a way,” he hisses, lips twisting into a bitter snarl.
I only write the story. I have no control. You know the rules as well as I do: no happy ending.
“I don’t want a happy ending anymore,” Resignation and weariness dull Daren’s words. “I just want an ending. I just want finality. Wouldn’t it be better if we both just… stopped? If we finally ended this awful cycle?”
Would an end to both your pain be worth losing him forever?
“…I suppose not,” He tosses the knife down with a rueful smile and reaches out to graze a finger along Tanim’s jaw. “I’m far too selfish for that.”
If the mind is like a house, full of hallways full of doors beyond which are rooms full of doors beyond which are hallways full of doors, what must it be like to exist within? To be one of the muses, characters, specters, revenants, fictions trapped with no physical form to call their own? They are not completely free to wander, after all; not all doors open to their touch nor do all realms permit entry. Do they put their palms to the unyielding wood and wonder what memories or fantasies lay beyond that will never be theirs? A better childhood, a different future, a chance to be someone or something else, if only temporarily? Or do they avert their eyes as they pass by, refusing to entertain such a futile dream? Not all things are possible, even in the mind, and so the spirits must remain themselves even here. We are only who we are.
To whom it may concern,
Please excuse Elyssa from all forms of social interaction for a period of no less than 7-10 days. Patient has what is commonly referred to as “writer’s block”, a severe medical condition which causes a variety of debilitating symptoms, including but not limited to:
Until such time as the condition is deemed to be in temporary remission it is best to avoid contact as much as possible. If interaction is necessary, approach with caution and fresh scones.
A scene raised to canon, replaying like a revenant trapped in a time loop: Tanim on one side of the door, barred from where Daren huddles on the bathroom tile beyond and “You okay?” Tanim asks, knowing the other is not, and is expectedly rebuked, “I’m fine. Go back to bed, Tanim,” Daren’s words thinner than usual as if it pains him to force them up his raw throat. “Come out here and prove it to me,” Tanim requests, patient as always even when longing to be back in bed for what’s the point if he returns alone? “Open the door, lovely.” But the voice brushes him off again, “It’s nothing, go to sleep,” to which he threatens, not unkindly, “If it’s nothing, then open the door. I’ll break it down if I have to; you know I will.” From beyond a sighed “You would, wouldn’t you,” and finally the latch is turned and the door swings open. Tanim swallows, finds and loses words, then, “When were you planning on telling me?” to which Daren only shrugs, “When you cornered me about it in the bathroom, I suppose.” It isn’t a surprise, of course, for Tanim has smelled the blood on Daren’s lips before, yet somehow the images conjured in his mind couldn’t match in either horror or resignation the reality of seeing the red smear on the man’s lips. Thrown off balance by this sudden confrontation with reality, Tanim forces a dutiful head shake and the promise so often repeated it’s lost all meaning, “It doesn’t matter right now, darling. Let’s just go back to bed.” Daren draws cracked lips back in a grimace, a smile, a winced admittance of inner agony, and admits, “To be honest, I’d rather get very, very drunk,” to which Tanim finds himself laughing, humorless though the sound, and agrees with private relief, “I think we can manage that.”
The sickness is a failsafe, the code to a sleeping virus written in my cells. Should I ever make the mistake of believing we stand even a remote chance, here at this most fundamental level is the proof of what we are: marked; condemned; ill-fated. There are countless fragments, after all, myriad lives which we play out to their inevitable end. It therefore stands to reason that in some incarnation destiny and random chance might intersect to create the possibility of perfection, a true ‘happy ending’ as they say. The basic rules of probability allow for such an event, even predict its occurrence. Of course this risk cannot be allowed, not for us, and so the disease lurks forever in my blood, awaiting the time it might awake, propagate, and decay me from the inside out. It is one constant in all the variations of our existence, as sure a thing as the love which lends it such destructive power. It is a reminder that no matter the circumstances, no matter how otherwise blessed we might seem this time around, the end will remain one of blood and abandonment; a promise that I will always be the one to leave, that he will always be the one left behind. There is no possibility of a happy ending for us.
[ Meta-Daren has a serious grudge against me whether I have any control over this story or not. Awkward. ]
gone bleak and silent
where is the demon when called?
[ Still in a Not Good Place writing-wise. Reader beware, you're in for like three more haiku at least. ]
filled to overflow
what other use the vessel?
I am ever yours
“Seriously, They’re Not That Great”
oh good, more haiku
clever shortened sentences
that’s just what we need
[ I mostly only write haiku when I’m having trouble with my real writing so I have a rather love/hate relationship with them. Mostly hate. ]
“At Muses’ Mercy”
hard to concentrate
Tanim and Daren distract
such ill-behaved boys!
[ Tanim and Daren give me a few hours peace at work, then about noon they get tired of being ignored in favor of meetings and productive things and start bugging me the rest of the afternoon. And yes, they employ some particularly despicable techniques to sway my attention. ]
wandering beneath the bled sun dusk with every step heart beats a thunder of a hundred lives lived at once impossibly contained within one set of ribs one mortal structure each step an ocean wave crashing down bearing in its white foam spirits trapped and restless desperate for freedom yet terrified of the great red beast on shore these beings dear as blood close as flesh beating the air and sky and rib-bone prison in ecstatic longing before the land dashes them to pieces and they are scattered back to the sea the way the harsh fluorescent light banishes the shadows the cacophony of impossible existences dulling to the banal beat of a solitary heart willing fingers too slow to capture what fragments the tide sucks greedily away
I am calling, calling now
Spirits rise and falling
[ "Inner Universe" from the anime series Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite songs to play (loudly) when out walking in the evening, especially when I need some writing inspiration. It was also playing on repeat when I wrote this piece. ]
“I’m sorry; I never meant for it to become this.”
My feeble apology is not half of what he deserves. Beside me my weary muse, my worn metaphor merely shrugs, resigned.
“Character is destiny.”
Should I be proud of the creation who goes willingly to his fate, or ashamed of myself for setting him to that course? Tell me, Lord, which were you?
a true writer knows
what story ends happily
has ended too soon
[ I’m not one of those “real writers do this and that” sort of people but you have to admit every story becomes a tragedy if taken to its farthest conclusion. …or do I just focus on character death too much? ]
Pencil and paper in hand, a much younger and geekier Elyssa sprawls in a maple tree’s cool shade while her fellow summer campers splash in the waves farther down shore. She isn’t much of an artist but is determined to master this “chibi” style popular among her equally geeky friends and so beneath the graphite a stranger is coming to life in hesitant strokes. She draws a line; erases; tries again; satisfied, moves on to the next. Over and over, perfecting, at least to her mediocre talents, her finest portrait yet. Once she deems it complete she holds the picture out to take in her new creation. As she stares at the boy smiling back from the page, a name comes to mind: Tanim.
She flips the paper over and takes pencil in hand again. He needs a friend.
Lounging in the shade that warm summer afternoon, my fourteen year old self could never have imagined that the characters she doodled to pass the time would eventually transform every aspect of her life and become an all-consuming passion. Today I’m proud to say that as of this August I have been writing about my ill-fated lovers, Tanim and Daren, for ten years. Where other creations have come and gone, brief players in momentarily amusing tales, these two have remained steadfast in my life, their vivid voices impossible to ignore. They bullied their way to the forefront of my mind and refuse to yield ground to anyone else now. I can’t say it bothers me, though. I feel honored to work with such complex, challenging characters and to bring their thoughts and experiences to life through my writing.
The most rewarding part of the last ten years has been watching Tanim and Daren change and grow as characters. Looking back, you’d be hard pressed to correlate those original characters with their current versions – and that’s a very good thing. I’ll admit Tanim and Daren’s earliest incarnations were heavily influenced by my love of terrible anime and cheesy fantasy novels. First, they were young; late teens instead of early to mid thirties. Second, their personalities were fairly two dimensional, a flaw I attribute primarily to my inexperience as a writer. Tanim was the happy, outgoing, popular one of the Best-Friends-Forever duo; Daren was quiet, introverted, and tragically unlucky. Third, and most embarrassing to my older self, their story was riddled with every anime cliché possible. I won’t go into details but suffice it to say they would have been right at home in any poorly dubbed Saturday morning anime like Card Captors and Yu-gi-oh. Also, Daren may have had magic powers. (Don’t worry, I cringe looking back on that too. Every writer has to start somewhere, though, right?)
Of course, Tanim and Daren are nothing like those original characters now. They’re older, more realistic and relatable, and blessedly magic free (most of the time). The basics of their personalities remain – Tanim’s kindness and humor, Daren’s cold exterior and troubled past – but they are far more nuanced. Both are burdened by different yet equally complicated issues that have slowly shaped them into the flawed, struggling men they are now. All of these changes have occurred organically over the years, most of them unexpected though always intriguing. I don’t control the story; the characters do. I only sit back and let the narrative unfold and try to keep up with my pen. It was Tanim and Daren, not myself, who chose to take the leap from friends to lovers, a decision which forever altered the very nature of their shared existence. As silly as it might sound, I’m so proud of the men Tanim and Daren have become. They are entirely their own creatures, as imperfect and unique as any of us.
To commemorate this anniversary I commissioned three portraits of Tanim and Daren from Megan Engel, an incredibly talented artist who captured their likenesses and personalities perfectly. The first of the three portraits is below (click for a higher resolution), the others forthcoming because I want to space them out. I’m so delighted with these pictures; no matter how much I write, it’s still nice to have something visual as accompaniment. A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words. Plus, doesn’t Daren look like he could totally fuck you up?
Lastly, I’d just like to thank everyone who has supported my writing over the years. It’s been a rough road and I wouldn’t be at the level I am now without the friends, both in real life and online, who encouraged my passion through a genuine interest in my characters. And by “encouraged” I of course mean allowing me to babble for hours like a proud mother… or perhaps an especially enthusiastic stalker. Writers can’t afford to live in a bubble; we need others to rant at, to commiserate with us, and off whom to bounce ideas both terrible and brilliant. I’m blessed to have friends willing to put up with all three, and everything else Tanim and Daren throw my way.
The past ten years have been one hell of a ride. Today I’m lifting my glass in toast to the next ten. May they bring me as many surprises, joys, sorrows, frustrations, and laughter as their predecessors.