7.2 A Glimpse at “We Are But Ghosts On Film”

In the course of writing Post Marked Pipers’ Reach, Jodi and I wrote a series of unrelated stories for a Form and Genre Challenge. Unbeknownst to me, the titular character, Charlotte McKay, was in fact Ella-Louise. Charlotte McKay was the name Ella-Louise used when working undercover.

The short stories “What I Left to Forget” and “The Photographer’s Concerto” explored the relationship between Charlotte and Jakob, the guitarist for an up-an-coming grunge band, Soul Monkey Momento, who were set to explode in Australia and overseas. I had no idea I was writing stories that were connected to the wider world of Piper’s Reach at the time.

There is a mention of Jakob and the band in the letters between Ella-Louise and Jude, but the focal point for me in creating a new story was when Ella-Louise returned to Melbourne with the hope of catching up with members of Soul Monkey Momento. I had the two short stories, and the connection between Charlotte and Jakob, yet I was interested in what had happened to the rest of the band since the death of Jakob, and Charlotte’s sudden reappearance, particularly as it affected the drummer, Mitch.

Charlotte McKay was a separate entity to Ella-Louise, another incarnation of who she was, and I wanted to explore the impact of her life on another person. Who are we in the gaps and silences of life? Is there redemption in asking for forgiveness? Or condemnation? Can you make amends for a past that was of your making, and not of your own making? Can you be forgiven for what you did? Do you want forgiveness?

I’ve written the novella and am now in the process of rereading, editing and rewriting for submission.

WE ARE BUT GHOSTS ON FILM

CHAPTER 3

Mitch sits behind the kit and plays the song Jakob wrote for Charlotte. She sings it with fragile tenacity and the years peel back. There is the sound of heartbreak in her voice, not the passionate declaration of adoring lust. This was a song wrought out of intense passion and sung with desperate longing. And it was beautiful. It is still beautiful.

Flip the record and the B-side is another single; a cover song or an alternate take. This is the A-side: Jakob died and Charlotte disappeared. The B-side is a gap of fifteen years, three bands, and one heartbreaking event ago. And yet she is here, on stage, singing the same song.

The crowd erupts, witness to a moment they believed they would never see again.

Josh yells over the adoring crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, CHARLOTTE MCKAY!”

Eyes focused downward, she waves to the crowd who respond in ecstasy.

Mitch yellS after her. “Charlotte.”

She turns, hand still grasping the microphone.

“Hang around, will you?”

She nods, caught under the gaze of the spotlights, and smiles but Mitch doubts she will stick around to the end of the set. He watches her drop off the stage, pick up her camera and slip in the shadows between the stage and the barrier. During the rest of the set he keeps an eye out for her but does not see her.

The remainder of the set plays out as planned, held together by the moment of remembered bliss, yet even as the house lights come up and the sound guy starts playing Tears For Fears, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” they begin to forget. Her presence as illusory as shadow; a by-line in a gig review a week later no one will read, as the only proof she ever existed.

She’s there. In the corner of the green room, tucked into a dingy sofa. Camera curled into her lap like a cat.

“Fuck me; Charlotte McKay,” said Mitch. There is a shift in the shadows, wrapping them around her shoulders again as if a spotlight was turned on her, suddenly the focus of attention from Mitch and the other members of the band. Always that shadow covering her heart in layer upon layer.

“Mitch.” From the sofa she stands and slips her arm around his waist, the other over his shoulder.

“Watch it. Bit sweaty.”

The embrace was familiar and awkward, like the distance of time made the pieces of the puzzle not fit correctly; edges mangled or new hollows carved out. There’s an apology in the embrace, and a longing for forgiveness.

Where to from here? Mitch wondered as he felt her embrace loosen and they stepped back from one another, afraid to cross the chasm without the certainty of an anchor point to pull himself up should they fall.

The phantom made real in a pair of dark jeans, boots and black t-shirt. And the camera strap straddling her neck as she cradled the camera like a child in the womb. She looked down, as if she were sizing up this older version of Mitch who was transposed over the younger incarnation.

As she stepped forward again into the gap, Mitch involuntarily moved to step back.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“For what?”

“For just then. Making you step back. Afraid of who I am, what I might be. Sorry for turning up, unannounced. Sorry for disappearing.”

He ran his hand across the stubble on his face and wiped the sweat from the hollow of his neck before wiping it dry on the seat of his jeans. “Apology accepted.”

“Thank you.”

Across the deepest chasm Mitch took a step to embrace Charlotte. A moment for initiating reconciliation and remembrance. She raised her head from his chest. “You never kept a grudge?”

“No need to. It was never your fault.”

Mitch shifted his weight from one foot to the other and let Charlotte slip out of his arms and went to the table on the other side of the room. “Come on. Let’s get you a beer.”

“What are you not telling me?”

“I doubted you existed. You only existed in my memory because the photos you took are proof. Without the photos you’re a ghost; you’re even a ghost behind the camera.”

“You can’t prove I took them. Therefore, I don’t exist.” A slight smirk played at the edge of her lips as if the comment was both self-effacing and self-defeating. “If you don’t remember who took them, I don’t exist.”

“But I do remember. And I won’t forget. So, you do exist. Even if you’re not around.”

“Will you remember me when I’m gone?

“I never forgot. I will always remember.” Mitch twisted the cap off the bottle, tossed it loosely in his hand. “You’re always welcome here. Where are you staying?”

“Somewhere local.”

“Staying long?”

A shake of the head.

“You got time to come back and catch up tonight?”

“I can arrange something.”

“What’s your number and I’ll text you the address.”

“I’m not operating a phone at the moment.”

“Hang on.” Mitch steps out of the room and back to the stage, ferrets in his stick bag for a pen, grabs the scrunched set list from underneath his hi-hat stand and scribbles his address on the back.

Charlotte was where he had left her, the afterimage of a flash popping in his face. He hands her the set list.

“Just like old times,” she says.

3.3 A Deeper Discipline

For those of us who hike, or garden, or take long bike rides, we are deeply aware that there are two types of hikers, gardeners, and cyclists.

The first type is in it for the destination, whether that be a summit 26 miles away, a synchronized garden that maximizes each hour of sunshine without taxing the soil too much from its neighboring plants, or the end of a century ride that takes you around some of this world’s greatest natural wonders.

These types have their head down and are focused on what awaits them at the end of the journey. They are immensely happy (and proud) of their accomplishment, as they should be. They talk about what they might do differently to shave off a few minutes, or maximize the oxygen for the snap peas. It’s all about destination, and they are proud of crossing that finish line, regardless of the form it might take.

The second type is in it for the journey. They meander through the woods, observing the different bird calls, the tracks on the trail, and the variations of vegetation to discern exactly what kind of wildlife are nibbling at its branches.

The gardener embraces the feel of the soil on his finger tips as he digs a hole for a new seedling. He might even talk to it, breathing a little security-blanket oxygen its way.

The cyclist knows she has until 8 p.m. to reach her destination, so she wanders through the small towns, talking to the locals about what makes their little communities so personable, so resistant to the buzz of the bigger cities around them.

In short, this second type savors every step of the journey, and when they finally reach their destination, they are rich in telling stories about what they experienced along the way. There is no talk of the next trip or what they could do differently. To them, they are too immersed in the now, holding on to the words they shared with once-strangers.

When it comes to writing and discipline, I’ve been a little of both, and not necessarily for the right reasons.

The first type of disciplined writers have deadlines; they are focused, and they “put butt in chair” when they are supposed to. They turn in their work with confidence that they wrote a good piece, but they equally allow a smile to linger, knowing they made their deadlines — their destination — on or ahead of schedule.

Head down, do the work, meet the deadline. All good.

The second type of disciplined writers, however, don’t really do any of the things the first type does, except make (most) of their deadlines (more on this a bit later). These creatives are highly disciplined, but they are also a little scary. Let me explain.

It takes great discipline as a writer, as a creative, to “let go” in the journey of writing or creating, where there is room to wander with the characters or the image to see where they (or it) will take you. You remain fully immersed, disciplined, and focused; getting to the destination, however, might take a little longer than anyone might have liked.

And to you, that’s just fine.

Being disciplined in our writing, our creating, does not necessarily have to have that “get the job done” mentality. There is great and wondrous discipline in staying immersed in your work, expending insurmountable amounts of energy with the characters, and seeing where they take you in the story.

Ultimately, it’s being mindful enough to strike that balance between the two.

I’ve done solo projects with each approach, and I’ve learned from these experiences that there is nothing black and white about discipline when you are creating.

When our heads are down, we’re missing the little nuances that lead us to greater discoveries; likewise, when we let go entirely to see where the characters take us, we often find ourselves too far away from where we began, and with little hope or direction of finding our way back on to the blazed path that leads us to our natural and eventual home.

Understanding the deeper significance of our discipline allows us to let go, play, but stay close to the trail that leads us to our story’s natural conclusion. We need to be aware of what type of discipline we use in our crafting, and when.

And, as important, we cannot allow one form to tell the other that it is the lazy way out, or the wrong approach, or the wrong time. It’s important to get to the end, but it’s equally important to be deeply mindful of the journey along the way.

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity #8

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity (#SRAOC) is a weekly invitation to explore a word, or phrase, through whichever creative avenue, platform or modality the participant wishes. It is intended to be a philosophical or creative catalyst moreso than a straight up writing prompt.

Small

Make it accessible for yourself. Easeful. Invite yourself into a place and a space free from the pressure of overwhelm. Pressure to perform. Keep it simple. Small is not subjugation. Small is not less than. Small carries a power all of its own. Gift yourself 5 minutes. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be anything more.

Rebellious

Rebel against apathy, procrastination, perfection, self contempt, self doubt, lack of confidence, lack of time, other people’s antagonism, lack of belief, the voice of the inner critic, and anything else that wants to tell you ‘no’. Flip the bird at your Imposter Complex. Interrogate. Innovate. Initiate. This is a space for saying yes.

Act Of

Do. Doable. Doing. Done. Even if it’s five bed-headed minutes, on a Wednesday morning, with your first infusion of caffeine for the day, tapping a list of ten things into your phone. Make a space. Fill it.

Creativity

Make something from nothing. Anything. The possibilities are endless. Draw. Paint. Build. Dance in the shower. Play. Howl. Doodle. Bake. Cut up poetry. Block out text. Collage magazine pictures. Snap a photograph. Garden. Read something aloud. Send someone a card. Make a digital mash-up. Create a playlist. Hum a song. Journal. Daybook. Write a list. Instagram a favourite quote. Play the instrument you have buried away in your cupboard.

This week’s invitation is…

We will be back Sunday to share our meanderings and renderings and to see where ‘transcendence’ took you during the week.

Words As . . . Oxygen

As an older writer, and as a teacher of students of various ages, I have the unique perspective of viewing life in the dreams whispered of the young in early spring, in the struggles of the middies in the summer sun, and in the regrets of the elders as autumn falls. One thread is common among all three: the desperate dream of returning to uninhibited innocence and an abundance of creativity — both seemingly, always a touch beyond the grasp.

The reasons, as you might imagine, are the usual suspects as captured by my college writing students: a lack of time and money, the demands of domesticity and jobs, and life-defined priorities.

Their stories began with vibrant images in early youth, where they embraced an exhilaration to create: write, paint, sing, dance, build, bake. But something happened around the age of 8 or 9. Their pure connection to creativity was interrupted by classrooms as darker spaces of evaluation, where test-taking judgments replaced the free-flow of creativity.

By the time students reach the end of their essays reflecting on their education, the writing is tired, even labored, as they lament the loss of the good old days and whimsical risks with the arts.

“Life just gets in the way,” one student wrote. “I hope to find myself in one of those arts and craft stores some day, pick out a sparkly purple journal like the one I used to have, and write every now and then. That would be nice.”

I witness the life draining out of their words. What started as a bubbly youthful enthusiasm filled with color and possibility morphs into — time and time again — a tired maturity hooked up to a dented half-empty tank of oxygen trying to supplement the breath of life that once came instinctively.

Why have we programmed our culture of educational nurturing and extension to debase  creativity as secondary to evaluation and data collection? The former does not need to be replaced by the latter; if we are to recognize and celebrate the power of creativity in the very young, why must we dismiss it in increasing measure as we grow up, demoting it to a sub-classification of “hobby” or something we do when time permits?

I think it’s time to change that classification; as we get older, we must embrace the essential role creativity plays in our lives as the vital oxygen we need to thrive, both domestically and professionally.

I am heartened by two of my former students who have proclaimed their love and devotion to creativity.

Lacey, who graduated in 2006, was on the verge of becoming one of those oxygen-supported creatives in high school, but she embraced the concept of the daybook — a daily journal — and felt the surge of energy every day when she put the pen to the paper to write.

“At the end of the year, I couldn’t stop,” said Lacey. “I can’t imagine not writing in my daybook anymore than I can imagine not breathing.”

Ruthie is another model for all of us. She graduated from high school in ’14, and just a few days ago, I happened upon her Etsy page for handmade pottery.

Ruthie? I couldn’t recall a single art class she had taken in high school. Her world was sports and graphic design; I had no idea how she had turned to spinning and creating beautiful mugs and bowls out of circuitous touches on wet clumps of clay.

I purchased one of her mugs and we reunited yesterday morning. As I drank a bold, black roast from the hand-crafted mug, she explained that the BFA program she was in at Salisbury University, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, encouraged her to break out of her major and broaden her creativity with other art forms.

She beamed. Creating pottery is a very spiritual experience for her, and she’s opening her own studio — in addition to getting married and moving. These are the very things that “get in the way” for most of us. Ruthie, however, breathes deeply the oxygen provided by her creative acts. She has discovered a spiritual relationship with art, and  is now helping others bring creativity into their lives as an essential component to being.

This idea of creativity, of clay, of words being our oxygen reminds us that we need to recognize the powers and benefits we are afforded when we create daily. I know that I, like Lacey, cannot imagine life without words any more than I can imagine life without oxygen.

Create. Breathe. Live. Thrive. Let creativity be a priority in your life, one that fuels your domestic and professional acts and responsibilities. We are all born creative; it is our charge to nurture it at all costs, across our entire lives.