Friday, July 29, 2016

Ripples

Now Playing: X Ambassadors - Renegades

Water was always an important motif of Millennium Girl. 

It was accidental at first, then it kept resurfacing the more the story unfolded. As I wrote on, it came down to one image: crossing worlds as one would cross an ocean. In rewrites, I've managed to incorporate it more. Seeing as the story now officially takes place in Chicago, I figured it'd be rude to ignore Lake Michigan.

I have a scene where Lilith runs out to the Lakefront Trail after a somewhat frightening (if brief) encounter. It's after midnight and so quiet that all she hears is the lapping waves and her own strained breathing. The water is pitch black, somehow darker than the sky. She stares out to the specks of light on the horizon. Off to her left, far in the distance, the skyscrapers of Downtown Chicago are lit, their reflections on the lake trembling.

I added that scene a while ago. Haven't gone back to reread it yet, because rereading it means editing and I need to push forward for this round.

Then last night, Red--the boy of colors and rain--drove me to a spot in view of the Biscayne Bay, in one of those neighborhoods that force you to notice the beauty of perfectly constructed homes. At the end of the road--after a dozen or so houses that, as he pointed out, grew grander the farther we traveled--there was a secluded little beach crowded with rocks and algae.

It was after midnight, silent except for the black water crashing against the rocks on the shore. We tried to climb those rocks (swaying and unstable) under the blinking eye of a lighthouse or a boat--just another speck of light on the horizon. To our left were the skyscrapers of Downtown Miami, illuminated, their reflections somewhat faded by the great distance but trembling nonetheless.

As I stood there, trying to maintain my balance and separate the dark water from the night sky, I thought about the only book I'll ever write that will take place in Miami. And I imagined Ramin--of Death Awakens--bringing Lola there for the first time. It'd be on a school night, during the late hours that blur two days into one and somehow speed up time so you don't notice when Thursday ended and Friday begun. I'd give them a bottle of Jack Daniel's and a joint (just the one), and Ramin would open with a variation of the amusingly morbid line Red used when he was bringing me over the greenery and past the No Trespassing sign. "So if you ever need a place to murder someone . . . ."

Today, I was drafting Lola's scene based off my recollections from the night before. Halfway through that, I remembered Lilith's and the details I focused on.

It's a moment that connects us now, Lilith, Lola, and I. And it's very strange because two of us aren't real and the one who should have been leading ended up in the middle. I have never seen Lake Michigan, never been to Chicago, so every single description I incorporated in that scene was built off research and photographs shared on the internet by strangers. But if I'm very, very, very lucky, both Lilith and Lola will have their stories published, and if I'm infinitely luckier, someone will read both books, one after the other.

So I wonder if that hypothetical reader will notice a parallel, and I wonder if they'll think it was intentional.

It made me think of something else. It's a small, inconsequential example that doesn't mean much on its own, but I think it's still applicable.

There are a lot of narratives about the creative process. The way this plays out according to those narratives is as such: Red takes me to the secluded beach with the murmuring black water, and I write about it for two heroines in completely different situations, completely different cities, completely different worlds.

Those narratives and cliches about the creative process are often wrong. It's silly to think the only way one can write about something is to first experience that something. Writers draw from real life inspiration all the time, but the human mind is capable of a great deal of imagination. And through that imagination, a great deal of perspective.

I have a lot left to experience, and while I'm sure those experiences will influence my writing, it's also nice to know I haven't necessarily needed them yet. I haven't needed to live through a million different moments to ensure I could write. If anything, the writing came first, and life came second, and I appreciate it all the more in that order.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

First Wave

Now Playing: Low Roar - I'll Keep Coming

The other night, I fell asleep to the sound of the 45 minutes suicide cassette tape recorded by the Peoples Temple in Jonestown.

I didn't mean to fall asleep to it. But I couldn't sleep at all. I was starting to get sick--stuffy nose and constant coughing--and it kept me up. The white noise of my fan wasn't helping and I didn't want absolute silence, so I decided to put something on in the background.

Earlier Ren had linked me to the Museum of Death in Hollywood. She told me about it knowing I'd love to visit, and whilst reading the info page, I remember thinking it was very strange that they had the Heaven's Gate cult recruitment video up on display but there's no mention of the Jonestown death tape. Both of those are easily accessible, I think, but the latter is much more well-known. Why play one over the other?

As I started to think about Jonestown again, I realized I actually didn't know all that much about it--just some basic facts. I searched and bookmarked a documentary to check out later. Whilst I was having trouble falling asleep, I put it on. Because it was on YouTube, as soon as it was over, the death tape video started on the autoplay. I came in and out of sleep to it, listening to Jim Jones ramble on and on about "revolutionary suicide." Listening to the few who tried to speak up against him but were swiftly silenced. Listening to children crying and screaming as they were forced to drink the poison.

Not long before, my brother shared a secret with me, hesitantly, partially. He said so little--more alluded to the details than confirmed or denied anything--that I didn't have a way to respond. He didn't want to talk about it and it wasn't right to push him. In an effort to shut my mouth and leave him be, I left the room, huddled beneath my blankets, and watched Cannibal Holocaust. Because I'd never seen it in full. It didn't take my mind off what my brother had told me, but it helped keep me quiet.

I don't get when or where this obsession with the macabre bloomed. I'm tempted to say it's always been a part of who I am.

There's a version of me that lingers at the edges of my mind. In the sense that I think of her in blips, though she's always there--the girl I was at the age of eight. Afraid of the dark, prone to crying at ghost stories and scary moments in movies, raised on the paranoid belief that walking through the streets of Quito was inherently dangerous and that at any given point, someone, somewhere, could and would hurt her if given the chance. I remember that she was also the girl who begged to listen to those ghost stories. Who was fascinated that first time Dad spoke about El Monstruo de Los Andes. Who believed in demons and angels and spirits wholeheartedly, but who didn't understand death because--even some time after her grandmother passed away--it never felt like a real concept.

To be fair, it still doesn't. It's too far away. Hasn't touched me, hasn't even passed by me.

I have memories of my grandmother, including the last time I saw her. In her house, at the doorway, saying goodbye to her children and grandchildren before she left for the hospital. I have a memory of the aftermath of her death: the adults sitting on all sides of her dining room table. Hands clasped, shaking, silent cries, worry lines carved across their faces. And the children running around, asking for bread because we were hungry, uncaring and unconcerned for why we'd all come to meet there. I learned years later the reason for that meeting--my aunts, uncles, and parents needed to discuss my grandmother's passing and what it meant for the entire family--but in the moment, it didn't make any sense. I didn't know she died. If they told me, I think I brushed it aside, not even capable of understanding it in theory.

When my grandmother died, I was too young to comprehend it. It couldn't affect me. Since then, every death I've come across--classmates, family members, acquaintances--has felt very distant, two or three or five degrees removed from where I am.

It seems like a lot of people develop a healthy fascination with morbid subject matters because it helps them accept the reality of death and tragedy. Helps them embrace the fleeting nature of life and all its joys and pains. Can't say whether or not it's the same with me. If I'm trying to understand something that hasn't yet been able to reach me. Or if this is my way of preparing.

I don't think I've become desensitized to tragedy. You always hear from critics of our modern age that easy access to graphic violence--whether fictional or non--has made my entire generation apathetic and detached. I disagree. At least on a personal scale.

I don't read about Amy Lynn Bradley's disappearance or look at photographs of Jack the Ripper's victims and come out numb. It all frightens me more than you think and I'm not trying to get over that fear. I let it linger, feeding it again and again with more stories, and tapes, and documentations.

It's not apathy I'm trying to induce. Or caution as I previously thought. But I can't say it's acceptance either. I don't want to resign myself to these tragedies, to just accept that horror as an unavoidable part of humanity.

I gather these stories and these images--and lock them away in little memory boxes--and sometimes I wonder what they're leading up to. If they're leading up to anything at all.

(And if you want to go to the Museum of Death with me, go ahead and ask. I'll hold your hand through it. Or maybe I'll need you to hold mine. Start to finish).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ephemeral

Now Playing: The Mountains - The Valleys

A little over a month ago, this man boarded the bus with a box full of roses--four for five dollars--and for whatever crazy coincidence, I had cash on me.

I never have cash on me. I can't even remember why I had dollar bills--I think I withdrew twenty dollars so I could buy something from the hot dog stand by the bus stop and then I kept carrying the change around for future hot-dog-stand purchases.

I know cut flowers don't last at all and I didn't--and still don't--know how to take care of them or even how to dry them properly. But I bought a small bouquet from the man because I liked the idea that I was in a place of my life where I could give away money for something that'll wither away in weeks, if not days.



I don't have a vase at my house because my parents aren't Plants for Decoration People (not even with fake plastic plants. Only fake greenery we have is our Christmas tree). So I looked up a WikiHow article, trimmed the stems at an angle, grabbed a thermos,  filled it with water, and added a spoonful of brown sugar because I'd read the flowers would appreciate that.


I set them by my pile of library books, and a day later, a tiny spider appeared by my window.

I named him Hector because he kinda looked like a Hector and decided not to disturb him because it looked like he was admiring my flowers. Few days later I saw him hanging out above my shower curtain, and while I don't think badly of spiders, they do freak me out. Reading too much about them or seeing pictures of spiders gives me chills all over and my brain starts hallucinating that there are teeny, tiny spider legs crawling over my arms and legs.

But I didn't have time to freak out or find the polite way to get Hector out of there before taking a shower, so I kinda let him hang around while I got ready for work.

When I came back home that afternoon, he was by the balcony window, on the other side of the glass. I lied down by the window and watched him for a moment, noting how it looked like he was floating above the landscape. I'm certain it was Hector--same shape, same weird pattern on his body, same size. I remember thinking it was kind of amazing such a tiny creature had crossed the entire apartment, but when I commented that to my brother, he just said, unimpressed, "He had all morning to get there."

I've seen Hector a couple of times since. Him or his doppelganger. Usually by the balcony window, separated by the glass. The flowers are dead now--I think they lasted me something like two or three weeks--but Hector comes and goes. He hasn't gone back to my room, though, and I'm thinking it's because I don't have anything beautiful there for him.

It's kind of strange. Spiders are really off-putting and I can't get close to him because the way he moves and looks freak me out a bit. I can't even take a picture of him. But I wish I had more flowers for him.

I liked the idea of being in a position where I didn't have to double think spending five dollars for four dying roses. But I like the idea of befriending a spider and buying roses for him even more.

Too bad the man in the bus only sells mangos as of late.

I wonder if the roses weren't selling very well.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Gossamer Rain

Now Playing: Nine Inch Nails - The Day The World Went Away (Still)

When we studied Shakespeare in ninth grade, I was one of those weirdly elitist kids who took pride in "knowing" what the real message of Romeo and Juliet was.

Maybe it wasn't unfounded. I watched Shakespeare in Love and I read New Moon and I heard the play be discussed by classmates; every time someone called it the most romantic story ever written, I did audible gags to ensure everyone knew how smart I was and how I "got" what it was trying to say.

In reality, I never reached any kind of conclusion about the play that I didn't already hear from someone else. It was also that, at fourteen, I understood what love was in theory. I understood that Love at First Sight was an impossibility, because love was this complicated, intense, powerful feeling you could only reach once you truly knew someone. You could never love someone you just met because you could never know who they truly were, what they wanted, how they behaved, their best, their worst. If you couldn't love a person's flaws, you couldn't love that person.

So I didn't know yet what "love" felt like, but I knew how to define it. Of course Romeo and Juliet wasn't about "real" love. They were too young, it was too quick. Infatuation isn't love and Shakespeare knew it and he's been widely misinterpreted, but I understood.

I knew better.

A few months into ninth grade, I started speaking with a guy who was four years my senior. He lived far away, but it didn't stop him from filling my head with sweet compliments and endless possibilities--about me, about us. He could be sweet and he had this air of superiority that ensured his infatuation with me became flattering; like only I was smart and intriguing enough to draw in his favor. Eventually, as things got more complicated between us, when he started on the insults and the aggression, I had this delusional sense of control. He could insult me, but it was okay, because I was strong enough to take it. He could trash my values and ideas, berate people who were like me or who shared my circumstances, and set me up to earn his affection--and it was okay, because I wouldn't let it get to me or I could take on the challenge. He would threaten suicide often and vacillate about the tragic circumstances surrounding his affection for me and how it was better to leave him but also how I saved him and believed in him, etc, etc, and it was like the difficulty of our relationship made it all the more real. I could truthfully, wholeheartedly, reassure him I would never leave him. Because I loved him.

I learned his flaws. His indecisiveness about us, his lack of empathy for others, his self-assurance to the point of delusion; I loved him with those imperfections. Which isn't to say I thought they didn't matter or that--as the cliche goes--they made him perfect. There was plenty about him that I hated. Mostly I hated how dismissive he was of my fears and my struggles. Because he wasn't apathetic towards them, he was more condescending, like it was all so silly compared to his own struggles.

But even with that, I did love him.  And he loved me too. This widely insecure, naive, directionless teenage girl. I figured we were perfect for each other because we were the right kind of fucked up for each other.

I was wrong, of course. It took me a while to see how destructive his words were. Took me even longer to realize a lot of his manipulative tactics and aggressive behavior could be labeled as abusive.

But the thing is, I've never questioned what we had together. I've never thought back on that relationship and concluded, "that wasn't love."

It probably wasn't given people's definition of what "real" love is. Love is respecting each other, caring for each other, wanting one another to be happy. Before I broke things off with him, there was a lot of hostility between us. More so than there had been in the beginning of our relationship. It's harder to manipulate a sixteen-year-old than it is to manipulate a fourteen-year-old, so when I truly did start fighting back, I managed to hurt him. Maybe not as much as he had hurt me, but enough that it made a difference.

Yet I'm sure a part of me still loved him through that, just as he loved me. Even at our worst, I know we loved each other. Even when I can label him as abusive, I can still say I loved him.

I was thinking about it on Wednesday.

Or no. Actually. I thought about it on Thursday. It was, after all, Thursday morning by the time I got back home and had time to consider it all.

Wednesday I dragged a boy I like--a boy who talked about cities and their colors with me, who gave me a Harley Quinn plushie--to the movie theater. Mostly to escape the horrifying Miami summer for a few hours. Near the end of that movie, he told me he wanted to say something but he was afraid it might scare me off. I thought this isn't going where I think it's going and encouraged him to just spit it out.

Then it went exactly where I thought it was going.

I heard his heart and I felt it too, hammering hard against his chest. He was trembling a little, and I realized this level of vulnerability--particularly so early on--was more than I could have ever expected. So I said very little. Thought very little too.

On the walk out, a bunch of words kept running through my head. The obvious ones were, no you don't no you don't no you don't no you don't.

The second set was really faint, way in the background, utter nonsense. Rain on the cobblestone. I don't remember where it came from, but it kept looping. As we were walking down the steps of Sunset mall. As we headed to an ice cream shop. As he explained floats to me--the horrifying, enticing, teeth destroying concept of combining soda with ice cream. Rain on the cobblestone, rain on the cobblestone, rain on the cobblestone.

It wasn't about the words, though. It was about the image. Rain calms me and saddens me. Makes me feel safe, makes me feel uneasy, makes me conflicted. I hate the rain and I love it. I've smiled and squealed and laughed in the rain, and I've wept in it because it hides the tears while its thunder masks the cries.

It should have scared me off--hearing him say that to me. Because it's so early and because I'm still so unsure and because I can't look at the future and be optimistic even though it's so early there are no visible, tangible flaws to tarnish any dreams or hopes or wishes. However unrealistic.

But it didn't scare me off. Because in the end, I have no idea what it really is. My only frame of reference for it was some fucked up, destructive relationship I managed to keep alive for two years despite all its efforts to implode. That relationship has time and the presence of imperfections on its side. I knew his flaws, he knew mine, and we tried to stay together, somehow, for as long as was possible. But is that love--because it was there for a while, because it developed slowly--more real than whatever infatuation I might have with another boy after just a few weeks?

I'm not trying to be naive. If anything, I can't help but think I over complicated things when I was younger. In the end, it's all chemicals and electrical impulses rattling us up inside, forcing words to run through our mind whether or not they make sense.

I'm not gonna tell this boy what he does or doesn't feel. I can't even tell him how I feel, and it might be a while before I figure that out.

But I'm not as frightened at this as I thought I would be. And maybe hindsight will bring me harsher thoughts and negative emotions, but it's okay now. I'm okay. Still cautious, still unsure, still a little frightened. But like I'm allowed to be those things for now. Because it's real for him and it's a possibility for me and we're allowed to be right about it now and wrong about it later.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Tangible

Now Playing: Carly Rae Jepsen - Run Away With Me

I have a Harley Quinn plushie now.

Strategically placed over the best encyclopedia ever.

Once, back in high school and for Valentine's Day, a boy gave me a rose painted to look like a poké ball. I appreciated it a lot, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't as much as maybe he wanted me to appreciate it. He liked me, but I was still in a complicated Something Or Other with another person. I also have never been into Pokémon--never played any of the games, never watched the show, fell asleep when my friends put on one of the movies. One of my best friends hated Valentine's Day and felt especially lonely during the holiday, so I decided the rose would make her much happier. (Plus she actually likes Pokémon). I gave it to her during pre-calculus and it seemed to lift her spirits a little bit, so I never even got to keep the rose for more than a few hours.

It was, however, the only thing a boy had ever given me. Until that plushie.

It sounds shallow, but gifts are really important to me. It's not about wanting the people you love to shower you with the most expensive, most extravagant things, it's just nice having a physical manifestation of how you feel about someone, be it a friend, a relative, or a romantic partner. It's more about effort than it is about the actual object. My best friends, my parents, my brother--they've all given me gifts that show me that they know who I am, what I like, what I care about. Even asking, "hey, what do you want for your birthday/Christmas?" says a lot about how much someone cares about you. They care enough to want to get you something you will definitely love.

But though I've had a few relationships, I've never been with a boy who gifted me something. I never thought about it, but severing ties with people who hurt me but never gave me something tangible probably helped speed the process of getting over them.

Anyways, I got the plushie on Monday. And it was really weird for me. Because it was perfect in a lot of ways--I'd already talked his ear off about Harley Quinn and the original Batman animated series and my excitement for Suicide Squad. And I'd had to miss SuperCon due to bad planning on my part, and he knew I was a little sad about it. It was a nice gesture. Nice, sweet, and--at least for me--unexpected. Because I didn't expect him to actually listen to me all that much. I ramble a lot and I deem so much of it inconsequential, I imagine most people do too and toss the words away. And here's a sweet reminder that it's not always that way.

But I am who I am, the Ruiner Of All Sweet Things, and I can't help but stare at it and wonder the worst.

I'm imagining myself twenty years from now, stumbling upon this post (assuming it still exists and that I am still alive), and sighing while thinking, "you over-dramatic piece of trash, calm down. It's a fucking plushie."

But I'm stuck thinking about the way the material complicates the temporal. And yeah, okay, that sounds really stupid. Not to mention pessimistic. I don't want to think about me and this boy as something that is temporal, but thinking of it as permanent doesn't seem any better an option either. It's too early for either of those thoughts. At the beginning of things, I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to put weight on either side of that scale. Or even look at the scale. You should stand back and wait and see, over a period of time, where it tilts on its own.

This ugly thought process of mine is some sort of defense mechanism. Back during last New Year's Day, I wrote this silly rambly post where I equated the way I handle my novels' story structures with the way I handle most aspects of my life--blur in the beginning, hyper-focused on the middle, a total incoherent, rushed mess at the end. I said I didn't think of the beginning of things or the ending of things, but I don't know if I was either lying to myself or if I've become this way over the course of the last few months: while I may not be able to properly picture endings, I do think about them a lot. Like. In theory. As concepts.

My life right now feels like it's made of temporal states. That's just a product of my age and situation, I think, but while the rational part of my brain says, "yeah, it's just cuz you're young and directionless and still figuring things out", another part of my brain assumes this is how it'll be forever. I could follow the pre-planned steps for an All American Life, be forty, married, with kids, a house, and a career, and it won't give me a sense of security and acceptance. Instead, I might still be obsessed with focusing on how it's all temporal and why it's all temporal.

So now I look at Harley and wonder idly how I might feel about her in the future. What she might make me recall--and if unpleasant feelings will accompany those thoughts. Regret or sadness or longing. Or something.

It's so early, it feels wrong to be so pessimistic. Especially because I understand that if I start with this overly cautious mindset, I'm more likely to self-sabotage rather than shield myself from any possible pain. Can I teach myself to be an optimist? At least in little things.

Like maybe I can't yet imagine looking at this silly, cute little plush toy and always feeling happy because of it. But I can picture always feeling fondness for it, whatever may happen, whatever may or may not end.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Colors

Now Playing: Silversun Pickups - Nightlight

There's this interview--or, uhm, screen test?--Elle Fanning did back in 2011 where, at one point, she talks about Paris and how it's her favorite city in the world even though she's never been there. And the reason for it being her favorite is, "it's just so pink."

I saw that interview ages ago and her answer made me laugh a lot. But it felt genuine too. She mentions desserts, but I think I concluded that it could have also been because of how young and--to use her words--girly she is. In the video--and even now--she is exactly young enough to associate love and fashion and beauty with the color pink. Which is what I think a lot of people associate Paris with--love, fashion, beauty, pastries.

So it's pink. That's the easy way to summarize it.

I don't think too much about traveling. I've never had the money to leave the state of Florida except for that one summer I went back to Ecuador for a week. I do tend to write a lot about other countries. Or at least, write a lot about people from other countries. America gets a special emphasis, but I feel weird if I have a large cast of characters and more than a quarter were born in America. That's how I learned about other nations,--I have a character, and this character was born in this particular city, so I  read a little or a lot depending on how much information I will ultimately need and remember those details.

And last night, I was sitting in the back of an Uber car, heading home, accompanied by a boy I'd technically just met that day but who I'd spoken with throughout the week. He's traveled a lot more than I have, to almost a dozen countries and who knows how many cities. But he's never been to Paris. He's also never been to Amsterdam.

He might take a two week vacation sometime during the later half of this year so I was trying to convince him to go to the latter when conversation turned to where I might like to go some day. I thought of the one city in Europe I am curious about--Berlin. Counting the whole world, though, I want to go to Seoul or Tokyo or Chicago more than anywhere else.

But as we were talking about Europe, I answered with Berlin. And I remembered days earlier how I had plagiarized Elle Fanning and compared Paris to the color pink.

So I told him if Paris is pink, Berlin is green. Seoul is neon blue, Toyko is white, New York is this nice, rich purple. I said Miami was orange, but in hindsight it's more mustard yellow. He didn't really ask me to explain the color association all too much, he just ran with it, naming cities and helping me match them with colors.

Later, after I made it home and he'd gone back to his place, he brought up another country he'd want to visit and I went back to rooting for the Netherlands and for Amsterdam. My main argument was "it's prettier," but I figured I could also throw in, "and it's also blue. And blue is the best."

He agreed and added, "I have a blue eye so I feel obligated to say so."

"What shade of blue, though?" I asked. "Amsterdam is light blue."

"I have a light blue eye and a light green eye. What city is light green?"

I had to think about it. Berlin is forest green, not light green, so I told him to start naming cities to help me out. He obliged, picking from Italy and Spain and Russia and a few others. Finally he hit Munich and it felt right so I picked it. Not necessarily because I think Germany is made of shades of green--it just sounded right.

Hours later, I thought about it--

He has heterochromia eyes, I spent the whole day with him, and I didn't see it.

My only explanation is that we went to a movie theater for the first half of the morning and then later the only way to watch Game of Thrones is in a room with the blinds drawn shut. But whatever excuses I have--legitimate or not--I still didn't notice something I should have noticed.

I know the shape of his eyes and I noticed this little scar he has on his forehead and I remember the patterns he drew on my arm with his fingers while we were watching Game of Thrones.

Yet I didn't learn the colors of his eyes until we were apart again, talking about cities and the colors that might define them.
"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.