Living in Frames, by meshing the lyrical moments of life with the captured images of experience. This is a reverie, a journey, the fork in the road, and the never-ending story....

Friday, November 25, 2011

evening thought.

there is something about the way the sun sets,
how close we live to god,
and the secrets we keep tucked away.

Friday, November 18, 2011

there is something about the way you riff.

These days I don’t leave the house without a hand-held notebook, the kind that can slip into my back pocket not quite unnoticed, but at least making people wonder if I possess that masculine trait of carrying a wallet or a pack of cigarettes close. When I was walking around in a busy European city this past February, a man actually called out to me, because he was so concerned I would lose, what I assume he believed to be my money or passport (It was said in Italian and I didn't catch all of it), but regardless, it was a year's worth of words and sketches that would have been lost to the streets or a thief. I look forward to the day when I pull my jeans from the wash and the outline of that faded, tilted square has begun to appear, confirming for me that I’ve put in the time and effort of always having an accessible page to write notes, observations, and interpretations. The common places for me, where this has been extremely resourceful are: the laundromat, the grocery store, the DMV, in traffic (yes, be careful), parks, restaurants/bars, museums, and malls; anywhere where mass and diverse populations come together.

And with this habit I have adopted a new favorite hobby. More fun when accompanied by another person (but can also be done solo), this is a great exercise for not just writers, but for anyone who wishes to broaden their creative capabilities and become a keener observer. Me and a friend of mine found this activity quite enjoyable over a couple drinks one night at a favorite neighborhood bar (Sonny’s on Exchange, in Portland), and him being a jazz musician, pointed out to me that what we were actually doing was the equivalent of “riffing” in the music/poetry world. Of course riffing can take on various forms, but the point is to be able to come up with original ideas with an improvisational mindset. Even last night I had a conversation with one of my token philosophy friends (yes, these are very good to have as well, because they play devil’s advocate to any statement you make, and it gets your gears turning and your rebuttals better articulated), and we went down the existentialists’ road of theory and theology, brainstorming bright new ideas which I will later be able to utilize in my own storytelling, at some point or another.

Okay, now back to what you should try with paper and pen. Say you are in a bar where the cocktails are flowing and there are plenty of shiny, unique distractions that grab your attention. Find a spot that you can be comfortable enough and have it quiet enough to communicate with the other person (or if you are alone, where it is quiet enough where you can hear your own thoughts). Have the first person write down 4-5 objects or descriptions that jump right out to them, but do not discuss or show these to your evening companion. For example: Red, pearls, glass, fish, and mahogany. Now hand this list over to your friend, and have them come up with a different situation or scene with all these words enveloped inside, but here’s the kicker, it has to be one sentence long. (Recently, I also participated in an online contest inspired by a micro-novel written by Hemingway, where there was a 15-word cap to create the beginning and end of a story).

Here are some examples that came out of my experiences with riffing:


PERSON #1: The street formed the shape of a bracelet, glimmering like pearls and diamonds, the push and gentle pulse of the city, yes, this was New York.
PERSON #2: The street people were pushing New York, a more expensive sight than the pricey bracelet that hung from her gentle wrist.

PERSON #1: There was something about that stupid, fucking fedora, maybe even haunting, she contemplated running it over with her truck.


PERSON #1: The relatives will continue to talk about that skintight, pleather number Aunt Kathy wore, the color of a crayon that would never make it into the box, and not to mention the neon white Velcro sneakers and the faint smell of peanut butter that lingered wherever she went.

Check out this scene from the movie Sylvia, where Sylvia Plath (Gwenyth Paltrow) & Edward Hughes (Daniel Craig), riff:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oysters & Barry White.

Out of all the forms of art that exist, (and there are many, aside from the obvious), for me the two that generate the most immediate visceral and connective response are music and the culinary arts. I find this interesting, since the cognitive break-down of music (perceiving pitch, parts of harmony, melody and rhythm) is done with a different part (lobe) of the brain than that which processes the presentation and flavors responsible for my ever-present appetite (smell & taste sensory). But when it comes to the emotional reactors, they are the same; stimulated predominantly on my right-side. So, you can imagine all the neurons that get fired off when you listen to music over a candlelit dinner. No wonder this is such an intimate setting; we are complete slaves to sensation. Oysters and Barry White, anyone?

When I hear a song randomly, whether it comes on my Ipod shuffle or over the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio), and the musician's tempo and voice is conducive to a mood, and the lyrics speak to a specific feeling I am having right then, I can't help but feel vulnerable to its force. This can occur for me in reading too, but typically I have to work a bit harder to dissect the language and get that same emotional response. (The first time I ever cried over a book, was only a couple years ago. But when I think of all the songs I have cried to since I discovered heartache...)
On that note.. this is the song of the day, of the week, maybe even the month for me, or maybe just for the time being at least.
Read the lyrics first, then listen. Try to recognize what's going on in that brain of yours (read vs. heard sung). What does it relate to for you? What chords does it hit?

I would like to believe this is the power of the arts, why they are needed, like air. They remind us we are human, capable of feeling bigger things than our physical containers can sometimes hold...

"Signed myself out today
Sent a letter far away
Said baby I'll be good someday
Gonna try again tomorrow
Try again tomorrow
I couldn't take that sterile place
In those rooms I lost my face
And in the end they couldn't sell me grace
And they can't sell me tomorrow
Can't sell me tomorrow
We can be strong... "

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Zola.

I have been contributing to this blog since 2008, which was about the time I started writing Zola's Wonder Closet. And in all these years, I have only now realized I haven't really explained why I chose such a title for my first manuscript. It wasn't that I didn't think it was important, because obviously I spent time in deliberation on it, I just thought it easier to explain all my encapsulated efforts in a one-sentence synopsis instead(You know the one; the pitch you give off the cuff when asked what your manuscript/book is about). But upon being tested this past week at a gathering with my new writers' group, I spit out a disjointed interpretation, only to receive a few blank looks in return (which I couldn't blame them for). So to redeem myself, I rephrased my explanation, eliciting a couple, Ohhhh-I-see's with the second go around.

As a culture we give names to everything we value; our children, our pets, our vehicles, our sex organs. Why we choose these names is personal and purposeful. For instance, my mother and father named me after the Hall & Oates song, Sarah Smiles, and because my mother claimed she knew of no mean girls by this name. My sister Kate's namesake on the other hand, was associated with a young woman my mother had known in college; a fiery red-headed painter, who was beautiful and eccentric, and who danced on tables. "Sugar and spice and everything nice, that is what little girls are made of."

So, back to this title. Where did the name Zola come from? Well, for all you French literature lovers out there, it is borrowed from Emile Zola of course. Though female, there are elements of her character (as well as my own), which identifies with the naturalistic mindset of her predecessor. Emile Zola believed in the influence of one's environment on their societal behavior, tracing the roots of greed, warfare, alcoholism, and prostitution all to cumulative experience in a specific setting. (How someone responds to what is going on in their surroundings, and the choices they make based on their insights) If you read my previous blog Around We Go.. , there is some Zola-esque logic making an appearance. And also, for novelty's sake, both Emile Zola and my character Zola, are writers.

Now, where does the Wonder Closet come into play? (You can refer to my blog, Pocket-sized Finds, for a brief explanation). The idea of a Wonder Closet is a bit of a double entendre. It is both figurative and literal. Wonder, can be meant as something someone is curious about, or it can be a term for something that is extraordinary (Wonder Bread, Wonder Boy, etc.) A Closet can be a physical space, a place where a person stores stuff they don't want anyone to see, or they don't have room for in their regular day to day living space. Or a Closet can be a metaphor for the mind, the annals of which the deepest, darkest secrets can be kept. (During the Renaissance in Europe, Cabinets of Curiosities and "wonder rooms" were created by travelers and the affluent, where compartmentalized oddities and rarities were kept like their very own museum collections.)

Zola's Wonder Closet can be best summed up with this quote: "She's been collecting time as one collects old albums or books. When she becomes tired of the routine, the song and dance, or romantic prose, she locks the time away. And just when she begins to think she has swept all the little pieces away for safekeeping, an artifact appears in her modern life, without fair warning or the tools to decipher it.... But this is her Wonder Closet, of scattered remains and broken pieces. How she found herself here, was just another box bursting at the seams, hidden behind the layers of a past life."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Around We Go. Where We Stop, No One Knows.

Have you ever used a potter's wheel? (Or at least witnessed the use of one?) A slippery, slate grey, and formless mass is placed at the center of a circular slab, and with gentle foot compressions it rotates. Hands barely cupping either side, to smooth out the bumps and knobs. Around and around it goes, then with applied pressure here, a shape appears. Your thumb creates a growing bowl. And with practiced guidance the walls grow up, the sides become thinner, and it can be felt; this delicacy, that if you push and stretch the clay too far, it will crumple into itself.

This is the image that came to mind, when I tried to explain self-monitoring behavior (in the entrepreneurial spirit/context) to a friend the other day. When an idea is cultivated and a plan of action is initiated, there are many shapes it can take on. With something new the risk is often high, so it is only natural to be extra careful in the beginning. The development stage is where the most caution is taken, trying to "smooth out" all the things that one has control over, preparing for all the possibilities; success or failure. Then with determination and optimistic focus, it grows, you make changes to adjust, you become an expert of your own idea. At some point you become comfortable, some level of success has been achieved, or a goal has been met, but you are still not satisfied. Now is this where greed and ego manifest? Or was it lying underneath and at the root of the initial idea? A person's character is to be considered here as well; their moral aptitude. Ultimately, the decision must be made; to grow or stabilize? Because in anything, if you push too much and you keep demanding more and more, there comes a point when you have lost sight of that creative passion and have forgotten why you had thought up the idea in the first place. Some people learn the lesson early on, but for others, well, you can only pray they do before it's too late.

For the writers out there: "I don't believe writers can be made, either by circumstances or by self-will. The equipment comes with the original package. [And they are formed]" -Stephen King, On Writing

So, does this mean we are born the person we are going to be for the rest of our lives, despite overcoming challenges and accruing experiences? Try as we might to change and learn from the lessons, will we always gravitate toward that which is in our nature?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It is Written.

Last weekend I submitted a personal essay, encompassing a few different themes. But the main idea was centered on how you cannot understand an experience typically when you are in the thick of it, but rather you must come full-circle and look at it with fresh eyes, to see what you have really learned. This is a concept that Paul Auster, an author I greatly admire, writes to often in his novels. (He also has a collection of personal essays, called The Red Notebook, which I highly recommend.) When you begin to recognize that coincidences are not coincidental at all, but rather just part of an endless series of decisions and consequences, then it really begins to put into perspective your beliefs in choice and destiny.

For fun sometimes I like to look at my horoscope, and not that I don't believe in things being written in the stars so to speak, I just don't believe that if I read on the back cover of a tabloid magazine that I was going to die tomorrow, or if my fortune cookie says, "Today is the day. Say goodbye to all you love," and I just happened to find myself standing at the edge of a great precipice, that I am actually going to jump. My prediction is that I would take in the view and think how happy I am to be alive. Certainly, it is all up to interpretation.

So, when I write, particularly personal non-fiction, I am also interpreting. I am the main character in my own story, these things really happened to me, and so my version is the truth. Or is it? Rarely do we admit that these things not just happened to us, but that we actually had some sort of control or made some sort of decision, to bring on these experiences. So, in this recent essay I actually made a point out of this. I told the romantic version of the story first, than I admitted that the only reason I saw it in such an idealistic light, was because that is all I wanted to see at the time and I thought it was the only type of story people wanted to read (refer to my blog about Puppies & Violence, this is what I mean by the fuzzy, good-feeling "puppy" kind of story). But how flawed are our memories when we recount everything leading up to a moment, and how flawed are we to think we do everything we can. Writing helps us to understand, yet it is our narrative blinders which keep us from seeing the whole picture/story, and sometimes even accept responsibility.

If I lived my life based on a horoscope, I would be a walking contradiction. And in my writing, it would translate. I aim to strive for a clearer purpose, and hopefully the result in turn will be finding truth within my stories.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reverse Psychology

Epiphany: My approach to this writing thing has been inhibited drastically by worrying about where I should send it, where it's going to end up, and who is going to read it anyways. So, I am making it my mission to put tape on that little voice in my head's mouth, when it feels like chiming in in its whiney, undermining way. I've never posted "self-reminder" notes before, but I've given in tonight. Right above my desk, on that blank wall space I look at every single evening, there is now a blaring notice telling me to: "JUST WRITE! WHO CARES IF NO ONE READS IT (EXCEPT YOUR MOTHER), WHO CARES IF NO ONE PUBLISHES IT, WHOS CARES IF IT SUCKS, THE ONLY PERSON THAT TRULY HAS CONTROL OVER THE PAGE IS YOU!!!"

Hopefully, I look at this every time I sit down now and think, "What are you going to do tonight Sarah?" Instead of, "What do people want to read about?" I know I am personally of the breed, if I change my mindset about anything, I stick to it and I will put in the hours. Adjusting my thought process is typically the toughest battle, but when I do, I make the conscious effort to define my new motivation and the shiny, bouncy ball changes directions again--aaaannnnd it looks like I'm going that way now, "Okay, cool! I'm on it!" It's that simple. Not sure why its taken me this long..

Monday, November 7, 2011


Because we exist, (or at least we think we do)
our lives must have purpose.

If our purposes are different,
and our lives are built on fulfillment,
how does this work again?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Secret to Writing

Writing is a form of telling secrets. We reach into the depths of our hearts and souls, and reveal ourselves in various forms to select audiences. Whether its a character we create and identify with, an experience we want to tell of or understand, or a belief we decide to turn into a long-winded message, we are horrible at keeping these things pent up inside, and in one way or another, the cat eventually does get out of the bag.

I've always struggled with personal essays and memoir writing, because frankly it is as self-indulgent as blogging or Facebook. To assume that anyone cares what you have to say, what you have done, or are currently doing, is vanity at its finest. But to these forums' credit, more ways to express the human condition, is hopefully just a new evolution in culture and the creative arts, and a step toward a more innovative society as a whole. More communication can be a good thing, there just needs to be a balance between information-overload and "The Puritan-hangover" (A time when we didn't share or express anything).

Every once in a blue moon, I have a story inside me that I have been keeping to myself. It could be out of fear of consequence or retaliation, I don't pick up the pen so quickly. Sometimes its just simply, because I am still trying to understand what it all means. Even when its burning to come out, I have to have restraint and patience to know when the right time does come, if ever it does, I am ready and prepared to tell-all. Honesty is key here,since you will never feel completely statisfied with the bits and pieces or a falsified story. But when the floodgates are opened, and there is no turning back, what other choice do you have than to push forward and write the best damn version you can?