Why Do We Always Come Here (after Caleb Brennan)

 

I go to open mic nights whenever I get the chance, and, most times, I read something I’m not happy with.

In Limerick we have three regular open mic nights dedicated to literature; the Limerick Poet’s Society; On The Nail; and Stanzas. There is also a smattering of irregular activities, ‘poetry-friendly’ open mics, and a whole bunch of readings available within bus/driving distance.

All told, if you wanted to, you could probably make three open mics a week.

Now, three a week would be a lot. If you could manage three a month you’d be doing very well. And if you happened to read something new at each of these, you’re either doing veeeery well, or are terrible. Quantity is funny like that.

I’ve been to a fair few Open Mics in the last couple years and I almost always read something I’m not happy with because I recognise there are two ways to use an Open Mic.

On the one hand, it’s nice to get platitudes, back-slaps and polite applause from fellow writers. It’s a good ego boost to get a nod from people you admire, and there’s a thrill in getting up and having the courage to read something you wrote.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a totally valid reason for reading.

But it can be a lot more than just a boost, if you want it to the mic can be the Public Work Station of Writing.

Often when you write a poem or a story or a whatever, one has a tendency to think THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER. Not even the Best Thing *I* Have Ever Written, but the BEST THING THAT HAS EVER BEEN.

There is a euphoria that comes from creating which is almost as strong as the melancholy of stoppered work. This euphoria clouds our judgement and what we have written is often not The Best Thing Ever, but An Ok Thing That Prob Needs a Bit of Work.

I use Open Mics within the life cycle of my editing because once I present my work to other humans all the flaws shine out like a bare arse on the motorway or a bad metaphor.

Now, maybe you are thinking Why would I read flawed work? But here’s the thing: all work has flaws. What you want is to get it to the Best Place It Can Be.

Open Mics allow you to show off your work and get an ego boost, and that’s ok. We all do it. It’s lovely. Life is hard and we need to take those little moments of victory where we can.

But it can be more than that. Find something new in the reading. Judge the reactions. Talk to people afterwards and see if they got it.

I guess that’s why we always come here. To get better.

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Why Do We Always Come Here (after Caleb Brennan)

Stuck – Aisling O’Connor

When I first heard the theme this month was stuck, the game stuck-in-the-mud came to mind. We have probably all played this is school; someone taps you and you’re stuck and then a friend can “free” you. It was all innocent back then, for most kids the biggest problems in your life are a crayon breaking or getting grounded. In hindsight, I was a messed up kid, but it wasn’t until I was older that I considered myself stuck.

Life doesn’t stop for anyone, but sometimes you can feel like you’re stuck in the same regime or place. You’re stuck on the expected route to take. College, job, family. College, job, family. College, job, family. Born and raised here. Your funeral in the same church you were baptized in.

Writers tend to stray from that. Writers also tend to be quite messed up people, and who hasn’t heard “get a real job” before? We tend to be drawn to the idea of getting out and breaking away from the norm. it’s great, but sometimes not always viable and we feel that we’re making no progress. That we’ll have to accept the same fate of fitting in as a cog of the capitalist machine. College, job, family. Raise a kid to do the same.

I admire people who take risks to live their life on their terms. I’m a “you do you” person so if you tell me you want to be a stripper, McDonald’s cook, author, I’ll most likely say “cool, good for you”. As long as you’re not hurting anyone I think people can do whatever.

It’s important to make sure you have the means to provide for yourself, but beyond that, it’s all up to you.

Often it’s others that make us feel stuck. Stuck in the closet. Stuck in a dead-end job. Stuck in the same place you grew up in. Others, we just don’t believe in ourselves. I learned growing up, that unlike stuck-in-the-mud, someone else won’t come along and save you; you have to save yourself.

So you do you. Free yourself.

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Aisling blogs at This Dream Is Alive and you should totally check her out here. If you want to write for our blog, just email us at stanzas.limerick@gmail.com with an idea!

Stuck – Aisling O’Connor

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

I came home the other night and wasn’t quite ready to sleep, so I threw on a movie I’d been meaning to watch for a while: Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies.

Set in Japan towards the end of World War II, [spoilers] it details the impotent efforts of Seita, a teenage boy, to save his baby sister Setsuko from starvation, and her eventual death by hunger.

It’s at this point I should confess, I watched this movie while eating. A lot

As Seita was stealing potatoes and turnips, I was literally licking my plate clean; as Setsuko famished, I felt my own belly rumble and considered another portion of midnight feasting.

It was delicious, until I felt a profound lump of shame as these kids suffered from attrition, malnutrition, destitution, devastation, and death. It is not a happy movie.

I wasn’t wrong to eat during the movie, we primarily invented movies to give us more reasons to eat popcorn, but what strikes here is the contrast. This movie is about hunger, and I was gnashing on my second dinner.

When you’re telling a story, contrast can expand your characters’ emotions. Loneliness at home is easy, and in a crowd is devastating; happiness at a party is fun, and at a funeral is sadistic. If a character is a drug dealer, he should sell drugs at rehab, if you want to tell me about heartache, do it through the lens of a marriage counsellor.

You might call contrast irony, and you wouldn’t necessary be wrong, but where people confuse irony with things that are absolutely not ironic, Alanis, contrast is a pretty easy concept to grasp.

Not every story needs contrast, and indeed too much can steer the story into the absurd, but it’s a useful tool to have in your belt of writer’s tricks. So next time you’re stuck on a scene, add a dollop of contrast, and see if there’s something to chew on.

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written by shane vaughan

If you’ve got something to say and nowhere to say it, why not bring it to us? Just email us at stanzas.limerick@gmail.com and we’ll have a chinwag.

 

 

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Empathy, & How To Make Me Feel It.

 

I’m going to tell you two stories.

In Story One, there is a wide, open field, with a tall, proud tree standing in the middle. You leave, only to return one day and find the tree has been cut down. Now, only a stump remains, a stark reminder of what once was.

In Story Two, there is a wide, open field, with a tall, proud tree standing in the middle. You remember this tree from your childhood, some of your happiest memories are here. You leave, only to return one day and find the tree has been cut down. Now, only a stump remains, a stark reminder of what once was.

Tell me, which story is better? If you said Story One, you’re wrong, or are secretly a tree. If you said Story Two, congratulations, you have a heart and are human.

Story Two works better. But why?

We would argue: Context.

Both stories deal with the theme of loss, but in Story One this theme is presented through the vague notion of treeness. The paradigm is too vague to work.

Humans, for the most part, do not identify as trees. We might like them. We might see their benefit. We might plant a few or even feel sorry for a tree which is needlessly cut down, but no one can truly empathise with this tree. And it is this empathy that you are trying to instil in a reader.

In Story Two we are presented with Context for the theme of loss and our emotional mechanisms are channelled into the child, not the tree.

We can imagine the innocence of childhood, the trauma of growing up, the irrevocable splintering of time and memory. We remember our own childhood summers, battles, dreams. The tree is no longer the subject of the story, and through the eyes of the child it takes on new meaning. It is no longer just a fallen tree, but it is something taken from us.

Now, we are moved. Now, we can empathise.

In Story One, the tree is gone, and that is that. But in Story Two, we demand to know more. What was special about this tree? Why did the character take such a long time to revisit it? What happens next?

With stanzas, the best work we publish provides us with Context. Poor writing is about stuff happening, but the best writing makes you feel like you’re right there in the happening of it.

So next time, when you put pen to paper, or, mouse to word document, think about what’s happening, and take a moment to ask why.

Answer that, and you’ll be barking up the right tree.

 

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written by shane vaughan

If you’ve got something to say and nowhere to say it, why not bring it to us? Just email us at stanzas.limerick@gmail.com and we’ll have a chinwag.

Empathy, & How To Make Me Feel It.