Creativity Running Dry

We’re now in the home stretch for CreComm first semester and can you believe it, I’m having a little difficulty keeping those creative juices flowing. I mean, I know I haven’t entirely lost my mojo – just today I thought about creating a Chris Petty grammar app for my IPP – but it never hurts to get a reminder on how to be creative.

In radio class we were asked to shout out how we get inspired – absolutely perfect for a semi brain dead student who blogs about this exact topic. In particular, for creating advertisements. I know my ways but here are some provided by my talented colleagues, applicable to any creative medium:

Brainstorming
We do this more often than you think. Example: “what do you want to do tonight?” 
Sidenote: if someone can’t brainstorm with you on this, they have no interest in doing anything with you tonight.

Previous success stories
With ad, look at sweet campaigns. With movies, look at the classics. With books, look at Twilight.
Successful doesn’t always equal good.

Write down everything
No matter how absolutely ridiculous an idea may seem, write it down. If it’s genuinely bad, you’ll forget about it soon enough.
Sidenote: any quotes are great. Taken out of context, some quotes may seem truly original.

“I start yelling” and “I talk to myself all the time” technique 
 
There’s a reason why artsy/ creative kids appear weird, it’s because we are. I have caught myself far too often saying “now how about this Sherlock!”  in public. Okay I exaggerate, usually I’m in an empty house. 
It’s alright if you go with it, but if you want to come off somewhat integrated with boring society, keep the one sided conversations to a minimum.
Sidenote: it does help you to organize thoughts so do it privately if necessary. DO NOT make voice recordings – siblings know where to find your BlackBerry.
                   
Real life scenarios
Life can be seriously whacked. Example: Anyone who takes transit will have an endless array of creative prompts.
“Remember the lady who sang about Jesus?”
“Or the one screaming about Nazis?”
“Or the guy who violently shook me awake when I was napping because he thought I had diabetes and passed out?”
….
It’s a great resource, but sometimes even reality is too good to be believable. As my buddy Mike Badejo said, “I can’t make up two homeless people making out on the bus.” Use it sparingly and it’ll serve you well 
                                       
Put it away
This one goes along with write everything down.
Basically, if something crazy/fun/cool/messed up pops into your brain and you think “hey, I could write a book on that!” or “that’d make a sweet commercial!” put it in writing, or draw it out, and stuff it in a drawer or old box.
“One stupid idea changes everything”
 
One day you’ll be cleaning out your room, mad about an ex or more likely an auto-fail, and come across this hidden gem.
Or simply throw it out because it really is crap.

Mind-mapping – branching out, make yourself an outline
Far too academic for my tastes.
All I think when I see this is
Map – getting lost – crying – dark corner – cobweb – no! Spiderweb! – Spiderman – nananananana – oh that’s Batman – what was the point of Robin? – Robin Hood was a bad ass fox in the Disney version – Mickey Mouse –  mouse trap is a terrific game – was it colonel mustard with the candlestick in the conservatory?

I’ll stop there.
Basically, don’t think too much, be a tad tired, and as outrageous as you can.
You know, the whole over compensation thing.

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The Remainder

A short story posted for a Creative Writing assignment.

The Remainder
 by Daniella Ponticelli

     Another body was left out tonight. Nombeko found it on the side of the gravel road, untouched even by the hyenas. She rode her bicycle to the Umtata hospital, which was overcrowded with machete inflicted wounds, terminal infants, and viral deaths. She grabbed two pairs of white gloves and a set of masks, shifting her weight from side to side as she ran through the tight halls. Children with tummies like little black birthday balloons stood around waiting with the flies. Thandiwe stood at the center, reading from a worn donated book, when he saw Nombeko enter. The two went on foot to the body, where tears of blood stayed caked on cold black cheeks.

      “Order, my friends, order.”
       The Xhosa chief stood in the center of a small hut, on the outskirts of Umtata. Nombeko fanned herself with a flattened coke can, rocking back and forth gently. They had managed to move the body as far from the village as possible, throwing it in dry bush. With gasoline from a rusted tin can, Thandiwe doused the body and struck a match.
       “We must keep our people protected. Who was supposed to dispose last night?”
        Nombeko looked around the room of men, clothed in old dress shirts and pants made of loose fabrics. Modern day Mandelas, she thought.  No one raised their hand. The body had been within village limits and anyone could have come in contact with it.
       “It was me, Uuka. I was supposed to take it out.” From a darkened area toward the back of the sweltering hut, an elder shuffled forward. His worn tan sandals scraped the hard ground and he averted his eyes. Uuka moved slowly toward him with an arm outstretched. His wife handed him the black sjambok she had been passing between her hands all evening.
            “My dear old friend, why must you make me do this?”  
            The man dropped to his knees with difficulty. His sweaty green dress shirt stiffened in the heat and he closed his eyes. Nombeko fanned herself harder. Uuka held the sjambok up high and lashed the man once. He screamed and blood seeped through the back of his shirt. Another lash and the man fell to his hands on all fours like a tired soldier.
          “This, my friends, is what happens when you don’t protect the village.”
          Nombeko watched Thandiwe stare, unmoved, as his father continued.
          Finally, the sjambok broke.

         Bussi had been home for seven months now. Her and her mother lived just outside Umtata and they were leaving for Gauteng in one week. She could feel the mid December heat on her back while she picked at the sole fig tree in the front. Their home had four square walls with two small cots, and bedding  her mother changed regularly. A small trail of dust rose from the road and Bussi came out of her crouch, adjusting her old school uniform.
       “Bussi, is your mother home?”
        Thandiwe had come with his faded orange bike twenty minutes out of town. His forehead creased unnaturally for a boy of seventeen, and he squinted his eyes more than necessary. Beads of sweat rolled across his forehead like raindrops on a window, his dress pants covered with dust.
       “No, Thandiwe, she is not. But I am, would you like some figs?”
       “You sure she’s not here?”
       “Why would I say she’s not here when she is?”
        She danced around the pale green lawn, prancing from the first window to the second, pointing out Nombeko’s absence. Thandiwe nodded silently and walked toward the fig tree. In the dirt surrounding its frail trunk were fingered indentations of math equations.
          “Oh, Thandiwe, will you teach me long division? I start module four when I move, and I’m ready now.”
            She grabbed his hand and pulled him inside the shadowed house. He ducked in the entrance way and sat on the dirt floor, taking off his clingy t-shirt.
           “I don’t have any more paper, but you can just tell me. I won’t forget.”
            Thandiwe smiled and reached into his pocket for a folded piece of paper and half size pencil. He was supposed to leave Nombeko instructions, but instead taught Bussi how to divide ten by three, and what a remainder is.

            Nombeko rushed home on her bicycle, whose tired wheels wheezed in the evening heat. She had left Bussi home longer than usual and her stethoscope bounced on her chest along the gravel road. When she arrived, the faded orange bike was parked on the lawn and there was faint light coming from the house. She pushed her bike to the ground and shifted her way to the door, hearing Thandiwe’s soft voice reciting the words of the worn book. 
          “And if he was really asleep, she’d pick him up and rock him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she would sing…”
            She opened the door feeling like an intruder, walking in on Thandiwe slouched against the wall with Bussi asleep on his chest. He didn’t finish the song, instead scooping up the small girl and placing her on the new sheets Nombeko had brought from the hospital.
            “You must leave for Gauteng soon; it is not safe here anymore.”
            “I know, Thandiwe, but you must leave too. You don’t have to die here.”
            The two closed the door lightly behind them, leaving Bussi to dream, and headed on foot toward the village.

            Thandiwe’s four year old cousin, from a nearby village, had contracted it. The family needed help moving the boy, so Thandiwe and Nombeko arrived in plain dress, their gloves hidden from view. The mother showed them to her son’s room, where his body was shaking with fever and blood stained the pillow close to his mouth. Nombeko went over to say hello, giving him a small cup of brandy to drink. He spat out blood and alcohol, but within twenty minutes had calmed down and closed his eyes. They moved him quickly out of the small house before his parents saw his swollen neck, skin as coarse as bark.
          A field of dry bush came into view. The two carried the boy’s sleeping body, rusted tin can propped in his lap, to a spot further away from the road. Thandiwe rolled up his jersey sleeves when a small hand clasped his forearm.
         “Thandiwe,” the boy started and blood trickled down his earlobe, “please.”
           He turned his face when the boy started to cry. Blood inched slowly from his tear ducts and Nombeko pulled a small knife from her coat. She stared at the boy while shedding real tears, shaking her head as she moved forward.
         “What are you doing?” Thandiwe cried out.
         “I can’t watch him die.”  
         Before Nombeko could lunge forward with the knife, the boy grabbed the sleeveless arm that held him and bit down. Thandiwe screamed as blood soaked teeth drew some of his own into a spilled diseased cocktail. Nombeko ripped the boy from Thandiwe, and stuck the small knife into his little heaving chest. When the movement stopped, she grabbed the lighter, doused the boy, and watched it burn away.
       

            The next day, Nombeko grabbed her medical supplies from the hospital. She sped on her bike toward Bussi, who was locked outside her home. The girl was still by her fig tree when Nombeko pulled in and greeted her with a warm smile. Dust rose as a small car came down the gravel road. Uuka and three other men exited the car, their hands empty.
         “My Nombeko, how are you?” Uuka asked, all the while staring at Bussi. Sshe is going to be so beautiful one day.”
        “What do you want, Uuka?”
          The chief quickly shifted his stare at Nombeko, moving close enough that his hand could gently caress her shoulder.
        “My dear Nombeko, you can’t think that I don’t know. Thandiwe is inside the house, there’s blood on every second bush all the way here.” The other three men pulled out gloves and started toward the door. Bussi tried to follow them until Uuka snatched her up and dropped the girl at her mother’s feet. They dragged out Thandiwe, who had blood running from his nose and pooling at his mouth. The chief moved back as they placed his son down on the ground by the house.
       “Nombeko, why must you do this?”
       “Uuka, He is your son. He is the only –”
       “Was one of the only. You seem to be forgetting dear little Bussi.”
       She looked down at the little girl by her feet. Bussi was now the last of the Umtata village youth. When it first happened, the children had died off first; those who remained were older and on the waiting list for death. They protected Bussi from it, hoping to rebuild the village when she is old enough.
      “You disobeyed Nombeko. You kept a diseased man in your house.” He stepped close enough to smell the sweat on her forehead. “I’m certain Bussi will learn to love me as her father.”
       The men grabbed Nombeko and walked her across the gravel road to a field. Uuka withdrew a small handgun from his loose pants, aiming it at the woman’s chest. He fired two rounds and placed the warm gun in the car. The three men dropped the body and waited, while Uuka walked toward the house for the girl.
           Propped against the door, Bussi sat with Thandiwe, pressing her cheeks against the dead man’s face, his blood tears leaving an imprint. She hugged his limp upper body, moving with him in a sad dance, giving him small kisses on the cheek. Uuka gasped as the little girl’s lips were being stained red.  She was saying something strange, something unfamiliar to the chief.
        “And if he really was asleep, she’d pick him up and rock him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth…”

*

 

Remembrance

Today we remember.
It’s a rather simple concept, to slow down for only one minute, in one day out of the year. For the veterans of war, for those still fighting, for civilians, for those shrouded in silence. For peace.

Here is one of the most famous poems from the Great War. I learned the song ten years ago when I came to Canada, and still know each word. Visiting Flander’s Field when I was 17 brought me to tears. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or how far removed you feel – war affects us all.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

Poppies (©greatwar.co.uk)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

We are inspired to remember today, but we must also remain aware. To honour our troops, to honour freedom, we must not turn a blind eye to the conflicts raging currently. Whether it be the genocide in Darfur, or the violences inflicted in our city; peace needs a patient zero.

I always grappled with the thought: if there is a patient zero, a term used to describe the first person inflicted with a disease, then shouldn’t there be a  patient n? This is taken from mathematics, where the nth degree means “as much or as far as possible.” So a patient n would be the one, hypothetically, reached last — whether it be by disease or the spread of peace.

I wrote this poem a year ago in a collection I called disease. It is meant to portray the disease of ignorance, specifically first world self-interest. Those who are our enemies, those who are neglected, and those whom we ignore – they must also be remembered. No matter how uncomfortable it may make those of us living busy lives in freedom. 

Be weary of what you spread — it should be peace to the nth degree.

Patient n

In a world called Catastrophe
the huddled village lives free.
Showing no fear or care
for the girl with red
cheeks like frail dolls.
She tastes air
Free from

Taint

Free
from wretch’d
birth right grasp
Like those who walk
the streets of earth’s last
Paradise in vain, sigh
To be like her so fully
Alive! Robust and fit to live

Some say she is a special girl
But we call her unlucky
we call her Patient n
Untouched by the dis
ease of the town
day to day
we spend

Life

Breath
on coin
Bills infect
our home’s last chance
everyone has it now
there is no escape now
except for wartorn Patient n

who throws receipt by waist side trash 
No regard for money order
or running the white suit show 
She skips along care free
But we took her roof 
and her water
She still smiles
unlike

Us.

 We
 reign on
We are free
No slaves we are
So she, patient n
We push to the margins
All full of joyous embrace
She will be dead from all her joy

But that is what she knows is fate
She can have rose cheeks on black
Skin weathered by the heat
like infertile soil
And smile with tears
We are free
Cash please

They

Them.
And she
Patient n
Try to catch up
But we keep our place
Free from the life of her
Her roar we ignore with closed
Ears. Eyes. All human ignorance 

Without a thought for Patient n

we die in relative peace
She will suffer onwards
dying to catch up
Infected truth:
Our patience
will run
Low

South
still smiles
screams “Mother!”
Her Rose cheeks on
black skin like harsh sun
They may be one/ we win
Keep our disease to the North

Keep our world called Catastrophe.

Part Two: The Other Jon, And Stella

He had slinked through the aisles of McNally Robinson before the launch started, holding a chilled Stella Artois. It might have been his first, or perhaps a fourth.  After the applause from the first Jon died down, Jon Paul Fiorentino was introduced.

“My God you have a sexy voice,” Fiorentino remarked about Ball, taking two more sips from his Stella. “Some of you might remember me as the jackass who wrote Stripmalling.”

The audience laughed, myself very much included, even though I didn’t know anything about him.

Although I did take note of how the Stella humanized him; I still revere published authors.

Fiorentino was launching Indexical Elegies, a book of poetry dealing with anxieties and the human experience; heavily influenced by the late Robert Allen, a poet, publisher, and Fiorentino’s mentor.

“He taught us what to write, when we didn’t know what to write about. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him.”

In my notes from the launch I have written “he has an intriguing voice.” It wasn’t that, it was Fiorentino’s emotion and deceptively charming self-deprecation. Fiorentino brings up a review that said not one line of poetry from his book was memorable. 

“But really, that’s quite an accomplishment,” quips the poet.

Well I wrote one down, it stands alone on a page in my notebook –  

“shhh, there are poets trying to die.”

I don’t want to be cliché, but listening to Fiorentino was moving, and I felt sympathy toward this poet and his Stella, for he had lost someone who had helped him grow.  It’s weird to say, but I enjoyed his reading of Dying in Winnipeg, as it speaks volumes about the experience of living in this city – and, perhaps I’m being bold, but every Winnipegger carries around some angst – or wangst .

Here’s an excerpt, I laughed during the launch due to sixth line down…

Dying in Winnipeg

Don’t read me wrong –
I plan on dying in Winnipeg.

In a strange way I
posit Winnipeg is where everything always dies:

Grandfathers, clock radios, Chevrolets,
faith, journalists, fine-tip pens,

Earle Nelson, hockey dads,
your best friend from the old street.

As he left the stage I noticed Fiorentino wipe his eyes. It could very well be that a spec of dust made it past his glasses and settled on a spot near his eye. Or perhaps it’s the emotion and truth he has inked into the page fibers of Indexical Elegies manifesting itself.  

But that’s too cliché. He takes another sip of Stella.   
*

Part One: The Odd Ball

Part One: The Odd Ball

The intimate audience is seated at McNally Robinson Bookstore in Winnipeg. There are low murmurs and the brief interruption of an overhead announcement: “Amanda, party of three!”  The crowd quiets, the podium is taken.

Jonathan Ball is introduced as a number of marvellous things: a poet, an editor, a tapestry weaver, but — as the announcer says in a low, cautionary voice —  the “most unsettling of all, a moulder of young minds.”

I am one of those minds.

My first encounter with Jonathan Ball was in my university Creative Writing class. He spelt his name out with emphasis – it was JonathAn. He spoke fast and the class sat silently. He confidently wore a black shirt and dress pants – even though he leaned against the chalkboard a few times, leaving an impression of his shoulders. And brushed his pants accidentally, leaving chalky fingerprints.

I mention this now because at this weekend’s dual book launch of the Jons – the other being Jon Paul Fiorentino – I was left with a much different impression.

Ball took to the spotlight  and commenced the hometown launch of Clockfire:“A suite of poetic blueprints for imaginary plays that would be impossible to produce – plays in which, for example, the director burns out the sun, actors murder their audience, or the laws of physics are defiled.”

Any wonder why I can’t put it down? Or take the creepy smile off my face…

Since the book had been launched elsewhere before Winnipeg, Clockfire had already received reviews. Ball says that most have been positive but “taken out of context, would be negative.” Such as the reviewer who said that “if there is a Clockfire festival – don’t go.”

“People keep saying this is a horrific book – I disagree,” says Ball, who leaves a lot of the books interpretation to readers’ imagination. “If people say it’s disturbing, I tell them it’s not my doing.”

Ball says his favourite poem in the collection is The Play Begins, a poem I thoroughly enjoyed hearing read live. One of my favourites is  Autography – a poem that Ball wrote himself into.

            Minimalist set: small table, single chair, stack of books. An author enters to great applause. He folds a feathered quill, the picture of refinement. Smiling, a sly smile (so humble) – he winks at the absurdity of his elevated stature, or the stage.
            (Are there Clockfire festivals yet? The play is well-suited to open or close such festivals.)
            The author sits. The audience forms lines. He attempts grace. Signs books, shakes hands, smile widening. He remembers names, spells them all correctly and makes small talk while crafting witty inscriptions. He signs another copy for your mother. He answers all your questions with aplomb. He wets his quill, the signature in quick (but measured) strokes. The play continues until its author runs out of blood.  

Ball leaves the podium – “Ralph, party of one” – to raucous applause. This is only intermission.

*

Part Two: The Other Jon, and Stella.  

Cre.ature Cat Call

Creative Communications students have been hard at work on their creative writing publishing projects.

Where have you heard those words before?

MyTweet5 is the publishing project for the Class 2. We’re still accepting submissions until Monday, November 8.
We’re also hosting our MyTweet5 publication launch party 

Monday, November 15 
noon til two
Manitoba Room 
Red River College, Princess Street Campus.
Free!

It’ll be a time to catch up, launch the MyTweet5 print, and have some refreshments. 

The other classes are also holding publishing project events:

Class 1 is launching  I would be Lightning Man, Friday, November 5, 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. at The Academy on Osborne – 437 Stradbrook Ave. $2 entrance.

I would be Lightning Man is a collection of short stories, illustrations, and poetry submitted by people who answered the question, “If you could be a superhero, who would you be?” There are some great pieces done by kids!

Class 3 is hosting an exhibition of Post Fiction on Tuesday, November 9,
7 pm
at the Embassy Lounge, Republic Nightclub. $5 entrance.

PostFiction is a collection of postcard fiction — short stories or poems that fit on the back of a 4 X 6 postcard or photograph.

Good Luck to all classes on their projects! Hope to see everyone out there in support!

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