The ECP Diaries, Part 2

OK, so I know I told you that the next update on my ECP would come in September, but sat here, watching first practice for the British Grand Prix in the comfort of my room, I had something of an epiphany about it. You might recall that in Part 1, I discussed the possibility of writing a pair of small scripts, connected by a shared theme. I intend to stick to what immediately came to mind – the subject of longing – and to demonstrate this in two very different ways. In the first, two characters will come to blows over something relatively common or trivial, treating it as though it’s the worst thing in the world. In the course of their disagreement, they’ll talk about their friends, the people on the outside of the situation, who – unbeknown to them – are themselves struggling with a kind of longing that’s much more severe. Maybe they’re at risk of losing jobs or homes, or they’re struggling with secret issues or addictions, but none of the people closest to them have given them the support they need – so engrossed are they in their own comparatively petty squabbles.

At this early stage, that’s quite literally all I have so far, still the bare bones of an idea. Having said that, though, it’s enough to push me on towards the next step, namely actually writing some test material and something resembling a first draft. Once I’ve made what I deem to be good progress, I’d like to devise at least one alternative concept, in case my tutor doesn’t think either or both of the aforementioned ideas are worthy. In any case, it certainly can’t hurt to expand my options. I’m sure all writers, budding or experienced, can agree that facing a blank page is daunting – but I evidently have more than I need to get started, so that’s left to do now is get typing and see what appears!

Mason

The ECP Diaries

As revealed in my last post, discussions with my assigned university tutor about my final Extended Creative Project (ECP) have finally begun. I was raring to go, of course, but also more than a little nervous before we started our Zoom chat last Wednesday. Numerous questions were whizzing through my head, the biggest of which was “what if he despises my idea?” I could have spent ages with my heart set on something only for it to be completely unworkable. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, because we were both attentive and receptive to one another’s ideas right from the start. My tutor is the kind of person who encourages someone to ask every possible question about their work, so they can reflect on it as fully as possible, and I was no exception. Over the course of 45 minutes or so we both raised a variety of queries concerning my proposal, and I made sure to list these after the call had ended as part of my developing long-term notes. It had been recommended that we all keep a ‘diary’ describing our efforts throughout our projects, to make the accompanying essay we’ll submit much easier to write, so I started mine straight – and the aforementioned questions were all duly listed.

I don’t feel able to tell you about the finer details of my project just yet, because it’s likely to change a great deal over the next year – possibly even before my next meeting with my tutor at the end of September. At the moment, though, it’s a stage play with something very personal at its heart, and before there are any further alterations, I need to think carefully about the following:

  1. Is theatre the right medium for it? Could it be adapted into a short film?
  2. Could it be two or more smaller pieces rather than one big piece – perhaps with a linking theme (longing)?
  3. What is it about? What do I want the audience to take away from it?
  4. Am I confident in my characters? Do they behave naturally and are they strong enough to carry a conflict?
  5. What exactly is this conflict? What will set this relatively ordinary idea apart from other similar ones?

Aren’t I cryptic? There’s already a lot to think about, as you can see, but I will relish the challenge ahead. A list of plays I might find inspiring has been given to me, and as I write this now, two of those – Yasmina Reza’s Art and Patrick Marber’s Closer – have arrived, ready to be devoured. I’ll let you know what I think of them, as I intend to keep you updated on every twist and turn throughout the process. This is the first instalment of a new series, so look out for Part 2 once I’m back in Winchester. The ball is well and truly rolling…

Mason

 

When The Well Was Dry

Over the last few days, it’d been looking increasingly likely that June 2020 might become the first month in Third Time Enabled’s short history not to offer any new posts. I don’t know if I can fully attribute the lack of material to the ongoing lockdown situation, but I simply haven’t had anything worthwhile to say for myself. It might partly be because that’s just how life is sometimes. It’s full of fluctuations – there can be plenty or nothing at all to say. Lots of new ideas to share, or none whatsoever. The lack of predictability keeps us on our toes – we never know quite what will or won’t work out. Just think of all the things I’ve said I’ll do on this blog before – how many of them have I actually managed to follow through?

Circumstance can be to blame then, but I probably am too. I’m doing a Creative Writing degree I love wholeheartedly, and yet I haven’t been proactive enough in creating outside of it. Maybe that’s down to simple procrastination, or self-doubt about the quality of my work. Whatever the case, I haven’t been able to take the plunge. Thankfully, though, sheer desperation has driven me to take action, and I’ve been working on two posts simultaneously for a little while now. Since I’ve had little to say about my own life here, I decided to write something new to showcase, and in this instance, poetry seemed appropriate. I’ve been trying to come up with some using a method I’ve used before – progress has stalled, but there’s been progress nevertheless. The same goes for a film review I started two weeks ago. There’s been much typing and deleting, and while I have managed to put some thoughts to paper, I don’t feel particularly close to finishing it. All I can say is that I’ll keep taking the initiative and pushing myself to write – hopefully you’ll have more to see here soon enough, and I’ll have more to add to my personal portfolio.

In addition to that, I’ll be having the first discussion about my final degree project with my tutor tomorrow…

Mason

 

Keep Calm, Chop And Change

Hi everyone, my name’s Alex. I’m a friend of Mason’s and a fellow Creative Writing student. I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered a post on this blog, but I’ve never done a blog post about me as I’m used to telling other people’s stories, so bear with me!  

I decided to cut my hair from shoulder-length to pixie one Saturday night in January while I was alone in my uni house. I hadn’t planned to go that short when I picked up the Ikea scissors and faced my reflection. I hadn’t planned past the slightly bored thought of “I’ll give it a trim”, which I’d had for the past year. So I snipped in a few more layers, took a centimetre or so from the ends and found myself wondering – not for the first time – how it would look a bit shorter. Maybe a lob length. My sister had just started growing her pixie cut out and I’d admired her confidence when she got hers cut, but felt – because we have different bone structures – that I wouldn’t be able to carry one off. I put on a playlist – I can’t remember it now but it probably didn’t help to rationalise what I did next – took a handful of my hair and chopped it at my jaw. No turning back once you’ve done that, is there? It felt…empowering? Crazy? Like I’d stuck a metaphorical middle finger up? Of course, a lot was behind this, not just the desire to try a new look. I’d spent my whole life feeling self-conscious, awkward, like I didn’t belong anywhere, as though no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t fit in. Nothing really felt personalised in my physical identity.

I felt free to be so drastic partly because I wasn’t with anyone (so didn’t have to worry about being dumped because I’d changed), partly because I was no longer bothered if people didn’t like me (and if they cared then I no longer wanted them in my life), and partly because nothing else had worked. I don’t know how long that first chop took, but I’ve never regretted it. I love that I cut (and still maintain) it myself. No-one else had any part in creating it and there’s something really satisfying in that.

Changing to become more authentic is the most terrifying, empowering thing because it’s a leap of faith. Chopping my hair into a pixie cut challenged me – and not just in my cutting abilities! It challenged me to step out from a role I felt I’d been playing for years that had got good reviews, but wasn’t authentic. I didn’t want to be a carbon copy or a blend, I wanted to be me and I wanted to be that person unapologetically and honestly. Cutting my hair was the first major step towards cultivating a look, a lifestyle, a persona that suits and reflects me. Not society, not socially popular images, not stereotypes, not what’s seen as attractive. Just me.

Lots of people thought I was having a crisis, lots of people thought I was crazy. Lots of people probably still think all those things, but I’d rather be honest about who I am and what I want. Trying to stuff myself into an image that increased self-doubt and insecurities already in existence – due to constant comparisons with everyone else – hadn’t worked. But accepting those insecurities, owning them and stepping out from who I felt I’d always had to be helped to overcome a huge block. I realised that you can change but the people who like you for yourself won’t give a damn what you look like, and if they do? Well, there will be people out there who love who you really are, and you should look out for them.

So that’s the story behind the hair.

Thank you Mason for letting me contribute to your blog!

Alex

Outer Space, Outer Space

I’ve recently started a new project, creating the 120-150 lines of song I need for my next Composing Song Lyrics assignment. Unlike others in my class, I don’t sing or play, so I’ve taken what is supposedly the easiest option by choosing to rewrite existing songs instead. The first step in all of that is choosing the tracks I want to work on, and as I write this, that’s still very much a work in progress. I do have one song set in stone, which I rediscovered my love for a few weeks ago thanks to Spotify’s random choices – Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’ (song titles go in single inverted commas, apparently). However, the only issue with being able to choose songs you enjoy is that you risk butchering musical masterpieces with your own mediocre words, and that was definitely at the front of my mind as I started to think about mine.

We’ve been doing various writing exercises in seminars over the last few weeks that we hope will get our creative juices flowing. Many of them have involved writing about different unrelated emotions or scenarios in prose or loose verse, so that we can pluck certain words and phrases for later use. In my case at least, some exercises have been more fruitful than others, but a few words, lines and images have helped me to get started. Last night, I went to the library to begin my new version of ‘In My Place’, and because the song has a relatively simple syllabic structure and rhyme scheme, I had written a draft I was satisfied with in around half an hour – giving me 39 lines of lyrics. A blank sheet of paper is daunting for any writer, so I initially focused only on getting started and committing to an opening line. What I came up with was “outer space, outer space”, which mirrors the repetition of the title in Coldplay’s original, since I felt a degree of pressure at first to be faithful to it. It had the effect of evoking something better, though, so I soon replaced it with something else. From there, the rest of the piece seemed to flow nicely, and my portfolio was officially underway.

Because I’m rewriting something existing, it is imperative that the new song exactly matches the syllabic count of the original. In some cases, there may be an opportunity for an extra syllable in a line where one has been stretched by the singer – but I have to try and remember not to get greedy. I have a feeling that whatever the next four songs are, their new words won’t come quite as easily as the first set did, and I’ll have a lot more to consider before I can make them work. Each submission has to be accompanied by a 30-second recording explaining what you were trying to achieve with it, so there are both technical and emotional aspects to think about. Even so, I’m finding the study of lyrics less highbrow and much more accessible than I did traditional poetry last year. I can only conclude that that must be because of the nature of popular music as something which is designed to be cherry-picked and enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age, experience or background.

Mason

 

The Lipogram Challenge

My second year here in Winchester is now in full swing, and until Christmas, Thursday will be the busiest day of my week. Last Thursday, from 11am until 2pm, I was in the first seminar of my Telling True Stories module, the one Lara and I are both expecting to enjoy the most this semester. Eventually, it will require us to choose, research and write about any person or event we like – the idea must be big enough to theoretically fill an entire book. At such an early point in the term, though, we haven’t started thinking about that just yet, and a large part of that session was just devoted to what would be expected of us over the next twelve weeks.

When we did get around to writing, I definitely found the exercise to be an intriguing test of our abilities. Through an example shown to us by our lecturer, we were introduced to the lipogram – a piece of writing in which a particular letter, or group of letters, is avoided. As you might expect, we were soon asked to write our own, and we were given the choice of either creating something original, or adapting one of the lecturer’s two chosen news articles. You can see the story I chose to work on at The Guardian‘s website here. I found it tricky to decide on what I would exclude from my piece, so I turned to the person sitting next to me and asked them for their opinion. They opted for the letter ‘C’. Deciding that there were enough synonyms in the world for me to make that work, I got started, and what you can see below was the result. The nature of the lipogram meant that the original story ended up somewhat condensed, but rather than limiting me as a writer, I found that it opened my mind and really made me think about how I could get around the obstacle facing me. Surely that means that it’s worth trying again?

“Parisian onlookers were astounded on Saturday evening when a young man braved the outside of a building to save the life of a boy about to fall from an upper floor. He is being referred to as the “Paris Spider-Man” due to his selfless and remarkable show of strength, now widely available in video form. Following the heart-stopping event, 22 year-old Mali-born Mamoudou Gassama was personally thanked by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, who said that it would be “very keen to support him in his efforts to settle” in his new homeland. He will also be honoured for his valiant deed by the President this week.

The boy was home alone at the time of the episode – his father was held for questioning and is due to appear before a jury, but his mother was outside of Paris.”

Mason

Five Seven Five

When my Winchester flatmate Sam and I cross paths, often in the kitchen at odd times of the day or night, he’ll frequently ask what I’m writing at the moment. In the last few weeks, with no academic work to do, the answer has tended to be “nothing much”. Even when I’ve prompts in mind, nothing has been fruitful, but one very small thing has suddenly helped to change that – and I could find it rather useful over the coming months at home.

When I saved and submitted my poetry portfolio at the beginning of last month, I assumed that I was letting go of the last batch of verse I would write in a while. I’d had trouble gelling with the module, and – excluding one on song lyrics – I haven’t chosen to take any poetry modules next year. That was that, or so it seemed. Just the other night, using the pen and notebook Louis bought me for my last birthday, all it took was three lines to reveal that perhaps I have unfinished business with it after all. In a haiku, I have a simple outlet for all of those fragmented thoughts and emotions I’m keen to express. It’s also good for the ideas I have that aren’t quite big enough for me to expand on substantially, those that start out as words, phrases or images. If I get them down on paper in this way, I’m shifting my writer’s block and expanding my portfolio, albeit more gradually than I would like.

As I’ve said, it could come in especially handy over the next few months while I’m back in Somerset for the summer. It’s fair to say that I’ve been more than a little bit apprehensive about returning from Winchester and facing numerous questions about what I plan to do with myself. I’ve been embarrassed about admitting that right now, there are no plans to speak of – but I’m hoping that writing and the ideas I have will help to ease that as I work on making some. It doesn’t matter whether they manifest themselves as bigger things or smaller ones, or in three lines or more.

Mason

 

Steak And Chips

Henry sprayed himself with his strongest aftershave once again. A thick cloud rose up and he coughed as it filled his throat. In the mirror, he saw that his fringe had already collapsed under the weight of his hair gel. Great! Producing a toothpick, he began prodding about in his mouth. “Lettuce. Ham sandwich. Pringle,” he thought. They couldn’t afford to stay there.

He was convinced that something was sabotaging his date with Emily before he’d even been on it, and he was insecure enough already.  He and Emily would be having a meal; he was pretty confident about eating. But he didn’t know how to greet her, how to say goodbye, or what to talk about in between. “Do we kiss? Do I hold her hand? What are her interests?” He felt pressure from some anonymous force to be someone he wasn’t, and he desperately wanted to impress this girl naturally.

Unfortunately, Henry overthought every possible worst-case scenario. Last night, the latest in a long line of nightmares manifested themselves. He tossed and turned in bed as hazy images of spilling a drink on her dress, and kissing her with garlic breath, swirled in his mind. But as scary as those more trivial things seemed, there were other aspects of a potential new relationship that terrified him even more. He looked around at the paper strewn across his desk, and his overflowing bin. “What a shithole,” he thought to himself. “She’d hate this, wouldn’t she? What would her parents think? How fast would things move? Would she get bored of me?” He’d tried to fix his wonky hairdo, but there was only so much a careful comb could do. Accepting that it would probably collapse again soon, he took his keys and wallet and left his flat.

The short walk to the restaurant where Henry would be meeting Emily seemed to go on forever. Even as the town filled up with pubgoers in the twilight, he studied himself intently. He rubbed furiously at a stubborn stain on his shoe. Something he couldn’t identify that he tried and failed to rub off of his jeans. “Toothpaste? Mayonnaise?” All of the possible suspects entered his head. His eyes widened at another. “Bird poo?!”

He felt his shirt collar. It was wonky, so he promptly straightened it. He’d noticed himself sweating more now, and his hands were trembling. He quietly clenched a fist, just to confirm that he did indeed have increasingly clammy hands. He’d sniff his armpits again later on, even though he had already applied deodorant five times. Was that a spot he could feel on his nose…? Whatever it was, he removed his hand quickly, to avoid aggravating it.

“Get a grip,” Henry muttered. His friends had all told him that nerves before a first date were only natural. “It’s good to be nervous, it means that you care,” they would say. But Henry thought that being this nervous was borderline ridiculous. Surely all he had to do was be himself, and he’d be fine? Breathing in, then out again, he tried to relax his shoulders. The more Henry considered it, being himself seemed awfully cliched. He was neither outstanding nor awful, just average, and these days it seemed as though that wouldn’t cut it with anyone. There was so much pressure on so many people to look good and achieve great things in their lives. Life was presented like a race, in which nobody could afford to finish last – and as things stood, Henry was definitely finishing last. His mind flashed back to his modest room. He couldn’t help thinking that the odds were stacked against him, and his mindset didn’t improve when the restaurant appeared in the distance, modestly lit by the lamppost outside.

Henry thought about his bank balance as he patted his back pocket, just to ensure his wallet was in there. He couldn’t afford to splash the cash too much – his parents had always been very clear about the value of money. What would happen if he ordered something small? He could practically see the look of disgust on Emily’s face as a modest bowl of soup and a crusty roll faced up to rump steak and chips. “If I see her nose curl up,” he thought, “the ground may as well open up and swallow me whole.” He needn’t have worried.

With considerable trepidation, Henry slipped quietly through the door, and Emily watched as he approached. She was sat at a table surrounded by older couples who’d left the kids at home with the babysitter, and the last remnants of refracted daylight through the window almost formed an orange halo around her date. It made his skin and hair shine together; he was the physical embodiment of a deity and a dream, and she was totally at ease. All of a sudden, she wasn’t so worried about split ends or getting something stuck in her teeth. Even so, she fumbled in her bag, just to make sure the toothpicks were there.

Minutes earlier, Emily had been wiping the sweat from her brow in the toilets, such were her nerves. She had to laugh, because she’d been sweating when she first laid eyes on him as well, sitting in that university taster session.  The next time she met Henry, six months had passed, but the chemistry had been as magnetic as the attraction. She remembered having a drink outside, as the September sun made them squint and giggle as they discussed their hopes and fears. Just as she had been then, she found herself looking deep into his hazel eyes, hanging on his every word as he hung on hers. They may have been relatively new to each other, but conversation flowed like they had known one another for years. Some of those other couples looked over at them, fondly recalling the way things used to be when they were young. Who said romance was dead?

Oh, and they both got steak and chips.

Mason

Flarf Poetry

I’m now in the midst of my Easter break back at home – although, to all intents and purposes, my first year at university ended just over a week ago. I’m going back anyway, but for the next couple of weeks, I’ll focus on getting the last four assignments for the year done, while looking at what I’ve already accomplished with a great deal of pride. My marks this year have been very consistent (although nothing counts until Year 2) and I have learnt much and grown creatively. Approximately 7,000 words in total lie ahead of me during this break, and I hope can be as pleased with those as I am with what has gone before. Having such confidence in my work is very rare, since the self-doubt almost always kicks in once something is finished!

I’ve now submitted my poetry portfolio, and in time you may well see the whole thing here. For now, though, I just want to show you the poem that concludes it, as an example of flarf poetry. In class, we were told to think of two completely random words and enter them into Google so that we could write something using its search results. I chose “grassy brick”, which meant that I swiftly came across a set of instructions on how to grow grass in an old brick. I adapted these into stanzas – with some artistic licence – and I ended up with a simple and surreal final poem that didn’t take itself too seriously. I wouldn’t have ended the portfolio any other way. It’s called “Gardening For a New Generation”, and it goes like this:

“Gardening for a new generation.

Plant a seed in an urban jungle.

What will you need?

A brick, glazed, strictly non-porous;

Nothing else will do.

 

Blow away the dust and the cobwebs,

The ghost of a hardened hand.

Make it wet, soften the stone to sand,

Eat that pie on the windowsill;

You’ll need the tin tomorrow.

 

Half an inch of water will give new life.

Bless the brick with more,

As it sits in its bakelite bathtub.

Watch the cheap seeds sprout;

You’ll like grass, it’s hardy.”

 

Mason

Blackout Poetry

Two writing worlds collide! As my poetry portfolio of 150 lines is nearing completion, I’d like to show you one of the poems that will feature in it. I wrote it over the weekend, and although it is untitled at the moment, it serves as an example of blackout poetry. This is created through taking a larger piece of text – perhaps a page from a book, or in this case a stand-alone piece of non-fiction – and isolating totally unrelated words and phrases to use in the poem. I used Charles Simic’s “Dinner At Uncle Boris’s” to write this, looking carefully at different parts of the text to see what could form something strangely cohesive and intriguingly surreal. It will appear as the penultimate poem in my portfolio – I hope you like it as much as my workshop group did yesterday!

“The four of us, out of water glasses,

Eating through our second helping of fly.

I’m full of shit, with a bit of fat underneath.

No guts.

 

The old guys are reminiscing about the war.

‘You were very good at it,’ my father assured him.

We are all composite characters.

We survive that somehow, the incredible stupidity of our family.

 

Orgies of self-abuse, our family is a story of endless errors,

Making us all in turn say ‘aaaaaahh’ like a baby doctor.

Of course, we can barely keep our eyes open.

For the moment we have run out of talk.”

 

Mason