#NaNoWriMo2017 Day 5: “Orange Juice” by Spectacular Spectacular

I wrote about Spectacular Spectacular frontwoman Isley Reust Lydia Magazine in 2015, and in the process discovered not only their debut album but also this track from it, “Orange Juice.”

“Show me the monsters inside of you,” Reust sings.

In a lot of ways, the song is about discovering others’ dark sides. But in the case of my current project, “Omaha,” the story is about exploring our own choices and psyche to determine what makes us monsters, what makes us human, and how the two aren’t always different.

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#NaNoWriMo2017 Day 3: “Like a Fish”

Martini at the Drifter, a speakeasy in downtown Chicago

The Drifter is one of Chicago’s oldest operating speakeasies and a favorite place to catch a 15-minute act, order a cocktail from a deck of tarot cards and fall head-over-heels into candlelit inspiration.

“Any vices?” he absentmindedly flirted.

“Fuck yeah,” she smiled into her martini. “I drink like a sailor and swear like a fish.”

And he fell madly in love.

#NaNoWriMo2017 Day 1: “Exit Music (For a Film)”

It’s Nov. 1, which means it’s time to cannonball into a 50,000 word-deep project over the next 30 days. Because I’ll be focusing on one of my projects, I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to continue ignoring this blog — but in the spirit of constant creation this month, I’m pledging to post a tiny snippet of original writing or a “writespiration” post at least every other day. We’ll hope for better.

So without further ado, your writespiration to enter the month is “Exit Music (For a Film),” originally by Radiohead but adapted by Ramin Djawadi for the Westworld soundtrack.

The morose melody in the beginning. The searing strings toward the end. The inclusion of the Westworld opening theme. This is a perfect tune for action as it escalates and comes to a slamming halt, just like the finale of the show’s first season.

Excerpt: “Untitled Vampire Story”

The fact there was something different about him should have clued me into the fact that this was a bad idea — but I never heed my own instincts. My sister said it would eventually catch up to me, this haphazard lifestyle, but hey: I’d been purposefully arrogant for all 563 years of my life.

That’s what comes with being 17 for the last 547 of them. People expect me to be a thrill-seeking, living-on-the-edge, throw-caution-to-the-wind adolescent because I look like a walking, talking teenage cliché.

My sister, ten years my senior, used to moan about how inconvient it was that I vamped at the height of my teen years. She was a perpetual victim of my pubescent mood swings until I figured out how to control them around Year 303 of vampiredom. It also meant having to move around constantly because I never grew older. Then she realized continual transfers were useful, as it meant she could take complete advantage of any man she dated, then disappear when the relationship had run its course. No awkward breakups, and no one-night-stands gone long.

This was fine for the first 500 years until everyone suddenly became like us.

I don’t know who did it. Brom Stoker? Anne Rice? Fucking Stephanie Meyers? Almost overnight — or over-day, rather — the 300 or so vampires, including me and Morgan, came out of hiding in droves. Maybe it was because we were tired of being casted as brooding teenage heartthrobs. Maybe we were jealous of the attention fictional characters attracted and wanted some of the lime light. Whatever it was, suddenly, it was cool to be a vampire.

All I know is that one minute I was a rarity — a freak, some would say — and the next everyone I knew was drinking blood and sleeping from dawn until dusk.

Along with this change came another.

For 563 years, I avoided the hormone cesspool of high school successfully. Now that everyone turned out immortal, everyone started hitting Vamp Highs, where the older you were, the cooler you looked. It was a place where if you were new the first question wasn’t “Where are you from?” but “How old are you?” Some people jacked up their age, just to get attention. That was stupid, since just one glance at your V.I.D (Vampire Identification) clarified the subject.

None of us really needed school, but we were in the habit, and habits die hard, especially when you won’t. Or can’t. Ever.

Like any other “new kid,” when he walked into history class and the teacher, 958 years old, told us his name was Ron Jones — quite a pedestrian name, as far as everyone could tell compared to the students named Cecily, Piper, Loradonna, and Hunter that dominated the roster — the first question he was smacked in the face with upon taking his seat was “How old are you?”

“17,” he replied, looking at his books. I snorted at how Hollywood it sounded.

“No,” said Cecily di Garso (Cecily G. for short). “How old are you? Like — all together.”

“17,” he said again.

That was when the teacher told Cecily G. to shut up and listen to the lesson. Because we were all pretty old, the teachers didn’t really take care “to protect the youth.” Half of us had braved the Crusades, and we had all lived through at least the second World War. When we weren’t trying to one-up another during history class, we were busy swapping war stories.

Which helped make abundantly clear that this Ron kid was weird.

First off, he took notes.

Second, he had no good stories to tell. Not even when the topic of conversation moved on to the Vietnam War did he perk up. He attempted, once, by regaling us with a story told by his last history teacher who had passed around a shell from a bomb he almost died from just outside of a small coastal village in South Vietnam, but when no one seemed to care unless Ron had personally collected it, he grew quiet.

I overheard Cecily G. talking with the over-600 crowd at lunch that day while I eyed Ron taking a seat alone at the corner table.

“He must be a newbie,” she said. “That’s why he said he’s seventeen. Must have just Vamped.”

“Wow,” gasped one of them. “I didn’t know there were any humans left!”

I took my seat at a table away, with my friends in the mid-500s. There were no humans left, even 20 years ago. We had all taken care of that pretty well. I personally had never bitten anyone — I didn’t believe in all the stories about how kinky it could be — but I knew Morgan had. Once. By accident.

I found this in my files from God knows how long ago and thought it would be fun to share in the light of today’s Halloween festivities. Honestly I don’t know where I was going with it, but it fits into my usual M.O. of imagining a tired storyline with the roles reversed or perspective changed. A vampire figuring out what to do about a human in their world? Now that could get spookily hilarious. Who knows: Maybe this will turn into a YA book one of these days….

Short story: “David”

My stomach hit the sidewalk seconds before my coffee did. I had built up in my head that he was in a European prison where I’d never see him again — not standing outside the Starbucks next to where I worked and hardly thought of him at all except once or twice an hour when I’d create in my head my very reaction to seeing him again after all this time.

“Kid! Hey, kid!” I’d call out.

And then I’d walk away and wait for him to chase me. Which of course he would — this was my fantasy, and he did what I wanted.

But as I stared at him in the flesh, I dropped my coffee and felt it scald my skin through my tights. Suddenly an inside joke from our past didn’t seem as appropriate as a solid “Fuck you,” but my mouth couldn’t form the words. All it could do was slam shut as I hoped he hadn’t seen me and my brown-splattered nylons. The same ones he thought I had worn over on a 20-degree March night with the purpose of seducing him (I had), despite how I insisted that I had actually come from happy hour (I hadn’t, unless drinking two glasses of whiskey alone on my couch counted).

“Well hello,” he said with a smile — the kind that had convinced me six months before to get out of the cab one stop early and have a one night stand that lasted two months.

“Hi,” was the only syllable my mouth could form during its battle against my brain, which was still figuring out what it wanted to say as it also debated whether to pick up the fallen coffee cup, hook it with my toe so it wouldn’t blow away or ignore it all together.

“Surprised to see me?”

Of course the fucker was going to make it about him. He always did — asking me if he was my best friend, playing his favorite clips from some show I couldn’t stand, dropping names I didn’t recognize as if the people in his life were celebrities, not just the kind who invited their defense attorneys to family barbecues.

I used to use his comments about his pending departure as a thermometer when I wanted to know how he felt about our relationship: When it was good, he might not have to leave after all. When he was bored or annoyed, moving day suddenly moved up. And when he finally did leave, he made sure not to tell me until a single message lit up my phone after a week of radio silence: “Ah! Last week in Chicago. You were a highlight of my year.” Then, nothing.

He had been the first boy to make me cry. Not even my first yearlong relationship’s disintegration had done that. It had taken me months to stop thinking that six blocks west, two blocks north of my apartment was his neighborhood.

And now he stood on my sidewalk near my office asking me whether I was surprised to see him. For the next year I’d have to turn this corner every day and remember he had been there — one of the few places he hadn’t defiled during the two months of mindfuckery — and it was like he had returned from across the Atlantic just because he had missed a spot.

Shock decayed into chagrin.

“‘Surprised’ isn’t the term I’d use,” I said, hoping the rest of my mind would get on the same anger page. Unfortunately, part of my brain was remembering the feeling of his lips brushing just under my jaw bone while the other part heard his soft, warm laughter in my ear.

“You look great,” he said, surveying the body that had gotten sleeker, stronger and tougher from exercise that had done everything but sweat him out of my system.

“Thanks,” I said, wishing I was the kind of person who could nonchalantly add “I know.”

“So I’m in town for a while staying at my old place,” he said. “Are you still in the area?”

The fact I had never told him where I lived remained one of the few victories I had over him. Then again, he had worked for the county: A simple search, if he had been so inclined, would have given him my address, tax code and social security number.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, you know where I live,” he said, and before I knew what was happening, he had kissed my cheek and walked down my street toward my bridge that I crossed every morning. Except now it was the street he walked down after kissing me on the cheek, and the bridge he crossed on his way to his neighborhood.

I didn’t tell any of my friends I had seen him. I just experienced the deja vu of receiving a parboiled invitation that ended with “or something,” which meant adding “Shave legs, change underwear, drink two glasses of whiskey” to the list of things I had to do before leaving my house at 7:53 so I could arrive at 8:05 on the dot, be pulled by my scarf into the house and pressed up against the wall as his hands pushed tugged teasingly at my collar.

The Corvette button he gave me and that I still wore (“I don’t care who gave it to me, I just really like it,” I would spit at friends’ raised eyebrows) made a clatter on the floor when my coat landed at my feet. For the third time, I abandoned my gray boots five feet apart in the hallway as I walked in like it was my apartment, not his. And I lost yet another pair of tights to his fingers as they grappled to pull them down while pushing me back onto the dining table where I once left a pair of earrings so he’d feel obligated to invite me back.

The apartment still smelled of cinnamon tea and vanilla wax. His breath still tasted of red wine and lies. And there was still a watermark on the ceiling that looked like the Virgin Mary from some angles and a mushroom cloud from others. That image of mass murder and destruction was the last thing I saw before closing my eyes in a mix of anger and ecstasy, if there was even a difference between the two. They both made me scream and arch my back.

He buttoned his jeans and padded into the kitchen to pour cabernet savignon into two white wine glasses. I got off the table and straightened my skirt, leaving the punctured tights in a ball on the chair. His desk looked the same as always with the laptop open to film editing software and an external hard-drive blinking lazily next to it.

“Let me show you what I’m working on,” he said, handing me a glass and sitting down on the cheap task chair.

I hated that chair. One night he had pulled me over while we watched a clip of a show he had played for me at least five times before, and my quads burned from holding most of my weight off his leg. I feared our equally strong personalities were two heavy for the chair’s flimsy plastic spindle.

Tonight I stood behind him, my chin pinning my hand to the top of his head where it memorized the texture of his curls. I remembered how the sun turned his tarnished gold hair silver. There must be a lot more sun in London than I thought.

And there it was, that same clip he had shown me before. When I had finally seen the show it was from months after his departure, I had skipped the rest of the episode.

“I have this insane idea,” he said when it ended, spinning around in the chair and wrapping his hands around my waist. “Stay over,” he whispered to my belly button.

He had said the same thing before. I had said I had meetings the next day. Tonight I just sipped my wine to buy time to decide on a response. The glass hid my smirk, but I hoped that just this once the cabernet wouldn’t dye my lips purple.

Still unsure of how I wanted to answer, I twisted out of his grasp and went to the window to make sure the 160-year-old city cathedral hadn’t changed in the months since I had seen it from this 10-story perspective. Nope, still there. Still majestic and still a reminder of where I stood, vibrating from the inside out and cursing how easily I bruised as I succumbed to the phantom of his hands clinging to the back of my thighs. I drained my glass as I watched his reflection close in on mine. It took a quick diversion toward the door to the balcony that I never remembered how to pull or push.

The cathedral lights illuminated his face as he smoked outside. I sat on the deck chair with my legs pulled up to my chest. the cool breeze bringing drops of rain and floods of memories. The night he had said he’d like to see if we could make this work. The night he said he might not leave. The night we had watched the sunrise while my thin socks kept catching on the rough concrete deck and his hand slid down the inside back of my jeans.

Now we sat in the two chairs, the air snapping as if to ask “What now?” Or maybe that was just the sound of his lighter as he lit a cigarette and listened to a group of women cackling with delight on the street below.

“Who has a bachelorette party on a Wednesday?” he asked, and I realized it is Wednesday — our usual day when we would bite each other’s lips and whisper things that would echo in my ears and make me blush on Thursday and even into Friday. They just made it harder to wait for some kind of text message from him that wouldn’t come until maybe Monday. Asshole.

We were just like this on his balcony when he said I talked too much and laughed too loud. I had been staring at the cathedral when he asked me to give him credit for taking me home with him instead of my more attractive friend because he thought I was more interesting. I stood up and leaned against the iron railing to get a better look at the church and heard him say, six months previous, “You’re so confusing. It’s like you’re as cool as a guy, but in this great female body.”

Suddenly I wanted to take the cigarette out of his mouth and shove the lit end into the bridge of his nose. Instead he flicked it into the planter-turned-mass-grave. As he stood, I hoped he would kiss me in time for me to still taste it on his tongue.

“I’m glad you came,” he said, wrapping his arms around me. I squeezed the air out of his down coat and wondered if we were going to watch one more sunrise together.

The sweet smoke smell fills my nose, cutting through the burnt black coffee smell rising from my hands. The man turns on the street corner, raising the cigarette to his lips as he waits for the light to change so he can survive crossing the street only to die of lung cancer when he’s 50. His hazel eyes catch the sun.

The stranger walked one way and I went the other, sipping my coffee and adjusting the Corvette pin on my jacket. Of all the things I remember about him, I still can’t recall the color of his eyes.

Excerpt: “Smoke and Ink”

I describe the black smoke that had bubbled from between the buttons of my shirt, and Reema sits patiently, waiting for her turn to speak.

“I think you need to get out of here,” she says.

“Reema, you know I wouldn’t lie about something like that.”

“And that’s the scary part,” she says. “I know you’re telling the truth about what you think you saw, but I’m not sure why you think you saw it at all. Maybe you should take a drug test or something.”

“I’m clean,” I say, crossing my arms. I wasn’t expecting her to bring that up. Reema, of all people, knew how hard I had worked to get beyond that dark spot in my past.

“You think you’re clean,” she says. “Who knows what those psychos you’ve been covering would do to get someone to believe them. You said you had coffee with them: They could have slipped you something or –”

She has a point, and I uncross my arms to show that I’m willing to acknowledge it. As I draw my hands away from my chest, my jacket pulls back a bit and I see Reema’s expression change into one of surprise and horror. Looking down, I pull the lapels away.

I’ve left my gel pen uncapped in my pocket, and black ink has soaked into my shirt.

“Or maybe that’s it,” she says, grimace turning into a half-smile that’s half sweet, half mischievous. “I still think you should take a drug test, though. Hallucinations take more than a visual trigger.”

Then I hear it: eight piano keys crashing in a single chord and filling every corner of my head with noise. I look for the culprit, but there’s not a piano in the room. Not a stereo, speaker, radio or even windchime. But the sound — a chord struck just barely off from the rest of the song, continues, and it snaps the string of words in my head so they go skittering off like plastic beads across tile.

“Yeah,” I feel like I’m shouting over the din. The only words or Reema’s response that break through are “wait in your office” and “get the building medic.”

I inch down the stairs, each step muffled by the endless piano chord reverberating in my head. Once in my office, I close the door behind me and remove the pen from my pocket. I whip it at the wall so hard that it cracks completely in half and bleeds a matching stain into the rug.

Writespiration: Takashi Murakami’s “Kansei Korin Gold”

Living in Chicago means you can see something spectacular on any given weeknight. Tuesday night was the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Takashi Murakami exhibit. For a casual art lover and music fiend like myself, the main attractions were the work he did for Kanye West’s “Graduation” album (see below); the multiple recreations of D.O.B., his twisted Mickey-Mouse-esque mascot (also below); and his full-wall murals that combine elements of traditional Japanese artists like Hokusai with modern creators like Hayao Miyazaki and Jim Henson in complex cities of activity.

But, as was probably intended by the curators, I left with a far different impression of the avant-garde Japanese artist’s work — and a new favorite that’s still got me thinking a day later.

Takashi Murakami's "Kensei Korin Gold," a circular screenprint with multicolored leaves and flowers.

Takashi Murakami’s “Kensei Korin Gold,” as seen at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

“Kensei Korin Gold” (above) is is far more spectacular in person than in a photo. The gold leaf background is textured with blobbish smiling skulls, and the black waves sparkle with orange glitter, as if Murakami colored them in with one of the Glitter Crayolas from my childhood. Each flower has a slightly different facial expression such as joy, dismay, sluggishness, shock, etc., which turn this from a standard ornamental Japanese print to something with fantasy and personality.

That’s the kind of detail, diversity and dichotomy I try to inject into my own work. Instead of screenprinting, I use screenwriting (and prose-writing, poem-writing, etc.) to try to create things that are, like “Kensei Korin Gold,” attractive from afar and downright mesmerizing up-close. Seeing how easily Murakami does this is both challenging and inspiring.

Takashi Murakami's art for Kanye West's "Graduation" album

Murakami’s cover art for Kanye West’s “Graduation” album. That small image glowing on my iPhone screen is nothing compared to the glossy original currently hanging at the MCA.

"Tan Tan Bo" by Takashi Murakami

“Tan Tan Bo” by Takashi Murakami — A version of his mascot, D.O.B., who is a visual combustion of Japanese and American animation.