Good vs. Evil: A Theme to be Explored

Wow! It seems like forever since I’ve posted here. It also seems like I start posts with that sentence far too often. Fear not however because after the first of the year it should be getting a little bit better (hopefully!). The past two weeks I’ve been slammed getting ready for and taking finals but at long last I am on Winter Break!! *And the crowd goes wild!* It now seems, work aside, that I have so much extra time for writing activities! Lucky for me however I have undertaken a rather  massive and possibly super important writing project in the form of another blog! But, more about that later… For now let us get on to the important part of this post!

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So You Are Trying to Write Something “Original”

Iconic Image of Good vs. Evil

Don’t. You’ll spend the rest of your writing career looking for that original “something” rather than actually writing.

Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh. If you are incredibly (like 1 in a bazillion) you’ll be able to find something new to write about. But we as writers need to face the fact that in the 2,000 some years of literature, pretty much everything has been written about. Pretty dismal prognosis right? When I came to this realization I definitely thought so. At least we’re wrong though!

A regular at my coffee shop (who isn’t even a writer) told me something that I found incredibly helpful. After more or less breaking the same terrifying news I’ve just broke to you, he told me that there is one theme that will always be practical: Good vs. Evil.

It is arguably the most primal plot line in existence, I would argue even more powerful than love. Almost every piece of literature in existence has some form of good and evil. Whether it be the obvious good guys verses bad guys or the more blurred what should be and what is this battle we wage on a daily basis in our ow personal lives is something that we can always relate to. More often than not, most people have the same general opinions of what is good and what is evil and so that takes a huge load off of your shoulders as a writer. It is also something that is timeless. Because of human nature, there will always be both good and evil in the world; there is no escaping it.

Slightly ironic know that Star Wars is technically a Disney product.

This regular at my shop told me that the battle between good and evil is the best place to start. From there, your story can take any shape or form. Because the battle of good and evil takes place in almost every facet of life at one point or another, your options are limitless. He also reminded me not to think of it as a necessarily easy thing to do. Good and evil may sound like a story that  more or less writes itself, but be wary of writing a cut and dry account of it. Don’t have a pure hero and a completely diabolical villain. No body wants to read that story; that’s what Disney is for.

The battle of good and evil merely gives you a starting point. From there, it is your responsibility as an author to make it interesting and real. Be sure that your hero has some detrimental flaw or that your villain has moments of utmost humanity in order to keep your reader guessing. If you really want to write something emotionally powerful, blur the lines between what is “good” or “evil.” Some of the best books I’ve ever written have had events where there is good in the evil of a deed leaving me to question my own opinions of what is really “good” or “just.” On that note, justice is another interesting aspect of good and evil you can have a lot of fun with. Is something just despite the evil nature of it? Or does the fact that there was nothing good in the act of justice negate its effects?

As you can easily see, I could ramble on and on about the questions you can raise and the twists  you can take. This theme is what I like to call an “Adventure in a Can.” Once you open it, even you won’t necessarily know where it will take you or how it will get there. One thing I will advise is something that I will never be able to emphasize enough: be sure to know your main characters just as well, if not better, than you know your best friend. The key to having a story and its characters write itself (which is an experience that writers search tirelessly for and is really, in my opinion, where the best stuff is written) is knowing exactly how your character will react to any situation or event you put in their lives. Once you know your characters that well, all you have to do is introduce events and other characters – this is where the good and evil come in – and they will react to it in their own way, seemingly out of your control. *On an interesting note, there are occasions where the decisions your own character would make will appall you, and that is absolutely amazing.

So, I have given you a tool to explore in your personal writing; a starting point if you will. Go forth and give it a test drive. Write a little short story and see how much you can put into it and how much you can push the conventions and expectations of this history-old theme. If you can bend and break those conventions and expectations, you will have something of worth in your hands!

 

Leave a comment Posted in writing advice Tagged advice, coffee shop, darth vader, evil, good, good vs. evil, ideas, luke skywalker, star wars, starting point, theme, writing

Bioregionalism: A Critical Lens and a Advocacy Tool

A little too late last night I wrote a post on my newly rekindled excitement for writing – something that has been long awaited! I briefly mentioned that I found it in the idea of bioregionalist writing, compliments of a journal article  titled “Literary Activism and the Bioregional Agenda” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 28, 1995. Now, I’m willing to bet that a majority of you have never heard of bioregionalist literature, let alone have a good grip on what its tenets are. I know I had never heard of it a month ago! But, the more and more I read about it and its literature, the more I get excited about it and feel like it is a perfect fit for my writing style and what I want to write about!

If you are eternally curious about knew modes and mediums of writing/reading, or have a passion for writing about nature, the environment, and man’s relationship with it I think that you’ll enjoy the bioregionalist lens. While I am no professional in the area, I do have enough knowledge to give some introductory information on what Bioregionalism is and how it can be used!

What is Bioregionalism

Bioregionalism can be somewhat of a tricky thing to pin down. It is rather broad in its concepts, and combines aspects of many pre-existing literary methods to form a rather unique and extraordinarily practical methodology. If it had to be put in the simplest form, Bioregionalism is the attempt to reconnect with their immediate environment. In a more practical sense, the “bioregionalist project’s” main goal is to create a new set of eco-cultures – meaning people in community with their environment; knowing about it, caring about it, and loving it. I once read an article that said the Bioregionalism differs from environmentalism in the difference between relationships between humans and the environment. Traditionally speaking, true environmentalism calls for a segregation of nature and the impacts of human population (industry, technology, big agri-business, etc.). Bioregionalism on the other hand works towards finding a mutual beneficial, sustainable relationship and cohabitation between the two. After spending more than half of my life as a farmer, I am acutely aware of the reliance mankind has on the environment, and that our continued success as a society is dependent on the way we interact with our environment today.

image credit: Palouse Permaculture
My bioregion: The Palouse. Isn’t it beautiful??

Bioregionalism and Literature

Now that we have a better idea of what all Bioregionalism is about, we can look at how it plays out in literature and writing. Basically there are two different ways the Bioregionalism connects with literature/writing:

  • Bioregionalism as Activist/Advocacy Literature

Again, as I mentioned above, Bioregionalism definitely has a goal, and that focus is directly portrayed in the writing. Bioregionalist literature focuses on opening eyes and informing the every day person – as opposed to most scholarly work written with a scholarly audience in mind (somewhat preaching to the choir.. but that’s another topic). It can take many forms from journals, poetry, and essays to fiction short stories and novels. As always, the main focus is an increased relationship with the your immediate environment and building a sustainable lifestyle the is beneficial to both you and your environment. The active attempt to reach out and encourage people to get back to nature and learn a little bit about the natural environment around them is where the Advocacy aspect comes in. Bioregionalist literature can also take the form of essays, proposals, petitions, and even speeches (stetching for the lit. connection there) that are specifically geared towards a certain goal within the realm of environmental awareness. Many times literature can be one of the best ways to educate people on the environmental issues in their area whether it be through a blog, newspaper/weekly publication article, or simple informative fliers. This focused and goal-oriented form of literature is where it can take shape as a muscular activist tool.

  • Bioregionalism as a Critical Methodology

 

Most of you are probably familiar with critical methodologies, even if you call them something else. I was taught to call the “critical lenses” and popular ones include Feminism, Post-Structuralism, Marxism, Postcolonial, and Race Studies. There are literally hundreds of unique methodologies that we all use to evaluate anything from literature to movies to people without ever realizing what we’re doing. Bioregionalism absolutely functions as a critical methodology because we can take a surprising number of works (from the likes of Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, or John Muir) and look at them in an entirely new light. Not only can we use this lens on canonical literature but it also extends to more “practical” areas like government reports, land proposals, economic statements, etc. In  many ways, using the bioregionalist lens is one of the most effective tools for combating policy that is unfavorable or downright harmful to the bioregion. When you look at a government report or land proposal with the critical lens of Bioregionalism it becomes easier to pick it apart for what it is and find flaws or contradictions in the proposals and bring them to the public attention. Again, it serves as powerful activism/advocacy tool for those wanting to use it. A perfect example is the current debate in my own bioregion on whether or not to allow an increased number of coal trains passing through on their way from the mines to the Pacific coast and on to China. All of the government and corporate reports will be scoured by myself and (hopefully) other environmentalists and discussed in the upcoming public hearing on the issue.

 

Now I know I’ve given you a lot to think about, but if it sounds like it’s something that you’re interested in hearing more about please feel free to shoot me an email at connor.griffin91gmail.com and we can talk more about it! I plan on opening a blog in partnership to this one called Pine Tree Philosophy where I will feature a lot of my own bioregionalist writing as well as documenting my own volunteering with environmental sustainability groups in the great Spokane area. Unfortunately, finals week is quickly approaching and I doubt I will have the time I need to devout to a new blog until Christmas break, but hopefully it will be up and live by New Years! I’ve already heard back from a few people who will be willing to feature poetry, guest articles, and photos for Pine Tree Philosophy and I know that you’ll enjoy them! It’s shaping up to be a pretty good project and I’m hoping that all of you will show it the same support you’ve shown (and will continue to show!) this blog – I’ll definitely still be posting here on a regular basis :)

Until next time though,

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Leave a comment Posted in a tidbit of my own, general riff-raff, writing advice Tagged bioregionalism, Coal Free Spokane, Critical Lens, Critical Methodologies, environmentalism, John Muir, Mark Twain, Palouse, Sierra Club, Spokane, Thomas Jefferson, Washington, Writing Styles

I’m Excited About Writing Again… Finally!

Hey everyone! This past week has been more beneficial for my growth as a writer than any number of months before. Every now and then people will experience a period in life where all the things that were floating around in the oblivion that is your mind suddenly click into place and the picture becomes clear. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the picture is as clear as crystal yet, but it is definitely less muddy!

It started with a research paper on bioregionalist literature I’m doing for my Survey of American Literature class at Eastern Washington University. For those of you who don’t know anything about bioregionalist literature, fear not because I’ll be going into too much detail here pretty soon. Before that however, I think it would be prudent to expand a little bit on who I am as a writer. Most of you who follow this blog on a semi-consistent basis know that I am a writer – obviously. I’ve posted a few little short stories here and there and mentioned more than a few book ideas that I have floating around, but I don’t know if I’ve ever really talked about what some of my passions in life are and how that effects my writing. Let me begin by telling a little bit about my past.

On the farm one last time.

I spent the majority of my childhood working on a Kansas cattle ranch. My freshman year of high school my family moved from Kansas to the inconspicuous town of Yakima, Washington where I resided for the rest of my high school career. Despite becoming feverishly found of the Pacific Northwest, I felt an almost primal need to spend one final summer on the ranch. So, two weeks after graduating high school I packed my bags and spent the summer working under the 100 degree sun doing anything from driving cattle to tilling fields to mending fences. I absolutely loved every single moment of it.

I tell that story about the ranch because I cannot think of any other place/experience that has had a bigger influence on who I am as a man today. From a very young age I was taught the value of the land. Hell, I grew up with the mindset that the land was ultimately where my paycheck came from. If I did not treat the land right, or respect it as a natural entity, it would have a direct impact on my quality of life. The ranch that I worked on was not an organic/sustainable farm – in environmentally technical terms we could call it a “conventional farm” – but nonetheless we (my best friend whose Dad owned the ranch and I) were taught to respect and appreciate the land from which we made our living. That idea has stuck with me more than any other.

My passion for the environment started on that ranch in Kansas and only blossomed as I transitioned my life back here to the Pacific Northwest. Now I would consider myself an “environmentalist” – for whatever that term is worth – and really try and play a part in educating people about the benefits of living an ecologically sustainable lifestyle. One of the most interesting and most rewarding aspects of this is helping people to reconcile a sustainable lifestyle with the demands of a well-established capitalist/industrial society that we all live in and offering practical ways that people can contribute to the environment’s well-being without abandoning all technology and moving to the woods.

Another way in which I have been attempting to have an impact on the environmental and mainstream (for a severe lack of a better term) communities is through my writing. I have been struggling to find a way to use my writing as a tool for bringing awareness to members of my community and finally think I have come up with something! This epiphany finally brings us back to the American Literature paper I mentioned at the beginning of this too-long post!

My paper is on Gary Snyder’s poem “For the Children” and how it serves as a Bioregionalist manifesto. (The actual poem is below for your enjoyment and the idea of bioregionalism will be explained in the subsequent companion post to this one.) The more and more I dig into what bioregionalism is, the more I realize it fits who I am and what I want to do with my writing. So much so in fact I am playing around with starting another blog to feature and display my bioregionalist writings as well as my work with the EWU Sustainability Project and other environmental projects I am involved in. I’ve already got some feelers out with photographers and writers that I know to see if they would be willing to contribute to this massive project I am wanting to undertake! It has been a long (very long it seems) time since I have been seriously excited about writing and let me tell you… what a wonderful feeling that is!

I hope that you all will join me on this additional journey I will be embarking on (don’t worry I’ll still be doing this journey as well!!) and that you might learn a little something about the environment, sustainable living, and the impact a single person can make on their local bioregion!

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,

of statistics

lie before us.

the steep climb

of everything, going up,

up, as we all

go down.

In the next century

or the one beyond that,

they say,

are valleys, pastures,

we can meet there in peace

if we make it.

The climb these comings crests

one word to you, to

you and your children:

stay together

learn the flowers

go light.

Gary Snyder, 1996

Leave a comment Posted in a tidbit of my own, general riff-raff Tagged bioregionalism, blogs, environment, Farming, For the Children, Gary Snyder, kansas, motivation, passion, ranching, sustainability, writing

The Pine

photo credit: AmericanForests.org
*photo to change soon

Through the frosted window I see a single pine tree, the final holdout, standing fast in the middle of urban development. Shrouded in fog, its innate nobility only making the distinctly human surroundings all the more unsettling. They impinge upon the pine; sidewalks and cinder block buildings creeping closer and closer to the stout trunk.

As I stand with my own bastion of humanity – a coffeehouse warmed by a faux fireplace – I see nothing except the pine. Regardless of the buildings and iridescent lights standing between the tree and me, I feel alone with it. Solemn and grave, like the last guard of of a retreating army ready to sacrifice everything it stares, impassive, into my soul.

Too late… far too late for the pine, I realize I am standing on the wrong side of the battle lines. My soul craves to leap across the counter and run tot he aid of the pine, but my mind knows it would do no good. No, I must leave him there and join nature in the remaining wilderness. It kills me to know that eventually the pione will fall. But I know his stand will be more powerful without me at his side. Perhaps – with great desperation we hope – that his final stand will encourage others to join me. To rekindle the long forgotten bond with nature; the thing that shelters us, protects us, and reminds us that there are things and ideas bigger than ourselves.

Leave a comment Posted in a tidbit of my own Tagged bioregionalism, creative writing, development, environmentalism, inspiration, Nature, pine tree, urban

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Poet

Okay ladies and gentlemen, buckle in. This is a post for fellow writer/literature nerds. For those of you who don’t fall under this category… I’m curious how you got the be reading this blog (thank you anyways!) and I apologize if this isn’t quite your cup of tea.

One of my professors has been having us periodically read excerpts from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria; a book that I’ve studied before in other classes but am just now coming to appreciate it. My professor’s have always provided me with text of the excerpts but I think that I’m finally going to track down an actual copy of it to add to my personal library of nerdy books on literature. Anyways! During the reading of one of these said excerpts this morning I came across one of the most beautifully written things I’ve seen in a long time – and I tend to read a lot of good stuff so that’s really saying something. Since it has to do with Poets (writers) and how they work, I thought that I would share it with all of you! Hope you found it as insightful and inspiring as I did!

“The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which I would exclusively appropriate the name of Imagination. This power, first put in action by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and unnoticed, control, laxis effertur habenis, reveals “itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant” qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general with the concrete; the idea with the image; the individual with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness with old and familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion with more than usual order; judgement ever awake and steady self-possession with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement; and while it blends and harmonizes the natural and artificial, still subordinates art to nature; the manner of the manner to the matter; and our admiration of the poet to our sympathy with the poetry.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria

Coleridge immediately follows this with a poem by Sir John Davies that “observes of the soul – (and his words may with slight alteration be applied, and even more appropriately, to the poetic Imagination).” So read the following poem with the passion that fuels your writing in mind! Then go do some writing!

Doubtless this could not be, but that she turns

Bodies to spirit by sublimation strange,

As fire converts to fire the things it burns,

As we our food into our nature change.

From their gross matter she abstracts their forms,

And draws a kind of quitessence from things;

Whic to her proper nature she transforms

To bear them light on her celestial wings.

Thus does she, when from individual states

She doth abstract the universal kinds;

Which the re-clothes in divers names and fates

Steal access through the senses to our minds.

Leave a comment Posted in general riff-raff Tagged writing, writers, quotes, Poetry, Biographia Literaria, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poets, Imagination, Sir John Davies

A Post from my Sustainability Blog

Hey everyone! For those of you who don’t already know, I actually write a second blog that has absolutely nothing to do with writing at all. It’s called RedlightPhilosophies and is a blog where I talk about living a sustainable lifestyle without breaking your giant pickle jar stuffed with money! It covers things from cheap and easy recipes to my involvement with the Eastern Washington University Sustainability Project. My past life as a farmer and passion for the outdoors helped me become acutely aware of the effects we – meaning mankind and everything that comes with us – are having on the environment. At the same time, I’m a huge believer in the fact that humans can live in harmony with nature and in part, RedlightPhilosophies is my attempt to help people understand how the can do that! I’ve been on hiatus with that blog (in part because I’ve been busy here) and today marks the first time since last school year that I’ve posted there.

Check out my post below to see what I’ve been doing this year with the EWU Sustainability Project!

Real Food Challenge Photo Petition from RedlightPhilosophies

Leave a comment Posted in a tidbit of my own Tagged eastern washington university, Personal Writing, Photo Petition, Real Food Challenge

What a Blur! Busy Schedule and a Childhood Story

I am ashamed at how long it’s been since my last post! I just checked my posts page and my last was nearly 11 days ago! It was a post about the back and forth I had about doing NaNoWriMo and how and the end of the day I’d decided to go for it.

Wheeeeeeeel….. about that.

Today marks November 9th and some quick calculations show that my word count should be sitting at about 15,000, which is about 15,000 more than I have at the moment. Needless to say, NaNo quickly got away from me. Far enough away that within the first few days I realized that this year was not going to be a good year for National Novel Writing Month. I hate to admit defeat, but under the current circumstances, that is exactly what I am having to do. I am happy to say that I am not having to call it quits out of laziness. In fact, things couldn’t be more different!

A Week in my Life

As you can see, between school, work, and my ever growing list of extra curricular, life is beginning to get a little hectic! But that’s the way I like it :) I feel best when my life is going somewhere and after somewhat of a slow and uneventful summer things are finally starting to feel like they’re going somewhere again! School is really starting to pick up and become interesting. I’m even pulling good grades! I seem like I live at Work. When I opened my pay stub last week I was shocked to see that I’d work 65hrs in two weeks, and that was on top of school. Thankfully, it would seem that I am not busting my hump for nothing because my paycheck and tips definitely reflected it. For the first time it what seems like years I was able to put a little bit towards savings.

God forbid I stop there though! In a little more than two weeks the deadline for the Inlander Short Fiction competitive hits and I will have submitted two stories for publication; one of which made it’s own debut right here on this blog! Check it out here. On Monday I’ll be headed down to a meeting for the Inland Northwest Search and Rescue (INSAR) to see if I can’t get involved with helping out there this winter and do some good! Lately I’ve been feeling the desire to get back to nature and I’m hoping that doing some training/work with INSAR will help do that. I’ve also decided that this summer I’m going to try and take a trip back to Arches National Park in Utah.

When I was a young kid – I can’t remember if it was the summer before of after my 4th grade year – my family and I took a huge three week camping tour of the western United States. During our 11 state trip, one of the major stops we made was Arches National Park. My grandmother on my Dad’s side is originally from a small map dot town in northeastern Utah and he still has family down there. After spending a week visiting the “Utah clan” as we lovingly call them my folks decided to swing us by Arches and take a gander at the iconic Delicate Arch. One little thing we didn’t count on was the copious amounts of trail construction that was underway that summer and despite believing we were taking the 3/4mi. walk up to the view point we ended up on the arduous 4mi. hike up to the arch itself.

Now, if you remember, I’m like 8 or 9 (that’s 4th grade age right?) and this summer was one for the record books in terms of high temperatures. As it turns out, little kids and 105+ temps don’t make for the most pleasant of hikes; especially when the 4mi. hike takes you up step red rock faces. I distinctly remember our family passing a New York firefighter who was on his way down and stopping to chat for a while. After telling us that the arch was only around the next turn (a terrible and cruel lie that everyone we passed insisted on feeding us) he reassured us by telling that it was a struggle for him to make it up in this kind of weather and he makes living climbing stairs in an incredibly hot atmosphere! Did I mention, that our lack of preparedness extended to only having 2 bottles of water for 4 people?? Yeah.. we were VERY thirsty.

My dad took the initiative to figure out just how many more corners the arch was around (cuz he’s a boss like that) and came back with the news that it was only another quarter of a mile or so. My sister at that point (she was only 6 or 7 at the time) had had enough – very understandably so – but I decided that I was going to stick it out and hike all the way to the arch! After the final swig of water in our possession, my mother and I kicked it into high gear and hauled ass up to the arch. Even at only 8 years old I remember that being one of the most rewarding and beautiful experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. It had such a lasting impact on me as far as determination and my personal appreciation of nature goes that I desperately want to go back and make the hike again to see how far I’ve come and to experience it as an adult.

Hopefully I’ll be able to save up enough money to make the trip down there next summer, but in the meantime I’ll see if I can’t get on with INSAR as well as maybe a few weekend trips with EPIC Adventures at Eastern Washington University! And fear not ladies and gentlemen because I plan on writing the whole time! If I’m lucky I’ll pick up some great tips and stories to share with you along the way!

Until next time (and hopefully it won’t be as long),

3 Comments Posted in a tidbit of my own, general riff-raff Tagged Arches National Park, Childhood Stories, Delicate Arch, eastern washington university, EPIC Adventures, NaNoWriMo, Nature, School, Work