Bonne Fête!

If you could create any holiday, what would it be?

I thought for a while about this, toying with various ideas both serious and completely ludicrous. The jokester in me threatened to write about a Chipotle Appreciation Day, or a holiday dedicated to pun-tificating (endless comedic possibilities), a celebration of Corny Compliments, Be Your Favorite Disney Character for a Day, a Pajama Day, an Appreciate Yo’self holiday, and No Disclaimers Day.

My first serious thought, as someone who is profoundly interested in other cultures and diversity, produced the idea of an International Culture Day. It could be a day devoted to celebration of differences by learning about other cultures. People could cultivate respect for other ways of life, even if they couldn’t muster understanding or appreciation.

But tensions seethe in today’s world, and sew fear of immigrants, refugees, and other religions. Rooted as many are in their ethnocentrism, I don’t think people would be able to fully embrace the purpose and spirit of an International Culture Day. Instead, perhaps people can connect and bond with one another over common interests. What brings people together? Food! But also music. So why not an International Music Day?

Music is one of the few things that can transcend all barriers humans place between themselves. What else is so universal? Maybe a smile or a tear, but little else. Culture, ethnicity, race, language, age, gender, nationality, education level, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, income and more all separate us from one another. Melody, harmony, rhythm, and percussion speak to us on levels that transcend all those boundaries because music is a language that every person can understand and feel. Leo Tolstoy said, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.” Emotion is the soul of humanity, therefore music is a fundamental part of what it means to be human.

So why not a day that celebrates all kinds of musicians and genres, and is devoted to listening to varieties and styles of music that you have never encountered before? A day devoted to music festivals and concerts around the world?

It may be too much to ask for people to accept one another on a holiday that celebrates culture. So beginning with music, something that every culture creates, may be the perfect starting point. We may not be able to talk to or understand each other, but we can create music together. Cheesy as that tagline is, I stand by it and believe in the power of an International Music Holiday to make this world a better, more caring place.

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” – Victor Hugo

It Begins with a Line

Photo: my first performance at the Golden Pony. Photo by Paul Somers. 

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”

–Norbet Platt

—–

 “You’re a part of that poetry club, right? Do you remember the poem you read about the guy hugging the girl and holding onto her like a balloon?”

I was riding the night bus back home off of the JMU  campus late one night and a shy girl in the seat next to mine hesitantly brought up one of my favorite hobbies: poetry and public readings. She knew exactly how to start the conversation, that’s for sure.  Continue reading It Begins with a Line

If I had a dime.

If I had a dime.

If I had a dime for every time I got distracted during my writing I would probably have enough money to pay my college tuition. Unfortunately, the only reward I receive from my distraction is sporadic waves of genius informed by the random thoughts that pop into my head.  Although for every genius thought that crosses my mind, there are at least ten useless thoughts that come before it.

For example, it’s taken me 43 minutes to write the first 100 words of this blog post. Not because I want every word that I write to be eloquent and sublime, but because thoughts like, “I wonder who is winning the Warriors vs. Clippers game” or “What was the name of the instrumental that was in that one video?” These thoughts offer no relevant insight, yet they seem to always force themselves into my consciousness. The craziest thing about these random thoughts is that I can never recall them when I need them. By this time tomorrow, one of my friends is going to ask me if I saw the Warriors game and I’m probably not going to know what they are talking about. It’s funny the way our brain works.

The only way that I can be productive during my writing is if I take numerous preventive measures in order to negate any possible distractions. I’m always ready to write and I have an unlimited reserve of inspiration but I struggle with maintaining access to it. I can usually channel my inspiration on command but I can’t control how long it is going to stay. Here are a few steps that I take to keep my creativity going.

1st Step: Avoid any human interaction.

  • I like to talk, even if it’s about nothing. I’ve engaged in hour long conversations from nonsense that ranges from “what my theme song would be if I was a T.V. show” to my personal favorite “how much money would it take you to…” So if I want to get any work done, my first step is to separate myself from people.

2nd Step: Use the Internet for research and nothing more.

  • I still have yet to perfect this step. Google makes it so easy for you to spend hours on websites like “50 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Had Ivy League Degrees” or “Things In Your House That May Be Causing Cancer.” I will one day conquer my internet weakness but until then I’ll keep you posted.

3rd Step: Play music that you like but not music that you really like.

  • Do you ever just have impromptu dance battles in your room by yourself or is that just me? Anything with a beat compels me to move so I have to specifically tailor my study music to be energizing but slightly boring.

4th Step: Don’t get comfortable. You will fall asleep.

  • I think my body’s natural setting is stuck on the snooze button. I fall asleep because I can. Most of the time I’m not even tired which is the most frustrating part. So as a general rule, I usually keep myself far away from any sort of bed, couch, or anything remotely soft.

Being a great writer is difficult. You want everything you write to be eloquently said and well-constructed but getting there isn’t always pretty. For me, the thought of creating something that will bring the reader joy is motivation enough to endure the struggles I face while writing a piece. So after three hours of an assortment of Google searches and YouTube Videos, here is my blog post. I hope it brings you joy.

 

Creative Juices, On The Rocks Please

By Elaina Taylor

~Oh but they’re so spaced out, ba-ba-ba-Bennie and the Jeetttsss
Oh but they’re weird and they’re wonderful
But Bennie she’s-a really keeennn~

“Elaina, what on earth are you doing?”

I pause my singing, twist my head. My door, which was formerly ajar, has now been pushed fully open to reveal a very baffled roommate. I just laugh, surveying the mess strewn around me on my bed, the product of handing my inner five-year-old paper and scissors and setting it free.

“I’m searching for creative inspiration!”

It’s Sunday night and my essay for my creative nonfiction class is due tomorrow, yet I am stuck, firmly wedged between my perfectionist tendencies and writer’s block. Tantalizing ideas always dart around in my head and then dissipate like morning mist when the time comes to translate them to paper. I’ve sat at this computer for a whole hour now, and that eureka moment has eluded me thus far. After a few more mind-numbingly-frustrating minutes, I begin actively searching elsewhere for inspiration.

~ • ~

Occasionally this means sifting through my stockpile of inspiration, my imagination compilation; I constantly collect quotes, little snippets of information, random facts – harbored in the notes section on my iPhone, set adrift on seas of sticky notes, or scribbled on whatever writing surface was closest at the time.

These tidbits always tend to spark something in my brain, even if they’ll never get used, they always get me thinking, questioning, curious. Did you know that our sense of smell is most closely linked to memory? Oh, would I love to peek into your brain after you read this sentence to discover what first popped up in your thoughts. Lobsters, yes, lobsters the culinary delicacy, can live to be over a hundred. Food for thought, quite literally. Thanks to technology, with an electronic eye and an implant, a man who previously viewed the world in grayscale due to an extreme form of colorblindness can hear color. One of the more captivating TED talks for sure – “I Listen to Color” by Neil Harbisson.

~ • ~

Most often, I turn to music in search of creative stimulus. My poetry professor says that the creative process to craft one art form is the same for all other artistic compositions, and I love seeking out ingenuity through other mediums of creation. As one who sings constantly, in music I find both solace and a challenge. There’s just something about the freedom, joy and ease I feel when singing that allows my cramped brain to loosen up and finally let the thoughts that had been percolating there to flow unhindered onto the page. And more often than not, this singing is accompanied by none other than dancing, usually done with complete abandon in the comfort of my own room. (It’s right around this point that my brain gets so embarrassed by the actions of its physical vessel that it will ship over the necessary language just to get me out of the dance funk I’m shimmying around in.)

~ • ~

But when that doesn’t work, I let myself get swept up in another world – that of the human experience. Little else captivates the human brain like stories, which explains why, for as long as I can remember, stories have always enthralled me. The medium through which the story is expressed matters little; I always get lost in the world of books, films, and TV shows. As a kid, I would constantly get in trouble for reading in class when I wasn’t supposed to be. But more than that, I love hearing about people’s lives, their interests, their experiences, what makes them unique. Perhaps that is why inevitably, at least once throughout my day, I check for new posts on the Humans of New York Facebook page. A blog created by photographer Brandon Stanton, he travels around NYC, and occasionally other countries, taking photographs and collecting quotes from his subjects along the way. For me, the breathtaking result is not only a daily dose of perspective, it’s a reminder that these short interviews barely skim the surface, and that these amazing human beings have so many more stories to tell.

So I ask you: What mesmerizes your imagination? How do you stay creative? What inspires you?

When the Muses Don’t Answer

If I had a dollar for every empty-worded late night; every frantic cup of watery coffee; every annoyed backspace on a keyboard, I wouldn’t be worrying incessantly about my future as a debt victim.

I’m beginning to believe that anything ever created is either the result of a moment of absolute brilliance, or lifetimes of painstaking work. Whoever invented the wheel was most likely struck with sudden insight, or spent fifty years shredding their soul for some vague concept of movement.

Words are beauty—representations of thoughts and feelings that may otherwise go unacknowledged, even by the self. These little blooms of ideas sometimes become lost, trapped inside heads and ink stains. In those moments (days) when I lose language and words hide, I struggle to complete sentences.

Feeling like a mother who has lost control of her children, I beg. I plead, I bargain, I try everything short of selling my dignity to get them to behave. I promise cookies for the good words who come from their deep hiding places. I play music that usually charms punctuation and syntax to twirl from my fingertips.

When sounds of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Wu-Tang can’t persuade the words, I go for a walk. Sometimes mischievous words need time alone to cool off and come to their senses. If exercise and fresh oxygen don’t rejuvenate the words, sleep may be necessary. An overworked word can’t think straight, so yawning and grumpy, I rest for a bit and let the words settle down.

Returning to my laptop, I keep an open notebook and pen ready. When my fingers produce nothing on a keyboard, my hands feel embarrassed, and make up for a lack of words with scribbles and doodles. Often, the subconscious gliding of ink on paper calls forth the muscle memory of creation—oh, so this is how life is made.

Nonsensical swirls become words. Unrelated, irrelevant, they lead to more words. Sentences, some almost-thoughts. Feeling hypnotized, I let the words use me to breathe. After a moment, when my eyes catch the computer screen, the dread feels less dreadful. I use the energy felt during nonsense to propel into my original mission. With my words finally willing to cooperate, I play the keyboard like a piano. The lovely little clatterings sound like symphonies in the wake of uninspired silence.

Even if I don’t feel satisfied with the finished product, I am relieved to get the words out. Your entire wellbeing can be compromised if creativity is kept inside for too long. There should be clinics specifically for those suffering from suppressed creativity—finger painting, glitter, notebooks and good pens. If you try to rush the creating process, more than just the final product suffers.

Eyes That’ll Make You Cry

It was Halloween weekend of 2007, and I had plans to play my favorite childhood game. Ding Dong DITCH! Otherwise known as DDD by the cooler 12 year olds, is a complex game in which the premise calls for one individual to ring the doorbell of a clueless neighbor and flee the scene before being discovered. The uncontrollable factors of extra adult supervision and surplus of witnesses made this occasion the Super Bowl of DDD. However, I was determined to keep my title as the best darn ditcher in all of West Point Middle School.

The first target of the night was Mr. Harris, our technology teacher who loved to assign homework on weekends and had an unwavering disdain for fun. Mr. Harris’s house was considerably large for an unmarried man and contained a driveway that seemed of equal size to an airport runway. It stood in isolation from the rest of the houses on the street and was located directly across from a cornfield.

As protocol dictated, my friends hid in the bushes as I walked up to the porch and proceeded to ring the doorbell. On the front door mat there was a bowl full of candy with a note that read “Please Take One.” I reached down and took 4 pieces because I’m just that dude. Just as my finger touched the bell, car lights appeared at the start of the driveway.

CODE RED, CODE RED! The car was quickly approaching and I needed to get out of there. I frantically hopped off the porch and dashed into the cornfield. Rookie Mistake. As I ran deeper and deeper into the field, I began to lose sense of direction. I could still vaguely see the car lights but I couldn’t quite tell how far I was from the house.

I figured the best idea would be to just wait it out. I stood peeping through the corn for about five minutes but the car lights were still on. Then it happened; I saw the first set of glowing eyes. Then two more appeared and another two until I was completely surrounded by a sea of glowing eyes. The eyes began to move closer as I could hear footsteps nearing.

I whispered out in a nervous tone, “Yo guys this isn’t funny man!” No response.

The eyes kept moving forward. “Seriously yall, stop it! You are going to get us caught.” No response.

“Mr. Harris is that you?” Silence.

At that point I had done enough inquiry and decided it was time to get out of there. I started to run as fast as I could because this black kid was not dying first in this scary movie. I ran for what seemed like miles as the eyes continued to follow me, but I soon came to an unclimbable fence. Chest heaving, I paused. Took a breath. I decided to turn and face whatever multi-eyed creature was following me.  I was scared out of my pants but I was ready to fight my way out of whatever or whoever was after me.

As the eyes got closer and closer, I clenched my fists and stationed my feet. The eyes got as close as they were going to get and came to halt. I was finally able to see what creature I was running from. There it stood, right in front of me. The biggest gosh darn Bambi-looking deer I have ever seen in my entire life.

Are Those Footsteps?

By Elaina Taylor

Weak moonlight filters in through the slits in the window blinds, dappling the little girl’s bed. Eyes stretched wide against the near darkness, covers wrapped protectively around her small body, she tenses at every sound that reaches her ears. A fierce wind raging outside provokes the old house to complain and moan around her, causing her to shiver with fear. It’s October, and the terrifying trailers for horror movies inhabit the TV channels. It doesn’t take much to give her nightmares and keep her awake at night scared to fall asleep, and the trailer she accidentally watched today is no exception.

Every time she closes her eyes, the fear overwhelms her so she keeps them open. But the problem is, if she strains her eyes and ears too much, the two senses start to play tricks on her, and her imagination begins to run wild.

Monsters aren’t real, she tells herself. Those aren’t footsteps you hear, it’s just the house creaking. Those aren’t footsteps, but wait…those sound like footsteps.

Trying to creep around on the staircase is impossible; nearly every step anyone takes will result in a loud protest from the stairs, so there’s almost no way to walk undetected. And the girl can definitely hear the rhythmic groans coming from the stairs as someone, or something, advances. The girl holds her breath to make sure she isn’t imagining things, but that only makes the pounding in her heart louder. Could it be Mom or Dad? No, they went to bed forever ago, so that can’t be them.

As the footfalls get louder and closer, the little girl whimpers and reaches out to grab her favorite stuffed animal and pulls it close. My lion will protect me, she thinks. She fixes her eyes on the gap in the door. There’s a momentary pause as whoever it is reaches the landing, then continues down the hallway. Slowly, the sounds get closer.

Now with the footsteps she can hear heavy breathing, the kind a large person or animal would make. Certain it’s almost at her door, she closes her eyelids until they’re just barely open, deciding she’ll pretend to be asleep until she figures out who or what is creeping around the house.

A dark, clawed shape appears at the edge of the door, curls around it, and then slowly begins to open it. Creeeeeeeaaaakkk. A hulking figure, barely visible in the dark, now stands at the entrance to the girl’s room. It takes one step. Then another. Then another. The creature moves closer, and the little girl wants to scream but all sound is caught in her throat and she can’t get it out. It’s now right next to her bed, and just as the little girl is about to faint from fear or scream until her lungs give out, the creature suddenly stands erect and howls to the moon, “Scooby Dooby Doooooo!”

There’s a momentary pause.

“Dad!” my sister and I exclaim indignantly, “That’s not a spooky story, that doesn’t count!” He laughs, and then begins another story, only to end it again on, “Scooby Dooby Doooooo!”

The Heart and Soul of James Madison University

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