Plot & Structure Exercise 8.5: Conscious Writer, Subconscious Director

Let your imagination play you a movie. Sit down first thing in the morning, asking yourself, “What do I really want to write about?” Then list the first three things that come to mind. Issues, characters, situations. Pick the one that gets your juices flowing. And then close your eyes and play the video. No forcing, only a little nudge here and there, for as long as you want. Then write for 20 mins, without concern about plot construction.


Oh, Mr Bell, sounds easy enough. Wait, what?


Do this every day for five days, adding to your material each day.


Good thing we start on a Monday.


Take a day off. Then go back and highlight the parts that turn you on. Nurture it.


Yikes, ok, so edit and highlight (turn text blue) on Sunday, got it. Let’s see what happens.


. . .


  1. Husband and Wife
  2. Love
  3. Happy endings


Life is an escalator, which is always going down. Stepping up, though, my eyes open. And I see my bedroom in Bucharest. My wife’s alarm wasn’t what woke me up, but the smell of coffee and fried eggs wafting in, as she brings me a cup still steaming.


“Breakfast is ready in five.”


We kiss, say some cute things, and then she parts. I’m left, bare chested, bathed in the air conditioning, to stretch out of bed, roll forward, and open my journal.


“Is it possible for life to be a journey in which we return with nothing?” writes darkness using my hand. My stomach gurgles. I get up. And see the ghost of an ex. She’s wearing a night gown, see-through, glowing in the radiant morning light shining through the windowpane. Blocking the door.


But I step past her, and into the bathroom. On the toilet is another ghost, of a celebrity crush, legs splayed and hands in her lap, muffling the noise of trickling water.


But I get in the shower anyway, curtain drawn and door open, because I don’t like to shower in closed spaces. I try to turn towards the shower head, but am distracted by the nude sitting down. Her face turns towards me, and it becomes snot green, round, with hair falling off, and a silent scream. Only liquid rust pours from over me. So I turn off the shower and step out.


As I pat my mineral body dry, the ghost of my ex blocks the bathroom door. I get under her arms and into the living room. As I look for my underwear, I see over my shoulder the two women in tears. Until a voice calls from behind me. A little person, with pug eyes and pixie hair, calling me “savoir.” My face contorts to send a message. But she misses it. I step aside, but she doesn’t get it. I walk away, but she scraps her knees, holding on to my waist, dragging herself as I make my way into the kitchen.


By the time I’m in the kitchen, I am alone. My wife isn’t there. Just the butter-honey toast, and a few dirty dishes. Squinting my eyes, however, I realize she is there. In miniature form. Wearing a paisley sleeveless top and dancing salsa. I grab her like an action figure, and suffer her cry. I have hurt her. It’s too late to put her down, since I’m holding her in the air. I look down and see one bruise over her entire body, tears everywhere else. Petting her hurts worse, dropping her impossible. But I blink on accident, whereafter she turns into a rose of white petals.


Thorns on her body have pierced my palm. I bleed. A watercolor mess over my hand and down my arm. So I pinch the vibrant stem and being it to the living room. There I see my wife with her work computer on her lap, completely concentrated on rearranging her desktop icons, something she never does.


On her shoulders like a cat is the midget in need of a savoir, rubbing her pixie cut to my wife’s shoulders. At her toes, sucking them, is the celebrity with a vomit green face. And sitting next to her is the ex in the nightgown, huddled beside her, nestling into her arm, watching her type as if she were her mother, and everything she does were fascinating.


I am fascinated myself, by all the woman who cloud my life, who crowd my mind, who cluster my routines, who congregate and coagulate, converge and confuse, conflate and cower this place I call home.


How can I ask all of them grappling onto my wife to leave, without it sounding like I want my wife to leave too?


. . .


  1. Family problems
  2. Broken bodies
  3. Disconnection


Before I can answer my question, life gets more complicated. A feeling of ease washes over me for a second, until there’s a disturbing crackle coming from the bedroom. I step in that direction, turn the cold knob of the bedroom door, and find my sister in there. Rabid. Bug-eyed. And with a razor blade in her hand. She lunges at me. She’s thin and tiny enough to grab her by both wrists. But too much rage and too much energy keep her standing. I am unable to subdue her alone.


So my ex and my celebrity crush, both bigger women, come and hold my sister by the arms and restrain her. Meanwhile the pug-eyed little girl walks into the bathroom and unhooks one of the clothes lines in there. It’s one of the old ones, yellow and frayed. She is the only other person who has tried to end her life multiple times. So she knows. In fact she’s a friend of mine, I realize. And the similarity to my sister is uncanny.


But she won’t approach her until the razor blade disappears. The other two are busy. I look at my wife and she’s still on the computer. How could she be working? Her job gets these wee hours from her for free. Anyway, this is my problem. So I step up to my sister and with two fingers reach for the blade cutting into her hand. Despite the girls holding on to her, my sister flails madly, trying to cut herself or me. I manage to snatch the metal from her, but with difficulty, and without a few cuts to my person.


The moment I’ve taken the bloodied piece away, the friend with the pixie cut lassos my sister, and hog ties her. The girls step back, as do I, as we watch my sister lay on her side, and vomit.


Exhausted, the four of us sit next to my wife, who is still typing away at the computer. How could she be so busy? I look and she is actually messaging her cousins, who to me are like aunts and uncles. There’s drama there. And for a moment I realize it’s better I didn’t get her involved in my drama, although we need to share the load. Even my ex who haunts me looks at me and nods her head.


Doing her part, having rested, she steps up and cleans up my sister’s face of it’s baby mushy white throw up, with her white night gown. Around the same time the celebrity, who is still naked, face glittered in makeup, stands next to the bookshelf and spreads her legs. She begins to masturbate vigorously. What else would she do, I wonder. And aren’t you going to do anything? I ask the little friend of mine. She crawls underneath the celebrity and rubs her calves.


A trickle of blood falls to the grown. Soon, during a quivering orgasm, the celebrity drops a tiny baby from between her legs. Exhausted, she pushes yet again, and releases a pie like placenta. It plops on the pixie girl’s head, with a splash. Without a moment’s haste she frisbees it to my face. Confused more than anything, I try to rub my eyes of the fluids, pulling down the placenta from my face, when I see the celebrity swallow her baby whole. My wife meanwhile doesn’t notice anything.


I’m almost upset at her, but instead of mentioning, I head to the kitchen to clean my face. It’s odd what I do in there: I open the fridge first. It isn’t until I don’t find anything in there to eat that I remember why I walked in there. A paper towel, a bit of clean up, and then, into the bloodied and mucoused sheet, I blow my nose. It amazes me how clear my nose is, compared to the rest.


Suddenly the door bell rings. I imagine some crazy murderer at the door, but then I huff and pump myself up. Alas, I’m the only man in the house. About to reach the door is my ex in the night gown. I tell her, I got it. Then, as I slowly unlock the door, turning the key, and holding my breath in, I find there is no one standing outside. Only a baby mouse. Brown, palm-sized, and incredibly cute.


In fact I’m dumbfounded by its adorable size, as it makes itself at home, waltzes in, and then, just when I realize what it wants to do, it jolts for my sister still on the floor on her side. The ropes! The mouse nibbles up the ropes. In seconds my sister is free, and she wastes no time launching off the ground and grabbing hold of anything that breaks. One by one she smashes picture frames, potted flowers, trinkets and other living room items from their place, and throws them on the ground.


I’m pretty exhausted, and over it, so I step over to the couch where my wife continues to type, work emails now, and make sure not to step on any shards that might cut into my bare feet.


It’s odd, truly. Watching my sister break sentimental items in the house, releasing her anger — it almost feels like a relief. She isn’t hurting herself at least. The celebrity, the ex, my friend, and I all watch, and slowly a feeling of calm and peace washes over me. As if I were the one breaking things. As if I were the women in the room. Except my busy bee wife. Though for a moment, I am happy we are all here, happy I am not alone.


. . .


  1. Connection
  2. Faces
  3. Sleeping quarters


Weird, but I’m looking at my wife when all of a sudden my vision goes to goo. Everywhere I look there appears a stretched pattern of purples and greens, reds and browns, plasma looking things. A wall of it. A fabric of it. A flat of it, with grooves and waves adding depth. They remind me of what I have read about DMT trips. Those tales always inspired me to take a journey, but I never did. I think these things and I remember what the doctors told their patients in those stories. “Try to break through.” So I do.


I extend my arm out and swat, scratch, push open the slimy colorful stuff. A flash of light pans before me, between the grooves and waves. I fall forward. This is a savanna. Thick, tall trees in open fields. Wild, lush grass. The sound of bugs and the cool of a falling breeze surround me. I am an ape. But I remember my wife, and her face, but she isn’t there, so I look for her.


My arms, hairy, take me to the base of one of the densely barked trees. I hop on and climb. My fingers feel familiar to me. Everything looks familiar to me. I am able to claw my way up, placing my fingertips into the ridges of the gray and brown bark, wet with moss. All the while I look up at the branches, the way they sway in the wind, which reminds me of the original goo that prevented me from seeing any of this.


Fast. I am climbing fast. So I stop to rest on a branch where a female ape, like a woman with a lot of back hair, squats. Her breasts dangle. She looks busy examining something in her toe nail. I’m vaguely aroused, but decide to continue my journey. At the next branch there is another female ape, but completely contorted, and with a grizzly face. She turns to me, and I let out a little, toothy, screech of disgust. Then continue on my journey.


As I near the uppermost branches, I realize what I had been after all alone. Up where the highest leaves flutter in the air, white and golden light beams. I want to return to the light that took me here.


My senses err, however. Memories and vague thoughts crop up like weeds in my vision. A coworker’s face pops up like an icon at the bottom of my screen. A talking head, square, often in the mind, until poof. Ideas about the universe, and atoms, and the expansion of space stream before me. It’s from a video I saw yesterday, of an Arizonian physicist talking to Joe Rogan about how light cannot catch up to us beyond the farthest reaches of the universe. There are things we do not know. Like when the larynx developed, or why. Or how viruses came to exist, or why.


I think about not wanting to see any of this. It merely crowds my thought train. I would rather return to the apartment, where my wife and all my ghosts reside. I miss her. We work well together. I don’t want to be lost in all these meaningless thoughts that entered my consciousness precisely when I wanted to feel meaninglessness.


So I travel to last night’s dream, as a way to go back to reality, like crawling out from a deeply boroughed deep. I’m with two of my wifes, looking for a seat at a university lecture hall. That same ex from before is sitting in a middle row. In a show of ‘I’m doing great,’ I sit two seats away from her. But she doesn’t notice. Then my wives sit on either side of me. We start making out, me with an eye out sideways. At a slow point in the session, I look over and greet the ex. Her face turns, seemly distracted, full of small greasy zits and a narrow jaw, nothing like she used to look like. Ugly almost, and distant. As if the time that grew between us only served to dilute her overall attention to herself. Causing her to disengage with her vanity and disintegrate in surface beauty.


I say hi, then she returns the hello. I make the introductions, and then disappear.


I’m in a concrete tower in New York, with an apartment at the top. Zombies. Evil people trying to get it. The chapter ends. And a new one begins, at a floating hotel made from a boat. My brother-in-law and I, along with my cousin and brother, have rented three rooms. A double room, and two singles. I snag the two single keys so I can pick the best one. The first room is larger, but the second one has it’s own jacuzzi bath tub. So I opt for this one, my brother-in-law doesn’t mind. We just want to drop off our bags quickly so we can meet the others. As I lock my room, I notice water trickling from a joint bathroom streaming into my bedroom. There’s no way to stop the water.


And time runs out.


. . .


  1. Compatibility
  2. Road trips
  3. Peace


The goo tries to come back, but it can’t. I’m too busy driving, so must focus on the road. It winds and bends before me, and before my wife. She is in the passenger seat. She is ignoring her phone in her lap. Her lap also has my hand. She holds it, until I pull to draw a new gear on the machine. The car turns, grooves, rolls on. And the cliffs to our sides sandwich us in a cool river valley. Stone, moss, shadows. Curve, turn, and drive.


We talk. We talk about her, about me, about hopes and about dreams. As we drive I remember a scene from a movie, where the main character, in a car, is ambushed by wild raiders. They throw a burning car into the middle of the road. So the main character but back up and speed away, before he is crushed. This thought comes and goes two then three times. It has nothing to do with my life. And yet I remember stories need drama.


But I don’t want drama on this trip. I want the calm conversation. I tell my wife as much. And then a bug splatters against the windshield. As I swipe it, chicken eggs hit our windshield too. It reminds me of advice I heard when I was in middle school. Criminals will egg a speeding car, in order to make the driver believe he needs to use his wipers to clean it up. This causes smearing. Then stopping. Where the criminals ambush the stopped car. No way, I say.


I keep driving. My wife keeps talking. The mountains on either side of us getting taller and higher. Stone, rock, earth rising. Vegetation, mist, and caverns. I turn the wheel, the car glides. We are happy.


We are in Bulgaria, land of the free orthodox warriors. Like we were last year. Then, no, we are in northern Romania. As we are supposed to be at the end of the month. It’s a vision of the trip to come. Just us two, maybe some siblings-in-law. Who knows. I am happy and so is my wife.


Maybe I don’t know anything about stakes, I think. Maybe, my life is a series of blissful moments. I am a lucky bastard. I am a divine creature. Hubris calls forth demons. Let them come. Life can be a wonderful adventure. My whole life has been to make it a beautiful journey. Once here aren’t we to rejoice? Let us. I tell my wife as much.


She turns to me and smiles. Smiles one of her rare smiles. Not that she doesn’t often. But this one is special. A genuine and surprised one, full of teeth and wrinkles. Reflecting her, I grip the wheel just smiling back at her. She holds my hand. I turn to her. She says something. And I reply.


Follow what you love. Whatever you do, follow what you love. Love is all you need, how many times have we said it? Do only those things that add value. Move forward. Grow. These thoughts, these motivations, these truths. They line up in single-file, one after the other. Entering my mind, eyes closed, and expecting. Why do I write? To love and be loved. Because it’s fun, I answer. Why do these plots? Why improve? Who cares. Self expression, I remember the words of Ethan Hawke from his COVID TED talk.


During a dinner of pork and rice, he spoke through my wife’s phone. And everything’s become of this. We hear different things. But what I heard, I remember. Eyes closed, back on the red sofa, visualizing things. But hearing just as much as I see. Wasn’t I in a car? I go back there, to the north of Romania, on our way to see monasteries made of medieval wood. Grinding, rubbing rubber, cutting pavement, moving ahead.


What’s the point of all this? I write to find out. I breathe to discover. For now, egg white and bug jizz on my windshield, nothing matters. We are rocking the car as we drive, rocking our relationship, forget all else. It’s all I ever wanted. Yes, paradise on earth. Yes, love in the air. Problems can be left behind, exes and issues too. Three, I am a comet falling through the atmosphere, letting go of debris and junk. Stuff flying off my back, I crash into our planet. I am happy and hot, burning, on fire.


Welcome me. Welcome my problems. Let me say something. Listen to me, earth. Feel my crash. Leave me a crater to remind you of this.


. . .


  1. Finale
  2. Sex
  3. Twist


There’s an issue here. I’m in the car and my wife’s friend is in the car with me. A taxi ride downtown. And he tells me he has the relationship of the future.


“In 50 or a hundred years,” he says, “people will have my kind of relationship.” He’s in an open one, with a girl he really likes. A Parisian meanie. Meanwhile he tells her a little about his sexscapades through the old world. “It’s very free,” he says.


I think it’s because he’s French, too, that makes this work. I tell him as much, plus that, “You found the right girl.”


He gets nervous. “No, I don’t believe in the.” I tell him not to worry. “The right girl for you right now,” I soften. He lets it go.


The silver domes of Bucharest shine the last orange embers of sunset. We turn a corner and I let him know about Natsume’s theory at the end of I Am a Cat, “From 1907,” I say, one year off. “Four men predict the end of marriage in their lifetimes.” My wife’s friend seems surprised. I conclude, “People have been saying marriage will end, and yet” — I raise my palms — “we’re still here!”


“That’s why I said 50 or 100 years from now. It takes a while.”


We arrive to the restaurant, just like we did last night, only now with my eyes closed, playing this plot game with myself. The waiter brings the check, but puts it on his side of the table. So in an act of over-generosity, also from a place of Latin hostage, I snatch the receipt tucked away in a tin can. No one fights for it. As the waiter, surprised that the guy who ordered a mushroom platter is paying for everyone’s steak and gin-tonics.


My mind wanders. Thoughts disconnected become connected. Poorly written ideas become writing. Boom boom. Boom boom. My heart hides its beat under the drum of an overactive imagination. My brain meanwhile gives away a secret. We see the world inside out. We see, I am seeing, with our reptilian brain first. The part that judges utility or danger comes first, form the inner most nub of the brain. Then that wave fans outward. We next see something for what it can do, how it is, where. Last, and only last, with the thought swimming to the edge of our brain, does that object turn fully detailed.


And example, as how I saw it blind, with blue waves waving from the central part of our brain. At arms length is a manageable challis holding life fluid. From peripheral to focused attention, the squishy tissue at the front and top of me turns to it. It’s see-through. It’s contents shake as I type. Inside the liquid there are bubbles. I have seen this before. We call it a glass of water, sparkling,on my writing desk. My throat goes dry. Saliva fills my mouth. An ache finalizes at the pit of my stomach. Breathe, boy, breathe. Are you thirsty or are you thinking about thirst?


And that’s the process.


Meanwhile a vision of my dream comes to me, at the tail end of all these thoughts, from last night, after the restaurant, and after the talk of open relationships and French people.


There is an Indian woman, with her mouth to mine. I return the favor. We tussle by a restaurant restroom. And both orgasm.


But when she goes away, I feel guilty first, thinking about my wife. So I go looking for one yet find the other. It’s the Indian woman, who reminds me of the Indian from the TV show I’ve never watched. Short, thin, and open to letting me see her again. “Once more,” I say, laying my hands on her bare shoulders. She turns around. I rummage inside of her. She grunts and laughs, body to the floor. I cannot shove enough of myself inside of her. Her wrists are small.


One more time, one more time. It feels exhilarating, if only for the moment. She’s a mushroom and I am the spore. Only the tip of my body enters that entrance of hers. What about the world? It’s all outside. We are in a closet, a big clothe island in the middle. People walk in and watch. I release my breath.


And awaken, still with my eyes close, remembering the dream of last night, which reminded me of events which never occurred, but would they?


“What did you dream about?” my wife asks. Before I reply, I think about my visions of the week, I think about the road trip, about the exes and the celebrities, about the brown and willing woman of last night. It’s all to much. We promised to be open, though. I remember what was said just a moment ago, her question. So I am honest.


“About sex,” I said.


My wife turns to the pan cooking crepes, flips the breakfast, then turns back to me.


“Like sex, what?”


I tell her, “Like I was in a closet having sex with an Indian.”


My wife doesn’t move any part of her face. “Oh,” she says. Stepping back. Is this a nightmare ensuing?


No. My wife starts dancing. Her wrists high about her, her elbows out, moving hips side to side.


“Is that,” I ask, “an Indian dance?”


My wife smiles. She moves her hips. “Yes.”

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