The playlist

A few years ago, I took a writing class and one of our exercises required us to raid the fridge and car trunk of one of our characters. It seemed weird at first but that day I pulled some interesting items from my character’s fridge and I think that day I formed a very special bond with her.

Like me, she had plain and artificially flavored yoghurt in her fridge but she almost always chose the flavored yoghurt and the plain ones stayed in there till their expiry date. Random fact, but one I related to on a personal level. She tried to live a healthy life but always fell short. I knew this desire and I was well acquainted with the shame that followed each time she disappointed herself. I understand the excuses she told herself because those were my excuses as well.

That’s as far as our similarities went but I did learn a lot from that exercise.

Before I write the first words in any story, I spend a few months dreaming up these characters. I find myself imagining them everywhere. At the grocery store, at the DMW (you can learn a lot about a character from their time at this portal to hell), at work or school. Sometimes, their traits end up on paper and sometimes they don’t, but they always shape my understanding of this people my mind creates. I knew how they acted in most scenarios even the ones that never make it into my story. I’ve used this method to develop my characters and I still to work at expressing what I know about them on paper. I’d like to think I know every character I write better than I know myself.

A few days ago, I was having a particularly difficult time writing a scene and after an hour of being irritated and deleting every sentence once or twice, I stopped. I laid back on my sofa and listened to the music blaring from my headphones. Minutes later, I thought to myself, X would hate this music. X is the male protagonist in my story. And the scene I’d been working on was from X’s point of view.

I sat up on my sofa with a thought tickling the base of my mind. What if? What if because I’d slipped into X’s mind, this music made it difficult to concentrate and then write. I turned it off and continued with my scene. Writing became less laborious and the words tumbled to the paper with no effort. I planted an idea in my mind and the seeds grew and my paragraphs ran faster than me. But I could do better.

I put the earphones back in my ears and browsed Spotify for a song that X would love. I found one, Outside by Tender a London duo that is terrific but as myself, I would never have given their music a listen beyond a few seconds. As X, this music inspired me and X’s words came out faster, sounded more authentic and if X was real outside my mind, he would have felt every second of this music like I did. This inspired a new way to learn about my characters. The playlist method.

I don’t know if this is an already known technique and truth is, I didn’t bother researching it because I didn’t want that to dissuade me from posting this to my blog.

The method is that you pick a character and make a playlist they would like. It is a labor of love, like making a mixtape for that high school crush you are sure you’d love forever. Truth is, no matter how despicable our characters are we still love them.

Four hours later, I’d come up with hours of music for my two protagonists. I’m writing a story with from their point of views and before I start a new chapter, I switch playlists to match the POV. Writing these past few days has been a delight and my music taste has evolved because there is some good shit out there!

If you are struggling with your character and you write with music, give this a try and tell me if it worked for you.

And if you want to listen to some good music check out https://soundcloud.com/tenderofficial. They are terrific. No, they are not paying me and have no idea who I am. I just love good music and thing everyone should too.

Xoxo,

Noreen

Is home where the heart it?

These past few days have been a challenge. It started with something vaguely resembling homesickness (I left my first home at 17 and never looked back). I left my old life behind to be happy, to be at peace, to define myself. Yet I woke up one morning feeling completely lost, with one question nagging at the bottom of my mind, where is home? For two days, I didn’t move, just stayed in my box and did nothing. On day three, I was sick of myself. How did someone who had the guts to give it all up suddenly surrender to an unknown force? So I left my apartment and ventured out to explore my new neighborhood.

When we hear of Paris, we hear about the City of Light and Love. In books and movies, it’s this magical place full of love, music, art, fashion, beauty and all the things we wish our mundane lives wherever we are can have. However, last night, I stumbled on a part of Paris, I have never heard of or imagined. One that is sure to haunt my thoughts for a while.

My neighborhood: Bastille is interesting. It seems that everything happens on the sidewalks. Granted, the roads are smaller than I am used to, but it’s the people crowding the sidewalk that make it interesting. The restaurants flood out into the streets as everyone wants to get a little bit of “sun” (I put that in quote because my last home was San Diego, and sun was abundant, here we have rogue rays). There are students from the Lycee standing out there, people trying to grab a meal and smoke a cigarette, bicycles navigating through this mess, cars parked partially on the sidewalks and on the street. It sounds awful but during the day it is glorious. As I walked through my neighborhood I hear American accents, African languages, Australian accents, French being spoken at different decibels. To me, it is beautiful and amazing but crowded and a little exhausting to navigate.

There is a bell that chimes every hour, half hour and some random hour (I’m still trying to figure this one out because sometimes it just goes crazy). It’s an experience that draws you out of yourself and makes you part of an organism that is fantastic.

However, as the sun sets, this neighborhood becomes a different kind of interesting, sad almost. I’m trying to write this through my confusion because this is new to me. Families set up blankets to sleep on the streets. It’s a new kind of homelessness I have never seen before.

While I was walking around, feeling sorry for myself and my new lost identity I saw this. It threw me off whatever self-pity orbit I was on. Families – with children lie out in corners for the night and just sleep on the street.

In my confusion, my eyes caught that of a teenage girl. A man I assume was her father was laying out a blanket in the corner in front of a closed store on Rue de la Roquette. He was doing his best to make it comfortable, even throwing a pillow on it, but she just sat there, arms wrapped around her knees and her face half hidden. For the time our eyes met, there were unspoken words. This is her home, every night and she is ashamed of it. She is a beautiful girl: In another place or time, she would be more, but in this moment, this is all she is, this is her home.

That makes you rethink your definition of home. I’m still trying to work through mine as I make sense of this sad feeling gnawing at my heart. She is in Paris, the city of fantastic and her home is on the corner of a crowded street. I’m ashamed of my earlier self-pity. They say home is where your heart is, what does that even mean?

I’m still thankful and I hope it is not at her expense.

Xoxo,

Noreen

Starting over at 30!

In my twenties, I didn’t worry about 30. What was there to worry about really? I was on track. By 24, I landed a job in my dream company, I was living in my dream apartment and for the first time in my life I was making friends effortlessly. I was fabulous and anything that wasn’t so good about me, I had the money to fix it. I was living the dream.

All that changed a few months to 30. I started asking questions and wanting more. My 9-5 job (more like 9 to whenever-the-universe-decided-to-let-me-go-home) became a nightmare, not because it was any less awesome than the first day I started, but because my definition of awesome changed. A great job should not be one that pays you the most money but one that you get the most pleasure out of. I hated my job, resented the beautiful city I lived in because somehow, it had made me complacent. I was stuck and for years, I didn’t even realize it.

It took me a while to catch up to my heart but when I did, I realized it wanted change, craved adventure and was hoping I had the guts to move forward. So I did.

A few weeks ago, I quit my perfect job. A few days ago I moved out of my great apartment and said good bye to my amazing friends and traveled halfway across the world to a place that spoke a different language literally and figuratively. Paris!

I’m sitting in a box – excuse me, I meant to say apartment – in a crowded part of Paris, with no friends, no job and limited money but for the first time in my life I feel truly happy and at peace. I’m starting over, completely.

For the next 365 days I hope to learn the art of adventure, the dance of the free-spirits and the science of a world without stress. I’m not trying to find myself, I’m already somewhat aware of who I am, I am however trying to define myself in a way that brings me eternal peace.

I know most of my friends and family think I have gone crazy, maybe there is some truth to that, but without a little crazy, life is boring.

So yesterday was officially my re-birthday.

Joyeux anniversaire à moi!

Xoxo

Noreen