Friday, April 11, 2014

Faking Disability - #fridayflash



“He's not disabled. He doesn't look in pain, I saw him smiling yesterday. Sometimes he jogs; he must, since I've seen him in sweat pants. Cripples can't exercise.”

I've heard him laugh. His back can’t be that bad, that's just something he tells the government. He's lazy. He's a liar. Sure, sometimes he goes to his room for two hours, sometimes for a day, but he comes back acting normal. Bet he’s jacking off, and if he can jack off, he's not that sick.”

“When he staggers around like that it gets a lot of sympathy, but he’s not a hunchback. He could stand up straight if he wanted. I’ve seen him do it for photos. It’s an act.”

“No, he’s probably drunk when he’s staggering like that. I had an uncle who liked to get fucked up, but the government didn’t pay him for it. Being fake disabled is a sweet gig.”

“How much do they pay him?”

“Too much, that’s how much, to just pretend like that. It’s depressing to look at, with that stupid tremor. How's he make his leg go like that?”

“Depressing because it’s an act?”

“…Yeah. Yeah.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

John Adapts to Having a Cat

So, yesterday was not my day. While I don't want to go into everything that happened yesterday, it began by burying the family cat, Marshal. Spring had softened the ground enough to confer him to earth, and he'd been waiting long enough for it.

Marshal and I were not friends. He was my sister's cat, though she left him with us years ago to move closer to work, in an apartment that forbade pets. I am extremely allergic to animal dander, and above all danders, cat dander is the worst. Lock me in a room with a cat for long enough and I'm dead. That meant that Marshal spent his life in our basement, with a door leading to the outside where he could prowl and menace the squirrel population.

We had to adapt to each other, because often I'd be the only human contact Marshal could even have in a given day. And further, being the eldest male around, I quickly became Marshal's alpha. He would claw and bite the ladies of my family. I still chuckle remembering the one time he bit my foot as I was too slow to bring his food; I knocked two knuckles on the top of his head, soft but swift, and he looked so surprised that there could be comeuppance for his actions. He never bit me again, and starting that night became much more affectionate.

That was a problem for me since I'd get bleeding hives from a cat rubbing on me. I bought plastic gloves to pet him, and in warmer weather would occasionally wear an old blanket so he could sit on my lap for a while. Even that caused severe asthma attacks.

Marshal never understood why he couldn't rub against my leg or sit in my lap like he could on other humans. However, to illustrate the point of Dr. Pavlov, he learned that he wasn't allowed to. Last spring he finally adapted to following me to the deck and sitting underneath my chair, resting in the shade I created. By the end of summer, he was routinely beating me to the chair for his spot.


It was as close as we could be. Sometimes I'd bring fresh copy out to edit, and talk out plotting problems with him. He was a terrible editor, and if he managed to drool on a page I'd have to throw it out. There was something to having another pair of eyes, sapient or no, to look into as I chatted. There was even the benefit of having those eyes attached to a mind that couldn't understand and thus couldn't object to whatever I was saying, permitting me to have company without distraction. He was a good listener.

A person can adapt to a lot.
 

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Nigh-Infinite Serpent - #fridayflash

It’s hard to believe we ever wanted to kill the Nigh-Infinite Serpent. I mean, I don’t know how you do that, and neither did the Ancients, since every bomb they invented never even sloughed its old skins. But I’ve got fat books full of stories of great knights and cyclopes who braved the mountains of the world trying to kill the Nigh-Infinite Serpent. Their bravery made for great tragedies, even if these days they only get adapted as comedies.

You have to be very brave to fight something that can and frequently does encircle the continent. Every Winter the nights get longer, not because we’re tilting from the sun, but because it’s shifting in the sky trying to warm up. You might as well try to arm wrestle an earthquake. Also, fighting it caused a lot of earthquakes, which is why the Moderns outlawed fighting it.

There was this one whole crusade that climbed up to the Nigh-Infinite Serpent’s mouth, using a combination of apatosauruses and gryphons for travel, just to die bravely and go to Ten Heavens. This was in the second dynasty of the Moderns, who dispatched one thousand runners to chase them and hand of the writs of cease-and-desist. It was bound to be an epic, and an epic against the serpent would probably wreck the entire continent for us.

So the crusade had to turn around, because if they broke the law then their dead souls would never get into Ten Heavens. Except they were so high up that they had to march down the Nigh-Infinite Serpent’s spine – there was no easier way. And marching around up there, the crusaders found there really was no more convenient way to get anywhere on the continent than by walking on the serpent. It was lying about so much of the world that some of them even visited islands cartographers had deemed lost and mythical by hopping off its tail.

You can tell which regions were the first to bribe the Nigh-Infinite Serpent into playing highway because they’re still rich as cake today. Ornithologists were conscribed to trick flocks of rocs and gryphons into straying past the Nigh-Infinite Serpent’s mouth, giving it ample sustenance, and for every load it would contort its amazing body, a length becoming a new bridge or tunnel, sometimes running two or three highways on top of each other if the bribe was plentiful enough. When the Moderns factored in the reduction in wars with nature and no longer needing to construct or pave highways, they considered bribing the beast to be an exceptional savings.

Nowadays it actually gets angry if people aren’t traveling on its hide, which is why it attacks so many aircrafts. The best we can tell is it’s used to all the traffic as a sort of back massage. I work in automobile manufacturing, so I don’t mind the anti-aircraft strikes, but the delays on the highway are miserable whenever the beast sheds.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Waiting for Godot Review


I had the great pleasure of attending my first Broadway play last week. It was Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot, which commanded the sort of cast I’m told you don’t usually get even in New York City. Thanks so much to Ross Dillon and Max Cantor for having me along with them, I, some Philistine who wasn’t sure Broadway was even a real place. It turns out is a place, like a lot of New York City, that exchanged the sky for glowing billboards, making it a fine place to watch two great actors ask each other if life is really happening.

Vladimir and Estragon.
It was a wonderful production. Shuler Hensley played Pozzo as a hooting Texan, which I’d never imagined and immediately adored. Billy Crudup rounded out the cast and completely nailed the role of Lucky, from his weary swaying to that impossible monologue on everything and nothing. There came a point when, as an exhausted Pozzo prepares to leave, Lucky took on a knowing expression and caressed his chin in a way I can scarcely believe they got to work on stage, with Crudup blocking so much of our view and facing away, and yet sharing his expression with a crowd behind him. That’s the level of craft the foursome brought to the play.

Shame on me for my highlight coming out of the non-superstars, but McKellen and Stewart were as sterling as you’d expect. McKellen is the more versatile performer, and here played Estragon with so many senile and demented notes, all with the weight of immense age, that reminded me keenly of my grandfather’s final years. Even gestural suggestions of senility were perfect for Waiting for Godot, and particularly for Estragon, who has to forget so much of what’s allegedly happened in front of us. It detracts from my reading of the play as raw nonsense, deliberately eschewing its own continuity to make points about post-modernism, and yet it fits to humanize the material. I love when good actors read material differently than I do. Art isn’t worth it if we all agree. Then it becomes Heinz ketchup.

Also, I love Heinz ketchup.


Vladimir and Estragon.

McKellen got me thinking about other interpretations of the work, and inspired a vision that can never be: Waiting for Adventure Time. The cartoon is often absurd, but that’s a credential for this kind of mash-up, and is so often about exactly the kind of baffling logic that, here, Vladimir is infuriated with for not working. On the subway ride out, I pitched it to Ross and Max, with Finn as Vladimir and Jake as Estragon, and likely animated by the same crew. They won’t even have to switch backgrounds. Any number of Adventure Time voice actors would fit Pozzo, while if we’re going to get anyone to do Lucky’s monologue, it’s got to be Lady Rainicorn running it in Korean.

The play has that elemental nonsense about it, that honestly does remind me of Adventure Time. Adventure Time follows a contrived internal logic, something unreasonable and that children don’t know isn’t acceptable yet. Waiting for Godot is about a grown man’s inability to deal with that lack illogic. An easy highlight of the show was arguing with my friends over its potential meanings as we were stuck in the stairwell trying to exit the theatre.

Vladimir and Estragon.

And no comparison I make can render me guilty. No, sir and madame, every inane thing I think about Waiting for Godot was made to lofty after the lights in the theatre came up and a woman sitting two rows behind us asked, “Why were they waiting for him?”

That’s another highlight right there. You can get angry, or despair, or relish in gifts like those.

Monday, March 31, 2014

#NaNoReMo Wrap-Up



March is on its way out and maybe, just maybe, spring is coming. My boiler is busted and winds are rattling my walls, so it’s cold enough inside that it still feels like winter. Winter is a good physical state to read some angry Russian novels.

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is probably going to be on my #bestreads list at the end of the year. It’s a unique novel and excellent in too many ways, the greatest being that it somehow balances all those ways without losing them. It’s political and religious satire, it’s sincere literary soul searching, it’s mad-cap adventures. Its tone changes on the scene to feel like it’s bridging worlds usually separated by genre.

Since I have this whole wrap-up post to write about the book, I’d like to target the dumbest criticism I’ve read of it. I’ve jumped around Google to collect context for Bulgakov’s life and the culture he was tickling, and there are many sites that have a nub about the novel’s aim on Soviet Russia’s secularism. The Wikipedia entry mentioned:

“However, the attempt is ad absurdum – the novel shows the reality of evil and demonic powers in this world. And the resulting question is, "If those powers exist, and the world is run by Woland and his entourage, why does this world still exist?"”

It’s one of many little atheistic editorializations that never seem to get flagged or cleaned up on Wikipedia. This is a particularly stupid one, as having read fifty pages of the novel you know Woland’s agents wouldn’t destroy the world because they don’t spend all their time here and they enjoy its excesses. Woland visits us so seldom that he’s baffled (and then elated) that the Soviets disbelieve in him. And near the end, the devil speaks with a possible superior (guess who) who seems able to get him to change his actions for the kinder.

It’s unbecoming when a line on Wikipedia bothers me for weeks like that, but at least I can get that out of my system, just like Woland got earth out of his.

If I have a regret about the novel, it’s that I read it while writing so much of my own. Composition takes up so much of my mind that often I couldn’t pay The Master and Margarita proper attention and would hold it off to a weekend or a travel day. I read half of the novel on trains headed towards Waiting for Godot, and it was a delightful experience, but it felt like it deserved better. It’s definitely one I’ll revisit in multiple translations.

Other National Novel Reading Month Wrap-Ups: 
Elephant's Child Vs. Salman Rushie

Cindy Vaskova Vs. Jekyll & Hyde 
Helen Howell Vs. Tom Brown's School Days

Friday, March 28, 2014

Talk to Villains - #fridayflash



I never expected to solve more crime as a reporter than as a bulletproof icon. Yet Simon Magus is responsible for more crime in this city and on the planet than any drug runner. He’s a CEO, the kind that builds skyscrapers named after himself, paid for by what his companies export into war zones. He hates me – one of me, for what I’ve been doing in those same parts of the world when I’m not pushing for a Pulitzer.

He invited me to a lunch on the top floor of one of his skyscrapers, witless that it'd been me who stopped a homicidal robot on its roof three days prior. Even with all the shattered glass, he had a breakfast table set up with Kopi Luwak and imported baguettes. Simon honestly wanted to talk to me about my criticisms of his company, at first to see if he could wow and bully me into retreating, but later about the veracity of my sources and how to keep shareholders happy while enacting reform.

All the while he peppered in attacks against my alter ego. He wanted to convince me what a danger he posed, taking responsibility away from normal people. As though he sells VX nerve gas to normal people. The surprising thing was that when I kept disagreeing, Simon grew more eager, like being stolid earned his respect.

I'll never forget. He said, "Cal, the world doesn't need him. It needs you."

That haunted me, and not just as I put on the tights and stopped his robots. Maybe that means he won.

The next day he bought my paper. We’d gone too deep into the red over the backfiring paywall, and without his money we’d have sunk. He said he’d bought it with the money he'd typically donate to PBS. He had me on the dais as he announced the takeover, and asked me to be the new editor in chief.

If this is a scheme, it’s Simon’s best. Not a single crate of weapons has ‘mysteriously gone missing’ off his cargo liners since our first breakfast together, which if you do the math, has saved more lives than I can at the speed of sound. I can’t help doing the math.

But if he expects me to run a puff piece Sunday, he’s got another thing coming.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bathroom Monologue: Revenge

Step 1: make two small cups of tea since your OCD friend stole your big mug.

Step 2: sip randomly from both cups.

Step 3: watch your OCD friend pay.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Closing in on The Master and Margarita - #NaNoReMo

I cannot call this book by its real title. At least twenty times in this month I've called it "The Master and The Margarita". Perhaps this is because I spent three years expecting it to be about a beverage. Perhaps I have an unhealthy fixation with parallel structure (regardless, we know I have one of those).

I'm closing in on finishing The Master and T... and Margarita, and it's a fascinating piece of work. It's rare that I find any novel with such disparate elements, but it has zany comedy, romance/redemption or high religious pathos. At different points it's reminded me of those cheesy 80's satires that shed their criticism for personal stories of discovery *and* the most profound Historical Fiction. It maintains both its Soviet-era anti-secularism and its Christ-era critical thought, though they come closer to converging, and the ending gets surreal in provocative ways.

Most provocative to me is how the novel challenges what is absurd and what is surreal (damn it, more parallel structure). Both words describe parts of the book, but neither is wholly applicable. Because the scene with the giant talking cat trying to steal candy bars is absurd - it's goofy, impossible, something that doesn't pretend to fit into how the author thinks the world works. But the scene with The Master, an author who went mad trying write a book about Pontius Pilate, having a vision of Pilate struggling to find rest after the execution of Christ, is surreal. The latter scene feels so intense, not fitting with our world and yet unaware of it. Here the absurd and the surreal split: the absurd being what can never be and doesn't care, and the surreal being what can't be and feels like it thinks it could be. Bulgakov's surrealism is disturbing for how convinced it feels it could barge in and upturn us if it wanted to, and brings me back to Borges and the better Kafka.

Which is to say: it's really quite something. I'm too happy to have kept this copy around all these years, and a little guilty for not getting to it sooner, just like Middlemarch last year. Like Middlemarch, there's nothing else quite like this. Other than being unique, there's nothing in common with Middlemarch. Woland would set all that town's nuances on fire.

When I've asked around if any other Russian novelists screw around to the degree Bulgakov did, I've only gotten the answer of Nikolai Gogol. Any recommendations from that canon are welcome. It keeps rewarding me for diving.

A full review of the book should be up on Goodreads (and maybe here) soon. How is your #NaNoReMo coming?

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Perfect Song - #fridayflash



The author finds the perfect song. The search is laborious, infinite, and instantly forgotten in a melody inspirational and nonintrusive. Whatever muse sprang these rhythms into our world gave them merit without demanding attention, and thus the author can work to it.

The author puts the perfect song on loop and begins to type what will surely be the greatest opening paragraph in the history of the novel.

The author’s web browser blinks with an IM. GChat is never truly closed in publishing. Or perhaps it’s a tweet, or a new Like on a half-clever Facebook post from a few hours ago, the last dying gasp of approval for memes past. The author checks the trivial interruption, which ought to take only a few seconds, and the end of the key sentence is still in his mind. Somehow, by no fault of his own, he has soon opened Tumblr, Reddit, and least defensibly, Youtube, chasing links that ask for so little of his time. All with that perfect song on loop in the background, reminding him to work. Eventually he may pause the perfect song to better hear the funny cat video his second college roommate posted, though he’ll unpause it out of guilt shortly later.

The author screws around for so long that, once he realizes his errors, his mind now associates the perfect song with screwing around. Perhaps it was never perfect. Perhaps he was never perfect, but that matters not, for the song is no longer the anthem of victorious words. It causes him only to dwell in how he let lunch time get here without meeting his morning word count.

And so the author opens his music folder and searches for another perfect song.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rough Draft Done Two Days Early, Let's Go Read Books

At 1:10 last night, I wrote the final chapter of We Don't Always Drown. It's 60 chapters long, about 97,000 words, and as in dire need of editing as I am of a bath.

Like always, I'll post a breakdown of the entire process. Right now I have to make a run to the library - finishing writing means it's time to read.

But I wanted to share a sheet of paper I've kept floating around my desk since the end of February. It assisted my temporal reasoning with the dates when people might visit, or when I'd be traveling, which is a handy way to not rationalize against productivity. At the end of every writing day, I'd mark down the roundest version of my word count.


The 22nd is marked "Godot" because I'm headed off to NYC to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in Waiting for Godot. A pair of wonderful friends got me a ticket to go with them, and I'm equally excited about spending Saturday night with them. I've got something to celebrate now.

Monday, March 17, 2014

7 Chapters in 5 Days



Those pixel-stained technopeasant wretches. Wait, what?
After Thursday, the plan was to write eleven chapters in seven days.

After Friday, the plan was to write nine chapters in six days.

After Saturday, the plan was to write seven chapters in five days.

Thursday was a very difficult day physically, but I managed to make pace that took me through the weekend, and at the urging of friends, took Sunday off as a breather. That’s reasonable because I’m at pace and over the tricky denouement. The remaining seven chapters are mostly shorter and all the composition has gotten me into the groove where I’m terrifically excited to write them. Some of the best bits of the book are about to spill out of my fingertips.

On Saturday night I went out to celebrate by watching The Wind Rises. It’s a wonderful film and a very interesting piece of art if it’s truly Hayao Miyazaki’s last. It’s about the life of a boy who dreams of building airplanes, living myopically towards his goal which lands him a job in pre-World War II Japan. I couldn’t help wondering if I was projecting things onto it, knowing it might be the end of his career, with its ominous treatment of earthquakes, the frequent shots of exhausted engineers smoking to relieve stress, and the finality of so many elements, even the love story that is stricken by tuberculosis we seldom pretend we can beat. It’s certainly the only anime I’ve seen that’s referenced Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain.

Then, midway through the film, the engineer’s hero mentions that he’s retiring because an artist only ever has ten years in which he’s creative. That sort of line doesn’t make it into this sort of film by accident. Too funny after a career that touched five decades.

I was the only one in the cinema with a scrap of paper. As immersed as I was in The Wind Rises’s humanoid sound designs of planes and curious depiction of a country at war, I kept drifting back to my novel. Am I passed that ten year period already? I don’t know, but I kept having ideas for what I’d just written and what I’ll be writing next. I tainted my own mind by writing so close to seeing the movie, though it’s a testament to how much The Wind Rises gives that it still caught my attention every time I pocketed my scrap of paper.

Now it’s back to work for me. How’s everyone doing?

Friday, March 14, 2014

They All Fall - #fridayflash

Gravity was a good god, and that was his downfall. He always did his job, pulling things down or together, and did so with such reliability that humans could measure him. How Loki laughed at the idea of a god with such low self-esteem that he let himself be measured. But Gravity broke none of the rules: humans still couldn’t see him or talk to him directly, and he never tampered with someone else’s domain. Loki never had to fear Gravity playing tricks.

The problem came, then, that humans didn’t fear him like they did Loki or Zeus, and they certainly didn’t revere him as they had the sun or that Jesus kid. They made planes, helicopters and went to the moon without so much a prayer – except the typical calculations for landing and such. Even when he did something nasty it was always the suicidal prick that jumped off the bridge that got the credit, not Gravity for providing the very force that enabled the tragedy.

The rise of scientific thought only insulted him further as people believed less in his friends, but never even bothered to question his existence. He wasn’t even part of the cultural debate. One year Carl Sagan, of whom Gravity had always been very supportive, actually mocked theology by saying no one prayed to gravity. Then one morning Gravity picked up Scientific American (well, not “picked up” – he never picked anything up that he didn’t have to) and saw some theorist asking why gravity was so weak in this universe.

“So weak.”

Gravity snapped and finally took old Loki’s advice. They’d regret not appreciating him. They’d regret it when gravity ignored them, and they learned the terror of floating.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mum At the Final Act

Apologies for recent and short-term blogging silence, friends and fellow readers. The biggest thing slowing The Bathroom Monologues has been on my novel-in-progress, We Don't Always Drown. I've just finished re-plotting the final act and think it's devious enough to go forward. Right now it weighs 76,000 words and feels ready for a big trick of a conclusion. I'm hoping to finish the rough draft before next weekend, when I hit NYC to see Waiting for Godot with friends.

This composition string has taken its toll on reading time; I'm even days behind on blogs, let alone my NaNoReMo pick.

I'm a third of the way through The Master and Margarita. At this stage in my career, I still feel awkward critically assessing the novels of others. So far the novel is delightfully cheesy in a way that none of the Russian heavy hitters I've ever read has gone for, including the deliberate, knowing setup conversation between those darned secular elites and the man we know will turn out to be Satan, as they deny his existence only to be blown away.

This is a good cheese, and an unusual cheese, especially for the contrast of flashback narratives to Pontius Pilate's encounters with a Yeshua of some renown. This Yeshua behaves skittishly, mortal to a fault, even denying his own teachings to get out of being convicted. Where the Satan-against-Soviets satire seemed gleefully pro-Christian, this depiction reads highly anti-Christian. Am I wrong? I almost hope not, because the collision of those two themes could make an incredible novel, and one third of the way in, The Master and Margarita hasn't uncloaked its true shape yet. It could wind up as a number of kinds of novels.

What this really calls for is research on cultural context, but I'm so deep into writing my own novel that reading time is slim. This has slowed down my consumption of Bulgakov's novel, but I'm no less enthused to read it.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Phallus for the Sky - #fridayflash

A gorgeous shot from Icy Sedgwick's photo prompts.

"Hey honey."

"Oh for God's sake, Earth."

"I know you see it. It sure sees you."

"Put that away. It's not even morning. I'm tired."

"I can see the sun behind those clouds! Come on, it's the weekend."

"Where'd the romance go? You're all architecture these days."

"I sent you that shuttle!"

"I know it's the last one, Earth. All your TV satellites are floating in me."

"Have I told you that you look spacious lately?"

"I'm going back to bed."

"I bet a full moon will be out!"

"You're the worst planet I've ever dated. Pluto never needed artistic viagra."

"And look what happened to him! No, baby. I got you figured. You go take a nap. Dream on all this. "

"The single worst planet I've ever..."
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