Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Diet and Exercise

The Body Max is revolutionizing weight loss (or it will when some of them sell, we swear!)! Use it just ten minutes a day two days a week to reach any of our patented six body types:

-Third World Tragedy
-Beige Skeleton

*Please remember that all Body Sizer goals are meant to be pursued by using the machine, radically altering your diet in ways we didn’t advertise, and the consultation of a personal trainer that costs a dozen times as much per month as this machine.

Bathroom Monologue: F13 & V14 (Non-Fiction)

A power outage on Friday the 13th is ominous. Especially when you live in the woods. Especially when it hits an hour before the show time of that new Jason movie you were going to see, but capriciously chose against this morning.

So I went, disregarding that the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” was the first song on the radio, had a good time with two-hundred teenagers, and returned home to find the lights on and no one lurking behind the doors I’d left ajar. It reminded me that Friday the 13th wasn’t a holiday of massacre, but one of bad luck. Or maybe it wasn’t one of bad luck either, but like every day, merely a collection of hours with whatever meaning I let it have, which was an amiable lesson, as Valentine’s Day was tomorrow.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Calmly

Good morning. Please disregard the explosions outside your window. Please disregard fallacious news reports of millions of invading drones. There are no more than a few hundred in your district. You and your neighbors will be able to overcome them in a matter of hours. Many of your neighbors are already outside providing a heroic insurgency. If your neighbors are not already outside defending democracy, then they are either cowards and you should go outside and set an example, or you live in relative isolation. If you live in relative isolation then the enemy has not sent as many drones to your area, and are likely not anticipating the heroic insurgency you will soon provide. Calmly take any household firearms in hand and charge the drones when ready. If you possess no firearms, calmly look about your home for weaponizable items such as table legs, walking sticks or IV drip stands. If individuals claim these items are necessary for their survival, point out their cowardice in not having charged the enemy yet. If they seem disturbed, urge them to please disregard the explosions outside the window, and then try again. Good luck in defending democracy, citizen.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: The Fry Cook Votes Independent

"I'm liberal in who can prepare the burger - I don't care about the religion, sexuality or race of the cook. Yet I'm conservative in how they prepare it - I want it medium-well, and keep your lettuce, tomato and secret sauce to yourself. Despite my stringent demand for medium-well hamburgers, I will not enforce my kitchen values on others. Once it's at the table, I'm liberal in the amount of ketchup I put on it. Fiscally, I'm flexible on the amount of fries on the side, crossing the aisle to shake hands with conservatives on their judgment that a fist full is enough, but like a proper liberal, I smile on a post-meal surplus. They're nice to munch on during dessert conversations, like ones about oversimplified politics, where they're all this way, we're all that way, and if I don't keep my mouth stuffed I'll end up in a fight."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Wrath of the Writer

Shirley Porter was an obsessive writer, and her worst tick was a psychotic inability to handle anyone reading anything she’d written until it was done. The characters needed to be developed and the dialogue polished, the prose made immaculate before it could be understood. If she printed something out in the library she would hover over the tray to block errant glances from critically observing a stray sentence. She password protected her PC, bolted the tower to the desk and locked all her papers in the drawers of her desk.

When Shirley suspected a houseguest of sneaking a look at her new manuscript she fretted, and when she reviewed the manuscript and found a typo he might have read, she went berserk. She cornered him in the kitchen and interrogated him with a butter knife.

His promises of not seeing it didn’t relieve her. They merely made her suspicious of all her friends.

Really, she had no idea who was trustworthy. How many had actually seen early drafts of her work without admitting it? How many would silently judge her in the future?

So Shirley tested them.

She placed copies of her latest short story in every room of her house and left them untended. She didn’t mention them. She left them unattended and often walked out of a room, leaving a friend or two alone with those perfectly normal copies.

Perfectly normal copies laced with perfectly normal cyanide.

"Theorobotics" in Alien Skin this April

The Bathroom Monologue, "Theorobotics," was accepted for publication in the April/May issue of Alien Skin Magazine. This is a new version of the monologue. And yes, "Alien Skin" is the most porn-sounding group I've been accepted by yet, but they've published the likes of Orson Scott Card, so they're also the biggest. The biggest and most porn-sounding.

You can check out Alien Skin here. I will be happy to autograph it if you mail it to me, as I maintain the policy that anyone sweet and demented enough to pursue getting my autograph ought to have it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The sick, sad world of Wile E. Coyote, OR, In the car with a friend monologue

Coyotes thrive in many environments, including in the reservation near the house I grew up in. There they attacked and ate wild turkeys, any birds of flight that stayed near the ground, house cats, and even each other’s young. That potential for cannibalism suggests why Wile E. is alone in the desert. But coyotes being able to live in ecosystems other than the desert suggest he could eat creatures other than that roadrunner. Furthermore, Acme is not only a mail-order hardware store. There was an Acme supermarket near my grandparents’ when I was a kid, which always left me feeling he could order some cereal or beef jerky in bulk if he wanted. No friends, we are left with the portrait of a coyote that doesn’t need to eat the roadrunner for his survival – he needs it. Perhaps the roadrunner is the begotten child of Jezebel, and will bring upon us the darkest of times. Perhaps Wile E.’s sister, Shirl E. Coyote, is suffering from a rare disease that can only be cured by an extract of the roadrunner’s bones. Of course he fantasizes about eating the roadrunner from time to time. He’s a natural carnivore. It’s like me not having a certain occasional fantasy if I keep chasing a pop starlet around. But did you ever stop and think for a moment why such a genius so desperately employs one single plan after one single plan, never saving them up to create an inescapable obstacle course? It’s not for a one-course meal of stringy roadrunner meat. It’s for his sister’s well being. Wile E. Coyote is an altruist.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Don’t Take the Lord’s Name Intravenously, OR, Did you catch the pun in my timestamp?

Toby slammed on the breaks and gritted his teeth at the jackass in front of him.

“Jesus!” he hissed. What was that idiot thinking, stopping short on a freeway?

“Yes?” asked someone in Toby’s passenger seat. That was odd, since he was commuting alone.

He looked over and saw a bearded man in a blue robe. He was already buckled in.

They stared at each other for a moment before the bearded man repeated, sounding a little annoyed, “Yes?”

“I… uh…” Toby stammered. He suddenly wished he hadn’t taken his mother’s rosary off the rearview mirror. “I didn’t mean…”

“Of course you didn’t.”

The bearded man rolled his eyes. Then he disappeared.

As Toby tried to fathom what had just happened, he noticed the car in front of him had also vanished.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Genre

To many people, “genre” just means one kind of story that can be told in a medium. Comedy, Drama and Romance are genres. But there is also a malign use of the word, often with a capital letter. This is Genre, which is singular but somehow connotes three things: Science Fiction and Fantasy, even though they’re constantly at odds, and Horror, even though many scary things are not the least bit fantastic or reliant on science. They form an ugly lump. Sometimes speculative fiction and alternative histories are part of the lump, as they are merely fantasies set here instead of a made-up world, but sometimes a few are excluded from the lump. Philip Roth does not write Genre, even when he makes a celebrity pilot beat FDR for the presidency. Why? This is where the membrane of segregation bursts, poked and punctured by the people who erected it. When Michael Chabon or Cormac McCarthy write something that belongs in Genre but hemorrhages out, you begin to realize it’s a silly and insulting creation. And when you realize just how many things hemorrhaged out of there, or have somehow never been put in there in your lifetime despite belonging, or are in there and don’t belong, you may come to think like me. You may come to think that my make-believe is not worse than yours.

Was there a bitterer passing of an author this decade than Kurt Vonnegut, famed for smart Science Fiction? Perhaps the greatest living poet in our language, Seamus Heaney, spent years translating Beowulf and Philoctetes– one the original classic of our tongue about a dragonslaying hero, and the other a play about improbable survival, magical occurrences and a cameo by Hercules. They are not exempt from Fantasy just because they’re old, especially not after a fresh re-write. Fast forward centuries and you’ll find that perhaps the most commonly referenced piece of politically critical fiction of the 20th century was George Orwell’s 1984, the quintessential speculative SciFi jaunt?

When you look at the BBC’s list of the hundred most beloved novels from 2007, what do you find at the top? Lord of the Rings, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials and The Chronicles of Narnia. And who were J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis but professors of Literature and Philosophy at Oxford, who decided to spend their time in Fantasy steeped in mythology? And what is mythology, but that substance Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell observed was essential to the healthy mind? If it is that, then mythology is at least the fundamental make-believe, upon which you will find nearly all old-world classic literature stands. If you would like to take the conceit out of English, I’ll let you take it up with Homer and Virgil before the gates of Hell.

And don’t say, “That’s Europe.” In this hemisphere, Time Magazine put a comic book as one of the hundred greatest novels of the 20th century. Our literature grew out of fertile imagination and folklore. We needed giants and their blue oxen buddies for a new oral tradition before we could have a new print tradition. Perhaps you will say Washington Irving was our first author in that print tradition, he who told stories about time travel, ghosts and talking books. Or perhaps you will say Mr. Irving was too European in his prose and instead elect Mark Twain as our first – but if so, please regard his tales about talking birds, an engineer traveling back to Camelot, and a vengeful corpse in search of its golden arm.

And if Mr. Irving is indeed too European for you, please pay mind to the Europeans and their historically inaccurate classics about King Arthur, Jeff Chaucer’s opus of impossible and obscene anecdotes, and Bill Shakespeare’s Macbeth chatting up witches. We look to that continent and see the abyss peer hatefully into us, and yet we can still make a man dressed as a bat the number one movie in the world, if we’re smart enough to have him fight a clown.

Even without its roots running quite as deep as Fantasy, Science Fiction is no ignoble playground. Otherwise Michio Kaku wouldn’t have written a book explaining what of their elements might be plausible, and Stephen Hawking certainly wouldn’t have played poker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Brilliant scientists have come to terms with our modern make-believe, so why can’t the psyche of the English language?

It is in the psyche of our letters, and largely thanks to an A-B argument. Opinions have been polarized, such that it must be A or B. These arguments are usually at (or near) the center of frustrating conflicts.

Here, A is stories for story sake, characters you want to follow, interesting action, rising interest and climax. A is real narrative that captivates someone who has seldom visited the art form before.

Here, B is stories for art sake, with themes that transcend action, tangents from what is necessary to develop the story, unanswered questions and ephemeral wisps of words that leave the audience thinking instead of following.

A is putting what makes fiction meaningful for its characters first. B is putting what makes fiction meaningful for its readers first. A asks. B challenges.

In short, A is garbage and B is propaganda. They are worthless independent of each other, as one is base and the other is all ulterior motive. Just because one requires more critical thought does not make it virtuous. Action must be meaningful to be worthwhile, but meaning cannot attach itself to a void. The value and art lies in the balance of these forces. They are not the two strands in the helix of good fiction; they are what gravity and heat are to life, pulling it together and making it move, both indispensable to its existence, and not objectively comparable.

The “Genre” genres, even after selling much of their premiere real estate to B, have been the unabashed home to A for a century. Most good fiction, in and out of the Genre slums, reconciles these forces, but much as modern America is populated by moderates and run by extremist idiots, so are American letters. So Stephen King’s The Stand was written off as schlock by snobs and too “I don’t know” by fools. The make-believe force is the first put-off, but the desire to entertain as well as think is what fuels the stigma.

My first mentor at Bennington College, Max Gardner, put it best: “A woman fucking her cow is Literature. A woman fucking her cow on Mars is trash.”
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