Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Did you kick out His secretary, too?

In an unprecedented move this morning, the Vatican excommunicated God on the grounds of heresy. The Holy Roman Catholic Church has long acknowledged the theory of evolution to be true, but had never before taken action against the creator for committing evolution when scripture plainly says that everything happened in seven days. The Church's panel found that while it would be legal to start evolution today, having done it when the Holy Roman Catholic Church didn't know of it or disavowed it "was a severe retroactive heresy."

When reached for comment, God said He was working on other projects. When asked about those projects, He pretended He was listening for a while, then revealed various things that our senior reporter hadn’t confessed but should have. Our senior reporter is now in therapy.

God was last seen on Mars, where He was reportedly working in “mysterious but more explicitly obvious ways.”

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Three Story Statement

Listen to the audio edition or download the MP3 of John Wiswell's "Three Story Statement" here.

All comments and feedback are welcome!

When you compare the three short stories and realize that Wisenheim wrote them all in the same summer, I think it’s obvious he was making a statement.

"Talky" was dumb. I don't know why you'd write a story that’s all dialogue. There’s no way to get into the action. I guess it works as art, but not as a good story. Even as art fiction, meh. His point is so obvious in that one, too. The radio dispatcher keeps getting information that’s wrong. Somebody tells him the last turn is ten miles from the depot, he relays it to the convoy, and they wind up lost and looted. He sends soldiers to the docks and the ships that radioed they'd be in an hour ago aren’t there. Any directions using palm trees fail because it turns out there are no palm trees. He quits when he realizes that he can’t know anything from a distance like this because he’ll rely on others and others are always fallible. That’s pretty lame, but I get why you assigned it. It's easy for Freshmen to analyze.

"Faithful" was the funniest. The guy is so obsessed with his wife cheating on him that he actually gives her the idea to do it. She's a perfect wife the whole story, so sweet and picking up after him. Being so mean and accusing her of being a harlot convinces her to try it out. So he’s wrong the first half of the story, but he’s also wrong for the second half - because he's convinced he was wrong. He feels guilty about all the accusations. He convinces himself she’s the perfect wife that she was to begin with and gets so guilty that he doesn’t even get up to check the heavy breathing in the next room. He thinks they’re moving furniture, which is what she and his best friend were actually doing in the opening scene when he suspects they were sleeping together! That’s funny, but it’s also a statement. He is wrong on every single page and the topic he’s wrong about is his personal life. He interprets the bedsprings creaking, and her tone, and that she’s flushed when she walks in from getting the mail – all of it wrong, and both ways. He can never know for sure about anything that doesn't happen right in front of him, even the obvious.

The third story is just mean. The tone is so condescending and Wisenheim even titled it "Idiot." I think the main character is mentally handicapped. You say caricature, but I say offensive stereotype. And he’s constantly being taken advantage of. A blind guy sells him a bad painting by out-talking him. A deaf guy sells him a broken cello by convincing the Idiot that this sound will be in vogue next year. The cologne salesman has no sense of smell but is rich because he went on what was popular instead of what he might have liked. Then the blind guy’s painting turns out to be a notorious fake that’s worth more than the original because of the infamy. The story trips over itself by getting as many personal, obvious things wrong as possible – he actually plays the broken cello and doesn’t realize there should be more strings and it’s out of tune. Then those wrong things turned out not to be right, but even more wrong in a way that’s better than if they were right – like his girlfriend falling back in love with him because he’s so pathetic playing that cello. He’s wrong about everything that’s right in front of him, or right on him. He can’t even tell if he likes the cologne. He decides he hates it just before the girlfriend compliments how he smells. So according to Wisenheim you can be an Idiot with a capital 'I' about what's right in front of you.

But here’s the thing: Wisenheim wrote all three in the same summer. He had all three points in mind at the same time and didn't pick just one. But the points are totally contradictory! What’s he saying? That strangers, friends, your wife and yourself are all unreliable? That you can’t know about stuff that’s far away, close or even right before your eyes? That’s scary. How would he even know to write the stories if all that was true? Unless it's because fiction is something he made up and that's the only thing he could know about.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Circle of Friends

Both Michael Solender and Barry Northern recently gave me one of their Circle of Friends Awards. While I try to keep The Bathroom Monologues to stories alone, I'm going to do this one today.

But there is still a story today. "Crossdressers for Rights" is the next post down.

Come to think of it, that title sounds like another web ring.

First is Randall Nichols and his Mojo Wire. A college friend, fellow fan of anime and professional wrestling, a comic book writer and aspiring screenwriter. He holds the distinction in my life of being the only person to defend both barbed wire deathmatches and Milk. This week he's running a series of "Best Horror Films of the Decade" lists. My list is actually up there today.

Second is A Shift in Dimensions, home of excellent emerging writer Laura Eno. She's way more popular than I am so I'm not sure why I'm promoting her. I must like her writing.

Third is the photo blog of another dear friend, Shelly's Caution: Turtle with a Camera. She has resolved to take and post at least one photo a day as she hones her craft. I comment there more than on any other site on the web. You'll have to read my comments to find out why.

All these years and I cannot spell "fourth" with any confidence. Why does the command have to be "Go forth?" That screwed me up from elementary school on. Anyway, 4th is Jodi MacArthur's creatively titled Fiction Writer: Jodi MacArthur. She's on hiatus right now as she writes her big novel. She is a determined writer and wonderful buddy. I must like her because hers is the only blog I will ever link you to that has a soundtrack on it. So, go forth. Fourth. God dammit.

Fifth goes to the crew at Geektress. Theirs is one of the few podcasts I download every week. Both the podcast and the main site deal with nerddom, mostly with television, film and comics. Seldom do I hear conversations about these topics that are so upbeat. I may even show up on the podcast as a voicemail sometime.

Bathroom Monologue: Crossdressers for Rights

The airline knew something was up, but you couldn’t do anything about it. The ladies didn’t protest at the metal detectors or pat downs, even the 6’4” ones who were very obviously not women. There were thirty in the party, all in sundresses, some with unshaved legs, many with masculine cheekbones. Three were downright gorgeous slender goddesses, but they had ‘M’ stamped on their passports like their friends. They giggled and chattered, putting up no fight at an additional security check. There was no reason not to let thirty friendly, paying customers on the plane, and so they boarded. Maybe it was a transvestite support group heading on a French vacation. The thirty had booked their seats specifically so that they took up half the plane. Everyone seated to the left of the aisle was a man in heels. They groaned and kicked off their heels as soon as they sat down. They watched the demonstrations, buckled safely, and joked about floatation implants. They took drinks and talked amongst themselves, only murmuring about their mission. The flight attendants knew something was up, but what, they couldn't say. They had to take off. Only once they got into French air space did the ladies let it slip, thirty ladies reaching into their carry-ons and putting on burkas. They scared the heck out of the pilots and other passengers, despite being cheery and remaining in their seats. They landed and were met by very confused police nationale. After they were released from detainment they told reporters, still wearing their floral dresses and black veils, that it was only illegal for women to cover their heads in this country, but no matter what you felt about it, men should wear anything to make a point.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Feedback on the Best of a Century

Dear _____,

I’m writing about your Best Short Stories of the Century anthology that you put out with ______ Press. I realize it’s about eleven years old now and you probably don’t get much mail on it, but my dad got it for me since he said if I want to be a writer I need to know what serious writers write about, not all elves and lasers and crap. Those are his words, not mine. I don’t even like scifi much. My brother was also a big fan of yours until the Iraqis killed him. So I figured I’d give you a chance.

I don’t mean to be rude but you have shit taste in stories. I don’t like science fiction, but how come none of the best short stories of the century were scifi? Or fantasy? Or detective stuff? Or funny? I can stop my door with your book and not one story in here is funny. That’s fucked up. Mark Twain was funny, and I know he was before that century, but fuck man. Was nobody funny after Mark Twain? Every story in here is sad or melancholy, and melancholy is just sadness that jacks off when no one’s looking. Those are my brother’s words. He was very funny and he liked you. That’s why I don’t understand why you’d put this book together.

These don’t seem like the best stories of any century. I was a kid for the few years of that century I was around for at all. Maybe you had to be there. But Jesus! Nothing happens in most of them until the end, and then it’s like the writer is making up for doing nothing by killing the guy or making somebody leave. They’re so whiny. Like, I get that a racist story about a black guy is going to an angry story. But what the fuck is up with all the disgruntled immigrants, rich people, middle class, and everybody? Also, there’s only one story in here about black people. My brother would have totally called you on that if he read this. He was into equal rights.

He never wrote you fan mail because he was a little slow. He could read, but wasn’t so good at writing. It intimidated him. You missed out, because he was an awesome guy. If you played him three songs off any album he could imitate their stuff so well and make it hilarious. He was smarter than they thought. Too slow for college, but smart enough to get into the military. We had a plan. He was going to do all the legwork, make money. I was going to go to college instead. I’d be the brains. Those were his words. Now his brains are on a street somewhere. They wouldn’t ship the body back so Mom could see it. That’s fucked up and if he was alive he’d make fun of it. Why doesn’t anyone grab life by the balls in your book? Nobody makes fun of death. Nobody works until his little brother makes it to Yale.

That’s what’s wrong with your book. A whole fucking century and not one story that’s honest to your fans. Sure, Dad likes all your stuff, but this is not the shit my brother would like. Mom thinks you have a psychotic complex against women and I think you’ve got shit taste in stories. That means 2/3 people in my house think you suck. When my brother was alive it was tied. Now it’s 2/3.

This is my English assignment to you, from Mrs. ___’s tenth grade English. Write something funny that’s great. It’s a new century. It’s my fucking century. So give me and my brother’s memory something different than the same angry/sad shit that was apparently all the 20th century made. You can write about my brother if you want. You can even write about him being blown up. It was a bomb disguised as a brown paper bag on the side of the road. But don’t you only write about that shit. You write about how he nearly made me piss my pants making fun of the Jonas Brothers on the last call home he made. If you make that story sad, you will fucking fail my century.

Also, don’t you think it’s kind of sad that you put one of your own stories in there? Remember in high school how lame it was when a kid editor put her own shit in the paper? They do it all the time and it only gets lamer. I won’t do that shit when I’m famous.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Global Heating

He’s not a mad scientist. Dr. Todd’s just disgruntled. Back when the popular hysteria was global cooling, he saw a global warming trend. Now it’s all the rage and he gets none of the credit. All the endowments going to the younger and better spoken environmentalists. He’d been working on the problem for sixty years. Now they had his technology and were going to start a green movement without him! He couldn’t afford the rent and some ex-vice president was breaking the box office. So you see, he didn’t go insane. Anyone could in that circumstance, but Dr. Todd didn’t. He went angry. His research went into reverse. You want to fight global warming? He’d pull all those nasty carbon particles from the atmosphere, and the atmosphere with it! He’d bake this ungrateful planet like a potato, starting with the carbon over his ex-wife’s house.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Sick Day Thoughts

The flu did weird things to Peters. He was wonky enough that, for a moment, he thought a malicious goblin might be spying on him from behind the Cheerios on fridge.

He scratched his head rapidly and set his teeth. His mind was addled. He slunk back to bed, sure there couldn’t be such a thing.

And there couldn’t. The only malicious goblins were hiding behind the Raisin Bran. It was gremlin behind the Cheerios, making feverish hand gestures to the other creatures.

He directed the amateur succubus from the table, the imps in the silverware drawer, and teeth-eating tooth faeries behind the pepper and salt shakers. They kept very still, moving around to other sides behind their respective boxes with the gremlin’s commands, keeping out of Peters’s field of vision. It was essential to remain in secret.

He would catch a real glimpse of them someday, though. Perhaps when he picked up the Epsom salts too quickly and found legged serpent, or turned around too quickly and saw the sailors in the painting on his wall were actually alive. Then all the wee critters would have to come at him and bring him down. They simply couldn’t let him know his apartment was a den of evil miniatures.

Yes that was probably what was up, Peters thought to himself as he settled down in bed. You could have fantasies like this when you were sick. It was the only time you could get away with them.

He switched on the television and laid his head on the pillow. It was fortunate that a music video came up, or else he would have heard the gnome squeak under his pillow. Then they would have had to bring him down.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: War of the Rings

You’ve got a magic ring. He’s got a magic ring. That you’d feud is natural. That he’d become your nemesis is a blessing. There’s nothing so great as a nemesis, as everything they do validates everything you want. You never have to bother with reason. A nemesis will invariably do something to justify your feelings, no matter how hypocritical, no matter how much you have to twist what he does to fit it. I cannot think of a better gift to give than getting someone to hate you that badly.

Hate doesn’t help the fights. Your ring responds to willpower, his to fear. Perhaps hatred is what lies between the two, or it’s the friction produced by will grinding against worry. I don’t know. But you need to understand why you can’t beat him. Again, I think it’s great that you can’t: the nemesis that doesn’t end is the gift that keeps on giving.

But it’s not because he’s got more experience with his ring. It’s not that his imagination is more powerful. How many times has he summoned giant crabs with that thing?

The problem is how your rings eat emotion.

Yours runs on your willpower. You worked your way through school and beat alcoholism. You’ve got will in spades.

His runs on fear. However worried you are plus however terrified be can make the city before you get there. That’s a lot of fuel, but you can match it. Routinely, you do.

Yours runs on your willpower. His eats the fear of others so you just assume it only eats their fear. That’s your mistake. His ring eats his insecurities, too. He’s riddled with them. He’s built up an artifice, the cool exterior. The terrorist villain who is unmoved. Every time he puts up that face, he’s pretending. He’s actually terrified you’ll finally kill him. Nobody attacks a city because they’re secure in themselves. Nobody summons giant crabs that many times because he’s steady in the head. What he’s done is build a bulwark of his fears, brace them against each other to prop up the appearance of being collected. All the while, the anticipation of your next move, the apprehension about his morality, the nerves about getting caught – all that is churning inside him, feeding his ring. That’s why he never runs out of magic even when you stop being afraid of him. That’s why you haven’t beaten him.

Surely there’s something you can do with that knowledge to ruin his day, right?
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