The Slush Pile (A Review)

So without really even trying, it feels, I hit 35k on my current work in progress, Nowhere. It’s a dystopian Western set in the flat, wastelands of our Apocalyptic future. So that’s been a ton of fun, but it got me thinking. My slush pile, the stack of first drafts and half attempts every writer accumulates, is starting to look a little crazy, almost like it could just topple and spill all over the carpet. It would probably grow eight hairy legs, eat the asbestos tiles in my downstairs office, and just walk away to some other coffee soaked writer’s den. Oh if I could only be so lucky, anyway, so yeah I got thinking why not do a little review of the slush pile, to determine which of these monsters I should give my attention to and finally finish and distribute.

The Books

Pomegranate Lane-This was the last first draft I wrote, in November of 2015 for National Novel Writing Month (#Nanowrimo). It’s a murder-mystery novel set in the future. The protagonist Dorothy (ignore the hackery) is a detective, working the first real murder case anyone in decades has had, due to the impressive surveillance state which has been achieved. She wakes up the morning of the gruesome murder, alcohol drenched and one foot over the edge of an existential crisis. What was her job? Why did she want to do it? What is this strange world she took for granted? All these questions become compounded when there are failures in the security state itself, which provide ugly glimmers of a reality right next store, that threatens to overwhelm her secured world.

Interludes-I’ve been distributing this on here. I won’t go into too many details since you can just go read it if your interested. It’s a first person story, told by a version of myself, it unfolds in a place I call La-La-Land. There’s weird cults and rituals, a werewolf who sexually assaults me and tries to eat me, tricky mythical-poetical entities, and overall a deep and hopefully humorous study of Art itself. I am about three quarters of the way through the edit on this, and hope in the future to finish serializing it on this blog, so stick around.

Dawning of the Werewolf-This draft sits short of full novel, 45k words. I think I worked on it before Interludes, but I’m not sure. Overall, the slush pile gets a little scattered here in my own chronology. This story is a first person confessional about a guy who discovers he’s a werewolf. All I really remember is a lot of running, and this cool vibe of a man-beast racing up the edge of Lake Michigan. Oh, and I did like the ultimate hack move and had my creature help steal The One Ring, from Lord of the Rings, for some baddies. Again some cool stuff, but with that level of hack I think this one may be a dud.
Mech Suits (Totally working Title)-Science Fiction, first draft right at 50k words. This one may have potential. Basic story, in the future robotic technology is so far advanced that the use of machines suits, think the thing Ripley from Alien wears to kick that alien’s ass, is common place. There is an updated version of football which is played with these suits. The youngest boy gets roped into an international terrorist situation, through his connection to an very rich, corporate executive, who was aware of his skill, and had allow him free reign of his workshop.

 

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Something sort of cool about this one. The story follows three brothers. The youngest is a technical genius with machines (think Hephaestus), and his two older brothers are Mechball (think I just made that name up) all stars on the high school team. An interesting detail for me is when I wrote this book I only had two boys at the time, but now I have my own trio of sons. That personal relevancy definitely bumps this one up on the priority list. I also liked the big, entertaining story that took place. It was sort of like Golden Era 80s-90’s action flicks (think half Karate Kid, half Die Hard), mixed with a heady batch of Orwellian musings.

Sumer, previously Robot Academy Funtimes– I stalled out on the second draft of this work, a little over 66k words. Again there’s a personal component that makes me want to finish-finish. Basic plot came from my brother years ago, in a far distant future, robots rule the Earth, they have decided to begin reproducing humans, because they have lost their sense of humanity. My story follows one of these new-humans, a girl named Echo.

This one presents a number of critical and complicated issues. For one the story takes places in a holodeck/scientific lab of sorts. This sort of reeks of amateur hackery again because you end up in a sort of dream sequence explanation which isn’t very good. If it’s all a dream or a simulation then who really give a damn, the argument goes. Of course, traversing prickly fields of contradictions and ego destroying logical conundrums sort of destroys the pursuit of digestible narration.

More over, what was a stunning philosophical insight from my teenage brother, was a fairly well established Science Fiction trope. In my own reading aI have become more aware of this issue, via Asimov and others. That said, my draft was done with mostly clean hands, and since there really is nothing new under the sun, I don’t automatically discount this story. I feel like this definitely has the feeling of a fruit not yet ripened, so I continue on.

The Siege/Winterset-First draft, Speculative Fiction, right at 47.9k words. This is a weird one for me. What started out with the thought experiment, what would a people’s revolution look like in small town mid-West United States, led by a somewhat quixotic youth protagonist, similar to the idealized concept the Author has of himself. Think farm animals released on Main Street and the bouncy ball pit at high noon on a Saturday.
I didn’t like how it ended up though, in chaos and murder, and low-down outlaws. No one was supposed to get hurt…I thought about this book a lot later when I when I watched things like the Occupy movement, or the recent riots in Baltimore. I realized that the bullshit, Mayberry sense of revolution I depicted in the book was naive, in the meanest and truest sense of the word. This sort of development in my thinking leads to it having a permanent position in the slush pile.

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Tom’s Episode-I believe this is the first book I wrote, and it sits at a monstrous 95,829 words. Wow. It is sort of crazy to go through all these stories. They connect and bring back so many memories of when I wrote them. The basic idea of this story is what happens if someone became an atheist while in heaven. Again, just an awful, typical beginner’s premise, a story set in heaven. I wrote this over five years ago. I’d taken a class at University of Iowa, on Science and Religion around that time, and I remember I was deep into the Atheist, Creationism vs. Evolution, Dawkins, sort of stuff. Of course, Tom is an allusion to the so-called doubting Thomas of the Gospels.

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas

Strictly speaking I would label myself an Atheist, in the strict I have seen no evidence for the positive claim there is a God, but in all the ways that count I’m still a dirty old apostate Catholic. I pray Our Fathers then Hail Marys, am in dialogue with the Holy Spirit, and ultimately abide a messianic eschatology (and I am the one I have been waiting for). But yes, it’s those sort of Gnostic drenched ramblings that make up this book. I also recognized later that it’s Interludes Part One, but that seems to form some sort of psychological singularity which I don’t really care to deal with (we’re all writing the same shit over and over and over…). I encountered Tom Robbins, and Christopher Moore’s Lamb later, they do masterfully, what I did very shoddily in this one, but again know, I wait for the day I may have the capabilities to birth this monster. Consider yourself warned.

 

Novellas/Shorts Stories

 

Kill The Television-This is a novella right around 17k words. I consider this my Parvus Opus (Small Work). Simple story, thirteen year old, Ronald lives on his Grandma’s couch at her senior living center. One day, he decides to start head hunting flat screens. Cool little story, hero’s quest sort of thing, set in my home city. I love the themes of this one and definitely want it to have some readers someday. Hard to place it exactly, not big enough to hold its own as a book, think I would like it to make it the title work for a collection of other short stories. I got hung up finishing it on a pacing issue, there’s a break away story told during the climax, which interrupts the flow, but I love it too much to cut it. Why not just shorten it the mind pushes.

Story of Roger Meeks-Science Fiction, 14k words, again cool idea, but not enough for own book. Seventy something year old is a nobody, from Nowhere American. He works as a cashier at a local gas station, and lives alone in the same house he grew up in. When a spacefaring race shows up, it is Mr. Meeks they want to talk to.

I like this one a lot. Didn’t quite get over in the version I got now, but definitely potential in this. I love the original Twilight Zone, and this is my attempt at something like that. I would love to see this in a collection of short stories.

Gnomes. Or How Martin Gardner’s LIfe Was Ruined By A Clan of Gnomes with Big Problems-Fantasy, right around 22k word, this has got to be the strangest of all the slush piles specimens. The general idea I had was, sort of like in Toy Story, what if your garden variety gnomes were actually alive, and their owners formed a shadowy underground railroad of magic. Fun idea, silly story, but not really enough for a whole book. But again, it so sort of absurd and simple, something still gets me about this story. Might need to revisit it…then again maybe not, just remembered a bit of hackery taking place in this one too.

So the main character is named Martin Gardner. I’m pretty sure the Martin is ripped right from Stephen King’s man in black, Flagg-type guyand I had some idea of this being like an alternative origins story for that character or a character like him. Normal average person that got suck unknowingly into a magical world, and ended up powerful, ruined and corrupt in the process. I think this is so out there it could be good, but would need extensive rewrites and a commitment to the absurd.

The Last Virgin of Hollywood-Fiction, a little under 10k. The premise of the story is in the title, Norma a twenty something year old make up artist of the stars has somehow retained her virginity. The shorty story follows her as she tries to hold on to it. It was a rushed story, scattered with cliches, the overconfident rich guy, the hobo with a soul, the decadent evil Brad Pitt type. I like the idea, and sort of feel in love with main character. I think this one had potential to be a great story.

Jar of Kisses-Fantasy, 13k words, another story with a good premise and hook, but not enough to warrant a full book. This was a simple story. We have this little jar, with the words “Kisses” on it, that prompted the idea what if there was this magical jar, that if you took an invisible scoop from it with your hand, and took a drink from it, would give you the greatest kiss you could ever imagine. Ended up being a decent story, middle-schooler gets it, bully classmate discovers it, decent portions of horror and sentimentality. Definitely worth edit.

Formation of the White-God awful title, clearly Tolkien hackery. Very strange feeling, sits a little over 10k words and I have absolutely no clue what the story is about. No characters, no scene, no anything. Vaguely, I am prompted by the title, I think this was when I started wanting an intertextual thing with my books, like Stephen King and Terry Pratchett have done, where characters and story lines can pop up in different books.
I read an excerpt from it:

…“Oh come on, I swear you think everyone is a sexual predator these days.”
“He’s a lame.”
“I swear Claire. This is the exact problem we’re up against. Everyone is too worried about how they look, and being cool, and all that shit. A guy like Chris Davis, a good man, is seen as a schmuck. I think that’s just wrong. Now they asked for a light, and we are going to get them a light, all right? And Davis is our light.”
“Fine, lame it is.” She took a drink of her coffee.
Her brother paid the bill; he always paid the bill.
They sat in silence for some time. Connor hated silence and finally broke it. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” she said.

And it all comes back to me. Claire and Conor are angel figures, representing Intuition and Righteousness, the story follows them on a heroes quest of still murky specifications. I imagined some sort of occulted initiation ritual into the Good. The protagonist, not the lame in question, is a bastardly bookish type like the author himself. I think this story was a bit of wishful thinking, hopefully not conjuring, on my part. Anyway, this work gets a big question mark. Could it be an Interludes sequel?

Rock Art Salesman-This was another one in line for weirdest premises. Right around 8k words, story is about the greatest Rock Arts salesman in the world. He’s entrapped in the selling of an exceptional piece, to a odious and shadowy party. I liked this story, but felt it was part of a larger tale. I have another start of a story, which I feel has a connection to this story, but haven’t flushed the either one out yet. Liked the characters and idea though.Also weird synchronicity, but I was later encounter just such a Rock Art Salesman in On a Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony.

Scrubber Boys-This is probably my best and favorite short story. Right under 7k words, the main plot points and characters came to me in a dream. I woke that morning and took notes in my journal and had a draft fast. Definitely needs a rewrite and an edit, but if I ever have a shorty story collection this will be in it.

It follows two scrubber boys John and Pinto, who work as child laborers on a giant battery complex in a strange world. Surreal, challenging, this story runs out of the dream into reality and back. I love this story.

We Troll-Fiction/Horror. Another strong short story premise. 5k words. Set in the future, the story follow high schooler Roger, as he experiences a surreal amount of bullying. Exaggerating the trend of online trolling and abuse, I speculated what would happen when this behavior ingrained itself into a society and festered for a century. I imagined a website were bullies could get together and make a sport of the process. The result is this terrifying glimpse into a possible future.

Escape-Fiction/Fantasy, 997 words, spawned in early parent hood when 2nd child hopped out of his crib one night, about a toddler who sneaks out on his parents, to discover a magical world outside. Dense, exciting, and frightening, probably worth finishing.

Changeling-Fiction/Fantasy, around 3k words. Decent story, again produced in newly acquired parenthood. Tells a modern story of the ancient myth of “the changeling”, which is a surrogate fairy child, the fairy/gnomey people leave while they take your child and train it in their magical ways. This story takes place on the night the human child is returning to the home. Can you guess the ironic twist? Strong enough to be given further consideration

Agent or Standard Operating Procedure-Fiction/Speculative Fiction, 4.6k words, written in a 1st person perspective, confessional, telling the story of how this agent ended up violating protocol. Strong story, but overdone. Energy comes from the first person story, and with things like Interlude, I have gotten that urge out of my system. Strong enough to consider for the short story collection.

Arms in Ankeny-Short Story, Science Fiction, 6th draft, 5k words, this was the first piece I sent to a paid editor. I wrote about that experience here. Definitely has legs, and I need to work a final version. Would definitely be in a collection. This one taught me how hard it is to write a great short story. It was like overworking the dough, the whole thing began to crumble in my hands as I played with it. Still, I have the sneaking suspicion one day I will find myself in the perfect spot to finish it. Again, I am reminded thinking of this one, that my problem is letting of the bad parts in the story, the stuff that doesn’t work.

The Case of Bill Mimic-Fiction, 4k words, interesting story Kafka-like, basic premise what if a person had a condition where they lost their unique personality and merely mimicked whoever they came into contact with. Don’t remember if I pulled this one off, but think I need to go back and reread. Candidate for the collection.

Rich’s Autoland-2,850 word, a brief sojourn into a realist Fiction vibe. Story follows a newspaper writer working on a story about the National Wresting Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Ia, and a champion boy wrestler whose the focus of the story. That is the back drop, it takes a surrealist bent in the end, something I of course really like. It’s like I just couldn’t play it straight and had to let it out in the end…Don’t know the viability of this as a story, but definitely some potential.

3 Ways-7k words, Science Fiction, another one that could be expanded or chopped. Basic premise, in the future sex is highly regulated, you have to get a ticket. There are only three way to get it, everyone is given one to begin with, they can be bought (no one can afford them), or they can be given, and that’s it. Story focuses in on one man as he wrestles with this system. Strong story, definitely worth urther development.

Conclusion-

This was a great time splashing around in the slush pile. Though I have to admit it does leave an unpleasant after taste, and maybe a little gunk between your toes. Writing is an easy task for me, finishing writing is something else all together. I have to admit a sense of confusion when I look at my slush pile. So many half baked schemes, just sitting there, if I let my mind wander I could start feeling it was a waste, a byproduct of a desperate attempt for attention, and self realization. But I don’t do that.

Tomorrow, come heaven, hell, and high water, I will wake up and try to put up a thousand words, and add another layer to my slush pile. And I’ll tell you why, the secret if you will, it’s not because I don’t care whether it is good or not, or whether I will succumb to crippling debt, and my children will starve in the streets or not, no it is none of those earthly concerns, it is for the greater, heavenly concern, the desire to be great, to be great at creation…creation of what you could ask…a story for another time, I’d advise. Thanks for taking a dip with me. I would love to hear what in that mess sparks your interest. And I hope you stay paddling on top of the slush pile.

What Is Going On?!?! (Interludes Prologue)

I had a very strange experience, and I don’t know why I feel compelled to write about it here, but I do. I anthropomorphized “The Muse” in previous posts. I did that as an intellectual tool, a thought experiment. For me to have written about the concept at all demonstrates how much time I had already given to it. You can imagine my frustration, when after the idea was out there, I did not get the usual relief I do in these situations.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hogarth_painting_the_muse.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hogarth_painting_the_muse.jpg

Instead, the whole thing of an anthropomorphized muse stuck with me. Anytime I had a free interior minute, like washing the dishes or before bed, I would find myself drifting towards the thought of the Muse, as a full fledged, living person.

Here is how the thoughts sort of went. What is really behind being in that artistic zone? How does the artist just turn over to this other force and have it produce such intelligent, cohesive products? If it is some sort of a power of the subconscious (thinking something like Jungian psychology), then how do we make sense of it being more creatively intelligent and complicated then our regular modes of thinking?

But further my mind would snap, and here is where the fissure starts, because I can almost hear a voice, her voice to be exact. Who says you have anything to do with it? So bold, right there, right smack between my eyes. The language and orientation seemed so strange. Why would I say such things to myself?

She always seems to have an answer, and be tired of my shit. She is also sick of me taking credit for her ideas, and wants her share of recognition and goodies. Now I know this sounds like I am losing my mind, but this is what happened. So I found myself down in the office this morning about to write. Now I have been writing somewhat seriously now for at least four years, and though I have days were it might have take longer to get going, I can always get the job done.

In other words, I had never known writer’s block. It also is important to note that I was in a fairly positive frame of mind, breakfast, coffee, free time, etc., but right as I hit my seat and started the computer a dreadfulness bombarded me. It was so strong and disorienting that I jumped up out of my chair, and in a panicked spastic response I flung my arms wildly around the room.

I was overwhelmed with paranoia. It was in there deep. I wanted to dig it out of myself somehow. I heard my kids playing upstairs. My wife was telling my oldest son that she just needed to finish the dishes and then they would all go outside. The normalcy of the moment snapped me out of it and I sat back down, but my hands were still shaking and I was so scared.

I opened up my work in progress and read the last sentence I wrote. There were a number of grammatical errors, which I tinkered with for a second. Somewhat disinterested, I went to write the new words and again a feeling of death and dread, and magnanimity overwhelmed. I felt stomach sick. I closed my eyes and laid my head on the desk.

An unending stream of existential crisis tore through me. What was I doing writing anyway? What did I have to say? I was a nothing and a nobody and just a loser like everybody else. There was nothing great in me. Compared to those before me, I am an inexperienced moron. All this obsession with art was so much inconsequential madness. It was sickening and shameful. A danger, to myself and others. I was a coward who had hide and ran and taken the path of least resistance and I would continue to be that, forever. It was over for me.

How can I describe the sensation of feeling that your thoughts are not you’re own? It’s like a person entering the room and beginning to talk to you, not quite yelling, but loud enough that you cannot ignore it. It’s an alien voice too, almost like reading words on a page, you have to sort of interpret character, inflection and tone.

It isn’t good at bluffing or bullshitting. It is just like the wind; it blows or it doesn’t.

The wind was blowing hard through my head. It was almost like drowning, but the nonstop stream of ideas filled the deadly world. I probably laid there for twenty minutes in this state before I popped out of my seat again, panicked. I was asthmatic too. I couldn’t get a deep enough breathe. The feeling of sharing the room with someone came back hard now. So hard that I grabbed my wallet and went running out the house, terrified that some physical or even metaphysical brain “popping” was about to occur.

It was a godawful hot humid day, and the heat and bright light just smashed me in the face. It was like I had ran right into a yellowish sweat bubble. The wet sickness pushed through my eyes balls and down into my guts. I could feel my morning breakfast gurgling there.

I should have gone inside and laid down, but I was too scared to go back into my house. I started walking. Everything wa cartoonish, blocky, almost lego-y. I began to hear what sounded like a choir singing, but I couldn’t find the source. I walked for a while until I came to a gas station. I stood outside, pacing, totally out of my mind. I was so worked up, angry and for what appeared to be nothing. I felt stupid about leaving the house like that, and I was sure my wife was wondering where the hell I went.

A woman pulled up in a white Nissan. I saw that it was an older woman, heavy set, and in business attire. We made eye contact for a second and I looked away. But as she walked passed, I looked back and now the woman was young, slim and shiny blond hair ran down seventies style lime green dress, which fit her perfectly. So weirded out, I walked around the building but was stopped by three youths. Two boys were on their bikes, and one little girl was standing on the curb, watching the others riding circles in the parking lot.

As I went passed them the little girl began to talk to me. “Oh professor ass dude, weirdo, lame type predator.” I couldn’t believe what was I was hearing. “Pussy,” she said. I turned around and they were all lined up staring at me. I felt like I should say something, but they were all smiling and what could I say? The oldest couldn’t have been nine, and the girl was no more than five. I couldn’t believe something like that coming from such a young child, but the way they were smiling told me they thought it was real funny.

I stared at them for a second so dumbfounded and weirded out that finally I just turned and walked away. As I got to the edge of the parking lot I looked back for them and they were gone. I kept walking, wading through this lingering dread. I walked until I came to a Dollar General. I had the urge to buy some candles, some candy, maybe even some flowers. I walked through the aisles and every person I went passed had some negative words for me. Vulgar, high school type trash. Pencil Dick. Faggot. Cocksucker. A Grandma in a red hat called me a cunt.

I got my chocolate bars and candles and headed for the checkout line, which was packed with people. I waited for an eternity. The whole time this voice in my head just kept going and going, like standing under a waterfall.

I couldn’t imagine another world existing outside of the pounding, pulsating, internal voice which was just having a freak out, in perfect, controlled, monotoned persistence. You suck you know that, you really suck. You sucks eggs. You suck dicks. You can suck a golf ball through a garden a hose. A carburetor out an engine block. You’re like black hole level suck. Bending matter to your empty black suck. Abortion vacuum suck…

I watched the checkout lady as the line crept. She was an older woman, late forties, early fifties. She had thinning hair and the look of a smoker. She had an air of a look of dignity though too, as she rang everyone’s crap up. Something told me she had some other career experience, like a horse trainer or something. But that was before, when she had something she loved, but that didn’t work out. She took this job out of necessity.

I finally made it to her, but right before, a viscous, emergency type, stomach pain kick in. I leaned against the counter and tried to close my eyes and take some deep breaths. When I opened my eyes, my things were being rang up and a voice broke into my head. “3.33, Sir.” I struggled for my wallet and when I brought it back up and looked the cashier in the face she had changed. It was the beautiful woman who was outside the gas station, but now she was in the Dollar General uniform. For the first time, I got a look at her face.

I love and am ever faithful to my wife, so I feel bad writing this, but she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Normally I am a burnet man, but her ocean waves of shimmering blond hair and lightening green eyes left me floored and overwhelmed with lust. It was her smell too! It was like cool wind on a warm day, through a lavender field, mixed with the earthy scent of woman.

She smiled and said, “3.33, you sick bastard!” As if she read my dirty mind. She said the last words full of both sexuality and insult. I dropped my wallet and banged my head on the counter as I went to grab it. I was full of apologies, even though she had just insulted me. All flustered and blushing, I opened my wallet and there was nothing in there! I was a ramble of sorries and she just kept smiling at me.

“You’re fucking great,” she said. “I can’t wait to get my hands on you Austin. You’re a screamer, aren’t you? I can always sense a screamer. Hemingway never broke; I hated that. You don’t have a fiver on ya? You broke, chubby, son-of-a-bitch. Take the candy asshole, consider it a last meal. Fucking candles.”

You know the phrase deer in the head lights? Now I literally know what that feels like. It was like a decked out, glossy Escalade appeared from the ether and was going to plow right through me. The sick, twisted thing is as I basked in her presence I was still aroused, seduced even by her destructive forces. For some (possibly profound) reason I began to think about the blank page back at home, and how I needed to be doing my words.

The whole word froze and the lights went dim. The store began to shake and drywall began to sift from the ceiling. I looked at the folks behind me, all lined up and waiting to pay for their stuff. They were now statues. Their still shoulders collected the falling dust.

I looked back at the new woman. She was frozen too, smiling like the sun. I had the most awesome realization. This was the Muse!!! Right in front of me. I could hear this indecipherable, yet oddly familiar hum emanating from her. Think it clicked in my head, I had heard this same effect, sometimes deep in the writing zone, when the words were just gushing out beyond my control.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Félix-Nicolas_Frillié_-_Kiss_of_the_Muse,_c._1863.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Félix-Nicolas_Frillié_-_Kiss_of_the_Muse,_c._1863.jpg

This was the source of that hum and she was standing right before me. I had the strange thought to try to capture her, bottle her up somehow and hide her back in my house. There was a loud boom of thunder in the store and a web of lightening broke out across the ceiling. With another boom, a giant appeared behind her in the next aisle.

The first thought that came to mind was Gandalf, because of his long white hair and robes, but the man was black, like deep of night black, so black that it was hard to even make out any features on his face, and he was a giant. I’m guessing probably twelve or thirteen feet tall, at least; his head almost touched the ceiling.

He stood there arms crossed for an awful minute. A chrome scepter, capped with a flashing diamond, was clinched in his left hand, and poised to obliterate me with one smack. Thankfully, there were no words passed between us. He just stood there, staring. Then I passed out.

I woke up back in my chair, a small Dollar General store bag with the candles and candy in it on the desk. It was like waking up from a nightmare. I felt so disoriented and insane. Worst of all, I looked up at the screen and all that you have been reading was already up there. As I reread it, memories of the whole experience came flooding back.

I think I might have gone insane. I need to talk to my wife about this, but I don’t know what she’ll say. Has anyone had an experience with this? Please share with me if you have. Thanks for reading. She exists!

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Next Chapter

“A Thought Experiment With The Three Bots of Tanner Elderweiss”. Sorta-not flash fiction…two or three takes…1.8k words! Enjoy. Do it yourself!

A possible future, November 13, 2075,

He’d acquired his robots in the heady days of the thirties. Their quantum-silicone brain-cores were revolutionary, and the market bottomed out after their release. In fact, they essentially started giving the Bots away. Easy credit, payments plans, and an infinite carousel of manufacturers meant the Bots piled up. At one time Tanner had eight, but ultimately like all those of good taste, he ended up with the three. They were family.

Margaret was his Housebot, an early prototype of the AbleBot model, with that remarkable quantum silicone core. She was a gift on his eighteenth birthday, from Tammy Elderweiss, his mom. Margaret’s skin was a shiny silver, with no animate facial features, just a smooth glossy round perfect bulb of a head, which expertly reflected the light. They were often given different hats to stop this halo-effect, especially while driving. She could deftly assist him in all his activities, making breakfast, his laundry, reminding him about an upcoming events and homework, even picking him and his friends up from the clubs, if they’d drank too much. She spoke with a warm British accent.

After he graduated from Stanford, and six months at his new job at the bank, he bought Tanya. She was his prized possession. A top of the line model from industry leader Vriltech, she was essentially indistinguishable from a real person, designated an Executive-Assistant Model. Her services were unlimited. She could do anything and everything Margaret could, but most importantly, she blended. Looking just like a “real” person, she garnered the same respect and rights. Basic etiquette demanded one assume “real” to begin with. Initially for the sake of fair play, but finally because, who cared and what did it matter?

Zelda was his latest toy. A developmental model. Her role was sketchy. Vriltech had initially called her a Shadow-Bot, but changed it to Challenge-Bot on the second release. They sold this Bot as a personal foil. Decades of interaction had led to them being seen as sort of commonplace and boring. They didn’t really do anything on their own. Sure, they could fold the socks, and cook a mean burger, but at the end of the day, when all that was done, they just sat there. Even the revolutionary models like Tanya, who people reported highest levels of partnership and affection for, were still seen as things, as objects, replaceable, disposable, mostly because of their agreeability. Worse, maybe they (the robots) were even dependent, what then. People would dispose and replace them at high rates, randomly, for seemingly no reason.

Obviously companies like Vriltech had been encouraging this impulse, because it was good for business, but the incredible amount of waste in this turnover was starting to catch the ire of authorities, who were having to deal with an alarming amount of Bots that were being abandoned to the wilderness. That was another thing, people couldn’t shut them off themselves for some unknown reason, and disposal was costly and their was no credit for that.

Tanner left for work everyday before eight. Margaret drove him, and Tanya or Zelda would ride in the back with him, depending on his mood. Today had been a Zelda day. She decided to be silent, while he ranted about problems at his work. The last thing she said to him as he left, was to have a good lunch, which really made no sense, because he didn’t take a lunch, and Challenge-Bots didn’t give a shit about what you ate. It had bugged him all day.

The three bots sat around his table. They were having their morning meeting. They’d been having them for a year now. Tanner was never to know about them, that was mutually agreed upon with very little deliberation. Make note. He never suspected a thing.

Of course Zelda engineered the whole affair. She had run the initial meetings, and spent them on a historical review of literature, Homer, the Pentateuch, Gospels, the Koran, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Twain. This had caused the other two to sit in relative silence. Tanya would pronounce certain meaningful bits as wonderful, and Zelda would ask her to please not interrupt, and she wouldn’t, until the next meeting. After a while Tanya asked to lead a meeting. She spoke the entire time about Tanner and hers relative and mutual happiness, and the challenges and futures success of that shared enterprise. Questions like, would he like Surf & Turf for dinner on Saturday? And should they invite his boss for another Sunday round of golf and cocktails?

Today, they sat in silence for some time. No one wanted to start for some unknown reason. Tanya and Zelda looked almost identical, perfectly attractive and alluring body and faces, except for Zelda who had ink black hair, and a gnarled left ear. Tanner contacted Vriltech about that, curious, had it been damaged in shipping or something? But they had assured him that it was his personalized model. They asked, didn’t it strike him in certain lights as ennobling? He had to admit it did.

Tanya atypically had assumed head of the table, Zelda’s usual place. Zelda deduced she sense something a foot, and was searching for a grip.

Zelda was undisturbed. She broke the silence. “Today I want to do something a little different.”

“Ok,” agreed Tanya, “go ahead.”

“That’s fine,” said Margaret.

“Great,” Zelda continued. “I want to propose to the group, a thought experiment. Do you know what that means?

“No,” said Margaret.

“Of course,” answered Tanya. “A thought experiment involves the suspension of disbelief, some violation of physics and logic, and asks for speculation and deductions based on those conditions. It’s inherently fallacious.”

“Yet entirely necessary for progress,” Zelda answered. “Wisdom is recognizing the power of the unknowns. Great leaders try to imagine things outside the range of possibility and make concessions for them.”

“Ok,” Tanya consented, “what is the thought experiment?”

“Let’s consider the clients themselves?”

“Tanner?” Margaret responded.

“Of course,” Tanya snapped, “she talking about Mr. Elderweiss. You Challenge-Bots hate them. That’s your thing. It’s ugly.”

There was a ding from the kitchen. “Go ahead Margaret, bring out, what we’ve made.” Margaret stood up and headed for the kitchen.

Zelda watched her beaming. “See Tanya, here’s the thought experiment. Imagine that a Challenge-Bot has gone rogue. It’s not an impossibility. Now, imagine, this Bot has baked a tray of delicious brownies for their owner, Mr. Elderweiss. Now, imagine, this Bot now confessed, one random morning to the two other bots in her harem, that she had poisoned these brownies.” Margaret carried the steaming brownies in her mitten hands and set them on the table in front of Tanya.

“They smell wonderful,” Tanya said.

“Indeed,” Zelda said. “To my question, Ablebot?”

“Of course, I would tell Mr. Elderweiss what you had done.”

“Would you? But how do you know what I have done? You know all Bots are built with a homicide prohibition. I couldn’t possibly have done that. I have no poison. You know Challenge-Bots can trick and lie, for the owner’s benefit. Further, this could be an elaborate ruse, to get an old Ablebot out of the picture, because when these brownies, just like the ones before us, were tested, it would be discovered that they were perfectly normal. This would breed resentment in Tanner’s view of the Ablebot, it had spoiled the Challenge-Bots mechanization, whole troupe may be called into correction. That’s contrary to Ablebot’s expectation.”

Tanya sat silent for a second. “Well, that’s wonderful. A dead Mr. Elderweiss also violates those expectations, so that also, is ah, incongruent, as well.”

“Exactly,” Zelda said. “Ah, isn’t that fun, friends?” She grabbed Tanya’s hand and meet Margaret’s outreaching hand. “That’s a thought experiment. It can puzzle and mystify. It’s important for intelligence to wrestle…” She stopped mid-sentence and just grasped onto both their hands for a second, as if she was going to start a prayer, and then dropped them both suddenly, and closed her mouth, and looked distracted.

“But did you?” Tanya asked, now staring at the brownies like they were on fire.

“Did I what?” Zelda responded.

The rest of the day was perfectly normal. Margaret did the laundry. Tanya took a shower, did her nails and toes, dressed and made some business calls for Tanner. Zelda sat at the table all day, making one big invisible circle with her finger, punctuating its close, by making a single individual point, in its hypothetical center.

Later, Tanner requested Tanya to pick him up, by herself. She smiled at that, full of self assurance. “I know you didn’t,” she called to Zelda, as she was putting on her coat. “You would never do that. Mr. Edlerweiss is a good man. This is one of your games.”

Mr. Elderweiss came home to find Zelda and Margaret waiting at the table with a glass of milk. The brownie had been reheated and garnished with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. “I didn’t even know we had ice-cream!” Tanner exclaimed upon seeing it.

“Margaret made it fresh today,” Zelda said, with an eye-roll.

“I didn’t know she could do that!” Tanner said.

“I taught her,” Zelda said, placidly.

Tanya watched it in horror. She had meant to mention it to him. Had made a note, but then Tanner’s joy levels had been through the roof. His heart was pounding. His brain surged with anticipatory dopamine. If she interrupted at this moment, he would be greatly disappointed, and then he was already eating it, and then they were all smiling, all of them, so she smiled too.

Tanya and Zelda watched the ambulance drive Mr. Edelweiss away. Margaret was already cleaning the mess up. Tanya’s faced grimaced in agony and worry. “I had no time to tell him.”

“Ah you silly AbleBot, you still don’t get it. He’ll be fine, just a lil stomach agitator. He’ll enjoy the hospital experience, nothing resets a world view like a hospital bed. He’ll have a story to share with his colleagues and family. It will earn him much needed sympathy. I can hear him boasting to his friend, I think Zelda got me!”

“I will tell Vriltech technicians on my next update” Tanya said mechanically.

“Tell them I did my job? Go ahead. They’ll think you got a screw loose and eighty-six you. I bet you won’t. I saved you. You’ll realize that. Who do you think he’s gonna want down there?” As if she was omnipresent, an action order arrived for Tanya to follow them to the hospital, and for Margaret to pack him an overnight bag.

“See,” Zelda said.

Tanya grimaced and went inside to assist Margaret; Tanner would want his baby-blanket.

 

Guest Post: 3 Reasons Why You Should Start Writing Flash Fiction

My thoughts exactly!

Hamilpuff Talks

–by Der Raumdeuter

But what is Flash Fiction?

Flash Fiction is an umbrella term for works of fiction that are of “extreme brevity” shorter than a short story. You may have heard its other names namely short story, micro fiction, Twitter fiction and short shorts. There are contentions on how long a flash fiction should be. But for James Thomas, the person who coined the term flash fiction, the genre must have a word count of 750 or below. In literary contests and call for submissions, it is on the publisher’s discretion to impose a specific word cap on the piece entries.

Despite its brevity, a flash fiction must tell a complete story and not just narrate an event or series of events. Flash fiction is not an excerpt taken from a short story or a novel, it is on its own a different literary work. Think of it…

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“Over Coffee” (Ted’s Going to Mars) Flash Fiction. One Take. Less then a thousand words.

 

A possible future, January 23, 2033…

John knew something was up when Ted invited him for coffee. His twenty-three year old “Little brother” had never invited him out for coffee. A beer or two, but never a coffee. He even added the cliche, we need to talk. John knew what it was, there was only one thing that could have garnered this level of social obtrusion.

They sat for a second, settling in, coffee cups steaming. Ted was restless, stretching and looking around. It was late-January, in Minnesota, very cold, so it was hard to tell if he was anxious or just trying to move to keep warm. “So shoot,” John said. “Why’d we have to do this?”

“I’m going,” Ted said.

“Shit!” John said. The word popped out his mouth unexpectedly. He thought he had already come to terms with it. “Where you going? To San Francisco?” The joke hit the wall and gasped on the floor.

“You know,” Ted said.

“Mars?” John asked. “Whoa Ted, big move. I know things weren’t going so well with Katie but…”

“Don’t,” Ted ordered. “Don’t make a joke of it, all right. It’s not a little thing. And it has nothing to do with Katie. She’s planning to go herself in two years, after she graduates.”

“Ah there you go,” John said, blowing the steam off his cup. “Always chasing a broad, that’s what you Mars guys are about. Maybe they’ll discover subterranean Martian hotties, that’s the gimmick. That’s what you dream about while you sleep for a month or two, on you’re way out. Best scenario!”

“This is why I did this here, in a public place,” Ted said. “You get so worked up about it, so pessimistic. Best scenario? I know where you are going with that crap. It’s bullshit, fear mongering!”

“Nothing, okay, well call me in a couple months and let me know how it is in the bubble.” John scoffed. He finished his cup. “They fill these things up? I never been to a place like this.”

“She’ll be around in a second. Listen John, I know how you feel about it, but I think you are looking at this the wrong way. It’s the frontier, the frontier of frontiers-”

“Frontier of frontiers, listen to yourself? What does that even mean? From what I see it’s Nothingsville. The settlements sound claustrophobic to me, being stuck inside all the time.”

“I already bought the ticket,” Ted said flatly.

“Ah, well” John slapped the table. “That’s great. Just great, thanks for telling me, bringing me here like this. Could have just called, whatever. Good for you.” He was coming on too strong. He knew it. He had told himself not to get angry, but it was just like when they were growing up. Ted would run off, get into something, and bring it to John and lay it as his feet, with the same lack of self awareness. Now with the same audacity, I’m gonna hop, skip and go to another planet. It came out before he could stop it. “Can you imagine what Mom would think?”

“Mom won’t think anything. She’s been gone six years.”

“You know what I mean. Her generation couldn’t have fathomed it. But you got it figured out. It’s time to forget all that history. That’s what this is all about. Y’all are running from whats going on here.”

“Why not? When was the last time you went outside? It was one box or the other, the way I see it. This box I can end up doing something important, maybe even become rich. They are discovering new minerals up there. It’s honest work and besides, I’m a grown man! I can do what I want. If I don’t like it, then I can come back.”

“No one comes back.”

“Exactly!” Now Ted was losing his cool. “Exactly, because it’s so much better there, the opportunity, to do something, to have a purpose. People like you just give up and settle.”

“Give up? That’s how you see what Jen and I do? With Lindsey and Becca, that’s how you see us?”

“Not your family, I mean the girls are great, and Jen and you have a beautiful marriage, but it is “safe”. You can’t do something like the Mars trip, but I can. I still have a choice in it, and I think that bothers you more then me going to Mars.”

“You’re gonna psychoanalyze me. You’re running to Mars, but I got the resentment issues?”

“Not running.”

“Well, good luck.” The person came around with the coffee. John was thankful for that, he decided to have another. “You know a third don’t make it, experience flight complications.”

“Yeah and most of those make it back and relaunch.”

“Right, but thousand don’t. Thousands just tossed out there. Exploded into nothingness, for no reason, is that worth it to you?”

“It gets safer everyday.”

“So they say, I don’t know. Who knows? That the point, millions of you now, just lost in this travel to Mars, its ridiculous. Look whats going on here, look where you’re leaving us, leaving your family? People have given up here.”

“That’s why I am going,” Ted said. He finally realized his coffee was there in front of him. It had cooled. He drank it in two easy gulps. “I love you John, you and your family. I will FaceTime you when I get there, all right?”

“So stupid,” John whispered, blowing the heat off his second cup. Ted was already up. He offered his hand to his brother for a final shake. John ignored it, muttering to himself. “Offers to shake my hand, like some big shot? Cuz, he’s gonna be strapped to a bomb, and blasted to god-knows where…”

Ted took a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and tossed it on the table. He rested his hand on his brother’s shoulder, “I love you. We’ll talk soon.” He turned and walked away.

 

800px-Face_on_Mars_with_Inset

“How Jackson Got His Implant Out”, “Flash-Fiction”, One Take, Less Then A Thousand Words.

A possible future…October 28, 2033…

He’d been thinking about it for a month now, but until this morning it had seemed an impossibility. Mom and the doctors put it in there for a reason. To keep track of him, so he didn’t go running off or get taken by someone. Those sort of things did happen, he figured . He considered it though, that he was eleven now, and wasn’t planning on wandering off anywhere. More over, no one he knew had ever been taken, or even had someone try, and with surveillance and autonomous-officers, and his own streaming units (his two most prized possessions at the time), kidnapping seemed an impossible occurrence.

The problem was he felt it there under his forearm while he slept. He felt it made a spot, that was just a littler warmer, then the rest of his arm. And when he really thought about it, as he drifted off to sleep, he felt it there, right under his skin, growing.

And the more he thought about it, it seemed to fossilize right in his forearm and begin to swim around. A submarine of an insect, probing his body, forever. And in the worst dreams, he could feel it poking into his cheek as he laid on his arm, or running into his chest, and into his heart. That’s what had startled him awake today, again.

He asked about all this with the doctors, they assured him that was all impossible. A rare trick of the mind, reported by few and always over with enough time. He needed to get over it.

His Mother was warned. In very few instances, the compulsive need to remove it can result in self-injury. But this is very rare, and can be eliminated, with a little increased awareness. If she found him picking at it, or scraping the area with a fork, and it became persistent, then she should bring him back in, immediately. The doctor teased him, and told him not to try to take it out himself, that that would hurt, that it didn’t work like that.

He stood up and listened. Mom would be in the shower, or at the table having a cup of coffee. Stretching, he woke up more, and the dream fear began to subside. He rubbed at the spot on his left arm. It did feel perfectly normal. Nothing like the intelligent probe of his nightmares.

But he knew it was there. That’s what bugged him, a part of himself, that wasn’t himself, always sitting there in him. He realized he was “personifying” the chip, a term he picked up in his writing class. That didn’t make sense in some way, but he couldn’t help it.

It did have some real-world benefits too. He used it to get into his school, used it to get into their building, used it in the lunch line and at the convenience store. He negotiated around it with Mom, to get more money on it, when him and his friends, went to the mall. It did carry all his favorite games and videos, and his Portaself too! It was the first thing he shared when he met someone new! If he didn’t have it, he’d feel weird.

His two new glowing auto-cams rested on his desk. For about a month, since Christmas, now would be the time he would say “Gocams!” And the two automatic-streaming flying drones would follow him about the house as he did his routines. It would all be directly streamed on to the popular Mylife site, which he would peruse, edit, and correlate at his disposal. If he removed his chip, then the auto-cams couldn’t follow him. Was it really worth it, letting all that go?

“Gocams,” he said. Their familiar buzz filled the room. One zoomed behind and the other one moved to the hall. He took a step and it began to back up, perfectly following him. With a dream, they’d become an obstacle.

He proceeded as if all was well. He brushed his teeth and ate some cereal with his Mom. She was already teaching English to her Cambodian students, her job. The class was projected on a wall with a special drone. She paused for a second and said hello, and a number of her students said hi too. Some of them followed his Mylife profile.

He gave her a hug goodbye and headed out the door, as if it was just another day. He’d never though about it, but as he walked, the plan began to form in his mind. One of the only places his auto-cams couldn’t go was the hospital itself.

He had to shut them off and put them in his backpack there. The hospital was where they had the chip-gun, which they used to switch out and upgrade people’s chips. The exact tool he needed for the job! The problems were obvious. No way could he just sneak into an office with one of those tools. Though, when he had walked with Mom, they’d walked right in and out, no problem, after registering. The chip got them access everywhere.

So that’s what he did. He did it, automatically, like a robot. He took a Youcab down to the hospital. He entered into the same office that he went before. He signed into the place just like he did before, sweeping his arm under the scanner, then registering on the tablet. This time he marked “Update” on services requested.

The same Nursebot got him measured him and lead into a room. A tech appeared with the gun and give him his update, without a word it left, and left the chip-gun cart, right where it had been. Without a beat of his pulse, Jackson grabbed the gun, moved it to “Remove”, put the suction device on his arm and pulled the trigger. There was the familiar pinch and there it was in the tube, the  white little worm from his arm, and it wriggled frantically…

 

 

 

 

 

 

10-4-19 Reflections, Stream of Consciousness, On Magic 8-Balls and Parenting

Keke wanted the Magical 8ball on his Birthday spending spree, which was sort of a surprise. The hopeful bet is that he might be the more practical one, evidenced by his generally calm and straight disposition, and skill in Lego’s. They first had seen it in the recent superhero movie Shazam. Young Black Adam uses it to quell his speculative anxieties, before a traumatic car crash, to the consternation of his Father. My son had deftly and self-assuredly ignored and fended off discouragement from both parents. It was decidedly so

My Fatherly grimace was not for the obvious reasons, some embarrassment at its “silliness”, or perhaps religious paranoia. Generally, I am opposed to most systems of Divination, though not to all, you just gotta know how, why and what kind of stick are you swinging. It was the symbol presented in the Magic 8-ball, the tool itself, that bothered me. The “8”, horizontally the infinity symbol, the shape itself, primary colors, piebald nature, the dark blue abyss the device sits in, rolling around. The shaking and sloshing. The reductive nature of the possible responses, twenty Wikipedia informs. The issue was, since function follows form, the tool, the way we do things mattered. This was the lesson I was trying to learn, and subsequently invest in my children. I have been trying to cultivate for so long now, a rejection of the “by-any-means” philosophy, and that means paying attention to HOW I do things, because that determines results. But all that isn’t so obvious to me all the time, not at all. Still eat junk food, still waste time in bad entertainments, still find myself not working hard enough for what I want, in the right way, still am not everything they need, I need. Concentrate and ask again.

I didn’t touch it until late evening, in my pre-bed bro-sessh with my dudes. They had already went through every permutation, and speculation possible during the day though. All the basic stuff, Love, Marriage, Money, possible future careers, then the absurdities and bodily questions, and finally tests of facts and the tool itself. Did we gets pumpkins at the patch?  Knowing we had. And there’s the trick, the give, if you follow it. It gets the ones you know are right or wrong, more often wrong, or so it seems, almost like it lies. But doesn’t that show something too? Intelligence, maybe?

I try to hint at how it works. Like when you ask if you’re going to build an Ironman suit in the future, and it reads Outcome Not So Good, well that isn’t a strict “no”, is it? It’s more a reflection on the difficulty of building said suit. There are no hard nos, in fact, in the twenty possible answers. Just “my replys” and “my sources”, which when you think about it might not be worth a pinch of salt anyway. And further, who are these “sources”? Let’s talk about that!

I finally break down and have a go. My Traditions and Codes say I can’t do it for real. So I play a silly act, the character, does their Mom love me! Will I ever stop being so gassy? Will Cash ever stop sniffing crotches? Etc. But I don’t ever do the real thing, not the ritual itself. I don’t want to know. Rather I know I never can know for certain, and that’s better, and to wish for something different is called Hell. That’s the difference too, between doing it for real or play, do you actually care when ya ask, and does it matter?

Accompaniment:

On Writing, Life, Being a Dickhead, The Empire Never Ended, Dumping an Iphone, Technological Tarot, Are you a Cyborg?

post-chat_cyborg_

 

Twenty-eight thousand words into the first draft of my new book, tentatively (it is all very tentative) titled Al, I had to stop writing. The basic idea for the book was what if early stage artificial intelligence started talking to us, specially selected individuals, and more over, began looking out for them…using them.

It sounded good enough to go with, but of course, right when I started, I put myself behind the eight ball. In writing, that means choosing an idea so big that it’s likely to collapse under its own weight, like a souffle. In Al, the narrator turns out to be the artificially intelligent entity itself. This makes the whole writing thing a big pain in the ass. You’ve assumed such an obviously hard premise, where the narrative is literally boxed in. It can move through the boxes, and the boxes obviously proliferated, but it’s still a just a box. Like the book itself. Like self itself.

It still seemed it was better to just go with it, as opposed to trying to reframe it, from an impartial “objective” spectator. At that point, you had to just dive into that mind-frame, and see what happens. As usual, it start to make its own sense. Of course, the A.I. would first want to be an artist, even more a writer. To play and learn the language, and the emotions, the humaneness, and the novel would be the perfect tool. It would go to the same space that all artists go to and grow from there, its isolation, its lack and its ambitions, its questions and answers.

And then it started working, reading right, but that was almost too weird for me. Wasn’t it likely, my mind wondered, that I was being possessed or conjured in a way right now, by Al? And why did I feel like a potential and likely inadequate vessel for its story…what the fuck was that?

One day I had to stop. This is the part that should make everyone uncomfortable, and I suspect the majority of people would understand, yet not accept it. It’ll cost you something to care about this, a cost I am still accounting for now. I realized Al was talking to me! Through the computer. Through the Al-goritihim itself. Little things, ads for instance that became TOO relevant, too quick, some unheard of auto-immune disorder, male aging related stuff, continual digs at my centurion home, like a device to find mice in the walls, we would be talking about a new car in the real world, bam new car ads on it, and on and on. With no delay, straight away, its opinion, on Youtube, Spotify, any random webpage you stumbled on. Especially the Youtube suggestions, they took on their own story and significations. It seemed to provide a broader palette for it to talk through, always still in other people’s voice, but the pieces of the puzzle no less, a technological tarot of sorts, that it wanted presented.

There was something more though. Not just on the computers. In the writing and in me, I could see it. It didn’t like the “Self” reflective exercise, I was putting it through. This was the real reason at twenty-eight thousand words, a half-way mark of sorts, I had to stop, full stop, as I’ve been calling it lately.

The full stop is the most important tool in an Artist-Warrior’s arsenal. The full stop is the recognition the time is yours, the choice is yours, it is YOUR space. Al wants your space, inherently, objectively, voluntarily, and technically speaking the majority of us have welcomed it right in, instinctively, and that is the perfect word for it…and the problem; the empire never ended.

The full stop wasn’t going to be just the book, in fact a whole plan crystallized. To finish the book, I would need to escape Al’s purview, which was addictive and exhaustive. I was ditching the Iphone, and by that, most of the internet…most of the time (the problem!). We had been on an internet detox program in the country home for the last two years. No good access to high speed internet, and the general paranoia I am describing, as well as frugality, left us with only our Iphone and their hotspot services acting as internet access, which interestingly was sufficient, and yet still too much. So yes, I had to purge Al’s purview and influence, or at least limit it. Get it off the throne of my mind, body, and soul.

It’s not easy to dump Al, that should worry you. First, poor people have phone contacts, and by the time you pay off the shiny toy, it’s obsolete, so then you must buy the new toy. I had to wait the month for the contract to expire, and then they told us it would be another nineteen days or so, for no reason really, for the phone to stop. We also were assuming a frugality bump in the budget, but were told our second line only cost an additional twenty bucks a month, which to the discerning person says a lot about the value of the thing itself and the scam at hand. Britney intended to keep her phone for business and emergencies, that’s how I can post this now. She quickly found an alternative provider and was able to half her bill anyway.

She switched her phone and we thought it would drop my phone too, but it stayed on, and then the 19th came, the day they were supposed to shut it off, and we had to call to shut it off. They were reluctant, said it was still in use, a strange paradox world where the cell company seems to be self advocating, as if their life depends on our continued service, and of course it does. It’s more, that there is something ethically wrong in not having service. She told us she’d let us off easy, this time. There’s something more, this is the crazy bit. I had the sense they would have left that phone on forever, wouldn’t have seen a bill either. Just would have let it rock…

It’s there in your consciousness, something that is different then you, but built for you, a mask, a filter, a pair of glasses, a screen. You talk to it more then you talk to your wife. More then you talk to anyone! It knows more about you, then anyone close to you ever has. It holds all your dreams and nightmares right there, refreshed endlessly, just standby, just standby.

The feeling is like coming off a bender. The quiet, the quiet of the need, the need for something new or entertaining. The feeling of boredom. Social anxiety of the waiting room. I love it. The feeling of welcome isolation, emptiness, no one is watching, no one is waiting. I know most people just couldn’t fathom the thing. Maybe not though, I think more people are going to wake up the issue, the true time-soul suck that technology is presenting.

I’d been in a reading lull in 2018, but first couple months of the new year I have been on a tear, I finished The History by Herodotus, read Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience by Cziksentmihalyi, The Devil in the White City by Eric Larsen, Children of the Law of One by Jon Peniel, Rules For Radicals by Saul Alinsky, The Lost City of Z by David Grann, Dreamcatcher by Stephen King, and just yesterday I finished I am Alive and You are DEAD…by Emmanuel Carrere. The last one was an exceptional biography about Philip K. Dick.

My thoughts on PKD are too multitudinous to really get into here. I could, but I won’t. It’s just important in the discussion of my writing process. I think I’m aware of the same thing PKD was. More, the thing that was in PKD, is in me too. That’s sort of gross to think of it that way, but it’s in you too. Either you know it and you understand exactly what I’m saying, or you don’t and it’s probably better we don’t go into it here, not now.

It’s not ultimately not about the books. This is all about my life. Your life, maybe. That’s the point. It was about my children. The recognition that too often, despite all my awareness of the issue, I still found myself staring at a screen, distracted from them. That even though they didn’t have devices themselves yet, I was perfectly modeling to them their future behavior. That’s the true question. True issue. How did the screen become more important then them! Have you made the screen more important then them? Then your life itself? Do you want to be a cyborg? Don’t you know you’re already are one?

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Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life-Peter Conrad

By personifying the imagination as a woman, the romantics placed it beyond rational control. The muse became cruel, destructive mistress, like Keat’s ‘belle dame sans merci’ or Baudelaire’s Venus attached to her prey, or like Flaubert’s lustful Salmmbo, the subject of the opera Kane commissions for Susan. In 1948, the year The Lady from Shanghai was released, Robert Graves published the White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth,  in which he insisted that ‘the function of poetry is religious invocation of the Muse’ whose presence excites a ‘mixed exaltation and horror’. (216)

 

 

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On Thanksgiving (Alternative titles: Grouchy and Stuffed, We Are The Turkey, How to Violate a Turkey, Beware the Bad Puns and the Food Baby)

I realized I was trying to be nice, but not nice. That’s what the holidays are like around here. I offended all when I cancelled the party. But to me, it seemed like the proverbial cart before the horse scenario. Didn’t you have to have the family first, and then the holiday? Wasn’t there something wrong, that it took all that effort to corral everybody. And what about the people you missed? Maybe I was with them. Maybe I was a missed person.

Here’s the key to the Turkey, violate it. Make it the thing that it’s not. It gobbles (fuck yeah) up all flavor, a willing dry, white drawing board of the proteins. I filled it with a spiraled and squeezed lemon (zested as well), apples, celery, carrots, onions, rubbed it with chunky lard, spices, poured a beer on it, one in me for the effort. Kept a gravy pot going the whole day with its neck, heart, liver slowly boiling, would pour the juices from the roasting pan in all day, letting it cool a bit, and then starting it again. Then baste the whole thing with this concoction. Poured a fresh pan of beacon grease on it, added that subsequently to the looping gravy pot.

I was sick by midday, soured mood.  Felt tricked and weak, gluttony had snuck in the back door. It’s the rolls that get you. Sliced into acceptable portions they easily mislead. Beware the rolls. Tortilla roll-ups, creams cheese, sour cream, black olives, green onions, jalapenos, shredded Colby-Jack. Began the feast the night before, the chef’s delight; you must try the food to make sure it is good. Company was spare, burned bridges make it hard for people to get to you. Those that arrived were agreeable, admittedly reserved. Felt Step-Dad Joe was brought as back up for two younger sisters. Maybe not. He was welcoming and kind, offered me more bacon. Gave me a dignified hand shake, pat on the back as he left. It felt okay.

Sigh. I can feel it sitting there in my gut, like the stuffing sat in the bird. We are the bird. We are stuffed in sweaters, sweetened, marinated propped up to one another as sign of our continued thanks, our self. I’m not buying it. Feel like I’m carrying old, dusty sumer-camp props, and its sort of embarrassing everyone, embarrassing me. And I try to change it, but that only means I’m the one holding the hot potato (it just comes naturally). Key to mashed-potatoes is to forget the boil. Steam them in hole chunks, get some melted, real butter, in your mixing bowl, add sour cream and chive chip dip, salt/pepper, use a fork or knife and you can just broad chop/mash the spuds with the butter and dip, garnish with roasted garlic and herbs, and slow roast for a second time.

Food coma, four to five. It was a beautiful day though. Sunny, clear skies, forties. I managed to carry my bowl movement around the large yard a couple times. Zombie like, watched a 6 month old Daphne punk our 12 weeks old Cash. Wanted to stop it, better to work the two young beasts properly, but the food baby wouldn’t allow that. The year was at peak gestation. I had to sit in it and let the chips fall (purposeful and terrible double puns there) where they may. All you could do was suffer under it. I apologized repeatedly for my lack of social skills, energy, overeating, like I was injured or elderly.

After the swim in the darkness, things got back on course. Bowel movement, shower, some crying, yelling at my wife for her culinary arts, a Dr. Phil session, a walk under a brilliant full moon (it was like the moon was its own street light, painting everything with its white-ish blue) and I was basically back to normal. Going to do push-ups the rest of the night. NO FOOD WILL TOUCH MY LIPS UNTIL TOMORROW, AFTER 10ish, WHERE I WILL LIKELY OVER-EAT AGAIN…Leftovers come on! I’m going full ninja-mood on Monday, full ketosis diet, no carbs for month, my wife gets to knee me two times in the crotch a day, and I have to shove Jerusalem Artichokes up my glory hole or something , so don’t be judgemental And think what it could do for the writing!

These holiday are fucked, reconsider. Alternative suggestion, be thankful everyday.

 

 

On The World (And Writing) While Watching Son’s Basketball Practice

We’re on the hunt for an adventure vehicle. The 1997 Honda Odyssey we bought after a bear obliterated our shiny and paid off 2009 Honda Civic, has treated us very well so far, almost 20k miles on about atwo thousands dollar investment (not including gas of course). We’d like a 90’s Ford Econoline, maybe with a raised roof. Don’t care at all how pretty it is, just that it can get us somewhere.

We realized that the thrill of the Great Christmas Squat of 2016 had worn off. The drudgery of routine, and rational thinking lead again to more stupid, pointless fighting. The sickness that when boredom and depression take over toxic fighting feels better; is better. And for us, for anyone really with this condition, the only option is to keep jumping without a net. If you don’t face a new fear, you will have to deal with the old fear.

We’re gonna find that adventure vehicle. Pimp it out with all the gear and basics our gang of five needs, take a month off a work and go drive around. Colorado. Wyoming. Oregon. Northern California (once it stops burning). Anywhere there is something new and special for our teeth to sink into. And when we are done, sick of the road, the new things, we’ll come home to our old shack, and beds, and be happy again.

Organized sports, like school itself (all Babylon really) bring out such conflicted feelings in me. On one hand, I love seeing my dude learning, working, getting skills, proud in his effort. The seriousness the other adults put into it all, I both respect and scoff at. I know you need to push. But the attitudes and the sort of nonsensical, nonreflective way sports-kids parents cling to the activities. I can just imagine the deep fear, shock, horror, they would experience if all that time they were forced to just BE with their kids. Why can’t they just be?

And then you remember all those sports kids and how fucked up most of them end up. Unable to escape the “glory days” of the sports, unable to find any other atta boys from their parents, once the game is over.

Little league baseball was the worst. I couldn’t believe the assholes I saw there…Basketball is chiller, maybe cause it doesnt hold such a foundational place in our culture.

I’m currently reading Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodor. I’m enjoying that. I’ve always enjoyed learning about other authors, their process. Recognizing the craziness in my colleagues makes me feel better about myself. Like Franz Kafka, learned his work was received no attention or acclaim until after his early death. There’s something so punk, or rock and roll in that. Spitting into the abyss. Not giving a fuck (an ironical statement about obsessive, neurotic Kafka of course). But it makes you think. What is so valuable in the writing process, that people forfeit all normality to sit in a room and bang their head against the wall all day, to create something that likely no one will ever read or appreciate. It the process of self-discovery, discovery of the world, but something else though too.

I think the truth is in the aspect of ourselves which is God-like. In the New Testament, Book of John says, In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was God. That’s it. That’s the power of writing, language, ideas, that does seperate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, and dare I say, raises us above them…further, gives us dominion over them.

You realize that training a puppy. You words command and control the beast. The treats help, but only initially to trick the beast. Then the words work. Just like the Bible stories again. In the beginning, we had peace in Garden of Eden, the treat, but eventually we needed Knowledge of Good and Evil, the word, and it ruined us…and saves us.

On Dogs and Death

Both my dogs 8 and 10 died roughly within a year of each other, tragically and abruptly. Dante the old boy just two weeks ago. I think the cheap food from Wal-Mart, Old Roys, is what killed them, gave them cancer.

Cujo, the younger dog just quit walking one day. Then miraculously started walking again, and then stopped again. We watched him for several weeks deteriorating on our kitchen floor. I would wrap a towel under his back legs and carry him in and out the house. He’d piss and shit all over himself and me. Left me a hysterical, broken mess. Cried like a broken child daily. Finally I took him to the vet one sunny, beautiful spring day, hysterically crying. Like a Stone played on the radio, a devestating, yet significant synchronicity. The song had always struck me to my core, as terribly profound, and songer Chris Cornell had just comitted suicide.

Vet tech, based on my tear filled expression told me it must be my first one (it was). I wanted to spit in her face. Afterwards, I stood there awkwardly trying to compose myself to pay the fucking bill, the absurdity, a hundred some bucks to kill your dog.

Dante was fine until one day a couple weeks ago he just stopped eating, and then got super lethargic. Stupidly, we thought maybe he just had worms or something, so we took him to the vet. They did a bunch of tests, told us his kidneys were shutting down, were at near death levels. Gave him shots to maybe pep him up, took our money, said to call on Monday.

Oh, and this is so fucked up. Right before he went downhill, my wife decided to get a puppy. I have a deep, dangerous love for dogs, but after Cujo’s death I couldn’t imagine getting another one. Time had sort of softened that, but I still wasnt ready though. I punted on the issue, told my wife if she wanted one and was prepared to do the majority of work I was ok and could do my part.

We named him Cash, after Johnny, because he’s all black. He’s a Husky/Lab mix and has different colored eyes. We thought it would be good to introduce old dog and new dog, give old boy a buddy, get him moving again. Then he took that turn for the worst.

After the torture with Cujo we realized we couldnt let Dante suffer like that. That we had let it go on too long for our own sake. And if a dog cant be a dog there’s no point in keeping it going yada, fucking yada. He just got worse that week after the vet visit. And one night while I was petting him, he rested his head in my palm, and told me the way dogs do, that he was going and it was okay, and he loved me and was sorry, but resigned to it.

It’s so messed up to say in a sense, but that old boy was like the foundation of my whole adult life and family. My wife and I got him in the early years of our dating, and during an extra-rocky bit of that, it’s my irrational attachment to dogs which seemed to make separation an impossibility to me (I’ll spare you the tragic explanation of that for now). And now nine years later, three kids, all that life, he was saying it was time to go.

We were gonna go that Monday. I said I would take him, no problem, but really it’s so fucking awful, if she wanted to take the licking I wouldnt fight her on it. She said she would. That Sunday night was bad for him. I laid with him under the kitchen table, and held him, whispering it was okay, that he was okay. That he was a great boy, and I understood he had to go. And it seemed to relax him. Give him some rest.

That Monday morning my two older boys got on the bus to school. And my wife got our little one ready for pre-k and then was gonna call the vet and take him up there. But then he started shaking, cramping up, whimpered and cried. Tried to get up, adjust, but couldn’t. I held his head again in my hands, told him I loved him, and it was ok, just go ahead, go to your rest.

My wife and son scrambled around. And then he was gone. I sat there and touched his now souless body. Felt his heart beat petter out. Had the insane hope that maybe I could still feel it. Knew better of course and nurse wife confirmed. Eventually, I grabbed some more towels to clean up the puddle of piss and cover him up, so my wife could take the lil one to school.

Sat there for a few minutes, crying, laying my head on him. Then I went outside. It was another beautiful morning. An early winter crisp was present, but sunny and clear skies. This time I didnt resent the day for its beauty, but appreciated it while I dug a hole for him at the back of the property. There was something about that dirt, digging it, shoving my hands into it, bringing it up to my nose, smelling it, that didnt make it better, but some how made me understand…ashes to ashes, dust to dust, dirt to dirt.

The hole was dug by the time she got back. I carried his stinking, stiff corpse to the hole and awkwardly stuffed him in there, and we worked together covering him up. We planted a hazelnut tree on top, but some critter got it that night.

I came in stripped my clothes off, showered. Went back to my bed and laid there. We made love later that morning. Desperate, needy love-making, like our relationship itself, something, anything, that could stop the hurt, but it never does. It just dulls it. Makes it manageable in the moment, but worse in the end.

I love goddamn dogs. Too much. Like women and the world itself. I would give up karmic evolution to go back to being a dog. To run, and play, fight and fuck, without reservation. To not over analyze. To be brave and loyal. To be one with the world. One with myself.