“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.

 

“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.

 

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“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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

 

 

7-27-18 Mercury in Retrograde, Difference between Knowledge and Wisdom, On Marriage and Communication (Part 1…Perhaps…I may Come to My Senses)

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I’d scoffed at the news that Mercury was in retrograde (something about its relative position between us and other stars/planets, leading it to shine less bright, and thus have less influence?) and that that meant communication would be extra difficult, that everything could be a lil more difficult, inherently frustrating. And of course in my lack of wisdom, I could only reflect how strange it was that this sort of thing was still reported like that, with all the extra-superstition. And the Blood Moon, which I hope to bust the telescope out for tonight, and its purported Biblical Doom! And the deeper issue, that I had to admit communication was feeling strained? That I did feel a bit of impending doom, that things were going to break.

A tension in the neck. A sense that no one is really listening. That you have to speak a little louder then should have too. I sat there shaving last night (a new found habit for me?) wrestling with the suspicion that my wife and I were about to have dumb argument. There’s been a lot of existential angst passing in text, which disturbingly often seems our best way of communication, internet SOS, heavy on my end, with verbosity and over-education (she’s smarter and more “educated FTR), the sort of dregs that really kill the mood. Trying to drone up positivity, focus on the good things in life. So I told myself, as the creeping fear snuck in, that I had to stop it. Letting me mind think like that. That there was nothing bad going on, therefore no need to fear some argument. All really was well!

There were rumblings with the children. But I was more then ready to see that as the Thursday slug. Thursday are our families’ first evening of the weekend, so there can often be that end of the work-week lag. Also raising kids is tough, and we need to give our partners the benefit of the doubt that an exasperated tone or voice, isn’t an indictment of the whole affair.

The children were put to bed at a reasonable time. Britney and I found ourselves in bed with the rest of the evening to ourselves. There is no foreseeable reasonable danger, or tension here. We begin a positive discussion about a day vacation were going to take to North East Iowa, to two of our favorite places in the state, the Maquokota Caves State Park, and the Effigy Mounds, probably Six some hours of driving.

I’ve discussed it before, but as a result of getting radical about our debt, and a bear eating our paid-off choice Honda Civic, we decided to gamble on a 1997 Honda Odyssey, with lows miles. Now, we were not discouraging the abilities of said Odyssey, irony in name there, but we just began contemplating what would we do if it broke down a hundred miles from home? Pause here spouses, or future spouses. DO NOT FIND YOURSELF IN BED ON “FRIDAY” NIGHT DISCUSSING ROADSIDE SAFETY.

We walked write into the old game, of masculine and feminine,  report/rapport division. Britney explained if the car broke down on the side of the road, it was no big deal. That you would call the tow-truck and they would assist you in getting safely off the road. Getting you in touch with a road/car service, whatever. A rather shall we say, benign answer to the issue. But I say again, DO NOT FIND YOURSELF IN BED ON “FRIDAY” NIGHT DISCUSSING ROADSIDE SAFETY!!!

There’s back story here. About a Country Road. And Mac-Trucks flying down said gravel road, like they’re racing to hell. And that fucking opening scene in Pet Sematary! And a decade of relationships. And Yada, Yada, Yada. I tried to chew my tongue off, the warring of self occurred.

But I just have the issue with  a compulsion to say what I think. Even if its harsh and judgemental (her description),  if it seems the truth though, and worthwhile, I JUST HAVE TO SAY IT. Cuz the truth is, tow truck drivers cannot guarantee your safety. Especially not, when your out on you own, with liability, and three little ones, sitting in the danger zone on an  fairly busy interstate!!! It’s inherently passive! Tow truck are not just following you around. A half-an hour waiting for a tow truck, sitting in your car is dumb!And what about the tow-truck that almost stole the Odyssey the week before? And the officer, who had told us, when I confronted him about taking it when I had three little ones right there, he said that would be too bad for me! (We were parked on a block that had been marked off for a festival, which was going on in the town square, an area that was claimed unbeknownst to us as we sat eating bad pizza tavern food; side note don’t order prime-rib from questionable establishments). These people were not looking out for you!

Blah. Blah. Blah. By the end we went to bed grouchy. On verge of traumatizing separation. Unbelievable. What is the point of self-awareness, if it doesn’t help you. I have knowledge, without wisdom. It keeps me from where I want to be…

More on the Doctors are Priests Business…(Realness Warning)

I know this is the sort of thing, that most people won’t want to really get into. I, in fact, respect that…Maybe. And maybe this means, I should examine that first. Is it a relevant piece of information? This Doctors are the new Priest Class theory.

Is going to the Doctors regularly important? As in saves or improves your life? To be important, wouldn’t it have to be effective too? Has the birth of the modern medical system improved our overall health and wellness? That would have to mean there were less sick people overall? How could my health improve by going more regularly? What are the risks either way?

Read this article, about 5yr old Garret, from Van Meter, Iowa who died of cancer. Obituary ended with a “See you later, suckas” from one rowdy and noble child. Whole thing was about how he outwardly projected NO FEAR of it. No angst ridden, existential crisis, wallowing of the living. Him and his family knew it sucked. Sucked more then the fucking words would ever allow you to say. He didn’t want to go out like a punk though. He wanted a viking funeral (like in the Thor flicks), and five bouncy houses. He wanted his ashes buried in the dirt to make a tree. So he could become a gorilla in the next round and play on it.

Article told how the doctors couldn’t play with the words, with that type of cancer he had. Said you burn it out, you chop it out, or you nuke it friend, that’s what you do. And, I sit and think how far are we really from the witch-doctors and tribal priest of our not so ancient past. Saw the headline yesterday, something like, 2 Million Year Old Tools Found and are Rewriting History. You stop and think, wait a minute, how little do we know!

How did we have tools for two million years, but HISTORY is what maybe a gracious and spotty sixty-thousand years? What the hell was going on that whole time? Why do we not have better records? Oral histories? A better sense of our story and origins? Unity? How with all this loss and confusion, could we not unite and figure out the collective story? Preserve our goddamned selves! Instead, we stay so sure of our world. Assume this is the only way, the best possible way, progress is occurring. We are lucky. And it sits there in all of us, everyone breathing it in and out all the time. This sense that something is off, askew, out of sorts. Why? How is that possible?

AND WHY IS EVERYONE SO SICK AND DYING?!?!

…This is rhetorical. I know there are answers. Always working towards a best conclusions, with available evidence. But with a damned certainty, a certainty that can only come of FAITH. That the truth IS out there, that we just need more time and we will discover it. So listen to the Adepts, the Scientists, the Doctors, and the Priests, they will read the tea leaves and give you your prescriptions, then you will be complete?

Who else, we could wonder, has assumed the Kabuki masks of our subconscious. Who paints the portraits of OUR fears? Who wears the Mask?…Jim Carrey…he wore the mask, literally and metaphoricallllllyy speakingggg……

6-21-18 On a Black and Gold Finch in A Pear Tree. The Artist. Thank God For the Rain.

The chubby black and gold finch in the pear tree (prized possession 2-year in its home) makes me sit down for a second, by the cool breeze of the window. Environment has become a neglected aspect in a lot of people’s lives, it seems. And not even just obvious issues of pollution, contamination, death and disease run amok, but just the broader issue of the background’s template and presence. Sure a lot of expense and posturing is spent in this pursuit, but the table is never truly set, is it? There is no time for simple questions, like Where am I? What am I doing?

What happens when the inner voice answer back harshly, with an out-of place edge. On the asphalt baking, sucking on a stream of exhaust, little eggheads roasting in their metallic pods of pseudo-anonymity to nowhere, aggressively, the Great Beyond.

Maybe stuck pack living, like our food itself, densely populated manufactured city-scales, thousands of souls stacked around you, congealing emotionally, spiritually into a panicked herd, which will always, eventually dehumanize and destroy.

But there’s that space, probably never more then a focused hour away, with open and possibly sightly cleaner air and water. Lord willing, with a finch present, with a neon-orange head dress, fluttering among ditch-lilies of a shared strain. Like the artist dipped his brush and gave the black finch a touch of his favorite color.

The prospect of a cool evening of work in the garden is encouraging. A shining sun pokes through the darker blue clouds suggesting an afternoon rain. I say thank you to the suggestion.

Operation Coyote’s Chortle

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Their chortles come to me at night, through my window.

Telling me of the way forward. What needs to be done.

Honing signals of the State of the Union.

The plan has become clear.

Greater then the sum of our individual parts, a pack.

Two cats, one black, one tabby. Alerted by a soft meow of communication. Busted by a primate’s flashlight, but quickly fled into the night.

Sunday. There was a beagle, or some other especially nasally bread, assaulting the world with its cries of outrage and injury. It was impossible to ignore, as I handled the planting of the elderberries cane.

My hands grew cold, and the mud caked on like chilled frosting. Winter won’t get out of the bed.

I said fuck it, tried to find them in the truck. Lure them to me with whistles, and doggy-os.

I hear and see him later as I build the frame to the greenhouse, running like a bullet on a mound to the south-east. His screams had lost their potency. There was only one of them now.

We go on in the blood, the spit and the semen, until we don’t. And then they can build us into mounds, and then dirt. And then it starts again, world without end, amen.

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