In the Middle of my Life – Regeneration

The Arkonium was a long, stone room dominated by a stone table. The figures, little more than chains of vitamins, brought me to the table. My body was like a chrysalis pod and they could easily carry me between them. No worries. I was light as a board.

The figures set me down on the table. I sunk into the grooves. Then they opened the Arkonium roof. It glided back like sheets of sugar glass. I was staring up into the three suns of Tolleran. Soon those suns would align – and eclipse.

The Neffs began to pour protein into the grooves around me – thick buckets of nutrients and biological matter from the Children’s chambers. I felt the liquid surround my bones – felt my insect wings click. The suns were nearly aligned. My shell softened, began to break away.

I rose out of the trough toward the Arkonium roof. Liquid flowed off me in sheets. Suddenly, my wings spread, like my ribcage cracking from behind.

Two gossamer, stained-glass sheets unfurled in the sun.

Dark Crystal

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Popular 1970s Fantasy Novels

These are so wonderful.

Thoughts on Fantasy

The fantasy boom of the late 60s came to full fruition in the 70s, drawing older works back into the light as well as bringing many new ones. The decade also saw the publication of important works in particular sub-genres, such as vampire fiction, fairy tale retellings, time travel fiction and more.

Below I’ve listed what I believe to be the 12 most popular or significant fantasy novels published between 1970 and 1980. I’ve used the year each novel was first published  and I’ve tried to use the original cover or jacket from that year: 

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The Forest of my Childhood

redwood-forest

A plant grows out of a seed. It pushes through the soil and pokes into the sky. A man grows out of a seed, through soil, into sky, and comes to earth.

In a forest, there is a fallen log. On the log is moss. In the moss are tiny bugs. In the log are termites and other living things. Under the log is soil and beetles, pill bugs and potato bugs. And sometimes ants.

The lynx…I have nothing to say about the lynx.

The sunflower opens one yellow petal at a time.

The writer doesn’t know anything about botany.

The writer is stabbing at ghosts and visions with his pen. The writer is barely here.

The coffee bean is a very good bean. Toast it and grind it and run water through it – soon you have something that approximates happiness.

A simple thing in nature is a leaf. The leaf grows and catches sunlight until it plops off its central stalk and turns into a pattern on the forest floor.

Snow falls in clumps of unique crystals – balled together by moisture, they become slush. The slush turns black on the ground. The slush turns into water.

A fire is a force that burns and transforms. A log in a fire becomes charcoal and when the fire is out, the log can be used to write on a wall, grinding up the wood flesh as you go.

A sentence is like a river that flows from rock to rock. It bends and undulates.

A brook can bubble through a shallow trough, and be audible through the trees.

Water skeeters touch the surface of a brook with their feet, and flex them out and in to skate across the surface of the water.

A bone is a dry river inside the flesh, and it doesn’t stop flowing – until you die, and then it stops.

A book is dust sandwiched between two leaves.

A computer is a book on wheels.

A fish with legs is a memory and can be seen on video tape.

An obfuscating page of poetry will sit in my journal and rot.

I’m hot. And unhappy.

I miss Uncle Ray, and Uncle Frank. I wanted to describe my childhood as a forest. I got lost in the forest in which I currently live.

“In which I currently live…”

Tears around my eyes feel like a tiny bubble halo.

I am here.

I am dense.

I am nothing.

It means nothing.

I am alive.

New Year, Old Sh#t

henri-matisse-early-paintings-the-attic-studio-1903-henri-matisse-early-matisse-paintings.jpg

 

The tenth of the second month of the nineteenth year of the second millennium since the common era began…

…which, just to be clear, is when Jesus was born…

And what do I have to show for it?

A new desk chair.

A pair of air pods.

A stack of new books.

A dead uncle.

A rejuvenating relationship with my cousin.

A deeper knowledge of the music of 2018.

A handful of completed grad school applications.

A resolution to be bold.

An ongoing battle with anxiety.

A second-hand Juul.

A commitment to finding a therapist.

Loose plans to make theater.

A completed first draft of my novel, The Temp.

A horniness you wouldn’t believe.

So.

Where am I going?

Into the future, into the stars, into the night, into middle-America, into my dreams, into the city, into the club, into strange bedrooms, into the boonies, into myself, into unknown worlds.

What is there to discover?

A better way to live.

Companionship.

Compassion.

Understanding.

Sense of self.

Play.

Grace.

Bravery.

And when, oh dear, will these journeys take place?

This year, 2019.

How old am I?

31.

How bold am I?

Not much.

How cold am I?

Not at all. The radiator’s on, hissing in the corner like a rat. My room has a few stray currents of cool air, but mostly it’s hot soup all the time.

What am I listening to?

Jon Hopkins, “Singularity.”

What am I working on?

Myself. My eye. My voice. The Temp. Can Wendy Inn get out of danger and beat the clock? Or is he destined to be just another troubled domestic terrorist? Stay tuned, sports fans, for the thrilling continuation of Wendy’s terrible, no-good, very bad two months.

How am I?

Jaw tight. Head speeding. Waist bulging. Legs bunched. Butt sloped. Waiting, waiting for the writing to end and the other writing and the working and reading and movie-seeing to end so I can sleep again. Always waiting to sleep again.

And outside?

A grey day, trees waving at the sky like forlorn mice. Houses taking on some of the grey of the sky. Red chimneys standing out. And little windows on domestic black. Probably one of those mornings when people speed-walk grumpily to Prospect Park on their cellphones. One of those mornings where the grey floats down and gets inside your head, making you want to be a seagull and fly to warmer climes.

I know I do.

I do.

Announcing the Thing and Cherishing the Thing

Klimt

Hello.

I guess my journaling is a kind of prayer.

Everything I do in the morning is a kind of prayer.

I journal, I dance, I bow to the almighty (whatever that may be – come at me atheists), I write fiction.

All of it is a prayer to the God of living while pieces of skin shed away.

That’s okay.

I’d rather do it for that than the desire to be powerful or famous.

I think there is a good motive to what I want to do in life.

But at the back of it is also a need to tell people that I have done what I did.

Hey, I got into grad school! (I didn’t, but for example).

Hey, I’ve got a girlfriend!

Hey, we’re getting married!

Hey, we’re expecting!

Hey, I got the job!

You know how it is. The pull of social media. It’s not enough to do the thing, but to announce the thing? Mm.

So, what to do about that?

Nothing really I think.

Of course it feels good to announce the thing. So just do it. The danger comes in expecting fulfillment from the boasting.

Boasting never brings you fulfillment, but it does sometimes make one feel vaguely…swelled. For a while.

Then the swelling goes down and the post sinks…sinks…sinks down your Facebook wall.

And the event itself sinks into the past.

So, as they say in Young Frankenstein (God, why does this feel a little like a Ted Cruz – style impression? Maybe because it’s just ever so slightly misapplied?) – “Let him! Let him!”

After you announce the thing, it’s time to bone, skin, and cook the big fish you caught, and no one’s ever interested in reading about that process. Not unless you are famous. And if you are famous, surely you struggle with the attention as much as you like it. Whether you like it or not, it has become part of your job.

So, go ahead, announce the thing, fine, then let it go. It’s no crime. Don’t cling.

Maybe, worse than that is my desire to create things…and then cherish them.

I don’t even know if my creations are good or bad, but like the ammonia-based pleasures of smelling my own farts, I love to finger them. Paw at them. Read them over endlessly.

I’ve read my little books about Shakespeare nearly every day before fiction writing this week. Why?

Because it’s all mine.

It’s like marveling at myself in the mirror.

Not useful.

Time consuming.

And it doesn’t lead in any direct way to editing or anyone else actually reading the thing.

So.

So.

So.

Let that go too.

It would be a lie to say it’s a crime.

Just as it would be an exaggeration to say that it’s helpful.

I have no need for more shadows of evil and guilt in my life, unless they’re strictly necessary.

I think it’s important to continue to pray while I’m alive. To create while I’m alive, and give those creations to others, and take theirs.

It’s a trade.

And if, once in a while, I want to announce the thing or sniff the thing I made ad nauseum…

It’s no great loss –

– (And no great prize) –

To life.

 

Anxiety is a Little Version of Yourself that Follows you with a Whip: a poem

Today

Is one of those anxious days.

Perhaps after yesterday, a Wednesday,

When I was floating on a sea of inaction,

My little, listless boat

Floated up to the dock

At the country of self-fearing.

Fearing.

This country has a beast –

A man really,

With a whip and tall brown boots.

He stalks the jungles and beaches,

Goose-stepping,

Calling people on his walkie-talkie;

Reinforcements.

He wears a wide black hat,

Like a ringleader,

And carries a whip,

You can hear it crack from

Shore to shore.

And in this state,

He marches,

Driving me from bush to bush,

Naked,

Covered in berry juice,

My rump high in the air,

As I scrabble and scrabble at another pig-nut,

And he steps up behind me,

Cracking leather.

He has a legion of clouds that do his bidding,

And invisible tigers,

That shoot invisible bees out of their mouths.

The water is full of sharks,

With laser beams strapped to their heads,

And the village,

Is all grass huts

With storybook pages inside.

And in this state,

I gallop,

Fire in my eyes,

Sickly sweet flowers in my mouth,

From port to port,

Ever fearing,

And the dark man,

That comes in my dreams.

A great drum that pounds

Down from heaven,

Until my quaking bones,

That danced and danced on the head of a pin,

Are no more,

Just dust,

Swirling in the wind.

Thoughts on Shakespeare from someone doomed to a four-year survey of the complete works

image1I was just checking out the chronology of Shakespeare’s complete works (the conjectural version on Wikipedia, here).

I needed to know when the Passionate Pilgrim was (potentially) written, and when I should read the sonnets. It looked like the last sonnet may have been written in 1609, so I decided to read those after The Winter’s Tale. A Funeral Elegy may also have been written at that point, so I’ll throw it in then as well. The Passionate Pilgrim I should have already read, and perhaps I’ll do it next week.

In other words, I’m drawing close to the end of a 4-year project to read through and listen to every work attributed to him (which means I pull out my Riverside and read the text with my eyeballs, while I listen to an unabridged cast recording from Audible with my earholes). I’m getting somewhere.

I just want to know it all.

I want to get some idea of the total shape of Shakespeare’s output (as much as I reasonably can) and find out what kind of trends there are. What possible developments. What obsesses him?

This is the kind of project with only imperfect findings. Feasibly, I could start all over again as soon as I’m done (go from Two Noble Kinsmen back to Two Gentlemen of Verona) and I’d learn much more. And maybe my findings say more about me than Shakespeare.

Nevertheless here they come!

(so far)

  • He is obsessed with the battle of the sexes, and how men subjugate women, how women fight back, and the devastation the whole thing leads to (Ophelia, Lavinia, Desdemona, Hermia, Jessica, Portia, Juliet…etc etc, on and on, world without end). Does that mean women are victims in his plays? Not at all. They are an embattled group, just like any of his characters outside of the hetero normative fraternity. He’s obsessed with people embattled by hetero normative society, and what they do to fight back.
  • He develops language to the point of incredible verisimilitude (by Hamlet) and learns to create the whole world in miniature. Then he experiments with form: satire, faerie tale, miracle play. All of this in service of presenting the world around him and its Ur-stories (sacrificial lovers, stealing fire from the Gods, apocalypse-rebirth).
  • He has always been mystical, and his mysticism deepens as his career progresses. The Phoenix and the Turtle encompasses all of his mystical themes: rebirth, the Gnostic hermaphrodite, creation and destruction as a closed circle. Meanwhile, it distills his social themes: mass hysteria, pack mentality, aimlessness, manipulation, and community renewal.
  • To Shakespeare, humans are vessels for the truly horrific and the truly miraculous. Those states take place through metamorphosis.
  • He is primarily interested in what we do to each other as we survive as a species: rape, murder, war, slavery, liberation.
  • He also sees human action in relation to the eternal, in the face of confusion, decay, and moments of grace. The moments of grace can be drawn out of his plays like jewels, but you have to open to them, and you have to put in the work of saying his words to one-another and playing his games in front of an audience.

That is what I’ve learned.

He’s also always been acutely observant and acerbic, like a sniper. But as he ages, he becomes more and more cynical. More often his characters know exactly how awful their actions are. They do them anyway, and the world answers with silence.

Or mystification.

Or confusion.

Or a great noise that drowns out everything else.

But I’d say – stealing fire from the gods sums up pretty much everything he ever wrote.

The Stepford Wives

The Stepford WivesThe Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderfully unsettling thriller, wound up tighter than a Swiss watch (sorry to say that metaphor actually belongs to Stephen King. It’s quoted on the front of the book. But he’s right!)

Ira Levin writes social thrillers like no one else. Both this and Rosemary’s Baby move along at a roaring pace, structured with a deftness other authors could only dream of. Right from the beginning, you’re hooked into a fascinating premise. His writing style is also so light and colloquial it makes the book a breeze to read, and enjoyable to return to again and again.

A woman named Joanne Eberholdt moves to idyllic suburb Stepford with her (typically milquetoast, Levin-style) husband Walter. The women in the town are obsessed with their physical appearance, and they spend all day scrubbing and cleaning their homes. They have no outside interests other than pleasing their husbands. Alarmed and naturally offended, Joanne begins to unravel an unsettling conspiracy that implicates the social structure of the town itself.

What’s wonderful about the book is how timely it feels. Levin is so good at putting his finger on massive social problems in America. In this case, he identifies the terror that comes from men who, losing their power over women, will stop at nothing to consolidate it. Sound familiar?

I have only two complaints with this novel. First, the characters are a little thin, especially if you’ve read Rosemary’s Baby for reference. The husbands in both novels might as well be the same person (maybe they are. Did Rosemary’s beau resettle after helping to birth to Satan Jr?) That’s okay. Part of the pleasure is the graceful economy with which Levin structures the plot, and keeps the pages turning, and he doesn’t need deep, multifaceted characters to succeed in that regard. On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt. My larger issue was with Joanne’s actions: she made the classic horror mistake of telling everyone around her when she began to unravel the mystery. Rookie maneuver, Joanne. The novel could have been even more suspenseful if she’d been a little smarter about saving herself.

Ultimately, this is a wonderful, tightly-knit suspense novel, perfect for the Halloween and election seasons. It’s also an obvious inspiration on other modern classics, like the movie Get Out. Give this a read if you’re interested in social horrors which are very much alive today.

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Loneliness is a Beast that Looks at you

Loneliness is a beast that looks at you.

Is that all I wanted to say?

No.

There in the corner, there on your dresser;

I’ve seen it – an illustration in a book of children’s stories.

Long arms, long teeth, short little legs

And it sits

On your dresser.

Those long arms dangling to the floor

Those long teeth glowing

Hirsute.

Loneliness is a beast that looks at you.

Is that all I wanted to say?

No.

It is not a thing with feathers.

Someone smarter than me said that.

My loneliness is a beast from a book that sits on my dresser.

And looks and looks and looks.

I look back – nothing gets any smarter.

No one gets any closer.

I’m standing there, facing away

The back of my hair, my spine, my buttocks and legs.

Loneliness is a beast that looks at you.

That’s all I wanted to say.

 

thuppppppp