Tag Archives: Literature

Gone Fishin’

Please forward all correspondence to SpaceJunk.

I’m wondering if there’s some web-parallel service to a Winter Caretaker, someone who could come by once a month and open the windows, dusting and airing the rooms out in the summer, then battening down the hatches come autumn, while keeping the water running a bit in the winter to make sure the pipes don’t freeze up, and then coming around to make the minor repairs needed in the spring…basically, someone to do the little bits of daily upkeep that prevent a structure from becoming a ruin.

I wonder this because I’m going to be moving on from here.  Pretentiously Eloquent Microfiction is closing up shop, boarding up the windows and putting in a change of address form.

A while back, I speculated on what to do with this site…it began as a novelty, a place to record my returning ability—and willingness—to write, and what was driving me at the time was short bursts of language, Pretentiously Eloquent Microfiction, as I originally defined it on day one.

I had realized that, over time, my work—fiction and non—had moved away from that structure, and was of two minds about what to do:  do I change things around here, reflecting the evolution of what I’m working on now and how I want to share it?  Or do I keep things as-is, a reminder of what’s come before, and a desire to maintain a realistic history, at least as much as you can online.

And I decided, then, to keep on keeping on.  P.E.M. is critically important to me, as much a part of what defines me in this last half-decade of my life as my family and my new career.

But the time has come for me to realize, and acknowledge, that the work begun here, lo many years back, hasn’t just changed in direction:  it’s complete.  As in, over.  Something new is come ‘round, and it just doesn’t fit here anymore.

So, I’m turning out the lights and locking the door behind me.  I may return to these parts at some point in the future—if publishing my fiction on the web ever again becomes something that I feel I need to do, it’ll end up here.  But it’s time for some new scenery.

So update your bookmarks, if you will:  SpaceJunk.

These are my new online digs.  Something shiny, with different places to arrange the furniture and a new view outside the windows.  I’ve migrated some of the least-fiction-related posts from here over there already, just so we have something to build from, and now that I’m getting comfortable there, and feeling somewhat freed from the original strictures that were built here, you may even find me posting there more often there than I have been here of late…though, of course, the Rules of Engagement still hold.

And in case this truly is the last post that will go up here, I want to end it with something that it began with, something important that reminds me—and I hope encourages you to do the same—that intent is everything, and the baggage and previously-existing conditions surrounding a thought, or emotion, or situation, can and must be re-evaluated, so that it becomes meaningful to you, and you’re not just absorbing the meaning that others have given it as your own:

“We’re deathly afraid of that stabbing word ‘pretentious,’ the word that students use to curse each other’s ambition.  It’s a young person’s word, a shortcut-to-thinking word. I’m a big fan of pretension.  It means ‘an aspiration or intention that may or may not reach fulfillment.’  It doesn’t mean failing upward.  It means trying to exceed your grasp.  Which is how things grow.”

– Warren Ellis

 

A Review of A Dance With Dragons

In Which I Discuss The Book I Just Finished Reading, And Make Mention Of (And Not A Little Slander Upon) The Remainder Of The Series To This Point, With Some Ranting…Literary Criticism This Ain’t

I had the idea of writing this up in a nice meta fashion, mimicking the book—my vibe of it, not necessarily the specific style of GRRM’s voice—but then realized I’d have to write some 10k+ words of generally meandering chatter, spending most of my time talking about the crisis that guy who was working the drive-through window at the place I went for lunch suffered through this morning in his parking lot, and other random bullshit, all while occasionally, briefly mentioning in passing that, oh yeah, there’s a review coming, and it’ll be amazing, and then back to inane, unrelated stuff, before ending the review with a sudden, massive, completely absurd shocker like “BTW, if you read past page 643, you’ll get AIDS and die!”

And that wouldn’t be much fun for anyone, me or you.  Which, incidentally, would serve as a perfectly adequate and accurate review, but, you know, fun and lack thereof.  So here’s something that was at least a bit more fun to write, if not hopefully read.

Ultimately, I finished it.  And had moments where I genuinely enjoyed what I was reading.  He’s a good writer, and has created a handful of vivid characters in incredible circumstances, and I genuinely want to read about them and see how their stories end up.

The key there:  a handful.  All great storytellers seem to understand this just fine.  You can have a cast of thousands, but you need a couple of key names above the titles for people to latch on to.  Especially in an epic story where the POV keeps moving around from location to location…that’s jarring enough.  With all sorts of intertwining conspiracies and plotting, and motivations and loyalties switching on a dime…  And if you want to keep your readers invested in what’s going on while moving them around all over the place, it really helps to have a consistent landing spot for them whenever you return them to someplace they haven’t been for a while.

You don’t suddenly, 500+ pages in, drop in a long chapter involving characters that we haven’t even heard mentioned since halfway through the last book, some 5 years and 700+ pages ago, a dozen or so of them with very similar, hard-to-pronounce names, and somewhat bland and overlapping, easily-confused personalities and motives, and try to reveal  a whole bunch of obscure minutiae about a small element in a vaster conspiracy, then abandon those characters and that location and the whole conspiracy for the rest of the damn book, and expect me to care or even fully follow what’s going on, even after reading through it multiple times.

I’ll say it again:  a handful.  It’s worth noting that the book ends with an Appendix that attempts to list out the key characters and their relationships to each other, just for this one book.

It’s 53 pages long.  That’s not a typo.

In the Appendices for The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien does something similar, listing out the family trees of each of the major houses involved in his stories…not just those mentioned in the book you’ve just read, by the way, but everyone, from the very first great-great grandfather, long since dead, through all the generations over thousands of years, up to the present day and the living heroes who participate in the events covered in the book you’ve just finished reading, a book that is often cited as the definition of Epic Fantasy.  All those people, across multiple races, and thousands of years.  And it’s barely half as long as GRRM’s list of the people in just one book that we’re supposed to keep straight in order to understand what’s going on.

Seriously?  I’m not dumb, I’m actually pretty smart and occasionally smart enough to justify at least a reasonable amount of my inherent arrogance and misanthropy…and halfway through the book, I just gave up trying to follow all the major narrative threads and treated it like a long collection of vaguely-related short stories, pretending at the beginning of each chapter that it was unconnected to anything I’d read previously.

And then we come back around to those few characters who are interesting and worth paying attention to, and they’ve actually got a decent part of the book set aside for their stories, and what do we get?

Jon wakes up, and it’s cold.  He eats some food, drinks some wine, wanders outside into the snow, meets with people who don’t like him, discusses a decision that’s somehow important to whatever’s eventually going to happen (probably in just a couple thousand more pages, it’s like imminent and shit), finds that those people disagree with him, and makes his decision anyway, one that seems pretty obviously clear to everyone reading along.  He leaves, walks outside, it’s cold, he mopes for a bit about how hard it is to be a commander, and then goes to bed.

There.  Fill in some of the generic blanks with random specific details (who he’s meeting with, what the decision is), and you can mad-libs about 90% of the Jon chapters in the book, some 200+ pages.

Was that fun?  Let’s do it again.

Daenerys wakes up, bathes in her pool, chooses what dress to wear, and goes off to procrastinate.  She worries about her “children”, makes a decision that’s pretty obviously awful to everyone reading along, worries some more about her “children”, goes to her pool, and then goes to bed.

Same thing:  we just covered another 200-ish pages of the whole book.

And the worst part is that there’s some really good stuff in there.  Jon does make some pretty massive decisions regarding the future of the whole realm, and his story does bring us ever closer to the fabled Winter that is coming…in the same way that tilting your head slightly forward while standing in Santa Monica does, in absolute terms, bring you slightly closer to Yankee Stadium.  And Daenerys ends up riding one of her dragons, finally claiming her birthright in full…until she stops, and leaves him, gets diarrhea from eating unripe berries, and worries some more about her “children”.

It’s all just buried until mountains of wasted paper and ink.  Sigh.  The man needs an editor more than anyone since Steve King wrote 300 pages too many for The Tommyknockers.

The only one who actually has anything to do is Tyrion, and that’s not because he’s actively pursuing anything—if it was left up to him, he’d happily stay in one place, drinking and whoring until his money, dick or liver runs out, whichever comes first—but because larger people with ulterior motives keep dragging him around, listening to his fast talking just enough to decide to keep him alive, but never enough to actually take his advice and get shit done.  (Except for one memorable occasion, which is probably the most interesting part of the whole book:  Connington’s and Aegon’s return to Westeros, which is the only part of the book I have no issue with at all.  There are a handful of complex but easily-discernible characters, each with their own private motives but all with a clearly-defined goal, and together they take actual tangible steps to achieve that goal.  It’s like someone snuck in and wrote some GRRM fan-fiction while he wasn’t looking, and he never bothered to take it out.)

You know those detective shows or movies, where they’re hunting a serial killer, and they finally come upon his apartment (and of course he’s already long-gone), and they see what must have started as a simple peg board, a few newspaper clippings and notes to help keep things straight, only the guy is bug-shit nuts and now every inch of every wall is covered with photos and articles and notes and drawings so disturbing they’d make a childhood psychologist shoot himself in despair for the next generation, with lines drawn randomly connecting stuff, and it’s all done in some very natural lighting, like afternoon sun from a window, with plenty of dust and haze in the air, and the whole point is to make the audience think “Holy shit, this guy is bug-shit nuts, no sane person could even read through all this, let alone try to make sense of it and connect it all into a larger whole?”

I imagine that’s what GRRM’s writing office looks like these days.

So, to sum up, I didn’t hate it, there was some really good stuff in there, and of course all the hints of some grand, once-in-a millennia conflict coming “soon”, which is entertaining (at least for the first couple thousand pages of foreshadowing), but I won’t be re-reading it, ever, and if the next book is anything like this one, I’m probably just going to set them aside and ignore them until the entire series is done, by which point I’ll be retired and have plenty of time to wade through them and see if the whole damn thing was worth it.

And, seriously, TWO Arya chapters?  That’s it?  That’s like paying a stripper for a lap dance and giving her $200 to take off her watch.  If we don’t get at minimum an entire book’s worth of Arya killing all the motherfuckers on her morning prayers’ list before this things wraps up, I’m gonna be pissed.

New-to-you – Over

Woah, did I say in my last post that an old story of mine was going up “tomorrow”?  Which would have been, like, a month ago?  No, I couldn’t have.  I think, when I typed “tomorrow”, what I meant to type was “sometime in September”, I just spelled it really, really wrong.

So here’s the one I was talking about.  Posted exactly when I said I would.


Over

There’s music playing in the background, badly.  The selection could use some improvement as well.  We were speculating earlier that the musician is probably related to the restaurant’s owner—nepotism, that great equalizer.  But I’m into my third glass of wine—miles behind my rambling friend here—and the buzz is smoothing out the rougher edges nicely.  Even Barry Manilow on an out-of-tune guitar is bearable after your third Merlot.

It’s a small restaurant.  “Atmosphere” they advertise; cramped it is.  You can only apologize for so many inadvertent elbows for so long before it all descends into absurdity.  Or a brawl.  Thankfully, this appears to be a crowd of the former.  My knees, on the other hand, are black and blue and know the underside of our off-balance table too well.  I imagine I’ll be feeling them—and everything else—rather vividly tomorrow morning.  God bless Merlot—but God really loves two aspirin and a glass of water before bed.

It’s an Italian restaurant, supposedly.  The menu is in Italian, and there’s enough garlic hanging to invade Transylvania with, but there isn’t a pasta dish or a clam in sight.  It’s good, don’t get me wrong; in fact, it’s already gone.  It’s getting pretty late, and most of the new customers wandering in are wearing blazers and pearls—it’s time to go.  Except our second bottle’s only half empty, and we both know we’ve only got a few more of these Romantic Evenings left in us, so we’re lingering.

It’s over, almost, for us.  You couldn’t tell from the outside, and, hey, we’re doing a pretty decent job of ignoring it ourselves.  But we’re lingering, and we know it.  It’s not exactly devastating.  Oh, hopefully it’ll happen as a fight, so she can cry and throw things and I can yell and get righteously pissed-drunk afterwards.  But it’s coming regardless.  I can feel it lurking just a couple of tomorrows away.

So, we linger.

But we’re not the only ones.  Just across the aisle from us, actually.  She’s by herself, has been since we first came in.  I can only imagine the scene we missed.  Just as we were showing up, a big, burly man came storming out of the restaurant’s front door.  I hope to God I never have on my face the expression he had on his.  He looked damned.  Like whatever had been haunting him had finished its work and seen that it was good.  He brushed by us without noticing, and I probably would’ve forgotten all about it except, when we went inside, the place was silent, not a word or a clank or warbly Fmaj7 cord in sight.  And all eyes were on this woman, this woman we ended up sitting just across the aisle from.

If he looked bad, she was worse.  Still is, as far as my surreptitious glances can tell.  Her table is as small as ours, and was set for two, but—and this is what’s absolutely killing me, and probably her as well—along the edge of the table are four or five crayons, strewn across a half-finished child’s activity place-mat.  The man who left didn’t have a little one in tow behind him, and there’s no one else at the table with her now, and so the question I still haven’t been able to answer is:  where the hell is the kid? I don’t know and still don’t know.

She has a glass of wine—whatever plates and silverware she had were picked up a while ago—and occasionally she takes a polite sip from it, probably without realizing she’s doing it.  She doesn’t look like she’s paying much attention to anything right now.  I’ve seen couples waiting by the door for a table, and given how rude our waiter has been to us, I’d expected someone to ask her to leave a long time ago.  But they haven’t yet.  In fact, part of the crampedness at our table is a result of everyone who uses the aisle’s swerving around her, ending up in our laps.  And no one’s staring anymore.  Maybe there is some compassion left in this world after all, people who won’t kick you, no matter how gently, out of their way when you’re down.

Her make-up is still in place, same with her hair.  She doesn’t look like she’s been crying.  Her dress is nice but doesn’t look very expensive.  If I had to guess I’d say she was just the other side of thirty.  She’s wearing a bracelet and stud earrings but nothing on her fingers or around her neck.  If I weren’t still lingering, I might wonder if she was attractive.  Her napkin is folded in her lap, a streak on a dangling end showing that it’s done its job.  But I can’t get over those crayons.  They aren’t set so that she or the person sitting across from her would have used them.

What happened?

I think it’s time to go.  There’s still a little wine left, but I have some more at home if we need it.  No more lingering; dinner’s over.

New-to-you – Saturday, June 6

I’m almost clear of it; the project is nearly done, all that’s left is the death spiral of closing it out, offering sacrifices to the great god First Party…there’s a clarity dawning, shapes protruding through the fog.

Work has begun again on something new, picking up the tools and materials and dusting them off, trying to remember where I was, what I was aiming for, when I set them down such a short while ago.

In the meantime, here’s another treat from the pre-drought days…I can’t pretend that I got it right, but my mom did read it, back in the day, and said she liked it, so I must’ve hit somewhere close to the mark.


Saturday, June 6

1

She figures it’s way beyond habit, much more than conditioning.  The day to day after day after week after month after…Christ, it’s been years.  How many?  From the top:  twelve of elementary and prep school, two of eight AM survey courses, five times a week, three years of getting to the office early enough to have the coffee ready when everyone else arrived, four years married (but with the same responsibilities), then the last fourteen with the kids.  Plus the last four months.  Just the three of them.  Even consciously trying, she can’t remember the last time she’s slept past six o’clock in the morning.  Slept in.  All week she’s been trying to convince herself to look forward to this.  As a reward, maybe, for making it to the weekend.  But here it is, the first Saturday in June, and it’s six-oh-three in the morning and it’s taking such a deliberate effort to keep her eyes shut that sleep’s already gone.

She tries to enjoy it anyway, but automated alarms start going off inside of her.  The kids’ll be up soon, and they’ll need breakfast and someone to break up the fights over the television.  Except they won’t.  Or, rather, will, but not here, not in her home, not today or any day until the end of the summer, when their father will pack them up (probably putting all of the expensive things he bought for them on top, where she can see them), and drive them back.  Then every other weekend with him, until the holidays, which is already looking like it’s going to get messy.  So they’re at his place, and probably already awake, and alone, and trying to fight quietly ‘cause they know better than to wake up their father before he does it himself.

But still, she can almost hear them, thumping lightly down the carpeted stairs, hitting the eighth and ninth square in the middle, thankfully (to her mothering heart) not yet knowing how to step on the edge of them to silence the creaks and gunshot pops.

Before she’s fully aware she’s doing it, she stands, grabs her robe from the chair in the corner, and follows their memory down the hallway and stairs.

2

There’s something wrong in the kitchen.  She doesn’t know what it is, if something’s missing or severely out of place or a different color—like the fridge, for instance.  She gets out the pan, the bacon first, then two eggs fried in the bacon grease.  Some orange juice and a couple of chocolate donuts for a chaser.  She gets the paper, finding it where she should, and sits down in the silence for her breakfast and Dear Abby, like she does every morning.  Except that’s what’s wrong.  It’s never this quiet.

She allows no time for thought, just lets the impulse take over.  By the time she’s on her feet she’s already made a mental note to call Anne and tell her to clear her couch all next week.  This is definitely getting certifiable.  But she won’t think about that now.  Just pick up the remote, change to channel nine, another super-hero battling another super-villain.  She turns the volume up to the earsplitting level where the kids would have it, and goes back to her food.  She eats in peace, enjoying reading about another bridal shower snafu, blessed for a bit, living without having to think about it.

3

There isn’t much she needs; she could, in fact, probably hold off until Monday and swing by the store near her office on the way home.  But nobody bothered asking her.  It’s Saturday morning, a little after seven-thirty:  it’s time to go to the store.  Q.E.D.  No question mark in sight.  And as such, it’s easy to tune out and let her autopilot take over.  She drives past the 7-11 two blocks down, gets onto the freeway, and drives for ten minutes, all the way to Playa Del Rey.  To the only supermarket in Southern California that carries a certain kind of chocolate toaster pastry which the kids are addicted to.  There’s no need to drive all the way out here for milk and wine and tampons, but again, no one’s asking.

She wanders the aisles slowly, leaning on her unneeded cart, following the regular route.  Occasionally her arm starts to rise as she reaches for one or another of the items she’d usually buy.  If the kids had been around to have used the old up.  It hadn’t been so noticeable during the week.  Work had been particularly hectic, and she’d only barely been aware that all of the little artifacts that the kids would leave behind in the course of their after-school lives weren’t popping up anymore.  The quiet had actually been nice, particularly after half a bottle of white wine.  What she is feeling now is subtle, almost devious.  It hits her like a bullet shattering her spine:  no pain, just a slowly dawning awareness that something significant has already happened to her.

She comes to aisle six, her autopilot steering a true course, and doesn’t notice the other shopper in the aisle until her cart runs into his.  She looks up, and even under the blanket of numbness she’s been knitting herself all morning, she can feel shapes moving, shock and surprise overwhelming the last parts of her worth taking.

“David.”

Her ex-husband looks, she’s sure, as bad as she does, if not worse.  He hasn’t shaved yet, and clumps of gray-speckled hair poke out from beneath an old baseball cap.  His T-shirt and sweatpants were probably slept in.  He’s staring feverishly at the shelf with the toaster pastries on it, the grinding gears of his memory nearly sending smoke out of his ears.  He hadn’t even noticed when she’d bumped his cart, but when she says his name he turns to her, the same compressed astonishment bringing his eyes briefly to life.

They look at each other for a moment, a long one.  This is no time for improvisation.  And then inspiration comes.  She motions with her head towards a section of the shelf he’d been staring at.

“Devil Bombs.”

He follows her gaze and finds what he’d been looking for.  He takes one, then thinks better of it and grabs another two boxes, dumping them into his jumbled cart.  A small smile hangs briefly from the side of his mouth, and for a bit they’re blessed.

“It’s hard.  To tell them no.”
“Isn’t it.”

The burning insults and threats that should follow dissolve on her lips.  They don’t mean anything right now.  She offers him a sad, wry smile, and continues on her way, trying hard not to look back and see if he’s watching her go.

New-to-you – If We Had A Yard

So, posting is slow these days.  Work is unchanged i.e. if I saw it coming towards me down a dark alley, I’d cast about for the nearest heavy object that might suffice to bash its skull in.  And would do so with a sick, drooling grin on my face.

New writing continues apace regardless, but apace means damn slow, so in the second of what I think will be an ongoing series (at least for as long as I’m lacking in latest-and-greatest), here’s another old story of mine.

If “The Maid” was the last real piece of fiction I wrote before the Dry Years, then “If We Had a Yard” was the first…it’s easily the oldest story that I can go back and read and not want to get blisteringly drunk afterwards.  Or if I do, it’s not from the shame of discovering the awkwardness that comes from huge desire, huge talent…and little acutal skill.  IWHAY is the first time I felt like the story that was in me actually made it to the page, at least mostly.

Enough fanfare…though I will pause to remind you that it, like all the New-to-you stories I post here, are included in the collection The Messy Divorce of Faith and Belief; buy one and know that you’ll have given my beautiful, waif-like daughter at least one fleeting moment of happiness (in other words, help subsidize our trip to Disneyland for her birthday).

From way back in 1996, an oldie-but-goodie, a platter that matters…


If We Had A Yard

There’s a yard below—I see it, sitting here at my desk.  It sees me too, but still, I feel invisible, like I’m the usual twenty or thirty floors up instead of just on the second.  The story I’m supposed to be writing sits, and waits—and its patience is infuriating—while I look out my window, and see.

There’s a yard below—kids are playing in it, but only two.  The first—eleven years old, all angles and joints still grinding the rough edges off against each other—has a plastic hockey stick and a plastic hockey net and a bunch of plastic hockey pucks and (I have one word for you) is hitting the third with the first into the second, over and over and over again.  The asphalt underneath is rough, and the sss—crAPE! of every shot echoes between our two small buildings until it’s all that I hear, and my poor, humble, clear window sings of it.

There’s a yard below—and the second kid is the older brother of the first.  They don’t look much alike, but that doesn’t mean much anymore.  The family dog is there too (named So-Co after dad’s favorite alcoholic comfort) and he’s found a purpose to his domesticated life.  Every time little bro takes a shot, So-Co leaps after it, snatching the puck in mid-rebound with a loud (plastic) click as his jaw snaps shut.  But whom does he retrieve the pucks to?  Older brother, of course, and when the meager supply of practice pucks runs dry, life happens.

There’s a yard below—and I can hear them as clearly as though the words and voices are my own.

“Hey.”

“What?”

“Little help?”

“. . .Oh.  You mean these?”

“Yeah.”

“. . .And?”

“Toss ‘em over here.”

“You’re the one up and moving ‘n shit. . .”

“Fine.”

“. . .Hold on.”

“What?”

“Possession. . .is. . .nine-tenths of the law.”

“So what?”

“What’re you gonna’ give me for ‘em?”

“This fucking stick through your fucking head.”

From the open window behind them comes a voice, old and masculine, drunk and preaching, Dad,

“WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE!”

They’re silent for a while, then just quieter.  There wasn’t any intimidation in little bro’s threat, but the older brother doesn’t seem to want to spend the effort to keep his game going.  The pucks are returned to their rightful owner, and then back into the net, and here comes So-Co, and so on.  But before little bro can run dry a second time, an increasingly loud, deep, rhythmic thumping draws close enough to be noticeable, recognizable.  A white car with windows tinted nearly opaque; small, with equally small and pretentious tires.  The bass track to another rap song has my window shaking in terror.  Little bro knows how his brother’s friends drive; he does not walk—he runs to the relative safety of inside, well down the hallway.  The car screeches to a stop less than a foot away from the family’s minivan, a door whooshes open (and the volume briefly trebles, and my window goes into seizures), and the firstborn is in and gone, without a trace.

There’s a yard below—I see little bro leaning in the doorway, plastic hockey stick dangling loosely in his hand.  He sees his brother, cruising through his city, doing. . .something.  Something important, maybe, or at least better than hitting plastic hockey pucks into a plastic hockey net with a plastic hockey stick.  Dad yells at him that he doesn’t care which side he’s on, just shut the fucking door.

There’s a yard below—it’s an alley, really, concrete and cinder-block walls and the occasional bricked-off patch of dirt.  But kids need a yard to play in, and you make do with what you have.  Things grow busy for a while, as the other tenants come home, parking their cars and treading listlessly up stairs and down hallways.  And night falls, quietly, without fanfare or debate.

2 Sketches – 7/26/09

These are the sketches I mentioned in my last post; they had titles while I was working on them, but I’ve removed them to avoid biasing too much whatever they turn into later.

*****

sketch 1


I…now…no…can’t…god…she…stop…burns…shouldn’t…

…oh god…

Small words escape static.  Eyes closed in shadow.  Control shakes and weeps.  And pain, a physical thing, he stands there untouched and is split, torque tearing him.  Fingers, grooves and drawn blood, wounds to keep the ache at bay.  His foot, tick, tock, ten and two and ten again, back and forth, timing down to an end.  Or not.

Ten and two and ten again, delaying and denying.  Soft scrape of sole.  And eyes, flicking, aimless.  Careless, light on him, visible and unwanted.  Or wanted.  Or not.  Waiting, or not.  Wanting, or not.

Tick, tock, ten and two and ten again.

He can hear, a cascade, echoing, memories pushing air, a million and one sounds, her voice, all meaning wanting.  Or not.  Every moment of certainty follows, pivoting, sure and sure again, back and forth, fallen petals.

She loves him.  Or not.  She’s waiting.  Or not.

Back and forth and back again, pristine and painted, possible cresting.  An asphalt Charon, descent or ascent, unpaid and waiting, whichever way.  And his foot ticks, tocks.  She waits, or not.  The hair on his arms stretches to her like the sun.  He shakes, vibrating off key, and maybe, just maybe, she’s waiting for him.

Suddenly, movement, action, bit and teeth, need paid and collecting.  A door, rising, path and gate and cage.  Fingers dancing, absent floor, almost but not quite, not just quite able.  Numbers memorized, sounds rehearsed, words possible, feet again still.

House to half, final breath, pray and stretch and avoid eye contact.  Once pays for all.

She’s waiting.  She wants.

And a rising curtain of human light, a single broad star, edge to edge, muted and wishless overhead.

*****

sketch 2


Broken laugh, jagged.  Bent wrists, bent back, bent eyes.  There’s a cough as she stands, a silent wince, and tiny sway as she begins to move.

“Did you finish yet?”

A small smile, wry, crossing the room.  Another cigarette, on the heels of the last, practiced yellow hands shake the match out and cover the subsequent cough.

“Wha?”

She dips and sways as she answers, counter and pointing to each beat.

“I said, did you finish yet?  Because you won’t after that.”

He looks down at his hands, the kit, battered leather case, tarnished altar, in media res.

“Well, I—…I didn’t…”

Synapses fire, and then ash, as cheeks sag and muscles release and eyes glaze closed.

“No, I didn’t think you did.”

A moment, lip bitten, then sigh.  Ripples as voices pass, echoes, former selves warring over what space remains.  And then a drag, ember flares, smoke escapes, tasted, and the cough.  No blood; someday, but not yet.

Change and terror

I seem to have reached a corner, someplace to turn in a new direction.  The last few pieces I’ve done (they’re going up as their own post so they don’t get lost in this one) are suggesting to me that the concern I’ve already mentioned—that I can feel narrative and longer works starting to creep back in—is more and more a possibility.  And I’m trying to be okay with that, but it isn’t easy.

Where I work, we had a consultant—and not some dimwit motivational speaker, but a guy with an actual PhD in neuropsychology—come in and give a seminar on some management skills, and he had a particularly interesting take on the basic cycles that people go through.

The cycle goes like this:  exaltation, terror, boredom.

It starts with either being hired or getting a promotion; either way, the person is effectively in a new job.  And they are generally ecstatic.  More money, more privileges, more of every new thing.  But this only lasts so long.  After a few days, the excitement generally goes away…you might still be pleasantly surprised when looking at a business card or responsibilities chart and seeing your name under a title that just weeks or months ago wasn’t the case, but for the most part, exaltation only lasts as a primary state a few days at most.  Within a month, that larger paycheck is the norm, and still not enough to let you live the life you wish to become accustomed to.

And then terror kicks in.  The realization that, yes, you’ve got a new title, more money, more privileges…and more responsibilities, more things to do, many of which you’ve never done before.  You may have gotten the job or promotion because you were working at a higher level than was expected at your prior job or position, but now, instead of operating at 110% of what was expected, if you keep on doing what you were doing, you’ll only be doing 10% of what was expected of you.  You’ve got to shift into an entirely new gear, one that no one—including you—is sure you’ll be able to reach…

But for the most part, you’re able to do so.  And just like your last job or position, you over time grow to master what’s required of you.  There’s no more terror at whether or not you can do it, just the stress of whether or not you’ll have enough time/resources/help to get it done as and when it needs to be.

And that’s when boredom starts to set in:  when you already know how to do what you need to do, and there’s no new challenges right in front of you.

The point of the initial seminar was that, as managers, you should strive to keep your employees in the terror state of the cycle as much as possible…I know how it sounds, and so did he, he was actually a very good guy.  His point was that exaltation only lasts a few days at most, and generally doesn’t lead to much work getting done:  you’re too busy ordering new business cards, updating email signatures and staring at the extra numbers on your paycheck.  And boredom is the worst state to be in:  that’s where complacency sets in, and mistakes are made, and your most dissatisfied workers are those who are in the boredom state long enough to just stop caring.

It’s when you’re in terror that you’re at your most productive; you’re constantly striving to accomplish something you haven’t done before, thinking through things in a new way, and pushing hard to master what’s before you.  You don’t actually have to be in “terror” in this state…it’s more about being fully engaged and committed to giving the work in front of you everything you have…though that seed of uncertainty in the pit of your stomach is certainly a good motivator.

And I happen to think that this cycle description matches up with most things in life, no matter how great or small.

Say you’re teaching yourself some basic cooking techniques and recipes (that’s the hiring/promotion/exaltation part)…you start out with tomato-based pasta sauces (very easy and tasty), trying different ones, cooking for the people you live with, even branching out to create new ones that don’t come from a recipe in a book (that’s the terror part).  Until you feel like you’ve got a good handle on them, there’s nothing really new to learn (not without adding some exotic new ingredients or taking a trip to Italy…that’s the boredom part)…so you decide to try out some cream-based sauces, or even adapting the sauces you already know to non-pasta applications, like braises or marinades.  And so the cycle begins again.

Or, say you’ve been married for a few years (the exaltation part), and decide to have a child (the terror part)…and, well…actually, I don’t think the boredom part ever sets in for this example, at least it hasn’t for me and my wife after five years…but you get my point.

When something new shows up, we’re excited by what’s new and how things change.  And then the change actually happens, and it’s discomforting, and scares us a bit, and shakes up our lives.  And then we get used to it (for the most part), and boredom and complacency set in, until something new comes along.

To be honest, the way that I’ve actually integrated this into my life is not to focus on the cycles (though it’s a good way to place where either I or someone I know is in their life, and hopefully better relate to them), but to use them as markers:  when I start feeling bored, or complacent, or even just that I have a pretty firm understanding of what’s going on…that’s when it’s time for a change, for something new.

And I know I’ve only been pursuing this strict, pure P.E.M. thing for a little about two months now, but it’s no longer really scaring me…I’m feeling more and more comfortable with it, and have a pretty clear idea of what I’m trying to accomplish and how to do it…which means it’s time for this to evolve, and for me to set different goals with my work.

I think the last two pieces I’ve done have been sketches more than microfiction.  I like them, they’re exactly what I want them to be right now, but they’re not finished, and that lack comes not from a few missing words or lines.

The point of a sketch—at least as I understand it, though I should caveat that I have so much visual artistic talent that my 4 year-old daughter can already draw better than I can—isn’t to form the skeleton of the final piece of art.  It’s not intended to in any way actually be the final art, or a meaningful part of it.  It’s so you can get whatever it is that’s chewing you up inside out of you, into the flesh, so you can let it sit, and breath, and then later come back, with deliberate intent and some perspective, to create anew the actual art you were intending to.

And that’s the case with both of these pieces.  There’s a larger story here for both of them…maybe the same story, just different days, different places.  That part doesn’t matter so much, at least not right now.  What matters is finding some way to feel okay with their brevity, with the threads of essence I can still see surrounding them, waiting to be woven into a larger whole.

And then to dive head first into the terror and try to figure out exactly what that larger whole is.

I don’t feel like I’m done with these pieces.  And I’m not.  But what I have right here, right now, these sketches…they’re done.

And maybe putting them up here will help get them fully out of me, give them flesh, so they can sit, and breathe.  And we’ll let later take care of itself.