Tellers in rank at the bank counter, each of them unaware of the vault teller, the one who feeds the tellers, behind them destroying credit cards over a trash bin, and she cries:
“Just chopped off the top of my finger!”
One of the tellers overhears something and turns around. “What did you say?” he asks. The other tellers remain oblivious.
“I chopped off the top of my finger…well, at least I found it,” she replies, cradling her hand in a saturated napkin. The fingertip is nestled in its folds. The vault teller retreats to the manager’s office, and the women inside gasp and cry out.
“The bleeding won’t stop! Who has a car close by?”
A third of the staff pile into a common car and rush the vault teller off to the hospital. She doesn’t return with them.
Black nightime and we’re falling through membranes of sleep. A cat, the cat, cries at the window to be let in. I throw the covers off and swing a leg out of bed. No lights, indoors or out. The cat comes in and I wonder if he’s eaten. He beelines for his food dish and so naked I fetch a can of cat food from the kitchen. I flip the dining room light. In his mouth: an adolescent rabbit saying nothing at all. Sigh.
I peel the lid and dump the food in the bowl, offering the cat a choice. He waffles, finally stowing the rabbit. He tends to it before he goes for the food dish, patting it and nuzzling it. He lets go and I clear him away with my foot. The rabbit I pick up by the loose skin along his spine and take him into my bedroom. She is beneath the covers of my bed, at whose foot I stand offering the silent rabbit in the air. A piece of leaf is stuck to its eye.
“Lookee here,” I say. Groggily she shifts to see me in the dark.
“What is that?”
“It’s a rabbit,” I say, silhuoetted against the streetlight filtering through the blinds.
An old man stopped us as we were walking in the street.
“There have been folks in my line who’ve lived to be over one hundred years old in fact we’ve traced (my brother has traced) our geneology back to 1400 in Eggleston, England you know, our name’s etymology is Eccles’Home, “Eggleston”, right, so the Eggleston who first came to America decided to leave the UK when he was 59 years old, which in those days meant “borrowed time” and his four sons said they wouldn’t come along on the trip, “old man the voyage will kill you” they said and so when he landed he sent four letters and they arrived in Eggleston, Virginia not long after and as time went on they moved further into the midwest, “and here you are” I said and he said “here I am” and now I’ve been sober for 21 years (since I was 49) and I’ll be seventy this year just got a titanium hip ten weeks ago and lemme tell ya things have changed, son, i mean they used to have to slice straight through the muscles in your buttocks (there are a lot of ’em, because that part has to hold everything else up) but now they just have this godforsaken spreader and they just peel the muscles apart and get right down to the top of your femur and while you’re zonked out of your skull on shots, oh what, an epidural, I think, and I could have been over in the park dancing naked with you (and your girl, too, if we’re lucky)and then they saw off the part of the femur they want to replace and go in with a grinder and grind your hip socket smooth and in that hour they make sure that the replacement will be able to move in every direction you’ll ever need it to and it’s not painless, no, it swells up something fierce the next day, and I mean everything swells up but the procedure took an hour and a half and I was up walking later that day, better than before and I asked the doctor how many years that ought to shave off my life expectancy and they couldn’t believe I was 69 so he said at this point it’d only take off about five years so i might not live to see 110 but 103’s in range but I’m lucky to have gotten this far, man, I almost bit it in Vietnam, I mean, had I ever gotten there I’d have gone down with the rest of the 30% or so of the boys from my town who didn’t come back, you see, in the draft they assigned you a number and it was numeric the way they called you so if you started number 25 and thirteen got called all of a sudden you’d be in the next batch if they called the next twelve so I came in 38th and finally one day my mother, who was friends with the recruiter who knew the numbers, she found out I was number 2 and she called me and said no way was I dying in a goddamn rice paddy in Vietnam, she’d drive me to Canada herself and she never drove a lick before and I told it just wouldn’t work so I worked to get into the Reserves and two days after I got in the letter arrived in my mother’s mailbox but it was sent three days prior and so I had just gotten in but the next day my Reserve unit was called so for the next year I bounced from base to base getting trained and after that year I found myself floating on the Pacific toward that Hell-hole when it came over the wire that the war was over so we turned right around there in the middle of the ocean and came home, but if you’ve ever visited the Memorial, that huge wall of pure onyx, they list the names by the town and date about half the guys that went in that wave I should have gone in didn’t make it back, man, I saw their names and I couldn’t even cry out loud I just choked and choked, son, I couldn’t look at it because really I should have been on that list but here I am, sober for 21 years and equipped with a new hip but now I’ve got diabetes, you see that tremor in my hand, that comes around when I’m low on sugar so if you see me and I’m shaking you better toss me a banana chip or one of these dried golden raisins but if I’m sweating you’ll know I’ve had too much sugar so watch out in those cases but I see you’re busy, I’m probably boring you to death but my wife and daughter are out of town and if you’re interested in buying a house in the neighborhood you ought to see my handiwork because there are NO jobs right now and I’ve done a lot of work inside my house, well, you ought to come in and see it but if the front door’s locked we might not be able to get in and yep, it’s locked so maybe some other time but really you ought to stop by later…”
“Thanks, Mr. Eggleston,” we chimed and walked off, totally deflated.
2008 started poorly for me. My schoolwork hadn’t escalated in difficulty and I was having relationship issues. S, who for two years had slept next to me, was bored. Routine had sucked the life out of both of us and by March, when she left, inertia propelled even our lovemaking.
A few rainy days later, I sat alone at my coffee table and vaguely a car hummed closer and closer to my drive, pulled up, and shut off. It was K, my roommate. He came in and I was sucking at a quarter-full jug of grapefruit juice.
“Check this shit out,” he said. From under his arm he plopped a fat, white package down on the table. It was an over-fat shipping envelope, sealed with clear tape.
“That,” I said, “is a kilo of cocaine. You really know how to make a Monday morning feel like a Friday night.”
“Secret package,” he said, referencing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, where part of the fun lies in manipulating an avatar to collect these “satchels”. “I’m not even joking – you know where I found it?”
I lifted the satchel. Within rested something definite, with edges; not powder. I asked K where it had been.
“You know that bridge-thing over Indiana Ave., where the trains go over-“
“The viaduct,” I offered.
“-the viaduct, yeah. It was sitting right under there.”
“Yeah, just hanging out,” he said.
“Well,” I wondered, squeezing the package. “Wanna open it?”
K came around the other side of the coffee table and sat down, resting a Burger King sack on the glass. “I don’t know, man,” he said. “It could be anything.”
“Anthrax,” said K.
“Bullion,” I said.
“You fucking open it.”
“Fuck that,” he said, harvesting a loose french fry from the bag. The package gleamed beneath the overhead light, unaddressed and naked. I turned it over in my hands but found nothing, no markings to betray its owner or where that person might live. Two images shot through my mind: first, a homemade bomb. Second: a bar of gold.
The tape was good tape, sturdy and sticky. I tugged at it without luck, finally slicing through with a kitchen knife. Kevin watched.
Five of them were packed together inside the wrapping. They were small and pale, with italicized title reading “Being or Nothingness”. The title hovered over an imprint of MC Escher’s “Drawing Hands”. The author? One “Joe K”; no surname given, just a floating initial.
“A bunch of books?” I asked.
K grumbled and flipped on the XBOX 360 and the TV. I opened the top copy. Nestled between the cover and the first page was a typed letter. It read:
November 9, 2006
Dear Professor Hofstadter,
Your last e-mail had an encouraging tone that made me happy. I was afraid of making some statement that might jeopardize our good relationship. Instead I went ahead and sent the letters. For the same reason I didn’t acknowledge receiving your articles. I have browsed through them and realize that I have interesting studies ahead of me. Thank you for your generosity.
By now the seven letters should have arrived and hopefully you are a little curious. As you get ready to read “The full circle”, I want to give you a word of caution. When I encountered the manuscript, many years ago, I was totally unprepared. I had found some old typewritten pages carelessly thrown in the corner of an abandoned railroad station, where I had taken refuge after leaving a party that had gotten out of control. As circumstances would have it I started to read and discovered patterns I had to explore.
The manuscript has a reproduction of Escher’s “Drawing Hands” on its cover. Should the text resemble what its cover implies it to be, reading it could be dangerous. Had I sent a copy without comments, it might have caused harm. Our correspondence assures that you have a vision of a writer as you read. Also, by disclosing passages in advance I hope to have intrigued you enough, not to dismiss the manuscript as esoteric nonsense.
Before you proceed, I should mention that the manuscript can be viewed as a religious document. The text can be incorporated into both the Jewish and the Christian tradition, but doing so with too much vigour would be to narrow its scope. Whether it is embraced and cherished or rejected and condemned does not depend on what religious or ideological belief system the reader subscribes to. Deep down it is a matter of faith and choice.
There you are! I have disclosed almost everything I know about the manuscript. It is time for you to address this strange loop. It would please me if you were to give me some sort of feedback. The manuscript has not been made public, partly because, like Conan Doyle, I hesitate whether the world is ready but also since I am not sure that the patterns I perceive are really there. I realize that I might be mistaken and will neither object nor be offended if this turns out to be your opinion.
With kind regards,
I read the letter twice before flipping to the first page. The words didn’t play over in my head so much as did Joe K’s diction, the sort of near-lucidity in melody and timbre that cast his apparent mental instability into relief. Betrayed here was a mind overwrought, a pair of bloodshot eyes before a terminal in a dark room, the poor bastard unaware that the sun has set on him. A sentence comes, or a word, something worth typing that he’s found in the black and then it’s time to crack a knuckle, ruffle an eyebrow, or give his sparse hairs a righteous tug. If he didn’t get it down it would have been lost, and so the hours bled on for him until the screen went blurry. His knotted legs carried him to bed, where he slumped down wearing the clothes from the day before.
“You have to read this,” I said. “This guy’s half-there.” I held a copy out to him.
“Nah, I’m alright. I’ll pick one up later and look at it. What’s it about?”
“Not sure.” And I wasn’t; about the world there live several computer scientists, philosophers, cognitive scientists, and other technical-field wizards who’ve been trained to decipher the brand of gibberish I found on those twenty-one pages. Somehow, I knew the name “Hofstadter”.
“I’m going to write this Hofstadter,” I said.
“The guy the letter’s addressed to. I swear I’ve heard that name somewhere.” I had. A good friend of mind, P, was co-president at the time of the IU Student Organization for Cognitive Science, the field in which Douglas Hofstadter is a living legend. On a hunch I visited IU-Bloomington’s Address Book page on the university’s web site, where my suspicions were confirmed:
I wrote him. He sent a kind response, even praising a turn of phrase I’d used. Later I discovered he’d won a Pulitzer, at which point I swelled with juvenile pride. He invited me to his home near campus, where we’d speak and I’d deliver the package I’d assumed was meant for him.
An overcast Wednesday found me on his doorstep, nearly on campus, in a neighborhood peopled with tenured professors, professors Emeriti, and other established university folk. I knocked on his wooden door. It glided open, the interior doorknob in the soft fingers of a stunning French exchange student. Hers was the brand of beauty that foments spontaneous perspiration and stammering, both of which characterized my address:
“C-can I…I’m here to meet Mr. Hofstadter,” I blurted. Her accent was sharp yet inviting, like caramel over nougat.
“Come in, please,” she said. Anything, I thought. A narrow mud room opened on one side to a study, and the other a large den/dining area bordered with bookcases. Upon the large mahogany dining table rested the war-strategy game Risk, still in its old box. There were several people in both rooms and they held several key traits in common: each of them were young, attractive French or Belgian women and it appeared that at least most of them lived in that house. I ogled everything, was ogling a student crowned with particularly effective blonde hair, when Professor Hofstadter stepped in from the kitchen to greet me.
‘Andy Warhol’, I thought as I shook his hand. He looked thin but healthy in modest brown shoes, slacks, and a button-down shirt.
“Are these yours?” I asked. He accepted the ripped-open package and examined one of the books, furrowing his brow.
“You know, I seem to recall this person. It’s been years, though,” he said, “since I’ve corresponded with him.”
“Who is he, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I can’t…well, I think that he said he was a psychologist, or something, and Swedish,” he explained. The Swede apparently had not made much of a splash.
“A Swedish psychologist?”
“Yes. I think he’s a crackpot.” We spoke a little more and parted. He thanked me and allowed me to keep a copy of the book as thanks for my effort in reporting this strangeness. Thus “Being or Nothingness” came home with me. I skimmed it once more. A lowly creative writer, a student even, I rejected the clunky, uneven translation and what I sensed was the overall lack of coherence in the piece; I didn’t like it. It creeped me out a little, and so I showed it to my friend D.
One night I visited her house, which at the time she shared with her lover, Ae. We sat on silken cushions around their low coffee table; me facing the windows and the girls, who faced the kitchen. Above us hung paper lanterns in the Chinese style. D called this corner of their living room “the Opium Den”.
“This is fucking insane!” she cried when she’d thumbed through it. “Where did you get it?”I told her the story of the viaduct. Ae slung her arm around D’s waist and kissed her on the cheek, a move made to gain better vantage. She’d tucked her long, black hair behind her ear and the open book was reflected in her glasses. The girls had made a spicy dish for me and as we read passages aloud the sauce dried on our plates.
I read: “Brace yourself and turn the pages gently as you embark on a strange journey through time and space.”
D read: “I am the Giant Rat of Sumatra.”
Ae giggled at this and read: “I am Joe K – You are Joe K…as quoted from Joe K.” Pages were consumed with carefully chosen Axioms, followed then by a dream description rife with terry-cloth socks, followed by seven pages holding three lines apiece in reference to the seven days of the Christian creation myth. He closes with the Lord’s Prayer and a cautionary afterword against holding “Being or Nothingness” in your hands. Mostly, each page was empty.
Brimming with indifference, I gifted the book to D, who was wholly repulsed by it. She in turn gifted it to Ae, who presumably still has it. “Presumably” because D and Ae no longer speak. They resolved that summer to work for an underground group of homosexual pot farmers called the F’s, who control some of the most prodigious farms in the country on the sly. They left together and came back separately, D first. As we’d become friends first, I sympathized with her (without empathy, but my heart was in it) when she sobbed that their Pagan rituals left her feeling excluded, as she was Christian. Ae had abandoned her to partake of those rituals in the woods, magnifying her loneliness. I helped D pack up her half of the house, but forgot to scan for Joe K’s book.
After parting with the book, two things happened. First, my friend A recorded me telling this story in a video experiment, which can be found on Google video by entering “Godel, Escher, Bach” in the search field. [note: in retrospect, i seem to be even more inflammatory in my jack-assery than I’d recalled. No disrespect intended toward Dr. Hofstadter.]
A year passed. The book did not enter my thoughts.
April 2009 brought me a message from A, whom I hadn’t spoken to in months. He cited two web sites, Ask.Metafilter and a fellow named Muriloq’s blog, both of which contain information regarding a miniature global community built around Joe K’s book. That more satchels might have reached others outside of Bloomington hadn’t occurred to me in the year since I’d had contact with the work. These web spaces provided a mine of theories and angles surrounding what the book (and more intensely its distribution) might mean. One of the contributors had found the video A had made and had posted it, labeling it a “frat boy rock-and-roll Hofstadter story”. Admittedly I bristled some, the way a person might bristle at the thought of earning any derogatory adjective, but ultimately was fascinated that this community even existed.
I began to dig. One theory claims that Joe K took to viral marketing to promote his book. The people posting on Muriloq’s Blog had considered this, and had found common ground among their ranks: they were computer scientists studying artificial intelligence, philosophers, theologists, an astrophysicist…also, most received the package at their university or college office address rather than at home, implying that the sender could have easily Googled them to find this information. I did not fit either of these conditions and neither did K, A, or Ae. D had graduated with companion French and Philosophy degrees. Also, the posters had all received the package, implying that it had been addressed. Single copies of the book were received in England, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Iran, and other disparate locales.
That the above theory hasn’t been fully embraced makes it easier to accept others: “Joe K”, for instance, being an anagram for “joke”, or a display of mimetics in action, given that such a vast network of people employed similarly had been nonsensically linked. After studying their backgrounds and finding myself grossly unqualified to discuss this phenomenon on their terms, I worked out my own in a way suited to my current station: I logged on to Facebook.
I wrote a public note, adding together the pieces I’d gathered (A’s video and the website addresses) and scrolled through my alphabet of friends, tagging those who I’ve known to be ravenous researchers (generally) and some in fields which align with those mentioned above. Some of them responded, citing interest in storytelling method or the simple novelty of the situation. My present girlfriend’s mother, N, seemed to think that the books had shipped from France.
That the package K had discovered lacked shipping information suggested that it’d been smuggled over the pond in personal luggage. Hofstadter housed several French borders. If one of them had brought the package with them, it would implicate Dr. Hof as the brain behind the scheme. Although I couldn’t imagine myself as belonging to the group of scholars who had also received the book, I began to feel as though my link in the chain, seemingly the broken one, might prove equally as valid as any of the others. On April 25th, 2009, I drafted the tale and threw my hat into the ring.
The messages that have arrived in my gmail inbox since the day I opened it have had some of the finest headings I’ve seen on any message, anywhere. This week’s crop:
Sea Otters Coated in Oil? Never again!
support your bed event
Acai diet, lose weight without impossible diets
Perfect luxury which is affordable for anybody.
Price for 100mg X 30 pills $3.33 per pill
boost your sexual adventures
Pretty women worldwide will know about your big pride
Old teacher taught pupils to jerk
Get the best experience you ever had
Get your pecker boosted
Get a pole larger than your forearm
You can be the man of steel
Your manhood really depends on the inches inside your pants
So usually I delete these right away, but these were priceless. I was tempted when I read “Get the best experience you ever had” to click and hope for the best possible context for that statement, as if it might, by some miracle of gypsy magic, be subjective. Somehow it’s only my gmail spam box that gets flooded with this stuff. The others receive bulk mail from my credit card companies and retail outlets besides.
Today I’m sitting outside on a chaise lounger in the sun, having decided to forego class. Creative nonfiction…I don’t know. I don’t understand it. It’s not at all clear to me what I’m expected to produce in that class, and how a writer is supposed to grow there. I feel more interested in telling a story than spilling my guts all over the page. It’s my issue. Writing fiction has helped me develop a carapce which makes it difficult to relate honestly what might have happened in a given situation. I’m not that close to the work, and I think it shows.
It’s not a “sometimes” thing, though, this typing. It’s every day, and half the time I don’t want to. Like right now. I’d rather be sitting here with a beer and drinking myself into an afternoon nap on my front lawn. I think I’ll try and find real work in New Orleans.
I was glad I wasn’t in love, that I wasn’t happy with the world. I like being at odds with everything. People in love often become edgy, dangerous. They lose their sense of perspective. They lose their sense of humor. They become nervous, psychotic bores. They even become killers.
It’s true. I can’t even begin to enumerate the ways in which remaining in Indiana has damaged my personality and my ability to communicate. It’s probably why I write. People there live in this Goddamn bubble of hick safety which permits them to grow to be huge (hugely mediocre) fishes in their tiny little ponds. To feel like a fat cat even when on the grand scale you’re a timid dweeb is the goal, and fuck the rest because they don’t swim with you. GAH I CAN’T STAND IT ANYMORE GET ME OUT I WANT OUT I CAN’T BREATHE ANYMORE I AM DAMAGED FOR LIVING THERE SO LONG AND SUFFOCATED AND I’M TAKING IT OUT ON MY LOVERS AND THEY ARE FUCKING LEAVING IT IS ALL MY FAULT OR YOURS, INDIANAAaaaaaaaa
And so this morning hasn’t held much in the way of interesting happenings. I’m back at Tryst. You know what that means? That’s right, it’s time for the Rabid Character Sketcher to come alive and leer at people again. Who are we skeezing out today? I’m glad you asked!
Directly across from me in a comfortable chair is writer-guy. We are wearing the same shoes: Note-Taker 9000s. We both have blue jeans on. He is of…Italian descent? Beard shadow and greased hair, thick eyebrows and a notepad. Unfortunately for him, he has blue eyes. In them is reflected the great picture window through which he’s staring…right now. I’d say he’s looking at the facade across the street, but know better. He’s got the flush of writer’s block in his cheeks.
Sitting next to him is Ripped Old Guy. We are both wearing tight black t-shirts. He has curly gray hair that used to be blond. A pair of wire-frame rectangular glasses sits over his nose; they’re too wide for his face. He’s wearing gray denim jeans. Oops! Very hip with his MacBook and iPod earbuds.
Next to me is Shaky Girl. She’s spilled her tea several times now and ordered soup, the dessicated remains of which you’ll find next to my shoes, mixed with tea. She has next to no hair, by choice. She’s pretty, and compulsively and vainly checks her Gmail.
I’m reading “Women” by Bukowski, which has granted me license to look at all of these people through a shameless lens. I also just read a short story by a friend and gave him notes. I tend to think there’s an economy in all that reading, meaning that if you’re at it long enough, and you’re doing it actively, it actually decreases the amount of energy you have to write afterward. I could be tired from a shitty sleep, but when I think about finishing this essay I’ve got to crack on (worth THREE credits, mind you) all the inspiration just runs down my leg. Whaddya gonna do? Probably take a shower and drink some green beer, take some photos and get thrown in jail. Let’s do this right.
Volcanic ash pirhouettes down, down, pocking the trees and buildings gray and dusty. The cards are falling on the table slowly as if from a great height, such that I can’t see where they’re coming from and am surprised when they finally land. I’m diving head-first into life’s weirdness, and feel at home. This is the way it always has been for me. I’m okay on the burning fringe, but when the air starts to smell of oases’ palms I start to get nervous and shut down.
What the fuck am I talking about? I’m feeling the pull of travel: wanderlust. Southeast Asia is calling, and I can’t fathom why or how I hear it. I’m hanging out in Washington, DC right now and while it’s neat to be in a place where there’s so much diversity and opportunity, it’s still capitalist America, and I don’t appreciate it. Probably experiencing conditions in other countries will help me appreciate it.
Let’s talk about the people in this coffee shop. There’s a couple sitting at opposite ends of a small table. He’s busy at his laptop…they are friends, but not a couple, I don’t think. She’s reading a book. They aren’t old…well, maybe she’s in her 40s and he’s in his early 50s. He has a dumpy, cream-colored baseball cap and an honest, shaven face. She’s raven-haired and wears a translucent brown barette. Her green coat is slung carelessly over her chair; it’s lining is plaid. He has jowls, but they’re from age rather than any degree of being overweight. He has no sideburns, and she has flecks of silver in her hair. A yellow flower on the table marks the meridian between them.
I’m sitting next to a disused fireplace on the south wall and if I look at an 80-degree angle to my left and across the room, a short-haired fellow in blue flannel is sitting at the bar. He’s got glasses and a thin face, and is reading a book. He pauses now and again to scan the cafe for familiar or pretty faces. His leather jacket is bunched up on the bar, along with his backpack.
On the other side of the fireplace there are two comfortable chairs, both occupied. On the left we have a short-haired fellow in a white button-down shirt. His hair is brown and maybe a little greasy, hanging limply over an encroaching forehead. He is nearly chinless. Like me, a laptop sits in his lap. He has straight-cut blue jeans and white casual walking shoes. I order a coffee, and so does he. A little end table separates him from the fellow on the right, also nursing a laptop. This fellow has expenxive jeans and basketball shoes. He is wearing a gray winter hat and is clearly muscular beneath his black shirt. When he orders his very specifc drink (latte, no foam, no this, no that) he smiles, which casts his cheeks, chin, and a brow in high relief; he has next-to-no body fat, and is more expressive for it. His laptop is plugged into some hidden plug inside the fireplace.
Looking around, it seems that mostly men are patronizing this place this morning. The ratio is skewed at least 2:1, maybe 3:1. I wonder why these people aren’t working on a Monday morning. Am I working? It’s unclear.
Megan has asked that I not follow her here. She sees nothing for our future together. That was tough to take, but has been before so it hurt less this time. We’re still seeing each other for now, but will part when the time comes for us to leave the town we live in now. Every time I spend a year with a girl it’s weird to leave her. It feels wrong, you know? I still have a lot to learn about the world, I think. I’m not in a hurry. I look back on the parade of smiling lovers, all waving goodbye to me, and am thankful to have spent time with any of them. I’ll miss Megan, though. I’ve been lucky to have dated some brilliant women and she’s no exception. I know I’ll regret not being around to see her skyrocket.
The bathroom here is grimy, but so am I.
Back to southeast Asia. Thailand. Thereveda Buddhism = 94%. People just being rather than striving to become something they’re presently not. What class ceilings could there be if you’re desireless? Of course I understand too little of the culture to speak intelligently on it, but that will change. I’m thinking about writing a series of travel journals dressed as novels, a sort of Gonzo-esque account of expat. life in various countries, like Bill Bryson might do but with more of an edge. I really want to paint for a Western audience a picture of themselves as passed through a foreign lens; THIS is what you look like to this culture, America, because THESE are the people you’ve sent here, or something along those lines. Just something biting and blunt (like a good youthful writer might attempt in his endless insolence and pluck) for the masses to see. It feels like a valid step toward establishing the kind of global community I envision when I lapse into “Mad Scientist Dictator” mode. Do I envision anarchy? I don’t think so, but anymore the definition’s been bastardized so much it’s hard to tell. I envision fluidity, an organic global lifestyle that allows people to pass from one sphere to the next and onto the next with as little friction as possible. Misunderstanding feels like a desert of sand in the gears of world culture and my work, if I’m successful, will be designed to act as an oasis mechanic might in the same situation: douche, scrub, polish, replace. Why will my narrow point of view be considered valid? It won’t at first. I’m not going to stop until something interesting falls onto the page, and when it does I assume I’ll hear about it. /churn churn churn
Keep going, Pyle, or you’ll be caught and broken in the trundling wheels.
Oh yeah, the title of this post. Had a brief word with my mother this morning about various things, and it came out that I rely on evil to convey me through the day, and then that I don’t believe in evil as it’s commonly defined. What is evil? Our ancient bestial nature? That part of us that considers daily “What would happen if…”? Is it weird to think that good is so easy to see in everyone all the time that eventually it begins to waft a peculiar, familiar stink? I’ve had to peel friends like onions to find their foibles sometimes, and on occasion this has taken a long time. Finding the darkness in a person is thrilling because it provides counterpoint to their facade, the methodology behind which provides incredible insight into how they operate in other sectors. I don’t know…evil seems really easy to label outside of context but is painted in shades when you look a little closer. That’s what I want to do, I think, when it comes to literature: I want to paint evil in shades like John Hersey, and without casting judgment hold American popular thought up for itself to see and smell.
The only trick left to pull is getting out of here.
Something new is to move forward without glancing back and self-editing through the piece. The most important thing is to drive forward without care to all the mistakes and logic fallacies, just MOVE ON and take the shots as they come when we’re working the back end. Pepper the page with ink and progress, not even looking, just watching the world go by through the window and typing, typing, without regard for content; just GOING. Thinking about Dulles and Reagan! Which one am I to fly into tomorrow? I never know what’s going on in my life and I’ve been incredibly lucky that other have shown enough interest in me to keep me at my appointments because the analysis and consideration never stop and heading out of here will put me in a situation where I HAVE to be present with hands on the levers and dials of a new city. I have to crank and turn and dodge and won’t have time to mess around in my brain, which is just what I need to keep the juices from being recycled up there. That’s what’s going on, I think, is that the same old ideas are beating down the stems in the field, wearing a common and comfortable path through there that SO EASILY becomes a groove, deepens into a rut, and finally matures into a crevasse which I’ve got to claw myself out of at least once a year. The phrase “Lipstick Hierophant” came to mind this morning, and I don’t know why. Also, “Meat Rebellion”, followed by “Meet Rebellion” and “Mete Rebellion”. A twenty-gallon sombrero you could row across a river. Somehow I’m drawn to red pea coats as worn by young women. They catch my eye. This is a mystery to me. When it comes to me, red pea coats are definitely on the menu. Also intriguing is how people tend to look a certain way based on where they’re from. I see an American and I say: That’s an American. I have an overpowering fondness for cowboy boots with squirrelly designs on them. I’d like a pair or three. In South Dakota (boot country) I found a pair of caiman-skin boots worth every dime of the $400 sticker price. I’ve told myself that when I become wealthy enough I’ll own several pairs of cowboy boots and from that point forward take NO CRAP off NOBODY. The boots, if you’re left wondering, foment the mindset and work (WORK) to sustain it. They up your Grit by several degrees of magnitude. They don’t have to have flames on them, if you’re wondering that, either. Why boots? This woman has come into the branch and is sitting across from me. I would look her way to take in her powerful boots but she’s sitting straight-legged and I could easily be taken for a pervert and mind you, an eye twitch from twenty feet would confirm it. I don’t trust myself to look her way, so in keeping her in my periphery I can almost make out the teal and purple designs on those lovely black boots. They are very “gypsy”, and make me think that maybe she’s Japanese. Min the Japanese gypsy with powerful boots and sheer black leggings. She’s a man-eater. Her hair sits defiantly on her shoulders like it would rather be tousled or whipped in the wind. This effect, I believe, is magnified by her boots, which I’m forcing myself not to look at for the sake of her gypsy dignity. Ironically, she’s wearing a red pea coat. Destiny? Is that you, old friend? Where have you been? No, I am not within her league for my lack of real footwear. That’s Real footwear, in case you were wondering, the kind which increase your Grit tenfold. I feel like sometimes my shoes offend the the planet and ought to be burned. I’ll walk barefoot until I can afford Real planet-reverent footwear, boots whose tracks improve the landscape. Making tracks. This is Exodus Week on campus, where the kiddies clear out and head to hot-weather places to imbibe and fornicate. Good for them. It is spring after all, and we all have to frolic in each other’s pants, don’t we? That’s over the line. Barred! Lunch time quickly approaches and these are awfully dangerous things to be sketching on a company computer. Why tempt them, or give them ammunition against me? Why not? Joblessness in a recession; what a nightmare. Can’t hack it. I’d have to do something. Karass. It means something. It means a lot and the people on the fringe are worth snagging when you can. Keep that in mind: Karass.
Today’s mind-melt: thoughts of being genuine. As a gemini these thoughts are usually swirling but today some came home to roost during a conference with a professor and an MFA student: Samrat and Alex. I don’t even know if “genuine” is the word…I’m real enough but my point in this fiction class hasn’t been to write for myself. In the conference I brought up having gotten to know the other students as I’ve been seeing their work for three semesters and kind of know what to expect from them, always tend to give them similar feedback, and have grown to like them. Sadly, I suppose, my mission in writing has been to entertain them. I want to make them laugh, make them go “Huh!”, etc.
This has proven a problem. They’ve said my work feels “emaciated” or suppressed. Alex said it seems like I’m holding back, like a given character might seem like an asshole but the reader is expected to sympathize…no, that’s not exactly it…it’s hard to describe. I guess it’s like writing an asshole on purpose but then pleading with your audience to like the character. It’s got that pleading element to it, like it’s palpable that I’m trying to please them. That’s been the problem.
Two conferences before mine they told this kid to pull back on the lyricism, that his language gets away from him and he needs to reign it in. They told me that I write very nice sentences and want me to LET IT RIP. I told them that I don’t let it rip because I have compassion for the class and want to spare them and Samrat took that as arrogance, like I was saying “I know I have it but I choose not to use it”, but really I’ve fallen to wanting to entertain. It’s stifling me; rather, I’m stifling me and today was a landmark day in my battle against my natural will toward poor self-image. I tell myself that my work is garbage so that I keep ironing and ironing but the sidecar of blanket self-rejection has been an overall silence which is hurting me.
Starting tomorrow and through spring break I’ll be going at it for myself. I’m writing horror this time, after the fashion of H.P. Lovecraft. At least that’s my ambition. Not so much in the vein of language, but in the spirit of that horrific something that may be around the corner or it may not. Suspense? Terror? It’s worth a shot. Written with some class it could come off well. The trick this time will be to finish a week before it’s due and hide it away for a few days. I would really like to turn in a third draft instead of a rough first this time.
Also, my grandfather died a few days ago. We had the type of relationship that doesn’t demand proximity or contact, but remained (for me at least) a strong emotional bond. I told him I loved him on the phone a month ago, and wrote him a letter which I hope was read to him the day before he died. Probably he was the most like me of anyone I’ve met in my extended family, and understood me better (perhaps) than anyone in my nuclear family.
I’ve been monitoring my repsponse to his death. I nearly cried once, but the tears just weren’t coming. I didn’t hold back or anything; it just wasn’t going to happen. Instead I wrote a story about him, which I’ll post on here later. It’s due Thursday as a 2K-word personal narrative and I’ve yet to revise it. I started and finished the initial draft the day after he died.