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I have known Eden for some time. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him develop as a writer, even growing to surpass me in many ways. The imagery he uses in his prose reveals his poetic roots, what I consider to be his biggest strength. He wrote a short story called Ash for our reading pleasure.

My name is Eden Shulman, and I am the Vice President of the Northeastern Writing Club. I have had poetry published in Uppagus and articles published at the Northern Colorado Business Report. I like to write because it’s the best way to bleed.

 

ASH

It is August. We are a spectacular future. This whole town creaks when we run, thunderous feet over slat wooden porches and cracking sidewalks. I am twelve, and Joel is eighteen, and we ache with progression. We wrench ourselves through time. We scream as lightning bolts and crash like muscle cars.

This is the last summer before Joel leaves for college. He’s going to University of Colorado Boulder – an hour’s drive away, south along the edge of the foothills, highway winding through Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, and the outskirts of Boulder. Most mornings, I watch him drive into town. He leaves right after breakfast and returns far later than dinner, or not at all.

I spend my forested time in solitary confinement. August is my favorite month, when the dry heat smothers and the grass is yellowed from drought, when all the trees seem to crumble and the wind feels like hot breath. Waves of dried grass sway by our old wooden house. I take the dogs and tramp through the woods. Tie a rag to a stick and pretend I’m a hobo, just a tramp making his way through the lonely world. Untie the rag, the stick is now a machine gun, bang bang bang, bang bang bang. No, it’s a karate sword, and I’m fighting waves of ninjas. I spar with branches, box with bark, battle roots and duel needles. This forest is full of monsters, and I’m riding out, alone, with only my trusty steed and this spear to my name.

Joel brings around a girl to the house. Her name is Emma. Joel brings around a boy to the house. His name is Jesse. He takes them to his room, upstairs. The house is silent for a while, and then we hear waves of laughter. I am watching T.V. with my parents, eating ice cream before bed. Dad is tired, and goes upstairs to kick Joel’s friends out. They fight briefly, and then Emma and Jesse leave. Dad comes back downstairs and whispers with Mom in the kitchen for a bit. I hear the words “smoke” and “never” and “love”.

Dad drives me to Fort Collins to see my friend Georgia. She has a beagle puppy and we play with it in the backyard for a while. Dad stays inside and talks to Georgia’s mom. Eventually, her mom comes outside and tells us to take the dog for a walk. So we do, around the block, once, twice, and then down into the park. By the time we get back, the sky turning orange, so Dad comes outside and drives me back home.

At night, I like to keep my window open. When I was real little, the sounds of the woods used to scare me. I imagined there was a mountain lion, waiting to pounce, waiting for me to peek my eyes over the edge of the covers. Every snap or creak would send quakes down my spine. But I’m older now, nearly a teenager, and I know that the nighttime outside is the same as the daytime outside. The rustles are the woods breathing. I can fall asleep now to every crack and crunch as if they were the loveliest melodies.

On Saturday, Joel takes me on a hike, off trail, up the edge of a neighboring mountain. He helped me pack my backpack and make my lunch. I have an apple, a slice of cheesecake, and a ham sandwich. Joel has a coke and a PB&J. He showed me how to tighten the backpack straps around my waist and how to tie my hiking boots so I won’t roll my ankle. We stomp up bushy slopes. The pine trees shift by us and we feel they are watching us, guarding something unimaginable from our gaze. Joel lifts me up a particularly steep section and I hold branches out of the way so he won’t cut his shins.

Joel has a new tattoo, a snake winding his way around his upper arm. He wears longer shirts around our parents, and tells me to not tell them or he’ll punch me. He stripped to a tank top and I watch the snake. It writhes and slithers across his bicep with his arm movement as if it were actually alive. I make faces at it, behind his back. Bare my teeth, silently snarl, stick out my tongue, wiggle my ears. He can’t see me, so I flip him off, with both hands.

The top of the mountain. The city spreads before us like a doll’s model. It ends at the reservoir, which is bowled at the base of the slopes. We can see the red and green of traffic lights, the white Budweiser tower, the sound of distant sirens. A helicopter flies over the surface of the water far below, kicking up spray. I grab Joel’s sleeve and point at it.

“Why’s it flying so low?” I say.

Joel squints. “I dunno. Probably for the fire out there.”

A plume of smoke rises behind us. I worry for the house. It’s been a dry year. Joel tells me not to worry, it’s all the way out in the national park, way too far off to threaten us. We eat our sandwiches and watch the helicopters buzz by. They look like little flies, tasting the water with their feet.

Mom is worried. The smoke is getting bigger. “Just an hour ago it was nothing,” she’s saying, over and over. She’s overwatering the garden, and Dad takes the hose away and tells her to relax.

I sleep with the window closed that night. The smoke from the fire is so thick that it’s hard to breathe in my room. It gives everything a faint greyish-sepia tinge, as if we were living in an old movie. Joel bitches about his car. “It’s gonna get ash all over it. It’ll get in the engine.”

Dad says it’ll be fine. He’s our massage, our chamomile tea, our midnight snack.

I am woken by the kitchen light. My clock says 4:30 in the morning. I walk out of the bedroom. “What are you doing up?”

Dad is shirtless, wild. His pants are rolled up and he’s shoveling books into a travel bag.“Sammy,” he says. “Listen to me. We’re being evacuated. Get all of your things together that you want to bring, and put them out next to the van.”

“Can I take Davy Crockett?”

“Yes. Take him and his cage and his snacks. We can get more feed at Vern’s.”

I take Davy Crockett and rub his fur for a while. He wriggles in my hands, and his nose is twitching. He sniffs my fingers for treats. I put him back in his cage and he begins to run in his wheel. I take the cage last, pack everything else first.

Posters rolled up from my wall. My grandfather’s violin. School backpack. Collection of young adult mystery books.

Mom comes in my room and begins to go through my packing. She has a halo of hair. “Do you have a coat?”

“Yeah. Right here.”

“Wind coat? Boots?”

“Here and here.”

She repacks my clothing for maximum efficiency and then goes to check on Joel. I move all of my bags out next to the car and then go back for Davy Crockett. Dad starts to toss the bags in the car, haphazardly, shouting that we’re supposed to be out in an hour. The smoke is so thick that I can’t see the front of the house from the driveway. The dogs jump about in circles, excited to be going on a trip. The cats can’t be found, and it’s a crisis until Joel snags one from under the couch and the other from behind the baseboard of the bed.

Davy Crockett freaks out a little when I lift his cage and put it into the car. He doesn’t like to be so close to the dogs. He squeaks and hides in the corner away from them. I open the top of the cage and rub his head to calm him down, but Mom tells me to close it so the dogs aren’t tempted to stick their snouts in.

I sit in Joel’s car, in the front seat. Mom is driving the van and Dad is driving the truck. We’ll have to leave the other truck; no way can we bring it now. The sun is just rising over the edge of plains, and we can barely see it through the smoke. It looks like an orange circle of construction paper. The house quickly fades away when Joel starts to drive. We’re driving through soupy ash. Joel leans forward, straining to see the road. The whole world has disappeared away from us. We hurtle, alone, through space.

Brake lights. A line of cars snaking past the cops. They wave us past, and as we drive down into the valley, we leave the tomb. There are faint wisps floating on the wind, but behind us the smoke walls up like a kingdom.

Joel drives to elementary school, where the policeman said the homeowner’s conference was being held. As Dad and Mom listen to the fire chief give his speech, I walk the dogs down by the creek. Santa is shivering, scared of the mysterious circumstance. Glenn is bouncing. He’s a puppy and everything new that happens to him is exciting.

I put the dogs back into the car and feed Davy Crockett little treats. He’s exploring out of his corner now, getting more used to this new environment. My parents come out of the school’s gym with Joel trailing behind them. Joel is texting and walking. Usually Dad yells at him for doing that, but today he doesn’t notice.

“How was it?” I ask when they get back in the car.

Mom turns to Dad. “Let’s call the Shapiro’s. They have an extra room for the kids and a foldout couch. They might let us stay over.”

“Hey, how was it?” I say.

Dad starts the car and begins to pull out of the parking lot. “I think what we should do next is go to Vern’s and get some coffee. I need something to eat, and so do the kids.”

I tap the back of Dad’s head. “What happened in there? What’d they say?”

“Sammy,” he says. “It’s not looking good. It’s zero percent contained and the line keeps moving towards us. I just want you to be ready for that, okay?”

Vern’s is an old gas station slapped on to the outskirts of a diner. The kind of place with electronic fish heads and rake displays and signed photos of local celebrities tacked to the wall. They have a soda bar and a section where you can buy winter coats. I used to love to hide among the racks out of sight of the rest of the store and pretend I was living in a house of coats, clothed walls nobody could penetrate.

We sit in a booth near a window and I order some fried eggs and toast. Joel orders a double side of hash browns. Mom and Dad talk about where we’re going to go for a while. The McKendrick’s are out; they have real little kids and no extra space. Dad can’t stay at the office cause it’s being remodeled, and we can’t afford a hotel. “We could be out of the house for weeks,” Mom says.

“How about the Underwood’s?” Dad says.

I swallow my bite of toast real fast so I can spit out these words: “Oh, yeah! I wanna stay with Georgia!”

Mom tries to veto, but Dad puts up his hand. “They have two couches and a spare room, they like us a lot, and it’s close to Sammy’s school.”

“Won’t we be back in the house by then?” Joel says.

“Not necessarily. The fire guy said it could be a few weeks. They gotta establish a perimeter and make sure all of the hot spots are put out.”

Joel rummages around inside of his backpack. “Where’s my watch? Sammy, do you got my watch?”

“No, it’s in your room.”

He’s unzipping every pocket, pouring out pens onto the floor. “Shit. Shit. Oh, I can’t believe this.”

Mom tries to put her hand on top of Joel’s but he brushes her away and stands up out of the booth. “I’m gonna go check the car. This is the worst.”

I follow him outside to help him look. “Did you check the cupholders?”

“Sam,” he says. “Go back inside. It’s okay.”

“No, I wanna—“

But Joel’s kicking the grass on the edge of the curb, over and over, so hard that clods of earth are flying upwards and into the road. He isn’t saying anything but his mouth is a thin white line and his face is growing redder. He’s flailing; his arms are windmilling. He looks like he’s fighting a swarm of invisible wasps. “Shit!” he finally screams. He waves me away, locks himself inside the car, and starts his iPod.

“Joel’s having a fit,” I tell Mom, but she says to leave him alone. The Underwood’s are close to Vern’s, just a ten minute drive down College Ave, and I ride in the back with Mom this time, and leave Joel to drive himself. He doesn’t come back for a few hours.

Georgia and I go outside to the dead pine tree that stands like a skeleton in her back yard, and we search for slugs among the roots. I find a branch and we use it to poke underneath the tree, where the dirt is colder. We flip over stones and pull grass out from around the base.

“Can Davy Crockett stay in your room?” I say.

“I need to ask Mom,” Georgia says. “I got Fisher in the tank and there’s stuff on my desk.”

Georgia’s mom is talking to my mom in the kitchen. She stands with her hips leaning against the silver sink and the phone tucked underneath her arm. Mom has her head in the laptop.

She’s looking up the local news reports.

“Can Sammy put his hamster in my room?” Georgia says.

Her mom nods, so we take Davy Crockett upstairs and find a place for him among Georgia’s colored paper and drawing pens. She likes to draw; scribblings are scattered around the room, taped to walls and stacked on her shelves.

I hear the front door open, and Joel’s voice announcing that he’s arrived. “Hello, Mrs. Boyd,” Emma says.

“Joel’s friend,” my mom says to Georgia’s mom, once Emma and Joel have left for somewhere.

We eat dinner at a cheap burrito place down in Old Town. That night, I sleep on the foldout and Joel sleeps on the opposite couch. The loud hum and buzz of the refrigerator and the glow from Joel’s phone keep me up. Mom and Dad take the guest room, and when I go to the bathroom, I can hear them talking in hushed voices.

Dad takes me to a large open air auditorium the next day, where all of the evacuated families were gathered to hear the news of their neighborhoods. Thirty five thousand of us were evacuated in total, though only seven thousand or so were in the crowd. The police chief explains the path of the fire; how it was started by a lightning strike in the High Park area, and has moved east towards the reservoir and the houses back there. About a hundred houses lost already, it seems, and it’s only twenty percent contained.

A woman in front of us is wearing a straw cowboy hat, and keeps taking it off to fan her head. When she does, I see that she has a large bald spot in the middle of her skull, like a middle aged man.

We eat pasta that night, silently, around the large circular table in Georgia’s dining room. Afterward, we walk the puppy down the street, and I turn towards the hills edging the horizon, and try to guess where our house might be. The mountains have always loomed over Fort Collins as watchful sentinels. We’re far enough away that the details blend into each other in a blue haze, so all we can see are the silhouettes of the peaks, like a row of jagged teeth.

There’s an old Colorado joke that Dad likes to tell to his family when they visit. “In Colorado, we only have two directions: towards the mountains and away from the mountains”.

It’s a kind of regional token, something to show we are unique from the other Southwestern states. Something to give us a sort of shared history; a bonding with the other families and folks whose history spans from Europe to New England to a second generation move out west; a folksy history of Dad jokes from ancient times.

But now, the mountains which shadow our city have been shadowed by a bigger darkness. The smoke cloud looms like an avenging angel, with wings outspread. Ash has been raining down on the town for a couple of days, and we can see some floating now, like toxic snowflakes. I wonder if any of the bits we see are burned remnants of our home. Whether the dusty coatings on cars used to be the photos that lined our upstairs hall. Whether our feet are crunching through the carbonized atoms of the porch, of Mom’s wicker rocking chair, of my teddy bears, of the painted masks from Guatemala that watched over all our dinners.

I’m awoken in the middle of the night by raised voices from up the stairs. Joel’s not here, either. The couch is empty and the blanket is tossed off to the side. Maybe they’re all upstairs.The guest bedroom door is slightly ajar, and through the crack I can see the back of my parent’s heads as they watch TV.

Dad is holding Mom, and but with his other hand he’s rubbing the top of his head, over and over. Mom is curled in a puddle of darkness. She shakes. Through the gap in between them I can see the TV: fire, helicopters, splashing water. I stand for so long my thighs start to ache, and I nearly doze off standing, like a horse.

My parent’s haven’t moved in ages. Dad is still rubbing his head, back and forth.

“Oh,” Mom says, startling me out of my reverie. “That’s the McKendrick’s house. Oh my god, it’s right on the side of their house. Robert, that’s right down the street. Oh, no.”

“Oh my god,” Dad says, quietly.

I don’t want to watch this anymore, so I walk back downstairs. A tinkle from outside, like the splintering of glass. I look out the front door. Joel is standing out there, in his jeans and an undershirt, about halfway across the street, chucking bottles off into the darkness. He has a good pile next to him, about ten or twelve. The light from the streetlamp refracts into the bottles and casts points of green all down the block.

I open the door and walk out next to him. “What are you doing?”

He doesn’t turn around, and throws another bottle off in between the houses across the street. “You couldn’t sleep either?”

“Mom and Dad woke me up. They’re watching the fire on TV. It’s right by the McKendrick’s house.”

Joel doesn’t say anything to this, and hands me a bottle. “You wanna toss one?”

“Where?” I say.

“Right down there, in between the houses. See that white bit? That’s a half wall of cement. I’ve been trying to hit the center over there.”

I hold the bottle by its head and throw it overhand. It spins a bunch of times and flies too low, shattering over the edge of the curb and spraying shards onto the sidewalk.

“It’s better if you throw it sidehand, like this. That way you can kind of Frisbee it and it’ll go father,” Joel says, and shows me.

I try this and the bottle flies too high, over the edge of the half wall, and breaks off in the darkness behind the houses. Joel throws again, and gets a direct center hit. The glass pieces spray outwards in a nearly perfect circle. I throw again, and miss. We keep tossing bottles till a porch light flips on from down the street.

We are all in one car together, two days later. We’ve gotten a call from the sheriff saying we’re free to return to our property, and so we’re driving through the blackened, twisted skeletons of trees and the craters of former houses towards ours.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Dad says. He’s been saying it a lot the past day or so.

On our mile long driveway, what had once been rows of forested soldiers now seemed like skinny screaming ghosts. The blackness spread in waves across the ground, layers emanating outwards from the mountains. Before, the trees that had been so thick you’d get scratches trying to walk between them were now an open pass between burned husks. There is a terrible silence; no bird calls, no secret scritch-scratching in the bushes, no loud cracks out breaking tree branches. From far off, I could hear the chop of helicopter blades.

Our house had been nestled above the driveway, so as you drove up the mountain you could see it rising out like an ancient totem. But now, there was nothing to rise, and only the empty air could be seen. We park at the top of the driveway. The old truck that we left is also burned, and black, and empty.

The house is now a pile of grey and black and twisted dark metal. Three burned supports poke up from various spots in the wreckage, and the brick chimney stands like a final warrior. The firefighters told us that it’d be too dangerous to walk on, so we skirt the perimeter of the house and look down on our former home, skittish and wary to touch. Mom starts to cry and gets back in the car, shuts the door and puts her head between her knees.

Joel crouches down on the far side of the rectangled hole and pokes his hand into the area that had been his bedroom before and begins to sift through the ash and embers. Dad shouts at him from across the wreckage to stop, that he might cut his hand, but Joel continues anyway. He stops, and pulls out a little blackened object, a twisted, incomprehensibly shaped little nub. As he spins it in the light, I see the brown face and cracked glass of Joel’s watch. Joel looks at it for a moment, then stands up from his crouch and tucks it into his sweatshirt pocket.

He shuffles to the edge of the driveway where the edge drops off, palms the watch back into his hand, and hurls it deep into the forest. I hear it clack off of a tree trunk and drop down into blackness.

“I’m gonna go,” he says, walking past the three of us. We watch him as he hikes down the driveway, through the silent screams of the dead trees, rounds a curve, and disappears.

I keep what I found that day for years; after college, a career, one failed marriage and one good marriage, after my kids have left and countless lines of dogs and cats have left as well, I still keep the husk of that watch, which I found sleeping amid some burned logs near a trickle of water. The High Park fire was a long time ago now, and the house has been rebuilt, and a new family lives in it now (or maybe they moved, and there’s a new family now, who tell their kids about the fire years and years ago). Joel lives three states away among the ashes of his own family, and, over the phone, without Mom and Dad to talk to, his nights bleed into mine.

These days come shorter and shorter in retirement, but the hours are longer. I still live near Fort Collins, in this old cabin out in the mountains, among the peaks, between the teeth. I like to spend them out in the forest, among my friends, trying to listen to the sounds of the pine trees crackling and the squirrels fighting over nuts, holding the watch up to my ear to see if maybe, just maybe, it’ll give one final tick.

 

I have recently had the pleasure of reading Chuck Palahnuik’s Invisible Monsters.

Flip this cover over and you get a sad old lady with a head injury.

Flip this cover over and you get a sad old lady with a head injury.

The name probably sounds familiar because he is also the writer of Fight Club.

There is actually a funny bit of history when it comes to Invisible Monsters and Fight Club. See, Chuck wrote Monsters first and got rejected because the publisher said that the book was too graphic and disturbing (they might have had a point).

So, Chuck, in a fit of spite, wrote Fight Club as a kind of “fuck you” in order to show them just how graphic and disturbing a novel can be.

Of course, the publishers loved it and Fight Club became wildly successful and pretty much catapulted him into the spotlight. Naturally, they gave Invisible Monsters  a chance.

And I’m glad they did.

Invisible Monsters is a remarkable book. Told in the first person, it follows a supermodel whose jaw gets blown off in a bizarre turn of events.

Of course, there’s nothing to be done to repair her face, so she pretty much just walks around with her tongue hanging out of her open throat hole.

Because nobody wants to look at the horror that is her face, she calls herself an invisible monster and soon teams up with a transgendered woman and her insanely attractive male companion. The three of them then tour the country stealing pills from the houses of wealthy people.

I know the plot doesn’t sound like much, but that’s because I’m explaining it linearly. The narrator jumps around from past and present, making things much more interesting as questions are posed then answered. The plot is not the crown jewel of this novel.

Palahniuk has a gift for writing first person narration. It feels like I, the reader, am having a conversation with this character (even though she can’t talk, you know, cause of her jaw…). She’s telling me her story. And even though she skips around and gets side-tracked, I’m hooked.

The cast is colorful, from the narrator’s bombshell transgendered mentor, Brandy Alexander, to her paranoid parents who can’t get over their gay son’s AIDS related death.

Chuck does a great job of weaving a common thread through such a diverse crowd- everyone suffers from self-inflicted wounds, caused in part from an effort to reinvent themselves.

Identity plays such a huge role in this story, as the characters are constantly changing their names and background stories. They mutilate their bodies in an effort to adapt themselves to the image the have for themselves. Some even do it just to stave off boredom,unwilling to live an ordinary life.

All of them are trying to reinvent who they are. All of them are trying to write their own stories.

And it’s a breeze to read. I mean, I would sit and knock out fifty pages without even realizing it. The writing is just so damn accessible. And Palahniuk does a great job of teasing readers with questions and answers. I kept reading because I wanted to know who these people really were and the flow of information came at a trickle until the very end.

Overall, this was a great book and I was glad that I read it. Did I like it more than Fight Club? No, but it’s a great read in its own right. If you liked Fight Club, I would definitely recommend it.

It’s rare to read a book that makes you want to go out and write. Most of the time, this motivation comes from how terrible a book is. There are instances few and far between where a book is so good that it makes a writer strive to write something half as good.

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of the small number of books that fall into that elusive second category.

First Edition Cover

First Edition Cover

I can’t succinctly explain why I am so enchanted with this book. It could be that it’s a seamless blend of Sci-Fi and Noir, two genres that are very dear to my heart. This combination is described as “cyberpunk” but I don’t think that really does the blend justice, and Gibson himself has tried to distance himself from the term, so I mention it here with some hesitation. Neuromancer is, at its heart, a thing of its own.

It could be the vivid description of this futuristic Earth in slow decay as people distract themselves with sex, drugs, and the endless sprawl of the matrix (a crazy, immersive version of the internet).

Oh yeah, let me mention that this book was MILES ahead of its time. Neuromancer was published in 1984 and written on a fucking typewriter. Yet Gibson predicts things like widespread use of the internet, body augmentation, and cryogenic storage.

Then there’s the plot. On top of everything else, the reader gets a tight heist/mystery with more than a few twists and turns.

And the characters…I was really blown away with how well rounded they were for a novel that appeared on the surface to be completely driven by plot. And I couldn’t believe how fucking sad I was when everything was over, because things didn’t turn out the way I wanted or expected.

Finally, the writing itself is nothing short of spectacular. Maybe that’s why Neuromancer sports one of the most famous opening lines in the history of modern fiction:

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

I don’t think there’s a better way of setting the scene for the madness and bloodshed the reader is about to witness. All packaged in a simple description of the sky.

Yeah, so I guess I’m done gushing. Neuromancer is an amazing book and everyone should read it. Get it here.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. It was unlike anything else I have ever read.

Ficciones

First edition cover in the original Spanish

 

If I were compare Borges to any other writer, I think the closest match would be Kurt Vonnegut. Not because they have a similar genre, or wrote on the same themes, but because they are both authors who have a voice and style that is wholly their own.

The comparison to Vonnegut is still kind of shaky. Fictions was translated into English in the 1960’s, making it appear as though the two writers were contemporaries. Really, Borges first wrote this collection of short stories in the 1940’s, beating Vonnegut by almost three decades. If I were to compare Borges to any artist (artist being a term that includes writers, painters/visual artists, musicians, and actors)  the best match that comes to mind is Salvador Dali. Both of their bodies of work were bizarre and visceral, simultaneously simple and complicated with a rich undercurrent of thought and meaning.

Borges writing was very high concept. I could summarize many of Fictions’  short stories in a sentence or two. But I often found myself reading through several times in order to fully understand them. They were deeply nuanced, even with the handicap of being translated from Spanish. I should note here that this collection does not read like a translation. It is beautifully written and engaging. I thought at first that Borges was the one who translated his work himself and was shocked to find that it was translated by the very talented Andrew Hurley.

I definitely recommend this read. It’s kind of dense, but I got a lot of enjoyment combing through the words and considering the ideas Borges was illustrating. Here are a few of my favorite stories:

The Circular Ruins:  A man attempts to dream a human into existence.

Funes, His Memory: A paralyzed man is cursed to remember every detail of every moment of his life.

The Secret Miracle: A writer about to be put to death finishes his magnum opus through divine intervention.

Three Versions of Judas: A religious scholar considers the notion that Judas may not be as bad as he is made out to be.

My summaries hardly do these stories justice. Often, there is a twist ending. Really, it’s the way these stories are presented to the reader that make them so damn entertaining. Borges had a style that was all his own; he would communicate works of fiction as fact, sounding more like a critic than a story teller. Definitely one of the most remarkable writers I’ve read in recent memory. If you’ve got time, definitely give him a look.

You can pick up Fictions on Amazon here.

Friends and family of Franklin Johnson and Michelle Barrows found a pleasant surprise on their Facebook news feed today: Franklin and Michelle were now “In a Relationship” with one another.

fbrelationship

“I just clicked a few buttons and now my relationship status is up there for God and all of my Facebook friends to see”

Garnering fifty “likes” in the first fifteen minutes alone, it’s clear that Franklin and Michelle’s new relationship status was highly anticipated across their combined networks of high school classmates, previous employers, and old flames.

“Finally,” commented James Downey, an alumni of University of Connecticut, where Franklin and Michelle both attended college. “Took you guys long enough.”

“I just can’t believe this is actually happening.” Jennifer Rios said regarding the union of the two Facebook profiles. “I was wondering if it was ever going to happen for Michelle. She must be so happy.”

But not everyone was pleased with the change in relationship status. Gilligan Freeman, on seeing the update on his news feed, private messaged a friend the following: “Man, what a bummer. Michelle is so hot. It’s a real shame she’s off the market.”

“This is so surreal,” said Franklin on his announcement of his new relationship status. “I just clicked a few buttons and now my relationship status is up there for God and all of my Facebook friends to see. Everyone keeps congratulating me and asking me how I feel now that I’m tied down, but honestly it doesn’t feel any different. I love Michelle as much as the day I married her.”

Coincidentally, this announcement of relationship status took place on the same day as Franklin and Michelle’s 25th wedding anniversary.

Every now and then, when I’m feeling bored or need something to spur a new idea, I do a writing prompt. Back when I was a member of the NU Write Club, I used to do writing prompts weekly. Writing prompts are a great way to get those creative juices flowing, especially if you’re feeling stuck. Sometimes, you write something worth continuing  and end up expanding it into something bigger. At the very least, they’re a good way to get all of the bad writing out.

I have decided to start posting some of these prompts here, since most of them are just sitting around gathering dust anyways.

This is the first prompt I’ve chosen to share:

knife

Write from the point of view of a character who has committed a murder. Do not mention the murder.

Should I feel bad?

I guess a normal person would. Aren’t I a normal person, though? What is normal anyways? Normal is a function of large numbers, an illusion that only exists at the peak of a bell curve. In individuals, there is no normal or abnormal. There only is.

I don’t feel bad. I really don’t. And I guess that’s kind of scary to think, let alone say out loud. What does that make me? Am I a bad person?

There I go again. Applying terms to an individual that can only exist relatively. There is no good or bad. There is only me.

Still, I can’t help this feeling. My hands haven’t stopped shaking. I feel my eyes being drawn to the door, as though someone could burst in at any moment. Paranoid, I know, but I can’t fight it. I suppose it’s best to pour of cup of tea and sit down. Maybe try to get some reading done.

Nothing is going to happen. There’s no way anyone will ever know. But no matter how many times I repeat this mantra, my eyes still avoid the mirror.

I don’t see my face as I know it. Instead, I see it pale, the skin stretched over it like rubber. I see blood. I see rot. I feel the creeping cold calling me.

I’m afraid. Afraid…my will isn’t as strong as I hoped it would be.

It’s dark. So, so dark. My light bulb burned out, leaving me only with the glow of the streetlight. All the stores are closed. I’m going to have to wait until morning.

I can’t sleep. Every time I close my eyes, I see it. The unspeakable thing of black and cold and doom.

It’s waiting for me.

It knows what I’ve done.

I just recently finished reading a book written by Aldous Huxley called Island. You may remember Huxley as the writer of The Doors of Perception and Brave New World.

“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence - those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you'd collapse. And while you people are overconsuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster."

“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence – those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you’d collapse. And while you people are overconsuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster.”

Island is similar to Brave New World, in that, it addresses many of the problems that exist in our world. However, it is not a dystopian novel, as it is not presenting the reader with a stylized version of our society. Instead, Huxley shows the reader an ideal society, a utopian world where the citizen’s freedom and happiness are maximized.

I have to say that I didn’t read this book quickly. The ideas were very interesting and important, but were also overwhelming. But I guess that’s how things always break down, you either get a good story without much substance, or something substantial without any bells and whistles.

This book did get me thinking about how our society works though. Huxley emphasizes this concept of a fully functional human being throughout his novel. The goal of his fictional society is to foster the growth of a fully formed human- a emotionally mature, self-aware, productive member of the community.

This, in turn, got me thinking about our society and the human beings that we shape. I don’t think we’re very good at making people in this part of the world. I look around and I see so many who are maladjusted and angry and unhappy. So many who don’t understand their unhappiness and rage against everything around them. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t count myself outside of these numbers. After all, I was raised in the same environment.

There was one line in Island that really resonated with me:

“One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that the-person-I-think-I-am must endure is unavoidable. It is the sorrow inherent in the human condition, the price we must pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time, through a world wholly different to our well-being, toward decrepitude and the certainty of death. The remaining two thirds of all sorrow is homemade and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.

More than half of all of our problems are homemade. What a thought. It’s almost funny until you realize how true it is. But that’s just the way things are. That’s the way the world works. That’s the cosmic joke that’s being played on humanity- we have all of the tools to make ourselves happy and free, but instead we choose to make ourselves suffer by our own hand.

But how do we make things better?

Huxley prescribes meditation, compassion, and early knowledge of the facts of life. In his fictional island of Pala, the citizens combine medicine and psychology and spirituality to create a utopia. Of course there is still work and unpleasantness, the 1/3 of suffering that comes with being human, but on the whole everyone seems happier.

Yes, this is a work of fiction. But I think there’s a lot to be taken away from this book. Especially with respect to how to look at ourselves and how we raise our children. It’s not very long, under 300 pages. It is dry, but the message is important and worth hearing. Give it a read if you’re looking to think.

Pick it up off of Amazon here.

I know, I know.

It’s been too long since I’ve posted.

I apologize for leading you all to believe that I’ve kicked the bucket, or worse: have stopped writing. I assure you that these reports are greatly exaggerated.

I’ve been very busy wrapping up some loose ends and have now entered a new stage in my life, a stage where I will get to frequently update this blog.

In the spirit of my unexplained absence, I want to talk about a special type of art called blackout poetry.

Blackout poetry is special because it is the manipulation of an already existent text. The artist does not add any words of their own. Rather, they take what they have been given and change the meaning through the process of omission. By removing certain words, the meaning and context of the text is changed, creating a new piece of art in the process.

The easiest way to go about this is by just using a marker to cross out the words that you want to omit. I’ve found it’s best to read through the text first and decide which words you want to keep.

You can make a blackout poem out of any type of written text, though I’ve found that old, worn books tend to bring the most character. It’s probably also better to use a book that you don’t care about, since you’ll be ripping pages out of it and blacking out the words.

Here is an example of a blackout poem I made a few days ago.

This poem started life as a page from The Divine Comedy

This poem started life as a page from The Divine Comedy

Try your hand at making a blackout poem yourself.

I am going to be brief because I have been very busy working on something exciting that I will tell you all about in the very near future. For now, please enjoy this small entry.

The Nature of Laughter

We experience so much pain and suffering in this world of ours. Children are killed. Homes are razed. People starve and freeze while others dine on shrimp cocktail and relax in hot tubs. There doesn’t seem to be any justice on this little blue rock.

Moreover, humanity is faced with absurdity on a daily basis. There are so many things in this vast universe we haven’t even begun to understand, so many things we aren’t even aware of enough to not understand them.

Even our very existence is puzzling. Why are we here? Why have we developed cognitive capabilities and self-awareness? What are we meant to do? These are questions to which we have no answers.

In an effort to protect itself, our feeble monkey brains developed an evolutionary defense mechanism to all of this strife and agony and absurdity: Laughter.

Barlach_Ernst-Old_Woman_Laughing

Ernst Barlach’s Old Woman Laughing

Without it, one would look upon our world and shriek and cry and tear their eyes out. Suicides would happen en masse. Entire populations would lapse into deep, irreversible depressions and humanity as a whole and civilization would wither and languish in its despair at the hopelessness of our lot.

However, life is resilient. We naturally developed a way to take a small glimmer of pleasure in all of this pain and absurdity.

Which is why I must remind you all in the light of the recent tragedies and the inevitable calamities of the future that we always will have laughter. Without it, our species would have gone insane a long time ago.

So no matter where you are in life, no matter how terrible and worthless and hopeless everything might seem at the moment, laugh. Because the only other option is to cry.

I leave you all with a quote on the matter from Eugene O’Neill’s Lazarus Laughed:

“Laugh yes to your insignificance! Thereby will be born your new greatness! As Man, Petty Tyrant of Earth, you are a bubble pricked by death into a void and a mocking silence! But as dust, you are eternal change, and everlasting growth, and a high note of laughter soaring through chaos…”

I don’t know what it is these days about the news, but I’ve been finding some great articles. Here’s another one that graced my local paper…

Man Courageously Comes Out To Parents

It was just another day for Martha Jones when her son Mark called her up and told her that he had something important to tell her. Little did she know that her entire world would be turned upside down.

“I thought he was in trouble at first, when he said that he needed to see me and my husband, his father, Burt…” said Martha. “He sounded so…serious”

“I knew that I was being a little dramatic, not telling them why I was coming over,” Mark shrugged. “I just needed to tell them in person and didn’t want to risk them leaving or locking me out or something…”

Mark arrived at his childhood home and sat his parents down in the living room. His heart pounded as he prepared to drop a bomb on them, a truth that would shake their relationship to the very core.

“I took Mom’s hand and looked her straight in the eye and told her the truth- that I’m a lesbian. I had no idea what to expect. But even just saying it out loud to them was such a good feeling. It was like a burden was lifted.”

Lesbian and Proud: Mark Jones and Jill Clammunch

However, his parents felt little relief upon hearing their only son’s shocking confession.

“I-I couldn’t believe it when he first said it,” said Martha, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. “I thought we raised him right. I just don’t…know where we went…wrong…”

“It wasn’t our fault.” Burt added gruffly, putting a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “I’ll bet he learned it from those god-damned movies he’s always watchin’. I tell ya, he sure as hell didn’t learn it from me.” After a pause, he added, “I ain’t no queer.”

Things spiraled out of control from there. A shouting match broke out in the Jones’ living room, with Mark trying to explain and defend his lifestyle, while his parents wondered aloud why their son would do such a thing to them.

“They just don’t get it.” Mark crossed his arms over his chest. “I was born this way. I’ve always sort of noticed girls when they came my way. I mean, I can’t help it…” He smiled wryly and shook his head. “It’s not my fault women are so sexy… Can you blame me?”

“Makes me wanna puke my guts up.” says Mark’s Father. “What kinda lifestyle is that? ”

“I guess I’ll never have any grandchildren…” Martha sighed. “It just…breaks my heart. I mean, I’m his mother and will always love my little Marky, but knowing that he’s a…” She hesitated for a moment, but then steeled herself and forced herself to speak, “A lesbian. Changes things… I just wish I had our old Mark back…”

Upon asking him whether he had any regrets, Mark had this to say: “The only thing I regret is not telling them earlier. Do you realize how hard it was sneaking around with girls, keeping up the lie that we were ‘study partners’ or ‘teammates?'” He rolled his eyes. “I just don’t think it’s fair. If they really loved me, they’d just accept me for me.”

“If he thinks this is gonna fly, he’s got another thing coming,” said Burt on his son’s lesbianism. “We’ve already signed him up for a ‘Straight Camp.’ That’ll put him right. I ain’t raisin’ no lesbo, that’s for sure.”

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