Archives for posts with tag: Fiction

It’s my mother’s birthday today.

I went home this weekend to celebrate with my family.

Whenever I go home, I am always reminded of how similar I am to my parents and sisters and how much my home life has shaped me.

This guy was on to something in spite of how much coke he did.

This guy was on to something in spite of how much coke he did.

Like it or not, everyone is shaped by their family. Your parents are the first people you meet. As a child, you probably spend more time with your siblings than anyone else. These are the people that teach you how to be a human and live in a human society. Even the absence of your family can shape the person you become.

And because characters are supposed to be as realistic as possible, they are also shaped by their home lives. When building characters, it’s important to think about how they were raised.

There’s a huge, huge potential for drama in a character’s upbringing. Daddy issues, Oedipal complexes, sibling rivalries- all massive sources of conflict in fiction going straight back to the Greeks. Even if it’s not pertinent to the story, even if you’re not going to include any of the details in the text or plot, you should think about how a character came to be who they are.

Family is a major theme in my own writing. Many of my characters are motivated by ties to their family. Some are devoted to the point of giving up their own lives. Others are unhappily bound, constantly feeling inadequate in the eyes of their parents and siblings.

Regardless of the role that familial bonds play in your plot, it’s important to consider your character’s upbringing. Think about when you meet a friend’s parents. Quirks that you’ve noticed make a lot more sense, as you’re seeing where this person came from and how they learned how to interact with the world.

As creators of fictional people, it’s important for writers to think about family life, as it will allow them to build three-dimensional characters that audiences can understand and relate to.

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.

 

For those of you who don’t have their fingers on the pulse of quality television, a universally hated character was killed off last night.

There was rejoicing all over the internet. People were psyched that this actor pretended to die on their screen.

But things go further than that. If you were to see this actor on the street, you would probably feel hate bubbling in your stomach with volcanic intensity. You can’t separate the character from the actor.

Skyler White- one of the most reviled characters on TV.

Skyler White- one of the most reviled characters on TV. Not to be confused with actress Anna Gunn.

This association is the product of two things- the talent of the actor and the skill of the writers.

Seeing this on-screen death and the resulting internet excitement has made me realize how important it is to write convincing characters. Characters that makes the audience suspend disbelief to the point where they forget there is any disbelief at all.

Intellectually, this may seem obvious. But it’s another thing to internalize.

We try to make our characters seem as human as possible. A lot of the time, writers miss the mark. Sure, we write believable characters, but they don’t inspire reactions that make the internet explode with rage or adoration.

There’s got to be some kind of secret recipe to make an audience connect with a character.

In cases of hate, it seems that the best course of action is to keep villains safe from karma’s clutches. No matter how bad they are, how depraved or violent they become, have them get away with it. The longer they go causing harm, the more audiences will despise them and become emotionally invested.

With good guys, it’s a little trickier. Anti-heroes are vogue. Think about Walter White. Frank Underwood. Donald Draper. These are not good men. Some would call them fucking sociopaths. It’s complicated as to why audiences like them. They’re in on their secrets and want to see them get away with it. Maybe some love to hate them and want to see them fail.

Then there are the Ned Starks. The ones who are good to a fault, whose morals lead them down the path of destruction. Audiences become invested in them because they so desperately want to see them succeed in the face of insurmountable odds, knowing in the back of their heads it’s hopeless.

What resonates with an audience is an impossible thing to predict. It’s a ghost. Something that only exists in retrospect.

But it’s clear that success lies in writing characters that audiences can become emotionally invested in, either through loving or despising them.

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.

Another prompt. I got a little silly with this one.

Mother Nature is fine as hell.

Mother Nature is fine as hell.

Describe a moment where you connected with nature.

Mother Nature is a little milf-y

If you know what I mean.

Yeah, she’s an old broad,

But still fine as fine can be.

Don’t believe me? Look around you. The proof’s all there-

Just look at the birds, or fish, or wild hopping hare.

Yes, she’s a naughty girl, that Mother Nature.

I love her so much, I think I might date her.

I’d hold myself to her earthy breast

And prance naked in her delta.

I’d bury my face in her flowers

Because I love the smell of her.

Yeah, me and Mother Nature, we have a good thing.

No matter the season I love her

Come summer, winter, fall, or spring.

Recently, I wrote a piece of spoken word poetry called “Void.” I performed it at the NU Write Club Open Mic. Here is a ridiculously high quality video of me reading said poem. I wish I had memorized it before going up on stage, but whatever. Not all performances can be perfect. The full text of the poem is below the video, check it out if you want to read along.

(Thanks to Tom Viccaro for filming this)

Void

I’ve got some bad news for
Those of you who think they’re important–
That the universe holds you in a special place
in its heart and watches out for you.
You’re not important.
You’re not special.
You don’t matter.
You are not some beautiful mind
the world has failed to recognize.
It is true that you are a unique
and wonderful snowflake,
but you fail to realize that
in spite of their subtle differences,
snowflakes all look pretty much the same.
The world does not owe you a damn thing.
And while it’s true that you didn’t ask to be here,
it is equally true that the world
did not ask for you.
We like to tell ourselves
there’s a plan, and that things work out
for the best, but we know in the back
of our monkey brains that it is sink or swim–
that it’s been that way for the past
8 billion years.
Sink or swim. Live or die.
It’s a simple choice, really.
I think I know what you all would pick,
based on the fact that you’re all still sitting here, breathing.
The problem is that there is an asterisk
attached to every breath you take:
“The end user agrees to be responsible
for maintaining their own existence, including:
eating, sleeping, and hydration.
The end user agrees to take responsibility
for any such other physical, mental, or emotional demands not detailed above.”
Always read the fine print, because
every time you inhale you are signing
on the dotted line
and dating at the bottom.
I’m not saying this to be a harbinger of doom and gloom.
And I’m no Tyler Durdan trying to subvert the capital system with nihilism and anarchy.
Rather, I’m your friendly neighborhood Spiderman,
swinging by on his web
to remind you that you are the master of your domain.
The world doesn’t care what you do.
There’s two sides to this coin–
You can either go crazy like
some super villain megalomaniac, become lonely and depressed when your career as a Bond villain doesn’t pan out, and off yourself out of spite, living your life like some stupid cliché.
OR there’s plan B:
You realize how liberating it is that the universe doesn’t give one iota of a shit about you.
It doesn’t matter what you do.
Go nuts!
You’re free to do what you want.
The universe doesn’t care.
The only caveat is that you have to do it yourself.
So go forth and build.
But know that you have to put on the hard hat and get your hands dirty.
You have a dream. You have a vision.
Leave something behind to make this world slightly better for those who come after you.
But don’t ever forget about the apathy. Glance periodically at the thermometer to remind yourself of how cold it is.
Do not be like Ozymandias carving your name for mortals to gaze on and despair, because those lone and level sands of time are abrasive and will
rub your name clean from any stone.
Create to inspire. Create to challenge.
It doesn’t matter if you’re painting a picture, or
designing a can opener, or birthing a baby.
As long as you’re putting your heart in it and
your mind to it.
As long as you accept the fact that there will be struggle. As long as you look that ugly monster in the eye and bare your teeth, knowing that no one is going to fight this battle for you.
Never stop pressing forward.
An object in motion stays in motion, so keep your pace and momentum.
Because even though you aren’t special or important, you have potential.
Potential to build something of importance and beauty in an otherwise cruel and careless void.

Another prompt, this one of my own invention (as far as I know, anyways)

Write a scene in the first person involving two characters, then rewrite the scene from the other character’s point of view.

Like Yin and Yang, but more capitalist.

Like Yin and Yang, but more capitalist.

I don’t know why I agreed to come. I didn’t know anybody there. I don’t drink. It was bullshit. I looked around at all the bodies packed into the dim living room. There weren’t even that many girls. There was a big group of people crowded around the long table where they were playing beer pong or flip cup or one of those other games that involved drinking a lot of shitty beer in a short span of time. I looked around for Chuck, but he was nowhere to be found. Probably talking to that girl, the only reason why he dragged me here in the first place.

Even over the din of the music and the crowd, I heard something shatter in the kitchen. I know I was far away from the action, but I’m always blamed for that kind of thing, so I squeezed my way across the living room and plopped into an armchair. It took me a second to notice the girl sitting in the loveseat, looking down at her phone.

Because it was dark, I couldn’t get a good look at her. As far as I could tell, she looked all right. Her fingers were flying as she texted. I didn’t know what to say to get her attention. Then, there was a series of groans and shouts from around the table and she looked up, remembering her surroundings. I took the opportunity to catch her eye and smile. She gave me a weird look, like she was confused as to how the armchair became occupied.

“Hello.” I said, loudly enough to be heard over the crowd and music.

“Hi.” She answered, checking her phone for a response.

“My name’s Bill.” I held out my hand. “What’s yours?”

“Sarah.” She said as she shook my hand, her mouth turning up in a smile. She looked down at her phone again.

“What are you, bored?”

“Huh?”

“You keep looking at your phone.” I grinned at her.

“Oh, I guess I’m being rude.” She turned her phone over, but didn’t put it away.

“So, who do you know here?” I motioned to the party happening around us. Talking to her was like pulling teeth, but I was alone and forcing conversation was better than sitting around like an asshole.

“I’m Becky’s roommate.”

“Who’s Becky?”

“Adam’s girlfriend? The guy whose birthday it is.”

“Oh.” I smiled sheepishly. “I didn’t know it was anybody’s birthday. I’m a tagalong. My friend, Chuck, brought me here.”

“I see.” She looked down at her phone again. “I’m gonna go out for a cigarette.” She stood up.

I stood as well. “I’ll have one, too.” It was too hot and crowded in the living room. I felt kind of bad for latching on to this girl, but Chuck was nowhere to be found and I didn’t want to float around this house by myself. At the very least, I could go outside and have a smoke and a proper brood.

Sarah didn’t pay me much mind as I weaved through the apartment behind her. We came to a door leading to a deserted back porch. She didn’t even look at me as she produced a pack of cigarettes and placed one between her lips. I offered her my lighter, but she used her own. I shrugged and lit up, then exhaled a stream of smoke.

She stared down at her phone in silence.

I smoked and looked at the fallen soldiers littering the porch. “It’s so much nicer out here. It’s gotta be at least ten degrees cooler.”

She didn’t say anything. Her eyes darted across the letters of a new message. Finally, she looked up. “Did you just say something?”

“Nothing…” I grumbled, turning to look up at the black of the night sky. After a beat, I spoke. “You know, I’m just trying to be friendly.”

“Right. Friendly.” Sarah snapped back at me. “You boys are always ‘just being friendly.’”

I frowned. I didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t making any sense.

“I’ve got enough friends.” She said, flicking her half-burned cigarette away. “I don’t need any more.”

She stormed off the porch, leaving me to smoke in the dark.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Stupid fucking Andrew won’t give me a straight answer. I stare down at my phone, as if that would make his reply come sooner. I scroll through our conversation and feel my blood boil. He is so goddamned evasive. All I want is a simple answer to a simple question. It isn’t hard. He’s just being an idiot. And to make matters worse, he ditched Adam’s birthday to go hang out with his stupid frat brothers. I can’t believe him. My phone vibrates in my hand.

i dont no wut u want from me. i like spendin time wit u.

I feel like I could breathe fire. My fingers move with a mind of their own. I need more than someone to spend time with. I need to know Im not wasting my time.

The room fills with the sound of everyone screaming around the beer pong table and I look up only out of instinct. I see some guy sitting in the arm chair next to me. He doesn’t look familiar, but he smiles at me. I can feel the anger building inside of me. I am disgusted by this stranger. His stupid haircut. His polo shirt. All of it. They all remind me of Andrew. I feel like I am going to vomit and I choke down the words and the bile with a grimace.

“Hello.” He says, still smiling his stupid canine smile.

“Hi.” I find my lips moving on their own, conditioned to respond politely.

“My name is Bill. What’s yours?” He holds his hand out to me like a trained hound.

Again, out of instinct, I take his hand and shake it, my mouth stretching into a flimsy mockery of a smile. “Sarah.” I look down at another message from Andrew.

do u feel like ur wasting ur time?

I feel like Im being used as a fleshlight by some stupid fucking fratboy.

“What are you, bored?”

“Huh?” I look up, clenching my jaw.

“You keep looking at your phone.” He keeps smiling his idiot smile.

“Oh, I guess I’m being rude.” The words are out of my mouth before I could even process them. My anger flares. Why did I have to be so fucking nice all the time? I don’t know this kid. I don’t owe him a damn thing. I look down at my phone and see Andrew’s name and flip it over in an effort to quell the anger.

“So who do you know here?”

The guy is trying to make small talk. I want to tell him to fuck off, but the words are trapped in my throat. Instead, I answer his question, my vocal cords stretched taut. “I’m Becky’s roommate.”

“Who’s Becky?”

This idiot doesn’t even know anyone here. Who brought him? Why is he even here? “Adam’s girlfriend? The guy whose birthday it is.”

“I didn’t know it was anybody’s birthday. I’m a tagalong. My friend, Chuck, brought me here.”

“I see.” Chuck. Andrew’s stupid fucking friend. This dick probably knows Andrew. They’re probably buddies, drinking and playing X-Box together. Drawing dicks and talking about pounding pussy. It makes me sick, dizzy with rage just thinking about it. I need to get away from him. “I’m gonna go out for a cigarette.” I stood.

Of course, he follows. “I’ll have one, too.”

Whatever. It’s a free fucking country. I don’t have to talk to him out there. He can smoke and die of lung cancer just like anyone else. He doesn’t need my permission.

I feel better in the cool of the outside. I dig through my purse for my cigarettes and lighter. My phone vibrates. It’s Andrew.

jesus. i didnt no u knew what a fleshlite is lol

A second message follows.

i like spending time with u. cant we just be friends and enjoy r time together?

I stare at my phone for a long time, then light up a cigarette. I can’t take my eyes off of my phone. The rage I feel…I can’t even verbalize it. I want to rain fire and brimstone down on the world. I want to wipe the face of the earth clean in a blast of heat and sulfur. I must have read the message a thousand times.

I see now what I mean to him. I see how he feels. And underneath all that hate and wrath I have for him, there is a diamond-hard loathing for myself. I let myself be treated this way. And in that moment, everything becomes so clear. My resolve hardens. I understand.

The guy says something and I look over at him smoking in the far corner of the porch. “Did you just say something?”

He has the nerve to grumble and shake his head. A brief pause passes over the porch, then he speaks again. “You know, I’m just trying to be friendly.”

It was a match to a powder keg. Friendly. That’s all they want. To be friends. My skin is hot and my throat is dry. I look down at the burning tip of my cigarette. Before I let him have it, I realize that he is not the target of my wrath. He is collateral damage. I pull myself together. “Right. Friendly. You boys are always ‘just being friendly.’ I’ve got enough friends. I don’t need any more.” I toss my cigarette and march off the porch, preparing for the battle to come.

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.

Just posting another prompt. Decided to respond in the form of a poem this time.

Baby Theebs

Baby Theebs

Write about the day you were born.

Who are you?
Where am I?
I’m too tired
To even cry.

I guess I’ll sulk here
On this breast
And wait around
And hope for the best.

This world is cold
And far too bright.
There’s nothing to do
But hide from the light.

I’m exhausted,
Aching, and forlorn.
Already wishing
I hadn’t been born.

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