Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bug Report Submitted to Echo Bazaar

Good evening wise person(s) of technological predisposition,

It is with some concern that I encountered the following bug this evening, or should I say morning. The time, as recorded on the brass clock dangling by a thread above my fireplace mantel (because time is precious and frail) read 1:20 AM at the time of the incident. At your website's behest I have dutifully included all the particulars of my activity when the error occurred. I was, first of all, sipping a vintage Caol Ila that I had but moments before decanted, and was savoring its oaken aroma by the fire, when I began to detect an abominable scuttling noise emerging from my computer. I went to investigate, but was distracted by the unmistakable sloshing outside my window of a menagerie of drowned folk, risen in the New Moon's light from their watery interment to search, somnambulate, for their lost loves. I was not moved by their plight, as I normally am, because in that very instant a terrible hissing came from behind me. I turned in horror, and saw the poisonous thread filaments of a blight-widow spider hurtling towards me. I ducked just in time to evade the dreaded silk, each line of which is tipped with the face of a wailing soul trapped forever in the blight spider's abdomen. I always keep a loaded pistol on my mantel, and not one to disappoint Chekhov, I fired it directly into the horrible, gaping mouth of the monstrous arachnid. It did not die, because nothing can kill a blight-widow, but it withered into a wisp of wight-breath, and vanished through the spaces between molecules of air. I don't know wither it went, but with trembling hands I produced this bug report, and in good faith I hope at least one of your enviable colleagues will be able to resolve the matter.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Writer

There is a man who sits, staring at his keyboard. His fingers don't move. His chair does not rotate. The drink to his left does not tremble. The fluid is not imbibed. He does not look from his screen. There is a window, but he doesn't look through it. He doesn't adjust his lamp. He doesn't move his feet. His neck does not change alignment. His eyes do not blink. His mouth does not open. His nose does not sneeze. His breath does not hasten. He does not write.

There are no others like him. He doesn't know his purpose. He doesn't know his reason for being. He doesn't move. He doesn't talk. He doesn't sing. He sits. He stares. He thinks. Without knowing it, he sustains certain small but essential cosmic processes. His thoughts proceed as follows:

I need to write. But what? What should it be? Who will read it? What can I say? To whom should I speak? Should it be long, or short? Should it be beautiful, or sad? Should it be full of passion, or joy? Should it touch on the ancient mysteries? Should it enliven with humour? Should I include myself as a character? Will I omit description? Maybe I should write a poem? Does anyone read poetry anymore? What if I am boring? What if no one will read it? What if only I read it? What if others read it but find it loathsome? What if I provoke hatred or enmity? What if someone else writes something better? What if I am pre-empted by someone with the same idea? What if I die on the way to the publisher, or even worse,before I have finished? What if I am arrested for saying something obscene? What if I cannot speak my truest voice? What is my voice, anyway? What is my point? What am I trying to do? Who I am trying to persuade? What is the use of writing? What if I lose my thread? What if my inspiration runs dry? What if I am not a writer? Am I deluding myself? Why am I so sure I need to write? Perhaps I could do something else. But what? Maybe I should write out some ideas. That will surely help. What ideas? What can I say? Should I write about the weather? Should I write about the sky? Should I write about politics? Should I write fiction or non-fiction? Should I tell a story? About what? What is a story, anyway? How should I start? How should it end? Maybe if I have a single point to make, the rest will follow. What point should I make? Should I entreat people to do good? Should I defy the morality of the day? Should I promote sexual liberation? Should I invoke conservative mores? Should I be witty? Should I be elegant? Should I be stately? Should I be crass? Maybe I should write with an accent. Or perhaps I should have all my characters be women. How does one write for women? Should I write in the first-person? Or maybe stream of consciousness. Should I be artistic? Should I be inventive? Should I stick to the classical format of the novel? Should I use Jungian archetypes? Perhaps I should reference Freud. Maybe I should turn to mythology. Which myths? Perhaps Nordic? Greek? Hindu? Egyptian? Perhaps I should write about science. Maybe set everything in the future? Or I could write about the past. What about a counter-historical novel? Or historical fiction? Or a dialogue with an ancient philosopher? Maybe I should try to paint a picturesque scene? What if I told a love story? Maybe I'm over thinking things. How should I simplify my process? What if I start with just a couple sentences. Yes, surely that's all I need. But what if they go nowhere? And what should they be, in any case? Should I start with an epithet? A poetic doublet? Maybe a quotation from someone famous? Who would be appropriate? I really should know the whole storyline before deciding. Perhaps I should plan out a short story. I wonder how long it should be? A page and a half? Too short. Maybe twenty pages? That seems more like a novella. Should I write a novella? Maybe a short novel? How intricate should it be? Should I have one character or an ensemble cast? If I write a short story, the action should focus on a single event. But what event? Is that even true? Isn't an event just a composition of other, smaller events? How many levels of depth does a story need? Am I trying to be good? What is good writing, anyway? How do I even know if what I'll write is adequate? Should I write it all in one sitting and then refine things? Or maybe I'll tinker with each sentence as I go. I wish I knew what I wanted to say. I should write about truth. Or maybe beauty. Or love. Or passion. I should write about heartbreak. I should write about youth struggling to mature. I should write about the oppressed minorities. I should work in puzzles somehow. Or mystery. Or intrigue. I shouldn't be too arrogant or self-assured. I want to emphasize my intelligence, but I don't want to appear condescending. What if I come across as pretentious? I should refrain from using too many large words. But what if I get bored? Aren't large words the marrow of writing? Maybe I should write like Hemingway. Or maybe Faulkner. Or maybe I should write a play. I should invent a world for my story. But what if I spend all my time inventing and never get around to writing? What if I never finish? What if I keep going and forget what I wanted to say? What if the world ends? What if there's a military coup and writers are rounded up? Maybe I should stop worrying. Should writing be easy? Shouldn't it be natural? I should write like the Beat poets. I should do some free-writing, to warm up. All I need to do is put down a few thoughts, to get my ideas flowing. But what would I say? It feels strange to write without a purpose. Should I try to adapt it afterwards into something else? What if I wrote a haiku? Those are short and easy. But it's impossible to write them as well as Basho. They always seem trite by comparison. I don't want to sound like a cheap mimic. I really just need momentum. Once I get started I am sure everything will flow. But what am I trying to say? When will I know I've finished? I want to be a writer, but I feel like I am not a writer until I begin. But if I'm not a writer, how can I bring myself to write? How can I start without knowing how it will end? What's the point, anyway? They say writers are not men of action. Is writing active? Will I accomplish something if I write half a story? Will people read through my notebooks later on and collect my unfinished work into loving manuscripts? Will I be cherished for everything I tried to do? Will my words be savored? Will I be famous in my own lifetime? Will I be remembered? Will I be studied in classrooms? If so, will I be taught in elementary schools or in university? Which would be preferable? Should I write to be understood? Or would obscurity better ensure my longevity? Why am I so concerned with success? Am I afraid of failure? Am I afraid of succeeding? What is the difference? Is it possible for a writer to love his own work? Can I love the process as much as the product? Do I need inspiration? What inspires me, anyway? Perhaps it is the love of minute details. I should observe the natural world very closely. Or perhaps I should study interpersonal dynamics, and get a sense of how people interact. Good writers are both intelligent and perceptive. I need to cultivate both of these faculties. I want to be able to grip my readers from the first word. How should I do that? Should I begin with something brilliant? My first line should be very memorable. But what makes something memorable? I could try to be verbose, but I'd probably just end up being purple. What if I were terse? Then I might run the risk of insulting my readers. I want to be sincere. I want to be authentic. I need to find my inner voice. How is this done? Who am I, really? What is it that I want to say? What do I really believe in? Should I confirm what people already know in their hearts? Or should I defy their expectations and try to show them something new? Is it even possible to write anything new? What's the point, if it isn't? Do I want to simply rehash the same finite plot lines again and again? The same rote themes? What use is it? But what else could I do if I wasn't trying to write? Surely, I have an affinity for words. It would be a waste not to use them. Do I have an obligation to the universe to write? Am I free or a slave to this desire? Did I choose to be a writer, or did my desires choose for me? Let's say I did write something; what then? Would I give it away? What if I'm not satisfied by the response? What if I don't receive any praise for it? Was it a waste of time? Maybe I should meditate. If I were more present then I could just write for its own sake. I wouldn't have to complicate the work with any secondary desires. But if I don't have any desires, then would I even want to write? Why do I want to write in the first place? Am I trying to impress someone? Maybe I'm trying to impress myself. Is this the only way I know of being real? Do I want to prove something? Do I want to create something? Do I want to offer beauty to the world? Or maybe I want to show people ugliness. Is it my own ugliness, in that case? Do I want to write out of spite? Maybe I am just bitter, and writing is an act of revenge. But what I am bitter about? Maybe I'm bitter about not being able to write. Would writing purge me of that feeling? Or would it just accentuate it? Maybe I want to be loved. Maybe the only way I think I can be loved is through writing. But even assuming people love my writing, will they then love me? Maybe I should just write love poetry. Or is that too cheesy? I could write song lyrics. People love music. I could write for musicians. I could be a great lyricist. But who writes lyrics without also making music? I should stop thinking so much. I really need to just write. But how?

Still, he sits. Still, he thinks. And never do his fingers move. And may we thank him his undying service to us all.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Approaching a Linguistic Anti-Essentialist Phenomenology in a Post-Berkeleyan Existentialist Discourse

Are we what we are; or what we know
we are to see;
or are we not what any knows,
but what we want our ares to be?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Cigar Box

When I was a boy my grandfather, whose ordinarily wily nature was well known to us all, handed me a small cigar box with a padlock on it, and a key. He told me to keep them both safe, and under no circumstances whatsoever was I to open the box. I did the best that an eight year-old boy could do, and hid the thing under my bed, and shoved the key up into the stomach of a stuffed bear I kept around. He'd given me the box with such gravity, with such dead seriousness, and even with a look of inexplicable sadness in his eyes, the thin glaze of pulled-back tears, that it scared me white and seemed so out of sorts for who I'd thought he was: a jovial man, a grinning man, a playful rook who'd come by with card tricks and wild stories he'd heard traveling the world, grandiose stories of elephants carrying away children to become kings of the underworld, impossible stories about alleyways in Europe that twist and turn and spit you out a hundred thousand years into the future, after everyone's died, hilarious stories about men with books for heads and guns for eyes arguing over a woman's hand in marriage, and more, breathlessly more besides. There wasn't a damn hint of play in this gesture, in this gift. It scared the honest shit out of me, to be frank. A grandfather can give a boy of that age a gift and say, “Don't open this till Christmas,” knowing full-well the boy will tear it open that very night, and so much the better for everyone. But a grandfather cannot give to his own grandson a padlocked box and key and say, with the deepest possible severity, with a leaden quality of voice that suggests something terrible is afoot, never open this box, never open it, swear to me boy that you will never open this. No, a grandfather does no such thing, unless something is horribly, inexpressibly wrong.

I kept that box locked tighter than a Moorish King's concubine, and hidden twice as well, and even managed, for a few days at a time, to forget about it. It helped that my grandfather still came by, in those days. He never mentioned the box, but every time he set foot inside our home, at the precise moment he came in and closed the door behind himself, I can remember it even now slowing down to a crawling, glacial, epochal speed, the half second before my mother came rushing in to plant a hug and two kisses on either cheek of the old gizzard, the very instant before time resumed its regular pace, his eyes connected to mine and therein a single unspoken query was transmitted: piercingly, his gaze inquired: have you unlocked it? And I, just eight, hardly even aware that lying existed, let alone how it might be done, was so fully incapable of the slightest dissimulation that I, trembling, shook my head and clutched my shirt and almost began to cry, whereupon his look was satisfied and the laughter, kissing, and revelry could begin again. But not, really, in truth, for me. The spirit of it had been fouled. The weight of a secret kept me at arm's length of the happiness I'd known before. I didn't understand that then, nor really for many, many years.

Not too long after he'd bequeathed me his terrible secret box, not too long at all really, even by the reckoning of a child, my grandfather passed away. Old age, in his sleep, a look of calm satiety on his face. Plump and self-satisfied, they said. A man who'd led a good, long life, and who'd done right by him and his. That's when I started to chafe a bit. There wasn't any watchman of the secret now. No one to keep me honest. Just me and the leaden, gnawing curiosity. The strange, nagging fear of the unquantifiable, the potentially daemonic, that lay just inches from my head and heart, just inches below my bed, and the vile, malefic key that sat acidic in the stomach of a bear, and turned my own stomach into knots with the threat it represented. But my resolve never weakened. In addition to my fear of it, I learned to hate the box. I constructed elaborate scenarios in which the box was destroyed utterly, or even better, contrary-to-fact histories of the world that made it impossible for the box ever to have existed. I dreamed of worlds where boxes were never invented, or for that matter keys, or cigars; I dreamed of worlds where grandfathers were forbidden by law to give anything to their grandchildren; I dreamed of worlds where parents could read their children's minds and expose their secrets, rescuing them from their private laborious torments. To my immediate shame, I dreamed of a thousand worlds where my grandfather had died before he could have ever presented me the box: by stabbing, in a dark alley, at the hands of a thief intent on stealing the box; by being hit by a drunken driver, mere blocks from our house; by falling down a ravine, or by being devoured by the wild beasts who live under the soil, or by opening his own box and succumbing to whatever horrors lay therein.

But being a child, it was a burden far too great for me to bear. Not without help or escape. So I fled: to the four winds and the seven oceans. I ran up mountains and down streets, I buried my eyes in the bosoms of a hundred women. I drank and caroused and scrapped with more than one or two loveless men. I might have even fought in a war, but of those things the memory is dark, like a cloud of blood covering my eyes, an impenetrable layer of red that doesn't subside, just continues to flow interminably. I tried my best to forget the box, the curse, the key, the constant temptation to open it, and somehow, despite the great burden of keeping that stupid secret alive for so many years, I grew up, and old, and had a family of my own, and in turn became a grandfather myself to a house filled by precious grandchildren. And oh the stories I would tell them, when I came to visit. Of the places I had seen, of the tricks and secrets I had learned, of the wyrms I had tamed and the skies I had sliced in twain; of the earth I had turned to dust, of the wine I had poured into wounds, of the gushing sea that fills our voices, of the flags I had buried; of the faeries I'd met and loved, and convinced to abandon their Bacchic gods; of the dying lights I'd placed in corners remote and forgotten; of the suns I'd stolen from on high and the moons I'd unearthed from the deep; of the wending and winding and weeping roads that go and ever return; of the ghosts who walk and the angels who live in their teeth; of the wonders and the treasures that drench the earth to our knees if we only knew how to see. And I'd tell them everything I could, and their eyes would grow first wide and then heavy, and they'd dream the sweet soft infinitude of child magic, and I'd envy them.

Tomorrow I give my dear grandson the box and the key, which I have with me unopened to this day, and hate like the blood of martyrs, like the ripping shock of being born, like the rolling death of the sun-bound earth. Oh god, it'll be his soon, and then finally I can sleep.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Seething

It creeps in from the outside somewhere, maybe in through the ear. Can't help it, it gets in. It starts to percolate around in the head, confounding ideas and leading to interrupted dreams. Then it slowly drips down the nasal passages into the throat, poisoning the taste of everything that passes through its creamy putrescence. Then onward into the gullet, the gut, the intestines, all the while seeping laterally into the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. Each of these in turn becomes foul smelling. Once-healthy organs turn raw; their energetic ardor is drained in quick-fire bursts of emotion. What results is a seething, oozing, angry complaint that penetrates to the farthest reaches of the skin. The feeling accumulates into a cloudy inability to move, think, or experience positive emotion. The host body can suffer this state for days, weeks, and even months. There is no known cure, other than the refusal to be porous.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


It turns out Cupid was a fat man dressed in a toga, who took his last stand on top of a department store in the height of Christmas season. His big crescendo was to fire off a dozen heart-tipped arrows into the torsos of the crowd below. His outfit also had wings, of the inexpensive Halloween cherubic variety, the feathers made of polyester, one of those plastic yellowish halos with the adjoining headband, and a brown felt quiver. Truth be told, considering the quality of the arrows (twelve carbon-fibre shafts with goose-feather fletching and tempered steel tips finely sharpened and dipped in red acrylic) and his bow (a compound with composite frame), he really skimped on the attire, suggesting his act was more important than his presentation, or maybe he just ran out of money. All the arrows hit with more or less fatal results, which you'd think would be a testament to his skill, but for the fact that before he'd launched even the first one someone in the crowd spotted him and shouted, with a hint of long-buried glee, “Holy shit, it's Cupid!” At which point everyone stopped what they were doing and looked up at him, and pointed, and laughed. And then, when he started firing arrows into the crowd, sure most took off for cover screaming, but an astonishing number of people just stood still. Their feet riveted, they practically bore their chests for the arrows to find, smiling, tears of a joyful sort streaming down their faces right until the very last moment of penetration, which, being so very, astonishingly, incomparably final, took everything else away.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Portal

I remember when a portal opened up inside my brother Lucas. The whole Event still resonates in my memory as being among the most definitive of our shared history. The way it happened was that my brother, who was not accustomed to interdimensionality or really anything that might transgress his very rigid parameters for what could constitute reality, who had lived the first years of his life quite literally in a bubble of poly-urethane with a compromised immune system, and who had understandably and without any prompting begun early on to seen the exterior world as an intrusive threat, had therefore no extant psychological defense against the portal that opened from nothing deep in his right thigh as he played gladiator with a wooden sword in our ordinary suburban backyard, underneath the swing set. The portal, not large by any conventional logic, yet encompassing universes, embedded neatly into the surface of his right superficial femoral artery and by doing so sprung a small but nonetheless excruciatingly painful and life threatening internal hemorrhage, which we didn't know at the time but would soon learn.

What we did know, those of us who were present (which is to say, myself, my mom, dad, our little sister, mother's sister, father's brother, and a couple neighbors, so in fact a great many people and certainly everyone who was of any significance to the family and Lucas in particular), was that Lucas had gone from happily slaughtering an infestation of imaginary Gruelbats in the Bleakpits of Daemonia to lying completely prostrate and as sickly pale as I had never seen him, a horrifying gasping wail issuing from his throat, his mind abandoning all capacity for the palatal phonemes of articulate speech. An ambulance was summoned, mother in hysterics (having practiced for many years a refined automatic neurological collapse at the slightest appearance of regression in my brother's health), father assuming his equally refined stolid gaze and robotic efficiency, myself and sister Amy huddled in a corner, bequeathed by the situation and our precious years with an uncomprehending but total dread, as poor Lucas, by now covered in sweat and entirely Beyond All Recognition, was carted off on a stretcher to his proximate salvation.

We, the children, visited Lucas in the hospital the next day, with our aunt and uncle, to the incontrovertible impression that Something Was Terribly Wrong. The signs were abundant and unmistakable: in addition to the general pallor that hung palpably in the air, my mother sat in the waiting room, her eyes bleary red from weeping, while father paced up and down the hall saying nothing but communicating the first truly perceptible cracks in his armor of implacable efficiency that we'd seen since Lucas had been diagnosed with leukemia at the age of four. Amy and I played as best we could with the cheap plastic toys in the kid's waiting area. Being 8 and 9 already and as such far past the age where such trinkets might genuinely intrigue us, we could at best generate a facsimile impression of amusement, if for no other reason than that such a reassurance might impress on my mother that the world, or at least her family, could still muster a modicum of normalcy, even or perhaps especially in times of crisis. We weren't fools, and understood dire necessity when surrounded by it, and thus we calmly stacked oversized lego blocks one atop another with all the brave enthusiasm of actors on a stage that is in the midst of being burned to the ground.

Now children are seldom credited with as much comprehension of adult psychology as they quite often possess, and it was certainly no mistake that I, then, perceived the last shreds of maternal sanity give way to a prevailing hysteric wind as the doctor drew the pair of them aside and conveyed some horrific, though evidently not fatal, news. In that moment I could somehow tell that my mother would never be the same, that the final nail had been firmly embedded in the coffin that was her already pathos-ridden understanding of the universe; I could see, though cripplingly unable to articulate the perception for many years, that her world view had presently shifted to reflect a new and total belief, namely that existence itself had probably always conspired against her happiness in this her sole and most precious domain of power, to confound her every attempt at protection of her wards, and leave her irresolute and defeated.

What I learned later, communicated to me and my sister with the quiet seriousness of parents attempting desperately to avoid utterly shattering the already fragile and diminishing happiness of their children, was that the two-dimensional half-centimetre of circular portal in Lucas' thigh, which had opened at a right angle in the surface of his arterial wall, was causing an alarming amount of blood to escape into his body, while at the same time the half-section located inside his vein, acting as a trans-dimensional gateway of sorts, whisked away to Lord Knows Where another equally precious quantity of plasma, so that internal bleeding and the peculiar and unprecedented internal-yet-in-fact-external bleeding together meant that Lucas was very rapidly Bleeding to Death.

Unfortunately, modern medical science lacking experience with intravenous trans-dimensional portals, and entirely incapable of manipulating them with conventional medical instruments, elected for the drastic but nonetheless time-worthy approach of hacking the whole leg right off, just below the hip. My mother had to leave the room when it came time to explaining this, and I still remember the awkward metaphor my father used: “It's like when you have a candy cane, only the end of it got broken in your pocket and kind of crushed, and you still want to keep the whole thing but you can't keep it with the end hanging on, because bits of it are getting everywhere and its making a mess in your pocket, so you throw away the end bits that you don't want so you can keep all the good stuff. You know?” We nodded, of course, and bit our tongues at the absurd juxtapositions of severed limbs and mint-flavored candy. The odd and vaguely cannibalistic confluence of the two gave me nightmares consisting of crumbling, blood-drenched legs marching through corridors towards me, blossoming gaping toothless mouths all over their surfaces and whispering my name, always in my brother's voice, but horrifically distorted with a perverse melancholia, rasping also with a dark slow-motion baritone that shook my subconscious and intimated at mysteries that would unravel my skin and cause the flesh of my eyes to blister.

When Lucas came home we assembled like a Royal welcoming committee on the driveway, with helium balloons and presents we'd meticulously selected from Toys 'R' Us to avoid prompting unnecessary awareness of his dismemberment (as if such a thing could be avoided); I remember that I got him a big super soaker water pistol, and my sister got him a chess set. Strangely enough, I don't remember what my parents bought him. Soon after the Event their actions began to blur for me into an indistinguishable continuum of helpless guilt, one futile gesture after another, each one too little and too late to banish what had already transpired, the evil that could not have been prevented or even remotely anticipated, the great Denial against which all the heretofore assumed parental omnipotence consummately vanished, revealing only the sad and altogether human weakness of their paternal and maternal forms.

I remember holding my gift up as the nurse wheeled Lucas out of the para-transpo vehicle; I remember my arms lowering involuntarily at the sight of him, face down, expressing a dejection I did not until then know to be possible, a manifest full-body, one-legged sadness that was vastly in excess of what any twelve-year old child should, in the fullest throes of their most potent, attention-starved emotional hyperbole, be capable of mustering. I remember his eyes looking up at me, leaden, too far gone to even judge or recriminate: a spectre of something against which my pathetic offering seemed a ludicrous bathos. I remember dropping my gift and crying, too overwhelmed, rendered once again into a simpering babe, hastily silenced and ushered away by a woman, probably my mother, but recollection blurs into coos and swaddling gestures and eventually silence. It all blurs.

That night I heard him crying in the bunk above mine: a relentless, whispered, gasping sob hearkening to the deepest cthonic agonies his soul had thus prematurely become witness to, and eventually his arm slumped down with the release of someone entering a new plateau of misery, where the crying becomes muted but the suffering turns heel and lodges itself in the emotional registers of the stomach, heart, and sacrum. And he said to me what I could never hope to forget or banish or in anyway make right, “Ethan, I'm scared.” My brother was scared. The unknown mysteries that ordinarily imbue a child's fantasies with delight and possibility, with soaring Peter Pan cloud-decamptments and rolling hills of infinite splendour, had for Lucas been exposed as a fraud: the vast uncertainty of the world, proven to be as supernatural and real as anything he had comprehended in his dreams, was defined by a prevailing note of malice, bearing down right now and right here, and of all the people and children and sufferers in the world, on him.

I did then what I had never done before or would do again, what we never spoke about afterwards but which the situation seemed to demand, and suffering my own private collapse of security and immortality – because with precocious wisdom I knew what had sundered him forever from happiness could just as easily befall me – and my young heart bursting with uncontrollable filial sympathy, I climbed up to his bunk and wrapped my arms around him and held him until the sun rose and illumined nothing but the skin of our trembling hands and the stark unremitting future that bears portals into children's thighs like the sparkling eyes of god.